In discussing the records of Jesus' entombment in Joseph of Arimathea's sepulcher, Wilbur Smith writes: "We know more about the burial of the LORD Jesus than we know of the burial of any single character in all of ancient history. We know infinitely more about His burial than we do the burial of any Old Testament character, of any king of Babylon, Pharaoh of Egypt, any philosopher of Greece, or triumphant Caesar. We know who took His body from the cross; he know something of the wrapping of the body in spices, and burial clothes; we know the very tomb in which this body was placed, the name of the man who owned it, Joseph, of a town known as Arimathaea. We know even where this tomb was located, in a garden nigh to the place where He was crucified, outside the city walls. We have four records of this burial of our LORD, all of them in amazing agreement, the record of Matthew, a disciple of Christ who was there when Jesus was crucified; the record of Mark, which some say was written within ten years of our LORD's ascension; the record of Luke, a companion of the apostle Paul, and a great historian; and the record of John, who was the last to leave the cross, and, with Peter, the first of the Twelve on Easter to behold the empty tomb."
The historian, Alfred Edersheim, gives these details of the burial customs of the Jews:
"Not only the rich, but even those moderately well-to-do, had tombs of their own, which probably were acquired and prepared long before they were needed, and treated and inherited as private and personal property. In such caves, or rock-hewn tombs, the bodies were laid, having been anointed with many spices, with myrtle, aloes, and, at a later period, also with hyssop, rose-oil, and rose-water. The body was dressed and, at a later period, wrapped, if possible, in the worn cloths in which originally a Roll of the Law had been held. The 'tombs' were either 'rock-hewn', or natural 'caves' or else large walled vaults, with niches along the sides."
Of Christ's burial Edersheim says: "The proximity of the holy Sabbath, and the consequent need of haste, may have suggested or determined the proposal of Joseph to lay the Body of Jesus in his own rock-hewn new tomb, wherein no one had yet been laid...
"The Cross was lowered and laid on the ground; the cruel nails drawn out, and the ropes unloosed. Joseph, with those who attended him, 'wrapped' the Sacred Body 'in a clean linen cloth,' and rapidly carried It to the rock-hewn tomb in the garden close by. Such a rock-hewn tomb or cave (Meartha) had niches (Kukhin), where the dead were laid. It will be remembered, that at the entrance to "the tomb' - and within 'the rock' - there was 'a court,' nine feet square, where ordinarily the bier was deposited, and its bearers gathered to do the last offices for the Dead."
Edersheim next mentions: "...that other Sanhedrist, Nicodemus...[who] now came, bringing 'a roll' of myrrh and aloes, in the fragrant mixture well known to the Jews for purposes of anointing or burying.
"It was in 'the court' of the tomb that the hasty embalmment - if such it may be called - took place."
It was customary in Christ's time to use great quantities of spices for embalming the dead, especially for those held in high esteem.
Michael Green relates the following concerning the burial preparation given Jesus' remains:
"The body was placed on a stone ledge, wound tightly in strips of cloth, and covered with spices. St. John's Gospel tells us that some seventy-pounds were used, and that it is likely enough. Joseph was a rich man, and no doubt wanted to make up for his cowardliness during the lifetime of Jesus by giving him a splendid funeral. The amount, though great, has plenty of parallels. Rabbi Gamaliel, a contemporary of Jesus, was buried with eighty pounds of spices when he died."
Flavius Josephus, the Jewish historian of the first century, mentions the funeral of Aristobulus, who was "murdered, being not eighteen years old, and having kept the high priesthood one year only" [Antiquities of the Jews, XV,iii,3].
At his funeral Herod "took care [that it] should be very magnificent, by making great preparation for a sepulchre to lay his [Aristobulus] body in, and providing a great quantity of spices, and burying many ornaments together with him" [Antiquities of the Jews, XVII,viii,3].
Professor James Hastings says concerning the grave clothes found in Christ's empty tomb: "As far back as Chrysostom's time [the 4th century A.D.] attention was called to the fact that the myrrh was a drug which adheres so closely to the body that the grave clothes would not easily be removed" (Joan. Hom. 85).
