Jesus’ Death and Resurrection – Chronology of the Women

Jesus’ Death and Resurrection

Note: The following Post is taken from an upcoming book by Joseph Lenard entitled Mysteries of Jesus’ Life Revealed—His Birth, Death,  Resurrection, and Ascensions. For an overview and complete chapter listing of this fascinating study, click here.

Three Women

The three women who witnessed Christ’s burial and then purchased spices for the preparation of his body are often overlooked (Mark 16:1; Luke 23:54-56). However, the timing of their activities is critical to the process of confirming the sequence of events surrounding the crucifixion, burial, and resurrection of Christ. Evaluating the activities of these women in conjunction with the death and burial of Jesus is the eighth puzzle piece in this topical series.

After these women had purchased and prepared the spices, they returned to the tomb on another day (Mark 16:1-2) to anoint the body of Jesus. We are not told specifically the reason for this anointing. Many theologians believe it was the customary way of reducing the odor of a decomposing body. Others suggest it was their way of expressing devotion to the one they remembered and loved.

Who were the Women?

First, let’s review who these women were. In Mark 15:40-41, we are told that among the women present at the crucifixion were Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James (the younger) and Joses (Joseph), and Salome. We also know that Mary the mother of Jesus was there looking on (John 19:25). When Jesus was travelling in Galilee, these women followed and ministered to Him.

Nature of the Spices

Second, let’s review the nature of the spices which the women purchased and prepared. According to Trent Butler, Editor of the Holman Bible Dictionary and author of “Ointment,” spices were purchased in a dry state much like we find at the store today. The spices were blended with an oil base, usually olive oil, and then mixed in a cooker of boiling water until a sweet-smelling unguent texture was formed. This mixture was cooled and poured into an alabaster jar or flask.

Mark 14:1-9 and John 12:1-8 beautifully illustrate the application of ointment in prophetic anticipation of Jesus’ burial. The occasion was a meal at the house of Simon the Leper in Bethany, just days before Jesus came to Jerusalem in His “Triumphant Entry”:

And while he was at Bethany in the house of Simon the leper, as he was reclining at table, a woman came with an alabaster flask of ointment of pure nard, very costly, and she broke the flask and poured it over his head. There were some who said to themselves indignantly, “Why was the ointment wasted like that? For this ointment could have been sold for more than three hundred denarii and given to the poor.” And they scolded her. But Jesus said, “Leave her alone. Why do you trouble her? She has done a beautiful thing to me. For you always have the poor with you, and whenever you want, you can do good for them. But you will not always have me. She has done what she could; she has anointed my body beforehand for burial. And truly, I say to you, wherever the gospel is proclaimed in the whole world, what she has done will be told in memory of her.”

Sequence of the Purchase and Preparation

The women witnessed the burial of Jesus around 6:00 p.m. at the division of the Jewish days of Tuesday and Wednesday (Wednesday afternoon being the time that the Sadducees sacrificed their Pesach). It was important that Jesus’ body be buried before the end of the crucifixion day (as specified in Deuteronomy 21:22-23) and before the end of the Pharisaic Day of Preparation (on Thursday, Nisan 14).

At sunset on Nisan 14/15, the first day of the Feast of Unleavened Bread was to be celebrated. This was Friday, a special Sabbath – a High Holy Day on which no ordinary work was permitted. The body of Jesus was buried on the day the Pharisees called “the preparation day” (Mark 15:42). It was 24 hours before the Pharisees sacrificed their Pesach lambs on late Thursday afternoon (Nisan 14/15). Jesus was already dead by the time the Pharisees observed their Passover.

