Sunday, 24 April 2011

Spice preparation and the Sabbath

Previously I have written on the duration of time Jesus was in the tomb. The posts were
Strider asks
How could the woman have bought the spices after the weekly sabbath, but they prepared the spices before the sabbath and then rested? you have to answer that. also you have to interpret the scripture with the 'even[ing] to even[ing]' day in mind
I agree that at the time of Jesus the Jews considered that days started in the evening, ie. at sunset, and finished the following evening.

In my above posts I defend the position that Jesus died late Friday and was buried late afternoon/ early evening, near the time the Jewish Sabbath was beginning.

In Luke 23–24 we read
Now there was a man named Joseph, from the Jewish town of Arimathea. He was a member of the council, a good and righteous man, who had not consented to their decision and action; and he was looking for the kingdom of God. This man went to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus. Then he took it down and wrapped it in a linen shroud and laid him in a tomb cut in stone, where no one had ever yet been laid. It was the day of Preparation, and the Sabbath was beginning. The women who had come with him from Galilee followed and saw the tomb and how his body was laid. Then they returned and prepared spices and ointments.

On the Sabbath they rested according to the commandment.

But on the first day of the week, at early dawn, they went to the tomb, taking the spices they had prepared.
Compare Mark 15–16
And when evening had come, since it was the day of Preparation, that is, the day before the Sabbath, Joseph of Arimathea, a respected member of the Council, who was also himself looking for the kingdom of God, took courage and went to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus. Pilate was surprised to hear that he should have already died. And summoning the centurion, he asked him whether he was already dead. And when he learned from the centurion that he was dead, he granted the corpse to Joseph. And Joseph bought a linen shroud, and taking him down, wrapped him in the linen shroud and laid him in a tomb that had been cut out of the rock. And he rolled a stone against the entrance of the tomb. Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of Joses saw where he was laid.

When the Sabbath was past, Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of James and Salome bought spices, so that they might go and anoint him. And very early on the first day of the week, when the sun had risen, they went to the tomb.
So Luke has in written order
  1. Wrapping the body
  2. Burial
  3. Sabbath onset
  4. Spice preparation
  5. Sabbath rest
  6. Tomb visit
Mark has
  1. Wrapping the body
  2. Burial
  3. Sabbath rest
  4. Buy spices
  5. Tomb visit
The difficulty is how can they buy spices after the Sabbath as per Mark but prepare them before the Sabbath as per Luke unless there are 2 Sabbaths. Matthew and John do not discuss the women preparing spices though John mentions that Nicodemus had spices that he and Joseph wrapped into the linen prior to the burial.

I don't think this is a major difficulty. I think the likely solution is that Mark gives the order whereas Luke gives an overview. Thus the order would be
  1. Burial on Friday afternoon
  2. Sabbath from Friday evening to Saturday evening
  3. Buy spices Saturday evening after sunset
  4. Prepare spices Saturday evening
  5. Visit the tomb Sunday morning before dawn
This fits Mark. Luke's comment about returning from the tomb and preparing spices is a comment about what happened some time during the period before Sunday morning. The Sabbath rest is mentioned at that point to explain why they did not go to the tomb the next day.

Though I think the order of narrative reflects chronology, one must be careful about the rigidity with which this is applied. If chronological prepositions such as "before" and "after" are used then this indicates order. If not, and the context, or other Scripture, suggests otherwise then one must be careful about extracting chronological information when other literary features may be in play. So in Luke the Sabbath comment is included to explain why the women did not go to the tomb the next day. They couldn't visit the tomb. In fact they couldn't even prepare spices, it is unlikely they prepared spices after returning home late Friday just before the Sabbath as the burial was being completed about the time the Sabbath was beginning.

Are there other solutions if we force an interpretation of spice preparation immediately after burial? We could argue that Mark and Luke are taking about different women, that one group prepared spices just before the Sabbath (Joanna) and another bought spices after the Sabbath (Mary). This is unlikely and I do not favour this option.

We could argue that they prepared some spices before the Sabbath and bought more after the Sabbath. This would be feasible as the timing of the death would preclude them owning enough spices to anoint a body. But this solution is unnecessary given that Luke is not giving a rigid chronology.

But what of the alternative? Jesus dies on the Wednesday evening. A special Sabbath goes from Wednesday evening to Thursday evening. Thursday evening to Friday evening is a normal day. And Friday evening to Saturday evening is the usual Sabbath.

Addressing just the spice issue. We have burial before the first and special Sabbath. Buying the spices on Friday morning after this Sabbath. Preparation of the spices on Friday. Rest on the second and usual Sabbath. Visit the tomb after this Sabbath.

But why not visit the tomb on Friday? There is more than enough time to buy, prepare and visit the tomb. Proposing another Sabbath to solve a perceived spice chronology creates a much greater issue: Why did the women stay home on Friday? If we allow Luke latitude in organising his material topically, the issue of the spices is further evidence for a Friday crucifixion.

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