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Temporary Tomb
Written August 12, 2017

 

Background:  Here's another in my series of fictional talk shows.  I've previously enabled Brother Billy to "interview" the Apostle Paul and the author of Ecclesiastes by putting their scriptural words into a new context.  However, in this case our guest is never quoted in the Bible, so I'll have to make up both parts of the dialogue.  Maybe I'll get on the intercom to add a comment or two myself, "from the control room."

 

Welcome back to IT'S IN THE BIBLE.  I'm Brother Billy.

It is indeed a miracle that my next guest is able to join us.  I mean that literally.  He has miraculously been transported two thousand years, from the time of Jesus to our own time here today!

It is truly a miracle.  I have been in a constant state of amazement since I arrived.  You, sir — “Billy,” is it?  Do you have an explanation for my travel through time?  Any explanation at all?

I do not, but I thank God for it, as it has given me the opportunity to meet you.  Ladies and gentlemen —

And to whom are you speaking?  No one else is here.

— may I present the honorable Joseph, from the Judean city of Arimathea.  Luke 23:50-51 

My greetings to you, Billy.  And to your supposed audience, ghostly and invisible though they be.

We are all honored.  We know you as a member of the Jewish Sanhedrin, correct?

I am.  Or I was.  Whichever.

And you were present when Jesus was crucified.

Jesus the Nazarene, yes.  Some said he was the Messiah, the King of the Jews.  John 18:33 

We believe him to be so, even today.

Well, that did present a difficulty.  At least it was a problem for the Roman government.  They couldn't allow their authority over Judea to be challenged by a  pretender to the Judean throne.  So they nailed the traitor up to die.

So sad.

It was the time of Passover.  It was on the day of preparation, the day before the Sabbath.  Luke 23:54 

We call that day “Good Friday” now.

How ironic to call it “Good.”  And “Friday,” you say?  I wasn't familiar with that term, but since arriving here I've heard the pagans thanking their god Fri for it.

What?

They said, “Thank God it's Fri Day.”

No, no, we don't believe in any god “Fri.”  We all believe in the one true God!

 

 
A comment from the control room:

The name “Friday” does honor a god called Freyja.  A goddess, actually.

Who said that?  A disembodied voice from heaven!

Just ignore it.  Let's get back to the crucifixion.  I understand that criminals sometimes hung on the cross in agony for days before dying.

Uh, yes, that's true.  And sometimes the Romans would add to the humiliation by leaving the body there even after death.  For a week!  We Jews find that abhorrent.  We never allow the body of an executed man to hang overnight.

Really?  Is that a rule?

It's a law.  God's Law.  I quote from the 21st chapter of Deuteronomy:  “When a man hath committed a crime for which he is to be punished with death, and being condemned to die is hanged on a gibbet, his body shall not remain upon the tree, but shall be buried the same day.”

Hmm.  Ah yes, here it is, the 22nd verse.  You are correct, Joseph.  IT'S IN THE BIBLE.

And even today, in your millennium, people obey the ancient Scripture.  Or so I've been told.

Of course.  The Bible is the infallible Word of God.

You faithfully observe all the commandments?

Every word.  Even the Old Testament.

The what?

The older part of Scripture.  The section that was written before the time of Jesus.

But do you honor it?  Earlier today I saw people eating shrimp.  The Law does not allow that.

Well....

And they were using coins bearing graven images of their rulers.  And I was told that their clothing was woven from wool and cotton intermingled.  And the men's beards were....

Well, perhaps we don't observe every jot and tittle of the Old Testament.  Matthew 5:18  But we still revere the Bible as a whole.  It is the Word of God.  It is holy.  It contains no error.

How can you honor all of it, while at the same time dishonoring parts of it?  Truthfully, that is itself a miracle.

We're getting off the subject again.  I'm speaking with Joseph of Arimathea, who has been recalling the crucifixion of Jesus.

Ah, yes.  Well, the supposed King of the Jews expired rather quickly.  The authorities hadn't expected that.  Mark 15:44  As I said, by Law the corpse of the executed criminal must be interred the same day, but now it was already past three o'clock and there was no time to dig a proper grave.  Matthew 27:45, Mark 15:33  In a few hours, after sundown, it would be the Sabbath, and of course there could be no digging at all on the day of rest.

So what did you do?

Ordinary people bury their dead in a hole in the ground, but upper-class people like myself have a different custom.  We do not consign the cadaver into the depths, but rather lay it to rest in an above-ground tomb, cut from the rock.  We seal it inside for about a year until the flesh rots away.  Then we open the tomb and collect the dry bones and put them in a stone box called an ossuary, where they may be venerated forever after.

Our customs today are somewhat different.

It happened that I had recently commissioned a new tomb for myself and my family.  John 19:41  It was in a garden near the execution site, so I volunteered it as a temporary resting place for the body of Jesus until the Sabbath was over.  Matthew 27:57   Afterwards his corpse could be buried conventionally.  I asked the Roman officials to allow me to handle these arrangements.  Mark 15:43 

That was very kind of you.

Thank you, but I didn't consider it merely a generous offer.  I had a positive obligation to see that the Law was followed.  A Jewish man had been executed, and his corpse had to be treated properly.  There was quite a bit of confusion, of course.  My assistants and I had to hurriedly buy a linen shroud and take down the body and move it, so that we could close up the tomb before sundown.  Matthew 27:59-60 

Did any of Jesus's disciples offer to help?

