translation and commentary on John’s Gospel
JOHN 19: 38
After these events, Joseph of Aramathea, who was a disciple of Jesus – a secret one for fear of the Judaeans – asked Pilate that he might remove the body of Jesus; and Pilate gave permission. So he came and removed his body. Nicodemos, who had earlier come to Jesus by night, also came, bringing a mixture of myrrh and aloes, about a hundred pounds of it. They took Jesus’ body, and bound it in linen wrappings with the spices, according to the burial custom of the Judaeans.
Now there was a garden in the place where he was crucified and in the garden a new tomb in which no one had yet been laid. So because of the Judaean Day of Preparation, since the tomb was nearby, they laid Jesus there.
The reader who looks for historical fact may suspect that none of the disciples saw the crucifixion, and that originally nothing was known about his final resting place. The suspicious fact is that none of the class A disciples is involved in his removal from the cross and his burial. Shadowy, secret disciples are summoned for this purpose. The source used by the author of this gospel doubtless provided these details in good faith. Perhaps the reader is meant to have heard of Joseph and Nicodemos, possibly as active believers or it may be that the use of specific names creates the feeling of an eye-witness report.
The real dying of Jesus is emphasised by the details of his burial, albeit the lucky find of a new- cut tomb adjacent to Golgotha, is perhaps a little too convenient, and its immediate appropriation by Joseph and Nicodemos also seems unlikely. The author narrates these details soberly as the story of Jesus’ life comes to a full stop.
There is no better image of this than the painting of the Dead Christ by Mantegna which was celebrated by the American poet Wallace Stevens in the lines,
“And if his horny feet protrude they come
to show how cold he is, and dumb.”
Mantegna has rightly interpreted the Gospel witness: this man is going nowhere.