Scholarly Doubts on the Empty Tomb

We are regularly told by Christian Apologists that the scholarly consensus on the historicity of the empty tomb is strong enough that it can be counted as a “fact”. Is that so? In this thread, I intend to create a list of modern scholars and their comments that would beg to differ. I’ll edit the post as I find more. So stay tuned.

Marcus J. Borg
Marcus Borg, Liberal Scholar on Historical Jesus, Dies at 72 - The ...
Hundere Distinguished Professor of Religion and Culture, Oregon State Univ.
“The truth of Easter does not depend upon [the historicity of] an empty tomb. Did something utterly remarkable happen to the corpse of Jesus so that the tomb was empty? How much of the content of this story could we have captured on a videotape? And how much does that matter? [One] has to begin to wonder, “Maybe it’s not that kind of story.” Rather, the story looks to be a metaphorical narrative with rich resonances of meaning […] As a Christian, I am very comfortable not knowing whether or not the tomb was empty.”
– ‘The Meaning of Jesus: Two Visions’, p.173-175

Günther Bornkamm
Ediciones Sígueme
Professor of New Testament, Univ. Heidelberg
“As it is told, this story [of the women at the empty tomb], like the stories from the material peculiar to the other evangelists, is obviously a legend.”
– ‘Jesus of Nazareth’, p.183

Joel Carmichael
Death of Jesus: Joel Carmichael: 9780818008269: Books
– Columbia Univ. & Oxford trained Historian, author of ‘The Death of Jesus’, ‘The Birth of Christianity: Reality and Myth, and ‘The Unriddling of Christian Origins: a Secular Account’
“[The origin of the belief in Jesus’ Resurrection] is of course one of boundless complexity and obscurity […]. The most primitive tradition relies on the appearance of Jesus to some of his disciples in a vision, first to Peter, then presumably to others. The mere discovery of an empty comb could never have launched the faith in Jesus’ Resurrection. He would have had to be seen somewhere else first; the empty tomb alone would mean nothing. The proof of its significance ultimately rested on the interpretation of the vision of Jesus resurrected. Thus, in the logic of the situation, it must have been the conviction of Jesus’ reappearance that started the stories about his having been laid in a tome later found empty. This logic is simply confirmed by the incoherence of all the details of the tomb story.”
– ‘The Death of Jesus’, p.207-208

Richard Carrier
Richard Carrier - Westar Institute
Independent, Ph.D. (Ancient History), author of ‘On the Historicity of Jesus’
“There simply was no empty tomb. Mark made it up.”
– ‘Why Did Mark Invent an Empty Tomb?’,

Maurice Casey
NT Blog: Maurice Casey (1942-2014)
Emeritus Professor of New Testament Languages & Literature, Univ. Nottingham
“Jesus was probably buried in a common criminals’ tomb, where his body rotted in a normal way.”
– Maurice Casey, ‘Jesus of Nazareth’, p.497

James Crossley
James Crossley: Jesus in an age of neoliberalism - YouTube
Professor of Bible, Society and Politics, St. Mary’s Univ., Twickenham
“The earliest evidence for the empty tomb has no genuine eyewitness support (in contrast to the resurrection appearances) and Mk 16.8 suggests that the story was not well known. The first resurrection appearances are more likely to be visionary experiences interpreted as a bodily raised figure, which meant that the early accounts of Paul and Mark could assume an empty tomb even if historically this was not the case.”
– ‘Against the Historical Plausibility of the Empty Tomb Story and the Bodily Resurrection of Jesus’, in ‘Journal for the Study of the Historical Jesus’, June 2005)

John Dominic Crossan
John Dominic Crossan to Lecture at Drew | Drew Today | Drew University
New Testament scholar, historian of early Christianity, fmr. Catholic priest, co-founder of the Jesus Seminar
“What must have happened normally was that the soldiers who executed the crucifixion guarded the cross until death and made sure it was over by burying the crucified one themselves […] No amount of [Gospel] damage control can conceal what its intensity only confirms. With regard to the body of Jesus, by Easter Sunday morning, those who cared did not know where it was, and those who knew did not care. Why should even the soldiers themselves remember the death and disposal of a nobody?”
– ‘The Historical Jesus’, p.392-394

