The Sealing of the Tomb

The Gospel of Matthew says that the Jewish religious leaders “made the tomb secure, sealing the stone and setting the guard” (Matthew 27:66). The Roman seal was a cord that stretched across the stone. It was fastened at each end with sealing clay (Daniel 6:17). Before the tomb could be opened, the fastenings would have to be broken. The seal indicated Roman power and the Emperor's ownership.

Breaking the Roman seal was a capital offense that carried the death penalty. The Roman guards witnessed the sealing after confirming that what they were to guard—Jesus’ dead body—was indeed in the tomb. The seal was sacred to the Roman guard.

Timeless Truth

J. D. Crossan of the Jesus Seminar believes that Jesus’ burial is “wishful thinking” and nothing more than a tradition. He claims Jesus was either eaten by birds while still on the cross or that he was buried in a shallow common grave where his body was eaten by wild dogs. In this view, Joseph of Arimathea was invented by the writer of the Gospel of Mark to shift responsibility for Jesus’ burial to his friends.

While some critics deny the story as it appears in the Bible, others believe that passages stating that Joseph of Arimathea took Jesus’ dead body from the cross and laid him in his own new tomb verify the truth of the event. The Jewish burial process and customs are well documented in the Bible. Some also believe that both Jesus’ followers and his enemies knew exactly which tomb held his body. The tomb was supposedly located in a garden outside the walls of Jerusalem near the crucifixion site.

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