Would Romans allow Jews to bury the crucified?

  • Clarifying the question

    Romans governed Jerusalem during AD 30, and in certain circumstances they crucified individuals they regarded as criminals. After a crucifixion, in this time and place, did Romans allow for those crucified criminals to be buried?

  • Historians agree, saying “Yes”

    • Craig Evans (Ashbury professor of NT, founder of DSS Inst.): “Of course, Roman crucifixion often did not permit burial, request or no request. Non-burial was part of the horror—and the deterrent—of crucifixion. But crucifixion—during peacetime—just outside the walls of Jerusalem was another matter. Burial would have been expected, even demanded. [...Regarding non-burial crucifixions] Most of these cases involve open rebellion and armed conflict, on the one hand, or mob actions and anarchy, on the other. None of these cases can be said to be ‘normal’ or ‘typical’ of peacetime Roman administration. These cases are exceptional and involve desperate attempts to gain or retake control and/or terrorize civilian populations. Peacetime administration in Palestine appears to have respected Jewish burial sensitivities.”
    • Shimon Gibson (Leading Archaeologist; professor, 20+ years excavating): “The idea that an executed Jew would have been chucked into a common burial pit after being removed from the cross is unlikely. It may have been the normal practice for criminals of the lower classes and for slaves elsewhere in the Roman Empire, but it is unlikely to have been practiced in Jerusalem because of Jewish religious sensibilities.” [The Final Days of Jesus (Harper Collins, 2009) 132.]
    • Byron McCane (Professor of religion at Wofford): “At the time of Jesus, in fact, the situation was peaceful enough that events in and around Jerusalem were not always under the direct control of the Roman prefect… A small Roman force was stationed in the city in the fortress of Antonia, but the routine day-to-day government of Jerusalem was largely in Jewish hands, specifically the High Priest and the council.” [“‘Where no one had yet been laid’: The Shame of Jesus’ Burial,” Authenticating the Activities of Jesus, eds. Chilton & Evans (Brill 2002), 431-452.]
“Yes, after all…
  • Examples exist of crucifixion unto tomb burial

    Examples exist where the crucified are buried in tombs (in AD 30, Jerusalem).1 This is relevant because it entails Romans did allow Jews to bury the crucified.

    1. Byron McCane (Professor of religion at Wofford): “…Roman prefects—including at least one that we know of in first-century Jerusalem—did allow the burial of crucifixion victims [unless it came at] at a time of revolt against Rome.” [“Where No One Had Yet Been Laid: The Shame of Jesus' Burial”, Authenticating the Activities of Jesus, ads. Chilton & Evans (New Testament Tools and Studies 28: Brill, 1999).]
  • Romans accommodated Jewish laws

    Romans accommodated Jewish law/demands during peacetime (AD 30).

    This is relevant because, in general, unburied bodies were a Law-breaking horror to Judean Jews,1 especially unburied bodies in Jerusalem,2 and, “especially so during Passover season.”3

    1. That is,

      R.T. France (N.T. scholar, lecturer): “[i]n Judea there were local sensitivities about bodies left unburied (Dt. 21:22-23), which meant that the soldiers would be likely to give them a quick burial in a mass grave Josephus, War. 317, attests that in Judaea, exceptionally, crucified men were buried.” [The Gospel of Mark NIGTC (Wm. B. Eerdmans, 2002), 662.] For example, in the case of Jesus: • Byron McCane (Professor of religion at Wofford): “[a] request by a Jewish leader for the body of Jesus would not have been out of place, … since Jesus was not caught up in a mass crucifixion, and his death did not come at a time of revolt against Rome. … The Jewish leaders of Jesus' day generally cooperated with Pilate in preserving public order in Jerusalem, and the occasion of Jesus' death was a Jewish religious holiday. [“Where No One Had Yet Been Laid: The Shame of Jesus' Burial”, Authenticating the Activities of Jesus, ads. Chilton & Evans (New Testament Tools and Studies 28: Brill, 1999). ][257 in ed Evans’s ‘His Jesus’] So,
      Raymond Brown (Liberal; leading NT Scholar, professor [NY]): “That Jesus was buried is historically certain. That Jewish sensitivity would have wanted this done before the oncoming Sabbath (which may also have been a feast day) is also' certain, and our records give us no reason to think that this sensitivity was not honored.” [Death of the Messiah (Doubleday, 1994) 1240.]