Bart D. Ehrman
Bart D. Ehrman - Wikipedia
Distinguished Professor of Religious Studies, Univ. North Carolina, Chapel Hill
“We don’t know whether the tomb was discovered empty because we don’t know whether there even was a tomb.”
– ‘How Jesus Became God’, p.165

Christopher F. Evans
christopher evans obituary
Professor of New Testament, King’s College, London
“The status of [the empty tomb story] in Mark is not easy to discern. The empty tomb does not seem to have belonged to the earliest kerygma of the resurrection, and should probably not be read out of either the references to the burial (1 Cor. 15.4; Rom. 6.4; Col. 2.12) […] Attempts to establish an historical kernel of [Mark’s] empty tomb story are not very convincing […]. It is in itself the proclamation of the resurrection, and is made so by the non-naturalistic elements, i.e the contradiction in the women setting out with the question, ‘Who will roll away the stone?’, and the presence of the interpreting angel, who, in place of the Lord, utters the vital statements. It is difficult to see what historical nucleus would be left if these were removed. And The very basis of the narrative, a visit for a delayed embalming of a body already buried, is itself improbable, and is dropped by Matthew and John.”
Resurrection and the New Testament’, p.75-77

Robert W. Funk
Robert W. Funk - Westar Institute
Biblical scholar, founder of the Jesus Seminar and the Westar Institute
“[I take the position that] the empty-tomb story found in the last chapter of the Gospel of Mark is a late legend, introduced into the tradition for the first time by Mark. It was unknown to Paul. It was also unknown to the Sayings Gospel Q and the Gospel of Thomas. Evidently the empty-tomb story and the reports of appearances did not come to play a central part in the Jesus tradition until several decades after Jesus’ death.”
Honest to Jesus’, p.259

Randel Helms
Randel Helms | LibraryThing
Professor at the Department of English, Arizona State Univ., author of Gospel Fictions’ & Who Wrote the Gospels?’
“Paul did not know the Gospel resurrection stories, for the simple reason that they had not yet been invented, and the four evangelists, who wrote twenty to fifty years after Paul, either did not know his list of appearances or chose to ignore it. Perhaps most surprisingly of all the differences is Paul’s failure to mention the legend of the empty tomb, which was, for the writer of the earliest Gospel, the only public, visible evidence for the resurrection… Indeed, [Paul] had probably never heard of it; it was a legend that grew up in Christian communities different from his own.”
– ‘Gospel Fictions’, p.130

Michael Goulder
NT Blog: Michael Goulder: The Times obituary
Professor of Biblical Studies, Univ. Birmingham
“Romans almost always left the bodies of crucified criminals on the cross, where unburied and a prey to birds, they would be a horror and a warning to passers-by […]. We should assume that Jesus’ fate followed [this] normal pattern and that his body was left hanging for perhaps forty-eight hours. For the Jerusalem view of resurrection all that was necessary was that Jesus should have been seen. […] The trouble [of the empty tomb story] is that at so many points it is implausible, and even contradictory. If Jesus’ body is to be found missing, it will have to be buried in the tomb of a wealthy sympathizer. Joseph of Arimathaea supplies this need: he is an honorable councilor and has been expecting the kingdom of God. But then surely this is what Jesus has spent the week proclaiming in the temple; and if he is a councilor, presumably that means a member of the Sanhedrin, and he will have been present at the recent meeting, and so have been part of the unanimous vote condemning Jesus for blasphemy. A group of women goes out to anoint Jesus’ body “exceedingly early,” not knowing who is to roll away the enormous stone covering the tomb: although they are part of a community of tough men, some of them their relations, they would rather take a chance on meeting a gardener, or some such person, who happened to be around at 4 a.m. The point of the angel’s message is to have the disciples directed to Galilee, but the women say nothing to anyone in their fear, so the whole tale is pointless. The thought must arise that it is a late development of the Markan church, and that the women’s silence is an explanation of why it has not been heard before. In a divided church, those who thought physical resurrection an absurdity would not take kindly to a brand new story that Jesus’ body was buried in a stranger’s tomb, and had left it in the night. They would inevitably ask, “Why have we never heard this before?” “Ah,” replies the wily evangelist, “the women said nothing to anyone; for they were afraid.” ”
– ‘Jesus Without Q’, in ‘Handbook for the Study of the Historical Jesus’, p.1310-1311

