March 03, 2007

Once More into the Breach

I first learned of Jodi Magness' work through her Journal of Biblical Literature (JBL) paper, "Ossuaries and the Burials of Jesus and James," which I summarized back in April 2005. At that time, I found her scholarly work clear and very understandable even for the non-academic. The Society of Biblical Literature (SBL) forum note she has just published on the "Tomb of Jesus" reinforces my view. I'm not necessarily claiming she is correct in her analysis. While I think she is; I am far from a specialist. I do claim that her note adds an important reasoned discussion to a non-topic that people who make a living by blowing things out of proportion, not surprisingly, have blown out of proportion. Give her note a read.

What follows is the idle speculation by a non-specialist lacking even amateur standing and should be taken as little more than the ravings of a mad man. However, I hope this mad man's ravings are not judged more harshly than the orthodox Christian position on what I am about to discuss. If you are inclined to be more charitable, please remember that my speculation goes well beyond any evidence and beyond anything Magness claims in either of the works cited in the references. Also, I haven't researched my speculation so it may not even be original. Indeed, it appears too obvious to be original.

Magness, in her SBL Forum note, comes close to providing a quite simple explanation of the origin of the Christian New Testament resurrection accounts.

When the women entered the tomb of Joseph of Arimathea on Sunday morning, the loculus where Jesus' body had been laid was empty. The theological explanation for this phenomenon is that Jesus was resurrected from the dead. However, once Jesus had been buried in accordance with Jewish law, there was no prohibition against removing the body from the tomb after the end of the Sabbath and reburying it. It is therefore possible that followers or family members removed Jesus' body from Joseph's tomb after the Sabbath ended and buried it in a trench grave, as it would have been unusual (to say the least) to leave a non-relative in a family tomb. Whatever explanation one prefers, the fact that Jesus' body did not remain in Joseph's tomb means that his bones could not have been collected in an ossuary, at least not if we follow the Gospel accounts.

It is hard to assess the value of the Christian New Testament as a source for the actual events that may have taken place. On the one hand, it is dominated by an overriding theological perspective. On the other hand, it is unreasonable to think that it contains no valid memories of the events it recounts and is therefore completely fictional. If Joseph of Arimathea himself had Jesus' body removed from his, Joseph of Arimathea's, family tomb when the Sabbath ended but before the women arrived, a completely naturalistic explanation of the core beliefs of Christianity would be in the offing. Joseph had the body removed and reburied and the women found an empty tomb. Early Christians then provided a theological explanation for this sequence of events and wrapped it in mythological trappings. After all, Jesus' burial in Joseph of Arimathea's tomb was a matter of ritual driven convenience and was not necessarily intended to be Jesus' final resting place. This may have nothing to do with how the myth arose (bad pun intended) and it is certainly not what Magness is indicating in her note, but the idea occurred to me when I read her JBL paper in 2005 and her Forum note resurrected it.

Thanks to Jim West for directing me to the Magness' SBL Forum note.


Magness, Jodi, "Has the Tomb of Jesus Been Discovered?" SBL Online Forum, V, 2, Feb, 2007

Magness, Jodi, Ossuaries and the Burials of Jesus and James, JBL, 124, Spring 2005, 121-154

Posted by DuaneSmith at March 3, 2007 02:04 PM | Read more on Archaeology |

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Very interesting. He was assumed to have risen from the dead because his body had been taken away for a trench burial.

Posted by: beepbeepitsme at March 4, 2007 06:27 PM

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