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A Rational Look at Christianity; Basing Reason in Truth

New to the series? I recommend tracing back through previous entries to catch up. Part 8 is here.

Part 9: Some Body, Give Us A Summary!

I have covered plenty of ground since I began discussing the Key (GosMatt 28:11b-15); so a reminder and summary of developed positions may be handy.

I have arranged the positions in a rough combination of evident chronology and topicality.

1.) A man named Jesus existed--the same man whom GosMatt's writer (and his sources, if any) wrote about (and more importantly, for this study, were talking about to some Jews): i.e., Yeshua bar-Yosef, Jesus son of Joseph, Jesus the Nazarene, who came to be called by some: Kristos, Hamaschia, Messiah, the Anointed One. (The Jewish opposition to GosMatt's writer and his audience, or the ones our author had in mind anyway, were not saying "This guy never existed" or "You've got the wrong guy, you should be talking about..." They were saying "Yeah, and his disciples stole his body!")

2.) Jesus had disciples.

3.) Jesus was important enough to his disciples, that they might want (or at least people would feasibly believe they might want) to steal his dead body, even at the risk from guards.

4.) The chief priests (i.e. the Sanhedrin) thought Jesus was dead.

5.) Rome either didn't care about the body or didn't care enough to take (or maybe keep) formal possession of it.

6.) The Sanhedrin, as a formal group, somehow didn't have full possession of the body either.

7.) Someone had possession of the body who couldn't keep the Sanhedrin from setting guards over it (or else didn't care if the Sanhedrin did so.)

8.) The Sanhedrin put guards over the body of Jesus (despite not having full possession of the body themselves.)

9.) The Sanhedrin had reason to set guards over the body of Jesus. (i.e. they had reason to suspect tampering; and they had reason to prefer the body not to be tampered with.)

10.) Someone had possession of the body who had enough clout to keep the Sanhedrin, who had reason to set guards over the body, from securing the body so completely that no eventual theft story would ever be even initially believed.

11.) The guards were most probably Jewish (and probably official Temple guards, not just guys hired out on the street on Saturday night.)

12.) At least two guards were sent ('guards' in the plural are being referred to for testimony by both sides in the dispute reported in the Key.) The more guards, the exponentially less likely the 'terminally lazy' story becomes (unless drugs were involved). Relatedly, this sets some feasible upper limit on the number of guards: the sleeping story has to be at least a little probable (i.e. not fifty or a hundred guards, or any vast number we might find in later apocryphals. Say ten-ish.)

13.) The guards were guarding overnight (at the very least).

14.) The time and conditions between Jesus' death and the final guarding of his body, were such that his body could still be identified as "Jesus". For example he hadn't been burned to a crisp in Jerusalem's flaming garbage dump, or mauled to pieces by wild dogs, or decomposing on a shelf for more than a couple of weeks.

(Note: the spices and flowers laden into a shroud were not intended to preserve the body, but merely to reduce the smell (and perhaps hasten the decay?) while the body decomposed to its bones. This wouldn't necessarily work very well as an odor reducer, but it was better than nothing; and besides had nice symbolic value, too.)

15.) The placement of the body before its final guarding was such that it could later be positively recognized to be "missing". (e.g. it hadn't been consumed and excreted by vultures and wild dogs, either before the guarding or during.)

16.) The body had to be at least semi-exposed in a place where a thief (more specifically Jesus' disciples, per the contra story) might have some remotely feasible opportunity to get it. (e.g., not locked up tight in the Temple cellar--no Jewish ninjas, and the early counter story is about something else than how the disciples used Satanic magic to work their way into the Temple bowels, etc.)

17.) The guards must either have been able to identify the body when they were posted; or else they thought they had reasonable assurance the body was nearby even though they couldn't see it.

18.) The body was not thrown into a common grave.

