Unit 17 – The Crucifixion And Burial Of Jesus

Unit 17 The Crucifixion And Burial Of Jesus

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Unit 17

The Crucifixion And Burial Of Jesus

17.01 Miraculous Events That Occurred At His Death

Bill Heinrich  -  Dec 19, 2015  -  Comments Off on 17.01 Miraculous Events That Occurred At His Death

Unit 17

The Crucifixion And Burial Of Jesus


Chapter 01

Miraculous Events That Occurred At His Death


17.01.00.A. THE DEAD APPEAR IN THE TEMPLE by James Tossit. 1879.

17.01.00.A.  THE DEAD APPEAR IN THE TEMPLE by James Tissot. 1879. There were so many unusual events at the time of the crucifixion that people realized divine judgment was at hand for the death of Jesus.

17.01.01 Introduction

Bill Heinrich  -  Dec 19, 2015  -  Comments Off on 17.01.01 Introduction

17.01.01 Introduction

A number of strange and fascinating events occurred the moment Jesus breathed His last breath. Some of these are described in the gospels while other events were recorded elsewhere. Centuries later, Jewish writers avoided the connection of these events with the crucifixion of Jesus, so they said that certain mysteries occurred “about” four decades prior to the destruction of the temple.


In rabbinic writings, the reference to “four decades” supports the calculation that Jesus was crucified in the year A.D. 30. Furthermore, during the previous fifteen centuries since Moses presented God’s commands to observe His feasts (Lev. 23:2), the Jews were never attacked by an enemy during any of the festivals.  It would have been to the advantage of any invading army, such as the Assyrians, the Babylonians, or any other adversary to attack when the Israelite men were not armed because they were celebrating.  For fifteen centuries God protected His people during festivals until the year A.D. 70.



17.01.01.Q1 What Strange and Miraculous Events Occurred when Jesus died that are not Recorded in the Bible?

Just as the ministry life of Jesus was full of wonder, so was His death – an event that everyone quickly discovered – was orchestrated by God.  The Jewish leaders refused to acknowledge that these events could have been related to Jesus, but an explanation had to be given.  Therefore, Jewish legends say that these occurred after Simeon the Just died.[1]


Phenomena 1: The Temple Doors Open

When Jesus died, the temple doors opened on their own accord and sacrifices ended exactly forty years later.  These doors were huge – seventy cubits high and twenty wide – and obviously quite heavy.[2]  According to Josephus, no less than twenty men (Levites) were needed to open and close each one.[3] No wonder that Jewish writers noted the unusual event in the Talmud:


Forty years before the destruction of the temple, its doors opened of their own accord.  Jochanan, son of Saccai, rebuked them, saying, O temple, why did you open of your own accord? Ah!  I perceive that your end is at hand; for it is written: “Open your doors, O Lebanon, that the fire may devour your cedars.”

Babylonian Talmud, Zechariah 11:1

The mystery of the doors opening by themselves and the fire that followed was also recorded elsewhere in the Babylonian Talmud. Furthermore, the account was related to two prophetic passages, Isaiah 10:34 and Zechariah 11:1, by a first century rabbi.  These two verses do not mention the word “temple,” but the name “Lebanon” which was synonymous with the word “temple” for more than a thousand years. The reason for the connection was that the interior of Solomon’s temple was paneled with Lebanon cedars. But there’s more: The phrase “O Lebanon” is actually a Hebrew word play.  The phrase had become a cryptic name for the temple, since its root letters formed the Hebrew word “whiten” and it was at the “white temple” where the sins of the people were “whitened.” The interior of the temple was paneled with cedar wood from Lebanon and the exterior was a bright white limestone.

This mysterious event of the temple doors opening did not escape the pen of Josephus.  He said that the doors were so massive that normally twenty men had to struggle to close them, but now they opened on its own accord, giving the ominous warning that enemies would soon enter.  Note the incredible account,


Moreover, the eastern gate of the inner [court of the] temple which was of brass and vastly heavy, and had been, with difficulty, shut by twenty men, and rested upon a basis armed with iron, and had bolts fastened very deep into the firm floor which was made of one entire stone, was seen to be opened of its own accord about the sixth hour of the night.  Now those that kept watch in the temple came to the captain of the temple and told him of it; who then came up [to see] and, without great difficulty was able to shut the gate again…. But the men of learning understood it, that the security of their holy place was dissolved of its own accord, and that the gate was opened for the advantage of their enemies.

Josephus, Wars 6.5.3 (293-295)[4]


With the fearful thought of coming destruction, another rabbi made this amazing comment,


“Because of the sins of Israel, the Torah (God’s Word) would be taken from Israel and given to the Gentiles.”


Babylonian Talmud, Hagigah 5b[5]


His observation was obviously correct – God’s Word (Torah) was taken to the Gentiles. The prediction by the rabbi is amazing. Yet at no time did Jesus ever imply that the Old Testament covenant was broken or discarded because the Jewish leadership rejected Him.


The term legend is often defined as a mythical event that is based upon a historical event.[6]  As the actual details are transmitted from one person to another, these become enhanced and a legend is born. This historical account, as reported by the Roman historian Tacitus is a classic example.


These doors, opening by themselves must have had a profound effect upon the observers as even Tacitus attempted to describe it. He was not an observer in Jerusalem so therefore, his words reflect the proverbial rumor mill gossips as well as his Greco-Roman religious faith. Nonetheless, he clearly described the opening of the doors and the fear that came with the event. He must have reflected the opinion of many others as well.


Contending hosts were seen meeting in the skies, arms flashed, and suddenly the temple was illumined with fire from the clouds.  Of a sudden the doors of the shrine opened and a superhuman voice cried: “The gods are departing”: at the same moment the mighty stir of their going was heard. Few interpreted these omens as fearful;  the majority firmly believed that their ancient priestly writings contained the prophecy that this was the very time when the East should grow strong and that men starting from Judea should possess the world.”

Tacitus, Histories 5:13


The final comment is not only profound for what it says, but by whom it was said. A friend of Nicodemus (the same who met Jesus at night) by the name of Johanan Ben Zakkai[7] said:


“Oh temple, temple… I know that you shall be destroyed.”[8]


Ben Zakkai was one of the leading rabbis who opposed the corruption of the leading Pharisees and Sadducees. His prediction is amazing…the temple was about to be destroyed and he was right!


Phenomena 2: The Missing Sacrificial Scape-goat 

As part of the sacrificial system, every year two identical goats, preferably twins, were chosen. One was sacrificed in the temple and its blood soaked linen was hung on the temple door.  In Leviticus 16:20-22, Moses commanded Aaron to place the sins of the people on the head of a goat. That goat became known as the “scapegoat” and was then led into the desert wilderness.  There it was taken to the Cliff of Azazel,[9] pushed over the edge, and presumably devoured by wild predators after dying on the rocks below.  The words of Moses in Leviticus are presented, followed by the events in the temple, as recorded in the Mishnah.


20 “When he has finished purifying the most holy place, the tent of meeting, and the altar, he is to present the live male goat. 21 Aaron will lay both his hands on the head of the live goat and confess over it all the Israelites’ wrongdoings and rebellious acts — all their sins. He is to put them on the goat’s head and send it away into the wilderness by the man appointed for the task. 22 The goat will carry on it all their wrongdoings into a desolate land, and he will release it there.

Leviticus 16:20-22


However, after the crucifixion, when the scapegoat was pushed over the edge of the cliff, it ran off into the desert where it was eventually captured and killed by the Saracens.[10] But another tradition says that one time the scapegoat returned to Jerusalem. Clearly things did not go very well for the priests as planned. Whatever the situation of the scapegoat, this sacrifice was connected with the next phenomena – the scarlet wool that failed to turn white.


Phenomena 3: The Mystery of the Scarlet Wool

When the goats were presented in the temple, the blood-soaked woolen thread of the sacrificed goat was tied to the temple door. This tradition was based on a passage in the book of Isaiah.


Come, let us discuss this,” says the Lord. “Though your sins are like scarlet, they will be as white as snow; though they are as red as crimson, they will be like wool.

Isaiah 1:18


In the meantime the scapegoat was led out of the temple, over the Mount of Olives, and into the Judean Desert where it was pushed over the Cliff of Azazel as previously mentioned. As the scapegoat was being led away, all eyes in the temple were focused on the wool thread that was tied to the temple door.  When the scapegoat – the one which carried the sins of the all the people – died, the strap of crimson wool miraculously became white, obviously indicating that the sins of the people were forgiven.  Jewish writings preserved two accounts of this unusual event.


Rabbi Ishmael says: “Didn’t they have another sign also?  A thread of crimson wool was tied to the door of the sanctuary and when the he-goat reached the wilderness the thread turned white; for it is written, ‘Though your sins be as scarlet they shall be as white as snow’” (Isa. 1:18).

Mishnah, Yoma 6.8


However, after the national rejection of Jesus, (“about” 40 years prior to the destruction of the temple) the crimson thread on the temple door never turned white again.


Our rabbis taught that throughout the forty years that Shim’on the Tzaddik served, … the scarlet cloth would become white.  From then on it would sometimes become white and sometimes not…. Throughout the last forty years before the temple was destroyed… the scarlet cloth never turned white.

            Babylonian Talmud, Yoma 39a-39b


Great caution was taken to avoid any association of these phenomena and the death of Jesus in Jewish writings. Prior to the death of Jesus, all the sins of the people were atoned by the Old Covenant’s sacrificial system. Upon His death and resurrection, however, their sins were no longer removed by sacrifices, even though the sacrificial system continued.


While some scholars apply this passage to the temple destruction of 586 B.C., Jewish commentaries also apply it to the destruction of A.D. 70. This interpretation originated with Rabbi Yohanan ben Zakkai,[11]  the last survivor of the Great Sanhedrin and who boldly escaped the Roman siege as the temple burned and thousands were massacred.[12] A friend of the Sanhedrin teacher Nicodemus (the same who met Jesus) by the name of Johanan Ben Zakkai said:


Our rabbis taught: during the last forty years before the destruction of the temple the lot [for the Lord] did not come up in the right hand; nor did the crimson-colored strap become white; nor did the westernmost light shine; and the doors of the Hekal would open by themselves, until Rabbi Johanan ben Zakkai rebuked them, saying Hekal, Hekal, why wilt thou be the alarmer thyself? I know about thee that thou wilt be destroyed, for Zechariah ben Ido has already prophesied concerning thee: Open thy doors, O Lebanon, that the fire may devour thy cedars.

Babylonian Talmud, Yoma 39b[13]


This brief narrative in the Talmud is not the only one with in such observations.  Similar omens of judgment (that God had forsaken His temple) are found also in 2 Baruch 6:7 and in the Testament of Levi 10:3. This miracle occurred annually at Yom Kippur in the temple until the year Jesus died.  The death and resurrection of Jesus rendered the temple obsolete. Its destruction was a sure event on a divine timetable.


Phenomena 4: Difficulties with the Servant Lamp

Once, when Jesus was in the temple area at the Feast of Lights, He said that He was the light of the world. Scholars believe this conversation occurred by the menorah called the “Servant Lamp.” Amazingly, after His death there was great difficulty in lighting the Servant Lamp, and once it was lit, it did not always remain lit.[14] Fresh olive oil and new wicks did not help.  Rabbis began to write that God was demonstrating His anger with Israel while foreshadowing the destruction of the temple, but they were careful not to mention the name “Jesus.”


Forty years before the destruction of the temple, the Servant Lamp refused to light.

            Jerusalem Talmud, Yoma 43:3

The Jewish leaders had difficulty explaining why the Servant Lamp no longer shone in the temple area. No one dared to connect it with the crucifixion of Jesus, so the reason was placed upon the death of Simeon the Just/Righteous.[15]  In the Talmud is the following statement:


All the time that Simeon the Righteous was alive, the western lamp would burn well. When Simeon the Righteous died, sometimes it would flicker out, and sometimes it would burn.

Babylonian Talmud, Yoma 6.3[16]


But there is a serious problem with Jewish reckoning: Simeon the Righteous, a/k/a Simon the Just, is said to be the high priest Simon II who lived around the year 200 B.C., and was succeeded by Onias III.[17] However, there are another half dozen religious leaders who could have had the honorary title of “the Righteous” or “the Just,” and knowing who the Talmudic writers meant is unclear – and maybe it was intended to be that way.


Later, when the Romans came in A.D. 70, the first century historian described how they removed the menorah. It was eventually taken to Rome where, it is believed, it remains today in the Vatican.


But for those that were taken in the temple of Jerusalem, they made the greatest figure of them all; that is, the golden table, of the weight of many talents; the candlestick also, that was made of gold, though its construction were now changed from that which we made use of; for its middle shaft was fixed upon a basis, and the small branches were produced out of it to a great length, having the likeness of a trident in their position, and had every one a socket made of brass for a lamp at the tops of them. These lamps were in number seven, and represented the dignity of the number seven among the Jews.

