Did vultures eat the bodies left on the crucifixes?
Why are you asking?
Some time after Jesus died, the legs of the men crucified with Jesus were broken to hasten their deaths so that their bodies might be removed from their crosses and buried before nightfall and the beginning of the Sabbath. See John 19:31-42. Since Jesus died about 3 p.m. (See Matthew 27:45-46), and was buried before nightfall (6 p.m.), any vultures would not have had much of an opportunity to feed on their bodies.
I think under normal circumstances they did. With the Passover coming, they got special permission to take the bodies down, but I think the bodies normally were left to the animals.
Right - in the case of Jesus’ crucifixion there was no time…but it must be remembered that crucifixion was a common form of capital punishment at the time so there would have been crucifixions all over the empire.
I too think that the bodies were normally left as a warning to others.
Does Scripture actually say that the thieves were taken down before the Sabbath?
According to Scripture, the only reason Jesus was taken down when he was was because Joseph of Arimathe asked Pilate for the body. No mention is made of taking down the bodies of those crucified with Him
By animals do you mean vultures? wild dogs? ravens? what?
Has anyone done research on this? I can’t remember the verse, but somewhere in the Bible it mentions being left to the vultures. I thought this was a foreshadowing of crucifixion at the time I read it.
In this question, I am assuming the common understanding of the implications of crucifixion were well known during the time of our Lord. They aren’t fully expressed in the Gospel accounts. I want to know more deeply what are the implications of crucifixion.
Why did the apostles run? They knew more than us about the implications of crucifixion. I think that I would not have run away. Hah! The coward that I am would have been the first to take off. What would I have run from?
- Did the Romans leave partially eaten, rotting, stinking bodies on the crucifix?
- Were slaves or Jews forced to take down the old, rotting bodies? Were women forced to do this?
- Did this involve ritual impurity?
- How did the virtuous Jew purify himself so that he could re-enter the community again? If my assumption is true.
First of all, according to historical sources, bodies were left for several days, and it often took up to 3 days for those crucified to die. Yes, vultures would attack the bodies, particularly the eyes and head. (They were too far above the ground for dogs or other animals to get to). When Jewish bodies were taken down, they were immediately buried in tombs or in the ground, usually by men, and just wrapped in a cloth. The men were then purified (as anyone who handled a body had to be) through ritual baths, which were found in every village. I believe, according to the Laws of Moses, they were also unclean from “sunset to sunset”, although it may have read “from sunrise to sunset”. If it were "sunset to sunset, it certainly would prevent the celebration of Passover that year, but perhaps there were other rituals and only the ritual bath for cleansing was required. The only time a body was not buried before sunset in Jewish tradition was when a death occurred very close to a sundown which occurred on a Friday evening, since they could not be buried on the Sabbath, as perfoming the burial was work, which could not be done on the Sabbath except to save a life. (such as rescuing an animal stuck in a ditch or well, or a woman giving birth, in which case the midwives could certainly assist,) and giving birth was certainly work! (whether the Rabbis considered it work or not, being in labor certainly IS work!)
In the case of the two thieves, I’m pretty sure they also were taken down as soon as they were dead, which is why the legs were broken, so they would suffocate quickly, as the manner in which they were hung would have left them unable to raise themselves to be able to breathe once the legs were broken. They would also have been buried quickly (probably in the section reserved for criminals, beggars & the very poor, I think in the Valley of Kidron.) The rush to make certain they died quickly was because the Jewish authorities (and all the people around Jerusalem) would have started a riot if bodies were left out on the crosses during both Passover and Sabbath, which the Romans were well aware of! No dead bodies could be left out during a Passover which also occurred during a Sabbath, making it doubly a Holy day.
If I have any particulars wrong – such as the purification after a burial, perhaps one of our Jewish brethren who is better trained in the Law of Moses, will correct me.
What made crucifixion horrifying in the ancient world is the shame factor. We Western Christians nowadays tend to focus on the physical/medical aspects of crucifixion whenever we talk about it (“See just how Jesus suffered for you…”), but what really caused crucifixion to be ‘the most wretched of deaths’, in a collectivistic shame culture - as opposed to the Western ‘guilt culture’ - was the prospect of the crucified victim being slowly stripped of whatever ‘honor’ he’s got and being shamed in the process. Shameless plug here, but I actually built a thread about this just a while back. Feel free to visit.