Merrill Tenney explains the graveclothes as follows: "In preparing a body for burial according to Jewish custom, it was usually washed and straightened, and then bandaged tightly from the armpits to the ankles in strips of linen about a foot wide. Aromatic spices, often of a gummy consistency, were placed between the wrappings or folds. They served partially as a preservative and partially as a cement to glue the cloth wrappings into a solid covering...John's term 'bound' (Gr. edesan) is in perfect accord with the language of Lk. 23:53, where the writer says that the body was wrapped...in linen...On the morning of the first day of the week the body of Jesus had vanished, but the graveclothes were still there..."
Professor George B. Eager in The International Standard bible Encyclopedia says of Christ's burial: "It was in strict accordance with such customs and the provision of the Mosaic law (Deut. 21:23) ["His corpse shall not hang all night on the tree, but you shall surely bury him on the same day (for he who is hanged is accursed of GOD), so that you do not defile your land which the LORD your GOD gives you as an inheritance."] (cf. Gal. 3:13) ["Christ redeemed us from the curse of the Law, having become a curse for us - for it is written, 'CURSED IS EVERYONE WHO HANGS ON A TREE.'"], as well as in compliance with the impulses of true humanity, that Joseph of Arimathea went to Pilate and begged the body of Jesus for burial on the very day of the crucifixion (Matthew 27:58ff.)."
Professor Eager further observes: "Missionaries and natives of Syria tell us that it is still customary to wash the body (cf. John 12:7; 19:90; Mark 16:1; Luke 24:1), swathe hands and feet in gravebands, usually of linen (John 19:40), and cover the face or bind it about with a napkin or handkerchief (John 11:44b). It is still common to place in the wrappings of the body aromatic spices and other preparations to retard decomposition...we are...told that after the burial of Jesus, Nicodemus brought 'a mixture of myrrh and aloes, about a hundred pounds,' and that they 'took the body of Jesus, and bound it in linen wrappings with the spices, as the custom of the Jews is to bury,' and that Mary Magdalene and two other women brought spices for the same purpose (Mark 16:1; Luke 23:56)."
Henry Latham gives the following details concerning Christ's burial:
"We can make out...from ancient authorities, that the body was borne to burial without coffin or enclosure of any kind; it was carried on me's shoulders on a bier, and was either attired in the ordinary garb, bound round with grave-bands, in order, perhaps, to keep in the spices, or else it was swathed in linen cloths. 'The face of the dead body,' says Dr. Edersheim (Vol. I. p. 556), 'was uncovered. The body lay with its face turned upwards, and its hands folded on the breast.' I believe, judging from existing usage...that the neck and the upper surface of the shoulders were commonly left bare as well as the face.
"The LORD's body, we read (S. John xix. 38-41), was prepared for the tomb in great haste by Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathaea. I suppose it to have been wrapped in three or four lengths of linen cloth, with abundant spices between each fold, and the napkin to have been twirled round the head, with its ends interlaced. When the body was laid in the tomb, the head would have rested upon the raised portion of the ledge at the far end which served for a pillow.
"I now come to the matter of the spices. Neither in S. John's Gospel, nor in any of the others, is it said that any spices were seen in the tomb. This makes a significant feature in my case. My contention is that the spice lay between the folds of the linen wrappers. That the amount of spice, named by S. John as brought by Nicodemus for the preparation of the body for the tomb, is extremely large, has been commonly noticed: the quantity, however, is of less importance to me than the fact, which seems to be established by the best authorities, that the spices were dry, and would therefore fall to the ground in a heap if the body were placed in an erect posture, or the cerements were removed. A quantity that weighed a hundred pounds would be conspicuous by its bulk. What is here called 'aloes' was a fragrant wood pounded or reduced to dust, while the myrrh was an aromatic gum, morsels of which were mixed with the powdered wood. It was also the practice, so we gather, to anoint the body with a semi-liquid unguent such as nard. One effect of this would be to cause the powder immediately about the body to adhere to it, but the great bulk of it would remain dry. The head and hair were also anointed with this unguent. I do not find that the powdered spice was applied to the face or head. When, however, our LORD's body was hurriedly prepared for the tomb, there would be no time for anointing the body or for any elaborate process, because sunset was fast approaching and with it the Sabbath would come. The body would be simply embedded in the powdered spice. It may have been that the women desired to repair this omission as far as they could, and that what they brought on the Sunday morning was nard, or some costly unguent, in order to complete the anointing. S. John speaks only of myrrh and aloes, but S. Luke says that the women prepared spices and ointments, and in S. Mark we have 'they bought sweet spices that they might come and anoint him' (chap. xve. I). Possible they did not intend to disturb the grave-cloths, but only to anoint the head and neck with unguents."
Concerning that which covered the opening of Jesus' tomb, A. B. Bruce says:
"The Jews called the stone golel."
H. W. Holloman, citing G. M. Mackie, says: "The opening to the central chamber was guarded by a large and heavy disc of rock which could roll along a groove slightly depressed at the center, in front of the tomb entrance."
Professor T. J. Thorburn mentions that this stone was used "as a protection against both men and beasts." He further observes: "This stone is often mentioned by the Talmudists. According to Maimonides, a structure ex lingo, alia Materia was also used." OF the enormous size of such a stone Dr. Thorburn comments: "I usually required several men to remove it." Since the one rolled to the entrance of Jesus' tomb was intended to prevent an expected theft, it was probably even larger than what would normally have been used!
Indeed, concerning the tremendous weight of the rock, Thorburn remarks: "A gloss in Cod. Bez. [a phrase written in parenthesis, within the text of Mark 16:4 as found in a (fourth) century manuscript w(Codex Bezae in the Cambridge Library)] adds, 'And when he was laid there, he (Joseph) put against the tomb a stone which twenty men could not roll away.' " The Significance of Dr. Thorburn's observation is realized when one considers the rules for transcribing manuscripts. It was the custom that if a copier was emphasizing his own interpretation, he would write his thought in the margin and not include it within the text. One might conclude, therefore, that the insert in the text was copied from a text even closer to the time of Christ, perhaps a first century manuscript. The phrase, then, could have been recorded by an eye-witness who was impressed with the enormity of the stone which was rolled against Jesus' sepulchre. Gilbert West of Oxford also brings out the importance of this portion of the Bezae Codex on pp. 37,38 of his work, Observations on the History and Evidences of the Resurrection of Jesus Christ.
Professor Samuel Chandler says: "The Witnesses here all agree, that when the Women came, they found the Stone rolled or taken away. The Women could not do it, the Stone being too large for them to move."
Professor Edersheim, the Hebrew-Christian who is an exceptionally good source for the historical background of the New Testament times, relates the following concerning Jesus' burial: "And so they laid Him to rest in the niche of the rock-hewn new tomb. And as they went out, they rolled, as was the custom, a 'great stone' - the Golel - to close the entrance to the tomb, probably leaning against it for support, as was the practice, a smaller stone - the so-called Dopheg. It would be where the one stone was laid against the other, that on the next day, the Sabbath though it was, the Jewish authorities would have affixed the seal, so that the slightest disturbance might become apparent."
Professor Frank Morison, commenting on the visit of Mary and her friends to Jesus' tomb that early Sunday morning, says:
"The question as to how they were to remove this stone must of necessity have been a source of considerable perplexity to the women. Two of them at least had witnessed the interment and knew roughly how things stood. The stone, which is known to have been large and of considerable weight, was their great difficulty. When, therefore, we find in the earliest record, the Gospel of St. Mark, the words: 'Who shall roll us away the stone from the door of the tomb?' we can hardly avoid feeling that this preoccupation of the women with the question of the stone is not only a psychological necessity of the problem, but a definitely historical element in the situation right up to the moment of their arrival at the grave."
Morison calls the stone at Jesus' tomb "the one silent and infallible witness in the whole episode - and there are certain facts about this stone which call for very careful study and investigation."
"Let us begin by considering first its size and probably character...no doubt...the stone was large and consequently very heavy. This fact is asserted or implied by all the writers who refer to it. St. Mark says it was 'exceeding great.' St. Matthew speaks of it as 'a great stone.' Peter says, 'for the stone was great.' Additional testimony on this point is furnished by the reported anxiety of the women as to how they should move it. If the stone had not been of considerable weight the combined strength of three women should have been capable of moving it. We receive, therefore, a very definite impression that it was at least too weighty for the women to remove unaided. All this has a very definite bearing upon the case..."
Matthew 27:66 states: "And they went and made the grave secure, and along with the guard they set a seal on the stone."
A. T. Robertson says that the method of sealing the stone at Jesus' tomb was "...probably by a cord stretched across the stone and sealed at each end as in Dan. 6:17 ['And a stone was brought and laid over the mouth of the den; and the king sealed it with his own signet ring and with the signet rings of his nobles, so that nothing might be changed in regard to Daniel.']. The sealing was done in the presence of the Roman guards who were left in charge to protect this stamp of Roman authority and power. They did their best to prevent theft and the resurrection (Bruce), but they overreached themselves and provided additional witness to the fact of the empty tomb and the resurrection of Jesus (Plummer)."
A. B. Bruce observed that "the participial clause [sealing the stone] is a parenthesis pointing to an additional precaution, sealing the stone, with a thread over it and sealed to the tomb at either end. The worthy men did their best to prevent theft, and - the resurrection!"
Henry Sumner Maine, "...member of the Supreme Council of India; formerly Reader on Jurisprudence and the Civil Law at the Middle Temple, and Regius Professor of the Civil Law in the University of Cambridge," speaks of the legal authority attached to the Roman seal. He points out that it was actually "considered as a mode of authentication."
In the area of jurisprudence, Maine continues, "We may observe, that the seals of Roman Wills and other documents of importance did not only serve as the index of the presence or assent of the signatory, but were also literally fastenings which had to be broken before the writing could be inspected."
Considering in like manner the securing of Jesus' tomb, the Roman seal affixed thereon was meant to prevent any attempted vandalizing of the sepulcher. Anyone trying to move the stone from the tomb's entrance would have broken the seal and thus incurred the wrath of Roman law.
Professor Henry Alford says, "The sealing was by means of a cord or string passing across the stone at the mouth of the sepulchre, and fastened at either end to the rock by sealing clay."
Marvin Vincent comments: "The idea is that they sealed the stone in the presence of the guard, and then left them to keep watch. It would be important that the guard should witness the sealing. The sealing was performed by stretching a cord across the stone and fastening it to the rock at either end by means of sealing clay. Or, if the stone at the door happened to be fastened with a cross beam, this latter was sealed by the rock."
Professor D. D. Whedon says: "The door could not be opened, therefore, without breaking the seal; which was a crime against the authority of the proprietor of the seal. The guard was to prevent the duplicity of the disciples; the seal was to secure against the collusion of the guard. So in Dan. vi, 17: 'A stone was brought, and laid upon the mouth of the den; and the king sealed it with his own signet and with the signet of his lord.' "
John Chrysostom, Archbishop of Constantinople in the fourth century, records the following observations concerning the security measures taken at Jesus' tomb:
"See, at any rate, these words bearing witness to every one of these facts. 'We remember,' these are the words, 'that that deceiver said, when He was yet alive,' (He was therefore now dead), 'After three days I rise again. Command therefore that the sepulchre be sealed,' (He was therefore buried), 'lest His disciples come and steal Him away.' So that if the sepulchre be sealed, there will be no unfair dealing. For there could not be. So then the proof of His resurrection has become incontrovertible by what ye have put forward. For because it was sealed, there was no unfair dealing. But if there was no unfair dealing, and the sepulchre was found empty,it is manifest that He is risen, plainly and incontrovertible. Seest thou, how even against their will they contend for the proof of the truth?"
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