Josephus, Wars 7.5.5 (149)[18]



Amazingly, two ancient Jewish scholars concluded the temple would be destroyed.  Likewise was the comment by the rabbi, who said that God’s plan is to bring salvation (he said “Torah”) to the Gentiles. Shortly after the destruction of Jerusalem, the Jewish writer of the Fourth Book of Ezra commented,


For you see how our sanctuary has been laid waste, our altar thrown down, our temple destroyed; our harp has been laid low, our song has been silenced, and our rejoicing has ended; the light of our lampstand has been put out, the ark of our covenant has been plundered, our holy things have been polluted, and the name by which we are called has been almost profaned; our children [or: free men] have suffered abuse, our priests have been burned to death, our Levites have gone into [captivity], our virgins have been defiled, and our wives have been ravished; our righteous men [or our seers] have been carried off, our little ones have been cast out, our young men have been enslaved and our strong men made powerless.  And, worst of all, the seal of Zion has been depraved of its glory and given over into the hands of those that hate us.

4 Ezra 10:21-24[19]


Why did the Servant Lamp not retain its flame? It was because Jesus functioned both as the Servant and the Light of the world, which national Israel rejected.


Phenomena 5: The fire wood that would not burn

For more than five centuries, ever since the second temple was built, when the fire upon the altar was lit in the morning, two logs were sufficient to keep it burning all day long.  However, after the crucifixion of Jesus, the fire would at times go out, even with additional firewood.[20]


Phenomena 6: The Shewbread that “failed.”

The rituals of the second temple were well established.  Just as the altar fires were kept burning for centuries, so likewise every morning a blessing was placed over the temple showbread that was divided among the priests and eaten until they were all filled.  However, after the crucifixion of Jesus, the priests remained hungry.[21]


These six strange events were not connected with the death and resurrection of Jesus, but with the death of Simeon the Just. The religious leaders refused to acknowledge what they knew beyond any shadow of doubt – that Jesus was their Messiah.


Summary statement: Finally, a summary statement of four of these events is found in the Babylonian Talmud.  It says,


It has been taught: Forty years before the destruction of the temple the western light went out, the crimson thread remained crimson, and the lot for the Lord always came up in the left hand.  They would close the gates of the temple by night and get up in the morning and find them wide open. Said [to the temple] Rabban Yohanan ben Zakkai, “O temple, why do you frighten us? We know that you will end up destroyed. For it has been said, “Open your doors, O Lebanon, that the fire may devour your cedars!” (Zech. 11:1).

Babylonian Talmud, Yoma 6.3[22]   




[1]. For further study, see Plummer, “Something Awry in the Temple?” 301-16.


[2]. Seventy by 20 cubits is about 105 feet high by 30 feet wide. The doors were heavy due to their size and gold covering.   


[3]. Josephus, Against Apion 2.11 (119).      


[4]. Bracketed insert by Whiston, ed.


[5]. Santala, The Messiah in the New Testament. 43.

[6]. Cited by Gurtner, Daniel M. “The Veil of the Temple in History and Legend.”  Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society. 49:1 (March, 2006). 107-08.


[7]. Rabbi Zakkai was the last disciple of the famous Rabbi Hillel. See Parry, The Complete Idiot’s Guide to the Talmud. 38-39.


[8]. Rabbi Zakkai was the last disciple of the famous Rabbi Hillel. See Parry, The Complete Idiot’s Guide to the Talmud. 39.


[9]. The meaning of Azazel is uncertain, but it was probably a desert demon. See Mishnah, Yoma 1.5; 6.4; Lev. 16:6-10 and Barclay, Jesus. 314.


[10]. Lightfoot, A Commentary on the New Testament from the Talmud and Hebraica. 2:77.


[11]. Rabbi Zakkai was the last disciple of the famous Rabbi Hillel. See Parry, The Complete Idiot’s Guide to the Talmud. 38-39.


[12]http://books.google.com/books?id=57E3AAAAIAAJ&pg=PA238&lpg=PA238&dq=Jerusalem+Talmud,+Yoma+43:3&source=bl&ots=vOyuShzS_k&sig=tgDCi3Z-1bZEp6sU_dfdI_C5umg&hl=en&sa=X&ei=jAqyUPzgAayM0QH3hoCwCA&sqi=2&ved=0CD4Q6AEwAw. Retrieved November 25, 2012.


[13]. Emphasis by Talmudic editors.


[14]. According to tradition, when the Roman General Titus plundered the temple, he took the Servant’s lamp and other treasures and moved them to Rome where he paraded them through the streets. A stone relief of that parade, along with the menorah, was carved into the Arch of Titus that stands along the Apian Way. Today these relics are believed to be in a vault four stories below under the Vatican.


[15]. Lightfoot, A Commentary on the New Testament from the Talmud and Hebraica. 2:77.


[16]. Cited by Plummer, “Something Awry in the Temple?” 308.


[17]. Plummer, “Something Awry in the Temple?” 308 n28. The name Simon, like Jesus, was a popular name. There was a significant “Simon the Just” who lived around 300 B.C., another in the second century B.C. (1 Macc. 14:41), and a third during the time of Jesus; Josephus, Antiquities 12.2.5; Geikie, The Life and Words of Christ. 1:101, 360; Multiple persons with the same name can present challenges in biblical and extra-biblical research.


[18]. http://www.ccel.org/j/josephus/works/JOSEPHUS.HTM. Retrieved November 25, 2012.

[19]. Scholars debate on the classification of 3rd Ezra (a/k/a 1 Esdras) and 4th Ezra (a/k/a 2nd Esdras). Sometimes these are listed in the Apocrypha (see 02.02.03) and other times they are listed in the Pseudepigrapha (see 02.02.24). The reader is reminded that quotations from non-biblical sources are not to be understood as being of equal authority with the biblical narratives. See 01.02.04.


[20]. Cited by Lightfoot, A Commentary on the New Testament from the Talmud and Hebraica. 2:77.


[21]. Cited by Lightfoot, A Commentary on the New Testament from the Talmud and Hebraica. 2:77.


[22]. Cited by Plummer, “Something Awry in the Temple?” 306.



Bill Heinrich  -  Dec 19, 2015  -  Comments Off on 17.01.02 MIRACULOUS EVENTS

17.01.02 Mt. 27:51 (See also Mk. 15:38; Lk. 23:45b)



51 Suddenly, the curtain of the sanctuary was split in two from top to bottom; the earth quaked and the rocks were split.


“The curtain of the sanctuary was split in two from top to bottom.”  The huge curtain of fine Babylonian tapestry[1] was the point of separation between the most sacred place in the temple, known as the Holy of Holies, and the holy place where common people came to worship God.  It was about sixty feet high and thirty feet wide by four inches thick. The curtain was woven of seventy-two twisted plaits, with each plait consisting of twenty-four threads. It was so massive and heavy that it was said that it required three hundred priests to manipulate it, since every years two plaits were replaced.[2]

The fact that it was torn from the top indicates that it was God who tore the curtain, thereby permitting all humanity to enter into His presence.  In ancient times, it was from behind this curtain that God would reveal Himself to the ministering priest.  There are three reasons why the gospel writer mentioned the torn curtain, which is also referred to as a veil.

  1. It has a theological significance, meaning that anyone who desired to come to God could now do so. His sanctuary had been behind the veil in the Holy of Holies, while the people were in front of the veil and out of its sight. The torn curtain symbolizes that all who place their faith in Jesus have direct access to God the Father, as described in Hebrews 9:1-15 and 10:19-22.
  1. The temple and related ritual sacrifices were no longer needed. The Old Covenant was fulfilled by Jesus. It was not replaced by the New Covenant.
  1. The curtain was such a massive piece of fabric that it was totally impossible for any human to have torn it. Only God Himself could have torn it. The Mishnah describes it with mazing detail:


The veil was one handbreadth thick and was woven on (a loom having)[3] seventy-two rods, and over each rod were twenty-four threads.  Its length was forty cubits[4] and its breadth twenty cubits; it was made by eighty-two young girls, and they used to make two in every year; and three hundred priests immersed it.

Mishnah, Shekalim 8.5


Cyril of Jerusalem added these noteworthy comments:

The sun was darkened, because of the Son of righteousness.  Rocks were rent, because of the spiritual Rock. Tombs were opened, and the dead arose, because of Him who was free among the dead … If they were cast out of paradise because of the tree and the eating thereof, shall not believers now enter more easily into paradise because of the tree of Jesus?

Cyril of Jerusalem, Catechetical Lectures[5] 

Finally, the miracles and teachings of Jesus, the illegal trials, the incredible incidents that occurred when Jesus died, most certainly made some priests and Levites realized that maybe Jesus really was who He said and demonstrated to be – the Son of God. These were the proverbial stepping stones that led many of those priests and Levites to become followers of Jesus in Acts. 6:1.

17.01.02.Q1 What became of the Sanhedrin after the crucifixion of Jesus?   

After the death of Jesus, the Sanhedrin was exiled from its regular meeting place in the Chamber of Hewn Stone within the temple. The reason why it was relocated is shrouded in mystery, but interestingly, the Babylonian Talmud states that it was relocated to a hilltop known as Hanuth (see 17.01.02.A).

Forty years before the temple was destroyed did the Sanhedrin abandon (the Temple) and held its sittings in Hanuth.

Babylonian Talmud, Zarah 8b


17.01.02.A. THE HILL OF EVIL COUNSEL.  After the crucifixion of Jesus, the Sanhedrin relocated its court to a nearby hill that became known as the Hill of Evil Counsel.  It is where the Sanhedrin met during forty years prior to the destruction of the Temple.  Today it is the site of the United Nations complex.  Photograph by the author.

The location of the “Hanuth” appears to be a subject of debate.  While some believe it was another location on the Temple Mount, the majority opinion is that the High Court met on a hill south of the temple.  Ironically, that hill became known as the Hill of Evil Counsel and today is the home of the United Nations headquarters in Israel.

After the crucifixion of Jesus, the Sanhedrin continued to function until the temple was destroyed in A.D. 70.  Caiaphas and the Sadducees were all mercilessly slaughtered. Unfortunately, their corruption and arrogance continued to be a hallmark of this body.  New members were brought into the Sanhedrin to replace those killed in the revolt.  The high court was then relocated to Tiberias and eventually disbanded.[6]

17.01.02.Q2 Are there other examples of merciless actions by this Court prior to A.D. 70?


Yes.  It can be assumed that if the Sadducee-controlled high court was so powerfully wicked as to stage the execution of Jesus, then may have been other cases where this same abuse of power was demonstrated. As previously mentioned,[7] Josephus recorded the account of Honi, the “Circle Drawer.”[8] Jewish writers also preserved two accounts, but first, the summary account of Honi:

In the year 63 B.C., the religious leaders were challenged by Honi, who had become a popular folk hero.  People said that when he prayed, God answered. He is best remembered for the time when there was a severe drought.  He drew a circle in the dust, sat inside the circle, and prayed until it rained. Soon it did.  The leading Pharisees and Sadducees were greatly angered that he could perform such a miracle, especially since he had not graduated from one of their established seminaries in Jerusalem. Since they could not excommunicate him because the people loved him, they secretly had him killed.[9]

There are also several examples recorded in Jewish writings of which the following two are of interest and a third that is obviously a legend.  At one time a priest who was assumed impure was clubbed to death without a trial, as recorded in the Mishnah.

A priest served [at the altar] in a state of uncleanness [and] his brethren the priests did not bring him to the court, but the young men among the priests took him outside the temple Court and split open his brain with clubs.

Mishnah, Sanhedrin 9:6           

In another case, the daughter of a priest was burned for being suspected of adultery and, again, there was no evidence of a trial. The Roman law against capital punishment was ignored.

It happened once that a priest’s daughter committed adultery and they encompassed her with bundles of branches and burnt her.

Mishnah, Sanhedrin 7:2


However, the most common account that survived the centuries is the legend of Rabbi Eliezer. The court of Caiaphas was so famously wicked that a mythical story about it was recorded in the third or fourth century. This and other accounts illustrate that Jesus was not the only one who had conflicts with the Sanhedrin.  With the Sadducees annihilated in A.D. 70, the court was in the hands of the Pharisee elitists. Unfortunately, they too were corrupt and ignored jurisprudence,[10] when convenient.

According to the legend, a certain Rabbi Eliezer was a righteous man who criticized the Sanhedrin for its evil ways.  To prove that he was truly a man of God, he performed three miracles.

  1. He mystically relocated a carob tree,
  1. He made water in a stream flow backwards, and finally,
  1. He made a wall lean to a side without falling over – an inclining wall (original writing is unclear of the purpose of this wall).

These three miracles were performed to prove to the Sanhedrin that God’s divine authority and power was with him.  However, even when the voice of the Lord came forth, the response of the high court was negative.

On that day, Rabbi Eliezer brought forward every imaginable argument, but they would not accept them.  Said he to them: “If the Halachah (Scripture)[11] agrees with me, let this carob tree prove it!’  Thereupon the carob tree was torn a hundred cubits out of its place – others affirmed four hundred cubits.[12] No proof can be brought from the carob tree, they retorted.

