Response to Peter Kirby

Some will recall that Peter Kirby offered the "right answers" to my parodic quiz for Skeptics. I am grateful because no Skeptic has deigned to reply with "stupid" answers since, and I'm betting Kirby's intelligent replies had a lot to do with that.

But now it's time to have a look at one of his projects which was once on Infidels.org, but is now part of Empty Tomb: Jesus Beyond the Grave. It is offered in sections which we will comment on to the level of detail needed; some issues we will have links for. Kirby has made some changes from the Secular Web incarnation, but for the sake of full coverage we will note any differences found (I believe I have found them all) and also address some points from the original incarnation. Sections not found in the book are noted, "Not used in ETJBG".

Argument from Silence

Not used in ETJBG, except for a version of the argument about veneration of the tomb, which is removed in the book to a final section, "One Last Argument".

The concern here is whether lack of mention of the empty tomb in certain documents represents a significant "argument from silence." While Kirby lays out some wise criteria for determining when or if an "argument from silence" carries any strength, I believe he has not considered a critical point of application with respect to social differences between our world and that of the New Testament: That is, the matter of high versus low context. As I have written, against Doherty's Christ-myth theory based on the "silence" of Paul and the epistles:


Malina and Rohrbaugh note in their Social-Science Commentary on John [16ff] that the NT was written in what anthropologists call a "high-context" society. In such societies people "presume a broadly shared, well-understood, or 'high' knowledge of the context of anything referred to in conversation or in writing." Readers were required and expected to "fill in the gap" because their background knowledge was a given. Extended explanations were unnecessary.

In contrast, we in the modern US are a "low-context" society. We assume little or no knowledge of he context of a communication. This is in part because we have so many specialized fields requiring specialized knowledge. Thus we expect background to be given when communication is given between fields. This is in contrast to the ancient world where there was little specialized knowledge.

Malina and Rohrbaugh set forth in summary what we now use as a stinging indictment of Doherty's methodology and as confirmation of what we have noted in this essay from the very beginning: "The obvious problem this creates for reading the biblical writings today is that low-context readers in the United States frequently mistake the biblical writings for low-context documents.


In this light I will obviously ask whether Kirby's assumptions and criteria can withstand the "high context" test. Let's have a look:

  1. The first criterion is the presumption of knowledge. This criterion asks, how likely is it that a particular writer knew of an event if it had happened?

    In terms of our key issue, the empty tomb, we of course are constrained to say that all of the writers Kirby appeals to would have to know of it.

  2. The second criterion is the presumption of relevance. This criterion asks, how likely is it that the writer would mention this event in this document?

    This criteria is where the "high context" issue comes to the fore. In our low-context social world, "how likely" becomes a different question than it would be for a "high context" setting.

  3. The third criterion is applied after we have a number of different writers and documents that have been evaluated through the first two. The third one asks, how likely is it that all these documents fail to mention this event?

    Obviously, this also is affected by the same issue; it becomes perhaps, as I say to Doherty, a matter of "200 times zero" still equalling zero.

Kirby lays Paul aside for a separate section and proceeds at once to the letter of 1 Clement. He notes that Clement:

...fails to appeal to the historical knowledge of the resurrection of Jesus (such as the discovery of the empty tomb would provide) and prefers instead to provide assurance of the resurrection on the basis of nature, scripture, and the legend of the phoenix.

There is little doubt that Kirby's criteria (1) would have to be fulfilled, but what of (2)? Here I must take issue, and it lies in part with high context. Please note what Clement says:

Let us consider, beloved, how the Lord continually proves to us that there shall be a future resurrection, of which He has rendered the Lord Jesus Christ the first-fruits by raising Him from the dead. Let us contemplate, beloved, the resurrection which is at all times taking place. Day and night declare to us a resurrection. The night sinks to sleep, and the day arises; the day [again] departs, and the night comes on. Let us behold the fruits [of the earth], how the sowing of grain takes place. The sower goes forth, and casts it into the ground; and the seed being thus scattered, though dry and naked when it fell upon the earth, is gradually dissolved. Then out of its dissolution the mighty power of the providence of the Lord raises it up again, and from one seed many arise and bring forth fruit.
Let us consider that wonderful sign [of the resurrection] which takes place in Eastern lands, that is, in Arabia and the countries round about. There is a certain bird which is called a phoenix. This is the only one of its kind, and lives five hundred years. And when the time of its dissolution draws near that it must die, it builds itself a nest of frankincense, and myrrh, and other spices, into which, when the time is fulfilled, it enters and dies. But as the flesh decays a certain kind of worm is produced, which, being nourished by the juices of the dead bird, brings forth feathers. Then, when it has acquired strength, it takes up that nest in which are the bones of its parent, and bearing these it passes from the land of Arabia into Egypt, to the city called Heliopolis. And, in open day, flying in the sight of all men, it places them on the altar of the sun, and having done this, hastens back to its former abode. The priests then inspect the registers of the dates, and find that it has returned exactly as the five hundredth year was completed.
Do we then deem it any great and wonderful thing for the Maker of all things to raise up again those that have piously served Him in the assurance of a good faith, when even by a bird He shows us the mightiness of His power to fulfil His promise? For [the Scripture] saith in a certain place, "Thou shalt raise me up, and I shall confess unto Thee; " and again, "I laid me down, and slept; I awaked, because Thou art with me;" and again, Job says, "Thou shalt raise up this flesh of mine, which has suffered all these things."

Is the empty tomb "relevant" here? Kirby apparently believes that it is; I do not. The main issue here is the future resurrection. Clement however is surely aware that not all persons who die will be entombed as Jesus was; there will be other methods of burial, as well as persons not buried (lost at sea, cremated, etc.).

What would the empty tomb prove here? Nothing at all. The resurrection of Jesus proves our future resurrection; but the empty tomb proves the (possible) resurrection of Jesus, not our future resurrection. Kirby is asking Clement to talk about step 1 to prove step 3 when step 2 is specific to the issue and step 1 is not. The tomb itself, lying empty, does not prove anything about the resurrection of all others; whereas Christ's resurrection as the head of the Body of Christ does make it one explanation (but not the only one).

I would add that "high context" allows "raising him from the dead" to carry all the weight of content of the empty tomb.

Kirby appeals to another part of the letter:

The Apostles received the Gospel for us from the Lord Jesus Christ, Jesus the Christ was sent from God. The Christ therefore is from God and the Apostles from the Christ. In both ways, then, they were in accordance with the appointed order of God's will. Having therefore received their commands, and being fully assured by the resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ, and with faith confirmed by the Word of God, they went forth in the assurance of the Holy Spirit preaching the good news that the Kingdom of God is coming.

But the answer is the same: "the resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ" carries with it, in "high context", the freight of the empty tomb -- as well as all else that went with the procedure. It is just as well to say that here Clement does not mention that Jesus died.

I therefore do not see, as Kirby does, any "occasion for the writer to mention the discovery of the empty tomb" -- other than by low-context assumptions of how a conversation "ought to" proceed.

From here Kirby lists documents that also do not mention the empty tomb -- most from the NT, but others later. In each case he does not provide any specific analysis to show that any particular writer "ought to" have mentioned the empty tomb -- he acknowledges that there "may have been no particular reason for any one of these writers to mention the story" but also offers no specific reason for any of them to have mentioned it.

In light of this, and the very important consideration of "high context" we agree with Kirby that this argument from silence "does fall short of proof," but further disagree that it "this should be given consideration as admissable historical evidence."

Finally for this section, Kirby briefly considers an "argument from silence" from the other side, as Dunn puts it:

Christians today of course regard the site of Jesus' tomb with similar veneration, and that practice goes back at least to the fourth century. But for the period covered by the New Testament and other earliest Christian writings there is no evidence whatsoever for Christians regarding the place where Jesus had been buried as having any special significance. No practice of tomb veneration, or even of meeting for worship at Jesus' tomb is attested for the first Christians. Had such been the practice of the first Christians, with all the significance which the very practice itself presupposes, it is hard to believe that our records of Jerusalem Christianity and of Christian visits thereto would not have mentioned or alluded to it in some way or at some point.
This strange silence, exceptional in view of the religious practice of the time [of meeting at the tomb of a dead prophet], has only one obvious explanation. The first Christians did not regard the place where Jesus had been laid as having any special significance because no grave was thought to contain Jesus' earthly remains. The tomb was not venerated, it did not become a place of pilgrimage, because the tomb was empty!

