When did the women go to Jesus’ tomb?

Posted on Apr.05, 2010. Filed in Matthew, Mark, Luke, John. 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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  1. 1

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

  2. 2

    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.

  3. 3

    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.

  4. 4

    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.

  5. 5

    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.

  6. 6

    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.

  7. 7

    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.

  8. 8

    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.

  9. 9

    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.

  10. 10

    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.

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