Yes, the common procedure for crucified victims was apparently simply to leave their bodies hanging on their crosses until they rot away or thrown away unceremoniously either as fodder for wild animals or in a pit - denial of proper burial (very big thing in the ancient world) continued the shaming process. But among the Jews apparently, the Romans could not do the ‘standard procedure’. Reason being that the Jews have a tradition of burying the bodies of hanged criminals before sunset (= the beginning of the next day). Deuteronomy 21:22-23 says this: “And if a man has committed a crime punishable by death and he is put to death, and you hang him on a tree, his body shall not remain all night on the tree, but you shall bury him the same day, for a hanged man is cursed by God. You shall not defile your land that the Lord your God is giving you for an inheritance.” The command at Deuteronomy envisions a post-mortem hanging: the person is first executed (by stoning) and then his corpse was hanged on a tree as a deterrent.
But just before the time of Jesus, we see this command in Deuteronomy reinterpreted in light of ‘crucifixion’ (I’m using the term in a very loose sense here: denoting a method of execution which involves suspending the victim from something), which involves hanging people in order to kill them. Jews did practice ‘crucifixion’ which at a former time: the Hasmonean ruler Alexander Jannaeus (103 BC-76 BC), for one, hung 800 rebels according to Josephus (War 1.97-98; Antiquities 13.380). However, during the time of Jesus we have no hard evidence of any Jews using crucifixion - which was probably something only the Romans performed. The Temple Scroll (11QT, 11Q19) from Qumran rewords the command in Deuteronomy as follows:
If a man slanders his people and delivers his people to a foreign nation and does evil to his people, you shall hang him on a tree and he shall die. On the testimony of two witnesses and on the testimony of three witnesses he shall be put to death and they shall hang him on the tree.
If a man is guilty of a capital crime and flees (abroad) to the nations, and curses his people, the children of Israel, you shall hang him also on the tree, and he shall die. But his body shall not stay overnight on the tree. Indeed you shall bury him on the same day. For he who is hanged on the tree is accursed of God and men. You shall not pollute the ground which I give you to inherit.
These two ordinances provide a creative expansion of the command in Deuteronomy by the sectarians of Qumran. The two crimes specified are among those the Roman law punished by crucifixion: betrayal of state secrets and desertion to the enemy. Whereas in Deuteronomy, the condemned is hung and exposed after death, here hanging on “the tree” is the way to kill the condemned.
It is also because of this command in Deuteronomy that some scholars think that the Jews were granted a concession from the normal practice of crucifixion. Instead, they think it more likely that in Palestine, crucified victims were allowed to be buried as soon they were dead - because, as per Deuteronomy, any unburied corpse will pollute the Promised Land. Unlike in other parts, leaving the bodies hanging on crosses would have been more the exception rather than the rule. Josephus in one place even said that “the Jews used to take so much care of the burial of men, that they took down those that were condemned and crucified, and buried them before the going down of the sun” (War 4.317).
We do know that concessions were also given in other areas - for example, the Alexandrian Jewish Philo regards the conduct of the Roman governor of Egypt, Flaccus, as exceptional in not allowing the bodies of crucifixion victims to be taken down and be buried on the eve of a holiday: “I have known cases when on the eve of a holiday of this kind, people who have been crucified have been taken down and their bodies delivered to their kinsfolk, because it was thought well to give them burial and allow them the ordinary rites … But Flaccus gave no orders to take down those who had died on the cross” (Flaccus 10 §83).