Again, he said to them: “If the Halachah agrees with me, let the stream of water prove it!” Whereupon the stream of water flowed backwards.[13]  No proof can be brought from a stream of water, they rejoined.

Again, he urged: “If the Halachah agrees with me, let the walls of the schoolhouse[14] prove it.” Whereupon the walls inclined to fall.  But Rabbi Joshua rebuked them saying: “When scholars are engaged in a Halachic dispute, what have you to interfere?”  Hence, they did not fall in honor of Rabbi Joshua, nor did they resume the upright in honor of Rabbi Eliezer, and they are still standing thus inclined. Again, he said to them: “If the Halachah agrees with me, let it be proven from heaven!”  Whereupon a Heavenly Voice cried out: “Why do you dispute with Rabbi Eliezer, seeing that in all matters the Halachah agrees with him!”  But Rabbi Joshua arose and exclaimed: “This is not heaven” (Deut. 30:12). “What did he mean by this?” Said Rabbi Jeremiah: “That the Torah had already been given at Mount Sinai; we pay no attention to a Heavenly Voice; ‘After the majority must one incline’” (Ex. 23:2).

            Babylonian Talmud, Baba Mezia 59a-b[15]

While this is an old passage, obviously it has been translated for the benefit of modern readers. Hence, problems with it include the term “schoolhouse,” as synagogues in ancient times also served as local schools. Another problematic phrase is “inclined,” which, in this context, means the Sanhedrin was favorably disposed to its own decision.

Video Insert    >

17.01.02.V The Legend of Rabbi Eliezer and the Sanhedrin. Mr. Avinoam Boyer discusses the Legend of Rabbi Eliezer and his confrontation with the Sanhedrin. Introduction by Dr. Bill Heinrich.

This account clearly indicates that first century Sanhedrin used its power for its own purposes. It is a remarkable record of dependence upon human reasoning that is supposedly said to be based upon biblical regulation (i.e. Deut. 30:12; Ex. 23:2), while ironically, rejecting the voice of God Who gave the biblical regulations. It is not surprising to see that these Scriptures were taken out of context to support the argument against Rabbi Eliezer ben Hyrcanus.

The Sanhedrin had degraded to the point that it no longer followed its own code of conduct.  It not only failed miserably concerning the three so-called trials of Jesus, but also with His half-brother James. Evidently the number of followers of Jesus was growing exponentially, to the point that the Sadducees were desperate to do anything to stop the movement. According to Josephus, they eventually,

Assembled the Sanhedrin of judges and brought before them the brother of Jesus, who was called Christ, whose name was James, and some others [or, some of his companions].

Josephus, Antiquities 20.9.1 (200b) 

James and those “others,” mentioned by Josephus, against whom accusations were made by the Sadducees, were stoned to death. The historian said that Ananus was the high priest responsible for the death of James. When King Agrippa heard of the gross injustice, he removed Ananus from the high priesthood position where he had served in that capacity for only three months.[16]

[1]. Josephus, Wars 5.5.4 (211).

[2]. Vincent, Word Studies in the New Testament. 1:145.  

[3]. Parenthesis by Danby, ed., Mishnah.

[4]. One short cubit equals about 17.49 or 17.71inches. Therefore, the curtain length (or height) was 60 feet and width was 30 feet.

[5]. Thomas, The Golden Treasury of Patristic Quotations: From 50 – 750 A.D. 69.

[6]. See “Sanhedrin” in Appendix 26.

[7]. See 03.05.14 63 B.C. “Honi, the Jewish Miracle Worker killed.”

[8]. Josephus, Antiquities 14.2.1 (22-24)

[9]. Neusner and Green, eds., Dictionary of Judaism. 300.

[10]. “Jurisprudence” is the study and philosophy of law, and in this case, the course of legal procedure according to law.

[11]. Clarification mine.

[12]. Sources disagree on the distance. http://www.chabad.org/library/article_cdo/aid/352329/jewish/The-Walls-of-the-Study-Hall.htm. Retrieved September 28, 2015.

[13]. In an aqueduct http://www.chabad.org/library/article_cdo/aid/352329/jewish/The-Walls-of-the-Study-Hall.htm. Retrieved September 28, 2015.

[14]. A “House of Study” http://www.chabad.org/library/article_cdo/aid/352329/jewish/The-Walls-of-the-Study-Hall.htm. Retrieved September 28, 2015.

[15]. http://www.come-and-hear.com/babamezia/babamezia_59.html#59b_5 Retrieved December 10, 2011.

[16]. Josephus, Antiquities 20.9.1.


Bill Heinrich  -  Dec 19, 2015  -  Comments Off on 17.01.03 PEOPLE STRUCK WITH AWE

17.01.03 Mt. 27:52-54; Mk. 15:40-41; Lk. 23:48-49




Mt. 52 The tombs were also opened and many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep were raised. 53 And they came out of the tombs after His resurrection, entered the holy city, and appeared to many. 54 When the centurion and those with him, who were guarding Jesus, saw the earthquake and the things that had happened, they were terrified and said, “This man really was God’s Son!”


Mk. 40 There were also women looking on from a distance. Among them were Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James the younger and of Joses, and Salome. 41 When He was in Galilee, they would follow Him and help Him. Many other women had come up with Him to Jerusalem.


Lk. 48 All the crowds that had gathered for this spectacle, when they saw what had taken place, went home, striking their chests. 49 But all who knew Him, including the women who had followed Him from Galilee, stood at a distance, watching these things.


Just as there was a mysterious sign (star) in the above the earth when Jesus was born, now there was a mysterious sign (earthquake) when He died. And the best was yet to come.


Many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep were raised.” Literally, many holy people who had died were raised from death to life. Jesus said He came to give life and to give it more abundantly (Jn. 10:10).  There was so much life in Him that when He died the Earth could not stand still.  It shook violently and those who died previously were suddenly resurrected with new life.  This resurrection of saints was both a fulfillment and a prelude to a future fulfillment of the prophetic verse of Daniel 12:2.  They came forth from their tombs of death and walked around the holy city.  This was one crucifixion that would not soon be forgotten and the best was yet to come.  Note that they were raised from tombs, not graves, meaning they had only recently died.


Divine Judgment – Divine Promise    

This miracle points toward both judgment as well as eternal life. When Adam sinned in the Garden of Eden, the earth fell under the bondage and curse of sin. From that time on the entire earth is waiting to be delivered from that bondage (Rom. 8:21).  The blood of fallen Adam flows in the veins of every Jew and Gentile and only the shed blood of Jesus can raise a lost soul to the fullness of life now (Jn. 10:10) and promise eternal life to come (Jn. 3:16).  Our life flows with the life of Jesus. The death of Jesus broke that bondage and curse of sin in such a powerful manner that the earth shook.  The earthquake and torn temple veil of fine Babylonian tapestry were symbolic of the omen of pending judgment.[1]  His death was the redemption for all of creation, but obviously did not restore the earth to the age of the Garden of Eden. Since this new freedom of sin brings eternal life, the new life in Jesus was symbolized by tombs opening and holy saints, who had previously died, were now walking the streets.  This must have created panic in the hearts of the Sanhedrin and Pilate. The bodies of many holy people of past times walking around Jerusalem were symbolic of the new age of grace and life in Christ that had been ushered in.


“People were terrified.” Suddenly, those who were mocking Him realized that there was a dynamic power to His death. The ground shook violently as darkness covered the land.  The faithful followers of Jesus wept bitterly, believing that all their hopes and dreams were gone.  In their opinion, no longer would there be miracles, signs, and wonders.  There had never been a man like Jesus and their leaders executed Him.


The centurion, who guarded Jesus from prison to the execution site, pondered if this man really could have been the Son of God?  Could he have concluded that, This man really was God’s Son!”  It is easy to read that into the Scripture.  However, if He was not a follower of Jesus, then in all probability, he probably thought of Jesus as a son of God, a hero, or a demigod.[2] In Mark’s version of what the centurion said of Jesus, Mark used the Greek word that could be translated as either righteous or innocent.[3]


It was the centurion’s primary responsibility to serve as executioner and insure that all those sentenced to death were, in fact, dead.  He was trained in the art of killing and had previously crucified many. He recognized death whenever it came to any man.  Therefore, it is significant that he said that Jesus was … past tense, meaning death was achieved … the Son of God. Like Caiaphas and so many others, little did he know then that the Son of God would rise from the grave only three days later.


The words of the centurion were profound for another reason as well.  As a Gentile, he was familiar with the Roman and Greek gods and their personalities and characteristics.  He had taken an oath of allegiance to his emperor, who was considered by all, except the Jews, as god.  Therefore, the son of any emperor was always known as the “son of god,” and was expected to eventually take his position as the head of government. As all who claimed divinity, there were fables of miracles and mysterious happenings associated with the emperor, which were quickly consumed by a superstitious populace.  The centurion had, no doubt, known several young men who claimed to have such a divine nature.  This certainly did not mean these young men were holy and pure in the Judeo-Christian sense of understanding, because pagan gods promoted all the vices and sins common to man.  It does, however, mean that the centurion probably knew several so-called “sons of god,” such as the emperors, and they had made no impression upon his life.  However, when Jesus died he was absolutely awestruck, as he finally realized who the real Son of God was.  Hence, his incredible observation “Surely He was the Son of God.”


An interesting point is this: many Roman soldiers were devoted to the Persian god Mithra. Mithraism was a men-only religion that emphasized manliness for soldiers, and one of its emphases was the endurance of pain. The centurion most certainly did not regard Jesus as a blasphemer, but if he was a Mithra devotee, he was clearly impressed with His death.[4] Luke said, of this account that the centurion said Jesus was dikaios, a term that means both righteous and innocent.[5]

Went home, striking their chests.”  Striking one’s chest in mourning symbolized the ultimate sorrow and grief.  Who were these people and why were they so sorrowful?  Jesus remained popular among the common people of Israel. Clearly not all the Jewish people wanted to see Him crucified, but only a small clique of evil leaders planned and executed the conspiracy.  There is not a single recorded event that indicates otherwise.  These mournful people were beating their breasts because they realized there had never been a sage or prophet like Jesus.  Now, another innocent Jew had been condemned to a Roman cross.  Their mourning, however, would soon turn to joy.

[1]. For a survey of the opinons of early Christians concerning the temple veil, see de Junge. “Matthew 27:51 in Early Christian Exegesis.” 67-79.


[2]. Vincent, Word Studies in the New Testament. 1:232.


[3]. Bock, Jesus According to Scripture. 392.


[4]. Lang, Know the Words of Jesus. 402-03.


[5]. Lang, Know the Words of Jesus. 404.



Bill Heinrich  -  Dec 19, 2015  -  Comments Off on 17.01.04 JESUS IS PIERCED

17.01.04 Jn. 19:31-37




31 Since it was the preparation day, the Jews did not want the bodies to remain on the cross on the Sabbath (for that Sabbath was a special day). They requested that Pilate have the men’s legs broken and that their bodies be taken away. 32 So the soldiers came and broke the legs of the first man and of the other one who had been crucified with Him. 33 When they came to Jesus, they did not break His legs since they saw that He was already dead.  34 But one of the soldiers pierced His side with a spear, and at once blood and water came out. 35 He who saw this has testified so that you also may believe. His testimony is true, and he knows he is telling the truth. 36 For these things happened so that the Scripture would be fulfilled: Not one of His bones will be broken (Ex. 12:46; Num. 9:12; Ps. 34:20). 37 Also, another Scripture says: They will look at the One they pierced (Zech. 12:10).


“Preparation day.” Literally, the “Day of Preparation” [1]  or Preparation Day was the day prior to special holy days such as Passover; a day when work would end and the people prepared themselves for the special event or a special Sabbath.[2] It was rooted in Leviticus 23:5-7.[3]   This was a technical term that confirms that Jesus died on Friday.[4]  It was the day before the Passover Sabbath and sometimes referred to as a “Second Sabbath Day,”[5] or “High Sabbath” because it occurred during a feast.[6]  In the year A.D. 30, the Passover began on sundown Thursday and lasted until sundown Friday; then began the seven-day Feast of Unleavened Bread. Hence the term, “the next day was to be a special Sabbath.”  The term “Sabbath” was the seventh day of the week, when work was set aside and everyone’s attention was focused on the celebration of our Lord of Israel. This phrase, however, was also applied to other holy days when there was prohibition against work activities.  In this case, John said it was a “special Sabbath,” meaning Passover that occurred on Friday and not Saturday.[7] The early church in Jerusalem and elsewhere clearly understood that Jesus was crucified on Friday, the Preparation Day of the Passover.

The imagery of Jesus dying as the Passover Lamb of God is profoundly significant.  Likewise was the proper sacrifice of a Passover lamb in the temple. No bones could be broken.  The rabbis were incredibly strict in the procedure, with severe punishment for violators. For example, the Mishnah recorded, “If a man breaks a bone of a clean Passover-offering he incurs the forty stripes.”[8] As the lamb died without broken bones, so did Jesus.  For centuries, the sacrificial lamb had projected the image of the future Lamb of God, Jesus.

