The burial scene
We may bow with such reverence as the
palpable sham of the whole affair
permits while we look for a moment upon the burial of a crucified and dead
Matthew records that when even was come, a rich disciple of Jesus, one
of Arimathea, "went to Pilate, and begged the body of Jesus" (27.58). Mark
tells how Joseph went about the request; he "went in boldly unto Pilate,
craved the body of Jesus (15.43); but not so boldly, says John--"but
for fear of the Jews, besought Pilate" (19.38).
When Joseph had got the body of Jesus by Pilate's order, says Matthew, "he
wrapped it in a clean linen cloth, And laid it in his own new tomb, which
had hewn out in the rock" (27.59, 60). Mark relates that Joseph first went
and "bought fine linen" (15.46), which, however, can hardly be true; for
Joseph was a Jew and a member of the Cyanhydrin, and "the even was come,
because it was the preparation, that is, the day before the sabbath"
therefore it was the sabbath, which began at "even"; and dry goods could
neither be bought nor sold, nor would "an honorable counsellor" (15.43),
Joseph was, have violated the holy law by such an act, the penalty for
was stoning to death. Howbeit, having somehow the fine linen, Joseph took
Jesus down from the cross, wrapped the body in the linen, "and laid him in
sepulchre which was hewn out of a rock" (15.46). But this evidently was
Joseph's "own new tomb" of Matthew! Mark who wrote first, does not mention
this important circumstance; and John makes it positive that it was just a
vacant tomb that happened to be handy for temporary use. John makes
Nicodemus, too, a party to the burial: "And there came also Nicodemus. ...
Then took they the body of Jesus. ... Now in the place where he was
there was a garden; and in the garden a new sepulchre, wherein was never
yet laid. There laid they Jesus therefore because of the Jews' preparation
day; for the sepulchre was nigh at hand" (19.39-42). So it was just an
burial place near by, and Jesus was temporarily laid in it "therefore
because" of the holiday, "for the sepulchre was nigh at hand." All this
excludes totally the notion that this was Joseph's "own new tomb."
Joseph then, all alone, says Matthew, "rolled a great stone to the door of
the sepulchre, and departed" (27.60), leaving two Marys "sitting over
the sepulchre" (27.61; Mark 15.46, 47). But according to Luke, Joseph,
alone, rolled no stone against the door, but simply laid the body in
and went away, and he left no women there watching. For, after Joseph was
gone away, "the women ... followed after, and beheld the sepulchre, and
his body was laid" (23.55), showing there was no stone closing the
which is further proved by the statement that the women "returned and
prepared spices and ointments" (23.56) to anoint or embalm the body. There
was no embalmment, according to Matthew and Mark, as we have seen; and
women saw none, for they viewed the body and went away to prepare to
it. But John avers that the body of Jesus was embalmed before burial, by
Joseph and Nicodemus, and in very exuberant superfluity. For Nicodemus
brought along "a mixture of myrrh and aloes, about an hundred pound weight"
(19.39)--enough to embalm an elephant. "Then took they the body of Jesus,
wound it in linen clothes with the spices as the manner of the Jews is to
bury" (19.40). Then they buried it, but are not recorded to have rolled
stone before the sepulchre, though all four evangelists speak of the
being rolled away on the morning of the resurrection.
The women who, Luke says, came up after Joseph had left, "saw how his body
was laid" in the open sepulchre; they then returned home "and prepared
and ointments" to embalm the body, and then they "rested the sabbath day"
(Luke 23.56); thus they had obtained and prepared the materials before the
sabbath. But Mark has it otherwise, that "when the sabbath was past," the
women "had bought" (the Revised Version honestly reads "bought") the
materials "that they might come and anoint him" (Mark 16.1); thus not
the materials until after the sabbath.
