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When did the women go to Jesus’ tomb?

Posted on Apr.05, 2010. Filed in John, Luke, Mark, Matthew. Average rating: 4.7 / 10 (Rate It).

When Jesus’ body had been laid in the tomb, several of the women who had followed him went to anoint his body with spices. The gospels all agree that they visited the tomb early in the morning on the first day of the week, but they disagree about whether it was light or still dark.

Matthew and Luke both have the women visiting the tomb at dawn, suggesting that it was just getting light:

After the sabbath, as the first day of the week was dawning, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to see the tomb. [Matthew 28:1, NRSV]

But on the first day of the week, at early dawn, they came to the tomb, taking the spices that they had prepared… [Luke 24:1, NRSV]

Mark confirms this, but says more clearly that the sun had risen by the time that they arrived:

And very early on the first day of the week, when the sun had risen, they went to the tomb. [Mark 16:2, NRSV]

John, however, explicitly states that it was still dark at the time of the visit:

Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene came to the tomb… [John 20:1a, NRSV]

So was it light when the women arrived at Jesus’ tomb, or was it still dark?

N.B. All posts are written in a style sympathetic to the claim of Biblical error, even in cases where the author ("Errancy") disagrees with the claim. See the About page for the site's philosophy.

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Comments

  1. 1
    Amtiskaw

    Interesting.

    John actually describes 2 visits by MM to the tomb, so one might want to say that Mark is describing the 2nd visit. But that won’t actually work. In John the stone had already been removed for the first visit; so Matthew and Mark can only be talking about the first visit.

    “Who will roll away the stone for us from the entrance of the tomb?” (Mark 16:3)

    “And behold, there was a great earthquake, for an angel of the Lord descended from heaven and came and rolled back the stone and sat on it.” (Matthew 28:2)

    Clearly this is not the 2nd visit.

  2. 2
    Amtiskaw

    There’s some disagreement in our modern translations. Some have Mark saying “the sun had risen” or words to that effect, while others make it “at sunrise”…

    It can still be dark “at sunrise” but it can’t really be dark once the sun has risen…

  3. 3
    Errancy

    The Greek is ανατειλαντος του ηλιου, “having arisen the sun”. Both the NRSV and the NASB have “when the sun had risen”. Which translations have “at sunrise”?

  4. 4
    Amtiskaw

    NLT: “just at sunrise”
    KJV: “at the rising of the sun”
    CEV: “just as the sun was coming up”
    Young’s: “at the rising of the sun”
    HCSB: “at sunrise”
    NET: “at sunrise”

  5. 5
    WisdomLover

    Mark has the women wondering who will roll the stone away from the tomb. This conversation must have occurred on the way to the tomb, not when they arrived (for the tomb was already open when they arrived).

    So there is this possibility:

    Magdalene ran ahead to see what could be done about the stone, while the other holy women, perhaps to accommodate the Mother of Jesus, proceeded at a slower pace. Magdalene thus might arrive at the tomb well ahead of sunrise, while the rest arrived well after.

  6. 6
    WisdomLover

    Just to clarify things a bit, here is the partial time line, I’m envisioning (and sorry, Errancy, that some of this might properly apply to the article about when the stone was rolled away, and may steal your thunder on other articles yet to be published…but I just don’t know how to separate it concisely):

    1) There is an earthquake. An angel opens the tomb. This is witnessed by soldiers some of whom converted and later told Matthew et al. None of the Holy Women or disciples see this.

    2) The Holy Women start out well before sunrise for the tomb. On the way, they discuss how to open it.

    3) Anxious, Magdalene runs ahead of the rest of the Holy Women to the tomb arriving before sunrise. She finds the tomb open and empty.

    4) Magdalene runs to tell Peter and John who come (running), with Magdalene, to find the tomb open and empty.

    5) Peter and John leave.

    6) Magdalene lingers outside the tomb crying.

    7) Just after sunrise, the rest of the Holy Women arrive.

  7. 7
    Errancy

    Is there any mileage in saying that whether it was light or dark is just a matter of perspective?

    Lightness and darkness are both a matter of degree. A state that’s somewhere in the middle can be described relative to daylight as still dark, and from the perspective of darkness as getting light.

    One time when you get these intermediate states is very early in the day, around sunrise. So couldn’t that time be described variously as “as the day was dawning”, “at early dawn”, “when the sun had (just) risen”, and “while it was still dark” without contradiction?

  8. 8
    Errancy

    @WL No problem in posting a timeline here. In due course I’ll post on the angels, who the women told, John’s description of what Mary did next, and on where the disciples met Jesus, but attempts to integrate the accounts belong just as much here as anywhere else.