Craig Evans in his article Jewish Burial Traditions and the Resurrection of Jesus points out:
Even Roman justice outside the Jewish setting sometimes permitted the crucified to be taken down and buried. We find in the summary of Roman law (a.k.a. Digesta) the following concessions:
[INDENT]The bodies of those who are condemned to death should not be refused their relatives; and the Divine Augustus, in the Tenth Book of his Life, said that this rule had been observed. At present, the bodies of those who have been punished are only buried when this has been requested and permission granted; and sometimes it is not permitted, especially where persons have been convicted of high treason. (48.24.1)
The bodies of persons who have been punished should be given to whoever requests them for the purpose of burial. (48.24.3)
The Digesta refers to requests to take down bodies of the crucified. Josephus himself makes this request of Titus (Life 75 §420–421). Of course, Roman crucifixion often did not permit burial, request or no request. Non-burial was part of the horror—and the deterrent—of crucifixion. But crucifixion—during peacetime—just outside the walls of Jerusalem was another matter. Burial would have been expected, even demanded. The evidence thus far reviewed strongly encourages us to think that in all probability Jesus was indeed buried and that his corpse and those of the two men crucified with him would not have been left hanging overnight and perhaps indefinitely, or at most cast into a ditch or shallow grave, exposed to animals. Quite apart from any concerns with the deceased men or their families, the major concern would have had to do with the defilement of the land and the holy city. Politically, too, it seems unlikely that on the eve of Passover, a holiday that celebrates Israel’s liberation from foreign domination, Pilate would have wanted to provoke the Jewish population. Moreover, it is equally improbable that the ruling priests, who had called for Jesus’ death, would have wanted to appear completely indifferent to Jewish sensitivities, either with respect to the dead or with respect to corpse impurity and defilement of the land. It seems most probable that the priests would have raised no objections to the burial of the three men. Indeed, they probably would have arranged to have them buried, before nightfall, in tombs reserved for executed criminals.[/INDENT]
That was an excellent post with correct citations! Thank you! However, if it took the criminal a couple of days to die, because they were TIED to the cross, rather than NAILED, it could take several days for thirst, heat and exhaustion to bring about the death. However, you are correct that a body in Israel would have to be taken down and buried immediately, although criminals would have been buried separately, not in a state of honor in a nice tomb. That made the burial of Jesus in a “new” stone tomb very unusual, since His body was claimed by His family (Mary & John as well as Nicodemus), wrapped in new linen properly, and placed in honorable burial in a stone tomb. Those killed by the Romans, who were killed for specious reasons (not actual criminal acts such as murder or theft) may very well have been claimed by families and given a proper burial. Since Jesus was condemned for “crimes” against both the Religious Law and the Roman laws, it was most unusual to allow Him an honorable burial. That is to show that He was actually an innocent man, and not a criminal, when His resurrection was declared to the Jews of Jerusalem. Actually, some decades later, a “Court” of Rabbis, in Egypt, I believe, declared the Sanhedrin who condemned Him as a “bloody Sanhedrin” and declared that they had illegally condemned Him and declared Him to have been innocent of the Religious charges against Him. This was a very serious charge against the members of that Jerusalem Sanhedrin, and His innocence was recorded by them. One of the charges of illegality against them was that they had the trial at night, which was not permitted, since it had to be during the daytime and public as well.
Jesus actually died pretty quickly, yes - three to six hours at the most.
However, you are correct that a body in Israel would have to be taken down and buried immediately, although criminals would have been buried separately, not in a state of honor in a nice tomb. That made the burial of Jesus in a “new” stone tomb very unusual, since His body was claimed by His family (Mary & John as well as Nicodemus), wrapped in new linen properly, and placed in honorable burial in a stone tomb. Those killed by the Romans, who were killed for specious reasons (not actual criminal acts such as murder or theft) may very well have been claimed by families and given a proper burial. Since Jesus was condemned for “crimes” against both the Religious Law and the Roman laws, it was most unusual to allow Him an honorable burial. That is to show that He was actually an innocent man, and not a criminal, when His resurrection was declared to the Jews of Jerusalem.
Now this is what’s unclear/confusing on a historical level. Even among those scholars who accept that Jesus was really buried (unlike John Dominic Crossan - whom Craig Evans was really targeting at the quote above) you would notice some differences in views about the circumstances of the burial. People like Evans and Byron McCane (Where No One Had Yet Been Laid: The Shame of Jesus’ Burial) argue that historically, Jesus’ burial was ‘shameful’ and that the story has become elaborated with time (i.e., Joseph shifting from “a prominent council member who was waiting for the kingdom of God” to “a rich man” who also happens to be a disciple of Jesus to a secret disciple, the sepulchre going from “a tomb hewn out of rock” to “[Joseph’s] new tomb” to a garden tomb).
They believe that historically, Jesus must have been buried by Joseph in a cemetery specifically reserved for criminals - the type of burial described in the 3rd century Mishnah (tractate Sanhedrin 6.4-6 [Jerusalem 6.7-10 (7-12)]):
(4) How is he [the guilty] hanged?
The post is sunk into the ground with a [cross-] piece branching off [at the top] and he brings his hands together one over the other and hangs him up [thereby].
R. Jose said: the post is leaned against the wall, and he hangs him up the way butchers do.
He is immediately let down.
If he is left [hanging] over night, a negative command is thereby transgressed, for it says, “You shall not let his corpse remain all night upon the tree, but you must bury him the same day because a hanged body is a curse against God” (Deut. 21:23).
As if to say why was he hanged? — because he cursed the name [of God]; and so the name of Heaven [God] is profaned.
