THE GOSPELS WITH REGARD TO THE ENTOMBMENT
|Peter Paul Rubens (Flemish - The Entombment|
A STUDY OF THE GOSPELS WITH REGARD TO THE ENTOMBMENT PART 1
And now let us inquire how and why it is that the wonderfully precise conditions which we have defined were all realized at the death of Christ. We will turn to the Gospels for our answer. Commandant Colson has studied them in the original Greek text, and has submitted his readings to an expert.
We shall find that the accounts given in the Gospels agree absolutely with our scientific observations ; and the Gospel narrative will thus complete our work on the Shroud, affording as it were a frame-work to our physico-chemical studies. Our scientific observations in their turn will accentuate the details of a narrative which is somewhat meagre.
The oldest record relative to the burial of Christ is that of St. Matthew. It was written in Hebrew at Jerusalem a few years after the death of Christ, and was translated almost immediately into Greek. We give the English translation from the Revised Version :
"When the even was come there came a rich man of Arimathea, named Joseph, who also himself was Jesus' disciple ; he went to Pilate and begged the body of Jesus. Then Pilate commanded the body to be delivered. And when Joseph had taken the body, he wrapped it in a clean linen cloth, and laid it in his own new tomb, which he had hewn out in the rock; and he rolled a great stone to the door of the sepulchre and departed" (Matt, xxvii. 57 et seq.).
Here is St. Mark's account, written originally in Greek :
"And he bought fine linen and took Him down and wrapped Him in the linen and laid Him in a sepulchre " (St. Mark xv. 46.)
The word sindon (a winding-sheet) is twice repeated here ; and the same word appears again in St. Luke's account, written also in Greek:
"And he took it down and wrapped it in linen and laid it in a sepulchre" (Luke xxiii. 53).
These three accounts compiled in different places from the oral tradition handed down from witnesses of the Passion, absolutely agree with each other. We must believe that the corpse was wrapped in a linen cloth of thin material, sufficiently large to envelop the body. There is no question in these narratives of the spices ; it is St. John who, after speaking of the intervention of Joseph of Arimathea, mentions further the part taken by Nicodemus, as follows:
"And there came also Nicodemus (which at the first came to Jesus by night) and brought a mixture of myrrh and aloes, about an hundred pound weight." Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus came with the intention of burying Jesus according to the Jewish custom. They brought a mixture of myrrh and aloes which amounted to about thirty-three kilogrammes according to Roman weight. If these two followers of Jesus had immediately proceeded to the complete and final burying of the body they would have carefully washed and anointed it. They would have bound the arms and legs with bandages, intended to keep the spices in place ; they would have wrapped round the head a handkerchief (sudarium), which was used to dry the sweat; finally they would have enveloped the body in the winding-sheet of which the three first gospels make mention. These operations were lengthy, and could not be done all at once. We know by the quotation from St. Matthew that it was already late when Joseph of Arimathea came to Calvary. It would have required time for him to complete the necessary formalities with Pilate, and then to draw the nails and take down the body from the Cross.
Certainly by the time that Christ had been taken down from the Cross the day must have been nearly done; moreover, it was Friday, the eve of the Sabbath during which day all work was forbidden.
The Sabbath began at six, or half-past six, in the month of April. Therefore it is certain that Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus would not have had time to perform a regular burial. They would have been obliged to do what they could in the limited time at their disposal, and postpone till the day after the Sabbath (our Easter Day) the completion of the unfinished obsequies.
This is confirmed by St. Mark, inspired by St. Peter, who, as well as St. John, was an eye-witness of the Passion. Speaking of the holy women, he expresses himself thus :
"And when the Sabbath was past, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome had brought sweet spices that they might come and anoint him " (Mark xvi. I).
The verb ἀλείφω has here a very precise meaning, like the word ungere in the Latin text, "ut venientes ungerent Jesum"; it signifies to anoint, to smear with, to rub with oil.
St. Luke relates also that the women who came from Galilee with Jesus, after having seen how the body was laid in the sepulchre, bought spices and ointments and came back the day after the Sabbath, bringing the spices with them (see Matt, xxvii. 61 and Mark xv. 47).
If, then, these holy women who had been present at the burial returned on Easter Day to anoint the body, it was because this anointing had not yet been done. In this case the body would also not have been en-swathed, as this operation could only be performed after the anointing.
What, then, did Joseph and Nicodemus do with the mixture of myrrh and aloes ? The passages cited hitherto give us no information on this subject. If we had only the accounts given by Matthew, Mark, and Luke we should be free to admit that the linen cloth was without trace of aromatics, but St. John is much more explicit; this is his account:
" Then took they the body of Jesus,
καὶ ἔδησαν αὐτὸ ὀθονίοις μετὰ τῶν ἀρωμάτων, and bound it in linen cloths with the aromatics
καθὼς ἔθος ἐστὶν τοῖς Ἰουδαίοις ἐνταφιάζειν. as a custom is among the Jews to prepare for burial."
The Vulgate gives it thus: "Acceperunt ergo corpus Jesu, et ligaverunt illud linteis cum aromatibus, sicut mos est Judaeis sepelire."
What is the exact signification of this verse ? As we read it in the Greek or Latin text the phrase presents no difficulty, but a very different meaning is often attributed to it, a meaning which we cannot accept, as follows. For the due observance of Jewish custom it was necessary that the body should first be anointed and then bound with bandages. Now the Latin word "ligaverunt" might easily be translated as "bound" and the Greek "ὀθονίοις" (in place of the Latin word "linteis") signifies " bands." In this case the burial would have been complete and definite on the Friday evening, which is contrary to what we learn from the impressions on the Shroud, and also from the other three Gospels.