  9. 9
    Amtiskaw

    “Magdalene runs to tell Peter and John who come (running), with Magdalene, to find the tomb open and empty.”

    No. Matthew 28:1-9 makes it perfectly clear that Magdalene and “the other Mary” meet the angels, and then Jesus himself.

  10. 10
    WisdomLover

    I agree with your reading of Matt 28 Amtiskaw. (How could I not? As you say, it is perfectly clear.) The time line I gave was partial. I was only trying to take us as far as the arrival of the Holy Women at the tomb.

    The events that follow the arrival of the Holy women are as follows:

    8) Magdalene goes first into the tomb and sees two angels.

    9) Magdalene subsequently sees Jesus, recognizing Him eventually, but not right away.

    10) Jesus returns to the father unseen by the other Holy Women.

    11) The rest of the Holy Women go into the tomb and are informed of the resurrection by the angel that had rolled away the stone. Magdalene also hears this announcement.

  11. 11
    Amtiskaw

    It almost works. However, in Matthew, MM is joyful when she meets Jesus, whereas in John she is tearful.

  12. 12
    WisdomLover

    Magdalene would be returning with the other Holy Women when she meets Jesus in the Matthew account.

    So that would be her second meeting. Her sorrow was, by then, transformed to joy.

  13. 13
    Amtiskaw

    So MM’s meeting with Jesus in John 20:11 is not mentioned in Matthew (nor Mark or Luke)? It seems conceivable at first, but consider what the angel in Matthew says to MM and the other Mary:

    “Do not be afraid, for I know that you seek Jesus who was crucified. He is not here, for he has risen, as he said. Come, see the place where he lay. Then go quickly and tell his disciples … ” So they departed quickly from the tomb with fear and great joy, and ran to tell his disciples

    It certainly seems that there’s been no meeting with Jesus up till this point.

  14. 14
    WisdomLover

    In John, the meeting with Jesus occurs in the tomb or in the very mouth of the tomb. MM goes into or looks into the tomb, sees two angels, turns around and sees Jesus himself. This was a private meeting between MM and Jesus. The salutation of the two angels in the tomb is, likewise, a private salutation. Neither the angels nor Jesus tell Mary to go anywhere. Perhaps this is because the other Holy Women had not yet arrived.

    When the other Holy Women do finally arrive, MM, sees at least one angel again and sees Jesus again. These meetings occur outside the tomb. The angel who speaks is sitting on the stone. Jesus appears as she is hurrying back to tell the disciples. MM’s second meeting with Jesus and the angel occurred in the company of the other Holy Women.

  15. 15
    WisdomLover

    I flubbed the time line a bit (as my other comments probably underscore). The problem was that I tried to edit it at first to address the specific issue of this article. Sorry. Here’s the fuller time line as I should have expressed it before:

    1) There is an earthquake. An angel opens the tomb. This is witnessed by soldiers some of whom converted and later told Matthew et al. None of the Holy Women or disciples see this.

    2) The Holy Women start out well before sunrise for the tomb. On the way, they discuss how to open it.

    3) Anxious, Magdalene runs ahead of the rest of the Holy Women to the tomb arriving before sunrise. She finds the tomb open and empty.

    4) Magdalene runs to tell Peter and John who come (running), with Magdalene, to find the tomb open and empty.

    5) Peter and John leave.

    6) Magdalene lingers outside the tomb crying.

    7) Magdalene finally looks or goes into the tomb and sees two angels.

    8) Magdalene subsequently sees Jesus, recognizing Him eventually, but not right away.

    9) Jesus returns to the father unseen by the other Holy Women.

    10) Just after sunrise, the rest of the Holy Women arrive.

    11) The rest of the Holy Women are informed of the resurrection by the angel that had rolled away the stone. Magdalene also hears this announcement.

    12) The Holy women, including Magdalene, go to tell the disciples.

    13) Jesus meets them on the way.

  16. 16
    Amtiskaw

    In Luke, Peter goes to the tomb in response to the women saying they have seen the angel, whereas in John, Peter goes in response to a report that the tomb is open and Jesus’ body has been stolen.

  17. 17
    WisdomLover

    John has Peter going to the tomb before sunrise in response to Magdalene’s (false) report of theft. So Peter initially believed that the body was stolen. Luke has Peter going to the tomb after sunrise. So Peter’s trip to the tomb in Luke is a return to the tomb. I can see why Peter might want to return to the tomb given the new information that the Holy women give him. For all he knew, the angels might still be at the tomb. Of course, he did not see anything more the second time than he saw the first.

  18. 18
    Amtiskaw

    Everything has to be explained as happening twice, it seems.

