Why Didn't The Sanhedrin Produce A (Fake) Body of Jesus Christ?

Back in 2006, I was working on an analysis of the Guard Story at the end of the Gospel According to Matthew during Easter season (naturally), when I became involved in an exchange on Victor Reppert's "Dangerous Idea" web journal with his friend the atheistic apologist Dr. Keith Parsons on hallucination theories and visions of Jesus by the first disciples.

Along the way, the topic of a missing body logically came up, and aside from the usual points of discussion I provided some hints at what I was analyzing (but was not yet ready to publish anywhere); and also (somewhat more vaguely still!) hinted that this would also help provide an answer to a peculiar question often overlooked in apologetics for or against the bodily resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth:

why didn't the Sanhedrin fake providing a body?!

It was this exchange which led directly to me being invited here to the Cadre as a guest author, and I eventually posted a series of articles on the Adventure of the Guards (links will be provided below after the jump), but I've never gotten around to publicly posting a discussion on this peculiar question. I just always had something else I was doing on site for Easter, I guess! {g} (Most pertinently, I had to post up the series analyzing the Guard Story first.)

This year my most recent big project will have to start up after Easter, so (even if a little late in the day--literally and figuratively!) I thought I would finally post an article on this topic. If you're poking around the internet this Easter Weekend and want to see a discussion you probably won't hear much of elsewhere, feel free to click the jump and proceed!

For our current purposes, my discussion of the question will be in context of the argument and analysis I made concerning the second part of (what I call) the Guard Adventures at the tomb in GosMatt. I'll have to presuppose my reader's familiarity with the discussion and its results (whether you agree or disagree with some or all of the results), so here is Part 1 in a series of 10 posts (including a post-series appendix) for "A Curious Key To A Historical Jesus".

Here is a quick refresher of 40 points developed from the series, which approaches the topic from an initial position of extreme scepticism about the factual accuracy of the content of the text. (This is most of Part 9, by the way.) For the arguments arriving at these points, please refer to the series itself.

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.

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 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.

Caught up now? Okay.

In Christian apologetics, I will occasionally find people trying to argue that the body must have been missing because the Sanhedrin didn't produce the real body in order to stop the people from being deceived by the claims of Jesus' followers concerning that body.

I myself don't regard this as being a very good argument, not least because it's an argument from silence. (No doubt anti-Christian apologists will cheerfully quote me on that. {wry g})

But the concept raises what, to me, is a far more interesting and peculiar question: why didn't the Sanhedrin fake finding a body?

In theory, this could have been done fairly easily. In practice, however, we know for a fact that this was not done. We can be sure of this, not merely due to a lack of Christian response to such a tactic, and not merely due to a lack of subsequent Jewish appeal to the Sanhedrin having produced 'a body' of Jesus (either of which would involve arguments from silence), but because at whatever time GosMatt in its final form was authored/compiled/redacted/whatever, the most important Jewish counter-apologetic that the author thought worth trying to reply to (regardless of whether he invented any details or made guesses about them or not) was the testimony of the guards. And I think we can all agree that whenever GosMatt was written, however early that might have been would still be far too late for the Sanhedrin to try that tactic afterward!

So, why wasn't a fake body supplied by the Sanhedrin?

We can be sure (assuming my previous analysis holds up) that they didn't have full control of the body before it went missing; and we can be sure that the body went missing despite the presence of enough guards to thwart any usual grave-robbing attempt. We can also be sure that the body did not go missing for any reason the Sanhedrin regarded as legitimate. We can still be sceptical about whether the Sanhedrin bribed the guards, but I arrived at these results from an initially very sceptical position and logically considering alternate sceptical positions as I went.

The easiest and most charitable answer would be that the Sanhedrin wasn't that corrupt. This wouldn't be an answer many Christians would be comfortable with (or even many non-Christian Jewish heirs to the Pharisee party, who have been taught the corruption of the Sanhedrin party under Annas and his sons plus his son-in-Law Caiaphas). But Christian texts preserve strong evidence that the Sanhedrin was generally split over whether to support or convict Jesus and His followers or not. Caiaphas secured a unanimous vote for death (with two abstentions if GosJohn is accurate on that point) under irregular circumstances in a high-stress situation, against significant internal pressure not to railroad Jesus on trumped charges. Afterward, Acts reports that the Sanhedrin continued being wary and divided about what to do concerning Jesus' followers. Various canonical texts (which in any case are the earliest texts we possess with any historical significance worth even debating about) mention in passing that chief priests and Sanhedrin members converted to being followers of Christ not long after His death (as well as supporting Him against increasing pressure from their fellow religious authorities prior to His conviction and execution).