Kirby regards Dunn's conclusion as "highly illogical" because Dunn did not consider the "obvious explanation....that early Christians had no idea where Jesus was buried." Of course this idea requires an abrupt dismissal of the Gospel evidence, and the matter of associating the tomb with the highly famous personage of Joseph, which Kirby does not deal with in this section; he deals with it in another we will come to later.

He also cites another author as saying "pious interest in the alleged site of the Holy Sepulchre in our own day seems to render such an argument completely impotent." But this imposes a set of improper values on the ancients, as I have noted here. Thus neither of Kirby's alternatives appear satisfactory.

I myself find no significance to the lack of tomb veneration, since I happen to think Jesus' burial was, despite best efforts by Joseph and others, shameful.

A final appeal is made to Raymond Brown's comment that, "A particular reason for remembering the tomb of Jesus would lie in the Christian faith that the tomb had been evacuated by his resurrection from the dead." I believe that Brown here may likewise submit to what I would call the "Disneyland Palestine" fallacy; but at the same time, one must draw a distinction between remembering where the tomb was and conducting venerations at it. We would expect Christians to recall the location whether the tomb was empty or not; but we would not expect veneration unless something were there to venerate -- and in that regard, a tomb is not a thing to be venerated.

Testimony of Paul

Not used in ETJBG, though the main argument is alluded to briefly.

As noted, Kirby puts Paul in his own section; but our answer will be the same. We would add as well comments we offered in reply to Kirby's editor, Price, some time ago, also in reply to 1 Cor. 15:


We agree, of course, that it may have been too obvious to require mentioning that a resurrected body means an empty tomb - just as simply saying, "A zombie rose from the dead!" would today imply an empty grave left behind. On the other hand, Paul does show implicit awareness of the empty tomb elsewhere - for example, where he compares the resurrection to baptism (Rom. 6:4, 8:29; Col. 2:12).

Body in, body out - whether water, or earth, the comparison makes the implication of an empty tomb (along with the Jewish concept of bodily resurrection that MUST be applied here...) inescapable; and the other type of "resurrection" becomes, as Price admits, rather far-fetched. Finally, we may add that Paul's formula is an accounting of things DONE or experienced by Jesus: died, buried, rose, appeared. A citation of the empty tomb would not fit very well within the rhythm and structure of the formula.


Some of this comes from Craig, and Kirby will have an answer to Craig shortly. In the meantime he says that he considers Paul's silence "by no means a conclusive consideration, but it should certainly not be thrown out of consideration simply because it is inconclusive."

Once again I simply disagree, because "high context" changes the rules, from our world to theirs, in terms of what is necessary to be mentioned.

The quote from Uta Ranke-Heinemann (herself from a low-context, Western society) only magnifies this point. In addition, she wrongly believes, and Kirby follows her into saying, that the purpose of the 1 Cor. 15 creed was to cite evidence for Jesus' resurrection; but a creedal statement, by its nature, cannot be pressed into being a full-scale apologetic, any more than Phil. 2:6-11 or Col. 1:15-18 make for an apologetic for the deity of Christ. It is a statement of summary for those who already believe, a recognition and not a defense -- and it is also used, for Paul's purposes, as part of an apologetic for the nature of the resurrection body versus Corinthian errors on the subject. (However, Kirby does say that he "would not go so far as Ranke-Heinemann in declaring this one consideration to settle the matter decisively," only as raising a "probability that Paul didn't know of an empty tomb story.")

Kirby briefly alludes to the idea of a spiritual resurrection. Our own take on this matter has been here and I do not find that Kirby's counters about the meanings of the words "spiritual" and "flesh and blood" are successful, though to be fair, he also admits that again he does "not consider the evidence to be completely decisive" and so says that for the rest of his commentary, "the assumption will be granted that Paul believed in a physical type of resurrection."