    Both John and Luke say that Peter was astonished at the sight of the linen cloths. They seem to be talking about the same visit.

  19. 19
    WisdomLover

    Certainly, it is true that when one account says that Peter went to the tomb before sunrise and the other says he went after, then the ‘explanation’ is that he must have returned after his first visit.

    Neither John nor Luke say that Peter was astonished at the sight of the cloths. John says only that Peter and he saw the cloths and that John believed (John is claiming to be the first to recognize the resurrection…Magdalene still believed that Jesus’ body had been taken). Luke says that Peter marveled at what had happened. The text is ambiguous, but it does not seem to me that he was marveling at the cloths, but was finally starting to believe in the resurrection.

  20. 20
    WisdomLover

    If you like, these additional points about Peter’s comings and goings extend our time line past item 13 in the time line laid out above.

    Peter’s first trip to the tomb (with John and Magdalene) is already in the time line under items 4 and 5. When I said in five, that Peter found the tomb open and empty, that was when he first saw the linen cloths. Peter saw no angels.

    Peter’s return to the tomb requires the extension of the time line past items 12 and 13. So, recapping items 12 and 13, this is how it goes:

    12) The Holy Women, including Magdalene, go to tell the disciples.

    13) Jesus meets them on the way.

    14) The Holy Women reach the disciples.

    15) The women tell the eleven (not Thomas) about the resurrection.

    16) As a group, the disciples do not initially believe the women (though John does).

    17) Peter decides to return to the tomb (perhaps to see if the angel is still there and talking).

    18) Peter returns to the tomb and still finds it open and empty. He still sees no angel.

  21. 21
    dysfunctional

    With all due respect, I believe all of you are missing a couple of crucial facts.

    We have to understand that each of the four gospels have gaps in the narratives. Gaps in one account are filled by verses in another. This is what makes the gospels “complementary”. It also makes the book unreadable to an unbeliever, because belief in the accuracy of each account must be accepted by faith. Only then can the christian search and study to make some sense of the narratives. You are all to be commended as you make some excellent points.

    Now this is critical. The “last supper” was not the actual Passover meal, but a traditional “preparation day supper” that ushered in the Feast Week. So, Jesus could properly refer to keeping this “passover” with his disciples.

    JN.18:28, they led Jesus from Caiaphas unto the hall of judgment…and they went not into the judgment hall lest they should be defiled, but that they might eat the passover. See also 19:31.

    The Passover of EX. 12 was to be kept in the home by each Jewish family. Strangers and visitors could partake with their hosts if the men were circumcised.

    Among the women who followed Jesus were M. Magdelene and others who would have lodged in the upper room. However, Joanna, the wife of Chuza, lived in Herods palace on the west side of the upper city. A few of the women likely kept the passover there. But do not forget Mary and Martha of Bethany. There is no doubt that they and women who lodged with them for the Passover would have planned on meeting the women from Jerusalem at the tomb early Sunday morning.

    So, if you recognize the gaps in the narratives, and realize that the women were separated into three subgroups as they made their way independently to the tomb early Sunday morning, virtually every major “contradiction” and discrepency dissipates.

    M. M. and two others from the upper room (JN.)

    Joanna and others from her home, probably with the spices (LK)

    The women from Bethany (combine MK, and MATT.)

  22. 22
    dysfunctional

    Here is my probable sequence…

    1. M. M., Salome, and the “other Mary” visit the tomb “while it was yet dark” (several minutes before dawn; not pitch dark). They see the open sepulchre, and hurry to the upper room, assuming the body had been removed. “…WE know not where they have laid him…” (JN.20:1-2)

    2. Peter and John, followed only by Mary Magdalene, run to the tomb and return; leaving M. M. alone (vs, 3-10)

    3. Mary sees the angels, and then the risen Christ; and brings the news to the disciples (11-18). No one believes her (MK. 16:10-11)

    4. Meanwhile, the second group has arrived and finds the stone removed. They ENTER, and rwo angels appear to them. They hurry to the upper room. They do NOT see Jesus because he has ascended to present himself to the Father, as he told M. M. (LK. 24:1-9).

    5. As the second group enters the city, the women from Bethany pass by OUTSIDE the northern wall. They do not meet. This group has their experience, and makes a beeline for the upper room. By this time, Christ has returned from the heavenly tabernacle. (MK.16:2-8, MATT.28:5-8)

    LK. 24:10-12 summarizes the disciples’ response; and Peter makes his SECOND visit to the sepulchre.

    This entire sequence likely spans less than 20 minutes. (ten minutes before dawn, to ten minutes after?)

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