(5) R. Meir said: “When man suffers, what expression does the shechinah (God’s presence) use? “My head is too light (a euphemism for ‘heavy’) for me, my arm is too light (a euphemism for ‘heavy’) for me.”
If God is so grieved over the blood of the wicked that is shed, how much more so over the blood of the righteous!
And not only of this one [a criminal did the sages not to leave him overnight] but whosoever lets his dead lie over night transgresses a negative commandment.
If he kept him over night for the sake of his honor, to procure for him a coffin or a shroud, he does not transgress.
And they did not bury him [the executed person] in his ancestral tomb, but two burial places were prepared by the court, one for those who were decapitated or strangled, and the other for those who were stoned or burned.
(6) When the flesh was completely decomposed, the bones were gathered and buried in their proper place.
The relatives then came and greeted the judges and witnesses, as if to say, we have no [ill feelings] against you, for you gave a true judgment.
And they observed no mourning rites but grieved [for him], for grief is in the heart alone.
In the Mishnah’s scenario, the dead body is first interred in a special burial complex reserved by the court for those who were executed. Only after did the body decompose (traditionally held to be in a space of a year) can family members retrieve the bones and ‘rehabilitate’ it by burying it “in their proper place.” They defend their use of the Mishnah (by McCane’s own admission, “one cannot naively assume that this third-century text preserves reliable information about first-century Jewish life”) by pointing out that the archaeological evidence - what we know so far about tombs from around the time of Jesus - coincide and fit with the Mishnah’s details. So at least on this subject (burial customs), the Mishnah may be a reliable source for what was done in earlier times.
Both authors argue that by the time we get to the gospels, the disciples and other early Christians began to refine, polish and beautify the circumstances of His burial (after all, why not give Jesus a dignified send-off?) But even despite that, the gospels could not/would not totally cover up the fact that the historical Jesus was (as per their scenario) quickly buried in shame in a criminals’ graveyard, more to avoid violating Jewish Law than any personal feeling.
Another scholar, Jodi Magness (Stone and Dung, Oil and Spit: Jewish Daily Life in the Time of Jesus, p. 170ff.), however, disagrees with McCane’s interpretation of the ‘for criminals only’ type of graves, pointing out that “[t]here is no evidence that the Sanhedrin or Roman authorities paid for and maintained rock-cut tombs for executed criminals from lower-class families. Instead, these unfortunates would have been buried in pit graves or trench graves. This sort of tradition is preserved in the New Testament reference to the Potter’s Field (Matt 27:7-8).” She sees no reason to disagree with what the gospels basically say: Joseph of Arimathaea, a wealthy follower of Jesus, was concerned to ensure that He was buried - even if temporarily - before sundown in accordance with biblical law and so buried Him in a rock-cut tomb (itself an exceptional measure due to the circumstances as rock-cut tombs were usually family tombs).
Actually, some decades later, a “Court” of Rabbis, in Egypt, I believe, declared the Sanhedrin who condemned Him as a “bloody Sanhedrin” and declared that they had illegally condemned Him and declared Him to have been innocent of the Religious charges against Him. This was a very serious charge against the members of that Jerusalem Sanhedrin, and His innocence was recorded by them. One of the charges of illegality against them was that they had the trial at night, which was not permitted, since it had to be during the daytime and public as well.
Is there any source for this?
In this case, the idea of the illegality of a ‘night trial’ mainly comes from the Mishnah, and thar is one of the places where it is rather suspect. First, the Mishnah reports Pharisaic-type idealizations of the law in its own day, recorded at a period over a century later than the latest of the four gospel. The Mishnah does not deal with a series of laws that actually governed society, but often speaks of ideals, and its genre is a series of academic debates. Meanwhile, the council in Jesus’ day was hardly dominated by Pharisees, which would further call this rabbinic idealization into question.
Plus the rabbinic sources themselves admit that the aristocratic priests did not always play by the rules (and certainly not by Pharisaic ones). In fact, because elements of proper legal procedure were standard throughout Mediterranean antiquity, the evangelists may expect us to notice significant breaches of procedure: the gospels may well have intended on purpose to show that the proceedings violated common legal ethics and was not standard custom. Unless you presuppose that the priests (like later rabbis) would follow careful procedure even in explosive political situations, an argument from Mishnaic technicalities would not work against the gospel narrative.
In other words, some have a problem with the gospel accounts because they read the Mishnah as implying that trials held at night is illegal, but we don’t even know if such a law was actually in force during the time of Jesus (for all we know, it could even be a later idea). Even if we suppose that there was such a law, perhaps the evangelists intended to show the priests violating it on purpose.