19.) The body was not simply left sitting out in the open; it was put somewhere. (Neither the Sanhedrin as a political group nor the Romans ended with direct control over the body; which leaves the family or the disciples of Jesus, either of whom would not have left it sitting around in the open.) This also means the body was not left poked on a pike or hanging in a gibbet (which would be implausible anyway if we later decide to accept that this event happened during the Passover weekend--Jews would want the bodies even of universally admitted criminals disposed of and nominally interred. A common grave would count as nominal interment--but the body wasn't put there, either.)

20.) The guards didn't simply go to the wrong resting place of the body. (Otherwise the officially-backed story of our Jews would be "the guards said they went to the wrong tomb", not "the guards said they slept and the body was stolen by the disciples"; assuming any such explanation would be needed at all, since the body would still be easily accounted for--in which case our GosMatt writer and his audience would not be easily accounted for!)

21.) The guards believed the body was missing one morning.

22.) Some physical sign must have been available to the guards to alert them the body was gone.

23.) The body's departure was believed by the guards to have happened during the previous night.

24.) The Sanhedrin also believed the body to be missing.

25.) The Sanhedrin also believed the body to have disappeared during the time the guards were posted.

26.) These guards lived after the events of that night, long enough to spread at least one story of what happened.

27.) The guards testified in public (in some fashion and to some extent), that Jesus' disciples stole the body.

28.) Whoever had nominal control over the body wasn't who the guards, or the Sanhedrin, thought had taken it. (That person would have had a right to move it, but the guards are afterward spreading the explanation that someone stole the body.)

29.) The disciples of Jesus were considered by the Sanhedrin to be an ethical opponent (because the claim of the guards, who were appointed by the Sanhedrin, was that the disciples stole the body.)

30.) The guards also claimed that they were all asleep (or extremely inattentive, or anyway an embarrassing failure at their job) when this happened.

31.) There was some reason, involving the disciples of Jesus in some public fashion, for why the guards thought it was important to embarrassingly indict themselves, in public, in a culture heavily invested in shame and honor, about failing to guard the body.

32.) The guards thought it was important to spread a story that not only indicted them for failing in their duties, but was also (after any thought) easily seen to be a implausibly weak explanation.

33.) No body was recognized as being Jesus', by anyone in official position in Jerusalem at any time when opponents to the resurrection were in control; or, if this did happen, the opponents somehow failed to get this information to the Jewish counter-apologists in contact with GosMatt’s audience, with any practical force.

34.) The story of the guards reached the Jewish population in contact with GosMatt's audience, with official (i.e. Sanhedrin-level) force.

35.) At least some Jews in contact with GosMatt's audience accepted the explanation of the guards, despite it being an implausibly weak explanation.

36.) Jews in communication with the Christian audience of GosMatt, were saying (in effect): "The guards who were set as watch-detail over the body of Jesus, testify themselves that they fell asleep while on guard; and that the disciples stole the stole the body during this time."

37.) The Jews near GosMatt's Christian audience had no stories about finding a body that were worth our writer's time to talk explicitly about. (Note: this is not the same as concluding that those particular Jews, whoever and wherever they were, had no such stories at all; nor that they never told those stories also; nor even that our GosMatt writer was not replying to such stories tacitly somehow, in a fashion unrecognizable to us now.)

38.) The disappearance of the body must in some fashion have been important for the purposes of GosMatt's Christian audience (because this is what the polemic reported in the Key is about).

39.) The disappearance of the body must in some fashion have been important for the purposes of the original disciples of Jesus. (There is no discontinuity between the deployment of this explanation to GosMatt's audience in his day, and the original deployment of this explanation by the guards relatively soon after the disappearance of the body--however much earlier that might have been than GosMatt's composition as received.)

40.) Some historical person, in a historical context, did certainly write GosMatt, including the verses I have been discussing as the Key.

Frankly, the disciples look like Prime Suspect #1 in the disappearance of the body. Certainly the Sanhedrin thought so, at least briefly; and were willing to put that around publicly (at least briefly).

The disciples had the opportunity--or did they?

They had the means--or did they?

They had the motivation--or did they?

