The presumed Tomb of Jesus in the Holy Sepulchre has recently been discussed again, this time on The Bible and Interpretation website. In this article, which is a follow-up of a previous one, PhD student Eldad Keynan of the Bar Ilan University suggests that the tomb in the Holy Sepulchre was a Sanhedrin tomb that was used for the temporary burial of Jewish felons and that the permanent tomb of Jesus was elsewhere.
The tomb beneath the rotunda was not a “normal” or a “standard” tomb. However, we believe it is indeed the temporary tomb of Jesus. It was significantly smaller than the standard\normal tombs; it was different in structure; it was connected to another tomb nearby.
A newly hewn, but unfinished tomb could have been used for primary burial, as we explained here:
Over 1,000 tombs have been studied around Jerusalem, and we know now that the first stage in tomb construction is the cutting out of a single chamber with benches arranged along the three sides, leaving a pit in the middle, so that the workmen could stand upright while working. A tomb could be left like this for a while, until the other chambers were added.
Such a newly hewn tomb could be used for the first phase of burial, the so-called “primary burial,” where the body was laid out on a bench. A year or so later, when only bones were left, these were placed in “ossuaries” or bone boxes. This was called “secondary burial.”
If the tomb in the Holy Sepulchre was a Sanhedrin tomb, then it could hardly have been a “new sepulchre”, as described in John 19.41. It would also contradict the fact that Jesus was laid in Joseph of Arimathea’s “own new tomb, which he had hewn out in the rock” (Matthew 27.60; Luke 23.53).
Keynan appears to be a supporter of the Talpiot Tomb as the permanent tomb of Jesus. The fact, however, that Jesus came from Nazareth is often overlooked in the discussion. We believe that Jesus was raised from the dead, but if, for the sake of argument, Jesus was buried in a permanent tomb, that would have been his family tomb in Nazareth and not in Jerusalem. It is nevertheless interesting to read about Jewish burial practices, as Jesus was a Jew and must have been buried according to Jewish customs.
23 thoughts on “The Tomb of Jesus”
Daniel – I like the Oy Vay. Always liked it, I just don’t feel like Oy Vay now. There is another word in Yiddish: Gevald. To the point: I accept your definition of “the full body of evidence”. All sources, I believe, ought to be taken into account, with the proper degree of filtering, cross reading etc. The Mishna Sanhedrin is dealing, in general, with laws that were applicable before the time of it’s compliation; when it does, it states so clearly by using past terminology. This is in contrast to cases it presents a discussion in present terminology. The laws of executed Jewish felons’ burial were applied as long as the Sanhedrin existed, “attached” to the Temple. In fact, the Temple was it’s source of authority. Ever since the destruction, the Sanhedrin ceased to exist. So: when the Mishna describes this particular law, it describes the tomb under the Sanhedrin authority, in which Jesus must have been buried right after the crucifixion. I believe that the tomb beneath the Holy Sepulcher rotonda is the Sanhedrin tomb, and Jesus’ preliminary burial site.
Mr. Kaynan; my father’s father was a Jew from the Ukraine area; his wife a Jew from Romania. I never knew the exact translation of “Oy Yevald” was when I was young, but I had a pretty good idea. There was a lot of Yiddish used I thought was Hebrew.
I do know enough about archaeology to know that often what we “know” are often simply educated guesses. You may be right about the tomb’s original purpose. It is oddly shaped, but it’s also impossible to know what it looked like ‘in situ’ around 33AD. We don’t know if the tomb in the edicule was simply a part of a more elaborate tomb, or as others have suggested, a tomb so new that it had not been finished by the addition of loculi before an initial use.
Certainly there are many variations of tombs in that time and place. Just look wander through the 1st century ‘Tomb of the Prophets’, certainly a tomb that bodies or bones had to be moved to after some initial burial and almost certainly not a single family tomb. It seems to defy some of the 1st century rules and practices you wrote about.
As you note, the Sanhedrin could not actually pass a death sentence on anyone. Jesus’ execution was Roman and under their authority. If the Gospel accounts are correct, the body was given to an individual, Joseph of Arimathea, not to the Sanhedrin, to bury. This was not their execution.
I would note that if we speculate that Jesus came under their authority because all felons executed by the Romans came under the care of the Sanhedrin to bury after they were dead and that they had two single tombs that a body needed to lie in for a year, then that single day they would have had need for three tombs. So, someone had to be buried in a non-Sanhedrin tomb. That hardly seems to work.
Enjoying the discussion!
Al – you say: “Just look wander through the 1st century ‘Tomb of the Prophets’, certainly a tomb that bodies or bones had to be moved to after some initial burial and almost certainly not a single family tomb”. I agree that it’s not a familial tomb. But archaeologists G. Avni and B. Zissu recently suggested that this tomb should be dated to the Byzantine era. In that case – it has nothing to do with our discussion. Besides: it’s way to large and has too many niches (Hebrew – Kokhim) to match the Sanhedrin tomb as described by Mishna.
I think one clear point is still misunderstood: familial, private tombs were meant and built to allow both preliminary and secondary burials to take place IN THE SAME TOMB. Moving bodies and human remains from one place to another was forbidden by Jewish law, including from one tomb to another. The only legal exception is the Sanhedrin tomb (and, of course, moving bodies and remains from the Diaspora to Israel – which is NOT the case here).
You also say: “We don’t know if the tomb in the edicule was simply a part of a more elaborate tomb, or as others have suggested, a tomb so new that it had not been finished by the addition of loculi before an initial use.”
Both are suggestions, not supported by any evidence. The second one, the “unfinished” suggestion, is even odd; is there any other “unfinished” tomb in Israel? I would like to have the location, and I promise to travel there as soon as possible.
My point is, again: we have two sources for the Sanhedrin tomb; A. the Mishna that describes it and its use. B. the tomb beneath the Holy Sepulcher rotonda. Both sources match each other. We might add the fact that no other tomb has been found, as much as I know, that correspond to the spesific structure and use of the tomb described in Mishna 6:5-6.
As for Jesus’ crusifixion authority: the formal and actual authority to execute was Roman – by all means. Just ask your self: why would the Romans care for Jesus’ burial? The Jewish court representative (Joseph) aksed Pilate’s permission to bury the body – this is probably how Pilate understood Joseph’s request. It was Friday and Passover eve, and thousands of Jewish pilgrims flooded the city; he was responsible for civil order, and the last thing he needed was religious riots. Thus he granted the permission. As for the Jewish view, to be specific: the Sanhedrin view; Jewish law was to be applied to Jesus, alive and dead. It was also a great opportunity for the Sanhedrin to demonstrate its inner authority and its victory over what it considered a severe threat. They couldn’t miss it.