Second, there are apparently no ancient sources that assert that the tomb still contained Jesus’ body. While such an argument from silence does not prove anything, it is made stronger by the first consideration from the hostile sources and further complements it.
Third, our study has shown that Jesus taught in Palestine and was crucified and buried in Jerusalem under Pontius Pilate. These sources assert that Christianity had its beginnings in the same location. But could Christianity have survived in this location, based on its central claim that Jesus was raised from the dead, if his tomb had not been empty?
91 Cf. Grant, Jesus: An Historian’s Review, pp. 199–200.
It must be remembered that the resurrection of the body was the predominant view of first century Jews. To declare a bodily resurrection if the body was still in a nearby tomb points out the dilemma here. Of all places, evidence was readily available in Jerusalem to disprove this central tenet of Christian belief. The Jewish leaders had both a motive and the means to get such evidence if it were available. As expressed by historian Paul Maier, speaking of the birth of Christianity: But this is the very lastplace it could have started if Jesus’ tomb had remained occupied, since anyone producing a dead Jesus would have driven a wooden stake through the heart of an incipient Christianity inflamed by his supposed resurrection.^92
Based on the evidence admitted by hostile documents, the absence of contrary data, and the important information concerning the location of the message in Jerusalem, we conclude that there is some probability for the empty tomb based on ancient extrabiblical sources alone. Maier confirms this: Accordingly, if all the evidence is weighed carefully and fairly, it is indeed justifiable, according to the canons of historical research, to conclude that the sepulcher of Joseph of Arimathea, in which Jesus was buried, was actually empty on the morning of the first Easter.^93
Dealing with different factual data, Michael Grant agrees from a historical viewpoint: But if we apply the same sort of criteria that we would apply to any other ancient literary sources, then the evidence is firm and plausible enough to necessitate the conclusion that the tomb was indeed found empty.^94
But what about the teaching that the disciples or someone else stole the dead body of Jesus? Does this account for the empty tomb and end the question of Jesus’ resurrection? Here we need to move beyond the non-Christian sources for an answer.
Contemporary critical scholars, whether skeptical or not, are virtually unanimous in rejecting such hypotheses.^95 If the disciples stole the body, they would not have been willing to die, in all probability, for a known lie or fraud.^96 Liars do not make good martyrs. Additionally, the changed lives of the earliest disciples and their belief that Jesus was raised, both of which are admitted by critics, are unexplained if they stole the body.
92 Paul L. Maier, “The Empty Tomb as History” in Christianity Today, 29/13, March 28, 1975, p. 5.