Peter Kirby
The Empty Tomb: Jesus Beyond The Grave: Robert M. Price, Jeffery ...
Historian, author/maintainer of &
“The empty tomb narrative is a fiction. It is the invention of the author of Mark, from which all other reports are dependent on. There are signs of fictional creation in the narrative, and it contains several improbabilities. There are several plausible alternate reconstructions of the events that exclude the discovery of an empty tomb.”
The Case Against the Empty Tomb, in The Empty Tomb, p.233-234 (paraphrased)

Gerd Lüdemann
Gerd Lüdemann - Westar Institute
Chair of History and Literature of Early Christianity,  Univ. Göttingen
“Investigation into the burial of Jesus [suggests] that his followers did not even know where their leader had been buried […] Either the Jews entrusted Joseph of Arimathea with putting the body of Jesus in a tomb or Jews unknown to us ‘buried’ the corpse in a place which can no longer be identified […] None of the [empty tomb narratives] come from eyewitnesses; they have passed through the hand of the community and/or a theologically trained figure. So the historical yield is unsatisfactory.” 
– ‘What Really Happened to Jesus?’, p.79+81+131

Dale B. Martin
Dale B. Martin – The Religious Studies Project
Woolsey Professor of Religious Studies at Yale University
“If the empty tomb stories were historically true, [one] would strongly expect that the tomb would have become a place of veneration among early Christians. If they knew where it was, why didn’t they go back? It was very popular in the ancient world for people to have picnics around tombs. The family and the loved ones would get together on the anniversary of the death and they would actually celebrate the person’s memory with a picnic. If they knew the tomb where Jesus had been raised from, why did it take over 200 years for Christians to start venerating the tomb? And then they had to pick one that doesn’t seem to fit the archaeology of the Biblical narratives! It took basically Helen, the mother of Emperor Constantine, to go back and choose period traditions about where the tomb might have been. [And] she said, ‘OK, this is the tomb, build the church of the sepulchure here!’ That’s in the 4th century! If [earlier Christians] knew where the tomb was, why didn’t they use it as a place to pray, as a place to hold Easter worship services? There’s no evidence that early Christians knew where the tomb was until too late to count as historical evidence.”
– ‘Did Jesus Physically Rise From the Dead?’ A debate between Mike Licona and Dale Martin, @ 1:03:52

Robert M. Price
Robert M. Price - Wikipedia
Professor of Biblical Criticism at the Center for Inquiry Institute
“That the Empty Tomb story is Mark’s own creation is evident from the fact that he knows about the young man, his message, and the women’s refusal to tell anyone about this encounter. If they told no one, how does Mark know? He is ‘the omniscient narrator’—of fiction!”
– ‘Holy Fable Volume 2’, Kindle location 1867

John Shelby Spong
Bishop John Shelby Spong portrait 2006.png
Episcopal Bishop, Prolific author on early Christianity
“The angels of the empty tomb, the tomb itself with its massive stone and its female visitors, to say nothing of the entire burial tradition, must be dismissed as not factual. These parts of the tradition were quite simply the myths and legends that arose later in a Jerusalem setting.”
– ‘Resurrection: Myth or Reality’, p.235

others… quotes forthcoming….

Hector Avalos

Gerald Boldock Boston

Rudolf Bultmann

Peter Carnley

Robert Eisenman

Maurice Goguel

Hans Grass

Charles Guignebert

Uta Rank-Heinemann

Herman Hendrickx

Roy Hoover

Helmut Koester

Hans Kung

Alfred Loisy

Burton L. Mack

Dennis R. MacDonald

Willi Marxsen

Norman Perrin

Marianne Sawick

Howard M. Teeple

John T. Theodore

Robyn Faith Walsh (

Adela Yarbro Collins (?)

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