In 1994, Time Magazine reported that Bible scholar John Dominic Crossan believed that the body of Jesus was laid in a shallow grave and some wild dogs came along and ate it. This is just one of the theories that some skeptics use to explain what happened to Jesus’ body. Besides this and other theories that I have discussed before (the body was stolen or moved) there are many other theories that try to explain the missing body:
- The body had decomposed by the time the disciples had started preaching that Jesus had resurrected. The disciples began telling people in Jerusalem about the resurrection of Jesus about 50 days after the crucifixion, so it is argued that the body was so decomposed by then that no one could tell it was Jesus’ body. Since no one could tell whose body it was the disciples believed that Jesus had resurrected.
- The women and disciples went to the wrong tomb. The body of Jesus was still lying in Joseph’s tomb or wherever it had been laid.
- The body was left on the cross for the birds to consume.
- The Romans put the body in a “limited pit.”
- The body was placed in a criminal’s grave. Historian Richard Carrier believes that since Jewish law demanded that criminals be buried dishonorably, then Jesus’ body must have been placed in a criminal’s grave. Even if Joseph of Arimathea did place Jesus’ body in his own tomb, Joseph must have moved the body to the criminal grave Saturday night in order to honor Jewish law. He even says that to delay the burial in the criminal grave would have been illegal.
- The body was put “in the sand.”
There are problems with each of the above theories. First, let me discuss the possibility of decomposition. Since there were about 50 days between Jesus’ death and the preaching of the disciples it is not impossible that the body had at least started to decompose. However, there are some major problems with this theory. Christian writer James Patrick Holding says:
There are two primary difficulties with [the decomposition] argument. The first is that, in supposing the body was indeed produced but was unrecognizable, we are lacking the tremendous literary and historical footprint that would have been cast in response, in both Christian and Jewish literature. As is frequently noted, Christian and Jewish polemic (such as the Gospel of Matthew, and in Talmudic literature) assumes that the tomb was found empty: The charges of theft implied by the Jewish literature, and responded to by Matthew and later Christian writers, do not cohere with a body being at some point produced, or with the possibility of refutation by indicating that the body – even some body – was still there. It all indicates, rather, that the location and identification of the body was certainly known.
Holding also notes that the bones of a dead person were collected and put in ossuaries which were inscribed with the name of the person, so there was obviously some method to identify the decomposed remains of any person. Exactly what this was is unknown. Holding makes some suggestions such as distinctive burial cloths, a tag attached to the corpse, or even some kind of record of the location of the body. Jews took the death and burial of a person very seriously since they believed in the bodily resurrection at the end of the age. This made them very careful to know whose remains were whose. So the idea that the body was decomposed fails. The Jews during Jesus’ day, and afterwards, were very good at identifying decomposed corpses.
The other theories above are all different variations of the “wrong tomb” theory. This teaches that the women went to the wrong tomb on Easter morning. This is clearly wrong. Scholar William Lane Craig says it well: “[e]ven if the women had made this mistake, the authorities would have been only too happy to point out the tomb and correct the disciples’ error when they began to proclaim that Jesus had risen from the dead.” The authorities, the gardener, or anyone else who has been accused of moving the body would have known where the body was taken and would have shown the disciples.
The idea that Jesus’ body would have been left on the cross is simply absurd. Even Richard Carrier, an atheist, notes that the body of a crucified man was required by Jewish law to be taken down before sunset (see Deuteronomy 21:22-23; Joshua 8:29; 10:26-27).
In regards to the idea that Joseph of Arimathea had to move the body Saturday night, there was no reason for him to move the body so quickly even though it was a dishonorable death. Even if Joseph did go and move the body that late at night, the guards would have known that Joseph had come and taken the body.
To put it simply, regardless of whether Jesus’ body was placed in a limited pit, in the sand, in a criminal grave, or was still lying in some other tomb, there would have been plenty of people in Jerusalem (during a festival where there may have been hundreds of thousands or even millions of Jews) who would have known where the body was. Remember that the resurrection of the dead was so important to the Jews that it would have been someone’s job to record where bodies were placed, so someone had to know where Jesus’ body was.
Skeptics keep coming up with theories to explain the empty tomb. In each and every case, their arguments fail and I’m sure that we will never stop hearing about new theories in the future.
What do you think? Leave a comment below and like us on Facebook.
 Richard N. Ostling. “Jesus Christ, Plain and Simple,” Time, January 10, 1994, 32-33.
 Gerd Ludemann. “Closing Response.” In Jesus’ Resurrection: Fact or Figment? Paul Copan and Ronald K. Tacelli eds. Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2000. Pg. 153.
 Peter Kirby. “The Case Against the Empty Tomb.” In The Empty Tomb. Robert M. Price and Jeffrey Jay Lowder eds. Amherst: Prometheus Books, 2005. Pg. 233.
 Kirby, 233.
 Richard Carrier. “The Burial of Jesus in Light of Jewish Law.” In The Empty Tomb. Robert M. Price and Jeffrey Jay Lowder eds. Amherst: Prometheus Books, 2005. Pgs. 371, 381-384. Also see Kirby, 233.
 Kirby, 234.
 James Patrick Holding. Defending the Resurrection. Xulon Press, 2010. Pg. 387.
 Holding, 388.
 Lee Strobal. The Case for Christ. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1998. Pg. 221.
 Carrier, 377.
 Holding, 403-404.