From there our apologist moves on to how implausible it would be for the body to disappear. But let’s deal with this claim—why didn’t the priests present Jesus’ body, assuming it was still in the tomb?
In order for the priests to have done so they would have needed two things: 1) motive and 2) ability. It is not enough for them to want to show the body if they were restrained from doing so. It is not enough for them to be physically able to do so if they had no desire. We need both. Before we dig into to those two factors, please keep in mind three over-reaching problems with this claim:
1) It is an argument from silence.
2) Our information is only one-sided.
3) We must be careful not to impose our 21st Century culture and attitudes on 1st Century Judeans.
Argument from Silence
An Argument from Silence is when we claim just because someone doesn’t say anything means nothing happened. If my daughter does not tell me she learned anything in school today, the Argument from Silence would state she therefore must not have learned anything. We can immediately see the concern with this type of argument—we don’t record everything that happens.
However, an argument from silence does have force, when we would expect silence. For example, the fact my daughter does not mention President Bush taught her Government class today is substantial proof it did not happen, because such an event would very likely result in her telling us.
Here, the silence of the priests is presumed to fall in the latter category—something so extraordinary their silence is surprising.
Our information is one-sided
Our only proofs of Christian interaction with the Jews within the relevant time period come from Christians. We have nothing—a complete void—from the Jewish perspective. We simply do not know what the Jews said or did or attempted to do in response to Christianity. If anything at all.
This means our only source of information comes from the Christian perspective. It becomes dangerously close to a circular argument to use Christian proofs to prove Christianity. Imagine if we only had the perspective of slave owners in the southern United States as to the life of a slave. We would have a much different picture than that viewed through the eyes of the slave.
How many of us have heard one side of an argument, thinking it sounds pretty good, only to hear the other side and realize it was not as strong as we initially thought? (Prov. 18:17) Here we don’t have the other side. We don’t have the Jewish perspective of Christianity either positive or negative.
Acts records 3000 people being saved in one day. (Acts 2:41) But we have no other material or source to verify or disclaim that number. Could it have been 30 and, through the course of history, exaggerated to 3000? Sure. Could it have been more than 3000, and reduced because the author found it too fantastic? Also possible. That is the problem and the point—we simply do not have any way to confirm it.
Further, Acts records the persecution of the Christians by Jews. Yet, again, we have no non-Christian source recording this persecution. We have Tacitus who indicates persecution by Nero of Christians. We have Pliny the Younger (Roman) who tortures Christians to learn their beliefs. Yet nothing, neither from a Jewish source nor Roman regarding this Jewish persecution.
This is an Argument from Silence that is also dangerously circular.
Be careful not to impose our 21st Century culture and attitudes on 1st Century Judeans.
We live in an age of proofs. We demand proofs as to who was responsible for 9/11. We demand proofs of WMD in Iraq. We want trials, and committee hearings, and full disclosure. Accusations require responses.
“Prove it!” is our battle cry.
For us, a religious claim is refuted by argumentation and evidence. You claim to have the original Gospel of Mark? Show me. Likewise, we impose that same thinking on the priests. “Christians are making a claim contrary to your own? I would present the most damning proof—so would they.” Right?
Perhaps. Perhaps not.
“Proving a point” by killing someone is outrageous to us. Yet this was exactly what Ananus did to James the Just, simply to demonstrate his political power. Murder and Assassination was the means to obtain political positions. Positions that were shaky in light of one’s own possible enemies, not to mention the enemies of one’s superiors.
Of the 79 Roman emperors, 31 were murdered, 6 driven to suicide and 4 were deposed by force. Such upheavals in antiquity were frequently accompanied by civil war and the enslavement of thousands. (Social-Science Commentary on the Synoptic Gospels Malina & Rohrbaugh, pg. 8)
What may be obvious or bizarre to those of us in the 21st Century, may be completely overlooked or unheard of to those in the 1st. When we would demand proof, they may simply murder.
Keeping these three issues in the back of our minds, we shall look at Motive and Ability.
Assuming a group of Galileans was traipsing about Jerusalem, proclaiming a dead guy came back to life and disappeared—would the priests care? Would they have bothered to respond at all?
