[Editor’s note: This question is coming from a Christian in the Middle East who is dealing with relatively unsophisticated Muslim skeptics of the resurrection]


Some Christians insist this [the scenario which follows] is exactly what would have happened if the story of Jesus were false. If the tomb were not empty, detractors could have easily silenced the rumors by producing the body. But this assumes that they cared enough to do such a thing–they didn’t do it when Herod heard rumors that John the Baptist had been raised from the dead. It was a crime to rob a grave, and who would have known where to find it? (Jesus’s empty tomb was never venerated by early Christians, which is another evidence it did not exist.) Also, it was at least seven weeks after the burial before the resurrection was first preached during Pentecost. By the time anyone might have cared to squelch the story, two or three months would have passed, and what happens to a dead body in that climate for that period of time? The body of Lazarus was “stinking” after only four days.  If someone had had the gumption to locate and illegally dig up the decayed body of Jesus and parade it through the streets, would the disciples have believed the unrecognizable rotting skeleton was really their Lord and Savior? I don’t think so, any more than my grandmother would have been convinced she was deluded.  How can you reply??


My response is that, despite all the argument here, this proposal is simply absurd.  This is a clear example of someone trying to produce an ad hoc hypothesis, which is a hypothesis proposed, not because it makes sense, but because someone is trying to lead us to a particular conclusion.  There are so many false assumptions in this argument, it is hard to know where to get started.

First of all, the entire city of Jerusalem was in an uproar over the event of the crucifixion and the claimed resurrection of Jesus.  This event, ultimately, turned the entire area upside down.  None of the things which happened could occurred in secret and no one could have produced a cover-up easily.  Thousands witnessed the crucifixion.  Well over five hundred saw Jesus alive after the crucifixion.  Paul challenges his opponents in 1 Cor 15:3-8.  Paraphrasing, “If you do not believe me, ask any of the five hundred eye witnesses, most of whom are still alive today. They will tell you what they saw.  I guarantee you that the Jews definitely cared enough about whether or not the tomb was empty.  That is why they had a Roman guard placed at the tomb.   The idea that the location of the tomb was not known or that whether or not it was empty simply passed the notice of the Jews or the Romans is absurd.  The empty tomb of Jesus IS venerated by Christians, and it was “venerated” (to use too strong a word for the early church) from a very early date.  The Church of the Holy Sepulcher is probably the correct location. There is evidence of its recognition in the 200s AD. So, this point is also not correct.

It is true that the resurrection was not openly preached in public for seven weeks, but there were already hundreds of eye-witnesses to the most significant event in all human history already about, telling people about this.  About whether or not the body would be recognizable after seven weeks, it is true that bodies do decay rather quickly, but an undisturbed body is definitely recognizable after many weeks.  Besides, Jesus was not dead!!!!!  He had risen, as is proved by the hundreds of eye witnesses.  Besides, the tomb was empty!!!!    If it had not been, then the Jews would have dragged Christians over to this tomb to show them the empty tomb.

What is the “story” that people might have wanted to squelch after seven weeks (which, by the way, is NOT two or three months)?  What is this person implying?  Is this person implying that people, including the guards and the dozens who went to the tomb to add spices to the body, and the Jews who had had a guard placed at the tomb would literally forget where the body was buried?  Really?  Is this a believable scenario?  The answer is a resounding no.

The relative ignorance of the person who proposed this scenario is showed by his/her statement that they would have dug up Jesus’ body.  Bodies were not buried in Palestine at this time.  Therefore they could not be dug up.  They were placed in caves, allowed to slowly degenerate, and later the bones were placed in boxes.  My response to this, nevertheless, is yes, certainly, after 49 days, if they had taken out Jesus body and shown it to the Christians it certainly would have been recognizable.  After a year, depending on a number of factors, a body can be unrecognizable, but after seven weeks it is recognizable.  But here is the problem with this scenario.  They did not produce a body.  No one produced a body because there was no body to produce.  The hundreds of eye witnesses prove that there was no body, and the idea that the site of the burial would have been a mystery, unknown to either the Jews or the Christians is ludicrous.  This scenario does not deserve serious consideration.  It is rather obviously coming from a person who is trying to create an argument for a conclusion already reached.

Let me deal very briefly with the John the Baptist analogy.  This is not a useful analogy for a few reasons.  First of all, by the time someone claimed that Jesus might have been John the Baptist resurrected, the Baptist has already been dead for at least a year and probably two years.  Second, the author of this scenario has no idea whether they tried to dig him up or not.  He/she is making this statement with absolutely no evidence that the claim (that no one bothered to look) is even true!  It is being made out of thin air!  Third, there is no evidence that anyone took seriously that Jesus was really JTB resurrected.  This was an idea that someone threw out there, but I have no evidence that this proposal was really taken seriously.  This is certainly not the case with the resurrection of Jesus.  It was the biggest event (or claimed event) in Jerusalem at the time. and tens of thousands took the idea very seriously!  So, the analogy is not relevant to “prove” that no one would have looked for Jesus’ body.

John Oakes

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