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WRONG TOMB?

The gospels say that a miracle healing man called Jesus Christ lived. They say he died by crucifixion and three days later he rose again. The tomb he was placed in was found wide open with the stone that had been across the entrance moved back and the tomb was mysteriously empty. His body was gone. Certain witnesses claimed that Jesus appeared to them as a resurrected being.

 

Jesus was guilty of blasphemy under Jewish law and found guilty.  If the gospels are to be believed, Pilate let his Jewish brethren have the body to bury it.  But the rule is, "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” (Antiquities of the Jews 4.8.6).  If the Jews were unable to do all that to him they were able to give him a shameful hidden burial.  If that happened the story of the tomb is lies.  Or the tomb was temporary and he was taken from it and dumped.

 

If the New Testament is thinking of Isaiah 26:19 which predicts that the dead will rise and those who are in the tombs shall be alive or of Hosea 6:1-2 which says a number of people will be raised up on the third day we must ask a question?  Is that why Matthew has several resurrections happening at the one time of which Jesus’ was one? Anybody could have done a bit of spin and presented one of these people as the true saviour. For all we know, somebody could have been raiding tombs and the people assumed the bodies had risen from the dead.  Maybe the apostles saw somebody else - the gospels say Jesus was not easily recognised - and lied or thought it was Jesus?

 

It is likely that if the New Testament writer had a gap in his information, because of the doctrine that the Old Testament preaches Jesus and the gospel in a prophetic way, that he used a prophecy to fill the gap.  For all we know, Matthew then may have thought people rose because the Old Testament seemed to say so.  It is possible that the same technique was used to work out that Jesus must have been entombed.  Isaiah 53 says the servant of God will be entombed with the wicked.  Ezekiel 37:13 has God saying he will open graves and the bodies will be brought up from them. Daniel 12:2 says that many who are dead in the earth will awake.

 

If the gospels are to be believed, Joseph of Arimathea buried Jesus.  He was a secret disciple and lived in fear of his Jewish peers.  His secretiveness makes it unlikely that Pilate the Roman governor or anybody knew where the tomb was. The Jews definitely did not know. Why would anybody want them to know anyway?  Matthew alone says the tomb was guarded.  So there was no way the guards could have went to the right tomb. 

 

However Matthew says the hostile Jews got the tomb guarded and testified to the tomb being empty and blamed the disciples for robbing it.

 

John says Jesus was anointed at burial but the other gospels say the women came to do it on Sunday morning. The women would not have been coming to anoint Jesus if they knew the tomb had been sealed.  Were the women in fact deliberatley going to another tomb to misdirect?  If Matthew is to be believed. there were a number of tombs with stones rolled back!  Matthew writes that when Jesus died, “At that moment the curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom. The earth shook, the rocks split and the tombs broke open.”


The tomb was found empty by women and then some of the apostles came to the tomb when they heard the women's story. The apostles did not see Jesus buried so they had to take the women's word for it that it was indeed the right tomb.


It is interesting that Peter argues in Acts 2 that the Psalm that says somebody will not suffer the grave does not refer to David who wrote it for his tomb is among us but to Jesus.  Nobody knew where David was or could check if his body was in the tomb.  The argument is suggesting that it is important than the prophecy says somebody will rise (it doesn't say that) but checking tombs is not important.

 

Acts 13 reads, “Fellow children of Abraham and you God-fearing Gentiles, it is to us that this message of salvation has been sent. The people of Jerusalem and their rulers did not recognize Jesus, yet in condemning him they fulfilled the words of the prophets that are read every Sabbath. Though they found no proper ground for a death sentence, they asked Pilate to have him executed. When they had carried out all that was written about him, they took him down from the cross and laid him in a tomb. But God raised him from the dead, and for many days he was seen by those who had traveled with him from Galilee to Jerusalem. They are now his witnesses to our people."  Efforts are made to deny that this is saying hostile Jews took Jesus and buried him but they will not do.  The text means what it says and does not have nice Joseph and Nicodemus and the kind Jewish women of the gospels in mind.  If the accounts can't agree on who buried Jesus then why trust them that the tomb was known and found empty?  The text tells a bare-faced lie that Jewish scriptures are so full of predictions about the execution of Jesus that they are read every sabbath.  It is passive aggressive and trying to make out they had no excuse but wilful blindness for not recognising Jesus.