In order to understand the situation, we need to review some of the history of the time. Josephus records, in Antiquities Book 18, of four main sects of Jews. The Pharisees – a popular virtuous group dedicated to Divine Worship, prayer, respecting of individual freedoms, and who believed in an afterlife dependent on the deeds of the present life. The Sadducees – not popular, who did not believe in resurrection, held solely to the law, but also held the positions of power. The Essenes who do not marry, do not have servants, and who share with each other. Finally, the followers of Judas the Galilean who agree with the Pharisees, only believe God should be their only ruler, specifically not the Romans. It was this sect Josephus records as being the chief instigators in the Jewish War of the 60’s.
So we have the Powerful in the Sadducees, the Popular in the Pharisees, the Abstainers in the Essenes (they even celebrated Passover on a different day) and the Rebels in those following Judas. Yet within each of these sects there are further and varying beliefs, competing with each other. Richard Carrier reports over 30 different Judaic sects during this period, including Pharisees, Sadducess, Scribes, Hermobaptists, Nasareans, Ossaeans, Herodians, Therapeutae, Bana’im, Hypsistarians, Maghariay, Masbotheans, Galileans, the Qumran Sect, Samaritans, Essenes, Dosithean, Sebueans and Gorothenes.(Empty Tomb pg. 108-109)
This is important because at times we seem to simplify the religious beliefs in terms of “Jews,” “Gentile” and “Christian” during this period. It was not so black and white along distinguishable party lines. The Christian claim of a resurrected person would be one among many religious claims being made. It was not the “sole” competition against a unified Judaism. There WAS no “unified Judaism.” There WAS no “sole competition.”
Josephus further reports at times the Sadducees were forced to attach themselves to the notion of the Pharisees in order to maintain their positions of power in light of their own unpopularity. We see in-fighting even amongst the Jews as to which was the correct belief, and a willingness to compromise in order to maintain a position.
Would an upstart religion thrown into this mix even be noticed?
How many religious leaders were engaged in disproving the Order of the Solar Temple before people began to commit suicide? How many of us had even heard of Raelians before they claimed to obtain the ability to clone? Was Christianity viewed as Queen Shamia, daughter of God--a religion which would stun most of us it could obtain any followers at all?
What religious denomination was bothering disproving Heaven’s Gate or People’s Temple prior to the tragic suicides? If I told you of a religious sect which obtained its holy writings by virtue of a man looking into a hat with a brown stone--do you think such a thing would ever take root and grow? Would you spend time disproving this religion?
How would a person be able to determine which religious beliefs would flourish? And which would flop? Unwittingly, in utilizing our 20-20 hindsight, we attribute our knowledge to the people at the time. If you had a time machine that would allow you to only go back to December 6, 1941—where, in the entire world, would you go? Most of us would pick Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. Why? Because we are very aware of the events which would be unfolding in the next 24 hours.
And—because we know those events—historians, conspiracy theorists, and laypeople all analyze the events leading up to Pearl Harbor, attempting to determine whether the United States “should” have seen the attack coming. Every inference is magnified, and extrapolated to the nth degree. Only because we know what subsequently happened, are we even looking for these pieces of evidence, and giving them significance.
What if our time machine would only allow us a trip to 34 CE—where would you go? Who wouldn’t be choosing Judea to investigate the historical claims of Christianity? But the only reason we know this is due to our ability to look back. We, perhaps unconsciously, impute the same knowledge to the persons of the time:
Christian: Jesus is physically risen from the dead!
Priest: What?! If we allow this claim to continue, it will spread and grow until early 4th Century, at which time Constantine will make it a state religion, thus insuring its continual promulgation until it encompasses all of Europe, eventually splitting into two main divisions—Catholic and Protestant, but remaining one of three prominent Abrahamic religions, which will proclaim Judaism as incorrect and therefore I must do everything within my power to quash this insidious beast, up to and including exhuming bodies.
Or is it far more likely:
Christian: Jesus is physically risen from the dead!
Priest: *shrug* Nut.
In order to bolster the Argument from Silence (remember?) the statement of Jesus physically rising from the dead must have been so outrageous, so unbelievable, the priests would have to respond in some way—presumably by producing the body. Simply because the disciples said “Love your neighbor”—the Argument from Silence recognizes the lack of any record of the priests renouncing this is unremarkable, due to the number of other people making the same claims at the time.