Scripture informs us of the process observed by the women as they purchased and prepared spices and ointments to anoint Jesus’ body (Mark 16:1; Luke 23:54-24:1). The Gospels of Mark and Luke provide important insights into this chronology:

When the Sabbath was over [High Holy Sabbath of Feast of Unleavened Bread on Friday, Nisan 15], Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices so that they might go to anoint Jesus’ body. Very early on the first day of the week [Sunday], just after sunrise, they were on their way to the tomb . . . (Mark 16:1–2 NIV)

The women who had come with Jesus from Galilee followed Joseph and saw the tomb and how his body was laid in it. Then they went home and prepared spices and perfumes. But they rested on the Sabbath [the weekly Sabbath, on Saturday, Nisan 16] in obedience to the commandment. (Luke 23:55–56 NIV)

The women bought and prepared the spices after a Sabbath and then rested on a Sabbath. This could only occur if there were two Sabbaths, with either a day in between or sufficient time when shops were open to support the purchasing of the spices. This chronology of the women purchasing and preparing the spices – accomplished between two separate Sabbaths – is totally overlooked by those who adhere to an assumed crucifixion on Thursday or Friday. It is impossible to relate the Scripture passages of Mark and Luke to a crucifixion scenario in which there was but one Sabbath. Those who adhere to a Friday crucifixion scenario – with Friday being Nisan 14, and Saturday being Nisan 15 (the first day of Unleavened Bread, as well as the weekly Sabbath) – clearly ignore the two Sabbaths recorded by both Mark and Luke.

So, how does all of this work out for the women who had to purchase and prepare the spices after a Sabbath and then rest over the Sabbath before being able to attend to Jesus in the tomb? Without a full day between the two Sabbaths – a day which would have allowed them to both purchase and prepare the spices – the women faced two Sabbaths back-to-back (Friday and Saturday). Jewish law prevented them from doing any work (such as preparing spices) during either of the two Sabbath days. How was it possible for the women to attend to Jesus under this scenario?  Is our chronology in error?

No, our chronology is secure. It appears that Jewish Oral Law governing merchants and shop owners in Jerusalem provided the necessary relief to the women.

According to Messianic Rabbi Avi Ben Mordechai, the following is most likely what happened. First, the women did not purchase the spices prior to the crucifixion or on the day of the crucifixion.  Mark simply states that they purchased the spices after a Sabbath. Nor is it likely that the women purchased the spices on the day after the crucifixion (on Thursday, Nisan 14, the Pharisaic Preparation Day before their first day of Unleavened Bread/Passover), because the shops in Jerusalem were closed on that Preparation Day, per Jewish law.

Additionally, the women could not have purchased the spices on the weekly Sabbath (Saturday, Nisan 16), as the shops were closed all day for the weekly Sabbath. Again, no work was allowed.

So, we are left only with the Pharisaic first day of Unleavened Bread (Friday, Nisan 15) for the women to purchase the spices. But have we not already established that no work is allowed on a High Holy Day? Well, as it turns out, there is an allowance for merchants to work for a two-hour period on the afternoon of Nisan 15 (Friday), when that day is immediately before a weekly Sabbath day, which was exactly the case during the crucifixion week of AD 30.

Ben Mordechai provides the following explanation:

“The Talmudic term is . . . [Hebrew] Me’et Le’et, or ‘from time to time.’ In other words, it was possible that the ‘Great Sabbat’ of Chag HaMatzot [Unleavened Bread] began in the late afternoon of Thursday, Aviv 14/15 [Nisan 14/15], just a couple of hours before sunset and came to an end precisely 24-hours later in the late afternoon of Friday, Aviv 15/16 [Nisan 14/15]—me’et le’et. Essentially, this would have shifted the ‘Great Sabbat’ causing it to begin a couple of hours before sunset on Thursday and ending it a couple of hours before sunset on Friday. If this was the case, then the woman (sic) would have found merchants open after the ‘Great Sabbat’ so that they could go out and purchase spices and perfumes, according to Mark 16:1.”

This allowance for the shop merchants to be open for a few hours on the late afternoon of the High Holy Day of the first day of Unleavened Bread (Friday) would have provided the opportunity the women needed to purchase the spices for Jesus’ body.

The chronology of the women’s movements following the Crucifixion of Jesus is depicted in the following image.

Could the women have purchased the spices in Jerusalem during those short few hours? It seems reasonable to assume that this was possible. But what about the time required to prepare the spices, which would most probably have extend beyond the few hours allowed for the shops to be open? There was another allowance in the Jewish Oral Law which could have also made this possible.

