Burial after Crucifixion
Christians know the story by heart: the women weeping over the body of the Lord; the kindness of Joseph of Arimathea, who is said to have provided a new family tomb in which to lay Jesus; the rolling stone at the tomb’s entrance…the empty tomb…Jesus' tomb...
When we look with fresh eyes at the story told in the Gospels about the burial of Jesus after the Crucifixion, we can see the preparations for secondary burial.
Jesus’ followers anointed his body, wrapped it in a burial shroud and placed it in a tomb near Calvary. They would have done this because Jewish law dictates that the dead must be buried “in the ground” before sundown (burial in a tomb qualified as burial in the ground). Because Jesus was crucified in the afternoon, they had to act quickly.
The Gospels tell us that when the disciples came three days later, the tomb was empty. We are also told that the tomb had been guarded specifically so that the disciples could not steal their Master’s body and then claim he rose from the dead. The Gospel writers are telling a story, but they are also answering questions and refuting criticisms.
As is sometimes the case, the rhetoric of the Gospels reveals a story beneath the story: it seems quite probable that the disciples did come to remove Jesus’ body from this temporary tomb to safeguard it from desecrators and to bring it to a place of honor, a tomb just for Jesus and his family.
The ossuaries of several known Gospel figures have been discovered in the Jerusalem hills, including Simon of Cyrene, who helped Jesus carry his cross on the day of the Crucifixion, the High Priest Caiaphas, and James, the brother of Jesus.