D. C. Thielmann - Biblical Scholar and Author

The Death of Jesus: The Number 1 Insidious Gospel Myth

D. C. Thielmann - Biblical Scholar & Author

The Death of Jesus: The Number 1 Insidious Gospel Myth

Did the Death of Jesus Actually Occur On the Cross?

The Death of Jesus

The death of Jesus is second in importance in Christian doctrine only to that of the resurrection of Jesus. Yet, without the death of Jesus then there would be no resurrection of Jesus, and thus, in essence Christianity’s most essential doctrine of the resurrection of Jesus most assuredly depends upon the death of Jesus. These two matters are inescapably intertwined! Therefore, what happens to Christianity if it were determined that the death of Jesus is nothing but a myth?

The first thing that we must look at is Matthew 27:34, which uses the Greek word, oinon, (meaning “vine wine,” or “sweet wine,” a “wine” that was used “medicinally”),[i] whereas Mark 15:36 uses the Greek word, oxous, (meaning, “sour wine,” “poor wine,” or even “vinegar wine”),[ii] as does Luke 23:36, oxos, (which is simply an alternate spelling of oxous), and John 19:29-30 uses both oxos and oxous in regards to the drink generally translated out in all of these verses as “vinegar” that is offered to Jesus while he is on the cross.

This “wine” was an “anodyne,” a “narcotic” that the Jews mixed with “frankincense” before stoning an individual to death causing “unconsciousness,” so that the individual felt no pain during the stoning, (Talmud, Sanhedrin 43a; Sanhedrin 52a, Semahot 44a). But the Romans mixed “myrrh,” (“gall,” Greek, choles, as found in Matthew 27:34), with this “wine” to make it taste like “sour wine,” or “vinegar,” to be used during crucifixion in order to cause an individual to “lose consciousness,” which caused crucifixion to become more excruciating.[iii]

Now the Gospels first state that Jesus refused this “wine,” yet then in Matthew 27:48; John 19:30 Jesus does drink of this “narcotic wine.” After drinking this “narcotic wine,” Matthew 27:50; Mark 15:37; Luke 23:46 all state that Jesus “breathed his last,” yet John 19:30 states, “he gave up his spirit.”

Thus, it is best to interpret the phrases, “breathed his last,” and “he gave up his spirit” from the standpoint of the Jewish idioms from which they derive, and thus, one understands that all four Gospels are saying the same thing, and this being that Jesus was no longer “conscious,” or in other words, Jesus’ “spirit” had separated from his “body,” or a reversal of what is stated in Genesis 2:7.[iv] This then does not mean that this was the death of Jesus though! For under Jewish idioms a separating of one’s “living body” from one’s “spirit” did not necessarily indicate one’s death, (Talmud Ketubbot 77b; Berakhot 18b-19a for example)!

This brings us directly into the next matter to examine, and this matter being that all four Gospels, Matthew 27:58; Mark 15:43; Luke 23:52; John 19:38 use the Greek word soma in regards to Jesus’ body after Jesus had “breathed his last,” or “gave up his spirit.” From this Greek root word soma are derived such words as autosome, chromosome, and somatic, all of which have a related meaning, “of, or relating to, the physical corporeal body.” Also, another word derived from soma is, psychosomatic, which mean, “relating to, or involving, or resulting from interaction between mind and body,” and/or, “resulting from the influence of emotional stress or conflict on a predisposed somatic area, organ, or bodily system.”

All of these words derived from the Greek root word soma involve either a part, or the whole of a physical living body separate from the spirit. In other words, the Greek word soma means, “a living body,” and/or “a body still showing signs of life”![v] Therefore, we have “multiple attestation” – from all four Gospels – that Jesus was still alive when Pilate was asked for the soma, (“body”), of Jesus to be taken down from the cross and placed into the tomb! This could be referred to in modern medical terminology as the “Lazarus Phenomenon,” or “Autoresuscitation.”

In Mark’s version, Mark 15:43, Joseph of Arimathea runs to Pilate to request to be given Jesus’ soma. Yet, Pilate is stunned by this request, for the punishment of crucifixion was a slow, tortuous death sentence taking anywhere from two to three days to complete, and not the mere three to six hours in regards to the death of Jesus![vi]

Therefore, Pilate asks one of the Roman soldiers about the death of Jesus to which we find Mark 15:45 using a completely different Greek word in regards to the “body” of Jesusptoma, which this Greek word does mean a, “lifeless dead body.” Thus, from Mark’s Gospel, and his usage of two different Greek words – soma and ptoma – we learn that Joseph of Arimathea tricks Pilate into believing in the death of Jesus![vii]

Now, Pilate was not obligated to turn Jesus’ soma over to Joseph of Arimathea. This was not standard Roman practice in regards to an individual being crucified. Standard Roman practice in regards to an individual who had been crucified was to leave the victim on the cross and let wild animals devour the corpse. The only exceptions to this were made for certain prominent families who had their own family tombs.

