Was Jesus Buried?

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

BY: John Dominic Crossan


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....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 high priest like Caiaphas, sensitive to Roman political concerns, there is one possibility left. The body of a crucified person could be released to friends or relatives as an act of mercy. We have explicit mention of that in a text from Philo. In his attack on A. Avillius Flaccus, governor of Egypt, Philo mentions two ways that decent governors, as distinct from Flaccus, handle crucifixions on festal occasions. They either postpone them, as seen in a text quoted earlier in discussing Barabbas, or they allow burial:

I have know cases when on the eve of a holiday of this kind [imperial birthdays], people who have been crucified have been taken down and their bodies delivered to their kinsfolk, because it was thought well to give them burial and allow them the ordinary rites. For it was meet that the dead also should have the advantage of some kind treatment upon the birthday of the 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, we now have both material as well as textual evidence for their possibility.

...However it was managed, be it through bribery, mercy, or indifference, a crucified person could receive honorable burial in the family tomb in the early or middle first-century Jewish homeland. Second, with all those thousands 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 the rule, 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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