 

John 20:19 and 21:1 make it clear that Jesus apostles stayed in Jerusalem after his death and were in hiding for they felt they were in danger from the Jews who could have sent them to the same fate they obtained for Jesus.  As Jesus was killed for being an allegedly fake Messiah it followed his supporters had to be in danger too.  Luke 24 has the apostles staying in Jerusalem too.  What lacks credibility is that they stayed in the city at the heart of their troubles.  You don't hide in a city where the enemy are all powerful.   If they were that scared, how come the women risked going to the tomb of Jesus?  Were they not afraid of being followed or forced to tell where the apostles were?  How come the apostles went to the tomb?  The Matthew gospel has the apostles getting a message to go to Galilee to see Jesus which does not fit John's allegation that Jesus appeared to the apostles in Jerusalem on the day he rose.

 

If the apostles were in hiding which seems to ring true, then there were lies about them going to the tomb.  You would think the lies are trying to cover up that nobody knew anything for sure about the tomb.
 
Some say tombs that were new and empty would have been scarce so the women probably did go to the right tomb. But how do they know?  Surely if such tombs were out of the ordinary a mistake would have been easier?
 
Jesus is believed to have been buried in a new tomb owned by rich man Joseph of Arimathea that he cut out of a rock. Mark's gospel says nothing about this. Matthew who used Mark as a source does. Matthew sometimes embellishes things so we cannot be sure. Matthew tries to make the story fit the prophecy of Isaiah 53 better. It says the holy servant is with the rich one and the wicked one in his death. So Matthew presents Jesus as being buried in a rich man's tomb. Matthew however conveniently ignored the bit about the wicked.  Matthew says that the angel told the women to go into the tomb to see where Jesus had been but he never says they went in.  It was only hearsay that the tomb was empty then.  Even the angel does not say he looked.  Mark it must be admitted has a forged account that does say the women and the angel looked.  However Luke says they and the angel looked.

 

The John gospel says that the Jews asked Pilate to get the three men including Jesus who were nailed to the cross killed quickly by having their legs broken if they were still alive so that the bodies could be taken away before the religious holy day.  Then it says Joseph of Arimeathea who was afraid of the Jews and a secret disciple of Jesus went to Pilate to get permission to take the body away.  How secret was the removal then if Joseph was scared?  The gospel says nothing more than that Joseph and Nicodemus buried Jesus.  The John gospel likes to stress testimony so we must assume it means that there was only those two involved.  So two men could move the stone of the tomb and the burial was very secret and the gospel gives no hint that Pilate thought they would bury the body never mind where.  The account says that they were in a hurry because of the festival so they picked the nearest tomb not the best one or the most accessible one.  The owner of the tomb is not stated.  It is not stated in any gospel that the tomb was meant to be Jesus' final resting place.
 
Some think that as people worried that Jesus could turn political revolutionary or his followers could orchestrate an uprising to make him king that when Jesus died he was buried as soon as possible as it would seem inflammatory to keep him too long on the cross. If they are right, you would expect the tomb to be in an unknown location. The gospels say that there was no attempt at keeping the tomb secret.

