Writing in the Catholic Biblical Quarterly on Mark's account of the
burial of Jesus (15:42-47), Raymond E. Brown, S.S., contends that Joseph of
Arimathea was not an adherent of Jesus, but buried him anyway, ignominiously, in
a criminal's grave, out of respect for the approaching Sabbath, and also in
compliance with Deut 21:22-23 which (as it had come to be interpreted) commanded
the burial of crucified criminals before sunset of the day of execution.1
Brown challenges, not the veracity of Mark's burial account, but rather the
usual understanding of it (Joseph an adherent of Jesus, whom he buried
honorably, in his own grave). It is rather the veracity of the other
Gospels that is disputed, insofar as these support the customary interpretation
of Mark. It is very possible, he says, that Matthew and Luke have changed
and developed Mark's outlook (233); neither they nor John offer much plausible
historical data about Joseph's burial of Jesus beyond what is in Mark (234). An
earlier and briefer version of these views was proposed in the same scholar's The
Virginal Conception and Bodily Resurrection of Jesus Christ.2
The late Msgr. Shea submits that the usual understanding of the Markan passage
is correct, and in support of this position offers the following scrutiny of Mk
15:42-47, and of Brown's treatment of that passage.
Raymond Brown begins with the evangelist's statement (v. 43) that Joseph was a
"respected (euschemon) councillor (bouleutes)" (238-239). We
take the latter term first. Brown thinks it means Joseph was a member of
the Great Sanhedrin, the Jerusalem Sanhedrin, not just of some lesser council.
And rightly so, given the absence of any indication that a lesser council is
meant,3 plus the consideration that a mere member of an inferior body would not
have had the "clout" needed to gain access to Pilate, as will be seen later.
True, Brown finds it curious that Mark uses this Greek word here for the first
and only time, but W. Lane plausibly explains that the evangelist chose the word
with Gentile readers in mind.4
Councillor Joseph is described as euschemon, a word which has met with a
wide variety of translations. Joachim Jeremias, for one, thought it meant
the Sanhedrist was rich,5 but this has not found much favor: if Mark had
wanted to declare Joseph's wealth, would he not have used plousios, as
elsewhere (10:25; 12:41), instead of the ambiguous euschemon.6 Brown opts
for "respected," but he lists also, seemingly as acceptable, "prominent,"
"honorable," "outstanding" (238 with note 20).
Other renderings by translators and commentators are: reputable, decent,
well-respected, honored, distinguished, comely, noble = of the nobility; noble =
upright, virtuous; in good standing; and finally, of good position,7 of high
rank8 of some distinction in the Sanhedrin.9
Which translation is on target? Since the rest of Mark's burial account
wastes no words, one may assume that euschemon is vital to the report,
does not assert anything irrelevant, such as Joseph's appearance, or social
graces, or affability. Nor can it be affirming something that would be
self-understood of a senator, that is, a quality verifiable of all by reason of
their membership in the highest Jewish civil and religious body, as well as
their pure Israelitic ancestry.10 Nor does it wish to declare Joseph to be
upright, virtuous or the like, since his high moral character is implicit in the
following clause, "who was also himself looking for the kingdom of God" (v. 43).
Thus we are left with the conclusion that the euschemon>of v. 43 means
"of good position," "of high rank," "of some distinction in the Sanhedrin,"
taken as ascribing to Joseph some sort of preeminence in the Sanhedrin. In
that body there was a group known as the high priest's consistory,11 and it must
be that Mark is saying Joseph belonged to this top echelon. Such could be
Bruce Vawter's understanding of euschemon, when he describes Joseph as a
"leading" member of the Sanhedrin.12
This interpretation of Mark, not found in Brown, supports the usual
understanding of Mark's burial account. Vawter rejected a Markan Joseph
similar to Brown's with the reflection that it would be difficult to explain why
Joseph went to all the trouble he did for someone in whom he did not take a
personal interest.13 Vawter's reflection becomes all the more telling when
we think of Joseph as a high-ranking, a "leading," Sanhedrist, with many
responsibilities and things to do, whereas there were, surely, others who were
less busy, but no less zealous for the sanctity of the Sabbath and for
compliance with Deut 21:22-23, who could do the burying.
Our attention is next directed to the fact that Mark does not term Joseph a
"disciple." Seeking to exploit this, the article argues that, had Mark
wished to describe the burial of Jesus as one performed by a disciple, he could
easily have done so, as when he told of the interment of John the Baptist (6:29)
by "his disciples" (240).
It is surprising to find Brown arguing in this way. For he attended the
reading of a paper by Joseph Blinzler at the Symposium of 1979 held in Rome on
the Resurrection, wherein this scholar pointed out that Mark reserves the term
"disciple" for those who accompanied Jesus on his journeys14 (while remaining
well aware there were others who were attached to Jesus in various degrees:
see, e.g., 2:2.12; 3:7; 10:1.46-49).
Therefore it is not enough to note that Mark does not call Joseph a disciple;
one must further establish that Mark's Joseph was not attached to Jesus in any
degree at all.
And in fact Brown tries to do just that, by appealing to the phrase "the whole
Sanhedrin," which Mark uses twice (14:55; 15:1) for the Jewish authorities who
had decided on Jesus' death (239). From this phrase Brown concludes that
nothing would dispose the reader to think of Sanhedrist Joseph as a follower of
Assuredly, no follower of Jesus would have voted for his death. But that
Joseph did thus vote is far from certain, since the texts in question readily
admit of other interpretations, compatible with the usual view of Mark.