Dependence on Mark

Kirby's aim here is to show that Matthew, Luke and John are dependent on Mark, and so do not constitute an independent witness to the empty tomb. His reasoning is (online version quoted):

We have seen that there is no mention of the empty tomb story in early Christian writings outside of the four gospels. This situation is made worse if the evangelists do not demonstrate any independence in reporting this story. This would be somewhat strange because, were the story historical, it would be reasonable to expect that the author of Matthew, for example, could supplement his story with independent traditions instead of depending solely on Mark.

Kirby has, however, not considered two critical aspects of ancient reportage that come into play here. The first is that the similarities between accounts are just as likely to be attributed -- if not more likely, in a world where 95% of people were illiterate -- to oral tradition carried alike by independent witnesses. The second is that in ancient literary tradition, imitation was a value and thus to report an event much like another did -- albeit with minor, creative variations -- was considered a worthy practice.

Thus I do not find this a "reasonable" expectation at all. I would also add, in this light, that literary dependence does not in any sense equate with proof of knowledge dependence. Merely because Luke used Mark's or Matthew's literary form does not mean that he arrived at the scene with no knowledge of his own, and derived the whole of what knowledge he had from his sources. Indeed, that Luke provides many new and different accounts would clearly suggest otherwise.

Obviously we do not expect Kirby to "re-invent the wheel" and offer a full-scale defense of his view of literary dependence. Our own full-scale analysis is found here. I will therefore decline to offer specific comment on the material on this subject that Kirby cites from his sources, as I believe that the principles that they use are adequately addressed in my series.

Kirby rounds off with the comment (online, and in ETJBG, 236):

My theory is that the evangelists freely shaped their resurrection narratives with theological concerns, not on the basis of historical knowledge, and that their few agreements derive from dependence, particularly dependence on the account in the Gospel of Mark for the empty tomb story.

Our point once again, however, is that the shaping of knowledge with theological concerns does not in any sense show a lack of indepdendent historical knowledge, for reasons we have outlined above. That is, we believe, a false and unsubstantiated step. The apologetic that sees the Gospels as four independent witnesses to the empty tomb is therefore undisturbed.

Kirby also concedes the possibility that an historical account could be supplemented with more historical detail by Matthew, Luke, or John or at least with traditions that can be seen to antedate Mark. He believes, however, that because it was not done, this adds to the argument from silence previously made that the discovery of the empty tomb does not seem to have impressed itself upon early Christian consciousness as a historical event. I do not see this at all, because I believe that practical constraints make it clear that there are more prosaic reasons available for the "silence" that have nothing to do with "Christian consciousness."

Finally, Kirby notes that it could be stated that the tendency of the story is the tendency of a legend, to go from simple to elaborate, and thus that we might extrapolate the tendency of the tradition after Mark to suggest that the tradition disappates into nothing a short time before Mark. But he also concedes that it might be objected that this is just sloppy thinking and to this we would agree.

Fictional Characteristics in Mark

Kirby's next step is to disauthenticate Mark. An enormous quote is offered (in the online version) from Randel Helms, which contains in sum the principles of his thesis, which we have already addressed in detail here, and so we believe further comment is unnecessary.

Kirby does say that "not all the parallels adduced by Helms should be attributed to borrowing from the book of Daniel," but does think the evidence is strong enough to conclude that "the account of the discovery of the empty tomb was to some degree modeled after the story in Daniel." The book version notes ideas like those used by Helms, but does not quote Helms.

Kirby then turns to a comment by Leipoldt (online only), which refers to the story of the novelist Chariton. This comparison too we have previously adderessed, and so no further comment is needed.

Much of the section online hereafter simply follows upon Helms' principles that imitation or pattern-making somehow proves or indicates fiction. We say rather that it is an example of how ancient writers carefully used history to craft their accounts artistically, selecting from an authentic corpus of stories and facts that which would fit their pattern. Indeed, this in itself provides a needed answer to Kirby's prior argument concerning "silence" concerning certain events in different Gospels.

