The Resurrection of Jesus (4): Jewish Propaganda Presupposes an Empty Tomb

The earliest Jewish propaganda alleged to have been used against the up and coming Christian movement actually presupposes that it was widely known that the tomb was empty. In the gospel of Matthew, we find the story of how the Jews set a guard around the tomb of Jesus.  No doubt, having recovered from the initial shock of seeing the angel open the tomb, the guards fled. Then:

“… [S]ome of the guards went into the city and reported to the chief priests everything that had happened. When the chief priests had met with the elders and devised a plan, they gave the soldiers a large sum of money, telling them, “You are to say, ‘His disciples came during the night and stole him away while we were asleep.’ If this report gets to the governor, we will satisfy him and keep you out of trouble.” So the soldiers took the money and did as they were instructed. And this story has been widely circulated among the Jews to this very day.” (Matthew 28:11-15)

This last sentence indicates that Matthew was aware of allegations made against the church by early Jewish propagandists. Matthew does not try to defend the church against the charge that the disciples mistaken as to the empty tomb. Friend and foe alike presume that the body of Jesus was not in the tomb. Rather, the accusation is that the disciples stole the body.

In a court of law, this kind of “hostile testimony” is very valuable. It was not in the authorities’ best interest to admit that the empty was tomb. They would only do so if they had no choice. That the only strategy open to them was to claim that the disciples stole the body is in fact powerful evidence that the tomb of Jesus was indeed an empty tomb.

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