For one, Joseph was not present at the proceedings against Jesus.15 Or
else the phrase "the whole Sanhedrin" _ and the "all" of Mk 14:64 _ are
instances of the hyperboles found frequently in Mark, and in other Gospels, as
well as elsewhere in Jewish literature.16
Unlike Brown's understanding of Mark, neither interpretation puts the evangelist
in conflict with Jn 19:38 (Joseph a disciple [John's terminology differs from
Mark's]), or with Mt 27:57 (Joseph a disciple; or, attached to Jesus17).
And both do justice to John's assertion that some authorities (i.e., Sanhedrists)
were pro-Jesus.18 As to the statement of Luke 23:51 that Joseph had not
consented to the Sanhedrin's purpose and deed, it can, of course, signify that
Joseph did not attend the Council session, or that he was present and voted
"no," or else abstained.
Brown next takes
up Mark's description of Joseph as one "who also himself was looking for the
kingdom of God" (v. 43). This does not necessarily mean, we are told, that
Joseph was an adherent of Jesus, because Mark includes, among seekers after the
kingdom, pious observers of the law who were outside the circle of Jesus'
Conceding that anyone looking for the kingdom would be an observer of the law,
we must still wonder why Mark, understood as Brown understands him, introduces
Joseph in that way. The expression, "who was himself also looking for the
kingdom of God" clearly suggests an expectancy of something which has yet to
come to pass, or at least is not yet possessed. It can hardly refer to
something already existing and in hand _ the law.
If concern for the law was Joseph's motive in going to Pilate, it seems more
likely that Mark would have called him "devout" (eulabeis).19 That
he instead has Joseph "looking for the kingdom of God" intimates the Sanhedrist
was a follower of Jesus.
In behalf of this view one could cite a great number of noted New Testament
scholars for whom Mark's clause, of itself, or when taken in its context,
bespeaks an attachment of Joseph to Jesus. A selection must suffice.
J. Blinzler reasoned that the expression must be taken as ranking our Joseph
among Jesus' adherents.20 Elsewhere he says the courageous, great-hearted,
reverent actions of Joseph, reported in Mk 15:43-46, clearly show his attachment
to and love of Jesus.21
For William Lane, Joseph's earnest expectation of the coming redemption had
apparently attracted him to Jesus and his teaching about the kingdom of God.22
Mark's statement about Joseph seeking God's kingdom led Rudolph Schnackenburg to
conclude the Sanhedrist had obviously been impressed by Jesus' teaching.23
D. E. Nineham conceded "looking for the kingdom of God" may mean Joseph expected
it to be brought by Jesus and that he was a disciple.24
H. C. Kee couples "looking for the kingdom of God" with Joseph's courageous
request to Pilate (v. 43) to arrive at the conclusion that Joseph had responded
to Jesus' announcement about the dawning of the kingdom.25 Mark's
assertion about Joseph and the kingdom moved Henry Swete to deem Joseph a secret
disciple.26 C. H. Dodd thought it implied Joseph was friendly to Jesus,
and perhaps a potential
Bruce Vawter rounded out his above-mentioned rejection of a theory like Brown's
with the remark that, furthermore, "Mark's observation that 'he too was looking
forward to the kingdom of God,' we may be sure, was not idly written."
Finally, Brown himself says in effect that Mark may have subtly suggested Joseph
was pro-Jesus by describing him as one "who was also himself looking for the
kingdom of God!" (245).
Before we leave the topic of Joseph's motive for burying Jesus, we may put the
question: if the motive was zeal for the Sabbath and the law, why did not
that zeal extend also to Jesus' two crucified companions, spoken of in Mk 15:27?
Mk 15:43 indicates Joseph needed courage to approach Pilate with his request for
the body of Jesus. Brown believes this poses a difficulty no matter what
view one has of Joseph (241). But this is not true for the usual
understanding of Joseph. One can readily account for his need of courage
vis-a-vis Pilate. Joseph's plea would have been irksome to the Prefect,
because he had already been approached in this matter (Jn 19:31), and would have
to reverse, as to Jesus, the decision he had made on that occasion. This
reversal would open the door to more wrangling with the Jewish authorities (see
Jn 19:21-22) who had made the first request.28 Add to this that Joseph
would be coming with his petition well after the close of Pilate's working day,
which, like that of all Roman officials, had begun around dawn and ended at
noon.29 There is no basis for the suggestion that Joseph's need of courage
stemmed from the fact that Jesus had been crucified for treason, and to request
his body for burial might implicate Joseph in the treason.30 For, after
all, Pilate did not really think Jesus was a traitor.31
The further import of Mk 15:43-44 for our discussion should not be overlooked.