However, this is a double-edged sword. The more outrageous the claim, the more likely the priests would scoff it off as well. If this apologetic is making the claim, “The idea of a physically risen Jesus was so off-the-charts, the priest would have to respond in some way, and their silence in being able to do so is deafening” then it would also have to deal with the fact such an shocking claim was not responded to for that very reason—it was so unbelievable no response was considered necessary.
In addition to the religious confrontations of the time, the High Priest was also concerned with his own political skin. If the Christians were not threatening to Rome, then the High Priest had bigger fish to fry with groups who were threatening to Rome—such as Judas the Galilean. We see a hint of this in Gamaliel’s speech of Acts 5:34-39.
The High Priest was a Political appointee at the whim of the Roman Government. A list of the High Priests during this period:
Ananus ben Seth 6-15
Ishmael ben Fabus 15-16
Eleazar ben Ananus 16-17
Simon ben Camithus 17-18
Joseph Caiaphas 18-36
Jonathan ben Ananus 36-37
Theophilus ben Ananus 37-41
Simon Cantatheras ben Boethus 41-43
Matthias ben Ananus 43
Jonathan ben Ananus 44 (restored)
Josephus ben Camydus 44-46
Ananias ben Nebedeus 46-52
Ishmael ben Fabus 56-62 (restored?)
Joseph Cabi ben Simon 62-63
Ananus ben Ananus 63
And a list of the Roman Rulers:
Marcus Ambibulus 9–12
Annius Rufus 12–15
Valerius Gratus 15–26
Pontius Pilate 26–36
Cuspius Fadus 44–46
Tiberius Julius Alexander 46–48
Ventidius Cumanus 48–52
Antonius Felix 52–60
Porcius Festus 60–62
Lucceius Albinus 62–64
Gessius Florus 64–66
Notice how many of the dates of change are similar? Josephus records in Antiquities Book 18 how Valerius Gratus took the priesthood away from Ananus upon coming to power in 15 CE, gave it to Ishmael, then took it away, giving it to Ananus’ son Eleazar, (who had been High Priest before). Gratus took it away from Eleazar, gave it to Simon, and then deprived Simon of it, eventually giving it to Joseph ben Caiaphas.
Gratus was succeeded by Pontius Pilate who retained Caiaphas. When Pilate was replaced in 36 CE by Marcellus, so was Caiaphas by Jonathan ben Ananus. Although Caiaphas was able to retain his post under two different Roman leaders, there was nothing preventing Pilate from removing him post-haste should the occasion arise. If Christianity’s claims did not threaten Rome, it would draw less attention. There would be less need to confront or refute such claims.
Assuming Christianity was proclaiming “Give to Caeaser what is Caeaser’s” (Matt. 22:21) and “Let everyone be subject to the authorities” (Rom. 13:1) in addition to claims of a resurrected body, this would not be politically threatening to the High Priest’s position.
In conclusion, we must question whether the priests would even be inclined to respond to Christianity’s claims in light of other claims being made at that time by far more problematic groups, the believability of the viability of the growing religion, the lack of political necessity to do so, and our tendency to impose future knowledge on the Jews of the time.
Further, as we shall see, this would have to come to a head in a hurry. There would only be a limited amount of time in which the High Priest could recognize the threat of Christianity, and act by bringing out this body.
The key element here is time. When would the Priests first be aware of the claim of a physical resurrection, and would it be too late to produce a body?
Judea in the First Century had a problem—too many people. There was not enough room for cemeteries. This created the use of ossuaries—boxes that only contained bones. They would lay the body out in the family tomb, and let it decompose for one year. On the one-year anniversary of the death, only the bones would be left. These bones would be carefully placed in a stone box, roughly large enough to barely fit the bones. On the outside of the box would be inscribed (in either Aramaic, Hebrew or Greek) the person’s name and perhaps a brief reference. (Malina & Rohrbaugh, pg. 347-348) The ossuary would remain in the family tomb with the decadent’s previous ancestor’s bones and boxes. (This is why discovered tombs have numerous ossuaries.)
This practice ended abruptly in 70 CE due to the vastly depleted amounts of populace from the Jewish war. There were so fewer people that cemetery space was no longer a problem.
Typically Jesus’ family would have a family tomb in Galilee. While Jesus would have been entombed in Joseph of Arimethea’s cave due to the prohibition of allowing a hanged man stay on a tree overnight, (Deut. 21:23) it would have been anticipated—even expected, his body would have been moved to the family tomb in Galilee. Even if Joseph was willing to provide this tomb for Jesus’ body permanently, it would still be anticipated Jesus would decompose and his bones placed in an ossuary.