There may have simply been enough pressure to stop them from seriously considering (much less implementing) a well-intentioned fraud. But if my previous argument is correct about the historical accuracy of the guards and their counter-Christian testimony, we can also find a strong reason along that line for why the Sanhedrin would find it practically impossible (whatever their opinions of the propriety of doing so might have been) to attempt such a fraud.

Before I discuss the difficulty, let me talk about the factors that would have otherwise made it easy for them to do so, assuming enough of them agreed about the propriety and/or necessity of it. (Some of this is reposted from my discussion with Dr. Parsons, by the way.)

Let us suppose, for purposes of argument, that the Sanhedrin becomes irritated enough by the preaching of the disciples that producing the body seems like a good idea.

If the body had been in their power to produce, would the fact that the body was "dead" be a bar to them? No. The Romans themselves might agree that digging up and presenting the body would be a good idea to quash potential rebels. After all, the Romans had cared enough about the danger of Jesus and/or keeping the Sanhedrin happy to crucify Jesus in the first place! But even if the Romans couldn't be bothered about it (and Pilate in the canonical accounts does not end the incident on particularly good terms with the men in the Sanhedrin who had been pressuring him to execute Jesus), it would not be hard to hire unobservant Jews or even non-Jews to recover and handle the body.

The Sanhedrin could even have gotten personally involved in order to turn the shame and repellance into a positive thing. "Yes, we don't want to do this--we delayed in fact partly in the hope we wouldn't have to. But: this is how bad we think these cretins and their claims are--we'd rather do this, and suffer the shame of it, than see our beloved people of Israel led astray from God by the followers of this deceiver. Blah blah, rend our garments, insert further similar rhetorical counterpunches here, anyone wanting to stone these people now will have our blessing. Stones are free of charge in case anyone was worrying, having gone to the Temple in recent years..."

Would the public scandal of them displaying a body be a bar to them? The more accurate question would be whether this would be a bar to men who had been willing to turn a man regarded by many as a prophet and even as the Messiah over to the hated pagan Roman overlords to be tortured to death in a fashion regarded as cursed by God! The question of public scandal practically answers itself: they (or many of the Sanhedrin, aside from whoever converted of course) already thought that Jesus was a major public scandal, likely to bring a curse from God on Israel and/or Roman military intervention.

Most Jews no doubt pitied any Jews slain by Roman government (especially in such a horrid and religiously cursed fashion). Would the Sanhedrin have regarded this a bar to proceeding? They hadn't regarded it as a bar to handing Jesus over to be crucified in the first place! Even more to the point, most Jews wouldn't generally have much pity for freaking blaspheming pretender Messiahs executed at the behest of their own God-sanctioned religious authorities (even if the pagans were the ones to pull the trigger). The popular notion (as, again, the Gospels quite
realistically report) was always that Jesus was going to save Israel from
her oppressors. The reported reactions of the crowds when it looked like He had no intention of doing that, are again quite realistic. And He (or in their understanding 'he') did worse than merely fail. The end. (Except, it wasn't: here are his damned followers again--why are they here? Shouldn't they be crawling into a hole in shame??)

This is where most Christian apologists would fetch up with "therefore they must not have had a body". I can already argue that very solidly on other grounds, though. But this bring us to a question that must be faced: would a lack of a body have been a practical bar in itself? Maybe a moral bar, if enough of the Sanhedrin thought it would be wrong to lie to the people for their own good by producing a fake body. But by itself would a lack of the body have been a practical bar?

I think the answer is obviously: NO!

Crucified bodies of male Jews of approximately the proper age, body-build and hairstyles (or dead male Jews who could be posthumously crucified) could be easily supplied from such a large population. Within a plausible range of time, not too early and not too late, it need not even look much like Jesus at all: he was beaten and scourged and crucified and then decomposing in a grave somewhere for however-many-weeks-or-months, right?

