April 20, 2019: Matthew 27; Luke 23.
When I read of Joseph of Arimathea on Friday, I wondered why he didn’t speak up for Jesus, see Mark 15:43. I found out he wasn’t there.
Matthew 27:57, “Late in the afternoon a wealthy man from Arimathea, a disciple of Jesus, arrived.” The Message
Possibly, he went home because he disagreed with the plans of the council. When he returned, it was too late.
Luke 23:50-52, “There was a man by the name of Joseph, a member of the Jewish High Council, a man of good heart and good character.
(51) He had not gone along with the plans and actions of the council. His hometown was the Jewish village of Arimathea. He lived in alert expectation of the Kingdom of God.
(52) He went to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus. Taking him down, he wrapped him in a linen shroud and placed him in a tomb chiseled into the rock, a tomb never yet used.” The Message
* * * * * * *
I researched “Arimathea” and found out more about Joseph – and Nicodemus.
“We learn that Joseph of Arimathea, who retrieves the Body of Christ from Pontius Pilate, is still very much a fearful undercover disciple.
Nicodemus, on the other hand, has by now figured out that he has absolutely nothing to fear, and brings a hundred litre of myrrh-and-aloe.
And to put that into perspective: a few chapters earlier, Mary, the sister of Martha and Lazarus, had used one litre of the same oil to anoint Jesus’ feet (which, whether the modern reader likes it or not, is a perfectly proper and open allusion to the most honorable member of a bridegroom’s anatomy).
In the previous chapter, Jesus had raised Lazarus from the dead, and John makes sure that the reader relates Mary’s act to Jesus’ act (12:1, 12:9).
Mary’s oil filled the whole house with a pleasant scent (12:3) but Lazarus’ corpse was producing the stink of death (11:39).
John also makes sure that the reader knows that Martha believed in the resurrection (11:24), and makes it very unlikely that Mary didn’t (11:45, 12:11).
The oil that Mary used was so costly that spending a litre of it had irritated Judas Iscariot.
Mary’s litre represented 300 dinari, which was a common man’s annual wage.
Nicodemus brings one hundred times as much; that’s one hundred years of labor worth of myrrh oil.
Moving that kind of oil must have involved every merchant in town.
There’s no way that Nicodemus could have amassed that much oil covertly, or even keep its purpose secret.
Surely the whole town knew about it. But why the oil?
When Judas complaints about Mary’s oil, Jesus tells him, “Let Mary be, that she may keep it for the day of My burial” (John 12:7, Matthew 26:12, Mark 14:8), and a large majority of modern commentators will state that Mary “prepared” Jesus’ Body for embalming.
That is entirely incorrect.
Embalming the dead was done in Egypt (Genesis 50:2, 50:26) but certainly not in Israel.
The Talmud allows embalming only if there is a dire emergency (such as there being no grave available) but states that it should be strenuously avoided because it desecrates the body (Avraham Steinberg, M.D. encyclopedia of Jewish Medial Ethics, page 377).
To the Jews, draining a corpse of its blood and removing certain organs constituted a horrendous desecration of the human body, and even the bodies of executed criminals were treated with respect (Deuteronomy 21:23).
Neither Mary nor Nicodemus intended to embalm Jesus.
John tells that Joseph and Nicodemus bound the Body in linen wrappings with the spices according to the custom of the Jews (John 19:40).
But that custom was not a burial custom.
Jewish burial customs are described in the Lazarus cycle and no oil or aromas are mentioned (note that only John tells the story of Lazarus of Bethany, to make sure that the reader understands about Jewish burial procedures).
The aromatic oil appears in the next chapter, and is applied to Jesus who raised Lazarus.
If Mary’s one litre had filled the whole house with scent, Nicodemus’ hundred litres must have wafted all over the region.
Its strong and bitter scent was unmistakably recognized by everybody in the wide surroundings and reminded everybody of only one thing, and that wasn’t death.
With his hundred litre of myrrh-oil (and a hundred is two times fifty, or a double witness to jubilee), Nicodemus unmistakably declared that the marriage of God and mankind had been consummated.
He never went there to bury Christ; he went there to see Him be “born again,” just as Jesus had explained him when the whole Nicodemus cycle started (John 3:3).
The only other time that word σμυρνα (smurna) occurs in the gospels is in the nativity story, when the magi from the east gave it to Mary and Jesus when He was born the first time (Matthew 2:11).
The older gospels had told the story of Christ’s burial in Joseph’s tomb but none of them mentioned Nicodemus’ massive myrrh contribution (in Mark and Luke, the women bring spices; no myrrh is mentioned).
It may have occurred to John that the audience of the older three gospels hadn’t understood the resurrection as described by the earlier versions, and he may have inserted Nicodemus’ outrageous gesture as a kind of inside joke.
To people in the know, he couldn’t have done it more obviously.
A hundred litre of myrrh-oil. Custom of the Jews.
A garden with a new tomb in which no one had yet laid, which is obvious to anyone a direct reference to the locked garden (the virgin bride) of the Song of Solomon 4:12 and the wafting spices of 4:16 (also see John 3:29).
All gospels explain that Jesus’ Body was placed in the tomb on the day before the Sabbath.
And all gospels tell that the women went to the grave the day after Sabbath.
Not a single member of a Jewish audience would have assumed that the women went to the tomb to embalm a person who’d been dead for two nights and a day (also see John’s hint in John 11:31).”
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