This day is to be a memorial for you, and you must celebrate it as a festival to the Lord. You are to celebrate it throughout your generations as a permanent statute.

Exodus 12:14


“Men’s legs broken.”  The dying process was so horrific, that out of mercy the Romans would break the legs of the crucified men. This crurifragium, or leg breaking, hastened death and thereby shorten the time of suffering.[9]  This was not done to Jesus because He died quickly, most likely because of the severe scourging He received earlier.

One of the soldiers pierced His side with a spear.”  How interesting that this was committed by a soldier who was under the command of Pilate.   The name “Pilate” is derived from the Latin word “pilatus,” meaning “javelin.”  It was a spear or javelin that pierced the side of Jesus.[10]  This act was in the plan of God for the salvation of humanity.  In the Garden of Eden, God took a rib from Adam’s side and made a bride for him.  Jesus had His side pierced by which He redeemed for Himself a bride. This soldier, as some other individuals of the Bible, did not have his name recorded in the Scriptures. According to the pseudepigraphal book, the Gospel of Nicodemus, his name was Longinus and his spear became known as the “Holy Lance.”[11]

As the Roman soldiers surrounded Jesus, the event became a fulfillment of prophecy:

Dogs have surrounded me; a band of evil men has encircled me, they have pierced my hands and my feet.

Psalm 22:16


Critics have stated that this passage in Psalm was not in the original text, but is a later Christian interpretation.  The basis for their opinion is that the Septuagint translation reads, “Like a lion are my hands and feet.”  However, a Dead Sea Scroll fragment puts the critics to rest, it reads precisely as any Bible has it, and the Essenes were certainly not interested in Christianity.[12]

At once blood and water came out.”  When a person dies, there is a separation of the blood into two liquids that appear as blood and water.  This is the first proof that Jesus died a physical death, which followed the spiritual death when He cried out, “My God, my God, Why have you forsaken Me?” Everyone realized that His Spirit had departed, but it appears that the flow of water and blood was unexpected, and may have had a symbolic meaning to the gospel writer, because later, in his first epistle he said,

Jesus Christ — He is the One who came by water and blood, not by water only, but by water and by blood. And the Spirit is the One who testifies, because the Spirit is the truth. For there are three that testify: the Spirit, the water, and the blood—and these three are in agreement.

1 John 5:6-8

Finally, Jesus identified with the common people by dying on the cross, not only for theological reasons, but there was also a connection that paralleled His baptism. More than anyone else, He understood the sufferings of His people, but unlike His people, He also understood the dilemma in which they lived. It was for this “dilemma” that He came, lived, died, and rose again.


[1]. 2 Kgs. 11:5; 1 Chron. 9:25; 24:19; Josephus, Antiquities 7.14.7; See also Simmons, “The Origin of Christmas and the Date of Christ’s Birth.” 321-22.


[2]. Mt. 27:62; Mk. 15:42; Lk. 23:54; Jn. 19:14, 31, 42.


[3]. See also Num. 11:18; Jos. 7:13. The first and last days of the Passover festival were days of “Holy Convention,” and became known as “Second Sabbaths.” Six times the word “preparation” is used to identify the day of the festival and three of those with the Sabbath Day (Mk. 15:42; Lk. 23:54; Jn. 19:31). Twice the term is used without an identification (Mt. 27:62; Jn. 19:42) and once it is refered to as the “preparation of the Passover in John 19:14.


[4]. Fruchtenbaum, The Jewish Foundation of the Life of Messiah: Instructor’s Manual. Class 25, page 18.


[5]. Christian scholars historically have failed to recognize this day as a holy day for the Jewish people.


[6]. Fruchtenbaum, The Jewish Foundation of the Life of Messiah: Instructor’s Manual. Class 25, page 18.


[7]. Saldarini, Jesus and the Passover. 56.

[8]. Mishnah, Pesahim 7.11.

[9]. Vincent, Word Studies in the New Testament. 2:286.


[10]. Kennedy, “Christ’s Trial and Ours.” 9; Vincent, Word Studies in the New Testament. 2:274.

[11]. Jordan, Who’s Who in the Bible. 240.


[12]. Miller, “The War of the Scrolls.” 42-43.

17.02 Jesus Is Laid To Rest

Bill Heinrich  -  Dec 19, 2015  -  Comments Off on 17.02 Jesus Is Laid To Rest

Unit 17

The Burial Of Jesus

Chapter 02

Jesus Is Laid To Rest


17.02.00.A. CHRIST IN THE SEPULCHRE GUARDED BY ANGELS by William Blake 1805.

17.02.00.A. CHRIST IN THE SEPULCHRE GUARDED BY ANGELS by William Blake 1805.  


Bill Heinrich  -  Dec 19, 2015  -  Comments Off on 17.02.01 JOSEPH ASKS FOR BODY

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




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.[1]

  1. The earlier evening was in the middle of the afternoon, or about 3:00 p.m.
  1. 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.[2]  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,

  1. He wanted to honor Jesus – it was a disgrace not to have a proper burial.
  2. 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[3]   


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[4] 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.

Caria Inscription[5]   


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.[6] 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[7] 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.


[1]. Vincent, Word Studies in the New Testament. 1:146.  


[2]. 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.


[3]. http://www.authorama.com/works-of-horace-8.html. Retrieved October 8, 2012; Crossan, Who Killed Jesus? 161.


[4]. The term “carrion birds” or “birds” is a reference to crows.

[5]. 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.


[6]. 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.


[7]. Arimathea was a small village about twenty miles west of Jerusalem in the hill country of Ephraim.



Bill Heinrich  -  Dec 19, 2015  -  Comments Off on 17.02.02 JESUS IS BURIED

17.02.02 Jn. 19:38b-40; Mt. 27:59-60a; Jn. 19:42; Mt. 27:60b Lk. 23:55-56 Calvary



Jn. 38b Pilate gave him permission, so he came and took His body away. 39 Nicodemus (who had previously come to Him at night) also came, bringing a mixture of about 75 pounds of myrrh and aloes. 40 Then they took Jesus’ body and wrapped it in linen cloths with the aromatic spices, according to the burial custom of the Jews.

Mt. 59 So Joseph took the body, wrapped it in clean, fine linen, 60a and placed it in his new tomb, which he had cut into the rock.  

Jn. 42 They placed Jesus there because of the Jewish preparation and since the tomb was nearby.

Mt. 60b He left after rolling a great stone against the entrance of the tomb.

Lk. 55 The women who had come with Him from Galilee followed along and observed the tomb and how His body was placed. 56 Then they returned and prepared spices and perfumes. And they rested on the Sabbath according to the commandment.

Stoning was both the form of Jewish execution and a method of burying a criminal.  But on the other hand, Gentile criminals were often not buried. Their bodies remained on the crosses until natural processes and wild animals devoured all flesh, and only a few bones remained on the ground.

“Nicodemus… (and) Joseph took the body.”  This action caused them to become ceremonially impure.  Therefore, they could not participate in the Passover celebration (Num. 19:11). The placement of the body in the tomb and the burial process clearly demonstrated that their love for Jesus was greater than their love for the law, their social reputation, or personal safety. They removed the body of Jesus because,

  1. They performed this last act of kindness for a dear friend, as they grieved in great sorrow.
  2. It would have been a disgrace to leave a body on the cross overnight, especially on the eve of a holy day.
  3. Furthermore, since the disciples and the family of Jesus were all from the Galilee area and, therefore, would not have possessed a family tomb in the Jerusalem area. This may have been an additional reason as to why Joseph of Arimathea donated his tomb to Jesus.

“About 75 pounds.” This huge amount of spices was generally reserved for royalty, as recorded when King Asa died.  His body was also “covered with spices and various blends of perfumes” (2 Ch. 16:14).[1] The treatment of the body of Jesus was the cultural norm for anyone of wealth, but quite unusual in light of His peasant lifestyle. In this case, both men and women, who dearly loved Him, placed spices upon His body.

The care given to the body is another sign that He had died.  Any sign of life would have immediately brought forth those who would have nursed Him back to health.  However, this was not the case.  The fact that the body of Jesus was placed in a new tomb of Joseph of Aramathea, fulfills a prophecy of Isaiah who said,

9 They made His grave with the wicked,

and with a rich man at His death,

Although He had done no violence,

and had not spoken deceitfully.


10 Yet the Lord was pleased to crush Him severely.

when You make Him a restitution offering,

He will see His seed, He will prolong His days,

and by His hand, the LORD’s pleasure will be accomplished.


Isaiah 53:9-10

17.02.02.Q1 How was the burial of Jesus similar to the Exodus?

The burial of Jesus was similar to the hasty exodus by the children of Israel as they left Egypt, when they barely had time to gather their belongings and leave.  Jesus was crucified at 9:00 a.m. and was dead by 3:00 p.m. in the afternoon.  There was very little time left before the Sabbath would begin about three hours later.  So the body had to be taken down in haste, properly prepared for burial, and buried before three stars appeared in the sky (the sign of the end of the day and the beginning of the day of Passover). Jews did not practice any type of embalming, but washed the body and wrapped it in spices and linens.[2] The burial process included pronouncing a blessing over the spices.[3]  The burial rituals for Jesus were hastily performed as the sun was setting.  Just as the Israelites had walked through the Red Sea into a new life and new freedom, Jesus walked through the gates of hell and arose to give humanity a new life and new freedom.

There are two significant issues here:

  1. The importance of a proper burial and
  1. The law of unrelated identities.[4]

At this time, a tomb was a cave-like chamber carved out of the rock with a shelf or bench to one side, where the body would be placed.  After the flesh was completely decayed, the bones would be collected and placed in a clay, wooden, or stone box known as an ossuary.  Wealthy families acquired stone ossuaries, while common peasants acquired ones made from wood or clay. The name of the deceased was placed on the box and, at times, his occupation was mentioned as well.[5]  Tombs were used repeatedly by the same family. It was said that the deceased was “gathered to his kin” (Gen 25:8) or was “sleeping with his fathers” (1 Kg. 11:23).

17.02.02.Q2 Why was Jesus buried in a new tomb?

Jesus was buried in a new tomb, because failure to do so would have broken the law of unrelated identities. This law originated with Moses and was, therefore, deemed highly important. The Jews believed, for example, that mules and donkeys could not be yoked together for any type of agricultural activity, nor could Jews marry non-Jews. Likewise, New Testament teaches that believers and unbelievers were not to be married. Rules of such unrelated identities were extended to include burial tombs and stated that only family members could be buried in family tombs.

Since Jesus was the Son of God and not the son of two earthly parents, He was buried in a new tomb that never had been used by anyone’s family.  Even after His death, Jesus honored the Mosaic Law of unrelated identities. To have buried Him in a family tomb would have identified Him with that particular family.   Jesus was both Son of Man and Son of God and, hence, He was in need of a new tomb.

The Babylonian Talmud, on the other hand, indicates that executed criminals were not buried in the family tomb, but in one of two cemeteries as determined by the mode of death.  The Talmud reads:

And they did not bury him (the executed person) in his ancestral tomb, but two burial places were prepared by the beth din, one for those who were decapitated or strangled, and the other for those who were stoned or burned.

 Babylonian Talmud, Sanhedrin 46 a-b

Although this regulation was not always observed, it was a way to disconnect the shame of the criminal from his family.  Nonetheless, innocent victims who were crucified were buried in family tombs. The possible separation of burial apart from former family members served to discourage those who entertained thoughts of committing a crime.

17.02.02.Q3 Where was Jesus buried?  

For centuries the burial tomb of Jesus was accepted as being in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. However, for more than a century, Protestants have followed the opinion of a General Gordon who said Jesus was buried in the Garden Tomb. A third site has emerged and, all three are listed below, followed by a brief discussion of each.

  1. The Mount of Olives
  1. The Garden tomb
  1. The Church of the Holy Sepulchre


  1. The Mount of Olives

In the spring of 1988, a book titled Secrets of Golgotha[6] challenged the prevailing opinions of scholars with the argument that Jesus was crucified on the Mount of Olives. While the fact that Jesus died when the Passover lamb was sacrificed is undeniable, the author also connects the burning of the red heifer[7] symbolically to Jesus.[8]

 The Jewish records state that the altar for the red heifer sacrifice was located east of the temple.[9] To accommodate the priests, Herod the Great had built a double-tiered arched bridge that connected the Eastern Gate to the Mount of Olives. That bridge was known as the Bridge of the Red Heifer and, in fact, appears to have been constructed solely for that purpose and to lead the scapegoat out of the temple and into the desert.[10]  The bridge did not connect to any highways and there were no major communities east of the Mount of Olives; only a village known for its lepers, a huge olive grove, and an altar that has been lost in history.  It would have been most unusual to build a huge bridge for merely a small village and olive grove. Therefore, its purpose had to be connected to sacrificial observances.  While the sacrifice of the Passover lamb is well established in Christendom, the meaning of the sacrifice of the red heifer and how it relates specifically to Jesus is seldom discussed. In fact, it appears to have been forgotten in history.  The author of Secrets essentially states that Jesus was crucified on the Mount of Olives as a sin offering just as the red heifer was previously burned as a sin offering.  An interesting statement in the Mishnah says that the eastern wall of the temple was lower than the other walls so the high priest, when burning the red heifer, could look directly into the temple.