 

Secret burials of stolen bodies were not unknown. Read Tobit (chapter 1) a book that some think belongs to the Old Testament.  "While Shalmaneser was still emperor, I took good care of my own people whenever they were in need. If they were hungry, I shared my food with them; if they needed clothes, I gave them some of my own. Whenever I saw that the dead body of one of my people had been thrown outside the city wall, I gave it a decent burial.  One day Sennacherib cursed God, the King of Heaven; God punished him, and Sennacherib had to retreat from Judah. On his way back to Media he was so furious that he killed many Israelites. But I secretly removed the bodies and buried them; and when Sennacherib later searched for the bodies, he could not find them.  Then someone from Nineveh told the emperor that I was the one who had been burying his victims. As soon as I realized that the emperor knew all about me and that my life was in danger, I became frightened. So I ran away and hid."
 
Some surmise that if the gospels wanted to say Jesus rose from the dead, it was best to say he was put into a tomb which was then found empty. If Jesus were thrown into a common grave with other criminals the story would not be as impressive or catchy. For instance, nobody would know if he went missing from the grave or not.
 
Could it have been that the people who reckoned Jesus had disappeared from the tomb had in fact gone to the wrong tomb?

There is no evidence that the tomb of Jesus was the only one in the vicinity. There would have been more than one for it was near the city and families bury close together. Tombs were made out of quarries so there would have been lots of them in the one place.

Matthew reports that several tombs were found opened after Jesus’ demise when he says that lots of saints rose from the dead before Jesus and came out of their tombs after he appeared. Perhaps this was an excuse to cover up what was really going on. Perhaps it was to explain all the empty tombs. If somebody had been searching for his body they might have gone wide of the mark several times and left a number of tombs empty. Perhaps there were several opened tombs. If there was an earthquake as Matthew says it could have damaged many tombs  Since bones were flung into the same ossaries nobody would have been sure if bones were missing due to resurrection or not. Reports of resurrections would mean that there was a lot of talk about the missing bodies and empty places where bones had been. There is every reason to believe that these alleged resurrections were surmised to be complete bodily resurrections like the resurrections Jesus had performed before his death reserving the semi-physical one for himself (the records seem to say that Jesus was more like a spirit than a man after death). Perhaps there was too much of it about for anybody to worry about Jesus and his tomb.

 

The Church says the New Testament stresses how Jesus' resurrection was different to a mere coming back to life and he was the first to rise like that which is why he is called the first fruits of the resurrection.  The resurrection is a form of eternal salvation unlike a mere rising from the dead.  This account of multiple resurrections does not fit that for it has resurrections happening before Jesus's so he was not the first of the fruits.  Some think there is an error in the timing so Jesus and a pile of people rose at the one time.  So either he rose first and they rose seconds later making it all much the same time or they were collectively the first fruit.
 
Matthew weakens the case for a supernatural resurrection of Jesus and his account of the saints rising has no credence for he never said he had evidence for it. He just interprets what he had heard or perhaps he just assumes it happened. The stories of people rising from the dead might have prompted the apostles to do the same with their hero. Perhaps they enjoyed telling it so much that they eventually came to believe their own lies.
  
The location of Jesus’ resting place would have been totally hidden by the Romans and highest-level Jews from the likes of Joseph of Arimathea and the women and everybody in case a martyr-cult would be launched. If Matthew is right that the Jews expected a resurrection then that was the simple way to ensure the body never went missing. The Jews and Romans did not want Jesus to have fans after his death for they killed him to extinguish his influence.

The two Marys sitting facing the tomb at the interment might have been at a distance. The Gospels say they were inconsolable. They could have made a mistake by coming to the wrong tomb and their agitated mental state and the darkness of Friday though they had observed where Jesus had been laid on Friday. The apostles did not see where Jesus was laid so they could have been misdirected by the women.

The tomb might have been open awaiting a body and the men in white could have played a cruel trick on the women.

The Jews must have asked Joseph, who they knew well, where Jesus was if Joseph really took care of the funeral as the gospels report. They would have. We know Joseph was devious and dishonest. He knew that if they were told the truth they might remove the body to prevent some believer from stealing it. They needed to know for if they had watched the funeral the gospel would say so in case anybody would complain that the circle at the funeral was too close for comfort. So, they might have sent the soldiers to the wrong tomb – to a tomb that was already empty.

