Den of Lambs

Christian Defense of the Faith


February 2016

Joseph of Arimathea

‘Later, Joseph of Arimathea asked Pilate for the body of Jesus. Now Joseph was a disciple of Jesus, but secretly because he feared the Jewish leaders. With Pilate’s permission, he came and took the body away. He was accompanied by Nicodemus, the man who earlier had visited Jesus at night. Nicodemus brought a mixture of myrrh and aloes, about seventy-five pounds. Taking Jesus’ body, the two of them wrapped it, with the spices, in strips of linen. This was in accordance with Jewish burial customs. At the place where Jesus was crucified, there was a garden, and in the garden a new tomb, in which no one had ever been laid. Because it was the Jewish day of Preparation and since the tomb was nearby, they laid Jesus there.’ John 19:38-42

According to the four cannonical Gospels, Joseph of Arimathea was the member of the Jewish Sanhedrin who donated his own tomb for Jesus’ burial. This fact is important because it would show that the place where Jesus was buried was known to the Jews, the Romans, and the followers of Jesus. The significance of this is that the disciples could never have proclaimed the resurrection of Jesus, in Jerusalem, if there were a tomb containing his body.

New Testament historians have established this fact on the basis of:

Jesus’ burial is attested in the very old tradition quoted by Paul in his first letter to the Corinthians. ‘For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, and then to the Twelve. ‘ 1 Corinthians 14:3-5. This four line formula has convinced New Testament scholars that this highly stylized formula was Paul, quoting from an old tradition that he himself had received. This memorized tradition could possibly be traced back to Paul’s journey to Jerusalem around A.D. 36 when he spent fifteen days with the disciples Peter (Cephas) and James. Paul’s receipt of this tradition could date to within 6 years of Jesus’ crucifixion which occurred around A.D. 30. This time span is so short that distortion and legend can feasibly be ruled out. In the words of Jacob Kremer, an Austrian specialist on the resurrection, “By far most exegetes hold firmly to the reliability of the biblical statements concerning the empty tomb.”1

The burial of Jesus is part of very old source material used by Mark, who most contemporary scholars regard as the earliest gospel. The gospels tend to consist of brief anecdotes of Jesus’ life and ministry which are only loosely connected and are often not in chronological order which is a trait of ancient historical writings. The Passion Story, or the final week of Jesus’ suffering leading up to and including his crucifixion, however, is a continuous narrative. This suggests, again according to New Testament historians, that this was one of the sources that Mark used in his writing. Since Mark was the earliest gospel, his source material must have been earlier still, which dates his writings conservatively to between A.D. 55 and A.D. 70. As a member of the Jewish court that condemned Jesus to death, Joseph of Arimathea is unlikely a Christian invention. There was an understandable hostility in the early church toward the Jewish leaders. In Christian eyes, they had engineered a judicial murder of Jesus. Thus, according to the late New Testament scholar Raymond Brown, Jesus’ burial by Joseph is “very probable,” since it is “almost inexplicable” why Christians would make up a story about a Jewish Sanhedrist who does what is right by Jesus.2

No competing burial story exists. If the burial story about Joseph were fictitious, we would expect to find either another historical trace of what actually happened to Jesus corpse or a competing legend of what happened. But all independent sources are unanimous to ascribing to Joseph the interment of Jesus in the tomb. “The burial of Jesus in a tomb is one of the earliest and best attested facts about Jesus.” John A.T. Robinson of Cambridge University3

[1] Jacob Kremer, Die Osterevangelien–Geschichten um Geschichte (Stuttgart: Katholisches Bibelwerk, 1977), pp. 49-50.

[2] Raymond E. Brown, The Death of the Messiah, 2 vols. (Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, 1994), 2: 1240-1.

[3] John A.T. Robinson, The Human Face of God, (Philadephia: Westminster, 1973), 131.

Dead Sea Scrolls

Dead Sea Scrolls QumranThe History of the Scrolls

In 1947, a Bedouin shepherd named Ahmed el-Dhib was searching for his lost goat and came upon a small opening of a cave in the Qumran desert. Thinking that his goat was inside, he threw rocks into the cave to scare out the goat. Instead, he heard a sound like the shattering of clay pottery. Entering the cave, the shepherd discovered several sealed jars. Opening them, he found the jars contained leather scrolls. He brought several of the scrolls to an antiquities dealer in Bethlehem named Khando. Khando, in turn, brought them to a Syrian Orthodox Archbishop named Mar (Athanasius) Samuel. Mar Samuel then brought the scrolls to John Trevor at the American School of Oriental Research. Trevor contacted the world’s foremost Middle East archaeologist, Dr. William Albright, and together these men confirmed the antiquity of the scrolls and dated them to sometime between the first and second century B.C.

Dead Sea Scrolls - IsaiahAfter the initial discovery, archaeologists searched other nearby caves between 1952-1956 and found ten that contained thousands of ancient documents. These documents came to be known as the Dead Sea Scrolls.

Age of the Scrolls

Until the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls in 1947, the Masoretic Aleppo Codex (dating to A.D. 935) [1] was the oldest Hebrew text of the Old Testament.

Three tools were used to date the scrolls: Three types of dating tools were used: tools from archaeology, paleography and orthography, and the carbon-14 dating method. All of these methods arrived at the same conclusion; that the scrolls date as early as the third century B.C. to the first century A.D.[2]  archeologists now had manuscripts that predated the Masoretic Text by at least one thousand years.

The Contents of the Scrolls

Anxious to see how the Dead Sea Text would match up with the Masoretic Text, the Dead Sea Scrolls were found to be almost identical with the Masoretic text, which lead scholars to conclude that the Dead Sea Scrolls give substantial confirmation that the Old Testament has been accurately preserved.

Hebrew Scholar Millar Burrows writes, “It is a matter of wonder that through something like one thousand years the text underwent so little alteration. As I said in my first article on the scroll, ‘Herein lies its chief importance, supporting the fidelity of the Masoretic tradition.’”[3]

Old Testament scholar Gleason Archer examined the two Isaiah and wrote, “Even though the two copies of Isaiah discovered in Qumran Cave 1 near the Dead Sea in 1947 were a thousand years earlier than the oldest dated manuscript previously known (A.D. 980), they proved to be word for word identical with our standard Hebrew Bible in more than 95 percent of the text. The five percent of variation consisted chiefly of obvious slips of the pen and variations in spelling.”[4]

The Significance of the ScrollsDead Sea Scrolls 1

The Dead Sea Scrolls have proven to be significant in confirming the accurate preservation of our Old Testament text and thereby reinforcing the validity and the historical claims of the Bible.

[1] Randall Price, Secrets of the Dead Sea Scrolls. Eugene, OR.: Harvest House, 1996. 280

[2] James Vanderkam and Peter Flint, The Meaning of the Dead Sea Scrolls (San Francisco, CA.: Harper Collins Publishers, 2002), 20-32.

[3] Millar Burrows, The Dead Sea Scrolls (New York: Viking Press, 1955), 304, quoted in Norman Geisler and William Nix, General Introduction to the Bible (Chicago: Moody Press 1986), 367.

[4] Archer, Gleason. A Survey of Old Testament Introduction. Chicago: Moody Press, 1

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