Getting the Burial Traditions and Evidence Right

In the article “Getting the Burial Traditions and Evidence Right,” Mr. Craig A. Evans presents a detailed and precise argument in support of the hypothesis that Jesus was buried in a tomb.  He does this in response to the arguments of Mr. Bart Ehrman, who believes that Jesus’ body was not laid in a tomb based on the facts that a) his burial was not mentioned in the early creeds of the Church and b) it was not the custom of the Romans to allow the burial of criminals.  Because of this, he believes that the story of Jesus’ burial, even the detail about a certain “Joseph of Arimathea,” was a legend that was added to the gospels at a later time.

To counter these arguments, Evans thoroughly lists ancient sources, both Jewish and Roman, as evidence to support his claims.  By citing historians and witnesses like Philo and Josephus, Evans is able to give substantial proof that, according to the ancient burial customs of the Romans and the Jews (especially of criminals), Jesus’ entombment is not only plausible, but probable.

I enjoyed Evans’ methodical and thorough approach to the issue.  Though he seemed repetitive and his evidence lengthy, all seemed necessary to adequately satisfy the doubts that Ehrman leaves in the mind of the reader.  However, my favorite part was the last section of the reading.  Here, Evans logically and concisely answers the issue of the tomb, wonderfully summing up the evidence he manifests throughout the article.  It is a perfect apologetic answer for the average person.

8 thoughts on “Getting the Burial Traditions and Evidence Right”

  1. I found this article very interesting as I have never really thought about arguing for the historicity Jesus’ actual burial in a tomb. It was always something I took for granted because I trust the reliability of the Gospels. Granted, challenging this fact should not be completely surprising as just about every minute detail of the Bible is questioned in regards to its historical accuracy. Like Sandro says, the last section is an excellent synthesis of his argument as he includes the importance of women at the tomb, the analysis of Paul’s lack of explicit mention of a tomb or Joseph of Arimathea, and the importance of the empty tomb. An important observation that Evans makes is that we must be very careful when “arguing from silence.” Just because a piece of evidence neglects to mention the burial of Jesus in a tomb does not mean we can jump to the conclusion that the opposite is true.

  2. Nice summary Sandro! Like Josh, I never really considered questioning the historicity of Jesus being buried in a tomb. I do believe that Evans does a pretty thorough job in showing why the burial of Jesus in a tomb is not only probable but likely. I would be curious if the recent discovery and unearthing of the tomb of Jesus would have any effect on Ehrman’s initial beliefs that Jesus was not buried in a physical tomb. I’m not sure it would change his mind, but it sure does make his argument a bit tougher to defend!

  3. I enjoyed the article as well! Evans makes an excellent point at the end of this particular chapter. He speaks in reference to the prominence of women in the Easter accounts. If women in the ancient world had little credibility and authority, it’s evidence that their place in the scriptures shows that these accounts are anything but legend! If the evangelists were to construct some theological legend, one would think that they would want to make it more credible by having the risen Lord appear to men. This is what is fascinating about this Jesus of Nazareth! He completely turns everything on it’s head. He leaves the world stunned at this beautiful story. One has to think that these gospel accounts could not have been authored purely by the human mind. Well done, Sandro!

  4. I had never really thought of the burial of Jesus in the tomb as being something to be questioned. Gues I was wrong. It would be improbable that the body of Jesus not be buried. Even if He was considered a criminal. Burying the dead was a very important work in the Jewish culture. To not bury the dead would be crime against the Lord. The Book of Tobit talks explicitly of the the importance one takes in burying the dead.

  5. A good review of a lengthy article – I liked how your summary included specifics. I’m glad there has been scholarly debate over such things – the historicity of Jesus’ death and resurrection are well defended.

  6. It is interesting that the burial of Jesus can be used as an apologetic. It is something that needs to be asserted because it affirms the real death of Jesus. And a real death leads to a real resurrection from the dead. I found this article very well done. I enjoyed your reflection in light of scholarly work.

  7. I agree with everyone above. With all the secular talk of trying to find Jesus’ body a couple of years ago, I never even considered that there were some out there who do not believed that he would not have been buried! Yet, as Dave said, we can use this as an apologetic instrument. Good work!

  8. At first glance the accusations of Bart Ehrman on the non-burial of the body of Jesus post crucifixion are formidable. Evans does a great job in countering this accusation so commonly posited by though would strive to debunk the divinity of Jesus. It’s not a matter of if this question will come up in ministry but when. I’m grateful for such an article. Great summary Sandro!

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