Matthew, the most incorrigible wonder-monger of them all, is the only one
record an episode which must be noticed, as it is one of his most palpable
fabrications. According to Matthew, Jesus was crucified and buried on the
"day of preparation" for the sabbath, that is, on Friday afternoon. Then
begins to entangle himself:
"Now the next day, that followed the day of the preparation [that is, on
sabbath day], the chief priests and Pharisees came together unto Pilate [the
most punctilious of the Jews going on their holy day to their pagan enemy,
Pilate, to attend to business in utter defiance of their holy law], Saying,
Sir, we remember that that deceiver said, while he was yet alive, After
days I will rise again" (Matt. 27.62, 63)--showing the priests to be more
familiar with the resurrection doctrine of Jesus than his own disciples, "For
as yet they knew not the scripture, that he must rise again from the dead"
(John 20.9). And the sanhedrim visitors proceeded: "Command therefore that
the sepulchre be made sure until the third day, lest his disciples come by
night, and steal him away, and say unto the people, He is risen from the
dead: so the last error shall be worse than the first" (Matt. 27.64)--an
admission that they had erred in their accusations and in procuring the
of "this deceiver." In reply, "Pilate said unto them, Ye have a watch: go
your way, make it as sure as ye can. So they went, and made the sepulchre
sure, sealing the stone, and setting a watch" (27.65, 66); these rigorous
sticklers for the law forbidding work on the sabbath here violating it by
undertaking a big job of masonry. This story is evidently written in with
purpose, that expressed by the Jews, of anticipating the claim of false
resurrection, and for the further purpose of lending greater credibility
the ensuing story of the resurrection.
Immediately following, Matthew begins the scene for which he has thus set
stage. "In the end of the sabbath [that is, Saturday at sundown, or as the
verse erroneously continues] as it began to dawn toward the first day of
week [therefore Sunday morning], came [the two Marys] to see the sepulchre.
And, behold, there was a great earthquake: for the angel of the Lord
descended from heaven, and came and rolled back the stone from the door,
sat upon it. ... And the angel answered and said unto the women ... He is
here: for he has risen, as he said. Come, see the place where the Lord lay"
(28.1, 2, 5, 6).
Here was the grave sealed, and an armed Roman guard standing sentinel
it; the angel descended from heaven before the eyes of soldiers and women,
and in their presence, breaking the seal, rolled away the stone; and, lo!
is not here: for he has risen."
When and how did the risen lord rise and with his physical body get out of
the grave? It was sealed and guarded by Roman soldiers, and when opened
before witnesses, it was empty. Matthew is caught in his own trap; his
attempt to create the air of credibility results in a dilemma of total
incredibility. Either the body of Jesus Christ was never put into that
grave--or it was
"stolen away" before the grave was sealed and the sentinels posted. Which?
Jesus was put into the grave Friday about sunset; the sepulchre was not
sealed and the armed watch set until some time "the next day that followed"
(Matt. 27.62, 66). Was Jesus simply in a swoon from those three hours on
cross? Or was he really dead, and put into the tomb by his friend and
disciple Joseph, Friday evening? and did "his disciples come by night [that
Friday night] and steal him away" before the watch was set on the sabbath,
and then "say unto the people, He is risen from the dead," just as the
priests and Pharisees suspected?
Matthew pursues his phantom. He relates that when the women and angel left
the sepulchre, "Some of the watch came into the city" and related the
to the chief priests; the latter summoned the council (sanhedrim) and
the problem over; then "they gave large money unto the soldiers, Saying,
ye, His disciples came by night, and stole him away while we slept. And if
this comes to the governor's ears, we will persuade him, and secure you.
they took the money, and did as they were taught" (Matt. 28.11-15). What
could be more preposterous? Soldiers posted for three days leaving their
posts before their time was up--a capital offence; then taking a bribe to
admit that they slept on post--for which summary death was the unescapable
penalty; then learning that the seal was broken and the great stone rolled
away right under their noses (whether asleep or not, the commotion would
waked them); then, most improbable of all, lyingly confessing and trusting
these Jewish murderers of the christ to "persuade" Pilate, who hated them,
"be easy" on the recreant soldiers of the guard who failed in the single
purpose of their posting.
Inspiration surely is childish at times.