Original Research - Special Collection: Foundation subjects, Old and New Testament Studies

‘Look, the place where they put him’ (Mk 16:6): The space of Jesus’ tomb in early Christian memory

Daniel A. Smith
HTS Teologiese Studies / Theological Studies | Vol 70, No 1 | a2741 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.4102/hts.v70i1.2741 | © 2014 Daniel A. Smith | This work is licensed under CC Attribution 4.0
Submitted: 27 May 2014 | Published: 20 November 2014

About the author(s)

Daniel A. Smith, Department of New Testament Language and Literature, Clark and Mary Wright Chair of New Testament Theology, Faculty of Theology, Huron University College, London, Canada; Department of New Testament Studies, Faculty of Theology, University of Pretoria, South Africa


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Abstract

The tomb of Jesus posed two main problems for early Christians: firstly, the earliest memory of the tomb seems to recall it as the site of the dishonourable burial of a man executed as an enemy of the Roman imperial system; and secondly, the narrative of the empty tomb stood for several reasons in an ambiguous relationship to the announcement of the resurrection. Yet within three centuries, that ‘place’ had been rehabilitated both architecturally and ritually (memorialised together with the site of the crucifixion) as ‘sacred space’ in the Church of the Resurrection (the typical Eastern designation for the Church of the Holy Sepulchre). For discussion, see Morris 2005:33–34). By about 380 CE, Cyril of Jerusalem could thus pronounce this place ‘the very centre of the world’ (Cat. 13.28). The present article argues that ‘the place where they put him’ was not originally venerated as ‘sacred space’, but rather was remembered as a place of shame; and also describes several different narrative and theological strategies, introduced in the canonical gospels and interpreted by early Christian readers, that changed how the tomb of Jesus was remembered and that allowed for it eventually to be regarded as ‘sacred space’.

Keywords

Christian memory; Jesus' tomb; resurrection

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