    2. Richard Carrier (Pro-atheism [infidels.org], classicist): “[t]his violation of the law was not likely practiced in Jerusalem, given the special status of the city as Jewish holy ground.” [“Jewish Law, the Burial of Jesus, and the Third Day” article]
    3. Craig Evans (NT professor, founder of Dead Sea Scrolls Institute): “[i]n peacetime Jewish crucifixion victims were normally buried (though almost never with the iron spikes), just as Josephus himself says. […] Rome was not at war with Israel. On the contrary, Roman and Jewish authorities were working together. Under such circumstances we should expect that crucifixion victims would normally, if not always, be taken down and buried. To leave the body of Jesus hanging on the cross or to have it thrown into a ditch where it might have been mauled by dogs would have been highly offensive to Jews, whether they were sympathizers of Jesus or not, especially so during passover season” [Word Biblical Commentary on Mark, 517.]
  • Jews wouldn't request crucifixion otherwise

    Jews wouldn't have requested crucifixion unless burial after was guaranteed.1 This is relevant because crucifixion was requested by the Jews.2

    1. Jewish law required crucified corpses be buried by sunset (lest their land be defiled). However, the gospels report a consensus demand from the Jews and their leadership to have Jesus crucified, and at Passover no less (Mt 20:19, 27:22-31, Mk 15:13-14, Lk 23:21, Jn Jn 19:15). Surely their request can only mean there was no perceived danger in it culminating in land defilement from unburied corpses. However, if Roman crucifixion in 30 AD Jerusalem didn't normally permit a subsequent pre-sunset burial, that's precisely what the Jews would would knowingly be risking and asking for. Since they wouldn't knowingly risk or ask for such a thing, obviously Roman crucifixion in 30 AD Jerusalem normally did permit a subsequent pre-sunset burial. One can't maintain that the Jews simply weren't thinking that far ahead, as if they wouldn't have learned their lesson long ago; a history of unburied victims would have long rendered request of crucifixion a Jewish taboo.
    2. This is multiply attested in Mt 20:19, 27:22-31, Mk 15:13-14, Lk 23:21, Jn Jn 19:15.
  • Romans sped the death for Jews

    Romans hastened the crucified's death on behalf of the Jews.1 This is relevant because the Romans did this for the Jews, knowing their intent to bury.

    1. By hanging from their spread out arms, the crucified ultimately died through asphyxiation. By pushing down with their legs on the nail in their foot, they could obtain additional oxygen, prolonging their life on the cross. When death needed to be expedited, Romans would break their legs to prevent this—a practice called “crucifragrum.” In order to have time to bury the corpses before sunset, the Jewish leaders requested the soldiers break the legs of Jesus and those being crucified beside him.

      John 19:31-33 -- “Then the Jews, because it was the day of preparation, so that the bodies would not remain on the cross on the Sabbath (for that Sabbath was a high day), asked Pilate that their legs might be broken, and that they might be taken away. So the soldiers came, and broke the legs of the first man and of the other who was crucified with Him;”

“No, after all…
  • Crucifixion en masse are well attested

    There are well-attested instances of mass crucifixion wherein the crucified were not permitted burial.

    So? These were “in times of acute crisis.”1

    1. Byron McCane (Professor of religion at Wofford): “These mass crucifixions, it turns out, all come from times of acute crisis, when Roman military officers were being called in to stabilize situations which had gotten out of control…Throughout most of the 1C, by contrast, and especially at the time of Jesus’ death, Judea was not in open revolt against Rome and was not under the control of Roman generals commanding legions of soldiers…” [“‘Where no one had yet been laid’: The Shame of Jesus’ Burial,” Authenticating the Activities of Jesus, B. Chilton & C. Evans, eds. (Brill 2002).]