According to the Greek text of v. 43 (eiselthen), Joseph "went in to
Pilate" (Lattimore: "went into the presence of Pilate"32). So
determined was Joseph to obtain the body of Jesus for decent burial that he
ignored the Jewish ban (lest one incur ritual impurity) on entering a Gentile's
quarters (see Jn 18:29), in the hope that this gesture would help win a
favorable response to his request.33
So we find Joseph on Pilate's "turf," and in the role of a suppliant. He,
the high-ranking Sanhedrist, entreats the Prefect; he, the pure-blooded
Israelite, beseeches the Gentile, Pilate.34 And thePrefect, after obtaining verification of Jesus' death from the centurion
(v. 45), graciously granted, freely gave (edoresato) the corpse to
All this is readily intelligible of Joseph as usually understood, but not of
Brown's Joseph. There would be no reason for the latter to go against his
Jewish grain and enter a Gentile habitat, no reason to plead with Pilate, no
place for graciousness on the Prefect's part. In office since 26 A.D.,
Pilate must have known of Jewish concern for the Sabbath and the dictates of
Deut 21:22-23, and would have been prepared for, and ready to comply with, a
request for timely removal and burial of the crucified. No doubt, a
liaison officer was posted outside his quarters to receive and forward messages
from the Jewish authorities. Notice that Jn 19:31 tells of the latter's
request put to Pilate, but not of the Prefect's assent _ so routine was this
that it could be left to be understood.
Reply may be made at this point to the surmise (241) that Pilate would not have
been apt to release the body of a crucified would-be-king to a follower or
sympathizer. Even if Pilate thought of Jesus as a would-be-king, he had no
reason to fear his followers would abuse the concession of the body (by making a
hero of the "king of the Jews" and a shrine or rallying point out of his tomb).
For they would know that such conduct would surely result in destruction of the
tomb, and for the body of Jesus the abhorred fate of cremation.36 Pilate's
ability and will to act quickly and ruthlessly against demonstrators was common
knowledge (see Lk 13:1). Moreover, Joseph was a man of wealth and his
fortune could be confiscated.
We move on now with Brown as he seeks (242-243) to determine the kind
of burial given Jesus _ honorable or dishonorable? Inexplicably, in this
task he completely ignores the import of the Greek word used by Mark for the
cloth Joseph bought to shroud the body of Jesus (v. 46): sindon.
It regularly means a fine (finely woven) fabric, most often linen, but sometimes
cotton.37 Brown does not advert to the fine quality of the shroud;38 in
fact his article does not even mention sindon.
Although not the most expensive,39 nevertheless such material was costly.
From the fact that the "young man" of Mk 14:51 was clad in a sindon
commentators conclude he was from a well-to-do family.40 Certainly it was
not the grade of material a non-adherent would buy for the dishonorable burial
of an executed malefactor.
Therefore Mark's sindon signals, and according to J. Blinzler41 was meant
to signal, the dignity of the burial. W. Lane asserts that Mark's detail
about the wrapping of Jesus' body in fine linen indicates he was given an
honorable burial.42 D. Daube makes the point that when Joseph is said to
have bought a linen cloth, therefore not using just any cloth that was to hand,
this was to
eliminate any suggestion of shame marking the burial.43 The significance
of the linen bought for Jesus' burial mounts, if at the time of Jesus executed
criminals were buried "in ragged, torn, old, dirty winding sheets."44 Be
that as it may, the sindon of Mk 15:46 thoroughly refutes Brown's dictum
(242) that nothing in Mark's burial account suggests an honorable burial for
But does not Mark's Greek word for "wrapped" (eneilesen, v. 46) hint at a
dishonorable burial, as Brown imagines? He terms the verb "pedestrian,"
and opines that the substitution of a different verb in Matthew and Luke
represents the first step in the (alleged) upgrading of the burial to an
honorable one (242-243). C. S. Mann, however, observes that Mark's verb
has a wide range of meanings, including the quite neutral sense of "to wrap."45
One may, therefore, and in view of Mark's sindon, one must rule out
Brown's "pedestrian" sense of the verb.
What of other amenities regarded as requisite for an honorable burial _ washing
and anointing of the corpse? Mark makes no mention of these, and Brown
argues from this that they were really and deliberately omitted, in keeping with
an ignominious burial (242).
Many others likewise believe washing and anointing were omitted, but simply
because there was not enough time. Blinzler, however, maintained (in the
paper read in Rome) that these services were rendered but Mark did not need to
report these customary practices: it is their omission that he would have
But, even if these amenities did not take place, must their omission necessarily
spell dishonor to Jesus? After all, in the experience of the Jewish people
there must have been countless situations wherein amenities were omitted, not
willfully, but of necessity (e.g., as in war).47
Various reasons may be advanced to explain why Joseph (and his assistants),
although anxious to do so, may have been unable to provide these services for
Jesus. Lack of time is often proposed as a reason. That aside, there
is Paul Gaechter's suggestion that ointments could not be obtained from the
shops, because the throngs of Passover pilgrims had bought up all the
supplies.48 Gaechter added that this would help account for the large
quantity of scented substances brought by Nicodemus (Jn 19:39): he wished
to compensate in this way for the absence of ointments.
If one thinks it unlikely that the ointments were sold out, Gaechter's basic
idea could still be retained: ointments required preparation from sundry
ingredients (mixing and cooking were involved49) and the supply of ready-to-use
ointments had been bought up, but not the raw materials. These, however,
were useless to Jesus' buriers, because time and the facilities for preparing
ingredients were lacking.
Since the tomb was in a garden (Jn 19:41), cared for by a gardener (see Jn
20:15), water must have been available, from a spring, stream, or brooklet.50
Was the body of Jesus washed? Yes, if with Blinzler (above) one holds Mark
did not think it necessary to report the customary amenities. Others deny
a washing, usually on the grounds of a supposedly hasty burial.
