Entombment of Christ

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The entombment of Christ, that is to say the burial of Jesus Christ, occurred after his death by crucifixion, when, according to the gospel accounts, he was placed in a tomb by Joseph of Arimathea.

Biblical accounts[edit]

The earliest Christian writings are the epistles of St Paul: he makes a passing reference to Jesus having been buried, but provides no details. The next generation of writings are the four canonical gospels, all of which conclude with an extended narrative of the Jesus' arrest, trial, crucifixion, burial, and resurrection. In each Gospel these five events in the life of Jesus are treated with more intense detail than any other portion of that Gospel's narrative. Scholars note that the reader receives an almost hour-by-hour account of what is happening.[1]:p.91 All four state that, on the evening of the Crucifixion, Joseph of Arimathea asked Pilate for the body, and, after Pilate granted his request, he wrapped it in a linen cloth and laid it in a tomb. There are significant differences between the four accounts, recording the evolution of the tradition from the earliest gospel (that of Mark to the last (the Gospel of John).[2]

In the gospel of Mark, usually regarded as the earliest of the gospels, Joseph of Arimathea is not necessarily a follower of Jesus, but a pious Jew who wished to ensure that the body was buried in accordance with Jewish law, according to which bodies could not be left exposed overnight.[3] (The Jewish historian Josephus, writing at about the time of Jesus, describes how the Jews regarded this law as so important that even the bodies of crucified criminals would be taken down and buried before sunset). In Mark, Joseph of Arimathea acts out of concern for the observance of Jewish law and burial customs.[4] In Matthew 27:57, Joseph is said to be a disciple of Jesus. Modern scholarship tends to see the gospel accounts as contradictory, and finds the Mark portrayal more probable.[3][5]

In Mark, also, Joseph does only the bare minimum needed for observance of the law, wrapping the body in a cloth, with no mention of washing or anointing it. This explains why Mark has an earlier story, prior to the Crucifixion, a the woman who pours perfume over Jesus (Mark 14:3-9): Jesus is thereby prepared for burial even before his death. The last of the gospels, John, differs from Mark on this point, depicting Joseph as a disciple who gives Jesus an honourable burial.[6]

John records that Joseph was assisted in the burial process by Nicodemus, who brought a mixture of myrrh and aloes and included these spices in the burial cloth according to Jewish customs. Matthew 27:66 mentions that they "made the tomb secure by putting a seal on the stone and posting the guard."


N. T. Wright notes that the burial of Christ is part of the earliest gospel traditions.[7] John Dominic Crossan, however, suggests that Jesus' body was eaten by dogs as it hung on the cross so that there was nothing left to bury.[8]

Theological significance[edit]

Paul the Apostle includes the burial in his statement of the gospel in verses 3 and 4 of 1 Corinthians 15: "For I delivered unto you first of all that which I also received, how that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures; And that he was buried, and that he rose again the third day according to the scriptures" (KJV). This appears to be an early pre-Pauline credal statement.[9]

The burial of Christ is specifically mentioned in the Apostles' Creed, where it says that Jesus was "crucified, dead, and buried." The Heidelberg Catechism asks "Why was he buried?" and gives the answer "His burial testified that He had really died."[10]

A 13th century version of the Entombment of Christ in stained-glass

The Catechism of the Catholic Church states that, "It is the mystery of Holy Saturday, when Christ, lying in the tomb, reveals God's great sabbath rest after the fulfillment of man's salvation, which brings peace to the whole universe" and that "Christ's stay in the tomb constitutes the real link between his passible state before Easter and his glorious and risen state today."[11]

Depiction in art[edit]

Part of a series on
Death and Resurrection of Jesus
Crucifixion of Jesus
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The Entombment of Christ has been a popular subject in art, being developed in Western Europe in the 10th century. It appears in cycles of the Life of Christ, where it follows the Deposition of Christ or the Lamentation of Christ. Since the Renaissance, it has sometimes been combined or conflated with one of these.[12]

Notable individual works with articles include:

Use in hymnody[edit]

The Af­ri­can-Amer­i­can spir­it­u­al Were you there? has the line "Were you there when they laid Him in the tomb?"[13] while the Christmas carol We Three Kings includes the verse:

Myrrh is mine, its bitter perfume
Breathes a life of gathering gloom;
Sorrowing, sighing, bleeding, dying,
Sealed in the stone cold tomb.

John Wilbur Chapman's hymn "One Day" interprets the burial of Christ by saying "Buried, He carried my sins far away."[14]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Powell, Mark A. Introducing the New Testament. Baker Academic, 2009. ISBN 978-0-8010-2868-7
  2. ^ Matthew 15:57–61, Mark 15:42–47, Luke 23:50–56, John 19:38–42
  3. ^ a b Douglas R. A. Hare, Mark (Westminster John Knox Press, 1996) page 220.
  4. ^ James F. McGrath, "Burial of Jesus. II. Christianity. B. Modern Europe and America" in The Encyclopedia of the Bible and Its Reception. Vol.4, ed. by Dale C. Allison Jr., Volker Leppin, Choon-Leong Seow, Hermann Spieckermann, Barry Dov Walfish, and Eric Ziolkowski, (Berlin: de Gruyter, 2012), p.923
  5. ^ Maurice Casey, Jesus of Nazareth: An Independent Historian's Account of His Life and Teaching (Continuum, 2010) page 449.
  6. ^ McGrath, 2012, p.937
  7. ^ Wright, N. T. (2009). The Challenge of Easter. p. 22. 
  8. ^ Crossan, John Dominic (2009). Jesus: A Revolutionary Biography. p. 143. 
  9. ^ Hans Conzelmann, 1 Corinthians, translated James W. Leitch (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1969), 251.
  10. ^ Heidelberg Catechism, Q & A 41.
  11. ^ Catechism of the Catholic Church, 624-625.
  12. ^ G Schiller, Iconography of Christian Art, Vol. II,1972 (English trans from German), Lund Humphries, London, p.164 ff, ISBN 853313245
  13. ^ Cyberhymnal: Were You There?
  14. ^ Cyberhymnal: One Day