Would Mary choose to visit Jesus's tomb (Sunday)?

  • Clarifying the question

    A woman stands with a thought bubble.

    The gospels all report that Jesus was crucified on a Friday (in Jerusalem, c. AD 30), and buried before sunset in a rock-hewn tomb. Mary Magdalene was reportedly watching the burial from a distance. Would she choose to re-visit Jesus's tomb on Sunday for any reason?

    This helps us think about other debates like:

“Yes, after all…
  • Mary plausibly re-visited to anoint the body

    A woman walks with a basket that is letting off an aroma.

    After seeing Jesus's body laid in the tomb, Mary might have chosen to visit it again “with spices” (to mix with water) in order “to anoint” Jesus's body.

    After all…

    • …Mark explicitly reports that this was her reason.1
    • …Mary would want to anoint the body.2

    But wait, that seems unlikely for two reasons:

    • … Mary would not have waited until Sunday to do this. [See response]3
    • … Mary believed that Jesus had already been anointed.4, 5
    1. Mark explicitly reports that this was her reason. This is relevant because it means neither Mark, nor Mark's source(s) from whom he inherited the report[Forthcoming], nor presumably the many recipients who circulated the report, felt that Mary's visiting the tomb to anoint Jesus was implausible. Ostensibly, no one even felt that readers/listeners needed further explanation/defense of the claim. This is relevant because the contemporaries were in a better position to know whether this kind of activity was suspiciously implausible or not.
    2. Mary would desire to anoint Jesus's body and she likely would not have chosen to do so while Jesus was being buried by Joseph[Forthcoming]. Sunday morning was the earliest she could perform the act.
    3. On the other hand, Sunday morning was the earliest she could visit Jesus's tomb. After all, gratuitously carrying spices the day before would have flagrantly violated the Jewish Law (e.g. Jer 17:21-22 -- do not carry any load on the sabbath [Saturday]… You shall not bring a load out of your houses on the sabbath day nor do any work.) [See Shabbat 8.1.]
    4. The idea here is that Mary either witnessed or assumed Jesus's buriers performed this part of the burial ritual. For examples of scholars forwarding this objection:
      Peter Kirby: “There was no such thing as a second anointing. The body was washed and anointed before the body was placed in the tomb or grave. Not only is this Jewish custom for burial, but it is also common sense that a body would be cleansed of sweat or blood before being wrapped in the cloth (usually white). Again, there is no example available for people going to a corpse after it was buried, removing the shroud, and anointing the corpse for a second time (since it would have been already washed/anointed before).” [“The Case Against the Empty Tomb” in The Empty Tomb, Eds. Price & Lowder (Prometheus, 2005), 243.];
      Hans van Campenhausen: “The desire to anoint, ‘on the third day’, a dead body already buried and wrapped in linen cloths, is, however it be explained, not in accordance with any custom known to us…” [Tradition and Life in the Church; Essays and Lectures in Church History, trans. A. V. Littledale (Fortress, 1968), 58. (As cited by Peter Kirby)]
      Gerd Lüdemann: “In the [Mark 15.42-47] story of the burial, the burial of Jesus seems complete. …the intention of the women to anoint the body on Easter morning (Mark 16.1) is in conflict with this, since such a plan presupposes that the body has not been anointed and therefore that the burial is only provisional. So it may be regarded as probable that Mark 16.1-8 was not an ingredient of a pre-Markan passion narrative, but a small independent unit which Mark worked in at this point.” [What really happened to Jesus , Trans. by Bowden (Westminster, 1995), 31.]
    5. By way of response, however, the purpose of anointing a corpse was not strictly practical (if practical at all). Consider:
      Darrell Bock: “…nothing prevents the women from deciding to give honor to Jesus by adding their own touch of devotion in caring for his body when they return. Such devotion would be a natural way to assuage their grief and honor their king.” [Jesus According to Scripture (Baker, 2002), 541.];
      Glenn Miller: “…the text (Mt 16.1) only speaks of them wanting to ‘anoint’, not 'wash' him. This means they were aware that the core procedure of burial had been done. They probably were also intending on adding the personal touches, much as when a grieving parent wants to put a special toy into a casket, to put a special necklace on the deceased, or to straighten the clothes of a lost one. So they carried their spices and their grief, and went to be with the One who loved them…” [“Was the burial of Jesus a temporary one, because of time constraints?” christianthinktank.com (2002): online]
      J.P. Holding: “I see no more irregularity in the idea of coming to ‘anoint’ an already-prepared corpse than in the idea of placing flowers on the headstone of an already-buried person today. …It would perhaps not be 'customary' but then again, the death of Jesus and thus burial were hardly 'customary' either.” [“The Empty Tomb: Jesus Beyond the Grave -- A Rebuttal to Peter Kirby's Chapter.” tektonics.org: Online];
      C. E. B. Cranfeld: “…it would not be unnatural for the women to wish to make their own offering of devotion, even if they knew that someone else had already done what was required…” [The Gospel According to Mark - Cambridge Greek Testament Commentary (Cambridge, 1959, 1974), 464.]
“No, after all…
  • Mary knew the corpse smelled

    Mary would anticipate that the stench of Jesus's rotting corpse would be overwhelming by Easter morning.1

