by Dr. Robert R. Seyda




Isaiah had prophesied that the Messiah would be laid in a tomb among those who are rich.1 Also, in a small Jewish tractate we are told: “…a new grave may be measured, and sold, and divided; an old one may not be measured, nor sold, nor divided.2 Rabbis also tell us that more than one tomb may be chiseled out of the same rock, but it all depends on the size and condition of the rock. They say that each burial chamber within the tomb must be four cubits in length [about 6 feet], seven [handbreadths] in height [about 3 feet], and six handbreadths in width [about 30 inches].3

As far as sealing the tomb with a boulder is concerned, we also find this in Jewish writings: “If a beam was used instead of a stone to seal the tomb, either upright or on its side, only that part is unclean that lies opposite the opening.”4 Therefore, Joseph had a choice and he chose a large rock. Rabbis give us a little more information on the use of the stone by saying: “The stone that seals a grave and its buttressing stone convey uncleanness by contact and by overshadowing but not by carrying. What is the buttressing stone? That against which the stone leans that seals the grave. But a stone that serves as a buttress to the buttressing stone is clean.5

So we can see, that neither the disciples nor the leading Jews could have removed this stone without being declared unclean. There is an interesting story in Jewish lore that tells of what happened at Adam’s funeral after he had been entombed. It reads: “And God called and said, ‘Adam, Adam.’ And the body answered from the earth and said: ‘Here am I, LORD.’ And God said to him: ‘I told you (that of) earth you are and to earth, you will return. Again, I promised the Resurrection to you; I will raise you up in the Resurrection with every man who is of your seed.’ After these words, God made a seal and sealed the tomb, that no one might do anything to him for six days until his rib was restored to him. Then the Lord and His angels went back to their place.6

Maybe that’s why God sent an angel to do the job of moving the stone from the tomb opening where Jesus’ body was laying. And believe me, once the angels touched that stone, it became clean. But rolling the stone in front of the cave entrance served another purpose besides sealing the tomb. In one Jewish document, we find what may be a veiled reference to Jesus where it says: “Abaye retorted: ‘Would you compare those who are slain by a Gentile Government to those who are executed by the Beth din? The former, since their death is not in accordance with Jewish law, obtain forgiveness, but the latter whose death is justly merited, are not [thereby] forgiven. This can also be proved from what we learned: ‘THEY DID NOT BURY HIM IN HIS ANCESTRAL TOMB.’7 It goes on to say, ‘THEY OBSERVED NO MOURNING RITES BUT GRIEVED FOR HIM FOR GRIEF IS BORNE ONLY IN THE HEART.’8 It then adds, ‘Ashi said: “When do the mourning rites commence? From the closing of the grave with the gravestone.”’”9 In the footnotes, there is a comment on sealing a grave by “rolling” a stone in front of the entrance. The commentator says this is what the Hebrew means, “…because it can be rolled away.”10

Another great Rabbi mentions the same practice, “From what point is a person obligated to mourn? When the grave is sealed. But until the corpse has been entombed, a mourner is not bound by any of the prohibitions incumbent on a mourner. For this reason, King David washed and anointed himself when his son died, before he was entombed.11 It is also significant to notice that according to the way Matthew’s notes were translated from Hebrew into Greek, it suggests the Joseph rolled the stone in front of the tomb. However, the Aramaic Version of this verse reads, “And they rolled a large boulder and they placed it at the entrance of the tomb and they departed.”12

This clearly intimates that Joseph did not do this himself because the stone was too heavy. We should also note that Joseph and Nicodemus were very devout Jewish scholars, and although they recognized Jesus as the Messiah, they still wanted to be observant to all the Jewish customs and traditions. So, how could they be doing such manual labor on the eve of the most sacred festival in Judaism, the Passover? A Rabbi explains: “We may take care of all the needs of a corpse during Chol Ha Mo’ed.13 We may cut its hair, wash its shrouds, and make a coffin for it. If there are no boards available, we may bring beams and cut boards from them in a discreet manner inside a building. If the coffin is intended for an important person, it may be made in the marketplace.”14

