The Search for Jesus – Program 7

By: Dr. Gabriel Barkay, Dr. Craig Blomberg, Dr. Darrell L. Bock, Dr. Magen Broshi, Dr. William Lane Craig, Dr. Craig Evans, Dr. Hillel Geva, Dr. Gary Habermas, Mrs. Claire Pfann, Dr. Stephen Pfann, Dr. Ben Witherington, Dr. N.T. Wright; ©2001

Jesus is sentenced to death by crucifixion. He is buried in a known tomb. Three days later, that tomb is empty. What happened to the body?


The Burial and Resurrection of Jesus


Announcer: When Jesus came to the region of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Whom do people say the Son of Man is?” [Matt. 16:13]
Dr. Craig Evans: If I were a secular historian and looking at what Jesus is saying, I’d say this guy clearly thinks that he’s some kind of emissary from Heaven.
Announcer: They replied, “Some say John the Baptist, others say Elijah, and still others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” [Matt. 16:14]
Dr. Edwin Yamauchi: There are also many implicit indications that Jesus was more than an ordinary human being.
Announcer<: “What about you?” He asked, “Whom do you say that I am?” [Matt. 16:15]
Dr. Darrell Bock: I think that the voice addressed Jesus: “You are my beloved Son in whom I am well pleased.” [Luke 3:22]
Announcer: Simon Peter answered, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” [Matt. 16:16]
Today, Jesus’ question continues to challenge historians and theologians, believers and unbelievers, alike. Some still acclaim him as the Messiah, the Son of God, as did his followers in the first century. Others declare that Jesus never said or did most of what is recorded about him in the Gospels. Still, the search for Jesus continues.

