Lost body hypothesis
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- This is a sub-article of Death and resurrection of Jesus.
The Lost body Hypothesis tries to explain the empty tomb of Jesus by a naturally occurring event, not by resurrection, fraud, theft or coma. Only the Gospel of Matthew (28:2) mentions a ‘great earthquake’ on resurrection day. The preceding crucifixion quake was accompanied by darkness, splitting of the rock and opening of graves (Matth. 27:51). In this way a crack in the rock can explain the empty tomb on resurrection day. The body of Jesus has fallen into a crevice produced by the earthquake and the crack closed again because of the aftershocks.
Matthew might be hinting at the earthquake events in verse 12:40: the Son of Man descending for three days in the heart of the earth, like Jonah was in the whale’s belly. The Gospels of Mark and Luke do not mention a quake, but only darkness at noon, splitting of the temple veil and the tombstone rolled away. John in his Gospel (12:24) and Paul in his Letters (1 Cor.15:36) used the image of a grain of wheat falling in the earth for the event of death and resurrection of Jesus.
According to the radical German rationalist and spiritualist Joh. Chr. Edelmann in his Confession of Faith (1746) the Matthean earthquake had buried the body and therefore it was lost. Edelmann combined his lost body hypothesis with a spiritual view on Jesus’ resurrection.
- “As to the last circumstance, which only Matthew mentions, I admit that the body of Lord Jesus in his grave could have been buried in such a way, that it could not have been found anywhere.”
The Austrian spiritualist R.J.L. Steiner described the lost body of Jesus in connection with an earthquake in The Fifth Gospel (1913):
- “That earthquake shook the tomb in which Jesus' body lay – and the stone which had been placed before the tomb was ripped away and a crevice opened in the ground and the body fell onto the crevice. Further vibrations caused the ground to close over the crevice. And when the people came in the morning the tomb was empty, for the earth had received Jesus' body; the stone, however, remained apart from the tomb.”
In 1925 the German theologist R. Seeberg seems to have entertained a lost body hypothesis as a real possibility in his “Christliche Dogmatik” (Allison).
Historicity of the Matthean earthquake
The church father Origen has interpreted the Matthean earthquake as a historical but local, Judean phenomenon. The earthquake of 33 AD damaged the Second Temple in Jerusalem and can be traced in the sediment layers of the Dead Sea.
- Crucifixion and Resurrection of Jesus
- Vision hypothesis
- Stolen body hypothesis
- Swoon hypothesis
- Historical Jesus
- Historicity of Jesus
- Empty tomb
- Religious perspectives on Jesus
- Dale C. Allison, Resurrecting Jesus: The Earliest Christian Tradition And Its Interpreters (2005), p.204
- Joh. Chr. Edelmann, “Abgenöthigtes, jedoch Andern nicht wieder aufgenöthigtes Glaubens-Bekenntniß”, (1746), p.196, translation of the German text
- R. Steiner, The Fifth Gospel (Das Fünfte Evangelium, 1913)
- Dale C. Allison, “Studies in Matthew: Interpretation Past And Present”, (2005), p. 89
- R. Ken-Tor et al., “High-resolution geological record of historic earthquakes in the Dead Sea basin”, (2001)
- J. Williams et al., “An early first-century earthquake in the Dead Sea”, (2011)