No, they all had disappeared.  Went into hiding, I suppose.  We did notice some of his women followers huddled in the distance, watching us.  They saw where we laid the body, but they were afraid to approach us.  They didn't even talk to my gardener Jonathan, who was standing by.  No one explained to them that our actions were merely a temporary expedient.  Mark 15:47, Luke 23:55 

This was late on Friday afternoon.

That's correct.  Now I may be charitable, but I had no intention of allowing a criminal's corpse to defile my family tomb any longer than necessary.  He wasn't even a relative.  Twenty-four hours was long enough.  Therefore after the next day, as soon as the sun had gone down and the Sabbath was over, I sent two young men to the garden with instructions to transfer the body to a permanent resting place.

My assistants were wearing white robes and there's always a full moon at Passover, so they had no difficulty seeing what they were doing.  They removed the linen and set it aside, because I had paid for it and I wanted it back.  Then they carried the corpse to the convicts' burying ground and dropped it into a trench.

 

Another comment from the control room:

Elsewhere, Nicodemus has provided a somewhat different account of that Saturday night.  In places, these stories seem to contradict each other.

But the same might be said of the Bible itself, couldn't it, Brother Billy?  Please continue.

Uh, yes, thank you.  So Joseph, were you there when they laid him in the grave?

I was not, but I assumed that would conclude the matter.  However, I was mistaken.  Jonathan tells me that the following morning, around sunrise, those same women returned to the garden to pay their respects.  Mark 16:2  They located the place where they had seen us lay Jesus.  But now it was empty.  Luke 24:2-3 

Oh, rapture!  Did they exclaim with joy at this wonderful sight?

Quite the opposite.  They became frantic.  One of them cried, "They've taken our Lord out of the tomb, and we don't know where they've laid him!"  John 20:2  They wondered if angels had somehow intervened.  Matthew 28:2-7  Then these crazy women got the idea that Jesus must have come back to life and simply walked out of the tomb on his own! 

The resurrection of the dead!  That certainly would qualify as a miracle, don't you agree?

If it were true.  One of the women even thought Jonathan the gardener was Jesus!  John 20:14-16  They ran into town and brought their menfolk out to see the empty tomb.  Matthew 28:8  The men confirmed that it no longer contained a corpse, although my linen was still lying there.  So they jumped to an unwarranted conclusion.  For them, the empty tomb was proof that Jesus had risen!  John 20:6-7  Therefore, they themselves no longer had to fear death!  They began telling their “news” to anyone who would listen.  John 20:18   

Did you try to give them your version of what happened?

I did, but they desperately wanted to believe that their Jesus was alive.  They refused to listen to me or anyone else.  They clung to the legend they were writing.

Eventually that miracle was recorded by four independent witnesses who wrote four separate gospels.

Yet another interruption from the control room:

Your witnesses couldn't even agree on their four different stories!  What exactly happened on Easter morning?

Did one woman visit the tomb, or several?  John 20:1 / Luke 24:10 

Was the sun up, or was it still dark?  Mark 16:2 / John 20:1 

Did they see an angel open the tomb, or was the stone already rolled away?  Matthew 28:2 / Mark 16:4 

How many angels were there — one outside the tomb?  One inside?  Two inside?  Matthew 28:2 / Mark 16:5 / Luke 24:4  And what did they say?  Matthew 28:5-7 / Mark 16:6-7 / Luke 24:5-7 / John 20:13 

And did Jesus afterwards gather his disciples on the nearby hill called Olivet and ascend into a cloud, or did he return to Galilee to meet the disciples there?  Acts 1:4-12 / Mark 16:7 

“Yes” to everything!  All those facts are part of the story.  IT'S IN THE BIBLE.

May I quote a professor from New Haven?

I've lost control of my show!  But you are in the control room.

This sociologist* recalls the man who terrorized a pizza shop in 2016 after hearing that Hillary Clinton — the devil herself — was running a child sex-slave ring out of the basement.  It was a conspiracy fantasy, of course.  The shop didn't even have a basement.

“A legend is told as though it might be real.  Multiple versions can be found with varying details, because legends constantly change to suit the narrator and the locale in which they are told.

“A person may travel to the alleged site of the story to investigate its validity directly.  He will frequently participate in intense discussions with others over the legend and its claims.  ‘We determine what is correct by finding out what other people think is correct.’

“It is difficult for most people to admit they were wrong when they have committed strongly to a belief.  Legends reveal deeper truths about those who tell them, reflecting their hopes, fears, and anxieties.” 

Pardon the interruption, Brother Billy.  And now I see we're almost out of time.

Yes, we certainly are.  Ahem.  My apologies to Joseph of Arimathea for all these intrusions.  But I do have one last question.  After Jesus's tomb was found to be empty, what did his disciples say to you?

They challenged me.  “If you had the body moved, then show it to us.”  But I couldn't.  I don't know the exact location of the trench.  “And why can't you produce a corpse?” they retorted.  “Because there is none!  God has raised Jesus up into heaven!”

And there he took his seat at the right hand of God's majesty!  Hebrews 1:3 

What?

Yea, sovereignty over the world has passed to our Lord and to His Christ, and He shall reign forever and ever!  Revelation 11:15  

Where did you get that idea?  From what I've been able to observe here in this millennium, the kingdoms of this world are still in charge. 

No, in this final age, God's Son sustains the universe by his word of power!  Hebrews 1:2-3  We know this is true, because IT'S IN THE BIBLE.

 

TBT

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*Jeffrey S. Debies-Carl writing in Skeptical Inquirer, Nov/Dec 2017

 
Other IT'S IN THE BIBLE interviews:

Solomon Redner

Talking with Paul

Breath of Life

Tucksey