Yevamot 16.3, speaks about how a rich man might bribe the Roman governor or a Roman soldier into releasing an individual from crucifixion. Therefore, one’s death could not be proven as a result of crucifixion until the vultures, or some other wild animal began to attack the crucified individual’s body, Babli, Yevamot 120b; Mishneh Torah, Hilkhot Geirushin 13, 18; Rashi to Babli, Yevamot 12a; Tosafot to Yevamot 12a.

In Mishnah, Sanhedrin 6.5 it states that burial of executed criminals was done only in a special cemetery set aside for condemned criminals and that private citizens could not bury such convicts. Yet, private citizens could bury criminals in private tombs who had been convicted under Roman law (Semahot 2.7 and 2.11), and, Roman law allowed for friends and relatives to request that a convict executed under Roman law be allowed to be buried by them (Corpus Juris Civilis 48, 24, 1).

The Gospel of Matthew is the only Gospel stating that Pilate was asked to have guards placed at Jesus’ tomb, (Matthew 27:62). The placing of guards near burial areas though was not only standard Roman practice, it was also standard Jewish practice as well to prevent the desecration of those recently buried. In the nineteenth century archaeologists discovered an imperial Roman edict at a cemetery discovered near the modern city of Nazareth that was inscribed in Greek and dating from the time of Pilate and Jesus that declared that there would be severe punishment for anyone removing bodies from tombs and moving them somewhere else.[viii]

Concerning the death of Jesus, understanding Jewish law at the time of Jesus in regards to someone being considered legally dead is essential. Mishnah, Semahot 8:1; Talmud, Sanhedrin 90b-91a; Shabbat 152b-153a; Tanhuma Miqetz 4; Pequdei 3 all state that three days was required to have passed before one could be declared legally dead. This was because there had been mistakes made in past Jewish history when it had been presumed that an individual was dead when in fact, they really were not dead, Talmud, Shabbat 55b; Sotah 15:15: Leviticus Rabbah 18:1. Mishnah, Semahot 8:1 even speaks of a man presumed to be dead who went on to live 25 more years and have 5 children!

In Mishnah Yevamot 16.3, is found a legal ruling regarding a woman who desired to marry again, yet she first had to provide proof that her current husband was legally dead, and she could not use the claim that her husband was dead simply because she saw him hanging on a crucifix. For claiming such was not proof that an individual was either dead, or that they were going to die as stated even by the Jewish historian Josephus, Life, 421 where Josephus speaks about three individuals who were crucified, yet one of the three survived the crucifixion.

Jewish idioms, noted above, understood that the “body” and the “spirit” were separate entities, and thus, one’s “body” (soma) is still “alive,” even though they might be near death because the “spirit” had departed the soma due to a state of “unconsciousness.”Therefore, the “spirit” remained nearby to a soma attempting to reenter, and thus, not until actual signs of decay began to appear was a “body” considered to be a ptoma. This is exactly what the Gospels report that occurred with Jesus – “he gave up the spirit,” but was still showing “signs of life” in his soma (“body”) – Jesus still had a heartbeat!

So, did the death of Jesus have the required lapse of time under Jewish law of “three days” between when Jesus “gave up the spirit” and the finding of the empty tomb? The Synoptic Gospels state it was the ninth hour, three pm on Friday when Jesus “gave up the spirit,” (Matthew 27:45-50; Mark 15:33-34; Luke 23:44), and all four Gospels state that it was early on the “first day of the week,” or Sunday when the tomb was found empty, (Matthew 28:1; Mark 16:2; Luke 24:1; John 20:1). Luke 24:23 again uses the Greek word soma, (Jesus’ “body” that was still showing “signs of life”), in regards to Jesus’ “body” not being found inside the tomb!

Therefore, from three pm Friday until three pm Saturday would be one day, and from three pm Saturday until three pm Sunday would be only two days, so whoa, we have a problem in regards to the required Jewish law of “three days,” between when Jesus “gave up the spirit” and when the empty tomb was found early on the “first day of the week” – Sunday morning, or less than two days after Jesus “gave up the spirit.” The time lapse for the death of Jesus is far less than the three days required under Jewish law for a soma to be declared legally dead!

Another important matter in regards to the death of Jesus is found only in the Gospel of John 19:34,which states, “But one of the soldiers with a spear pierced his side, and forthwith came there out blood and water.” Yet, it is now known from modern medicine, such as is described in Black’s Medical Dictionary[ix] that, “An important sign (of death) is that if a cut be made in the skin or a vessel be opened no bleeding takes place after death.”[x]

The Greek word translated as “resurrected” in regards to the death of Jesus is anastasis, which also offers the meanings of, “to stand up,” “to make one rise and leave their place,” “removal,” a “restoration,” or even, “a rising and moving off.”[xi] To offer an analogy of the possible meaning of this Greek word anastasis: “In 1948 the Jewish people were anastasis (“resurrected”) as the Nation of Israel.” This does not mean that the Jewish people were “dead” and “brought back to life,” nor does the usage of anastasis in the Gospels prove the death of Jesus, nor prove that Jesus was “brought back to life.”

