The Tomb of Jesus

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In 1929, D. H. Lawrence fantasized that, after surviving crucifixion, Jesus ended up in Egypt.  There he fell in love with the priestess Isis.  In 1972, Donavan Joyce published The Jesus Scroll.  Christian philosopher Gary Habermas explains that in Joyce’s rendition of the story, Jesus was apparently revived by a doctor who had been planted in the tomb ahead of time.  The doctor was assisted by none other than Jesus’ uncle, Joseph of Arimathea.  In Joyce’s fanciful reconstruction, Jesus is an “eighty-year-old defender of Masada who apparently died while fighting the Romans during the Jewish revolt of A.D. 66-73.”  In this scrolled autobiography, Jesus is married to Mary Magdalene, is a revolutionary zealot who wars with the Romans, and in the end retires as a monk at Qumran.

In 1992, Barbara Thiering produced an even more outrageous version of the swoon theory.  Historian Edwin Yamauchi points out that Thiering, who is a professor at the University of Sydney in Australia, uses the New Testament as a “coded commentary” to reinterpret the Dead Sea Scrolls.  In Thiering’s mind-boggling tale, Jesus is crucified along with Simon Magus and Judas at Qumran, imbibes snake poison to fake his own death, upon recovering marries Mary Magdalene, and later falls in love with Lydia of Philippi.  Despite the fact that Thiering’s revolting reconstruction is devoid of rhyme or reason, it has received rave reviews in a wide variety of public forums, ranging from radio to television.

How Can We Be Sure About the Resurrection of Christ?  If devotees of the kingdom of the cults , adherents of world religions, or liberal scholars are correct, the biblical account of the resurrection of Christ is fiction, fantasy, or a gargantuan fraud. If, on the other hand, Christianity is factually reliable, his resurrection is the greatest feat in human history. No middle ground exists. The resurrection is history or hoax, miracle or myth, fact or fantasy.

First, liberal and conservative scholars alike agree that the body of Jesus was buried in the private tomb of Joseph of Arimathea. As a member of the Jewish court that condemned Jesus, Joseph of Arimathea is unlikely to be Christian fiction (Mark 15:43); Jesus’ burial in the tomb of Joseph of Arimathea is substantiated by Mark’s gospel (15:46) and is, therefore, far too early to have been the subject of legendary corruption; the earliest Jewish response to the resurrection of Christ presupposes the empty tomb (Matthew 28:11-13); and in the centuries following the resurrection, the fact of the empty tomb was forwarded by Jesus’ friends and foes alike.

Additionally, when you understand the role of women in first-century Jewish society, what is extraordinary is that this empty tomb story would feature females as the discoverers of the empty tomb. The fact that women are the first witnesses to the empty tomb is most plausibly explained by the reality that — like it or not — they were the discoverers of the empty tomb. This shows that the gospel writers faithfully recorded what happened, even if it was embarrassing. In short, early Christianity could not have survived an identifiable tomb containing the corpse of Christ.

Furthermore, Jesus gave his disciples many convincing proofs that he had risen from the dead. Paul, for example, points out that Christ “appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep” (1 Corinthians 15:6). It would have been one thing to attribute these supernatural experiences to people who  had already died. It was quite another to attribute them to multitudes who were still alive. As the famed New Testament scholar of Cambridge University C. H. Dodd points out, “There can hardly be any purpose in mentioning the fact that most of the five hundred are still alive, unless Paul is saying in effect, ‘The witnesses are there to be questioned.'”

Finally, what happened as a result of the resurrection is unprecedented in human history. In the span of a few hundred years, a small band of seemingly insignificant believers succeeded in turning an entire empire upside down. While it is conceivable that they would have faced torture, vilification, and even cruel deaths for what they fervently believed to be true, it is inconceivable that they would have been willing to die for what they knew to be a lie. As Dr. Simon Greenleaf, the famous Royall Professor of Law at Harvard put it: “If it were morally possible for them to have been deceived in this matter, every human motive operated to lead them to discover and avow their error … If then their testimony was not true, there was no possible motive for this fabrication.”

-Compilation from Resurrection and The Bible Answer Book

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