Off the top of my head, the most obvious remaining theft scenarios appear to be:

a.) the guards were drugged, and the disciples got the body then.

b.) the guards thought they were guarding the body, but the body was already gone.

The notion that Jesus himself helped with the 'theft', may provisionally be included; unless and until we can be reasonably certain, as a historical conclusion, that the man was roadkill-dead. (A point that cannot be established from the Key by itself.)

But what if there was a person who was, at a very early time in the history of Jesus’ disciples, a chief legal prosecutor of those disciples? This would be a man who, even if he didn’t know much about the life and activities of Jesus, would be expected to at least know as much of the case on the prosecution’s side as feasibly possible. He would know that the body had gone missing, and that (and how) these disciples were threatening his culture by making claims about that body. And whether or not he had heard the story of those guards, it wouldn’t take much for him to at least suspect the disciples had been involved in the disappearance of that body.

But then, what if this person changed his mind on the subject--so totally that he became one of the chief proponents of the disciples?--something that wouldn’t be feasibly possible so long as he still thought they were criminals in regard to that missing body.

Such a person who had been in such a position and yet made such a huge turnaround, might at least count as a key character witness about the honesty of those disciples in regard to that body (even if they were mistaken about that body in other regards).

There are, in other words, good reasons why the testimony of Saul of Tarsus is important to include in the account. Or important to utterly dismiss (one way or another), if including him would cause too much trouble in other ways.

That is a whole other discussion. But it shows one way how an analysis of this sort, of the actual data we do have, could be continued, keeping in mind prior implications--even in a feasibly minimal fashion.

(Though as can be seen, the result may be increasingly less minimal in its shape and content.)

A 1st Appendix to this series can be found here!


Note: another, less positive but still interesting line of further inquiry, would be to consider how far this analysis fits with what is otherwise an early textual silence about disciples stealing the body (on the Jewish side of the polemic, plus defense explicitly against that claim on the Christian side of the polemic.)

Which in turn might lead to some interesting thoughts on the question of why the Sanhedrin (or even the Romans, for that matter) didn't produce "the body of Jesus"--or even fake producing such a body!

Which I may write something on later, once I get to feeling better (newly recurring head-cold to deal with {cough}{hack}{sniffle}{g}...)

Another line of inquiry would be a hypothesis of someone other than the normal disciples stealing the body in order to fake a resurrection, and how that might have been accomplished--such as by having an accomplice in the guards!


On point 27, we must consider that Matthew's audience (or even Matthew's author) had little or no knowledge of the events in Acts, particularly in chapter 5, enough that the Matthew's writer could include the guard's account without the benefit of reading Luke's second treasise, for as I pointed out in an earlier post, there is no mention of the guard's story in Acts.

The events in Acts 5 occurred early in the apostle's career. For Matthew to attribute the story as 'commonly reported among the Jews until this day' (presumably whenever he must have published his Gospel) would imply that the story remained on the horizen far later than Acts can account for. The same temple guard and Sanhedrin are present in Acts 5.

So who was Matthew's audience? Was Jewish community in and around Judea? Or was it a later audience in his travels to Macedonia or Ethiopia, where tradition has it he died a martyr?



Another possibility is that the polemical exchange happened extremely early, and was put down in writing extremely early (with GosMatt having been afterward translated into Greek perhaps), before both sides decided to stop referring to that line of polemic.

An early but dropped line of polemic would fit well with internal evidence of GosMatt having been originally composed for a Syrio-Palestinian audience, too (even if translated later into Greek for wider use). The later GosMatt's audience, the less likely his claim would about "to this day" would have plausibility to his own readers, unless his readers had practically no contact at all with authoritative Jewish counter-apologetic--in which case there's even less reason to bring up the detail of public guard testimony at all.

I'll be discussing this later in another post (assuming I get around to it--which I hope I do, since one of my main reasons for posting up this line of argument is to get around to discussing theories about why there is so little evidence of this line of polemic!)


That article (or series of articles) won't be the same as the 1st Appendix I've already put up today, by the way, which deals with another interesting comment. {g}


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