The death of Jesus and the resurrection of Jesus are the most essential aspects of Christianity, yet the Gospels are not congruent in regards to what actually occurred! There are numerous discrepancies between all four Gospel accounts regarding these matters![xii]

Thus, the question needs to be asked: since the death of Jesus and the resurrection of Jesus are the most essential part of Christian doctrine then, should we not find that all four Gospels are in complete and total agreement with each other in regards to these two matters? Yet again, there is no congruous agreement between the four Gospels as to what occurred!

In one Gospel account, (John 20:1), “Mary Magdelenealone goes to the sepulcher. In a second Gospel account, (Matthew 28:1), “Mary Magdelene and the other Mary” go to the sepulcher. In the third Gospel account, (Mark 16:1-2), “Mary Magdelene, and Mary the mother of James, and Salome” go to the sepulcher, and in the fourth Gospel account, (Luke 24:1), it simply states “they,” (indicating more than one individual), plus “certain others” (again indicating more than one individual), went to the sepulcher. Thus, Luke’s account says at least four, and possibly more, (none of whom are indicated by name), went to the sepulcher. So, which is it? Was it one: two: three: four: or more, individuals that went to the sepulcher?

Even more confusing though, is that in 1 Corinthians 15:3-8, a writing which all scholars agree was written before any of the Gospels were written, Paul mentions nothing after the death of Jesus about any women being the first to see a resurrected Jesus nor anything about an empty tomb.[xiii]

Looking further into the Gospel discrepancies after the death of Jesus, was there an “earthquake” (Matthew 28:2)? Were there “two men,” (Luke 24:2-5), or “two angels,” (John 20:12), or was it a single “young man,” (Mark 16:5), or a single “angel” (Matthew 28:2-5)? Were “they” sitting “at the head” and “at the feet” of where “Jesus had lain,” (John 20:12)? Or, was it that they “stood” there, (Luke 24:4)? Or, was “he” sitting inside the sepulcher “on the right,” (Mark 16:5)? Or could it possibly have been that, after “he” had “rolled away the stone” that “he” was sitting “upon it,” (Matthew 28:2)?

It becomes quite obvious, without needing to go any further that there is absolutely no congruity to the four Gospel accounts concerning either the death of Jesus or the resurrection of Jesus. The most essential aspects of Christianity and there is no congruity within the four Gospel accounts![xiv] The fact that the most essential pieces of Christian doctrine have no congruity in the Gospel accounts means that there is no authoritative proof to any claims regarding either the death of Jesus, and/or the resurrection of Jesus! They are both a myth and not a fact!

D. C. Thielmann (excerpts from On Earth As It Is In Heaven, Volume 1)

[i]  See BDAG Greek-English Lexicon, p. 701; Liddell & Scott Greek-English Lexicon, p. 547.

[ii]  See BDAG Greek-English Lexicon, p. 715; Liddell & Scott Greek-English Lexicon, p. 560.

[iii]  See John Dominic Crossan, Who Killed Jesus, pp. 144-145; Raymond E. Brown, The Death of the Messiah, pp. 941-944, and n. 15, p. 941; Pliny, Natural History, 14.92; 28.179; 29.137; 34.140; Herodotus, 7.181; Columella, 6:38.

[iv]  See the comments of Fritz Kunkel, Creation Continues, p. 80.

[v]   See Donovan Joyce, The Jesus Scroll, p. 120; Ann Wroe, Pontius Pilate, p. 306.

[vi]  See the comments of Ann Wroe, Pontius Pilate, p. 304.

[vii]  See the comments of Ann Wroe, Pontius Pilate, p. 320.

[viii]  See Ann Wroe, Pontius Pilate, p. 314.

[ix]  Black’s Medical Dictionary, p. 235.

[x]   See Haim Cohn, The Trial and Death of Jesus, pp. 233-234; D. F. Strauss, The Life of Jesus Critically Examined, pp. 143-144.

[xi]  See Liddell & Scott Greek-English Lexicon, p. 62; BDAG Greek-English Lexicon, pp. 71-72.

[xii] Why Christianity Must Change or Die, John Shelby Spong, p. 15; Jesus: Apocalyptic Prophet of the New Millenium, Bart D. Ehrman, p. 228; The First Easter Morning, Edward L. Bode, pp. 5-24; Jesus of Nazareth, Günther Bornkamm, pp. 181-183; Virginal Conception, Raymond E. Brown, pp. 99-106, 117-125; The Resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth, Willi Marxsen, pp. 72-74; Resurrection, Pheme Perkins, pp. 91-93; The Birth of the Christian Faith, James McLeman, pp. 9-12. H. Daniel-Rops, Jesus and His Times, p. 574.

[xiii]  The Meaning of Jesus: Two Versions, Marcus J. Borg and N. T. Wright, p. 132; Peter C. Moore and George R. Sumner Jr., Can A Bishop Be Wrong? P. 121; Russell Shorto, Gospel Truth, p. 219; John Drane, Jesus and the Four Gospels, pp. 77-78; James McLeman, The Birth of Christian Faith, p. 16; E. P. Sanders, Jesus and Judaism, pp. 98-99.

[xiv]  The Literary Guide To the Bible, Robert Alter and Frank Kermode, pp. 461-462; Who Killed Jesus, John Dominic Crossan, p. 6.

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