Problems with the Shallow Grave Hypothesis
by Lenny Esposito
The resurrection of Jesus is the central claim of Christianity. The entire faith hangs upon this one event being historically true. That’s one reason why so many skeptics have placed the resurrection in their crosshairs; they actually agree with the Apostle Paul in holding “if Christ has not been raised, your faith is worthless” (1 Cor. 15:17).
Of course, with every challenge to the resurrection of Jesus, there have been responses. One that seems to crop up time and again is that Jesus’ body did not rise, but was simply thrown into the shallow grave of a paupers’ field and was subsequently devoured by wild animals. Then, as his disciples sought to preach his resurrection, there was no body to prove them wrong.
John Dominic Crossan popularized this explanation. In his book Excavating Jesus, he explains how crucifixion victims were never buried, but left for the carrion. He then goes on to claim:
In the ancient mind, the supreme horror of crucifixion was to lose public mourning, to forfeit proper burial, to lie separate from one’s ancestors forever, and to have no place where bones remained, spirits hovered, and descendants came to eat with the dead. That is how Jesus died.1
Crossan has elsewhere asserted that the account of the resurrection were originally invented in Mark and the resurrection of Jesus were interpolations of disciples seeing visions and reinterpreting them into a bodily resurrection2.
I have already explained why it isn’t reasonable to see the resurrection narratives as an invention of the Gospel writers to build a following. The charge of intentional fraud fails. But what of this idea that Jesus was probably buried in a shallow grave and his body had been eaten by dogs? The theory has multiple issues against it…
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