W. Bulst, S.J., formerly of the latter opinion, subsequently offered a different
reason for the omission: a custom, based on the age-old Jewish respect for
blood as the seat of life, of not washing a bloodied corpse before burial.51
The same reason could apply, one may assume, to the omission of an anointing.
In sum, the body of Jesus may or may not have been washed and anointed, but even
if these offices were omitted, unproved is Brown's claim that this would
indicate a dishonorable burial.
So much for the modalities of the interment. The next topic to be
discussed is the burial place _ was that honorable? Of course, the
Sanhedrist's own tomb would have been an honorable burial place. But Brown
denies (243) that the body of Jesus was put there: Jesus' burial place was
near Golgotha, but a wealthy Sanhedrist would not have had his family tomb in
such a locality, i.e., in the immediate vicinity of a place of public execution.
To his contention Brown himself had supplied the beginning of a reply in his
commentary on John: "We are not certain that Golgotha was an habitual
place of execution."52 Indeed, it has been said that it was the custom of
the time not to have a fixed place of execution.53
So it may be that Joseph had obtained the property before Golgotha became an
execution site; appropriate here is Blinzler's remark that we do not know when
or under what circumstances Joseph acquired the property.54 Also
noteworthy here is an earlier remark of Brown, that "the area may have been a
prestigious place for burial."55 Finally, Joseph, being now removed from
Arimathea, and getting along in years (a high-ranking senator!) had need of a
family burial tomb in the environs of Jerusalem, but a suitable one could have
been hard to come by,56 so he may have had to settle for the area near Golgotha,
even if the latter was an execution site. Blinzler added a further thought
on the matter _ the tomb met the Jewish requirement that a human habitation be
at least fifty yards away from a place of execution (he was viewing the garden
as a place of human habitation).57
To return now to Brown's scenario, Jesus' body was, he insists, consigned to a
place meant for the burial of executed Jewish criminals, a cavity chiseled out
of the wall of the execution hill (243).
How well does this contention square with what we can learn from Mark (15:45;
16:3-5) about the burial place of Jesus? Hewn out of rock (v. 46), the
Markan tomb was cut into a hillside. This issues from the fact that, of
the women coming to the sepulchre on Easter, it is said that "looking up, they
saw that the stone was rolled back."58 "Looking up" is the usual sense of
the Greek verb used here (anablepsasai), and there is no good reason to
understand it otherwise.59
Thus the Markan burial site was not a grave dug into an open, flat area of
earth, but rather a cavity in a rocky hillside; and, indeed, a man-made cavity,
"hewn out of the rock" (15:46).
Within it, as can be gathered from Mk 16:5, was a stone bench or shelf, formed
by cutting back the wall. The tomb interior was roomy enough for the
presence of Joseph and an assistant, as they laid the body of Jesus on the
shelf, and for the three women on Easter (16:1.5) and for the "presence" of the
"young man" of Mk 16:5.
After the burial the tomb was made secure by a stone (15:45), a very large one
(16:4), which was rolled against the entry.
Whether there was an anteroom to the burial chamber cannot be ascertained from
Mark. Even so, the Markan tomb has emerged for us as one wrought by
considerable labor, of the sort that belonged to people of high station.60
Hence the Markan
tomb, contrary to Brown, cannot have been a place intended for the burial of an
executed criminal: it is incompatible with the Jewish attitude, mentioned
by Brown (242) that such a person should be buried shamefully.
Nor does Mark's tomb correspond in any other way to what is commonly held about
the place officially appointed for interring executed Jewish criminals.61
By all accounts, this burying place was located far outside the city; but Mark's
tomb was near the city.62
Moreover, the criminal's grave was dug out of the soil, whereas Mark's tomb was
hewn out of rock.63
And, instead of being called a tomb (mnemeion, Mark's term, v. 46), the
burial site for executed criminals was referred to as a "place," or, more
graphically, as a "pit," or "trench," or "ditch."64
Finally, whereas, being on a hill near Jerusalem, Mark's grave was located on
high ground, while the burial place for criminals was down in the boggy lowland
of a valley, in order that the corpses interred there might decompose the more
quickly in the humid atmosphere.65
Obviously, therefore, Brown's vision of an executed criminal's grave, which he
takes the Markan burial place to be, is completely at odds with what is commonly
held about the officially appointed grave for executed Jewish malefactors.
Further, as was seen above, the tomb of Jesus' burial had a shelf or bench,
formed by cutting back the wall.66 Surely, such a refinement, honorific as
well as entailing some expense, would not be a feature of an executed felon's
grave, even if this were a cave.
That Mark did not understand Jesus' burial place to be one for a criminal may
also be argued from his designation of it as a mnemeion (15:46b; 16:2).
This word signifies "a token of remembrance," "a commemorative monument," that
is, something to perpetuate the memory of the deceased.67 Hence, when that
term is used, a permanent, not temporary, burial is meant.
It follows that mnemeion would not be used for a criminal's grave (which
the Markan tomb would be by Brown's reckoning), since such a resting place was
only temporary. For, after decomposition of the flesh, kin and/or friends
could remove the bones to the family burial place, a fact noted by Brown (237).
Hence authorities regularly argue that the term mnemeion, of itself
alone, rules out any idea that Mark thought of Jesus' burial place as that for
an executed malefactor.68
If not an officially owned piece of real estate, to whom, then, did the tomb
belong? That it was someone's property, not an unclaimed area waiting to
be taken over by the first claimant, follows from the fact that the tomb was (at
least) partially man-made, "hewn out of rock," with a shelf, and represented
therefore an outlay for labor.
