Did Jerusalem Jews insist on a pre-sunset burial of crucified corpses?

  • Clarifying the question

    In the 1st century, Romans were known to crucify individuals they deemed to be criminals, nailing or tying them to a cross until they were dead. What happened to the bodies of these victims of crucifixion? Did Jews around the 1st century feel morally obligated to ensure the bodies were buried before the sun set? In particular, did Jews in Jerusalem feel obligated?

“Yes, after all…
  • Dt 21:22-23 says so

    Deuteronomy 21:22-23 (Jewish Law) says to bury the corpses of those crucified (before sunset).1 This is relevant because Jews considered the demands of Jewish Law to be morally obligatory.

    So? Couldn’t it simply be that…

    • Jews didn’t obey Dt 21 by the 1st century?2
    • Jews only applied Dt 21 to hanging corpses on crosses?
    1. Dt 21:22-23 -- "If a man has committed a sin worthy of death and he is put to death, and you hang him on a tree, his corpse shall not hang all night on the tree, but you shall surely bury him on the same day (for he who is hanged is accursed of God), so that you do not defile your land which the LORD your God gives you as an inheritance.”
    2. Did Jews stop obeying Dt 21 by the 1st century? Surely not. There is no evidence that the stopped, and abundance evidence that they didn’t (e.g. see the below quotes, starting with 11QTemple).
  • 11Q Temple Scroll 64:7-13 says so

    11Q Temple Scroll 64:7-13 (150-75 BC?) instructs Jews to bury corpses before sunset.1

    1. 11Q Temple Scroll 64:7-13: “If a man is a traitor against his people and gives them up to a foreign nation, so doing evil to his people, you are to hang him on a tree until dead. On the testimony of two or three witnesses he will be put to death, and they themselves shall hang him on the tree. If a man is convicted of a capital crime and flees to the nations, cursing his people and the children of Israel, you are to hang him, also, upon a tree until dead. But you must not let their bodies remain on the tree overnight; you shall most certainly bury them that very day. Indeed, anyone hung on a tree is accursed of God and men, but you are not to defile the land that I am about to give you as an inheritance” (4Q524 frag. 14, lines 2–4; trans. by Craig Evans).
  • Jewish Wars 3.377 says so

    Josephus’s Jewish Wars 3.377 says Jews ensured they were buried before sunset.1

    1. Josephus (Wars 3:377): “Accordingly our laws determine, that the bodies of such as kill themselves should be exposed till the sun be set, without burial, although at the same time it be allowed by them to be lawful to bury our enemies [sooner].” [Trans. by W. Whiston]
  • Jewish Wars 4.317 says so

    Josephus’s Jewish Wars 4.317 says Jews ensured they were buried before sunset.1

    So? Couldn’t it simply be that…

    • Jews then only applied Dt 21:22-23 to those crucified/hung after death (and here Josephus refers to individuals already dead)
    1. Josephus (Wars 4:316-317): “and as soon as they caught them they slew them, and then standing upon their dead bodies, in way of jest, upbraided Ananus with his kindness to the people, and Jesus with his speech made to them from the wall. 317Nay, they [The Jews] proceeded to that degree of impiety, as to cast away their dead bodies without burial, although the Jews used to take so much care of the burial of men, that they took down those that were condemned and crucified, and buried them before the going down of the sun.” [Trans. by W. Whiston]
  • Antiquities of the Jews 4.202 & 4.265 say so

    Josephus's, Antiquities of the Jews 4.202 & 4.265.1

    1. Josephus (Antiquities 4.202): “He that blasphemeth God, let him be stoned, and let him hang upon a tree all that day, and then let him be buried in an ignominious and obscure manner.”
      Josephus (Antiquities 4.265): “and thus it is that we bury all whom the laws condemn to die, upon any account whatsoever. Let our enemies that fall in battle be also buried, nor let any one dead body lie above the ground,” ...[Trans. by W. Whiston]
  • De Specialibus Legibus III 151-152 says so

    Philo in De Specialibus Legibus III 151-152 records, “let not the sun set” on the crucified.1 (cf. Post C. 61; Somn. 2.213)

