Of all the Gospel accounts of the crucifixion, Mark’s seems to dwell at some length over the details of what happened to Jesus’ body immediately following his death.
To quote Julius Sumner Miller’s famous question “Why is it so?”
- Is it to establish the fact of Jesus’ death? There is no evidence that the “swoon” theory regarding resurrection was yet in play. On the contrary, Mark’s audience was facing the threat of violent death each day under Nero’s persecution. Perhaps such lingering provides a point of identification. Here are contemporary witnesses to the Roman certified death of Jesus.
- A number of names are mentioned, unusual in this gospel narrative. Notably, there are a group of women standing off at a distance. Two are named, presumably they are known to Mark’s audience. Also named is a high ranking official of the Jewish ruling class, Joseph of Arimathea. Not only is he named, but there are details of his negotiation with Pilate and the donation of his family tomb to afford Jesus a dignified burial not otherwise accessible to crucified insurrectionists. Again this lends credibility to the fact of Jesus’ death.
- Later, we will find Mark’s account of the empty tomb confronting and the reaction of the women unsatisfying and unsettling in the light of “joy of Easter Day” celebrations. Again this speaks deeply to the challenge before Mark’s original audience. How does faith work when Damocles’ sword is hanging over your head by a rapidly unravelling thread?
I’m sure there are other considerations worth noting, but these are enough to keep me guessing for a while!