    But wait

    • …the body would not have been in the tomb very long.2
    • …Mary knew that aromatic spices had been put on Jesus's body3
    1. This (allegedly) should be granted because of the time, temperature and location of Jesus's tomb. Consider:
      Thomas Sheehan: “…the completion of the burial rites on a Sunday morning after burial on Friday night is inconceivable in the Palestinian climate, in which decomposition would already have set in (cf. John 11:39)” [The First Coming: How the Kingdom of God Became Christianity (1986, 2000), Online.]
      Wilhelm Bousset: “Of decisive significance here is the point that the women first come to the grave to anoint the body of Jesus on Sunday (the third day). With the climatic conditions of the Near East this is so utterly inconceivable that we are compelled to assume the entire structure of this narrative was not sketched as a unity, but that a compiler has painstakingly bound together traditions of diverse origins.” [_Kyrios Christos _trans. by Steely (Abingdon, 1970), 103]
    2. The body would not have been in the tomb very long.
      Craig Keener: “…the body remained in the tomb only a day and two nights, and 'a rock-hewn tomb in a cliff side would stay naturally cool.' [The Historical Jesus of the Gospels (Wm. B. Eerdmans, 2009), 327.];
      Dale Allison: “T. Job. 53:5-7 and T. Abr. (rec. long) 20:11 have people remaining around dead bodies for three days. … According to m. Sabb. 23.5, which surely enshrines old practice (cf. John 5:10). one cannot move a body for burial on the Sabbath. So if a person died right before a Sabbath, the body would have to sit around for a day before burial, even if it was the middle of summer. [In Jesus's case, reportedly,] the time between his placement in a cool tomb and the women's visit would have been only twelve hours or so more than the time between the death of someone who died right before the Sabbath and was not placed in a tomb until twenty four hours or more later.” [Resurrecting Jesus (Continuum Int., 2005), 333-334.]
      Craig Keener: “But Jewish mourners as well as pagans were often known to visit tombs within the three days after the burial.” [IVP Bible Background Commentary (IVP, 1993), 183.]
    3. Mary knew that aromatic spices had been put on Jesus's body.
      Walter Wessel (NT professor at Bethel): “The anointing was not for the purpose of preserving the body (embalming was not practiced by the Jews) but was a single act of love and devotion probably meant to reduce the stench of the decomposing body. [Also]…Perhaps they thought that the coolness of the tomb would prevent the decomposition process from taking place as rapidly as it otherwise would.” [The Expositor's Bible Commentary Vol 8. (Zondervan,1984), 786.]
  • She'd know the stone was too heavy

    A thought bubble with a woman pushing a boulder.

    Mary would notice beforehand that she could not move the massive blocking-stone at Jesus's tomb by herself.[See evidence and response]1 This would obviously be relevant because, in conjunction with other reasons, Mary's knowing Jesus's tomb was sealed would be sufficient to deter her from visiting it.

    1. This (allegedly) should be granted for the following reason:
      Maurice Casey (NT literature & language professor at Nottingham): “In real life, it would have been very silly of them to have gone to the tomb without thinking of that first. In Mark's story, however, this creates narrative tension…” [Jesus of Nazareth (T & T Clark, 2010), 474.]
      By way of response however…
      • This does not imply that Mary would not have gone. It at most would be an inaccurate report of Mary's cognitive state at the time. Mary could have went feeling she would have help from available men, like the guards, gardeners, or someone else.
      • The prior probability that the problem had simply not come to mind for her yet is not that low. After all, Mark believed (and/or expected readers to believe) without difficulty that Mary did not notice the problem until she had already set off for the tomb (Mk 16:2-4 -- Very early on the first day of the week, they came to the tomb when the sun had risen. They were saying to one another, “Who will roll away the stone for us from the entrance of the tomb?” Looking up, they saw that the stone had been rolled away, although it was extremely large.). Consider:

      Christopher Bryan (NT professor at Sewanee): “…if there were any reminiscence behind Mark's story [16:2-4], we would surely need to admit that Mary of Magdala and her companions will hardly have been the first or last people in the history of the world to have been moved by strong emotion to attempt something without knowing how they were going to do it, or even without noticing until the last minute an obvious difficulty.” [The Resurrection of the Messiah (Oxford, 2011), 76.] So if the prior probability is higher that Mary would notice before setting off, it need not be that much higher (i.e. the argument here is not particularly strong, contra Brown, The Death of the Messiah, 1311.).

  • She knew guards were there

    Mary would know that soldiers were guarding Jesus's tomb.1

    But no,

    • …the guards (reported in Mt 28) only arrived later; Mary didn't know of them.

    But, so what? Couldn't it simply be that…

    • …the women's emotional state clouded their judgment.3
    • …the guards would not care to prevent the women's entrance.4
    1. After all, there were guards at the tomb.[Forthcoming]
    2. Many critics doubt there were guards, but given that Matthew's report is reliable, the report more specifically says they were stationed at the tomb on the day after Jesus's crucifixion, for reasons Mary could not have anticipated. She would not have seen nor heard of the guards.

      Matti Kankaanniemi: “Friday and Sunday, while - in all likelihood – they spent the Sabbath, the Saturday, ‘the day of the guards’, at someone’s home. In the Markan storyline when the women arrive at the tomb the angel is already seated on the rolled stone. It is therefore possible, in principle, that the women never saw a single guard at the tomb, even if guards had been posted there.” [The Guards of the Tomb (Åbo Akademi, 2007), 29.]

    3. See David Wenham's, “The Resurrection Narratives in Matthew's Gospel.” Tyndale Bulletin 24 (1973): 28.; Christopher Bryan makes similar comments in The Resurrection of the Messiah (Oxford, 2011), 76. [quoted above]).
    4. After all, as noted by Richard Swinburne (Philosophy professor at Oxford): “The purpose of the guard was surely not to 'prevent entry' but to prevent the corpse from being removed.” [The Resurrection of God Incarnate (Clarendon, 2003), 179.]