Friday, October 24, 2008

How Dishonorable Was Jesus' Burial?

I received a question from someone who is reading my book, asking the following:

I'm just curious if you've read two articles that argue against McCane's thesis of a dishonorable burial. William Lane Craig ("Was Jesus Buried in Shame: Reflections on B. McCane's Proposal," Expository Times, 115, 2004, 404-409 ) argues against McCane directly, and Jodi Magness ("Ossuaries and the Burials of Jesus and James" JBL, 124, 2005) 121-54 argues that if Jesus was buried in a criminal burial area he would have been buried in the ground, and a tomb like Joseph's would only have been a private tomb.
Here's what I wrote in reply:

Having decided to write the book for a general audience and not include footnotes, I ended up not interacting with some of the possible objections that could be (and have been) raised. The point that a dishonorable burial would more likely have constituted burial in a trench/dirt grave is an important one. I'd say we don't know quite as much as we'd like about burial practices, as Raymond Brown points out (it was Brown who persuaded me that Mark depicts a dishonorable burial, even before I encountered McCane's work on the subject).

It is, ultimately, the account in Mark (and what later Gospels do to it) that persuades me that Jesus was not buried with the honor his followers believed he was due. The reference to being anointed beforehand and to women seeking to do so after the fact seems to me to be sufficient indication that, if nothing else, anointing was left undone. And it seems from both Mark and John (albeit in different ways) that this fact troubled at least some Christians.

In short, I think it may be possible that there were even less honorable burials one could be given, but the evidence from the Gospels suggests that Jesus' burial was, at the very least, less honorable and less complete than Christians felt he deserved.

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