The owner can have been none other than Joseph of Arimathea. He, a member
of the Sanhedrin, a leading one at that, and a zealous observer of the law,
would never have usurped another's property,69 least of all another's burial
To return to Brown, he sees another argument for his view in the fact that, of
the women who were present at the burial, Mk 15:47 says only that "they saw
where the body was laid." Brown believes this shows a lack of cooperation
between Joseph and the women, which is intelligible only if Joseph was not a
follower of Jesus (243-244).
Brown appears to have forgotten that in those days Jewish women were not
supposed to talk with men in public, not even with their husbands, and, most
definitely, not with strangers.71 Joseph was a stranger to the women, both
in the Brown scenario and in the usual understanding of Mark: he was from
Judea, they from Galilee. Also to be considered is the segregation of the
sexes then required at funerals.72
To forestall a further objection from Mk 15:43, it is enough to note that
lamentation ceased when the burial was over.73
Finally, hoping to clinch his case, Brown claims that his interpretation of Mark
enables one to make sense of Acts 13:27-29, a text which seems to imply that
those who were involved in Jesus' death were also involved in his burial (244).
In reply, if enemies buried Jesus, they would have made it the ignominious
burial which was standard for executed Jewish criminals, that is, a temporary
burial, in a pit, down in a valley lowland, far from Jerusalem. But, as we
have seen, Jesus' burial site was on high ground; was near Golgotha and
Jerusalem; was hewn out of a rocky hillside; and was termed, not "pit," but
mnemeion, which bespeaks an honorable and permanent burial place. And
one should also notice that Acts 13:29 uses the verb ethekan, "they laid"
rather than "cast," which speaks for rather than against an honorable burial.74
Those, therefore, who are said in this text to have buried Jesus, cannot have
been inimical Jews. Paul Gaechter arrived at the same conclusion from
Mark's description of the burial place as a tomb hewn out of rock.75 He
added that the (inimical) Jews had no right to remove the body from the cross
and bury it, because it belonged to the Romans.
To sum up, whatever the explanation of Acts 13:27-29 may be, this text cannot be
used to argue an ignominious burial of Jesus by enemies.76 As to efforts
to explain the text otherwise, a few may be noticed here.
Gaechter supposed an unannounced change of subject in the text, and proposed the
translation: "After they had fulfilled all that had been written of him,
one took him down from the cross. . . ."77
Likewise convinced that the text does not ascribe Jesus' burial to enemies, E.
Haenchen says "in reality Luke has only shortened the account as much as
J. Dupont appealed to the literary function of the passage: like similar
passages in Peter's preaching, this one from Paul wishes only to oppose, to the
work of those who had Jesus put to death, the work of God, who raised him to
life; there was no need to mention the intervention of Jesus' friends in the
matter of his burial.79
Seeking to confirm his use of the text from Acts, Brown turns to a variant
reading for the end of Jn 19:38, which has "they came and took his body,"
instead of "he (Joseph) came. . . ." (244). If "they" is the original
reading, Brown would have it understood of Jesus' enemies. But we may
insist, with no less right, that the word refers to Joseph and his assistants in
taking the body of Jesus down from the cross for burial. Or, if one is
willing to have Nicodemus on the scene that early, "they" could refer to him and
Continuing his catena of texts thought to suggest enemy burial of Jesus, Brown
cites the <Gospel of Peter> 6:21.23 (244). But since the relation of this
work to the canonical Gospels is much disputed, and its indulgence in fantasy is
notorious, it is of negligible worth in the present discussion. Neither do
the other texts cited by Brown merit serious attention.81
Before concluding, we may examine the claim that the original story of Jesus'
burial, held to be found in Mark, evolved, grew with the telling: (a)
Matthew, Luke, John escalate the burial from one by a pious Jew, who acted
solely out of zeal for the law, to one by a disciple of Jesus; (b) John upgrades
the burial to a royal interment.
Brown upholds the first point in his article (245), and in The Virginal
Conception, etc., where he labels the "introduction" of Joseph's
discipleship, "an anachronistic retrojection."82
In reply, it is not Joseph's status that changes, it is the terminology used in
his regard. Surely the evangelists had the right to choose their own
language to express the same reality.
As to the other point, espoused by Brown on more than one occasion,83 this, too,
must be rejected.84 Other notables, besides kings, were buried in
gardens.85 The large quantity of spices (Jn 19:39) was not a feature found
only in the burial of kings: rabbis are known to have been honored in this
way,86 and Jesus was revered by his followers as a rabbi.87 Recall also
Gaechter's point about Nicodemus wanting to compensate for the lack of
ointments. Also to be considered is the practice of spreading spices on
the shelf where the body was to repose, and around the floor of the burial
chamber for the sake of the mourners who would be visiting the tomb in the next
few days.88 Very likely, some of the spices were burnt for the same
To conclude, it is certain that friends buried Jesus,90 most notably, Joseph of
Arimathea. Mark, it is true, does not term Joseph a disciple of the Lord.
But his burial account, along with 16:1-5, indicates beyond all doubt that the
Sanhedrist was an adherent of Jesus, and buried him honorably, in his own family
1 "The Burial of Jesus (Mark 15:42-47)," CBQ (50, 2), April, 1988, 233-245.