All the walls there were high, save only the eastern wall, because the [high] priest that burns the [red] heifer and stands on the top of the Mount of Olives should be able to look directly into the entrance of the Sanctuary when the blood is sprinkled.

Mishnah, Middoth 2.4[11]

An essential question he proposes is this: Why have so few theologians, archaeologists, and historians been interested in finding the site of the red heifer altar on the Mount of Olives?[12]  Maybe in the future this question will be answered, but until then, Martin’s thesis is set aside and additional attention is given the two other sites.[13]

Concerning the two most popular sites, there are two views as to determine which site is authentic.  Many Protestants believe it is the Garden Tomb, while Roman Catholics, Armenians, and Greek Orthodox Christians believe it is the tomb within the Church of the Holy Sepulchre.  These differences may be anchored more by theological biases than by scientific research, especially since the 1990s have revealed the identity with overwhelming evidence.  There are those, however, who continue to insist that the Garden Tomb is authentic, in spite of its shaky history.

  1. The Garden Tomb

When evangelical Christians think of the burial place of their Lord, they generally think affectionately of the Garden Tomb. It is certainly a beautiful garden with its winding walkways, shrubbery, and trees — a peaceful and quiet setting in a modern city that never sleeps except on high holy days. But is it really the place where Jesus was buried?

17.02.02.Q4 What are the arguments for Gordon’s Garden Tomb? 

The Garden Tomb as being the tomb of Christ was the site suggested by Otto Thenius in 1842. It was investigated again in 1883 by British General Charles George Gordon, and his name has been associated with the tomb ever since. The decisions by Thenius and Gordon were based upon three observations, but apparently without any review of the first century history of Jerusalem.

  1. Their location was along the road leading to Damascus. It was one of seven main roads that went to and from the city.[14]
  1. They observed two holes in the side of a small rounded cliff and imagined it to be the “place of the skull,” because it also contained an old tomb.
  1. They realized the small cliff was outside the Old City wall, and were convinced they discovered the authentic site were Jesus was buried.[15] The fact that the wall they saw did not exist at the time of Christ was obviously unknown to them. The northern city wall that they observed and based their decision on was reconstructed by Suleiman the Magnificent in the 1530s (17.02.02.Z2). It did not exist in the first century.



17.02.02.A. THE TOMB AT GORDON’S CALVARY.  Also known as the Garden Tomb, Gordon’s Calvary has unquestionably been identified as a late Iron Age (8-7th Cent. B.C.) tomb, and hence, not the tomb of Jesus.  However, while it is not the authentic tomb, it has become the symbol of the resurrected Christ.  Photograph by the author.

In 1885 the Gordon popularized the site in an article published in the Palestine Exploration Fund’s Quarterly Statement.[16] His theory was quickly accepted as fact by Protestants, who at that time were forbidden entry into the Church of the Holy Sepulchre.  To aid their argument, an inscription on a stone found nearby was incorrectly translated and published on November 7, 1889 in the Northern Christian Advocate (Syracuse, New York).[17]  The science of archaeology was still in its infancy and whatever “archaeological proof” that would have been uncovered at that time would have been challenged and probably revised within a century.  This was one of many articles that attempted to prove the identification of the tomb of Christ, although there was no archaeological evidence to support the theory. Furthermore, this tomb is significantly different from first century tombs.[18]  As a result, many Christians visiting the Holy Land today are incorrectly convinced of the authenticity of the site.

In the first century, residents of Jerusalem had their gardens and orchards around the entire city, and the level area on the north side of the city was especially ideal for gardening. In order to protect this valuable area, in the years A.D. 41 to 44 Herod Agrippa, the grandson of Herod the Great, built the Third Wall that enclosed the gardens as well as the tomb of Christ (see 17.02.02.Z1).[19] However, since the Holy City was the scene of many wars and suffered many destructions, this wall was eventually destroyed and its exact location is unknown today.  The northern city wall seen today was constructed by Suleiman the Magnificent in the 1536-1538 (see 17.02.02.Z2).[20] This lead to an incorrect identification of the Garden Tomb in the 1800s by General Gordon because he believed that the Old City wall standing today was the same as at the time of Christ.


17.02.02.Z1. MAP OF JERUSALEM WITH VEGETABLE GARDENS AND HEROD AGRIPPA’S THIRD WALL.  In the years A.D. 41 to 44 Herod Agrippa, the grandson of Herod the Great, built the Third Wall with Women’s Towers that enclosed the gardens on the north side of Jerusalem as well as the tomb of Christ. This wall was later destroyed and its precise location is unknown today. Map courtesy of Dan Bahat.[21]


17.02.02.Q5 What are the arguments against Gordon’s Garden Tomb?

What Gordon did not realize was that within fifteen years after Jesus, Herod Agrippa (reigned 41-44), constructed a new city wall that Josephus referred to as “The Third Wall.”[22]  In the centuries that followed there were many conflicts and destructions of the Holy City.  As a result, the Third Wall was destroyed and its precise location is still unknown today.  However, in the years 1538 to 1541, the great Muslim ruler Suleiman the Magnificent employed two architects to determine where the ancient wall once stood. Based upon their findings, the Old City Walls seen today were constructed.[23] However, after the reconstructed wall was finished, Suleiman discovered the architects made an error and had them decapitated.

As to General Gordon, there are five significant points that he never considered.[24]

  1. He failed to consider the historical background of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre.
  1. The Middle East is subject to frequent earthquakes. While the hill he identified does look like a skull, he never considered the fact that it probably did not look like a skull in the first century.
  1. A century after Jesus Emperor Hadrian declared victory over Christianity by building a pagan shrine over the burial site of Jesus.[25] He never touched Gordon’s Garden Tomb.
  1. The site Gordon identified is known in the Bible as “the place of the skull.” In Western thinking, this is generally interpreted as being an area that has the appearance of a human skull. However, in Eastern thinking – as in first century Jewish thinking – it was the place of death, not the physical appearance of a hill.  The place was probably where the Romans had crucified many other Jews and hence the name, “the place of the skull.”[26]
  1. Finally, the tomb of Jesus has always been a challenge for some people. Like visitors of today, Gordon realized that it does not look like a tomb – and that is because in the 11th century a demented caliph entered the church and destroyed as much of the tomb as he could that was not previously destroyed by Hadrian.[27]

If General Gordon were alive today, he would be discouraged to learn that archaeologists clearly identified his Garden Tomb to be a Late Iron Age tomb (8th or 7th century B.C.).[28]

 Video Insert    >

17.02.02.V1 The Garden Tomb. Archaeologist Dr. Bryant Wood discusses the date of the Garden Tomb as an Iron Age II tomb, meaning it was used in the 8th to 7th century B.C.

17.02.02.Q6 What descriptive biblical parameters aided archaeologists in identifying the kind of tomb in which Jesus was laid?

The descriptive parameters are as follows:

  1. It was the tomb of a wealthy individual named Joseph of Arimathea (Mt. 27:59-60)
  1. It was a new tomb, never used previously (Mt. 27:60)
  1. On Sunday morning, John came to the tomb and saw the burial clothes neatly folded, lying on a bench, and the body missing (Jn. 20:3-8). This suggests a single chamber tomb as the body would probably not have been visible in the dark second chamber of a double chamber tomb. However, the light from the rising sun or a lit oil lamp could have made a body or burial cloth visible from the outside.
  1. Mary came to the tomb and had to stoop down to look inside and saw the linen clothes lying on the bench (Jn. 20:5). She saw angels seated at both the head and foot of where Jesus had lain (Jn. 20:11-12). This affirms the single chamber tomb, possibly like the type Caiaphas was buried in.[29]
  1. On Sunday morning, Mary spoke to a gardener (Jn. 20:15). This points to a large area on the northern side of the city where many people had vegetable gardens. This area was enclosed in the early 40s by King Agrippa.
  1. The stone was “rolled” to the side. This often is interpreted that the stone was round, like a large disc. However, square stones were also rolled, although that is more difficult to do. The fact remains, however, that only four large disc stones have been found of the time of Jesus, while there have been more than a hundred square blocking type stones found that were commonly used to cover tomb entrances.[30] It took several men to move such a heavy and clumsy stone, which is why entrances were small – the larger the opening; the larger the sealing stone would be needed.


17.02.02.Q7 What were the typical first century tombs like?

In the first century, the tombs in the Jerusalem area were of two distinct styles, uniquely different from each other and from prior centuries.

  1. One style, known as the “shaft tomb,”[31] consisted of a large room with a number of finger-like shafts (or niches) carved into the cretaceous limestone hillside (see photo 17.02.02.B and illustration of plan 17.02.02.C).

Each shaft or niche, called a kokhim in Hebrew, was approximately six or seven feet long and one and one-half or two feet wide, large enough to lay a body (see photo 17.02.02.B). That matches the rabbinic directives that stated that a niche had to be four cubits long and seven handbreadths high and six handbreadths wide.[32]  After a year, when the flesh had decayed, the bones were collected and placed in a small ossuary made of wood or soft limestone.  This was the most common and typical first century tomb.


17.02.02.B. TWO SHAFT TOMBS IN THE CHURCH OF THE HOLY SEPULCHRE. In one of the small rooms within the Church of the Holy Sepulchre are these shaft tombs which were used by common Jewish peasants of the first century.  The arcosolium tomb of Jesus was destroyed by Emperor Hadrian in A.D. 135. Photograph by the author.

The origin of the shaft tomb is unknown. Some scholars believe it originated in Egypt, others believe it came from Phoenicia and was popularized by Alexander the Great.[33] The wealthy arcosolium tomb is believed to have originated in the late Inter-Testamental Period, replacing bench tombs such as the Garden Tomb of the Iron Age as was typical in the First Temple Era.[34]

  1. The second style was for the first century’s rich and famous. This tomb had an indented shelf or bench, known as an arcosolia, cut into the chamber wall, large enough to lay a body.[35] Again, after a year when the flesh had decayed, the bones were collected and placed in a small ossuary made of limestone. The arcosolia was the preferred tomb of the first century and was the only tomb style that would have permitted an angel to sit at either end of the body of Jesus (Jn. 20:12).  It would have been impossible for an angel to sit at either end of the body of Christ in a shaft tomb or in a Late Iron Age tomb.


17.02.02.C A FLOOR PLAN ILLUSTRATING A COMMON SHAFT TOMB. This plan depicts six shafts or “niches,” where the bodies of common people were laid to decompose. The entrance on the right opens into the main chamber that is about three meters square. After the bones were collected and placed in ossuaries, the ossuaries were placed anywhere within the tomb. Illustration by Amos Kloner.[36]

Scholars believe it was an arcosolium tomb in which the body of Jesus was laid (see 17.02.02.D below) as this was an expensive style that only the wealthy could afford.[37] The Church of the Holy Sepulchre is shown in 17.02.02.D because the hillside in which the tomb was located was destroyed by Hadrian who quarried the stone and built the shrine over the tomb to honor the Roman goddess Venus.


17.02.02.D AN ILLUSTRATION OF A DOUBLE CHAMBER ARCOSOLIUM TOMB WITH SHADOW OF THE CHURCH OF THE HOLY SEPLUCHRE. This illustration depicts a possible reconstruction of the tomb of Aramathea. Mourners visiting this tomb would have sat on a bench in chamber “A,” them moved through a small opening “B” to the second chamber “C” where the body was laid on a bench under an arched ceiling. The hillside was eventually destroyed. Illustration by Diana Clegg.

  1. The Church of the Holy Sepulchre

Determining the identity of Christ’s tomb was a great challenge since the Church of the Holy Sepulchre claimed to be both the authentic crucifixion and burial sites, the two being merely some fifty or sixty feet apart.  The following is a brief overview of the historical events that reveal the identity of the authentic tomb of Jesus.

Video Insert    >

17.02.02.V2 The Two Types of First Century Tombs. Professor Gordon Franz discusses the differences between the two types of first century tombs. His emphasis is on the distinctive features of the Garden Tomb and those of the Tomb of Joseph of Arimathea.



17.02.02.D. AN EXPOSED TOMB. An exposed tomb, the top removed, shows an arcosolium (plural: arcosolia) tomb on the left, three conventional tombs, and a bench in front of them. Bodies of the deceased were laid in these tombs until the flesh was decayed, then the bones were collected about a year later and placed in an ossuary. Photo by Jeff Herot.