Jesus would probably have been removed or stolen from the tomb he was really in when everybody thought he had already gone from the other tomb.

If the women ever realised they had made a mistake they would have been afraid to say so and might have said nothing. Mark says the women were too scared to tell that they saw the risen Jesus.

Maybe it was eventually learned that they had gone to the wrong tomb and that was why the women were not arrested for body snatching and nobody was accused of tampering with the tomb.

The Christians would not have said where Jesus was in case the Jews and the Romans would have him thrown on the dump. Pilate handing Jesus over to Joseph would have been highly irregular if it happened. It would have been tantamount to admitting the Romans had had an innocent man killed so he could have been forced to reverse his decision. Pilate giving away the body would be almost impossible so the gospel lies but at least the gospel is hinting that nobody knew for sure where the body was taken.

The gospels cannot stand as evidence for a supernatural disappearance of the body when they cannot satisfy us that the right tomb was found.

History leads us to the same conclusion for there is no hint that Jesus’ tomb was revered as a martyr’s shrine until decades later (page 108, The Womb and the Tomb). It could not have been for the early Christians were Jews and Jews did not touch unclean things like tombs unless it was unavoidable.

Constantine claimed that he found Jesus’ tomb in a quarry on the site where the Church of the Holy Sepulchre stands today in Jerusalem. He said he found evidence. That evidence must have been graffiti which would naturally appear on any tomb that some careless old fossil designates as a shrine. But the tomb is conveniently ruined. A pagan temple was once built on it. Some said it was not the tomb because the gospels said that Jesus was buried outside the city walls but this tomb was inside. The tomb was outside the city before the walls were extended in 41 AD.

The Womb and the Tomb states that if Jesus had been stolen and it could not be proved it would have been used as a Holy Place where something unworldly happened to a blessed saint (page 108). If then, there had been an empty tomb, it would have been made a shrine. So, the believers who had drifted away from the Jewishness would have been the ones who picked the tomb they thought was that of Jesus but it took a long time for Christians like that to appear there. They might have been wrong or shooting in the dark. The tomb would probably have been used after Jesus’ disappearance so visitors would have been banned by law. The tomb might have been filled in to prevent it being sacred to Christians.

It is assumed that since the Jews and Roman soldiers went to the tomb before the resurrection no mistake would have been made (page 98, The Resurrection Factor). But what if Joseph of Arimathea deliberately directed them to the wrong tomb? Joseph was the only person mentioned that they might have asked for he was one of their own. They would not have told him why they wanted to go to the tomb of Jesus and he would have been afraid that they were going to have Jesus removed and dumped so he would have lied. Christians reply that the Romans already knew where Jesus was buried but there is no evidence from the gospels that that was the case.

It is assumed that the Romans and the Sanhedrin (Evidence that Demands a Verdict Vol 1, page 257) and Joseph of Arimathea would have inspected the tomb after Jesus was said to have vanished and would have gone to the right one. Joseph would not have said had there been a mistake for he would have been glad if it looked like Jesus rose and might even have directed them to the wrong tomb. The Sanhedrin would have made do with a report from the Romans – they were judges and religious leaders not detectives. The guards might have been posted at the wrong tomb thanks to him which was hit by lightning making the rock move.

Another tomb outside the city walls that is considered to have been the tomb of Jesus has a water channel dug by the crusaders that was thought to be the groove for the big round stone to be rolled in. It has a good high doorway. John 20 says you had to stoop to get into Jesus’ tomb. This tomb was used before the time of Jesus as well.
 
Jesus told the Pharisees and Scribes he would do no miraculous sign for them but the sign of Jonah and he would be three days in the heart of the earth before rising again. That does not sound like a tomb which would hardly be in the heart of the earth. It sounds like a deep burial in the ground. The Christians conveniently do not take the heart of the earth literally.
 