The rock placed on the tomb would have been a temporary blockage. Tombs were designed and expected to be used over and over—hence no permanent blockage was necessary. Most likely, Jesus’ body was moved to Galilee, but if not, it would have been one of many bodies utilizing Joseph’s tomb.
How did the Jews of Jerusalem bury their dead in the time of Jesus? The Gospel accounts describe Jesus as having been laid to rest in a rock-cut tomb. Rock-cut tombs consisted of one or more burial chambers hewn into the bedrock slopes surrounding the city of Jerusalem. Burial chambers were lined by single rows of burial niches (called loculi), with each niche cut into the walls about the length of a person's body. Each rock-cut tomb belonged to a family and was used by the members of a family over the course of several generations. When a member of the family died, his/her body was wrapped in a shroud and placed in a loculus. The opening to the loculus was sealed with a stone slab, and the entrance to the rock-cut tomb was also sealed with a stone. Eventually, over the course of generations, the loculi became filled with burials. When this happened and it was necessary to make space for new burials, the earlier remains (consisting of bones and burial gifts) were cleared out of the loculi and placed in small boxes (ossuaries). Sometimes the relatives scribbled the name(s) of the deceased on the outside of the ossuary when they placed the remains in the box.
One of fascinating aspects of the tomb of Queen Helena was the claim the rock in front of her tomb was designed to only be opened one day a year. However, this was not typical of most tombs. The authors of the various Gospel accounts write in such a manner as if the stone could be moved. Mark and Luke indicate the women intended to put spices on the body, with a concern over who would be available to help move the rock. (Mark 16:1-3; Luke 24:1). Matthew portrays such concern over the ability to remove the rock the author records both a guard AND a seal. (Matt. 27:66) [No need for a guard or seal on an unmovable rock] John has Mary Magdalene convinced someone moved the rock and took the body. (John 20:13)
The rock could be moved; the body transported anywhere. Acts 1:3 states Jesus appeared to the Disciples over a period of 40 days. 40 days when no Jewish leader was informed of the alleged physical resurrection. 40 days in which Jesus is only recorded as appearing to those supporting his cause. 40 days in which no priest would think of looking in a tomb. 40 days to move that body…
Realistically, for the High Priest to even hope to find Jesus’ body still in Joseph’s tomb in Jerusalem, it would have to be within a short period of time following the crucifixion. After one year, they would be looking for an ossuary.
So how quickly did the Jewish Priests learn of this claimed physically resurrection? Again, our only source of information is Christian writing. Acts 1:3 indicates 40 days occurred between the resurrection and the ascension. Acts 1:12-26 records the choosing of Matthias to replace Judas. Acts 2:1-13 is the account of the Pentecost. Acts 2:14-41 is Peter’s first sermon where he states, “God has raised this Jesus to life, and we are all witnesses of the fact.” (Acts 2:32, NIV) Part of the problem is what does it mean to be “witnesses of the fact” as well as the accuracy of Luke recording this event decades after. But for purposes of this discussion, we shall grant the benefit of the doubt that Luke accurately dictated this AND it meant witnesses to the physical resurrection of Jesus.
How long was it between the Ascension and Pentecost? One day? One Year? One month? We simply do not know. If it was only one day, then we are within a possible time frame. If it is over a year, this is far too late for the Priests to produce a body—even if they wanted to.
See what we have? Speculation to the accuracy of Luke coupled with the nebulous meaning of “witness to the fact” and the extreme difficulty of lack of knowledge as to when this statement was made. (A demonstrative example of the depth of the problem is the attempt to align Acts’ account of Paul’s conversion in Acts 9 with Paul’s statements in Galatians 1 & 2. A common resolution is to place a period of three (3) years between Acts 9:19 and Acts 9: 20. Verses that state, “…after taking some food, he regained his strength. Saul spent several days with the disciples in Damascus. At once he began to preach in the synagogues that Jesus is the son of God.” NIV Do you see a break of three years within those sentences? Yet that is EXACTLY what apologists must claim in order to align these passages. If Luke inserted 3 years within Acts 9 without notation, how can we possibly know how many years, weeks or decades could be inserted in Acts 1 or Acts 2?)