After the Romans destroyed the temple and Jerusalem in A.D. 70, the city was rebuilt. But six decades later, the Jews revolted again which resulted in yet another destruction in the year 135.  In both wars, the Romans spent three years besieging the Holy City. Since there were thirteen rebellions between 63 B.C., when the Romans came, and A.D.70, by the time they defeated the Jews again in A.D. 135, Emperor Hadrian and the rest of Rome had enough of them and decided to permanently eliminate them. Like Antiochus IV Epiphanes and the Egyptian Pharaoh of previous centuries, he wanted to remove any trace of these aggravating people.

Likewise, Hadrian had no great love for the new religious sect known as “Christians,” since, like the Jews, they also refused to participate in emperor worship.[38]  Therefore, if he was going to get rid of the Jews, why not the Christians also?  He determined to destroy whatever people, symbols, shrines, and buildings that existed in the Jerusalem area, although he was more sympathetic to those living in the countryside villages.

He found the site where local Christians said Jesus was crucified and buried.  To celebrate his victory over them, he built a shrine to the goddess Venus over the site of the tomb.  He took Herodian ashlars (large rectangular stones cut by Herod the Great) from the ruined temple and reused them to build rectangular retaining walls for the shrine.[39]   Upon these walls, he built a platform for his shrine to (Latin) Venus (also known as Aphrodite to the Greeks), the goddess of love.  His goal was to forever obliterate the tomb of Jesus, as well as the nearby rock of Golgotha.  He never touched Skull Hill or Gordon’s Garden Tomb and, therefore, it remained undisturbed for centuries, until 1883.[40]

Hadrian was determined to eradicate anything Jewish – and Jesus and His disciples at this time were still considered part of Judaism. However, with the construction of the shrine, he permanently identified the site, because, when Emperor Constantine sent his mother Queen Helena to the Holy Land in 325-326 to locate the sacred sites, she quickly found the remains of the sacred cave and ruins of the shrine.  Some fifty feet nearby was another Roman shrine which had been built over the crucifixion site.[41]  Helena employed skilled workers to tear down the shrine and construct the Church of the Holy Sepulchre.  When Eusebius, the bishop of Caesarea Maritima, heard of her plans, he voiced support for the adornment of the building as follows:

It is my wish, then, that you should be especially convinced of this, which I suppose is clear to everyone, that of all things it is my chief concern how we may splendidly adorn with buildings that sacred place which, under divine direction, I freed…Not only shall this basilica be the finest in the world, but that the details also shall be such that all the most beautiful structures in every city may be surpassed by it….As for the columns and marbles, have a care to tell us in writing, after you have inspected the plan, whatever you judge to be most precious and serviceable so that those materials, of whatever sort and in whatever quantity, may be procured from every quarter. 

Eusebius, The Life of Constantine 3.29-32

Because of this unusual history, the Church of the Holy Sepulchre is, without question, one of the most accurately identified biblical sites.[42]  It was so significant that it later appeared on the sixth century mosaic Madaba Map on the floor of a Byzantine church in Madaba, Jordan.[43]  Extensive research conducted in the 1990s firmly identified the church as to where both the crucifixion and burial sites are located. Ironically, little did Hadrian know that by destroying the holy site, he was in fact, preserving it.  Eusebius described the construction work of Hadrian’s slaves and soldiers, they…

… Brought a quantity of earth from a distance with much labor, and covered the entire spot; then, having raised this to a moderate height, they paved it with stone concealing the holy cave (tomb) beneath this massive mound.  Then, as though their purpose had been effectually accomplished they prepared on this foundation a truly dreadful Sepulchre of souls, by building a gloomy shrine to the lifeless idols to the impure spirit whom they call Venus.

Eusebius, The Life of Constantine 3:26[44]

From the time of Hadrian until Constantine, nothing changed. Then, in 326, Queen Helena identified the crucifixion and burial sites by finding the ruins of the shrine of Venus.[45] She immediately removed all traces of pagan worship and again Eusebius preserved the account.

He (Constantine) gave orders that the materials of what was destroyed, both stone and timber, should be removed and thrown as far from the spot as possible….he directed that the ground itself should be dug up to a considerable depth, and the soil which had been polluted by the foul impurities of demon worship transported to a far distance place.

Eusebius, The Life of Constantine 3:26


The site identification in the early fourth century was relatively easy.  The destruction of Jerusalem and the work of Hadrian were still common knowledge.  Queen Helena’s accuracy cannot be disputed and when the clearing work was completed and a new church built, Constantine said this:

…I have disencumbered as it were of the heavy weight of foul idol worship; a spot which has been accounted holy from the beginning in God’s judgment, but which now appears holier still, since it has brought to light a clear assurance of our Savior’s passion.

Eusebius, The Life of Constantine 3:30

Eusebius wrote of Constantine’s desire to build “a house of prayer” upon the site where Jesus was buried:

He judged it incumbent on him to render the blessed locality of our Savior’s resurrection an object of attraction and veneration to all.  He issued immediate injunctions, therefore, for the erection in that spot of a house of prayer.

Eusebius, The Life of Constantine 3:25

Were it not for Constantine and his mother Helena, many sacred sites would have been lost in history. The new church was called the Church of the Martyrion, a portion of which remains. The word “Martyrion” (Gk. witness) meant the site was the witness of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.[46] Years later the name was changed to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre.

In the second half of the last century, a number of repairs were made to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre which exposed a number of stones that scholars believe were part of the original Constantine structure.[47]  Furthermore, in 1975 construction workers found, near St. Helena’s chapel (part of the Holy Sepulchre) a red and black picture of a Roman sailing ship with the Latin phrase Domine iuimus, meaning Lord, we went (cf. Ps. 122:1). Historians believe this graffiti was placed on the wall in 330, only a few years after the completion of the church.[48]


Video Insert    >

17.02.02.V3 The Church of the Holy Sepulchre as the Former Shrine of Venus. Dr. Petra Heldt discusses the reconstruction of Jerusalem by Emperor Hadrian in A.D. 135, and how his work is believed to have preserved the identity of the tomb of Jesus. Dr. Paul Wright discusses some stones in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre that may have been used previously in Hadrian’s shine to the Roman goddess Venus. Introduction and comments by Dr. Bill Heinrich.



17.02.02.E. HADRIAN’S WALL AT THE HOLY SEPULCHRE.  Some rooms of the church have an unusual mix of stones. Some scholars to believe the smooth stones are “second use stones” that were originally part of Hadrian’s shrine of Venus.[49] This opinion is based on the logical idea that when Queen Helena built the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, she used stones from the shrine that were already cut and smooth.  Photo by the author.

Many ancient sites have been easy for archaeologists to identify since Queen Helena built churches over them with a foundation of a unique architectural style.  Fellowship churches were constructed in the form of a cross, whereas memorial churches were built in the shape of an octagon.[50]  The Church of the Holy Sepulchre has been partially destroyed and rebuilt several times, but it has maintained a continuous history.  The queen, just like General Gordon centuries later, was faced with “the wall dilemma,” because she, too, had to contemplate the tomb location in light of the city walls. The local residents told her of King Agrippa’s third city wall and, hence, she rendered a better decision. Christianity will always remember her work because it preserved the site of the tomb of Jesus.[51]

17.02.02.Z2. MAP OF JERUSALEM’S OLD CITY WALLS AS SEEN TODAY. In the years 1536 – 1538 Suleiman the Magnificent of the Ottoman Empire employed two architects to determine where the original city walls were located. The walls were repaired, and some sections rebuilt, according to their recommendations. However, it was later discovered that they made some errors and consequently, were decapitated. In the 1800s General Gordon mistakenly believed that the walls he saw were the walls standing at the time of Jesus, and therefore, he concluded the tomb was outside Suleiman’s walls. Map by Dan Bahat.

17.02.02.Q8 Is the burial cloth of Jesus, known as the Shroud of Turin, authentic (Mt. 27:59)?

There has been a great controversy concerning a burial cloth that was hidden in a small northern town of Turin, Italy for many centuries. Known as the Shroud of Turin, the ancient burial cloth is said to have been the shroud that was wrapped around the body of Jesus as He lay in the tomb.[52]

The Mishnah and Code of Jewish Law,[53] both provide some interesting insight into this question. John 11:44 states that Lazarus came out of the tomb with his face wrapped in a cloth. In other words, his chin was bound up “that it may not sink,” as described in the Mishnah below. Later, John said in 20:7, in reference to where the body of Jesus was laid, that the wrapping that had been on His head was not lying with the linen cloths, but was folded and placed elsewhere. Twice John mentioned the head wrapping, a cultural custom mentioned in the Mishnah, and is also noticeable on the Shroud of Turin.

They may make ready [on the Sabbath] all that is needful for the dead, and anoint it and wash it, provided that they do not remove any member of it.  They may draw the mattress away from beneath it and let it lie on sand that it may by the longer preserved; they may bind up the chin, not in order to raise it, but that it may not sink lower.  So, too, if a rafter is broken they may support it with a bench or with the side-pieces of a bed that the break may grow no greater, but not in order to prop it up.[54] They may not close a corpse’s eyes on the Sabbath; nor may they do soon a weekday at the moment when the soul is departing; and if he closes the eyes [of a dying man] at the moment when the soul is departing, such a one is a shedder of blood. 

Mishnah, Shabbath 23:5[55]

The most unusual feature of the shroud is that it contains an X-ray type image of a man with all of the wounds and bruises that are normally associated with a crucifixion execution,[56] that also match all related biblical passages.[57]  The image is on the surface of the fabric and not through the fibers of the fabric. In 1978 a team of 32 scientists examined it for five days with the most sophisticated scientific testing equipment and, as of this writing, there has not been a definitive decision rendered as to its authenticity.[58]

Note the following signs of human injury on the shroud compared to the injuries suffered by Jesus:[59]

  1. The burial cloth shows marks throughout the scalp from sharp objects.
  1. A swollen face, evidently from repeated blows.
  1. Large bruises to the forehead and cheeks.
  1. A twisted nose
  1. An eye swollen shut
  1. An upper lip cut
  1. An estimated 120 scourging wounds on nearly every part of the body with the exception of the face, feet, and forearms.
  1. Large rub marks on the part of the shroud that once covered the shoulders.

In addition, there are five major wounds associated with death by crucifixion.

  1. Puncture wounds through both wrists (the wrist was considered as part of the hand in ancient times).
  1. Puncture wounds in both feet
  1. Puncture wound in the right side of chest.

In light of these details, it is also noteworthy that it was common practice for the Romans to break the legs of crucified criminals to hasten death and, thereby, reduce their suffering.  There is no sign of leg fracture in the shroud.  While this is an argument from silence, in light of the fact that the shroud shows such vivid details, if the person who was crucified had his legs broken, there surely would be signs revealing these.

While several other so-called antiquities have been identified as fakes that certainly does not prove the shroud is also a forgery.  Yet, there is no longer any blood on the shroud.[60] Furthermore, could such a medieval artist have the skills to outwit today’s sophisticated scientists and technology?  It appears impossible since today’s scientists cannot even reproduce it.[61]  The blood stains, indicating the flow of blood from the wounds and other injuries, are too incredibly accurate to have been the work of a medieval artist.  Furthermore, there has never existed an art form of painting burial shrouds, so how could such a highly skilled artisan have originated a masterpiece and not have any other similar works of art?[62]

In addition, the discovery of 28 different pollens in the fabric that existed only in Jerusalem in the first century intensifies the scholarly arguments.[63]  A review of published scientific literature seems to indicate the scientific conclusion on the authenticity appears to reflect the theological position of the individual scientist performing the research.[64]


17.02.02.G. THE SHROUD OF TURIN WITH ITS IMAGE OF JESUS.  Many believe the image of a man’s face on the Shroud of Turin is the image of Christ that was transferred when His body was placed in the tomb.


Video Insert    >

17.02.02.V4 The Shroud of Turin. Michael Keating, a research and development engineer discusses the amazing discoveries concerning the Shroud of Turin that some say was the burial cloth of Jesus. Introduction by Dr. Bill Heinrich. Click here if Internet connection is available.



17.02.02.H. THE SHROUD OF TURIN ILLUSTRATED. The Shroud is believed by many to be the prayer shawl that is shown being neatly placed under and over the body of Jesus. The custom was for a man’s prayer shawl to be placed over him in burial. The shrouding (Giulio Clovio, 16th century aquatint composed in honor of the Holy Shroud of Turin), has scenes from the life of Christ set in medallions.


17.02.02.I. CHURCH OF THE HOLY SEPULCHRE. Recent extensive research has determined that the Church of the Holy Sepulchre is, in fact, the actual site of both the crucifixion and burial.[65] Photograph by the author.

[1]. See New International Version Study Bible footnote on John 19:39.

[2]. Mishnah, Shabbath 23.5.

[3]. Babylonian Talmud, Seder Zera’im Berakoth 53a.

[4]. The law of unrelated identities includes principles of kosher foods, not being unequally yoked, not mixing different materials to make fabrics, etc. See Fruchtenbaum, The Jewish Foundation of the Life of Messiah: Instructor’s Manual. Class 26, page 14.

