THE PASSION OF OUR LORD:
DETAILING THE EVENTS OF OUR LORD’S SUFFERING AND DEATH
WHAT WAS THE TOMB LIKE?
Mark 15:46 tells us “So Joseph bought some linen cloth, took down the body, wrapped it in the linen, and placed it in a tomb cut out of rock. Then he rolled a stone against the entrance of the tomb.”
What we appear to have in Mark’s account is a brief summary of the burial rather than a detailed one. James Voelz, Mark, Vol. 2, p. 1191, provides an excellent summary of burial practices in the Holy Land at this time, as provided in the Anchor Bible Dictionary, pp 789-794. Of interest are the two types of wealthy tombs in the Jerusalem area prior to the destruction of the Temple in A.D. 70.
The first type is a cave-like tomb with a square central chamber providing space for multiple family members. A pit was dug to provide standing room, and the entrance was chiseled into a square opening. The stone covering the opening was also chiseled into a tapered square to fit like a plug. This stone was in the neighborhood of 500 pounds! It was very difficult to move.
The second type is called an “acrosilium” and was a tomb for the very wealthy. It had a carved domed ceiling and room, generally, for one body only. The entrance was sealed with a round stone which was fit into a channel, and moved with levers. The stone could weigh as much as 3000 pounds!
It would appear from the text that Joseph of Arimathea’s tomb was an Acrosilium. There are two details which give this away. First, Mark says that Joseph “rolled a stone against the entrance.” While the Greek verb could be used to describe the insertion of a plug-style door, it is normally reserved for “rolling” the round stone. Secondly, Matthew 27:60 says “He rolled a bigstone in front of the entrance to the tomb and went away.” Not only does Matthew use the same verb, but says it was rolled TO the entrance.
Either style door would require much more muscle than an elderly man is likely to summon, but Joseph undoubtedly had servants with him to help seal the tomb for the weekend.
THE WATCHFUL WOMEN
Only John’s Gospel skips the detail about the women who watched the burial. Luke 23:55 says ”The women who had come with Jesus from Galilee followed Joseph and saw the tomb and how his body was laid in it.” This seems to eliminate any women from the Jerusalem vicinity. These unnamed women have been dedicated for some period of time to following Jesus’ every move. Luke does not mention them by name.
Matthew 27:61 says “Mary Magdalene and the other Mary were sitting there opposite the tomb.” “The other Mary” is a little cryptic, but who exactly is Mary Magdalene? We have two false identifications and one true: 1) she is NOT Mary of Mary and Martha fame. How do we know? That Mary is from Bethany, not Galilee! 2) she is NOT the woman in Luke 7:36-50 (“A woman in that town who lived a sinful life…”), who wiped Jesus’ feet with her tears and was supposedly a reformed prostitute. There is absolutely no evidence to connect her to the prostitute, and the Roman Catholic church has even “officially” denounced that long-held identification. Mary was as common a name then as it is now! 3) she IS the woman of Luke 8:2 “and also some women who had been cured of evil spirits and diseases: Mary (called Magdalene) from whom seven demons had come out;” So we know that she was a Galilean, that she was cured by Jesus of demon possession, and that she dedicated herself to following our Lord.
What about the “other Mary?” We have to go to Mark’s Gospel for that identification process. Mark 15:47 tells us “Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of Joseph saw where he was laid.” This narrows it down somewhat, but who is “Joseph?” We don’t know. Voelz takes the position that this is Mary, the mother of Jesus. This conclusion involves complicated analysis of textual variants, and all kinds of issues which are beyond the intent of our story here. We cannot say this with certainly, BUT Mary, the mother of Jesus, makes good sense. She is from Galilee. She has been at the crucifixion and keeping watch over all these things. She would have a burning interest in the burial place of her son. If the text said “This was Jesus’ mom!” then we would be convinced. For now, it seems like a pretty good guess.
A continuation of Luke’s story (23:56) says this about the women: “Then they went home and prepared spices and perfumes. But they rested on the Sabbath in obedience to the commandment.” They watched the burial to see what had been done to the body, and then went home (somewhere within Jerusalem, probably—must be within a mile!) to prepare everything that was necessary to complete a proper burial. Jewish rabbinical instructions on burial were specific and complex. This would include a complete washing of the body, the proper “spicing up of the corpse” and the wrapping in burial linens. None of this had been done correctly—there simply wasn’t time before 6:00 p.m. and the start of the coming day: The High Holy Sabbath! Jesus’ body had merely received 75 pounds of “smell-good stuff” and a quick wrap in linen.
SEALING THE DEAL—LITERALLY!
The Chief Priests and others are not content that Jesus is MERELY dead. (And, by the way, please note: every single person involved in this event is POSITIVE that Jesus is very dead indeed!) They want him to STAY dead. Matthew 27:63 they tell Pilate: ““Sir,” they said, “we remember that while he was still alive that deceiver said, ‘After three days I will rise again.’ So, give the order for the tomb to be made secure until the third day.”
Three items of interest catch our eye here: firstly, we know that Jesus very often predicted his resurrection to his disciples, but did he ever say this PUBLICLY so that the Jewish Leaders could hear it? Arguments have been proposed on both sides. Even if he did not make this public, someone could have told them about it, and it obviously was a point clearer to them than to the disciples!
Secondly, they call Jesus “the deceiver.” What else are they going to call Him? Since he is dead, this is proof in their world that everything Jesus said was a lie.
And finally, why are they afraid that the disciples are going to steal the body? Are these the same disciples who were so brave and audacious that they ran away and hid? Such behavior would require sudden gallantry heretofore lacking.
Jeffrey Gibbs, Matthew, Vol. 2, p. 1594f is, I believe, incorrect in saying that Roman Soldiers were posted at the tomb, for several reasons:
1) Pilate doesn’t have “a dog in this hunt”: he did what the Jewish leaders wanted; Jesus is dead. He doesn’t really care if the disciples steal the body—that is a Jewish problem!
2) Pilate merely says “You have a guard” (NOT the Greek word for “soldiers”) which could mean “You are authorized to post a guard” or “You have your own guards—use them!”
3) If Matthew (the only Gospel with this information) wanted to “invent a story” to prove the Resurrection (and some have claimed this!), he would specify “Roman soliders” because they are more “professional” at soldiering; Matthew is reporting, not inventing!
4) These watchmen guarded that tomb with their lives. The Jewish Temple Guards will take this assignment with deadly seriousness! The Chief Priests are the last people you want on your enemies list!!
5) The Ultimate Proof: when Jesus’ tomb is found empty and angels roll back the stone, the guards don’t report to Pilate, they report to the Jewish Leaders. Roman soliders would not do that! They report ONLY to Pilate.
Matt. 27:65-66 “Take a guard,” Pilate answered. “Go, make the tomb as secure as you know how.” So they went and made the tomb secure by putting a seal on the stone and posting the guard.” If this was a Roman guard, Pilate would say “I’LL take care of it!” (more on this later)