Acts 1:15-20 says that Judas, who betrayed Jesus, bought a field with the proceeds of having betrayed Jesus and died violently and horribly in it. If a body was found there was it Jesus' while liars said it was Judas? And why does Matthew 27 says the Sanhedrin bought it with the money for Judas flung it back at them and called it the field of blood? Why would the Sanhedrin call a field in honour of the blood of Jesus whose death they had paid blood money for? Did they bury Jesus there if they were that remorseful and turned that decent?

 

You would wonder why the gospels seem to be interested in the tomb and its emptiness for an empty tomb in itself does not show a resurrection happened and Jesus could have been stolen and still rise.  Surely a test done by the apostles or whoever on the risen man to make sure he had a body would be more important.  There are no accounts of a test.  Even when Jesus asks Thomas to test we are not told that Thomas did the test.  Luke says Jesus has a body but nobody checks.  John says there were a number who went to see the tomb and found it empty including Peter.  Some sceptics feel the empty tomb start of the idea that Jesus rose.  Oddly in John you have Magdalene saying the Lord has been taken away by some "they".  She calls Jesus Lord and that is a strange way to talk about a man who supposedly at the time was dead and expected to stay dead.  A real Lord could rise again.

 

The wrong tomb was probably visited.  If Jesus were put in the tomb and then shifted to another one or a common grave then it could be that it was both the right tomb and the wrong one.  No fuss or major investigation ensued as far as we can tell so the robbers could have emptied the tomb at their leisure.

 

The contents of any tombs around Golgotha were cleared out in 44 AD. In that year the holy city was extended. The bones and bodies were reburied. An empty tomb legend could have started off then and become irrefutable. Let us quote Shimon Gibson from

 

 http://www.biblearchaeology.org/post/2010/01/11/Golgotha-A-Reconsideration-of-the-Evidence-for-the-Sites-of-Jesuse28099-Crucifixion-and-Burial.aspx#Article

 

"The period after 41–44, when Agrippa I had included this area within his Third Wall. With this innovation, tombs would have been emptied, and tombs already cut would no longer have been used."

We conclude then that the tomb of Jesus is not known and nobody was ever sure.

FURTHER READING

Christianity for the Tough-Minded, Ed John Warwick Montgomery, Bethany Fellowship Inc, Minneapolis, 1973
Evidence that Demands a Verdict, Vol 1, Josh McDowell, Alpha, Scripture Press Foundation, Bucks, 1995
He Walked Among Us, Josh McDowell and Bill Wilson, Alpha, Cumbria, 2000
Jesus: The Evidence, Ian Wilson, Pan, London, 1985
The First Easter, What Really Happened? HJ Richards, Collins/Fount Glasgow, 1980
The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail, Michael Baigent, Richard Leigh and Henry Lincoln, Corgi, London, 1982
The Jesus Event, Martin R Tripole SJ, Alba House, New York, 1980
The Jesus Inquest, Charles Foster, Monarch Books, Oxford, 2006
The Passover Plot, Hugh Schonfield, Element, Dorset, 1996
The Resurrection Factor, Josh McDowell, Alpha, Scripture Press Foundation, Bucks, 1993
The Resurrection of Jesus, Pinchas Lapide, SPCK, London, 1984
The Unauthorised Version, Robin Lane Fox, Penguin, Middlesex, 1992
The Second Messiah, Christopher Knight and Robert Lomas, Arrow, London, 1998
The Virginal Conception and Bodily Resurrection of Jesus, Raymond E Brown, Paulist Press, New York, 1973
The Womb and the Tomb, Hugh Montifiore, Fount – HarperCollins, London, 1992
Verdict on the Empty Tomb, Val Grieve Falcon, London, 1976
Who Moved the Stone? Frank Morison, OM Publishing, Cumbria, 1997