[5]. Crossan and Reed, Excavating Jesus. 237-39.

[6]. Martin, Ernest L. Secrets of Golgotha: The Forgotten History of Christ’s Crucifixion. Associates for Scriptural Knowledge: Alhambra, CA. 1988. See also Ritmeyer, “A Response to Dr. Ernest Martin.” 117-121.

[7]. The red heifer was a necessary component for the purification of a person who came in contact with a dead body. There was a special ritual entailing the sprinkling of its ashes. See Parry, The Complete Idiot’s Guide to the Talmud. 115.

[8]. See a book review by W. H. C. Frend (1989) of Ernest L. Martin’s “Secrets of Golgotha. The Forgotten History of Christ’s Crucifixion.” The Journal of Ecclesiastical History. 40, 449-449.

[9]. Mishnah, Middoth 1:3; 2:4; Mishnah, Yoma 7:2; Babylonian Talmud, Yoma 68a; Babylonian Talmud, Zebhim 105b.

[10]. Lightfoot, A Commentary on the New Testament from the Talmud and Hebraica. 1:83-84.

[11]. Inserts by Danby, ed., Mishnah.

[12]. The whole matter involving the red heifer sacrifice is one this writer believes is in need of further study.  See Appendices 6, 26, and 33.

[13]. A summary of Secrets of Golgotha can be found at, Ernest L. Martin, “The Crucifixion Site of Jesus.” Archaeology and Biblical Research 5:4 (Autumn, 1992). 113-121.

[14]. Kloner and Zissu. The Necropolis of Jerusalem in the Second Temple Period. 22-23.

[15]. See also Zondervan’s New International Version Archaeological Study Bible. (2005, ed.). 1615.

[16]. Alden, “Golgotha.” 2:772; Wilkinson, Jerusalem as Jesus Knew It. 146.

[17]. Murphy-O’Connor, “The Garden Tomb.” 12.

[18]. Biddle, The Tomb of Christ. 56-58.

[19]. Map courtesy of Dan Bahat. Illustrated Atlas of Jerusalem. 35.

[20]. Map courtesy of Dan Bahat. Illustrated Atlas of Jerusalem. 59.

[21]. Bahat, Illustrated Atlas of Jerusalem. 35.

[22]. Bahat, “Does the Holy Sepulcher.” 37.

[23]. Shanks, Jerusalem, An Archaeological Biography. 241.

[24]. See Kloner and Zissu. The Necropolis of Jerusalem in the Second Temple Period.  Note: Amos Kloner is considered by scholars to have completed the most comprehensive study of hundreds of tombs (First and Second Temple Periods) in the Jerusalem area.

[25]. 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.

[26]. Fischer, The Gospels in Their Jewish Context. (Lecture on CD/MP3). Week 4, Session 1.

[27]. Nelesen, Yeshua; the Promise, the Land, the Messiah. (Video Tape 2).

[28]. Price, The Stones Cry Out. 313.

[29]. Kloner, “Did a Rolling Stone Close Jesus’ Tomb?” 29.

[30]. Kloner, “Did a Rolling Stone Close Jesus’ Tomb?” 28.  Kloner also indicates that the Hebrew word for both round (or rolling) and square blocking stones is golal or golel (plural: golalim).  See also Kloner and Zissu. The Necropolis of Jerusalem in the Second Temple Period. 54-56. Note: Amos Kloner is considered by scholars to have completed the most comprehensive study of tombs in the Jerusalem area.

[31]. For an exhaustive study on burial practices and tombs during the era of Jesus, see Rachel Hachlili, Jewish Funerary Customs, Practices and Rites in the Second Temple Period. Boston: Brill, 2005.

[32]. Mishnah, Baba Bathra 6.8.

[33]. Kloner and Zissu. The Necropolis of Jerusalem in the Second Temple Period. 77.

[34]. Kloner and Zissu, The Necropolis of Jerusalem in the Second Temple Period. 85.

[35]. For an exhaustive study on burial practices and tombs during the era of Jesus, see Rachel Hachlili, Jewish Funerary Customs, Practices and Rites in the Second Temple Period. Boston: Brill, 2005.

[36]. Kloner and Zissu, The Necropolis of Jerusalem in the Second Temple Period. 688.

[37]. Illustration modified from Bahat, Illustrated Atlas of Jerusalem. 57.

[38]. Bahat, “Does the Holy Sepulcher.” 32.

[39]. Price, The Stones Cry Out. 314.

[40]. Maier, The First Easter. 84.

[41]. Crossan and Reed, Excavating Jesus. 248-49.

[42]. Biddle, The Tomb of Christ. 56-57; Mackowski, Jerusalem City of Jesus. 5; Wilkinson, Egeria’s Travel’s. 146-47 quoting Egeria’s Travels.

[43]. See “Madaba Map” in Appendix 26; See also 14.02.03.D and 05.02.03.Z.

[44]. Parenthesis mine.

[45]. Thiede and d’Ancona. The Quest for the True Cross. 62.

[46].  Pixner, “Church of the Apostles Found.” 24, 60 n20.

[47]. Wiseman and Yamauchi, Archaeology and the Bible. 84-86.

[48]. McDowell, “The Historical Reliability of the New Testament.” 48.

[49]. Bahat, “Does the Holy Sepulcher.” 33.

[50]. Bahat, “Does the Holy Sepulcher.” 34-35.

[51]. Shanks, “After Hadrian’s Banishment: Jews in Christian Jerusalem.” 33.

[52]. For further study, see two articles by John Long: “The Shroud’s Earlier History. Part 1: To Edessa.” Bible and Spade. 20:2 (Spring, 2007). 46-52 and “The Shroud’s Earlier History. Part 2: To the Great City.” Bible and Spade. 20:4 (Fall, 2007). 120-128.

[53]. The Code of Jewish Law, a/k/a the Shulchan Aruch, is the Jewish code of law written by Rabbi Yosef Kara about 500 years ago. It summarizes and lists the halachic decisions of the Talmud as well as the author’s own view based on halachic opinions and discussions of the commentaries after the Talmud. Topics discussed are divided into chapters. It is mentioned here because it refers to second temple period traditions, but it is not quoted as it is not an ancient source. See Code of Jewish Law, “Laws of Mourning.” Chapters 351-354, 362-64;  http://www.shulchanarach.com/

[54]. This sentence that pertains to a broken roof rafter is a comparative statement. It suggests that just as a bench or the side piece of a bed is used to prevent a rafter from bending or breaking any further, so too, the chin of a corpse is tied to keep the jaw from “sinking,” or opening, any further.

[55]. Bracketed inserts by Danby, ed.

[56]. Wild, “The Shroud of Turin: Probably the Work of a 14th Century Artist or Forger.” 31-32.

[57]. Hands and feet were nailed to the cross: Lk. 24:40; Jn. 20:20,25,27; Col. 2:14;  Scourging wounds: Mt. 27:26; Mk. 15:15; Lk. 23:16, 22; Jn. 19:1; Thorn impressions on the head Mt. 27:29; Mk. 15:17; Jn. 19:2; Bruise marks to the shoulders (from carrying the cross?) Jn. 19:17; Bruise and blow marks to the face Mt. 26:28; 27:30; Mk. 14:65; 15:19; Lk. 22:63-64; Jn. 18:22; 19:3.

[58]. Nelesen, Yeshua; the Promise, the Land, the Messiah. (Video Tape 2).

[59]. Habermas, “The Shroud of Turin and its Significance for Biblical Studies.” 51.

[60]. McCrone, “The Shroud Painting Explained.” 29.

[61]. McCrone, “The Shroud Painting Explained.” 29-30.

[62]. Vikan, “Debunking the Shroud.” 28.

[63]. For more information, see Vaughn M. Bryant Jr. “Does Pollen Prove the Shroud Authentic?” Biblical Archaeology Review 26:6 (Nov/Dec, 2009). 36-44. See also Alan D. Whanger, Uri Baruch, and Mary Whanger. Flora of the Shroud of Turin. St. Louis, MO: Missouri Botanical Garden Press, 1999.  


[64]. See also Long, “Closing in on the Shroud’s Early History. 20-22.

[65]. Biddle, The Tomb of Christ. 56-58; Mackowski, Jerusalem City of Jesus. 5.


Bill Heinrich  -  Dec 19, 2015  -  Comments Off on 17.02.03 SOLDIERS GUARD TOMB

17.02.03 Mt. 27:62-66 Thursday night or early Friday morning.




62 The next day, which followed the preparation day, the chief priests and the Pharisees gathered before Pilate 63 and said, “Sir, we remember that while this deceiver was still alive He said, ‘After three days I will rise again.’ 64 Therefore give orders that the tomb be made secure until the third day. Otherwise, His disciples may come, steal Him, and tell the people, ‘He has been raised from the dead.’ Then the last deception will be worse than the first.”

65 “You have a guard of soldiers,” Pilate told them. “Go and make it as secure as you know how.” 66 Then they went and made the tomb secure by sealing the stone and setting the guard.

“The chief priests and the Pharisees.” While the Sadducees were before Pilate demanding the death of Jesus, the leading Pharisees disappeared and were not involved in the demand of His death.  They believed they would be innocent of His death if they would not be actively involved in the eviction and execution. However, now that Jesus was dead, they emerged and joined the Sadducees (chief priests) before Pilate with a concern that He might rise on the third day.

“Deceiver.” In the Jewish tradition, whenever someone was scorned, his name would not be repeated. Rather, degrading words were used to refer to Him and, in this case, the Sadducees used the term “deceiver” to refer to Jesus.  It was and continues to be the cultural way to blot out His name forever.

The gospel writers said that the Jewish leaders accused Jesus of leading the people astray (Jn. 7:12, 47), that He used the power of Beelzebul (Mk. 3:22), and that He had a demon (Jn. 10:19-21).  Centuries later, when the Babylonian Talmud was written, the same accusations continued.  The Jews never question whether He performed miracles, only the source of His power to do them. In Sanhedrin 43a, the Jewish writer first created a historical account to “prove” a legitimate court trial, which is followed by the reason of the trial – the accusation of sorcery and apostasy.

It was taught: On the eve of the Passover, Yeshu [ms. M: the Nazarene] was hanged.  For forty days before the execution took place, a herald went forth and cried, “He is going forth to be stoned because he has practiced sorcery and enticed Israel to apostasy. Anyone who can say anything in his favor, let him come forward and plead on his behalf.”

            Babylonian Talmud, Sanhedrin 43a


In the following account, the Talmudic writer not only describes Jesus as an idol worshipper, (i.e. the brick) but then also accuses Him of magic – an admission that Jesus had incredible powers.

One day he [Rabbi Joshua] was reciting the Shema when Jesus came before him.  He intended to receive him and made a sign to him.  He [Jesus] thinking it was to repel him, put up a brick and worshipped it.

“Repent,” said he [rabbi Joshua] to him. He replied, “I have thus learned from you: He who sins and causes others to sin is not afforded the means of repentance.” And a Master [another major rabbi] has said, Jesus the Nazarene practiced magic and led Israel astray.”

            Babylonian Talmud, Sanhedrin 107b[1]


On an interesting side note: the irony is that in today’s post-modern world, there are a number of critics who claim that Jesus never existed.  If there is any group of people who wished that were true, it is the Jews who have been struggling against Jesus for two thousand years. Their admission that Jesus existed flies in the face of modern critics.

“Three days.” For an explanation on the term “three days and three nights,” see 09.01.05.Q2.

“Made the tomb secure by sealing the stone and setting the guard.”  A stone was always rolled in front of the tomb to keep dogs and other animals from desecrating the body.  However, in this case a seal was placed on the stone to keep the disciples out.  To place a seal, the guards placed a rope, known as a golal, across the front of the stone.[2]  At the ends, they placed a wax seal with a Roman impression.  If the seal was broken, the culprit and the guards were executed.[3] Obviously, they were faithful to their superior commander, especially in the case of guarding the tomb of a popular dead Jew. This explains the extraordinary measures taken by the Pharisees and Roman officials to insure that Jesus would not rise from the tomb.[4]  Yet history records that the resurrected Jesus became a matter of great concern, even for the Romans.

In 1878 an ordinance issued by Emperor Claudius was discovered in Nazareth and brought to Paris. The “decree of Caesar,” written in Koine (common) Greek, was inscribed on a 15 by 24 inch marble tablet in A.D. 50. It sets forth a most unusual proclamation, in that those who violate a grave would receive capital punishment.[5]  However, the discovery was not made public until 1925, when there was public and academic response to it.  Its authenticity has rarely been questioned and its similarity to Matthew 28:11-15 is stunning.  The significance of the ordinance is that it would be highly improbable that the body of Jesus was stolen by His disciples.[6]

 17.02.03.A. THE NAZARETH INSCRIPTION, also known as the ORDINANCE OF CAESAR (2)

17.02.03.A. THE NAZARETH INSCRIPTION, also known as the ORDINANCE OF CAESAR. The Imperial inscription, bearing the title Diatagma Kaisaros found near Nazareth is dated to A.D. 50. Amazingly, the marble stone declares that it is illegal to steal a body from a tomb.  The Jewish leaders were highly angered at the spread of the new faith in Jesus as the Messiah. It is strongly believed this ordinance was enacted to squelch the rumors of a resurrected Christ.