But the body becoming putrescent goo is not really an issue. That was the ideal result in 1st Century Palestine (it's what the spices and flowers were for, to accelerate the body's composition down to the bones faster.) But even today we're still sometimes pulling fairly intact bodies out of the ground dating back to that time and place. (Such as the man recovered from a tomb of the 1st Century Jerusalem super-rich back in the year 2000. He died of tuberculosis; but he wasn't quite yet putrescent goo.) If the Sanhedrin says they decided to recover or even to preserve the body instead for such a contingency, it's plausible enough to be believed.

Such an attempt at deception wouldn't have convinced the core group of Christians, of course. But the Sanhedrin's goal would not have been to de-convert the main converts; the point would be to inoculate the populace against heresy (even blasphemy). When the Inquisition of the College of Cardinals arrives in town, displaying the remains of Josh the Freaking Heretic, does it really matter whether the body is identifiable by terms of 1st century forensics? If the Sanhedrin says THIS IS THE BODY, then the faithful can say, "Yes sir, great illuminated rabbi! Glad you showed us!", and fly the flag of loyalty.

Regardless of how popular the Sanhedrin might have been among the people at this time, they were the ones completely controlling the sacrificial system and rituals without which (an observant Jew would believe) there could be no atonement with God for sins. (Later Jews had to come up with solutions in the aftermath of the Temple's destruction, but this is not relevant at any time that the Sanhedrin could have faked showing a body to dissuade converts.) Annas, at least, had been properly chosen as high priest, and even if strictly speaking his sons (and son-in-law) hadn't been properly sanctified for the task the "real" high priest was giving his sanction to their actions. The office is what is important in such a culture, moreso than the character of the person.

So the Sanhedrin's success at such a ruse wouldn't have to depend on what their general standing was among the population. They only have to be accepted enough as proper authorities; and if the population didn't accept them enough as proper religious authorities there would have already been rebellion to throw them down.

More than relying on the people having an especially high opinion of them, the Sanhedrin would be relying on the people having a normally low opinion of blaspheming heretics, dying a cursed death abandoned by God without even standing up to the goddless pagan oppressors and freeing the "good" people from the "bad" ones.

The apostles (and other evangelizing disciples) are the ones having to go against the natural grain here--and without a living Jesus to point to, either!

So is there any reason, aside from moral restraint, for not foxing the apostles and other disciples by producing a "body" of Jesus, even if the Sanhedrin didn't have the real body to work with?


they had already lent their weight of authority to sanction the story that the disciples of Jesus stole the body.

This would put them in a tight quandry.

1.) They don't have the real body to produce;

2.) Producing a fake body while contradicting their own official story would naturally lead to strong suspicion about their fake body;

3.) Worse, their panicked first-response story was itself terribly weak!

They can't simply take back what the guards were told (maybe paid) to say with Sanhedrin-backed authority. Neither can they plausibly sustain that first story under much close scrutiny.

The best tactic for the Sanhedrin then would be:

(a) to quickly and quietly drop support for the guards without outright repudiating the guards;

and then

(b) never lend direct support again to any theory about what really happened to the body.

They can't stop the stolen body guard story from spreading anymore, but they can minimize its spread in ways that don't require publicly going back on their initial official support of it. This also means, however, they have inadvertently barred themselves (regardless of any moral problems they might also have) from trying a fake body ploy so long as there is any risk of the population remembering that first the Sanhedrin officially backed a (very weak!) testimony from guards of the body about disciples stealing the body.

The population meanwhile is presented with a confusing problem: Levite guards, good trustable Jewish servants of the Temple, started out incriminating themselves on a serious failure of their duty in order to testify that the disciples stole the body--a self-incrimination which, in a shame and honor culture, might be seen as lending some weight to a story which has some serious implausibility problems on closer scrutiny (or which might be seen as calling the testimony of the guards into immediate question since by their own admission they were being sadly incompetent)--but the disciples who supposedly stole the body to fake a resurrection don't start talking about it--okay, so maybe the guard testimony had some real weight after all and kept the disciples from doing so--but then the Sanhedrin quickly stopped directly supporting and promoting the guards' story without outright admitting they were wrong to support the story--and dang, here are the disciples showing up again after Pentacost insisting that Jesus rose bodily from the grave and appeared to them by a miracle of God! But the Levite soldiers aren't supported by the Sanhedrin anymore in trying to combat this claim!--in fact the Sanhedrin avoids taking any position on what happened to the body at all anymore!