    1. Philo (Spec. Laws III 151-152): “...would, if it had been in his power, have condemned those men to ten thousand deaths. But since this was not possible, he prescribed another punishment for them, commanding those who had slain a man to be hanged upon a tree. 152...and he pronounced, “Let not the sun set upon persons hanging on a tree;” but let them be buried under the earth and be concealed from sight before sunset. For it was necessary to raise up on high all those who were enemies to every part of the world, ...and after that it was proper to remove them into the region of the dead, and to bury them, in order to prevent their polluting the things upon the earth.” [Trans. by C.D. Yong]
  • b. Sanhedrin 46b says so

    b. Sanhedrin 46b instructs Jews to bury corpses before sunset.1

    1. b. Sanhedrin 46b: “Our Rabbis taught: [Then thou shalt hang him on] a tree:5 this I might understand as meaning either a cut or a growing tree; therefore Scripture states, Thou shalt surely bury him:6 [thus, it must be] one that needs only burial, [...] R. Johanan said on the authority of R. Simeon b. Yohai: Whence is it inferred that whoever keeps his dead [unburied] over night transgresses thereby a negative conmmand?23 — From the verse, Thou shalt surely bury him;24 whence we learn that he who keeps his dead [unburied] over night transgresses a prohibitory command. Others state: R. Johanan said on the authority of R. Simeon b. Yohai: Where is burial [as a means of disposing of the dead] alluded to in the Torah? — In the verse, Thou shalt surely bury him: here we find an allusion to burial in the Torah.” [Trans. by Rodkinson]
  • m Sanh 6:5 says so

    m Sanh 6:5 (Mishnah) says “whoever keeps his dead unburied overnight transgresses…”.1 This applied in Jesus's time.2

    1. m. Sanh 6:4 (2nd or 3rd century): “All those who are stoned are hanged on a tree [afterward],” the words of R. Eliezer. And sages say, “Only the blasphemer and the one who worships an idol are hanged.” “As to a man, they hang him facing the people, and as to a woman, her face is toward the tree,” the words of R. Eliezer. ... How do they hang him? They drive a post into the ground, and a beam juts out from it, and they tie together his two hands, and thus do they hang him. ... ”And if he is left overnight, one transgresses a negative commandment on his account, as it is said, His body shall not remain all night on the tree, but you will surely bury him on the same day, for he who is hanged is a curse against God (Dt. 21:23) [Trans. by Neusner]
      m Sanh. 6:5 (2nd or 3rd century) -- And not this only, but whoever allows his deceased to stay unburied over—night transgresses a negative commandment. But [if] one kept [a corpse] overnight for its own honor, [for example,] to bring a bier for it and shrouds, he does not transgress on its account. And they did not bury [the felon] in the burial grounds of his ancestors. But there were two graveyards made ready for the use of the court, one for those who were beheaded or strangled, and one for those who were stoned or burned. [Trans. by Neusner]
    2. Byron McCane (Professor of Religion at Wofford): “These norms continued to have currency long after the time of Jesus: m. Sanh. 6:4 quotes Deut 21:22-23 verbatim and notes that Jews did not customarily leave bodies of executed criminals hanging past sunset on the day of death. Jews in Palestine, in other words, had long regarded prompt burial as the normal and decent way to treat the dead. The Jewish leaders in first-century Jerusalem would have thought of it as only natural and fight to take Jesus' body down from the cross at sunset.” [“‘Where no one had yet been laid’: The Shame of Jesus’ Burial,” Authenticating the Activities of Jesus, B. Chilton & C. Evans, eds. (Brill 2002).]
  • 4Q492, 4Q285, & 4Q251 say so

    4Q492, 4Q285, & 4Q251 indicate that Jews (historically) did bury corpses before sunset.1