2 New York: Paulist, 1973, 113-117. For brevity's sake, we omit
mention of several other views similar to that of Brown.
3 Cf., e.g., I. Marshall, <The Gospel of Luke> (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans,
reprint 1979), 879, on bouleutes.
4 The Gospel of Mark (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, reprint 1982), 577,
5 <Jerusalem in the Time of Jesus> (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1979), 224,
6 To reject "rich" as the meaning of Mark's euschemon>is not to deny
Joseph was a man of means. Jeremias, <Jerusalem in the Time>, 223, note 8,
argues Joseph's wealth from his ownership of property with a garden (Jn 19:41;
20:15). See also Mt 27:57.
7 M. Zerwick, S.J., A Grammatical Analysis of the New Testament
(translated, revised, adapted by Mary Grosvenor, vol. 1, Rome: Biblical
Institute 1974), 164; The James Moffat Translation of the Bible (rev.
ed., New York: Harper and Row, 1955); C. Lattey, S.J., <The New Testament
in the Westminster Version> (New York/Toronto: Longmans, Green, 1948).
8 The Confraternity of Christian Doctrine Translation of the New Testament
from the Latin Vulgate (Paterson, N.J.: St. Anthony's Guild, 1947).
The Vulgate renders euschemon as nobilis.
9 J.B. Phillips, Peter's Portrait of Jesus (Cleveland/New York:
Collins, 1976), 137.
10 See Jeremias, Jerusalem, 298, note 104, and 300, note 118. If it
be objected that the high priests of that era were anything but revered, this is
true but irrelevant, since, with few exceptions, commentators do not consider
Joseph to have been a priest.
11 On this consistory or "cabinet," made up of priests and laymen, see Bo Reicke,
The New Testament Era (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1979), 46-49.
12 Bruce Vawter, C.M., The Four Gospels: An Introduction (Garden
City, N.Y.: Doubleday, 1967), 305.
13 Ibid., 390.
14 Josef Blinzler, "Die Grablegung Jesu in historischer Sicht," Resurrexit:
Actes du Symposium International sur la Resurrection de Jesus (Rome, 1970),
ed. E. Dhanis, S.J. (Citta del Vaticano: Libreria Editrice Vaticana,
1974), 69. At p. 105 one learns that Brown participated in the discussion
of this paper; and the CBQ article cites the published paper as "useful" (234,
15 John P. Kealy, C.S.Sp., Luke's Gospel Today (Denville, N.J.:
Dimension Books, 1979), 443.
16 On hyperbole in Jewish usage, see the note to Josephus, Wars, 2.19.1, in W.
Whiston, The Works of Josephus, (new ed., Peabody, Mass.:
Hendrickson, 1987), 630. See Mk 1:220.127.116.11.45; 5:28; 6:33.5; etc.
Relevant here are remarks in Werner E. Kilber, ed., The Passion in Mark
(Philadelphia: Fortress, 1976) by J. B. Donohue, 65, note 15, and by K. E.
Dewey, 97 with note 4. Both speak of Mark's tendency to "universalize"
scenes. Mk 14:53b is a text cited.
17 Mt 27:57 is rendered "who was attached to Jesus" in W. F. Albright and C. S.
Mann, Matthew (AB6, Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, 1971); see also
18 See Raymond E. Brown, The Gospel according to John I-XII (AB29, Garden
City, N.Y.: Doubleday, 1966), 484; C. H. Dodd, Historical Tradition in
the Fourth Gospel (Cambridge: University Press, 1963), 87-88.
19 In Acts 8:2 "devout" (eulabeis) men bury Stephen and make lamentation
for him. Brown (248) regards these men as law-observant Jews who were not
followers of Jesus.
20 Blinzler, "Die Grablegung," 58.
21 Ibid., 69.
22 The Gospel of Mark, 579.
23 The Gospel according to St. Mark (vol. 2, New York: Crossroad,
24 The Gospel of St. Mark (Baltimore: Penguin, 1963, reprinted
25 "Joseph of Arimathea," Interpreter's Dictionary of the Bible (vol. 2,
Nashville: Abingdon, 1962), 981.
26 The Gospel according to St. Mark (ed. 3, London: Macmillan,
27 Dodd, <Historical Tradition>, 87, note 2.
28 See Jn 19:31. Brown discusses this text in <The Gospel according
to John XIII-XXI> (AB29a, 1970), 933-934.
29 On the Roman official's working day, see W. Lane, Mark, 549; A. N.
Sherwin-White, Roman Society and Roman Law in the New Testament (Grand
Rapids: Baker, 1976), 45. Joseph's wealth and his membership in the
consistory would win him access to Pilate, but, since he was coming "after
hours," would not obtain him a warm welcome.
30 J. Blinzler, Der Prozess Jesu (ed. 3, Regensburg: Pustet, 1960),
289, has Joseph's need of courage stem from the risk of appearing to be involved
in the treason; similarly Brown's article, 241.
31 See Mk 15:10-14; Lane, The Gospel of Mark, 555-556.
Lattimore, The Four Gospels and the Revelation. Newly translated from
the Greek (New York: Farrar, Strauss, Giroux, 1969). J. B.
Phillips, The New Testament in Modern English (rev. ed., New York:
Macmillan, 1972): "went into Pilate's presence."
