Mark 16:1–8: The Empty Tomb Of A Hero? -- By: Peter Geoffrey Bolt

Journal: Tyndale Bulletin
Volume: TYNBUL 047:1 (NA 1996)
Article: Mark 16:1–8: The Empty Tomb Of A Hero?
Author: Peter Geoffrey Bolt


Mark 16:1–8:
The Empty Tomb Of A Hero?

Peter G. Bolt

Hamilton (using Bickermann) has suggested that in antiquity a Hero was proven to be such by means of an empty grave. This view, however, needs to be re-evaluated in the light of the ‘empty tombs’ associated with Heroes and the ‘tombs’ associated with some of those reputed to have been translated. This evidence is compared to Mark’s portrayal of Jesus’ empty tomb to show that it is neither the empty tomb of a Hero, nor of one who has been translated (as has been contended), but of one who has been raised from the dead.

I. Introduction

The Greek Hero cults consisted of sacrifices offered at the grave of deceased human beings, in the belief that they were still active and able to exercise a powerful influence amongst those who still dwell under the sun.1 Heroes appear as beings worthy of worship alongside the gods, for the first time in about the year 620 BC, when Drakon committed the laws of his country to writing at Athens,2 although, presumably, he was enshrining a practice which was much older. The fact that Pausanias, in his description of his travels in the early second century, is still able to list a considerable number of such cults indicates that the Hero-cult was a persistent feature of Greek life for centuries.

As part of his argument that Mark constructed 16:1–8 upon the model of Hellenistic translation stories, N.Q. Hamilton claimed that ‘a hero is recognised by the evidence of an empty grave’.3 Since his statement has been repeated by others as if true, it is worth closer attention.

1. Bickermann’s Contribution

The classification of Mark 16:1–8 as a translation or ‘removal’ story4 goes back to the 1924 article by E. Bickermann,5 which was initially put to rest fairly quickly6 but has recently gained a more positive evaluation. However, Bickermann’s form-critical work is not without its problems, and those who have cited him have accepted his assessment uncritically.7

Bickermann8 insisted that an empty grave was the sign of a translation, whereas the sign of a resurrect...

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