We pick up where Kirby responds to the following note from Craig about why Mark's reported silence of the women was "surely meant to be just temporary" -- this quote is from the online version, but some of the same material is in the book version as well:

See the helpful discussion of the women's silence in Bode, Easter, 39-44. He distinguishes five possible interpretations: (1) The silence explains why the legend of the empty tomb remained so long unknown. (2) The silence is an instance of Mark's Messianic secret motif. (3) The silence was temporary. (4) The silence served the apologetic purpose of separating the apostles from the empty tomb. (5) The silence is the paradoxical human reaction to divine commands as understood by Mark. But (1) is now widely rejected as implausible, since the empty tomb story is a pre-Markan tradition. (2) is inappropriate in the post-resurrection period when Jesus may be proclaimed as the Messiah. As for (4), there is no evidence that the silence was designed to separate the apostles from the tomb. Mark does not hold that the disciples had fled back to Galilee independently of the women. So there is no implication that the disciples saw Jesus without having heard of the empty tomb. It is pointless to speak of 'apologetics' when Mark does not even imply that the disciples went to Galilee and saw Jesus without hearing the women's message, much less draw some triumphant apologetic conclusion as a result of this. In fact there were also traditions that the disciples did visit the tomb, after the women told them of their discovery, but Mark breaks off his story before that point. As for (5) this solution is entirely too subtle, drawing the conclusion that because people talked when Jesus told them not to, therefore, the women, having been told to talk, did not. Therefore (3) is most probable. The fear and silence are Markan motifs of divine encounter and were not meant to imply an enduring silence.

Kirby analyzes the 5 options, and rejects Craig's answer to (1) based on his proof of problematic silence in other sources, which we have addressed above. Hence his retort to Craig on (1) we do not consider effective. He agrees with Craig in rejecting (2), as would I, though for other reasons.

Kirby does not accept Craig's answer to (4); and as a matter of fact, I would not so easily dismiss it as an answer either. But the idea itself requires certain assumptions about what was happening in the background of Mark's audience. For this reason I would regard both Craig's option as well as Kirby's reply (that perhaps "Mark and his audience held as a matter of course that the disciples returned to Galilee without any knowledge of an empty tomb") as too speculative to endorse, though the use of (3) would perhaps undermine Kirby's view of (4).

(5) Kirby says he does not hold to though he believes it is "possible." He adds another reason, "(6) that Mark's ending may be the final note on his theme of the failure of the disciples who knew Jesus. With their failure, the reader is challenged to do what was left undone by these disciples and preach the gospel."

This is one that I do substantially agree with, though not as something mutually exclusive of (3) in terms of what happened in history.

As for (3), Kirby rejects this as "improbable for two reasons":

  1. ...[I]t does injustice to the fact that the author of Mark ends the gospel on this note.

    Of course there is some issue here of whether indeed Mark WAS intended to have ended where it does. For reasons I outline here I do not believe this to be the case; but since Kirby does not address any arguments for a lost original ending for Mark, we will merely proceed with his answer on this point. As I have noted, I do not think that Mark's potential literary purpose in ending the Gospel with the women's silence precludes the historical inevitability that the women would indeed not hold their silence. The dramatic effect (which Kirby seems to appreciate) would have done well to affect an audience of Christians who would regard the silence as tragic, and thus provide a jumping-off point for an oral performer to encourage them, in turn, NOT to be silent about the Gospel message.

  2. Thus as well, we answer Kirby's second point: ...[I]t is inconceivable for the author of Mark to have believed the silence to be "temporary" and not to continue the narrative.

    Aside from the assumption that we do indeed have the full and genuine ending of Mark, and once again a reliance on Markan priority to make a case, the ending being made here is quite conceivable, for reasons we have laid out above (and others that are possible, but which we find less likely, at the link).

In all of this it is well to remember that Mark was written not as an apologetic to non-believers, but as a laudatory biography for the edification of those already believers. Kirby's point that it is inconceivable that Mark would end on this note (assuming that it did end there, again), because he had so much more he could have offered as proof, fails if the audience was composed of persons to whom proof had already been provided. In this respect it would be like saying that Mel Gibson does not believe in the resurrection appearances because The Passion ended with a mere cameo in the tomb of Jesus getting up.

