Did Mary visit the wrong tomb (not Jesus's)?
Clarifying the question
When Mary allegedly went to visit Jesus's tomb that early Sunday morning, did she in fact accidentally arrive at an empty tomb Jesus that was never buried in and thereby form an unwarranted belief about whether Jesus's tomb was occupied by his corpse? Did she just completely visit the wrong tomb and conclude from it that Jesus's tomb was empty?
Scholars don't take this theory seriously
This theory was originally put forward by Kirsopp Lake.1 Today, few scholars take it seriously.2
- Kirsopp Lake (NT Exegesis and Early Christian Literature professor at Leiden): “It is seriously a matter for doubt whether the women were really in a position to be quite certain that the tomb which they visited was that in which they had seen Joseph of Arimathea bury the Lord's body. The neighborhood of Jerusalem is full of rock-tombs, and it would not be easy to distinguish one from another without careful notes. So far as their frame of mind at the time of burial was concerned, the women were certainly not fit to take such notes. They had spent the day watching the dying agony of their Master, and it is not in human nature at such a time calmly to consider the question of locality. Moreover, it is very doubtful if they were close to the tomb at the moment of burial. As was shown in chapters ii. and vi., it is very likely that they were watching from a distance,… they would have had but a limited power to distinguish between one rock-tomb and another close to it.” [The Historical Evidence for the Resurrection of Jesus (Williams & Norgate, 1907), 250.]
- Paul Gwynne (Classics professor at AUR): “…the ‘mistaken tomb’ theory has very few serious supporters these days and has hardly been mentioned in the literature of the last ten years.” [“The Fate of Jesus' Body: Another Decade of Debate.” Colloquium 32 (2000): 14.]
Graveclothes were inside
The tomb that Mary visited lacked a corpse and instead had a corpses graveclothes in it.
See this full page to analyze these three evidences:
This is relevant because empty tombs would not standardly have graveclothes resting on their respective benches, and if they did the clothes would not be arranged so as to appear that human hand had not removed them, is how these graveclothes appeared to viewers).
Jesus's tomb was recognizable
The tomb in which Jesus was placed was intrinsically recognizable.
- Jesus was observed to have been buried alone in a new tomb.1
- Tombs in general were intrinsically recognizable.2
This is relevant because, if the tomb was recognizable, then it by definition would be hard to mistake for another.
- This is multiply attested. Mt 27:60, Lk 23:53, Jn 19:41-42.
- In general it was hard to mistake such tombs. From the tomb's golel (the blocking-stone) to its surroundings, there was a plethora variation in tombs.
- Robert Stein (NT professor): “…this was no Forest Lawn Cemetary-Jerusalem Branch, where one could mistake tomb 10,358 with look-alike tomb 18,494! This was a private burial tomb. We have no reason for concluding that there were similar tombs in the immediate area that could have been confused with this one.” [Jesus the Messiah (IVP, 1996), 267.]
The Jerusalem church didn't perpetuate a blunder
If the AD 30 Jerusalem church continued to proclaim that Mary discovered Jesus's tomb empty, then it was not the result of their perpetuating a wrong-tomb blunder they inherited from her.
- After all, they would have learned their mistake immediately.1
This is relevant because the AD 30 Jerusalem did continue to proclaim Mary's discovery report as true.
- The church didn't know where Jesus' corpse was buried.
- The Jerusalem church fell for Mary's wrong-tomb blunder
- C. E. B. Cranfield (NT scholar at Durham): “…it is difficult to imagine how [a wrong tomb] mistake would not have been quickly corrected.” [“The Resurrection of Jesus Christ.” in The Historical Jesus in Recent Reserch, eds. Dunn & McKnight (Eisenbrauns, 2005), 390.]