    1. 4Q492 (War Scroll)
      >-Craig Evans (Ashbury Prof. of NT, Founder of DSS Inst.): “This is probably the rationale that lies behind the concern regarding slain enemy soldiers. In the fragmentary conclusion of the War Scroll we have reference to the fallen Kittim (i.e., Romans) and their allies. Their corpses lie on the field of battle, unburied. Priests, including the high priest, stand over the corpses and praise God. What is said is not preserved (1QM 19:9–14 = 4Q492 frag. 1 lines 8–13), but it is probable that the priests oversee burial of the corpses and cleansing of the land.” [...]
    2. 4Q285
      >-[Evans continued...] “The related 4Q285, which is also fragmentary, supports this interpretation. It seems to say that while Israel celebrates victory over the Kittim (with women beating timbrels and dancing, as in the great victories recounted in Scripture; cf. Exod 15:20; Judg 11:34; perhaps also 4QpIsac 25 iii 1–3), the high priest shall give orders for the disposal of the corpses, evidently to avoid corpse impurity (4Q285 frag. 7, lines 1–6, esp. lines 5–6; cf. frag. 10, lines 4–6: “and you shall eat [the spoil of your enemy . . . and they shall dig] graves for them [ . . . and you shall cleanse yourselves from al]l their corpses . . . ”). This then explains the meaning in 1QM 7:2–3, which refers to the men who “strip the slain, plunder the spoil, cleanse the land . . .” Cleansing the land would include burying the corpses of the enemy. [...]”
    3. 4Q251 (Frag 18 [or 13])
      >-[Evans continued...] “Related material is found in 4Q251 frag. 18 (or frag. 13), which apparently expands legislation concerned with the discovery of the corpse of one slain out in the field (Deut 21:1–9). In Deuteronomy nothing is said of burial, but evidently that is a detail added by 4Q251: “[. . . if] a corpse [is found] lying in [a field . . . and they shall break the heifer’s neck there in the wad]i in return for the life [of the slain . . . ] it is a substitution which is put to death for [the slain . . . ] everyone who has no soul within him is dead, [he must be buried] in a g[rave . . . ]” (lines 3–6). The last part is not found in Deuteronomy (or elsewhere in Hebrew Scripture).” [Jewish Burial Traditions and the Resurrection of Jesus, article]
  • Gospel of Peter 3-5 says so

    Gospel of Peter 3-5, 15 indicates that Jews did bury corpses before sunset.1

    1. Gospel of Peter 3-5 -- “But Joseph, the friend of Pilate and of the Lord, had been standing there; and knowing they were about to crucify him, he came before Pilate and requested the body of the Lord for burial. 4And Pilate, having sent to Herod, requested his body. 5And Herod said: ‘Brother Pilate, even if no one had requested him, we would have buried him, since indeed Sabbath is dawning. For in the Law it has been written: The sun is not to set on one put to death.’” [Trans. by Raymond Brown]
      Gospel of Peter 15 -- “It was noon and darkness came over all of Judea. They were disturbed and upset that the sun may have already set while he was still alive; for their Scripture says that the sun must not set on the one who has been killed.” [Trans. by Ehrman (Lost Scriptures, 2003) 32.]
  • Old Testament examples of it exist

    Old Testament examples exist which demonstrated burial before sunset.1 This is relevant because Jews would have attempted to pattern themselves after these examples.

    1. Joshua 8:29 -- “He hanged the king of Ai on a tree until evening; and at sunset Joshua gave command and they took his body down from the tree and threw it at the entrance of the city gate, and raised over it a great heap of stones that stands to this day.”
      Joshua 10:26 -- “So afterward Joshua struck them and put them to death, and he hanged them on five trees; and they hung on the trees until evening.”
      2 Samuel 4:12 -- “Then David commanded the young men, and they killed them and cut off their hands and feet and hung them up beside the pool in Hebron But they took the head of Ish-bosheth and buried it in the grave of Abner in Hebron.”
      Ezekiel 39:14, 16 -- “They will set apart men who will constantly pass through the land, burying those who were passing through, even those left on the surface of the ground, in order to cleanse it. At the end of seven months they will make a search. [...] 16’And even the name of the city will be Hamonah. So they will cleanse the land.’”
  • Acts 5 shows it happening among AD 30 Christians

    Acts 5:6-10 demonstrates burial before sunset, even among Christians.1

    1. Ananias was buried in three hours, and the account emphasizes that Lydda was only a few hour' walk from Joppa (Acts 9:36-41).

      Acts 5:6-10 -- The young men got up and covered him up, and after carrying him out, they buried him. 7Now there elapsed an interval of about three hours, and his wife came in, not knowing what had happened. 8And Peter responded to her, "Tell me whether you sold the land for such and such a price?" And she said, "Yes, that was the price." 9Then Peter said to her, "Why is it that you have agreed together to put the Spirit of the Lord to the test? Behold, the feet of those who have buried your husband are at the door, and they will carry you out as well." 10And immediately she fell at his feet and breathed her last, and the young men came in and found her dead, and they carried her out and buried her beside her husband.