The Matter Of An Empty Tomb
No serious historian really doubts Jesus was dead when he was taken down from the cross. However, many have questioned how Jesus’ body disappeared from the tomb. English journalist Dr. Frank Morison initially thought the resurrection was either a myth or a hoax, and he began research to write a book refuting it. The book became famous but for reasons other than its original intent.
Morison began by attempting to solve the case of the empty tomb. The tomb belonged to a member of the Sanhedrin Council, Joseph of Arimathea. In Israel at that time, to be on the council was to be a rock star. Everyone knew who was on the council. Joseph must have been a real person. Otherwise, the Jewish leaders would have exposed the story as a fraud in their attempt to disprove the resurrection. Also, Joseph’s tomb would have been at a well-known location and easily identifiable, so any thoughts of Jesus being “lost in the graveyard” would need to be dismissed.
Morison wondered why Jesus’ enemies would have allowed the “empty tomb myth” to persist if it weren’t true. The discovery of Jesus’ body would have instantly killed the entire plot.
And what is known historically of Jesus’ enemies is that they accused Jesus’ disciples of stealing the body, an accusation clearly predicated on a shared belief that the tomb was empty.
Dr. Paul L. Maier, professor of ancient history at Western Michigan University, similarly stated, “If all the evidence is weighed carefully and fairly, it is indeed justifiable … to conclude that the tomb in which Jesus was buried was actually empty on the morning of the first Easter. And no shred of evidence has yet been discovered … that would disprove this statement.”
The Jewish leaders were stunned. They accused the disciples of stealing Jesus’ body. But the Romans had assigned a 24-hour watch at the tomb with a trained guard unit (from four to 16 soldiers). Josh McDowell notes that these were not ordinary soldiers. “When that guard unit failed in its duty – if they fell asleep, left their position, or failed in any way – there are a number of historical sources that go back and describe what happens. Many of them are stripped of their own clothes, they are burned alive in a fire started with their own garments or they are crucified upside down. The Roman Guard unit was committed to discipline and they feared failure in any way.”
It would have been impossible for anyone to have slipped by the Roman guards and to have moved a two-ton stone. Yet the stone was moved away and the body of Jesus was missing.
If Jesus’ body was anywhere to be found, his enemies would have quickly exposed the resurrection as a fraud. Tom Anderson, former president of the California Trial Lawyers Association, summarizes the strength of this argument:
With an event so well publicized, don’t you think that it’s reasonable that one historian, one eye witness, one antagonist would record for all time that he had seen Christ’s body? … The silence of history is deafening when it comes to the testimony against the resurrection.
So, with no body of evidence, and with a known tomb clearly empty, Morison accepted the evidence as solid that Jesus’ body had somehow disappeared from the tomb.