Getting back to this series, let’s now look at some very bad arguments with respect to the tomb of Jesus.
The women at the tomb. Here I will consider some arguments not covered in Chapter 25 of Defending the Resurrection, where I discuss such things as women as witnesses in the NT world.
The presence of the women is a literary device expressing that “the last shall be first.”
It may be that it served that purpose, but this is a typical mistake in which it is assumed that a report that serves a thematic purpose automatically becomes suspect as fiction. In reality, it is quite easy to select from genuine historical events if we have a theme to illustrate. For example, it would be a simple matter to cite the rise of several of our Presidents like Lincoln from obscurity in order to illustrate a “last shall be first” theme.
Maybe the women had a hallucination of en empty tomb.
This one has to be one of the more desperate hypotheses I’ve heard; what it amounts to is that you’d be able to just say “hallucination” any time some claim becomes too uncomfortable. Even so, hallucinations are rooted in genuine expectation, and I have noted in Chapter 38 of DTR that the only potential “expectation” had by the disciples was that Jesus’ body would ascend to heaven. That would leave an empty tomb, to be sure, but to “see” that, the tomb would have to be open, which means the women would have also had to hallucinate the stone pulled away from the front – which would not have been an expectation associated with an ascension of the body, and would be fairly obviously seen to have not happened by ideological enemies who would be all too glad to spread the news that Jesus’ honor claims had not been vindicated.
Now to an argument from one other perspective:
One reason the authorities didn’t produce Jesus’ corpse was that the Mishnah required the identification of a body within three days.
This is said to be from Mishnah Yevamot 16:3, which says:
They must not give evidence [of identity in respect of a dead man] except on [proof afforded by] the full face with the nose, even though there were also marks on its body or on its clothing. No evidence [of a man's death] must be given before his soul has departed, even though they saw him with his arteries cut or crucified or being devoured by a wild beast. They must give evidence [of identification] only during the first three days [after the death. After this period the decay of the corpse makes identification impossible or uncertain.]. . .
The oddity is that it never occurs to critics – especially since we have no evidence for this rule prior to the era of the Mishnah, in the later rabbinic period – that the references, including “crucified,” make this a rather clear reaction to the death of Jesus, which suggests the rule was invented after the fact as a response to Christian challenges and counterarguments. At the same time, this is the same sort of argument frequently used to challenge the historicity of the trial of Jesus – and the answer to that is the same: These are late rules; it is uncertain how much they represent an ideal versus something actually enforced; and of course, it is silly to suggest that nothing ever happens that is against the law – especially when the opposition is a corrupt leader like Caiaphas!