Burial Of Jesus

The burial of Jesus refers to the burial of the body of Jesus after the crucifixion, as described in the New Testament. According to the canonical gospel accounts, he was placed in a tomb by a man named Joseph of Arimathea. In art, it is often called the Entombment of Christ.

Biblical accounts

The earliest reference to the burial of Jesus is in a letter of Paul. Writing to the Corinthians around the year 54 AD, he refers to the account he had received of the death and resurrection of Jesus (“and that he was buried, and that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures”).

The four canonical gospels, written between 66 and 95AD, all conclude with an extended narrative of Jesus’ arrest, trial, crucifixion, burial, and resurrection. All four state that, on the evening of the Crucifixion, Joseph of Arimathea asked Pilate for the body, and, after Pilate granted his request, he wrapped it in a linen cloth and laid it in a tomb.

There are significant differences between the four accounts, recording the evolution of the tradition from the earliest gospel (that of Mark) to the last (the Gospel of John). Modern scholarship tends to see the gospel accounts as contradictory and finds the Mark portrayal more probable.

Gospel of Mark

In the earliest of the gospels, the Gospel of Mark, written around 70AD, Joseph of Arimathea is a member of the Jewish Council – the Sanhedrin which had condemned Jesus – who wishes to ensure that the corpse is buried in accordance with Jewish law, according to which dead bodies could not be left exposed overnight. He puts the body in a new shroud and lays it in a tomb carved into the rock. The Jewish historian Josephus, writing later in the century, described how the Jews regarded this law as so important that even the bodies of crucified criminals would be taken down and buried before sunset. In this account, Joseph does only the bare minimum needed for observance of the law, wrapping the body in a cloth, with no mention of washing or anointing it. This may explain why Mark has a story prior to the Crucifixion, in which a woman pours perfume over Jesus (Mark 14:3-9): Jesus is thereby prepared for burial even before his death.

Gospel of Matthew

The Gospel of Matthew was written around the year 85 or 90, using the Gospel of Mark as a source. In this account Joseph of Arimathea is not referenced as a member of the Sanhedrin, but as a wealthy disciple of Jesus. Many interpreters have read this as a subtle orientation by the author towards wealthy supporters, while others believe this is a fulfillment of prophecy from Isaiah 53:9:

“And they made his grave with the wicked, And with the rich his tomb; Although he had done no violence, Neither was any deceit in his mouth.”

This version suggests a more honourable burial: Joseph wraps the body in a clean shroud and places it in his own tomb, and the word used is soma (body) rather than ptoma (corpse). The author adds that the Roman authorities “made the tomb secure by putting a seal on the stone and posting the guard.” This detail may have been added to answer claims by contemporary opponents that the followers of Jesus had stolen his body.

Gospel of Luke

The Gospel of Mark is also a source for the account given in the Gospel of Luke, written around the year 90. As in the Markan version, Joseph is described as a member of the Sanhedrin, but as not having agreed with the Sanhedrin’s decision regarding Jesus; he is said to have been “waiting for the kingdom of God” rather than a disciple of Jesus.

Gospel of John

The last of the gospels, John, differs from Mark on this point, depicting Joseph as a disciple who gives Jesus an honourable burial. John says that Joseph was assisted in the burial process by Nicodemus, who brought a mixture of myrrh and aloes and included these spices in the burial cloth according to Jewish customs. By touching a dead body, both men were knowingly willing to make themselves “unclean” for seven days per the law stated in Numbers 19:11.

The Entombment of Christ by Pedro Roldán

The Entombment of Christ by Pedro Roldán

Comparison

The comparison below is based on the New International Version.

Matthew Mark Luke John
Joseph and Pilate Matthew 27:57–58

  • Joseph of Arimathea, a rich man and disciple of Jesus, asked Pilate for Jesus’ body in the evening.
  • Pilate ordered it to be given to him.
Mark 15:42–45

  • Joseph of Arimathea, a Council member who awaited God’s kingdom, asked Pilate for Jesus’ body on the evening before Sabbath.
  • Pilate was surprised, and asked the centurion if Jesus died already.
  • After the centurion’s confirmation, Pilate gave Jesus’ body to Joseph.
Luke 23:50–52