Improbabilities in Mark

This section constitutes what we would call "beef", issues of actual or possible historical inaccuracy in Mark. Kirby offers these on a scale from what he considers of little merit to the most merit, though he also cautions that he is "not declaring any of these to be insuperable" (online, and book, 241) even as he argues that they "provide a degree of evidence against the story." We will skip over those of lesser merit and move to those that Kirby does consider problematic.

The first of these (online, but not in the book) that Kirby actually states "lower the likelihood of the story" runs as follows:

Somewhat more troublesome is the statement that the women observed the tomb being covered by a stone yet that they seem to realize that nobody would be there to move the stone only while on the way there. Craig states in his essay, "This same devotion could have induced them to go together to open the tomb, despite the stone. (That Mark only mentions the stone here does not mean they had not thought of it before; it serves a literary purpose here to prepare for v. 4). The opening of tombs to allow late visitors to view the body or to check against apparent death was Jewish practice, so the women's intention was not extraordinary." Craig does not succeed in emptying this objection of all force. Certainly, nobody would state that tombs were never opened for visitors. Yet in allowing the likelihood that the women would have thought about the opening of the tomb before, Craig does not address the problem, if they had thought of this, why did they go to the tomb alone? It would seem more likely that they would have inquired at the house of Joseph for permission or assistance, or at least that they would have brought someone who would be able to help, rather than acting like the fools that Mark depicts them as. This tends to lower the likelihood of the story.

I myself would not take Craig's tack, but rather respond with the idea that in times of exceptional grief, people like the women would hardly be in such a rational state that the practical concern of "Who will move the stone?" simply may not have occurred to them at once, but rather -- as depicted -- occured to them on the way. Perhaps Kirby would say that his reply of inquiring at Joseph's house would then kick in, but in addition to the point that emotion would have clouded their judgment, I suspect that it would have first occurred to the women to find out if someone was at or near the tomb first who could provide assistance; or perhaps they may have expected, upon reflection, Joseph and/or a party to already be there. This is also assuming that they knew at the time that Joseph was a secret disciple, which I happen to doubt.

Perhaps others were scared to be suspected of ritually mourning a condemned and dishonorably buried criminal. Perhaps most of the men who would’ve had any interest still just wanted to lay low out of fear, or were simply nowhere to be found at the time. Maybe factors related to Passover week and contracting ritual impurity from contact with the dead came into play in their attempt to recruit other men to aid them. Perhaps the women were doing something that simply wasn’t customary in going to anoint the body – so that asking Joseph to collaborate wouldn’t have been appropriate (especially given that he had already done so much to prepare the body).

Thus there are too many alternatives to argue that the story's likelihood is lowered by this point. Indeed, it is quite possible that Mark's line for the women is merely a "setup" of the narrative reflecting one of many concerns or points discussed, rather than reflecting an isolated and singular ipissima verba by the women.

Kirby then alludes to an "anachronism in the story" noted by Carrier, but it is one Miller has rebutted here and which we also discess here.

The next issue Kirby appeals to is one that also appears in the book version (online quote):

Concerning the statement that the women "brought spices" on Sunday morning after observing the burial by Joseph of Arimathea, Hendrickx states that, "the embalming of a body was apparently not in accordance with contemporary custom, since there is not a single example available."[51] If what the women were understood to be doing was not embalming, what was it? There was no such thing as a second anointing. The body was washed and anointed before the body was placed in the tomb or grave. Not only is this Jewish custom for burial, but it is also common sense that a body would be cleansed of sweat or blood before being wrapped in the cloth (usually white). Again, there is no example available for people going to a corpse after it was buried, removing the shroud, and anointing the corpse for a second time (since it would have been already washed/anointed before). This would make absolutely no sense; it would not occur to anyone, especially not in a Jewish culture, to anoint the body after it had been buried properly (and Craig does agree that there is no indication of improper burial). Craig states in his essay, "what the women were probably doing is precisely that described in the Mishnah, namely the use of aromatic oils and perfumes that could be rubbed on or simply poured over the body." However, this obscures the fact that this was done prior to burial. Hans van Campenhausen writes, "The desire to anoint, 'on the third day', a dead body already buried and wrapped in linen cloths, is, however it be explained, not in accordance with any custom known to us..."[52] It comes as little surprise then that Matthew and John, who are usually thought to have more knowledge of things Jewish, do not state that the women came to anoint the body on Sunday morning.

