Laid in the Tomb

“And Joseph took the body in a pure linen shroud and put it in his own new tomb which had been cut into stone and rolled a great stone over the entrance to the tomb. And he left.”

(Matthew 27:59-60)

“And buying a linen shroud, taking it down, he wrapped the body and put him in a tomb which was cut into stone. He also rolled a stone over the entrance to the tomb.”

(Mark 15:46)

“And taking him down, he wrapped him in a linen shroud and took him into a tomb cut into rock in which nobody had ever been laid out.”

(Luke 23:53)

“Then he took the body of Jesus and bound him with cloth wrappings and spices, as that was the Jewish custom for burial. In the place where he was crucified was a garden and a new tomb in which no one had yet been laid. Therefore, because the Jewish day of preparation was there, and since the tomb was at hand, they laid out Jesus.”

(John 19:40-42)

We have already mentioned Taharah, the Jewish ritual purification of the body in preparation for burial. In this practice, the body is washed, wrapped in a linen garment (in modern times a prayer shawl is also used) and water of purification is poured on the deceased as well as prayers offered up. Thus, we should note not only that the shroud mentioned is part of the practice, but also the significance of the shroud being “pure” in the ritual sense.

There is a great deal of curiosity surrounding this shroud in today’s mythology and folklore around Jesus’ death and burial. I suppose that my tone gives away that I am a skeptic when it comes to the authenticity of the Shroud of Turin. There is no doubt that it is an ancient artifact, but whether it is really Jesus’ shroud is a different matter entirely. First, many zealots in the early and medieval church tended to pursue artifacts from Jesus and the Apostles thinking that they would grant supernatural blessings and thus chicken bones were passed off as Peter’s finger, and other strange things like that took place. So, to find the actual shroud in which Jesus was buried would have been considered a remarkable find and thus the appeal to counterfeit one would have been great. The second matter has to do with the distinctive blood marks on the Shroud of Turin…in Taharah, the practice is to wash the body clean of any blood — again, it just doesn’t seem to line up.

What is more important is the fulfillment once again of prophecy, that the Messiah would be laid in the tomb of a wealthy man (Isaiah 53:9), once again demonstrating God’s sovereignty in the timing of this event. In ancient Judaism, tombs would typically be shared by an entire family, with one’s body laid out on a shelf in the tomb until it decomposed enough so that the bones could be placed into a box and set to the side. Yet, this tomb was a new one, which raises questions as to why Joseph, a wealthy man of reputation, would have had a new tomb hewn and not been planning on being laid out in his family’s tomb. We need to be careful about running away with speculation here, but it seems fairly safe to infer that the family tomb would have been located in Arimathea, so perhaps due to his connection to the Great Sanhedrin in Jerusalem, he was planning to be buried close to the City of Zion. The other option could perhaps be that he had it prepared explicitly for Jesus. We just do not know and it is dangerous to speculate very far on matters like this.

Finally, Joseph disappears from the Scripture account. We simply do not know what was made of him. Legends have him traveling to England with the Gospel, but there is nothing to substantiate that taking place and Bede makes no mention of this in his History of the English Church and People. On one level that may sound distressing, but in reality, we should mention just how many people played important roles in the life and ministry of Christ whose lives are not mentioned much beyond the actual events in which they were involved. We should even make note of how many unnamed people played important roles in Jesus’ work. In the end, that is exactly the point. We are not to be about building our church or our reputations, but our calling is to build Christ’s church to His glory. How often churches and pastors even get that wrong.

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