  • Joseph of Arimathea, a Council member and good man who awaited God’s kingdom and hadn’t consented to the Council’s decision, asked Pilate for Jesus’ body.
  • [Pilate’s response is not mentioned]
John 19:38

  • Later, Joseph of Arimathea, a secret (because he feared the Jewish leaders) disciple of Jesus, asked Pilate for Jesus’ body.
  • Pilate gave permission and Joseph took the body.
Burial Matthew 27:59–61

  • Joseph took Jesus’ body and wrapped it in linen.
  • Joseph placed the body in his own new tomb that he had cut out, rolled a stone in front of it and left.
  • Mary Magdalene and the other Mary were sitting opposite the tomb.
Mark 15:46–47

  • Joseph bought linen, took down the body, and wrapped it.
  • Joseph put it in a tomb cut out of the rock and rolled a stone against the entrance.
  • Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of Joseph saw the entombment.
Luke 23:53–56

  • Joseph took the body down, wrapped it in linen.
  • He put it in an unused tomb cut in the rock.
  • It was just before Sabbath.
  • The women from Galilee followed Joseph and saw the entombment.
  • They went home and made spices and perfumes. They rested on Sabbath to obey the commandment.
John 19:39–42

  • Nicodemus brought a myrrh/aloes mixture of about 75 pounds.
  • Nicodemus and Joseph wrapped Jesus’ body, with the spices, in strips of linen.
  • At a garden, near where Jesus was crucified, was an unused new tomb.
  • As the tomb was nearby and it was Preparation Day, they laid Jesus there.
High priests and Pilate Matthew 27:62–66

  • The next day, after Preparation Day, the chief priests and the Pharisees went to Pilate: ‘That deceiver [Jesus] said he would rise again after 3 days, so guard the tomb for 3 days to prevent his disciples from stealing the body, and then claim he has been raised from the dead.’
  • Pilate: ‘You may arrange a guard.’
  • The chief priests and the Pharisees sealed the tomb and posted guards.
Mary(s) Matthew 28:1

  • After Sabbath on the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to look at the tomb [no indication why].
Mark 16:1–2

  • After Sabbath, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James and Salome bought spices to anoint Jesus body, and they went to the tomb on the first day of the week.
Luke 24:1

  • On the first day of the week, the women from Galilee took the spices to the tomb.
John 20:1

  • Mary Magdalene went to the tomb on the first day of the week [no indication why].

In non-canonical literature

The apocryphal manuscript known as the Gospel of Peter states that the Jews handed over the body of Jesus to Joseph, who later washes him and then buries him in a place called “Joseph’s Garden”.

Historicity

N. T. Wright notes that the burial of Christ is part of the earliest gospel traditions. John A.T. Robinson states that the burial of Jesus in the tomb is one of the earliest and best-attested facts about Jesus.” Rudolf Bultmann described the basic story as ‘a historical account which creates no impression of being a legend’. Jodi Magness has argued that the Gospel accounts describing Jesus’s removal from the cross and burial accord well with archaeological evidence and with Jewish law.

John Dominic Crossan, however, speculates that Jesus’ body may have been thrown into a shallow grave and eaten by dogs, the bones scattered. Martin Hengel and Maurice Casey argued that Jesus was buried in disgrace as an executed criminal who died a shameful death, a view debated in scholarly literature. Bart D. Ehrman initially stated that Jesus was buried by Joseph of Arimathea, but later changed his mind and stated that Jesus was probably thrown into a common grave for criminals.

Theological significance

Paul the Apostle includes the burial in his statement of the gospel in verses 3 and 4 of 1 Corinthians 15: “For I delivered unto you first of all that which I also received, how that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures; And that he was buried, and that he rose again the third day according to the scriptures” (KJV). This appears to be an early pre-Pauline credal statement.

The burial of Christ is specifically mentioned in the Apostles’ Creed, where it says that Jesus was “crucified, dead, and buried.” The Heidelberg Catechism asks “Why was he buried?” and gives the answer “His burial testified that He had really died.”

The Catechism of the Catholic Church states that “It is the mystery of Holy Saturday, when Christ, lying in the tomb, reveals God’s great sabbath rest after the fulfillment of man’s salvation, which brings peace to the whole universe” and that “Christ’s stay in the tomb constitutes the real link between his passible state before Easter and his glorious and risen state today.”

Adapted from Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia