17.02.01 Mk. 15:42-43a Lk. 23:51a; Mk. 15:43b-45 (See also Mt. 27:57-58; Jn. 19:38a) Garden near Golgotha
JOSEPH ASKS FOR BODY
Mk. 42 When it was already evening, because it was preparation day (that is, the day before the Sabbath), 43a Joseph of Arimathea, a prominent member of the Sanhedrin who was himself looking forward to the kingdom of God,
Lk. 51 who had not agreed with their plan and action,
Mk. 43b came and boldly went in to Pilate and asked for Jesus’ body. 44 Pilate was surprised that He was already dead. Summoning the centurion, he asked him whether He had already died. 45 When he found out from the centurion, he gave the corpse to Joseph.
“When it was already evening.” The Jewish people reckoned “evening” in two ways, the earlier and the later.
- The earlier evening was in the middle of the afternoon, or about 3:00 p.m.
- The later evening began at sunset, or around 6:00 p.m.
The reference to “evening” in this crucifixion narrative is to the earlier evening that spans from 3:00 pm to 6:00 pm.
Proper burial was a sacred honor. Even common peasant Jewish people honored strangers with a proper burial. In this case, Jesus, who was a healer and miracle worker, received the most honorable burial. Consequently, Joseph requested the body of Jesus because,
- He wanted to honor Jesus – it was a disgrace not to have a proper burial.
- It would have been a disgrace to leave a body on the cross over a religious holy day.
It is for the second reason that scholars believe that the other two crucified men were also removed from their crosses and buried. Pilate, who was anxious not to have a riot on his hands surrendered to the demands of the Jewish leadership. Yet as far as the Romans were concerned, they could not have cared less if a Jew rotted on a cross.
A crucified person suffered not only the pain of dying, but also the pain of insects, birds, and dogs eating his flesh while he was still living. The smell of sweat, blood, urine, and feces, along with the dying groans of those crucified, attracted a number of parasites and predators. To add insult to unspeakable injury, those who begged for a proper burial afterwards were at times told that they would “feed the crows.” An example was written in 20 B.C, by the Roman historian Quintus Horatius Flaccus (65-8 B.C.), otherwise known as Horace who said,
If a slave should say to me, “I have not committed a robbery, nor run away:” “You have your reward; you are not galled with the lash,” I reply. “I have not killed any man:” “You shall not [therefore] feed the carrion crows on the cross.”
Horace, First Epistle 16:46-48
Another example of disregard of the deceased occurred about four decades before Jesus was born. There was a power play in Rome and, Octavius (later known as Emperor Augustus) had defeated Julius Caesar’s murderers at Philippi in October of 42 B.C. The wrath of Octavius was preserved later by the historian Suetonius, who wrote,
He did not use his victory with moderation, but after sending Brutus’ head to Rome, to be cast at the feet of Caesar’s statue, he vented his spleen upon the most distinguished of his captives, not even sparing them insulting the Law. For instance, to one man who begged humbly for burial, he is said to have replied: “The [carrion] birds will soon settle that question.”
Suetonius, The Deified Augustus 13:1-2
In the second century (B.C.) a certain man named Amyzon in Caria had a slave who killed him. The people of the community crucified the slave and left the following inscription:
But the one who did such things to me my fellow citizens hung alive for the wild beasts and birds.
Truly, his death was the most agonizing of crucifixions. As previously stated, to have a proper burial was a highly esteemed virtue; failure to have one was worse than the ultimate insult – it was the ultimate annihilation in both the Roman and Jewish world. The difference is that in the Jewish world, death upon a tree or cross was also believed to carry with it a divine condemnation. Therefore, it is not surprising that when the Romans were destroying Jerusalem and the temple, two former high priests of the Caiaphas dynasty, Ananus II and Jesus, in 62 and 64 respectively, were hated so much that they were killed and their bodies were not buried. It was as if the rioting executioners initiated a divine curse on them. Josephus reported this account:
They actually went so far in their impiety as to cast out the corpses without burial, although the Jews are so careful about funeral rites that even malefactors who have been sentenced to crucifixion are taken down and buried before sunset.
Josephus, Wars 4.5.2 (317)
By the time the First Revolt erupted, the common Jewish people had as much hatred for the temple establishment as they did for the Romans. They were not about to give the Sadducean priesthood any dignity, rather, they were determined to give them the ultimate insult and ultimate annihilation – death without a burial.
Finally, if Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus, both distinguished members of the Sanhedrin, truly believed that Jesus was a criminal, they would never have violated Deuteronomy 21:22-23, that states a criminal who blasphemes against God should be stoned to death. Rather these righteous Pharisees recognized Jesus as One sent by God, although at this point they may not have recognized Him as the Messiah. To honor Jesus, Joseph of Arimathea donated his tomb that was not in a cemetery, but in a private garden outside the city. In their deepest sorrow they mourned their huge loss, but absolutely no one was expecting the resurrection that was about to come.
17.02.01.Q1 Does Luke 23:1 conflict with 23:51?
The first verse of Chapter 23 indicates that the entire court voted against Jesus whereas verse 51 states that Joseph of Arimathea did not consent to their decision. This is not a matter of conflict, but indicates that he was not present during the trial. The Sanhedrin was composed of seventy members, plus the high priest who was also the president. For a capital crime, only twenty-three members plus the president had to serve as judges. In this case the court judges were hand selected by Caiaphas to agree with his decision. Joseph of Arimathea was among those absent.
. Vincent, Word Studies in the New Testament. 1:146.
. In a similar manner, centuries later the Muslims build the Dome of the Rock over the temple site and converted St. Mary’s Church, located on the Temple Mount, into a mosque. They never touched Gordon’s Garden Tomb.
. The term “carrion birds” or “birds” is a reference to crows.
. Quotation cited by Cook, “Crucifixion and Burial.” 204; Liewelyn, New Documents Illustrating Early Christianity: A Review of the Greek Inscriptions and Papyri Published 1984-1985. 8:1-3.
. Many Jerusalemites had gardens on the northern side of the city and these gardens were enclosed in the early 40s by King Agrippa when he constructed a new city wall.
. Arimathea was a small village about twenty miles west of Jerusalem in the hill country of Ephraim.