Magness-cross and empty tomb

In The Archeology of the Holy Land, Jodi Magness follows up her discussion of tombs and burial practices with a discussion of the death and resurrection of Jesus.  Archeology attests crucifixion in Jerusalem.

In north Jerusalem in 1968 there was discovered in a rock-cut tomb the bones of a man who had been crucified.  A nail, with traces of the olive-wood cross, was still wedged in his heal bone.  She explains that it was by accident that this happened.  The nail would ordinarily have been removed.  But the executioners had pounded on the nail after it struck a hard knot in the olive beam.  The nail became warped and could not be pulled out. In order to remove the body from the cross, they had to amputate the feet.

She says that the gospel narrative hangs together with what archeology tells us about burial practices and what we know about Jewish law.  This does not mean archeology can give us a theological explanation or guarantee the details of the gospel account.  She assumes that the tomb was empty following the Sabbath but notes that, since it was unusual for a non-family member to be left in another family’s tomb, perhaps someone had already moved it.

The strongest defense of the resurrection of Jesus comes not from the gospels but from the letters of Paul, which are decades earlier.  It is the testimony of contemporaries, not archeological finds.

Of course archeology cannot confirm what is most important to Christian believers.  Jews and Christians start out with an assumption about God’s power that secular archeologists, even if they share it, do not take into account in their work.

The argument in Acts 26:5 only makes sense when you already believe God is stronger than death: “Why is it thought incredible by any of you that God raises the dead?” People today would usually say, “well, of course that is incredible.”  My non-archeological thought, though, is that if you don’t identify God with overpowering life, then death becomes your de facto god.

Still I think archeology is important, not as a tool to prove Christianity, but as contributor to the background and history of the Bible for people of various theological positions who want to understand.


About theoutwardquest

I have many interests, but will blog mostly about what I read in the fields of Bible and religion.
This entry was posted in Ancient Israel, historical Jesus, Theology and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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