Dr. John Ankerberg: Now, here’s another question: Was Jesus buried in a tomb or thrown to wild dogs? Do archaeologists think they have evidence that shows where Jesus was crucified and where he was buried? To answer these questions and to get a clear picture of what happened to Jesus at the end of his life, there are certain historical facts which must be examined.
Dr. William Lane Craig: It seems to me that there are four fundamental historical facts which any credible historian must account for if he’s to give a tenable historical hypothesis about the fate of Jesus of Nazareth. The first of these is the honorable burial of Jesus. The second of these is the discovery of his empty tomb. Third would be the post-mortem appearances of Jesus; and fourth would be the origin of the disciples’ belief that Jesus was risen from the dead.
Now, with respect to the first of those, the burial of Jesus, the majority of New Testament scholars who have written on this subject agree that Jesus of Nazareth was buried by Joseph of Arimathea in a tomb.
Dr. John Ankerberg: Scholars believe Jesus was honorably buried by Joseph of Arimathea because of the early historical evidence. Mark writes, Joseph of Arimathea…went in before Pilate, and asked for the body of Jesus. And Pilate…granted the body to Joseph. And Josephtook him down, wrapped him in the linen cloth, and laid him in a tomb which had been hewn out in the rock; and he rolled a stone against the entrance of the tomb.” [Mark 15:43-46]
Jewish archaeologist Dr. Gabriel Barkay is considered to be the foremost authority on tombs in Jerusalem during the time of Jesus. I asked him if archaeological evidence supports the description given in the Gospels about the tomb in which Jesus was buried.
Dr. Gabriel Barkay: We have the fact that it was a rich man’s tomb. We have, most probably, the allusion to the fact that it was outside the city of Jerusalem. We have the stone found unrolled three days later. We have very little, but all together we have about a thousand burial caves from the time of Jesus surrounding Jerusalem. And the details that we have in the Gospels about the burial of Jesus, they fit well with the evidence that we have in the field.
Dr. William Lane Craig: I was somewhat amused when Peter Jennings on the ABC Special said that according to the Gospels, Jesus was laid in the tomb by his mother and his friends. Now, if the story of Jesus’ burial were a late developing legend that accrued over the decades in the early Christian church, that is exactly the sort of pious story that one would expect to find: Jesus was buried by his devoted mother and his faithful disciples. But that’s not, in fact, what the Gospels say.
Instead, what the Gospels say is that Jesus of Nazareth was laid in a tomb by this enigmatic figure, Joseph of Arimathea, who appears out of nowhere in the Gospels, and contrary to expectation, gives Jesus of Nazareth an honorable burial in a tomb. Moreover, Mark tells us that this man was a member of the Sanhedrin, the very council which had just condemned Jesus to be crucified. [Mark 15:43] And that Joseph singles out Jesus among the trio of men that had been crucified for special care by giving him an honorable burial in a tomb rather than allowing the body to simply be dispatched into a common grave reserved for criminals. This is extraordinary and requires some sort of explanation.
Dr. John Ankerberg: In fact, we discovered that archaeologists think the Church of the Holy Sepulchre may mark the actual site of the tomb in which Jesus was buried by Joseph of Arimathea.
Obviously, this is the traditional site where Christians think that Jesus was buried. You were asked to do the archaeological work, or part of the archaeological work on this site. Tell me, do you think this is the place where Jesus was actually buried?
Dr. Magen Broshi: Well, there is high probability. Very high probability.
Dr. John Ankerberg: Dr. Magen Broshi is a respected Jewish archaeologist and scholar on the Second Temple period. He was asked to conduct the excavation at the Church of the Holy Selpulchre for a rather unusual reason.
Dr. Magen Broshi: They invited me to participate in the dig. What was very important for them was that I was an infidel. I wasn’t a Christian. They didn’t want Catholics; they didn’t want Greek Orthodox; they wanted somebody who was absolutely “neutral” and that was the case.
Dr. John Ankerberg: Now, the evidence Dr. Broshi found while excavating at the Church of the Holy Selpulchre led him to defend it as the most reasonable place for the burial of Jesus. I asked him why.
Dr. Magen Broshi: For two reasons. One reason is that the tradition should be trusted. It was too important to be forgotten. And there was a Christian community in Jerusalem, around Jerusalem that would have carried on, handed it down from one generation to the other. And the second reason is that the area was a graveyard at the time of Jesus. It was a graveyard and there are several graves around here. There were more, but they have been obliterated by later building activity.
Dr. John Ankerberg: All four Gospels report Joseph of Arimathea requested permission from Pilate to bury Jesus, and that his body was laid in a tomb cut out of solid rock. Three of the writers say the tomb was new; that is, no one had ever been laid in the tomb before. All four accounts mention a stone that was rolled against the entrance to the tomb. Matthew adds, it was a large stone.
The Gospel accounts talk about a stone that was rolled in front of the tomb. Does that make sense to you?
Dr. Magen Broshi: Why not? We found it.
Dr. John Ankerberg: You found it?
Dr. Magen Broshi: Not here, in many other places, the rolling stone.
Dr. John Ankerberg: How big were they?
Dr. Magen Broshi: Sometimes weighing more than a regular car. But being round, you know, you can roll it.
Dr. John Ankerberg: Why did they put that in front of the tomb? To keep the robbers out, or….
Dr. Magen Broshi: To keep the robbers out, to keep the places of the tombs away from animals.
Dr. John Ankerberg: In spite of the evidence for the honorable burial of Jesus, John Dominic Crossan said this in the ABC Special: “After Jesus died on a cross, he was thrown on a trash heap and chewed up by wild dogs.”
Dr. Gary Habermas: I could say for the moment that it’s interesting that virtually none of his friends have followed him. And that doesn’t prove anything here or there, but maybe it’s a hint that the data are not in his favor. One thing I would say to that is, we are devoid of a single fact that says that happened to Jesus. We have a lot of reasons to think that he was buried and that the tomb in which he was buried was empty. But nothing, not any fact, that says he was thrown into a common grave.
