Returning to the Funeral of Jesus

Several years ago I came across a text described in a manuscript catalog as “On the Funeral of Jesus.” I worked up an edition and translation of the text for the 2010 workshop in Winnipeg on Acta Pilati traditions. At the time, several sentences in the text were difficult to reconstruct and translate; so I put it aside, expecting someday to get back to it. The years went by, but now I have finally returned to the text and solved most of the remaining problems.

The text is an untitled, two-page excerpt found in a fourteenth/fifteenth-century Greek manuscript. It appears to derive from a sermon that draws upon the Acta Pilati traditions, particularly  the Narrative of Joseph of Arimathea. The text is difficult to read, due to scribal misspellings (itacisms), abbreviations, and manuscript damage. It begins midsentence with Pilate (it seems) granting Joseph the body of Jesus. Nicodemus hears of this and asks to join Joseph in preparing the body. Then Joseph and Nicodemus speak. Joseph remarks that a “counterfeit” appeared in the burial shroud of “the stranger.” Presumably this “stranger” is Jesus, but this counterfeit (perhaps “image”) is perplexing. Joseph says that he and the stranger (a ghostly Jesus?) appeared outside of the synagogue while the priests were asking why Jesus’ relatives were not burying him. They mention also “dead (dying?) strangers” coming in to Jerusalem at Jesus’ death (perhaps a reference to the resurrected saints of Matthew 27:52-53).

Nicodemus tells Joseph not to worry and that he will go to the temple and request the body of Jesus and ask about the other strangers. This statement is odd given that Pilate has already given them the body and Nicodemus does not actually do what he says. Instead, he goes to the temple and obtains the face cloth of Jesus—the cloth that will be rolled up in a place by itself as in John 20:7. Then he returns and the two men place the body of Jesus in the tomb.

Three days later Jesus rises from the grave. No specific empty tomb stories or resurrection appearances are mentioned but the priests and scribes are aware that he has risen. Horrified, they say, “Horror, horror! Why is this misery for us?” Recalling Matthew 28:11-15, they scheme to accuse Joseph and the disciples of stealing the body. They incite the people against Joseph (Nicodemus is not mentioned again), and they grab Joseph and bring him before Pilate. The people accuse Joseph of taking the burial shroud (presumably the face cloth) from the temple and of stealing the body and claiming that Jesus has risen from the dead. Pilate gets furious with the Jews. As with Jesus, he says, “See to it yourselves. I am innocent of this man’s blood” (see Matt 27:4). The priests lock Joseph in prison and plan on stoning him the next day. This entire scene is paralleled in the Gospel of Nicodemus 12 and the Narrative of Joseph 4:1.

Alone in his prison, Joseph laments saying, “What good is it to me now (to be) of Jesus?” Then Jesus appears, along with the good thief (see Gospel of Nicodemus 15:6 and Narrative of Joseph 4:2; but only in Joseph does the good thief appear). Jesus brings Joseph to Galilee and teaches him so that he may in turn teach the disciples about the resurrection. The next day, the priests come to the prison and find Joseph missing. They fall to the ground in fear. The author then concludes his text with a statement against the priests: “Oh their blindness, oh their misery, not wishing to show kindness to those who believe in our Lord Jesus.”

As soon as I polish up the introduction to the paper, I will submit it for publication. If anyone has any thoughts about the text, don’t hesitate to add some comments to this post. I’m particularly interested in whether anyone has seen a text like this before.

5 responses on “Returning to the Funeral of Jesus

  1. Compare this phrase from the “Funeral of Jesus”:
    “Joseph remarks that a “counterfeit” appeared in the burial shroud of “the stranger”.”
    to this passage, and note the shared reference to “a stranger”:
    “A stake will we set up for the man who has ruined Miryai and led her away. There shall be no day in the world when a stranger enters Jerusalem.” Excepted from THE STORY OF THE BREACH WITH JUDAISM. MIRYAI IS EXPELLED FROM JEWRY (§ 34) in GRS Meade Gnostic John the Baptiser, 1924.
    (This is from an e-text so I cannot provide the page number of the print edition.)
    “…no day in the world …” is probably related to Matthew 27:45 and parallels.

    Compare “Joseph remarks that a “counterfeit” appeared in the burial shroud …” to
    “And they (Joseph and Nicodemus) answered: “The wrappings which you are holding in your hands are those of Jesus, as to this corpse, it is that of the robber who was crucified with Jesus”.” From Woodbrooke Studies, Christian Documents in Syriac, Arabic and Garshuni, Edited and Translated with a critical Aparatus by A. Mingana. With two introductions by Rendell Harris. Volume 2. Cambridge, W. Heffer and Sons Limited, 1928, p.207

  2. “Nicodemus tells Joseph not to worry and that he will go to the temple and request the body of Jesus and ask about the other strangers. THIS STATEMENT IS ODD GIVEN THAT PILATE HAS ALREADY GIVEN THEM THE BODY and Nicodemus does not actually do what he says.”

    Requesting Jesus’ corpse from both Pilate and the Temple priests seems to be a conflation of the Gospel’s story where the Romans executed Jesus, and the Talmud/Toledoth Yeschu tradition in which the Jewish authorities executed Yeschu and hid the corpse.

  3. You have probably already noted this.
    Both passages are about a man being falsely accused of robbing the Temple.
    “The people accuse Joseph of taking the burial shroud (presumably the face cloth) from the temple” in the Funeral of Jesus,
    bears a resemblance to
    “Jesus was also taken at evening on the third day before the Passover. But Caiaphas and the multitude of the Jews had no Passover but were in great grief because of the robbery of the sanctuary (Temple) by the thief.” from the Gospel of Joseph of Arimathea.
    The two passages may have a common precursor story about robbing the Temple.

  4. Excellent question, Dave. The writer seems to be trying to explain why the face cloth was lying in a place by itself (as in John 20:7), as if there is something wrong about it.

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