Was Jesus Buried?

A scholar looks at what might be expected to happen to the body of a crucified criminal in Roman practice

Continued from page 1

If a slave were to say to me, "I never stole nor ran away": my reply wouldbe, "you have your reward; you are not flogged." [If a slave were to say tome,] "I never killed anyone":[my reply would be,] "You'll hang on no crossto feed crows." (Epistles I.16:46-48)

Crucifieds were left, kept, or guarded on the cross even after death if therewas any chance that relatives or friends might take them down for properburial before it was absolutely too late. Such an act would be, of course,extremely dangerous unless done with bribes or permissions.

....Even if Deuteronomy 21:22-23* was ignored in the Jewish homeland under, say,a governor like Pilate, insensitive to Jewish religious concerns, and a highpriest like Caiaphas, sensitive to Roman political concerns, there is onepossibility left. The body of a crucified person could be released tofriends or relatives as an act of mercy. We have explicit mention of thatin a text from Philo. In his attack on A. Avillius Flaccus, governor ofEgypt, Philo mentions two ways that decent governors, as distinct fromFlaccus, handle crucifixions on festal occasions. They either postponethem, as seen in a text quoted earlier in discussing Barabbas, or they allowburial:

I have know cases when on the eve of a holiday of this kind [imperialbirthdays], people who have been crucified have been taken down and theirbodies delivered to their kinsfolk, because it was thought well to give themburial and allow them the ordinary rites. For it was meet that the deadalso should have the advantage of some kind treatment upon the birthday ofthe emperor and also that the sanctity of the festival should be maintained.But Flaccus gave no orders to take down those who had died on the cross.(Against Flaccus 83)

Burial of crucifieds by their families is certainly possible. In fact, wenow have both material as well as textual evidence for their possibility.

...However it was managed, be it through bribery, mercy, or indifference, acrucified person could receive honorable burial in the family tomb in theearly or middle first-century Jewish homeland. Second, with all thosethousands of people crucified around Jerusalem in the first century alone,we have so far found only a single crucified skeleton, and that, of course,preserved in an ossuary. Was burial, then, the exception rather than therule, the extraordinary rather than the ordinary case?


* Deuteronomy 21:22-23

If a person commits a sin punishable by death and is executed, and is then hung on a tree, his body must not remain all night on the tree; instead you must bury him that same day, for the one who is hung on a tree is cursed by God.

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