I believe that this matter is severely overstated. I see no more irregularity in the idea of coming to "anoint" an already-prepared corpse than in the idea of placing flowers on the headstone of an already-buried person today. Given what McCane shows to be a "shameful" burial of Jesus, further anointing of the body with spices and oils, which would mask the odor of decay, would provide an easy and accessible way, in the eyes of the women, to negate (even if in a very small way) the shame attached to Jesus' death and burial. It would perhaps not be "customary" but then again, the death of Jesus and hus burial were hardly "customary" either.

Roman Crucifixion and Jewish Burial

This is actually another section of "improbabilities" that Kirby set apart online; but in the book version it is combined with the prior section. Following background on the nature of crucifixion, Kirby engages an extended discussion of the burial of crucified criminals.

However, Kirby wrote his essay prior to the critical study of McCane (see here) showing exactly how and why Jesus would be buried in the tomb of someone like Joseph of Arimathea. While we would have some disagreement with points of McCane's presentation, it does substantially provide the course between "the Scylla of the Roman charge of sedition and the Charbydis of the Jewish accusation of blasphemy" that Kirby seeks.

As a bonus, it also provides an additional answer to the point about why the tomb was never venerated: It was a place of shame for Christians. We may also add the point that because the tomb would continue to be used by the family of Joseph -- and would contain dead bodies -- it would hardly be suitable as a site for veneration.

My biggest surprise is that Kirby does not even show awareness of McCane in the book version.

Burial Traditions

Having by his reckoning disposed of the Gospel traditions, Kirby next moves to apocryphal documents seeing independent information that may support an alternate theory of burial. Since we believe we have vindicated the Gospel traditions, we would consider it superfluous to comment on these points in detail.

However, we would suggest that critical study might not back up the contentions Kirby offers that certain of these documents are as early as he (or his source?) believe; for example, while Cameron may date The Secret Book of James (the only one Kirby looked at to make it into the book version) to the early second century, Philip Jenkins in Hidden Gospels [98-99] sees no viable reason to assign it such an early date. In addition, it is curious that Kirby is willing to allow for a second-century document to provide an "independent witness" yet rejects the idea that (say) Luke may be one in quality, merely because of literary likenesses.

Appearance Traditions

This section is primarily a discussion of data offered by the NT text, and as such, requires only some comment, whch may be reduced to points:

Rebuttal to Tomb Burial by Joseph of Arimathea

Not found in ETJBG

Kirby now turns his attention to positive arguments and a reply to them. In this section we find that Kirby applies his prior arguments (which we have addressed) in a refutational pattern against positive arguments (represented by material from William Lane Craig). As such there is much here that is, at this stage, repetitive; there are also some arguments Carig uses that I am personally indifferent to defending (ie, Mark's burial story is part of a pre-Markan passion narrative [though I would say it was derived from an earlier oral tradition]; the simplicity of the narrative points to it being early, and others); some points on which Kirby does not disagree with Craig, for whatever reason; and some points rely on an assumption that Mark is to be dated to 70 AD or later (which we discuss here). We will therefore again limnit ourselves to concise and select comments.

The Historicity of the Empty Tomb of Jesus

Not found in ETJBG

This is a second positive argument set Kirby deals with, and our procedure shall be the same as in the last section; but this will leave us again with little we think necessary to address.

Sum of Points Against the Empty Tomb: 2 Points

Sum of Points For the Empty Tomb: 28 Points

Kirby himself concludes on the equivocal side: "There is no conclusive historical argument that will prove or disprove the historicity of the empty tomb of Jesus." We dispute this conclusion, and believe that the balance of the evidence is indeed "overwhelming" in favor.

-JPH