Dr. William Lane Craig: The historical credibility of the burial account of Jesus by Joseph of Arimathea leaves skeptical critics in an extremely awkward position. Because, you see, if Jesus was in fact buried by a Jewish Sanhedrist in Jerusalem, as the Gospels claim, that means that the location of Jesus’ tomb was known to both Jew and Christian alike. But in that case, it’s impossible to imagine how a movement founded on belief in the resurrection of a dead man who had been publicly executed in Jerusalem could arise and flourish in the face of a tomb containing his corpse. So that those scholars who want to deny such things as the empty tomb, the resurrection appearances, also find themselves forced to deny the fact of the honorable burial of Jesus, despite the fact that this is one of the earliest and best attested facts about the historical Jesus that we have. It’s extremely awkward for them.
Dr. John Ankerberg: Some people say, “Well, the answer to that is that the disciples stole the body. That’s why the tomb was empty.”
Dr. William Lane Craig: Nobody says that anymore. That theory has been completely abandoned since the early 1800s. No responsible scholar holds to such a thing.
Dr. John Ankerberg: But why have scholars concluded the disciples did not steal Jesus’ body? And why have they abandoned the theory that Jesus didn’t die on the cross, that he just fainted or swooned? And further, why have they given up on the idea that Jesus later revived in the tomb, somehow pushed aside the huge stone, and then appeared to his disciples, convincing them that he had risen from the dead? Well, scholars dismiss these theories because they were completely demolished by the liberal critic, David Strauss, over a hundred years ago.
Dr. Gary Habermas: In his major work in 1835, Life of Jesus, he said the swoon theory is not going to work. And the problem was this: it is self-contradictory. What you have from the “swoon” is a living Jesus but not a resurrected Jesus. And here’s how it works:
Jesus should have died on the cross; he didn’t.
He should have died in the tomb; he didn’t.
He certainly can’t roll the stone away. No problem. He did.
Now, Strauss didn’t believe in a guard, but for those who believe a guard is sitting out there, he works his way through the guards.
But here’s the problem for Strauss. Again, you’ve got: didn’t die on the cross; didn’t die in the tomb; couldn’t roll the stone. He comes to where the disciples are. [Knock, knock, knock] He knocks on the door. What’s this man going to look like? He’s a human Jesus. He’s been crucified. He’s worked the wounds open again. He’s bleeding from the scalp. His hair has not even been washed. I mean, you’ve got sweat and blood, and he’s worked the side open again. And he’s hunched over, he’s limping, he’s pale. And [knock, knock, knock]: “I told you I would rise again from the dead.”
One problem, Strauss said, with the swoon theory is, you get a Jesus who is alive, but you don’t get a Jesus who is raised. Now, Strauss does not believe in the resurrection, but he knows the disciples did. And the “swoon” doesn’t get you from A to B. You get this kind of Jesus: “Lord, come on in. Get a chair. Get a pail of water. Call the doctor.” To paraphrase Strauss, the disciples would have gotten a doctor before they proclaimed him risen. Because here’s Peter over in the corner saying, “Oh, boy! Some day I’m going to have a resurrection body just like his”?
And that, by the way, is the proclamation that is most tied to the resurrection of Jesus: that believers will be raised. Now, again, Strauss doesn’t think believers are going to be raised and he doesn’t think there’s a guard and he doesn’t think that Jesus was raised. But if you can’t get that belief on the disciples’ part, it doesn’t work. And the problem is, “swoon” can’t account for the experiences that the disciples had that they thought were appearances of the risen Jesus.
Dr. John Ankerberg: In addition, the second major fact which historians must evaluate is the empty tomb. All the early sources report Jesus’ tomb was found empty, first by women, then by his disciples, and finally, by the Jewish leaders themselves.
Dr. William Lane Craig: The majority of scholars who have written on this subject agree that the tomb of Jesus was probably found empty by a group of his women followers early on Sunday morning. That represents the historical core of the empty tomb narrative as we find it in Mark.
Dr. John Ankerberg: Why do they find it credible?
Dr. William Lane Craig: The empty tomb story enjoys multiple independent lines of evidence. For example, as I’ve already indicated, the burial account supports the empty tomb story. If the burial account of Jesus is historically accurate, then the inference that the tomb was found empty is not very far at hand because the resurrection faith could not have arisen and flourished in the face of a closed tomb. Secondly, I think that the empty tomb story is also multiply and independently attested in early sources.
Dr. Gary Habermas: The empty tomb is preached very early. You’ve got Paul in 1 Corinthians 15 saying he died, he was buried. What went down is what came out, and what came out is what appeared.
Dr. John Ankerberg: Why is that solid evidence?
Dr. Gary Habermas: Because critics,… again, if you’re using this methodology that says we’ll use the facts that critics admit and facts which are well attested, Paul is admitted to being an eyewitness. The book in which his testimony appears is already early, about 25 years after the cross. But then the creedal passage that he reports, or that early tradition from verses 3 and following, 1 Corinthians 15, is earlier still. And in Galatians 1 and 2, he’s got apostolic confirmation of his message from Peter and James in Galatians 1; Peter, James and John in Galatians 2. So you’ve got this intricate interwoven: an accredited, eyewitness messenger with an early book, with an even earlier creed, and it’s teaching our fact here in question: the empty tomb.
Dr. John Ankerberg: Further, there is one final piece of evidence that proves Jesus’ tomb was empty. The Jewish leaders themselves testified to this fact.
Dr. William Lane Craig: The earliest Jewish response to the proclamation of the resurrection was not to point to the occupied tomb but rather to say that the disciples had stolen the body. It was itself an attempt to explain away why the body was missing. So that we have here evidence from the very enemies of the earliest Christian movement in favor of the empty tomb, evidence which is simply “top drawer” because it comes not from the Christians but from the very opponents of the early Christian movement.
Dr. John Ankerberg: The historical evidence shows Jesus was crucified on a cross, his body was laid in a tomb that was cut out of solid rock, and three days later, that tomb was found empty. So, what happened to Jesus’ body? We will turn to this question next.

Read Part 8

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