That's the theory.

How well, abductively, does it fit the facts insofar as those can be established?

We can solidly infer that the body was gone; that guards had been set to guard the body; that they had no idea what happened to the body; that they started telling fellow Jews that they themselves (the guards) were the ones at fault for lapsing in their duty allowing disciples to steal the body; that this story was spread with official sanction; and that whenever GosMatt was written, Jews in contact with its author (and/or his congregation) still thought it had enough weight to use it in counter-apologetics. Also, the author thought it had enough weight in some way (which, from the resultant shape of the data, we can solidly conclude had to be thanks to its official authoritative backing by the Sanhedrin) that he considered it important enough to spend time and effort counter-replying to it somehow. This leads to the indisputable fact that GosMatt includes a story rebutting this Jewish counter-Christian apologetic about the missing body of Jesus of Nazareth.

We also know from other textual results, both Christian and Jewish, that despite official backing by the Sanhedrin this story of the guards gained very little traction--so little that none of the canonical authors thought it was worth their effort to reply to the charge directly: not even in the Acts of the Apostles, which is the earliest existent such record of the early Christian years (and by far the one with the best historical bona fides compared to other "Acts" texts, regardless of how good or poorly anyone judges the accuracy of the details on their own merits), and so which of all texts might have been expected to be the one to feature rebuttals to such a charge. But Luke (or whoever authored it), either didn't know about the charge or thought it not worth his time replying to it, and represents the Sanhedrin as operating during the same time period the guards must have been testifying as though the guard's story just isn't a factor in their deliberations and oppositions to the Christian movement.

On the other hand, the story of the body being stolen does survive sporadically in Jewish texts for the following centuries; but only in a very offhanded way. In fact, despite its rare deployment, it's the most (relatively) poplar specific theory about what happened to the body (aside from general charges of sorcery and/or deception).

Does the theory fit the facts?

Yes: it fits and explains the facts. The guard story is weak enough to be both plausible as a panicked first invention of what happened to the body (the Sanhedrin thought they had to come up with some explanation fast and get it out to the public, and didn't have the wherewithal under the circumstances to invent or infer a stronger one), and also something the Sanhedrin would want to quickly withdraw their support from. But it was official enough and heavily promoted enough at first that even if the Sanhedrin believes it has to pull back support for such a weak story, to save their reputation, they would also be consequently trapped about changing the story about what happened and doubling down on having their reputation ruined. Not unless they could be sure they were backing the truth--which creating a scam with a fake dead body certainly wouldn't be! (Assigning an energetic and popular young advocate to hunt down the disciples, and demonstrate to the people that the disciples are frauds, would be a better idea. Maybe he could learn, in a provable way, what really happened to that body!) Besides, any converts to Christianity among the Sanhedrin and its supporters would be providing at least quiet pressure to keep opposition fair.

Christians meanwhile wouldn't be too eager to bring up the guard testimony themselves, even if the Sanhedrin quietly drops support--after all, that would be impugning the honor of Levite Temple soldiers, and the disciples hardly have a live Jesus to show by contrast! They're already working at a huge disadvantage against major cultural challenges. Why borrow trouble? The evidence suggests the guard story was strongly promoted at first and then quickly lost direct authority support; that could have happened well before Pentacost, leaving good reasons for neither side to be fond of bringing it up afterward. "Luke", researching and compiling from eyewitnesses (as he claims) several decades later might not even learn about it, or think it worth addressing on his own steam, or find anything among eyewitness tradition to report disputes between the disciples and the Sanhedrin about the guards. But the researcher does report, in Acts, that some of the chief priests and their supporters converted to "the Way", as Christianity was called in its early days.

Yet the initial strong thrust of the guard story carries on in sporadic leaps (sporadic because quickly deprived of direct authoritative support; but still carrying on due to the original authoritative support, in lieu of any better explanation), and GosMatt's author (at whatever time and place) finds it a challenge worth responding to when he's composing his account. It continues to show up sporadically for the next centuries ('showing up' and 'sporadically' for the same cluster of reasons), and Christian apologists occasionally address it in reply.

The facts have causes of some sort for why they are the shape they are. And this theory bridges establishable (if somewhat disputable) facts over here, with establishable (and largely indisputable) facts over there.

