Thursday, January 24, 2013

A Random Tomb (Without a Stone and Guards)?

In my latest reading of John's Gospel: The Way It Happened, Lee Harmon discusses the tomb in which Jesus was placed in the Gospel of John.  Lee states the following on page 316:

"John's Gospel gives the impression that Jesus was hurriedly placed in a temporary location, his buriers aware of its impermanency, perhaps not even knowing the proper owner of the tomb.  Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathea discover a tomb in an unnamed garden and borrow it for Jesus."

John 19:40-42 does give that impression.  It states (in the King James Version):

"Then took [Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathea] the body of Jesus, and wound it in linen clothes with the spices, as the manner of the Jews is to bury.  Now in the place where he was crucified there was a garden; and in the garden a new sepulchre, wherein was never man yet laid.  There laid they Jesus therefore because of the Jews' preparation [day]; for the sepulchre was nigh at hand."

In this passage, it does appear to be the case that a Sabbath (perhaps the first Day of Unleavened Bread) was coming soon, and so Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathea were looking for any nearby tomb that they could find so they could place Jesus there until they could give him a proper burial.  They found a garden close to where Jesus was crucified, there was a tomb at that Garden, and so they placed Jesus there.

Lee depicts John and Matthew debating about Jesus' tomb (and I should say that the debates between John and Matthew are entertaining parts of the book).  Matthew says that Jesus was not put in a random tomb but rather in the wealthy Joseph of Arimathea's tomb, which Joseph of Arimathea himself had carved out of rock (Matthew 27:57-60).  Whereas John bases his account in this case on having seen Jesus die and having talked with Nicodemus, Matthew bases his understanding of what happened on Scripture: Isaiah 53:9 says that the Suffering Servant will be with the rich in his death (to draw from the KJV's language).  Moreover, while Matthew believes that a stone was rolled in front of Jesus' tomb and that guards were placed there, John says that he is not aware that a stone covered the tomb, and that there were no armed guards when he went there.

In my opinion, Lee's interpretation of the Gospel of John in this case makes sense of what occurs in John 20: Mary Magdalene sees that the tomb is empty and she thinks that someone moved Jesus to another location.  I can understand why Mary Magdalene would conclude that, if Jesus were put into a random tomb in a random Garden on a temporary basis. 

I guess where I am puzzled is when John 20:8-9 states: "Then went in also that other disciple, which came first to the sepulchre, and he saw, and believed.  For as yet they knew not the scripture, that he must rise again from the dead."  But why would the disciple whom Jesus loved believe after seeing the empty tomb, if the empty tomb by itself did not prove that Jesus rose from the dead, for there was a natural explanation for why Jesus' body wasn't there: somebody came and moved it (and, in John's Gospel, it was probably unencumbered by a huge stone or armed guards)?  Or did the disciple believe on account of Jesus' clothes lying in the tomb?  Or did the disciple even believe that Jesus rose from the dead at that point, for v 9 says that he did not know that the Scripture said that Jesus would rise from the dead.  Perhaps, when v 8 says that he "believed", it means that he accepted Mary Magdalene's testimony that Jesus' body was missing.

(UPDATE: On page 335, Lee presents Peter saying that a grave robber could not have removed the body of Jesus because "No grave robber could unwrap him and leave the grave clothes."  The idea is that anyone taking the body would take the wrappings as well.)

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