I thought I had heard it all, but this is a new one for me. Actually, it is not completely new. What you have heard is really just a slightly altered version of what is usually called the Stolen Body Theory. The basic historical facts surrounding the resurrection are these:
1. Jesus was crucified in Jerusalem under Pontius Pilate.
2. The resurrection of Jesus was proclaimed in Jerusalem, in front of many thousands of people, very soon after his death.
3. The tomb was empty.
The first are known to be true because of the historical evidence. The third is true because it is a logical imperative. If the tomb of Jesus was not empty then the resurrection could not have been preached in Jerusalem in the immediate aftermath of his execution.
The next question, then, is how to explain the facts. One answer which has been presented is the one the Jews tried to prevent ahead of time when they had as Roman guard placed outside the tomb. Perhaps the disciples stole the body. Let me suggest three reasons we can conclude this is not reasonable.
1. They would not.
2. They could not.
3. They did not.
The followers of Jesus were not expecting the resurrection. They all fled at his arrest and were in hiding. They had no reason to steal his body. The idea that they would have stolen his body so as to create a lie about his resurrection is counter to what we know about their lives and about the psychology of the situation. It makes no sense at all to think that they would have concocted a plan to fake his resurrection.
Besides, there was the problem of the Roman guard. There is no way in the world they could have gotten past the guards, even if they wanted to, to steal the body. These were hardened soldiers–part of the greatest military machine even created by humand beings. A rag-tag team of militarily untrained men would not have stood a chance against these soldiers. Even if they had, surely there would have been casualties, yet no one reported such an incident when Peter proclaimed the resurrection just a few weeks later publicly in Jerusalem.
Add to that the fact that they did not steal the body. In fact, there were over five hundred eye witnesses to the resurreciton. Every one of these witnesses became a target for jail and execution for the rest of their lives, yet none of them relented. The body was not stolen by these men.
The question you saw raised assumes that they did in fact steal the body. In my opinion, this claim is ludicrous. But let us admit for a moment that perhaps they did steal the body. What, then, did they do with it. I believe that whether they hid it or burned it would not change the scenario significantly at all. The question is not whether they hid or burned the body, but whether they would have, could have or actually did take the body. I think there is no way they stole the body from the tomb.
Let us assume they did, which they did not. Would they then have chosen to burn the body? I say absolutely not!!! Not that it really matters to the argument, because I believe we can conclude that they did not steal the body in the first place. but if they had, the Jews did not have a tradition of burning bodies. Period. There is not a single example that I know of in history at that time of Jews burning the bodies of their dead. Can you imagine the disciples of Jesus desecrating (from their perspective) the body of the one they had committed themselves to? I think not.
So, I think this suggestion, given what we know of the culture and history of the Jews, is not believable. The Jews did not burn the bodies of their own or of their enemies. But to be honest, this is really a moot point in my opinion, because it assumes something which I believe is not reasonable, which is that the disciples of Jesus stole his body from the tomb.
Note, there is quite a bit of material on the resurrection in my book Reasons for Belief www.ipibooks.com
John Oakes, PhD