The problem with the mystery of the empty tomb, so far, has been that of establishing a motive. But the analysis of motive, in the mystery of the empty tomb, has so far not recognized the fact that there were two categories of Jesus’ disciples: the ordinary folk who openly identified with him and for whom a motive may not be established in the circumstances of the New Testament evidence, and a group, mostly of the elite social classes who remained secret disciples.
There is a longstanding Christian attitude which insists on the resurrection as a “fact of history,” in the face of what appears to be the inability of the opponents of the resurrection to come up with a logical and historically valid alternative explanation of the empty tomb on Easter morning.
The extent to which the doctrine of the resurrection was an explosive issue in the highest political and ideological circles in Jesus’ times is generally not well appreciated. Belief or non-belief in the doctrine of the resurrection was the major issue which split the Jewish Sanhedrin into two hostile political-ideological factions: The Pharisee and the Sadducee factions.
The twenty-third chapter of the Book of Acts provides hard historical evidence of the intense political-ideological rivalry between these two groups in Jesus’ times. We may assess the intensity of sectarian rivalry in the Jewish Sanhedrin in Jesus’ time from the incident recorded in the twenty-third chapter of the Book of Acts, where Paul appeared on trial before the Sanhedrin. Paul, being aware of the sectarian rivalry in the Council, appealed to the Pharisee faction, he also, having been a Pharisee. He shouted: “Brothers, it is on the question of the resurrection of the dead that I have been arraigned before this assembly!”
The violent uproar which followed his diplomatic appeal to the Pharisee section of the Sanhedrin gives us more than a glimpse into the degree of ideological split in the Sanhedrin in Christ’s time.A proper judicial trial of Christ might have broken down into a brawl under the same circumstances as Paul’s. When we consider the fact that Pharisees who had exchanged blows with their Sadducee colleagues in a debate over the doctrine of resurrection were the men who had actually taken charge of the body of Christ, then previously unconsidered possibilities with regard to Christ’s missing corpse become evident.
We know that there were Pharisee members of the Jewish Council who were Disciples of Christ. We don’t know how many. But we know that there were at least two: Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathea. We know, also, that these two men took the risk of standing in place of family for Christ. They requested the body of Christ from the Roman authorities and undertook the expenses of his burial. Such was the extent of their commitment to Christ. But how would such men have felt about the judicial murder of the man they had believed in? To what extent would they have gone to get even with the Sadducean civil authorities?
Might men who would exchange blows with their colleagues over the resurrection doctrine not be readily tempted to contrive a proof of what they believed in and thus score a point against the hated opponent? This, to me, is a pivotal question to consider, for it seems to me very likely that a conspiracy theory on the mystery of the empty tomb must factor in the questionable roles of the two Pharisees, Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathea, in the circumstances of Jesus’ death, burial and alleged resurrection.
Of the four gospel accounts, The Gospel of St. Mark stands out in its objective detailing of the bare facts of the Easter morning event. It significant that Mark’s account is considered the oldest account of the life and death of Christ available to us.
A comparison of Mark’s and Mathew’s accounts reveal some significant differences which show that Mathew’s account represents an early stage in the mythologization of the bare facts of the life and death of the historical Jesus.
Mark does not report Mathew’s earthquake on the morning of the resurrection. He is silent on Mathew’s angels with blazing faces descending from the skies. Rather, he honestly reports that a young man in white robe was found sitting in the tomb when Peter and John went to inspect the tomb on the resurrection morning(Mark 16:5).
Yes, you read correctly! A young man! Not an angel! No wonder Mark’s account isn’t very popular with Christians.
The collective testimony of the Gospel accounts is that the Apostles did not surmise that a resurrection had happened, rather, “a young man” in white robe(quoting Mark) had suggested the resurrection to the Apostles in the most brazen words.
The presence of a man in Christ’s tomb on the resurrection morning claiming to be an angel is the long unrecognized clinching evidence in support of a conspiracy theory of the resurrection of Christ. Mark in his historical objectivity unwittingly provides us hard evidence of a conspiracy by a person, or group of persons, to mislead the Apostles.
You don’t need to be a Sherlock Holmes to guess correctly:The evidence from the presence of a young man in the tomb is that someone was trying to lead the Apostles to the wrong conclusions.
It would appear that Pharisee members of the Sanhedrin(Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathea, to be specific) who had supported Jesus’ Messiahship deliberately engineered the resurrection to embarrass their Sadducee opponents in the Sanhedrin.
Subsequent history bears testimony to the fact that Nicodemus and his co-conspirators had gauged the human elements to their plan accurately. The aggressive pattern of evangelism of the Apostles after Pentecost stressed the damning message that the Sadducean civil authorities had rejected and killed the Messiah, even as their fathers had rejected and killed the prophets. Now, that was a very serious accusation indeed, one which could compromise the legitimacy of the already unpopular Sadducee leadership in the eyes of the people. The Sadducees were fully awake to the danger that such campaign portended. In response,they moved quickly to suppress the fledgling sect of the Nazarene.
The Sadducees knew that someone, or a group, was out to, not only embarrass them, but also do them out of power and prestige, if possible.
Had a modern police force been available in the First Century A.D., Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathea would have been the first suspects in the mystery of the empty tomb.