A professor today made the claim that the following claim is spurious:

And the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom. Mark 15:38 (NRSV)

His rationale is that no-one but the high priest would be allowed to see the veil in the holy of holies in the temple, so the author of Mark could not have knowledge of such an event occurring. Is this claim accurate? Who would have seen or had knowledge of the tearing of the veil that could have communicated that event, directly or indirectly, to Mark? How could this event have made it to Mark?

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    christianity.stackexchange.com/q/522/23657. You may like this related question – Kris Oct 30 '18 at 0:13
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    The professor needs to check his facts before making assertions. The fact is that the veil has two sides - an inside and an outside. Many persons could see the outside, despite only the High Priest being able to view the inside. – Nigel J Oct 30 '18 at 6:04
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    @NigelJ For all the expertise this professor claims with the gospels, there have been a multitude of times he's needed to check his facts. – Zenon Oct 30 '18 at 10:59
  • The Holy Ghost, who inspired the evangelists, could certainly have seen it. – Andreas Blass Nov 1 '18 at 23:50
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    @AndreasBlass That's a statement of doctrine from some denomination, I'm looking for a statement of historical fact. – Zenon Nov 2 '18 at 1:34

The Holy of Holies, or the Most Holy Place, was separated from the outter room (the Holy Place) by the veil. Only the High Priest could go beyond the veil into the Most Holy Place, but other priests could enter the Holy Place. Thus any priest at the Temple would have been able to see it.

The non-priest Levites may have also been able to enter the Holy Place (they were originally charged with tearing down and setting up the Tabernacle in the wilderness)

So any number of people could have seen it. Even if they weren't immediately present, it would have been known within a day (if crucified Friday as many believe) or within a few days (if crucified on wed. as others argue). It would have been found within the week at the latest.

Obviously the two events couldn't be watched simultaneously, so there is no doubt some interpretation/correlation being done by Mark and others between these two events. Mind, the veil ripping in half would be no small event.

Holy of Holies (Wikipedia)

  • Also, any number of people who might be involved in repairing or replacing the veil. – Samuel Bradshaw Jan 17 '19 at 5:26


There were two veils in the Second Temple, aka Herod's Temple. One was from the outside court or court of the gentiles that veiled the Holy Place. The second was between the Holy Place and the Holy of Holies. Only the High Priest could enter the Holy of Holies, but into the Holy Place the other priests could enter. For example, the Holy Place is where the father of John the Baptist had his vision while ministering.

There could have been a lag time between when the inner veil ripped from top to bottom to when the news spread, but there may be another explanation.

In these two pericopes, the timing is different.

In the first, the veil (outer) tears and then Jesus dies.

And the sun was darkened, and the veil of the temple was rent in the midst. And when Jesus had cried with a loud voice, he said, Father, into thy hands I commend my spirit: and having said thus, he gave up the ghost. Luke 23:45-46

In the second, Jesus dies and then the veil (inner) tears.

And Jesus cried with a loud voice, and gave up the ghost. And the veil of the temple was rent in twain from the top to the bottom. Mark 15:37-38

Veil in Luke

καταπέτασμα katapetasma

Veil in Mark

καταπέτασμα katapetasma

So, it appears the bible is telling us a time line of the outer veil tearing first, Jesus dying, and the inner veil tearing second.

Who and How

With that in mind, who could have watched this and how (from where)? This question leads to the question of where Christ was crucified?

If one uses the traditional view that Christ was crucified north of the city of Jerusalem, there is no line of sight into the temple. This tradition is where the Church of the Holy Sepelchre is located.

But other research is indicating the crucifixion happened in an area east of the city and thus east of the temple. From that vantage, it could be possible that one could see into the temple. Here are links to the second view.

-source- -source- -source-

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    Who could have watched? – Kris Oct 30 '18 at 0:15
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    The two reports (Mark and Luke) are clearly of the same event. There is no evidence for your supposition and you have not proved it in any way. – Nigel J Oct 30 '18 at 6:02
  • @NigelJ They might reference the same veil or since the sequences are different, they might not be. I could provide further evidence of this as time permits. – SLM Oct 30 '18 at 16:52
  • @Kris I added the who and how section. – SLM Oct 30 '18 at 17:15
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    @AlexStrasser after I read the two accounts and thought they might be two accounts of the outer veil tearing, Christ dies, and then inner veil tearing, I did a search. Others have considered it. One referenced an early source. If time permits, I'll try again to find it. The other piece is the "new" research of the real site of Golfotha from the north (tradition) to east (from which temple and veils could be viewed (depends on angle and height)). Interesting stuff. – SLM Oct 30 '18 at 23:36

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