We know that only priests were allowed to work on the Sabbath.  We also find, however, that it was halachically (per Jewish legal law) permissible for some other types of work to be accomplished.  As explained by Ben Mordecai:

“Raba said: On the first day of a Festival, [only] Gentiles may busy themselves with a corpse, [but] on the second day, Israelites may busy themselves with a corpse. . . With regard to a dead body the Rabbis have made the second day of a Festival as a weekday even with respect to cutting for it (the dead body) a shroud and cutting for it (the dead body) a [branch of] myrtle (sweet smelling).”

“R. Johanan, he said to them: Let Gentiles occupy themselves with him [the dead]. Raba too said: As for a corpse in the first day of Festivals Gentiles should occupy themselves with him; on the second day of Festivals Israelites may occupy themselves with him [the dead body]. . . .”

During the crucifixion week, the weekly Sabbath (Nisan 16) was also the second day of Unleavened Bread. Now we see that the Talmud provides that the needs of the dead could be attended to on this day, and surely the “preparing of spices” by the women would have been allowed by this exception. This then provides the time necessary after the purchase of the spices on Friday (the short time when the shops were open) to prepare the spices in a manner suitable for application to the body of Jesus.

We therefore conclude that any argument that “a few hours” on late Friday afternoon would not be sufficient to both purchase and prepare the spices is not germane. Furthermore, we find that the activities of these women in the purchasing of spices “after the Sabbath” (Mark 16:1–2) and preparing the spices “and then they [the women] rested on the Sabbath [weekly Sabbath]” (Luke 23:55–56) fulfilled the words of scripture, as recorded by Mark and Luke. This is a significant piece of the puzzle we are building for our case of the crucifixion week chronology.

Time Needed to Prepare the Spices

So, what would be a reasonable length of time to prepare the spices, and would this time frame fit into our case for the crucifixion week? Scripture does not reveal how long it took the women to prepare the spices and produce the ointments. However, we can reason that it probably took most of a day. The spices had to be cooked, blended with an oil base, and then reduced to an unguent texture suitable for application to a body. Even so, we find that the exception provided by the Talmud would have allowed sufficient time for this task and would therefore not impact our chronology.

This provision of an allowance for the time needed to prepare the spices is also a significant finding in our effort to build the chronology of the crucifixion week.

When the Women Went to the Tomb with the Spices

The Talmud exceptions previously cited would have also allowed the women to visit the tomb during the weekly Sabbath (Saturday, Nisan 16) to apply the spices to the body of Jesus. As Ben Mordechai asserts:

“Early the next morning on Aviv 16 (Saturday, Nisan 16), before sunrise, the women (according to [Luke] 16:2) came to anoint Y’shua’s corpse.”

Ben Mordechai also suggests that the Resurrection of Jesus was on Saturday, Nisan 16. This is in conflict with my case, which suggests that the Resurrection occurred precisely at the dividing time between the end of the weekly Sabbath and the start of First Fruits at sundown of Sunday. Only in this case would Christ be in the tomb for the requisite three complete days and three complete nights.

It should be stated that I also differ from Ben Mordechai on his claim that the women came to the tomb on Saturday at the start of daylight, although he does make a case for this by claiming translation errors of the Greek in all four of the Gospel accounts. Rather than relying on translation errors in the Gospel accounts, my case is that the women arrived at the tomb to anoint the body on the first day of the week (Sunday; with Sunday being the Jewish First Fruits), immediately before the sun arose, while it was still dark (per Matthew 27:66-28:1, Luke 24:1 and John 20:1). This would have been many hours after Jesus’ Resurrection. Of course, the women found the tomb of Jesus empty when they arrived (John 20:1).

The traditional view of the Resurrection goes like this: It occurred sometime early Sunday, sometime after mid-night. It was followed shortly thereafter by an early morning visit to the tomb by at least the three women previously mentioned. The tomb was subsequently visited by Peter, and possibly John. Generally, Mark, Luke, and John concur with the timing of these events, although none say exactly when the Resurrection took place. John does suggest that the visit to the tomb by the women may have been before the light of day, i.e., while it was yet dark.