This is a problem for this polemic. If the claimant is asserting the Priests would have to produce the body, it is up to the person making the claim to demonstrate they would have knowledge within a certain time. Even using the only source we have, this is speculative.
When did the priests learn of this claim, using the source we have? The first confrontation between the believers and Priests is at Acts 4:1-22. Verses 5 & 6 state; “The next day the rulers, elders and teachers of the law met in Jerusalem. Annas the high priest was there and so were Caiaphas, John, Alexander and other men of the high priest’s family.” (Annas is the New Testament equivalent of Ananus.) Is there a way for us to narrow this period of time?
Look back at our list of High Priests. Ananus was a real mover and shaker in the first century. Not only was he the High Priest from 6-15 CE, but his sons, Eleazar, Johnathan, Theophilus, Matthias and Ananus were also High Priests at one time. As well as his son-in-law Caiaphas. Yet Acts 4:6 says Ananus was High Priest. Either this would be 6-15 CE (far, FAR too early) or else 63 CE (far too late.)
However, according to Luke 3:2 (and I agree with the general scholarly consensus the author of Luke and Acts is the same person), the author calls Ananus “high priest” along with Caiaphas at the time of Pilate. It is possible Ananus continued to have the honorific “High Priest” even though he no longer held office. (A modern day equivalent would be how Bill Clinton is still called “Mr. President” even though he does not still hold that office.)
But in Luke 3:2, the author refers to Caiaphas as being a joint High Priest with Ananus, whereas in Acts 4:6, the only person called a High priest was Ananus. Further, the author mentions John (the High priest after Caiaphas) and “other men of the high priest’s family” without explaining who was the actual High Priest at the time. Evidently, the author was uncertain as to who the High priest was at this time! During the time of Pilate, the author was clear Caiaphas was High Priest. Luke 3:2. Yet at the time of this confrontation, the author is no longer aware as to who the High Priest is!
Simply put, even the author of Acts does not know if Caiaphas was still the High Priest, or whether Jonathan had succeeded him. If even the author was uncertain if this event occurred before or after 36 CE (the change of High Priest) how can the apologist state it occurred within a relatively short period of time after Jesus’ death? By 37 CE it is far too late to produce a body.
This Christian canard is stretched too thin on the timing.
Of course, one could claim the author of Acts was indistinct regarding chronology. I am uncertain how persuasive it is to claim the reason we should consider the author reliable as to what the Disciples said is because s/he is UNreliable as to dating! There are more examples of this problem with this author. We have already looked at Paul, in addition we have the situation of Acts indicating a famine happened prior to King Agrippa, whereas it actually happened after. Acts. 11:27-30. And we also have the problem of Acts 24:1 & 27 in which Ananias the high priest communicates with Felix (if you look at the lists above, the only possible date for this transaction would be 52 CE) yet says Felix was replaced two (2) years later with Festus. That did not happen until 60 CE.
The only source we have regarding what people did or did not do; what people did or not do at an unclear time after Jesus died demonstrates questionable reliability as to dates, times and people. Why would a skeptic consider this reliable evidence? Why is it persuasive?
So now…if a priest in 37 CE, decided to hunt down Jesus’ body, he would expect to travel to Galilee to look for Jesus’ ossuary at his family tomb, wherever it may be. Even knowing this information, would it be possible to enter the tomb, take the ossuary, and then produce it to Christians as proof Jesus’ body was not physically resurrected?
Probably not. We have an interesting slab called the Nazareth Inscription which makes it a capital offense to remove property from another person’s tomb. The impression given in this polemic is all the priests have to do is want to “go in and get the body” and they would have the authority, even the right to do so. Whatever authority the High Priest had, it most certainly did NOT trump Roman law.
The priests would have to ask a Roman Governor for permission to enter a tomb. Again, the only relevant time would limit us to Pilate, if Jesus remained in a Judean tomb. Would Pilate give permission? To guess either way would be speculative.
Which sums up the problem with this argument—it is too speculative. We are forced to speculate as to the Priests’ motives, implanting in them knowledge we currently have. We would have them picking out the religion that managed to flourish rather than flop out of the various offerings. We have a huge timing issue, as to how quickly the priests would have been informed of this tale, and the problem of the ability to obtain the body, even if the motivation was there.
I am uncertain as to how “Why didn’t the Priests show the Body?” could ever convince a skeptic.