The decree reads as follows:

  2. It is my decision [concerning] graves and tombs – whoever has made
  3. them for the religious observances of parents, or children, or household
  4. members – that these remain undisturbed forever. But if anyone legally
  5. charges that another person has destroyed, or has in any manner extracted
  6. those who have been buried, or has moved with wicked intent those who
  7. have been buried to other places, committing a crime against them, or has
  8. moved Sepulchre-sealing stones, against such a person I order that a
  9. judicial tribunal be created, just as [is done] concerning the gods in
  10. human religious observances, even more so will it be obligatory to treat
  11. with honor those who have been entombed. You are absolutely not to
  12. allow anyone to move [those who have been entombed]. But if
  13. [someone does], I wish that [violator] to suffer capital punishment under
  14. The title of tomb-breaker.

Edict (Ordinance) of Caesar[7]


Amazingly, to pronounce a death sentence upon someone who “violated” a tomb was an extremely harsh sentence, even in Roman days. This edict is a testimony that news of the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus had spread throughout the Roman Empire, even to the highest levels of Rome itself, within two decades. The inscription is one of the most powerful pieces of extra-biblical evidence that the resurrection of Jesus was taught and influential in the first century, the beginning of Christianity.[8] Furthermore, the lives and martyrdoms of the apostles is clear evidence of a risen Christ.[9]


17.02.03.Q1 What significant extra-biblical comments on the life and death of Jesus survived the centuries?  


One of the most notable was Flavius Josephus.  He gave this brief observation concerning Jesus:

Now, there was about this time Jesus, a wise man, if it be lawful to call him a man, for he was a doer of wonderful works – a teacher of such men as receive the truth with pleasure.  He drew over to him both many of the Jews, and many of the Gentiles.  He was [the] Christ; and when Pilate, at the suggestion of the principal men amongst us, had condemned him to the cross, those that loved him at the first did not forsake him, for he appeared to them alive again the third day, as the divine prophets had foretold these and ten thousand other wonderful things concerning him; and the tribe of Christians, so named from him, are not extinct at this day.

Josephus, Antiquities 18.3.3 (63-64)


Critics have said that this paragraph is not original, but claim it is a Christian interpolation of a later edition.  They stated a loyal Jew would not have made such a statement. However, two significant church fathers, Jerome and Ambrosius[10] accepted it as original. Eusebius not only quoted Josephus, but then said the following,

When such testimony as this was transmitted to us by an historian who sprung from the Hebrews themselves, both respecting John the Baptist and our Savior, what subterfuge can be left to prevent those from being convicted destitute of all shame, who have forged the acts against them?  This, however, may suffice on this subject.

Eusebius, Church History 1.11.9


Those scholars who considered it an original work point to an early Arabic translation, because it included the same comment.[11]  On the other hand, the Jewish account of the death of Jesus in the Babylonian Talmud is one of the travesties of historical records.  Jewish historians are known for their accuracy and reliability, but in dealing with Jesus, their credibility fails miserably.  This reflects how problematic Jesus was and continued to be for them.   In the fourth century, the following account was prepared to give some resemblance of correct legal procedure in the trial and execution of Jesus. There is no mention of the house of Annas that is elsewhere described with contempt, nor is there any mention of the Romans, who performed the execution.  Consequently, the Jews justified His death based on Deuteronomy 13.

On the eve of the Passover, they hanged Yeshu (Jesus). For forty days before the execution took place, a herald went forth and cried: Yeshu of Nazareth is going forth to be stoned, in that he practiced sorcery and led Israel astray. Let anyone knowing anything in his defense come and plead for him. But they found nothing in his defense, and hanged him on the eve of the Passover.

Babylonian Talmud, Sanhedrin 43a


In the same section of the Babylonian Talmud is this comment.

Rabbi Ulla said, “Would you believe that any defense would have been so zealously sought for him?  He was a deceiver, and the All-merciful says: ‘You shall not spare him, neither shall you conceal him.’  It was different with Jesus for he was near to the kingship.”

Babylonian Talmud, Sanhedrin 43a


Those who were against Jesus before the crucifixion were also against Him afterwards. As previously stated, they accused Him of being a magician, a deceiver, and an artist of magic art.  In the second century, before the Babylonian Talmud was written, Justin Martyr made a statement that affirms the accusations of the later Talmud authors.  Martyr said,

They said it was a display of magic art, for they even dared to say that he was a magician and a deceiver of the people.

Justin Martyr, Dialogue with Trypho 97:7[12]


Jesus was not the only one privileged to be accused of doing magical works of demons. The Roman satirist Juvenal, in the century after Jesus, said that everywhere throughout the Roman Empire, Jewish magicians, dream expounders, and fortune tellers were found.[13]  Evidently, His disciples were given the same honors by disgruntled Jews, as recorded by Origen in the second century.  Their concern was not that the miracles were performed, but their debate was focused on His source of power:

Since these men do these wonders, ought we to think them sons of God?  Or ought we to say that they are the practices of wicked men possessed by an evil demon?

Origen, Against Celsus 1:68


Amazingly, while the Pharisees accused Jesus of performing exorcisms by using demonic powers, they also believed that the ability to perform exorcisms was a gift of God – a direct violation of their accusations against Jesus. The accusations that began during the life of Christ continued for centuries.

The phrase “near to the kingship,” in the Babylonian Talmud’s Sanhedrin 43a is a reference to the messianic prophecy that the Messiah would be a descendant of King David,[14]  which makes this a rather interesting comment.  A third comment about Jesus in the same section of the Talmud is this:

The rabbis taught: “Jesus had five disciples: Matthias, Naquin, Never, Buna, and Torah.”

Babylonian Talmud, Sanhedrin 43a


Obviously, this passage is of no historical value other than it adds insight to how negatively Jesus was seen by Jewish leaders centuries later.  This rabbinic writing does, however, give evidence for the life of Jesus, which they so desperately tried to destroy. The commentary of Sanhedrin 43a reveals the following,

  1. It recognizes Jesus as an extremely influential person, or there would have been no mention of Him five centuries after His life.
  1. Since Jesus performed many miracles, this activity was attributed to Him as sorcery.
  1. He is associated with the Passover at the time of His death, which was by hanging, a derogatory and condemning word with reference to the crucifixion.
  1. Jesus was accused of apostasy since many Jews decided to leave the corrupt Jewish system and follow the teachings of Christ.


Possibly the most interesting aspect is that this paragraph makes no mention of Roman trials or execution. It does, however, explain that Jesus was put to death by the Jews themselves. This is clearly a confession that national Israel was responsible for the death of Jesus, an awesome statement from a non-biblical text.

The life of Jesus was also confirmed by pagans, although in a negative manner.  The fact that pagan authors were uncharacteristically strong in their comments suggests the influence Jesus had.  As dynamic as Jesus was throughout His life, the concept that He permitted Himself to be crucified and the idea that He could be God was beyond comprehension for many.  For many Jews it was a difficult challenge to accept, given their preconceived ideas of who the Messiah would be.  Yet for the Greeks and Romans the idea was even more difficult to accept.  Christians soon became persecuted targets throughout the Roman Empire.  While many accepted Jesus as Lord and Savior, others despised Him and said that Jews and Christians worshiped a god in the form of a donkey.  The donkey, being rather docile and low in intelligence, became a symbol of Jews and Christians for those who hated them and were quick to spit out their vulgar blasphemies.

While the New Testament writers recorded antagonism between Jews and the apostles, the Jewish-inspired violence appears to have dissipated by the second century. Jewish writings, nevertheless, defended the accusatory positions of the leading rabbis, as is found in two accounts of the Babylonian Talmud.

One day he [Rabbi Joshua] was reciting the Shema when Jesus came before him.  He intended to receive him and made a sign to him.  He [Jesus] thinking it was to repel him, put up a brick and worshipped it.

“Repent,” said he [rabbi Joshua] to him. He replied, “I have thus learned from you: He who sins and causes others to sin is not afforded the means of repentance.” And a Master [another major rabbi] has said, Jesus the Nazarene practiced magic and led Israel astray.”

            Babylonian Talmud, Sanhedrin 107b[15]


It was taught: On the eve of the Passover, Yeshu [ms. M: the Nazarene] was hanged.  For forty days before the execution took place, a herald went forth and cried, “He is going forth to be stoned because he has practiced sorcery and enticed Israel to apostasy. Anyone who can say anything in his favor, let him come forward and plead on his behalf.”

            Babylonian Talmud, Sanhedrin 43a


Obviously, there are numerous conflicts with the passage above and the biblical account. But the question the rabbis and other critics cannot answer is, if Jesus did worship a brick, if he practiced sorcery, if he was a fraud, then why were all of his disciples willing to die a martyr’s death? They must respond to the concept that Jesus was either a liar, a lunatic, or the Son of God. If a dozen men, living with Him every day for more than three years determined that He was neither a liar nor a lunatic, there is then only one other option.  If Jesus was the Son of God, then did He fulfill the Old Testament requirements and prophecies? Did He perform miracles?  Did hundreds of people speak to Him after His death and resurrection?[16]  If so, then, obviously, He was/is the Son of God.

Rabbinic literature says little of Jesus, and when it does, the commentary is negative. A notable exception is a comment in the Babylonian Talmud (Gittin 56b-57a) that is dated to the early second century.   It implies a degree of harmony between the traditional Jewish people and Nazarene believers.  While a number of false doctrines of prevalent heresies are mentioned, there is no specific accusation against Christianized Jewish people or a denial of the miracles performed by Jesus.

However, the Gittin comment is the exception rather than the rule. It is interesting that the Jews never denied that He performed miracles, but they attributed His power to demonic sources. Hence, rabbinic literature describes Jesus as One who led souls into apostasy and accused Him of being a sorcerer (cf. Mt. 12:24).[17] While negative in nature, there was no doubt among Jews that Jesus performed miracles.

In the meantime, the disciples and thousands of followers of Jesus had their world shattered at the unexpected crucifixion. How could anyone who performed so many incredible miracles allow Himself to be crucified?  And why? Their depression and sadness must have been as dark as the sky in the afternoon of Passover.  But that was about to change.


17.02.03.B  THE POPULARITY – TIME CHART OF THE MINISTRY OF JESUS. The ministry of Jesus grew slowly at first, but quickly gained popularity and then to exponential growth. The enormous excitement was crushed by His crucifixion, but that emotional crash was replaced with the explosive excitement of His resurrection. Courtesy of International Mapping and Dan Przywara.


[1]. See also Babylonian Talmud, Sotah 47a and Jerusalem Talmud, Hagiga 2.2.


[2]. Because the stone was “rolled,” it has always been assumed that it was round. However, archaeologists have uncovered only four round disc-shaped tomb blocking stones, but more than a hundred square ones which were also rolled due to their size and weight. See Kloner, “Did a Rolling Stone Close Jesus’ Tomb?” 28.


[3]. Farrar, Life of Christ. 454-55; Fruchtenbaum, The Jewish Foundation of the Life of Messiah: Instructor’s Manual. Class 25, page 20.

[4]. Farrar, Life of Christ. 457.

[5]. Avi-Yonah and Kraeling, Our Living Bible. 299-300.


[6]. Smith, “Nazareth Decree.” 3:501.

[7]. Translation by Clyde E. Billington; Billington, “The Nazareth Inscription.” 17; Tenney, ed., “Nazareth Decree.” 11:1355.

[8]. Compton. “Is the Resurrection Historically Reliable?” 106;  Billington. “The Nazareth Inscription: Proof of the Resurrection of Christ?” 17.


[9]. See Appendix 27 concerning the lives of the apostles.

[10]. St. Jerome (c. 347-420) was the son of church father and historian Eusebius and Ambrosius (c. 340-397), a/k/a St. Ambrose (Aurelianus Ambrosius) was the bishop of Milan.


[11]. Santala, The Messiah in the New Testament. 28-29.

[12]. See also First Apology 30 and Dialogue with Trypho, the Jew 108.


[13]. Juvenal, Satire 6:543-548. See http://archive.org/stream/juvenalpersiuswi00juveuoft/juvenalpersiuswi00juveuoft_djvu.txt. Retrieved June 11, 2014.


[14]. House, Chronological and Background Charts of the New Testament. 77.

[15]. See also Babylonian Talmud, Sotah 47a and Jerusalem Talmud, Hagiga 2.2.


[16]. For further study on the significance of the physical resurrection of Jesus, see Geisler, Norman L. “The Significance of Christ’s Physical Resurrection.” Bibliotheca Sacra. 146:582 (Apr-June, 1989) 148-70.


[17]. Fluesser, “The Jewish-Christian Schism” (Part II). 30-31.


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