33 On the ritual impurity that would be incurred by entering a Gentile's
quarters, see Brown's discussion in John XIII-XXI, 845-846. Joseph
could not here avoid defilement the way he may have done at the burial _ by
using his servants.
34 "Entreated," "begged": for this sense of etesato (v. 43), see W.
F. Arndt and F. W. Gingrich, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament
(ed. 2, Chicago/London: University of Chicago, 1979), aiteo; see
note 35 below.
35 Many take edoresato (v. 45) to suggest a gracious act on Pilate's
part, e.g., Vincent Taylor, The Gospel according to St. Mark (ed. 2,
Grand Rapids: Baker, reprint 1982), 601.
36 Even though Edom was a mortal foe of Israel, Amos regarded the Moabite
burning of the Edomite king's bones as a heinous crime calling for divine
vengeance, a violation of a universally binding divine law: Amos 2:1-2.
Jews still abhor cremation; cf. Maurice Lamm, The Jewish Way in Death and
Mourning (rev. ed., New York: Jonathan David, 1981), 56-57, 84.
37 See Liddell-Scott, A Greek-English Lexicon (new ed., by H. Jones, R.
McKenzie, Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1961) at sindon> "fine
cloth, usually linen." Also Arndt-Gingrich, Lexicon, <sindon>; J. Blinzler,
"Sindon in evangeliis," Verbum Domini 34 (1956), 112-113; Joseph
Fitzmyr, The Gospel according to Luke X-XXIV (AB28a, Garden City:
Doubleday, 1985), 1527; Paul Gaechter, S.J., "Zum Begraebnis Jesu,"
Zeitschrift fuer katholische Theologie 75 (2, 1953), 220, 222: "sindon
of first quality." "Fine linen" used to be found in English translations
of Mk 15:46 (King James version; Rheims version).
38 Brown, John XIII-XXI, 941, mentions sindon twice, but says
nothing about the quality of this fabric. Some commentators on Mark bring
out the fine quality of sindon, not at 15:46, but at 14:51-52: thus
W. Lane, <Mark>, 527.
39 According to Blinzler, "Die Grablegung," 61.
40 For example, W. Lane, <Mark>, 527; H. Swete, Mark, 354.
Sindon was used in the expensive embalming process to enwrap the mummy:
see F. M. Willam, "Johannes am Grab des Auferstandenen," Zeitschrift fuer
katholische Theologie 71 (2, 1949), 206; also S. Richard, "Linen,"
Harper's Bible Dictionary (ed. P. Achtemeier, San Francisco: Harper
and Row, 1985), 563.
41 Blinzler, Prozess, 291, and "Sindon in evangeliis," 112.
42 Mark, 658.
43 The New Testament and Rabbinic Judaism (London: University of
London/Athlone, 1956), 12.
44 John Lightfoot, A Commentary on the New Testament from the Talmud and
Hebraica (vol. 3, Grand Rapids: Baker, 1972), 215.
45 Mark (AB27, Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, 1986), 658.
46 Blinzler, "Die Grablegung," 63.
47 Perhaps relevant here is the then lively conviction that, if
someone intended a good deed, but was prevented, God reckoned it as
though it had been done; see C. G. Montefiore and H. Loewe, <A
Rabbinic Anthology> (New York: Schocken, 1947), 288.
48 "Zum Begraebnis Jesu," 222-223; <Das Matthaeus-Evangelium>
(Innsbruck: Tyrolia, 1962), 939. The myrrh and aloes of Jn 19:39
were dry substances: Gaechter, "Zum Begraebnis," 222.
49 See Gaechter, "Zum Begraebnis," 224, Lk 23:56; also Matthaeus-Evangelium,
50 See J. A. Hastings, ed., A Dictionary of the Bible (Edinburgh:
Clark, 1898), II, 108-110, on Gardens; Harper's Bible Dictionary>
51 "Turiner Grabtuch und Exegese heute," Biblische Zeitschrift 28 (1,
1984), 38. See Lamm, <The Jewish Way>, 15, 28, 244.
52 See Brown, John XIII-XXI, 943.
53 See Ferdinand Prat, S.J., Jesus Christ (vol. 2, Milwaukee:
Bruce, 1950), 378; Nineham, Mark, 421-422.
54 Blinzler, "Die Grablegung," 85, 105.
55 Brown, <John XIII-XXI>, 943.
56 Consider how difficult it was to obtain burial space on, for
example, Mount Scopus: see Y. Yadin, <Jerusalem Revealed> (New
Haven: Yale University, 1976), 67.
57 Blinzler, "Die Grablegung," 85.
58 <anablepsasai>, Mk 16:4.
59 Lattimore, The Four Gospels, translates the word "looking again."
At p. 292 he defends this translation on the grounds that the usual sense
("looking up") does not seem to have any point here. It escaped him that
the women looked up because they had to, in order to inspect the tomb entry.
60 R. H. Smith, "The Tomb of Jesus," Biblical Archaeology 30 (1967),
87-88; cited by Lane, <Mark>, 580, note 2. J. Schmid, Mark, 301,
says Jesus was laid in an "excellent rock tomb," of a kind that "only well-to-do
and distinguished people owned." Like Mark, Matthew says the stone closing
the tomb was great (27:60), and from this detail Donald Senior infers the
"fitting magnificence of the tomb" (The Passion of Jesus in the Gospel of
Matthew[Wilmington, Del.: Michael Glazier, 1985], 152). A.