So they were safe as far as the verbal law was concerned. But they did not do this in secret or solitude, Matthew tells us that two women who were followers of Jesus were watching the whole thing. But they were more than just curious onlookers. They wanted to make sure they knew where the Savior’s body was being laid. They fully intended to prepare spices and ointments to anoint His body. They had not yet begun to grieve, but as soon as the stone was placed in front of the opening, that was the sign for them to begin their mourning, that is, they wrapped the body with cloth around and around, as was the custom of the Jews. Also, it was normal to bury the body of a common person in inexpensive shrouds made of flax.15

Verse 62a: That day was the day called Preparation day.

We learn that this was the day before the Sabbath spent in “preparation” for the holy Sabbath of the Passover week. The Jews were scrupulous about allowing no work such as this on the Sabbath, so it was necessary for the two friends to finish the burial necessities to the extent they could before the sun went down. Thus, just as the Lord rested one day after finishing the work of His creation week, so He would also rest another full day after finishing His redemption work of Passover week.

Jewish writers also tell us there is a lot that goes on during this week. We find the following written by Ari Goldman, a former New York Times reporter. He says: “One prepares for the Sabbath all week. In Hebrew the days of the week do not have names; they are all a launch pad for Shabbat. Sunday is the first day, Monday the second, and so on until Friday, which is both the sixth day and ‘the eve of Shabbat.’ In anticipation of the Friday night meal, observant Jews tend to eat lighter meals during the daytime on Friday. There is also much to do. In fact, the more observant you are of the details of Shabbat, the more you have to prepare before it arrives. The late eminent scholar Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik used to say that the true mark of a pious Jew is not that he or she is ashomer Shabbat (a Sabbath observer) but is shomer erev Shabbat (one who properly prepares on the eve of the Sabbath). By traditional Jewish law, one cannot shop on the Sabbath, so marketing is usually done during the day on Friday. Cooking is prohibited on the Sabbath, so that must be done in advance, too. Foods prepared beforehand can be kept warm on a hot plate or on the stove, a condition that has led to a preference for certain hearty dishes like a meat-bean-and-potato stew called cholent.16

1 Isaiah 53:9

2 Tractate Semachot (which means “Mourning”, Ch. 14, folio 16b

3 Mishnah, Fourth Division: Nezikin, Tractate Bava Batra, Ch. 6:8

4 Ibid. Sixth Division: Tohorot, Tractate Oholot, Ch. 15:8

5 Ibid. Ch. 2:4

6 Apocalypse of Moses, Trans. R. H. Charles, Oxford, The Clarendon Press, 1913, Ch. 41:1 – 42:1 (Also known as the “Life of Adam and Eve”

7 Babylonian Talmud, Seder Nezikin, Masekhet Sanhedrin, folio 47a-b; The capital letters signify a quote from the Jewish Mishnah.

8 Ibid.

9 Ibid.

10 Ibid. folio 47b, footnote (6)

11 Moses Maimonides, Mishnah Torah, Sefer Shoftim, Avel Ch. 1, Halacha 2

12 Matthew 27:61

13 The Hebrew phrase “Chol Ha Mo’ed,” means, “Weekdays of the festival” (literal translation: ‘the secular [non-holy] part of the occasion’, and refers to the intermediate days of Passover and Sukkot.

14 Mishnah Torah, ibid., Sefer Zemanim, Tractate Shevitat Yom Tov, Ch. 7, Halacha 15

15 Book of Genealogy (Juchasin), by Rabbi Abraham Zacuto, Teachings of Rabban Gamaliel of Jabneh, p. 172

16 Ari L. Goldman: Being Jewish, The Spiritual and Cultural Practice of Judaism Today, published by Simon & Schuster, New York, 2000, pp. 190-191

About drbob76

Retired missionary, pastor, seminary professor, Board Certified Chaplain and American Cancer Society Hope Lodge Director.
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