Most importantly, the Mishnaic vision of a formal ‘Great Sanhedrin’ is something suspect and is probably yet another historical anachronism/ideal. What we do have (based on a reading of Josephus) is a consultative body made up of local aristocrats and men of power which he calls the boulē (a la the Greek institution), which discussed daily affairs and issues pertinent to the city of Jerusalem. Meanwhile there were two further informal, ad hoc institutions known simply as a ‘council’, synedrion (the Aramaic word sanhedrin/sanhedrim comes from this Greek term BTW), which functioned only for specific tasks, either consultative, where a Roman official called on specific Jewish groups to assist in determining a course of action, or judicial, which was convened usually by a leading official such as the high priest. The high priest, with the support and assistance of the chief priests and some of the powerful lay people (who usually fills up the advisory ‘councils’ he convenes), handled local government; the boulē, meanwhile, normally did very little, if at all.
By the time when the prefects and procurators began to govern Judaea, the high priest was still head of his council, but usually he could not convene his synedrion without Roman approval. (In Acts 22:30, the tribune had the power to summon “the chief priests and all their council.”) But then again, the Romans left daily government to local hands anyway (preferring to stay in the background), so if I’m guessing correctly the high priest could normally call up his committee.
I tried searching for that claim but I can’t really find anything to that effect. All I can say is, if you’ve got that from Josephus, it probably isn’t the main text. It’s quite well-known that there are only two instances where Josephus seems to refer to Jesus: one is in the incident involving the stoning of James ‘brother’ of Jesus ca. AD 62 (Antiquities 20.199-201), and the other is the controversial Testimonium Flavianum (Antiquities 18.63).
As for ‘Hillel’: Hillel did not leave any writings. His teachings (or supposed teachings), like those of many early rabbis, were passed down orally before they were preserved in the Mishnah - and that’s what I’ve been talking about. We can’t assume that the picture of the ‘Sanhedrin’ preserved in the Mishnah applies to the situation before AD 70. It could have been an idealization by the later Rabbis (in other words, not necessarily a description of ‘how things actually were’, but ‘how things should have been/should be’), or perhaps it describes how the council of teachers after AD 70 worked, which in turn was retroactively injected into an earlier time period. Even if you do decide to use the Mishnah, a later commentary on the very same tractate (Babylonian Talmud, Sanhedrin 46b) allowed irregularities for emergencies and protection of the Torah: “It has been taught: R. Eliezer b. Jacob said: I have heard that the Beth din (the Rabbinic court of law) may, [when necessary,] impose flagellation and pronounce [capital] sentences even where not [warranted] by the Torah; yet not with the intention of disregarding the Torah but [on the contrary] in order to safeguard it.”
No, there were no sky burials in Jerusalem.
The source I found was in the “Jewish Wars” attributed to the writings of Josephus, describing Jesus as the Messiah, detailing the crucifixion, affirming the stories later told of the Resurrection, and mentioning the Rabbinical Council of Egypt after Rome destroyed Jerusalem and finally reduced Masada. Don’t know which version of “Antiquities” you have, but the one I got in English was from the Library of Congress, on loan (which I obviously couldn’t keep!) and was simply titled “Jewish Wars and Antiquities” and did detail quite a lot about Jesus, as Josephus had been asked to write some more detail (or so he stated in the text) about Jesus and how the new Christian movement started. It was obviously written at about or after 70 AD, since Jerusalem had been destroyed by then. It had a lot of other things included, but was mainly concerned with the period from about 30 AD to 75 or 80 AD.
John 19:31-33: Since it was the day of Preparation, in order to prevent the bodies from remaining on the cross on the sabbath (for that sabbath was a high day), the Jews asked Pilate that their legs might be broken, and that they might be taken away. So the soldiers came and broke the legs of the first, and of the other that had been crucified with him; but when they came to Jesus and saw that he was already dead, they did not break his legs.
Yes, I have read in numerous historical books that the bodies were left on the crosses for this purpose, to add to the humiliation of being crucified.
But…where have you read (outside of the bible bit) about “special permission” to take bodies down because of Passover? I haven’t read that by any Antiquity experts/scholars so far…
Yes…there has been research on this. Vultures and dogs. I’ll email you the names of some of the books I have that go into details.
Of the thousands and thousands of Jews crucified around Jerusalem in the first century, all that has been found is one skeleton and one nail, so virtually no one had a decent burial after being crucified
The female disciples–Mary and Mary–and some others, did not run. They were uber brave and loyal and stayed with him until the end. As women do.