Parrott, Maledictions et Violations de Tombes (Paris: Paul
Guenther, 1939), 81, gives as the price of a Nabatean tomb 1000 Nabatean
drachmas. We may note here that a tomb in which no one had yet been laid
was especially valuable; see F.-M. Braun, O.P., La Sepulture de Jesus
(Paris: J. Gabalda, 1937), 16, note 1, for evidence of this from two tomb
inscriptions; see also Parrott, 46.
61 Brown (237) notes that only after the time of Jesus is there mention, in the
Mishna, of two official burial places for executed criminals (one for those who
were beheaded or strangled, the other for the stoned or burned). See also
Blinzler, "Die Grablegung," 94.
62 Far outside the city: see W. Lane, Mark, 578; Blinzler, "Die
Grablegung," 94, 97; 98, note 2. Authors refer in this connection to Jer
22:19. The Markan tomb, on the contrary, was near Golgotha, as one can
gather from Mark (Brown, 243), as well as Jn 19:41; and Golgotha was near the
63 Blinzler, "Die Grablegung," 99, continuation of his note 133: the
Jewish graves for criminals were not rock-hewn, but "Gruben" (trenches, ditches,
pits), into which the bodies were cast, then covered with earth.
64 See Arndt-Gingrich, Lexicon, s.v. mnemeion; Alfred Edersheim, The
Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah (vol. 2, ed. 5, New York: Anson
Randolph, n.d. ), 319-320.
65 After the flesh had decomposed, family and/or friends could remove the bones
to the family grave (as Brown notes, 237). Probable evidence of this
practice is the celebrated discovery in 1968 of the bones of a man who had been
crucified, named Jehohanon; on this find see Lane, Mark, 565; Brown, 237.
66 Brown's CBQ article does not deny that the Markan tomb had such a
feature, and John XIII-XXI, 982-983, 989, reasons to a shelf from Jewish
usage and from Jn 20:12.
Arndt-Gingrich, Lexicon, s.v. mnemeion; Alfred Edersheim, Life, II,
319-320; Blinzler, "Die Grablegung," 62.
68 See Gaechter, Matthaeus-Evangelium, 939, note 94; Blinzler, "Die
Grablegung," 62, 107.
69 See Exod 20:15.17.
70 His burial place was a Semite's dearest possession, for various reasons,
notably because of the belief that failure to be buried would cause suffering in
the afterlife. Symbolic of this concern for burial is the fact that the
first Israelitic acquisition of land in Palestine was the cave purchased by
Abraham for a family burial place (Gen 23:3-19).
71 See Jeremias, Jerusalem, 360; Brown, John I-XII, 173 on Jn
4:47. Edersheim, Life, II, 618, says it would hardly have been in
accordance with Jewish manners if the women had mingled more closely with Joseph
(for Edersheim, a disciple).72 See Brown, John I-XII, 424 on Jn 11:19;
Edersheim, Life, II,
73 See E. Feldman, Biblical and Post-Biblical Defilement and Mourning:
Law as Theology (New York: Yeshiva University, 1977), 135, note 168.
74 Blinzler, "Die Grablegung," 96.
Matthaeus-Evangelium, 939, note 35.
76 Blinzler, "Die Grablegung," 107.
77 Gaechter, Matthaeus-Evangelium, 939, note 35.
Haenchen, The Acts of the Apostles (Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1972),
410; see Carlo Martini, S.J., Il Problema Storico della Rizurrezione negli
Studi Recenti (Roma: Universita Gregoriana, 1959), 81.
79 See the discussion in Blinzler, "Die Grablegung," 106-107.
80 See Blinzler,
"Die Grablegung," 77, note 67.
81 In particular, the Ephesian inscription from the sixth century, cited by
Brown, is historically worthless: Blinzler, "Die Grablegung," 94.
82 At p. 114.
83 See Brown in Blinzler, "Die Grablegung," 105; CBQ article, 242, note
29; Virginal Conception, etc., 116, note 193; Brown, John XIII-XXI,
84 See Blinzler, "Die Grablegung, 73, note 55.
85 See article "Burial" in <Harper's Bible Dictionary>, 146, col. B.
86 See Brown, <John XIII-XXI>, 960.
87 See Mk 9:17; 11:21; Jn 4:31; 6:25; 9:2, etc.
88 See Gaechter, <Matthaeus-Evangelium>, 940, on Mt 27:60;
<Encyclopedic Dictionary of the Bible> (translated and adapted by
Louis Hartmann, C.S.S.R., New York: McGraw-Hill, 1963), 287.
89 See Jer 34:5 with 2 Chron 16:14 and 21:19.
90 C. Martini, Problema, 81: "Mk 15:42ff. attributes the burial of
Jesus to friends."
George W. Shea, S.T.D. received his doctorate in sacred theology from the
Canisianum Seminary in Austria. Ordained to the priesthood in 1936, Msgr.
Shea taught theology at Immaculate Conception Seminary in Darlington, NJ from
1939-1942 and 1946-1960. Msgr. Shea attended all four sessions of Vatican
II as a ``peritus'' and was pastor of Our Lady of Sorrows Church in South
Orange, NJ for thirteen years before retiring in 1981. Msgr. Shea died on
July 8, 1990.
This article was taken from the Spring 1991 issue of "Faith & Reason".