To put the theory shortly: even the ruthless crooks among the Sanhedrin didn't bother acting secretly as a coterie (against larger Sanhedrin moral concerns, if any) to fake a "found" or "recovered" body of Jesus, which would have required official Sanhedrin backing to be worthwhile as counter-Christian evidence, because the Sanhedrin had already hastily backed a story so weak they had felt it wiser to quietly drop support of it. This wouldn't have been a problem had they ever found, in a truly demonstrable way, the body of Jesus of Nazareth (or at least what had happened to the body); but they never did.

(Or, one of the Sanhedrin advocates, looking for that body, thought he had found it where he wasn't expecting it, to say the least.)

Jason Pratt
composed and posted on Good Friday, 2012
nearing sundown local time
commemorating once again
the death and burial
of that body


Jason Pratt said…
Here are some links to the original discussion. These aren't necessary to follow the argument, but they're where I first talked about it (if obliquely), so I thought I should present them.

Part 1 of my exchange with Keith can be found here, which was based on Keith's reply to a critique by J. P. Holding. (...I think. I've slept since then.)

The second part of my first contributions to that exchange, can be found (not very well formatted by Victor in posting it to his weblog unfortunately) here.

Keith's reply to me can be found here; and my reply where I correct some of my misunderstandings of his argument (among other things) can be found here. Whew!

There was also a sort of intraquel reply between my first and second exchanges with Keith, where I commented on someone else's attempts at defending Dr. Parsons here.)

The sandherin faking a body sounds like a plot for I love Lucy. "Lucy, You got some 'splaining to do." Talk about a hair brained scheme. Can't you just see Lucy and Ethal trying to work up the nerve to steal a body?

The thing is it would be too easy for the disciples to say "that's not him." Only Lucy would think of it anyway. She wouldn't be allowed on the Sanhedrin.
Jason Pratt said…
Discples: "That's not him."

Population: "That messed up crucified dead male Jew of the proper age and body build and hair style isn't him?"

Disciples: "Of course not! He's alive and we've seen him."

Population: "..." {backing slowly away to find some stones}

Easy enough to say it isn't Him; not so easy to prove it when they themselves lack a body at all (especially a body in the condition they're saying it's in instead!)

Whereas, unless the Sanhedrin has done something recently which would call their competency and/or honesty into question by producing a body now, would have all the advantages in their favor.

(Except, they did do something like that recently. {g})

Jason Pratt said…
Whoops, bad grammatic composition there. It ought to read, "Whereas the Sanhedrin, unless they have done..." etc.
Don't you think here's a little matter of what he looked like. The disciples knew better what he looked like. Even stupid ancient world people were smart to know people have different faces. Height, Weight and hair color (they all had black hair) don't' make people the same person.
Jason Pratt said…
As I noted up in the article, the goal of producing a fake body wouldn't be to convince the disciples, but to inoculate other people against the disciples. (My reply in the comments followed the same thrust; in my humorous dialogue, the disciples remain firmly convinced it isn't Jesus.)

Different faces also look even more different after they've been heavily damaged by beating and then left in the ground for a few weeks. A face that plausibly looks kind-of similar keeping those factors in account is all they would need.

I specifically said that they would have to match body-style (i.e. height and weight but also other factors such as making sure he's a circumcised Jew not a Gentile, proper skin coloring, a muscular woodcarver/artisan sort who has been walking a lot recently instead of being skinny or pudgy) plus hair-style (which would involve not only coloring but parts, receding hairlines or not, Nazarite hair-tail or not) and general age (not too old or too young).

But with a large population of Jewish males to choose from, finding one who had recently died (before or after Christ), maybe even from crucifixion (although for 1st century standards they could scourge and crucify him after the fact if necessary), shouldn't be too problematic.

A really hardcore coterie of Sanhedrin crooks might even arrange for someone to fit the bill who hadn't died yet. "It is better for one man to die for the nation", as one such fellow once said in very related circumstances. {g}

Jason Pratt said…
So yes, I do think "there's a little matter of what he looked like", and that such an attempt wouldn't fool the disciples. I acknowledged and accounted for those specifically in the argument.

Anonymous said…
I think your article is too speculative. We need to be wise about speculating. All we do know is that the view that the disciples had stolen the body was still a popular view. The text says that and it is believable because it meets historical standards.