Matthew, however, in his writings to the dispersed Jewish Christians, carefully constructs the events of the women who came to anoint the body of Jesus. He begins Chapter 28 (ESV) of his Gospel “. . . Now after the Sabbath, toward the dawn on the first day of the week . . .” The phrase, “toward the dawn of the first day of the week” might rightly have been understood by Jews to mean the time just after sunset at the end of the last Sabbath and at the beginning of the first day of the week. “Dawn,” as well as meaning the point in a day when the light of a new day is first perceived, can also mean the beginning of any point in time, place or event that initiates something new, i.e., the dawning of a new day or era.

The Englishman’s Greek New testament for Matthew 28:1 actually states, “Now late on Sabbaths as it was getting dusk toward [the] first [day] of [the] week.” Here we see evidence of the two Sabbaths. This is based on the Greek text of Stephens, 1550.

John N. Darby, a Hebrew and Greek scholar, in his New Testament, The Holy Bible (1920), translates Matthew 28:1 as follows: “Now late on Sabbath(s), as it was the dusk of the next day after sabbath(s), came Mary of Magdala and the other Mary to look at the sepulchre.”

The Berean Literal Translation renders this verse as: “And after the Sabbaths, it being dawn toward the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary came to see the tomb.” Two Sabbaths are again specified.

One possibility is that Mary Magdalene and the others were so eager to approach the tomb that even before the last Sabbath was over they went to the tomb, after sunset on Saturday night. After their visit to the empty tomb and their encounter with the angel, they quickly returned to tell Peter and the other disciples what they had experienced. They returned a second time, early in the morning of the first day of the week, as recorded in scripture. Based on the Greek text, John Gill’s Bible Commentary, Exposition of Matthew 28:1 (1991) speaks very extensively of this possibility.

For further insights on the activities of these women, I encourage you to investigate our findings in The Last Shofar! (Appendix III, “On What Day Did Christ Really Die? – What the Feasts of the Lord Tell Us,” pages 286–292).

Summary

Although simplified by custom and the traditional interpretation of Scripture, the specific events associated with the burial and Resurrection of Jesus remain complex, especially when the activities of the women who purchased and prepared spices for anointing the body of Jesus are included. The timing of the two back-to-back Sabbaths and the disparity between the Pharisees’ and Sadducees’ understanding of the timing for the Passover only add to this complexity. Finally, four Gospel writers, each with a slightly different story to tell, further complicate efforts to build a chronology.

Our western minds seek a chronology that is straightforward and logical. Unfortunately, that is not how most writers in Christ’s time wrote. To those writers, it did not matter if events were interposed (interpreted and transposed in order); it did not matter whether in one case a single person was mentioned and in another account of the same event two or three were introduced. What apparently mattered most to the writers of that day were the facts that focused on the main event – in this case, that Jesus died, that He was buried, and that He rose from the dead. Therein lies the Gospel.

I believe that only a Wednesday crucifixion in AD 30 precisely fits all scriptural requirements and accurately reflects the evidence presented here, including the activities of the women who purchased and prepared the spices with which to anoint Jesus’ body.

I believe that this ninth puzzle piece has successfully built a chronology for the women of the crucifixion week in AD 30 that is supported by scripture, reasoning, and a legal interpretation of the Talmud.  My case for the chronology is summarized as follows: First, the crucifixion occurred “between the two evenings” on Wednesday, Nisan 13/14; second, the Pharisaic “Day of Preparation” occurred on Thursday, Nisan 14; third, the first day of Unleavened Bread occurred on Friday, Nisan 16; fourth, the weekly Sabbath occurred on Saturday, Nisan 17; fifth, the Resurrection occurred precisely at the end of the weekly Sabbath and the start of First Fruits on Sunday, Nisan 17/18; and sixth, the women most likely visited the tomb early on Sunday morning, Nisan 18.

Note: In my next Post I will discuss the practice of visiting the burial site of the deceased – in this case Jesus.  This topic will constitute the eighth puzzle piece in our quest to discover the actual date of Jesus’ death and resurrection, as well as other truths surrounding these events.