Anything more than that is speculation. Perhaps the empty tomb and appearances were so wide spread that the Jews couldn't have even considered bringing out somebody's body and acting like it was the body of Jesus. Furthermore, the San. would have to purposely try to decieve by producing a fake body. Surely they wouldn't do that because of the assosiated risks of deception. It would boost the disciples claim that Jesus was risen if the San. were shown to be deceiving.

Holding on to one view, and perhaps ignoring many of the disciples claims about the risen Jesus that had surely spread all througout Jerusalem and the outskirts, would have helped them. Changing stories, as you showed, would have made them lose crediability. Thus, there probably was just the theft story, as Matthew reports.
Jason Pratt said…
Anon: {{We need to be wise about speculating.}}

Well, you didn't explain what you mean by "wise", but I qualified my speculations out the wazoo, and connected them with very detailed analyses of the historical situation. So I wasn't just throwing them out there.

{{All we do know is that the view that the disciples had stolen the body was still a popular view.}}

We also know that this was such a non-popular view that none of the other evangelists, nor St. Paul, ever bother to mention it--not even in Acts where it would have made the most sense to do so.

We also can figure out pretty easily that the Sanhedrin could have faked showing a body.

So there are two important questions: why was the body-theft story important enough to survive for GosMatt's audience to face yet so unsupported that none of the other evangelists felt like they had to directly address it? And why didn't the Sanhedrin just fake a body discovery, when they could have easily done so?

The theory bridges those two problematic questions to explain the shape of the resultant data.

{{Perhaps the empty tomb and appearances were so wide spread that the Jews couldn't have even considered bringing out somebody's body and acting like it was the body of Jesus.}}

The empty tomb, by definition, could not have been "widespread"; and producing a faked body would have answered the empty tomb. The texts meanwhile indicate that the appearances were not widespread, and definitely not so widespread that the Jewish leaders wouldn't have considered faking a body. Your speculation doesn't fit the resulting shape of the texts; and if the appearances were that widespread so that everyone knew Jesus had really risen from the dead so thoroughly a faked body wouldn't have convinced them otherwise practically all Judaism (not to say all local Gentiles) would have become Christian! And would have quickly ousted the Sanhedrin representatives had they insisted on not becoming Christian, too.

This, to put it mildly, did not happen.

{{Holding on to one view... would have helped them.}}

But the resulting data indicates they quickly dropped direct support to the stolen body claim (while not directly renouncing it either).

{{Surely they wouldn't do that because of the associated risks of deception. It would boost the disciples claim that Jesus was risen if the San. were shown to be deceiving.}}

That's true, but they had already (one way or another) backed the guard story--with direct intention to deceive, if GosMatt's source is accurate. The guards themselves were already a major risk of turning around and admitting deception.

At least some of the Sanhedrin were willing to temporarily back a clearly weak explanation, so they were already willing to at least partially deceive at risk to their reputation. But of course my theory involves this being (in synch with GosMatt details) a panicked first response on their part, not a calculated plan of deception (even if some of them paid off the guards to spread the stolen-body story). As you say, they'd be gambling a lot on a faked body ploy even if they hadn't already put their authority behind an official explanation at odds with a discovered body.

Anyway, my argument was that my previous argument about the historical veracity of the Sanhedrin backing a stolen body story, helps solve two subsequent problems in historical apologetics: why didn't they just fake a body? (Because they had already hastily backed a weak stolen body claim.) Why wasn't the stolen-body claim important enough for other evangelists to address directly? (Because it was so demonstrably weak the Sanhedrin would have naturally wanted to drop direct support of it, even though they couldn't renounce it without something much stronger to present--which they didn't have.)


Popular posts from this blog

How Many Children in Bethlehem Did Herod Kill?

Where did Jesus say "It is better to give than receive?"

The Bogus Gandhi Quote

Discussing Embryonic Stem Cell Research

Revamping and New Articles at the CADRE Site

Exodus 22:18 - Are Followers of God to Kill Witches?

A Botched Abortion Shows the Lies of Pro-Choice Proponents

Jewish writings and a change in the Temple at the time of the Death of Jesus

Tillich, part 2: What does it mean to say "God is Being Itself?"

The Folded Napkin Legend