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When our Lord died on the Day of Preparation (for the Sabbath) that is Friday, there was an urgency to get his body into the tomb before sunset, because at sunset the sabbath day would begin and any work would not be permitted.

Why then did the women disciples not go to the tomb on Saturday at/after sunset? If the sabbath day started at sunset on Friday then it ended at the Saturday sunset. Why did they wait for the dawn on Sunday morning?

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  • 3
    First thoughts, it's got to be a guy asking this question, when the two guys female disciples would have met after dark are both Roman soldiers (the most inappropriate men).
    – M__
    Jul 30, 2023 at 18:00
  • 2
    I agree with @M__. The women would not have gone to the tomb in darkness and asked the Jewish guards (Pilate said 'Ye have a watch' when asked about guarding) to roll the stone away for them. They went at first light (presumably) and did not know how they were going to cope with the large stone.
    – Nigel J
    Jul 30, 2023 at 18:07
  • They didn't wait. They were on the way, but the earthquake scared them away. They return Sunday morning.
    – SLM
    Jul 30, 2023 at 19:18
  • @M__ So, you think it was beyond the wits of these women to have asked some of the male disciples to come along with them?? And you think the men were not interested in going?.. even though, the longer you leave a dead body the more likely it is to start sniffing? I think you all need to have a rethink. Jul 30, 2023 at 21:23
  • 1
    @AndrewShanks The subsequent behaviour (denial and unbelief) of the men indicates why the women went alone. I would have thought (no need to 're-think') that was obvious. As is often the case in the real world (as opposed to what 'tradition' teaches) the women are quietly and devotedly more spiritual than the men. But the main reason is the sabbath prohibition and the necessity of waiting till dawn to do the 'work' of spice preparation.
    – Nigel J
    Jul 31, 2023 at 2:33

7 Answers 7

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Two Considerations (1) Luke stated that they had to "prepare the spices." (Luke 24:1) Now, it was illegal to prepare them on the Sabbath, so they had to wait until Saturday evening to do that work. Presumably it was too late by the time they got done, to go to the tomb. So the women gathered together on Sunday morning to head off to the Garden tomb.

The men had reason not to go for fear of being apprehended by the angry priests who had Sicarii assassins at their behest, and the Romans who were dispatched to apprehend anyone daring to come to the tomb "with evil intent." (Mark 14:50, John 20:19, disciples were together, with the doors locked for fear of the Jews) The frail women reasoned that the Roman guard would not consider them a threat! So they went.

(2) Nighttime Like any alert person, if they prepared spices that evening, it would be dark by the time they got done. No street lights, no flashlights, no LED lights. A reasonable person would wait until dawn. Even a "group" (of women) would be hesitant to go out into the dark.

{See Second Answer by Ray Grant for a more thorough and definitive response to this question.}

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  • 2
    @AndrewShanks there were torches in the city, sure. I don't think it would be wise to venture outside the city walls late at night, even by the light of the full moon. I live out in the middle of nowhere. If I go out at night in a full moon, it helps, but it's not that much light. Yes, I don't need a flashlight if I'm just letting the dog out, but if I go any further than my back deck, you bet I'm bringing a flashlight. Even under a full moon in clear skies.
    – jaredad7
    Jul 31, 2023 at 2:48
  • 1
    If you back up one verse to Lk 23:56, it sets the context for Luke 24:1 "And they [the women] returned [from the cross back to home], and prepared spices and ointments; and rested the sabbath day according to the commandment." So yes, they had to prepare the spices, but it was NOT AFTER the Sabbath, but BEFORE the Sabbath. Says the Bible. So, -1 for your incorrect answer.
    – SLM
    Jul 31, 2023 at 16:52
  • @SLM-See second Answer by Ray Grant. This answer here was not necessarily incorrect because it depends on which Gospel scenario you read. One said before, and another said after!!! The second answer cleared this up. Let us say this answer was incomplete, eh? Peace.
    – ray grant
    Jul 31, 2023 at 22:00
  • The answer is basically good but I have to give it a rare (for me) - 1 for the reference to fear of a "mob of bloodthirsty Jews". This perpetuates an anti-semitic canard that is wholly unnecessary here. Should we really imagine mobs of angry Jews roaming the streets at night to attack those who followed Jesus? Granted that the followers of Barabbas were violent, but they got want they wanted: they leader had been spared and Jesus was dead. Aug 1, 2023 at 16:25
  • @DanFefferman-No racism intended, just historic reality! The Holy Bible said the disciples were "locked indoors" for fear of the Jewish rulers. Jewish history reveals the existence of (1) the Sicarii (assassins) who were at the behest of the priests, (2) the Zealot gangs that attacked their own people whom they thought were not as conservative as they should be, and (3) recall the mob of Jews who bound themselves with an oath to kill Paul (Acts 23:12). {Check the Judea Encyclopedia} The Jewish society was no different than any other nation, with compassionate people and mean people. Peace.
    – ray grant
    Aug 1, 2023 at 20:43
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Why did Mary Magdalene and the other women disciples wait until dawn of Sunday before arriving at the tomb?

Because it would not have been safe to do so otherwise at night.

With all the visitors in and around Jerusalem at the time of the Passover (10 of thousands or more), it would have been highly imprudent to go to Jesus’s tomb at night! How Many People Saw The Crucifixion? More Than You Ever Imagined.

Now the Passover and Festival of Unleavened Bread were two days away; and the chief priests and the scribes were seeking how to arrest Him covertly and kill Him; 2 for they were saying, “Not during the festival, otherwise there will be a riot of the people.” - Mark 14:1-2 NIV

Please keep in mind the following also:

  • Jerusalem was under Roman occupation and curfews may have been in place.

  • Certainly Roman patrols would certainly be in the streets of Jerusalem.

  • Fear of sedition was ever present in Palestine in those days!

  • Saturday was the Sabbath day for the Jews.

  • Jesus had just been crucified and the whole city was in one way or another in turmoil. The veil of the temple was torn and the city just suffered an earthquake.

  • Women would naturally not walk the streets by themselves unaided with men in the middle of the night even in a full moon and torches here and there. The Tomb of Jesus was outside the city limits where there were no torches.

After preparing the spices necessary beforehand, it would seem most logical that Mary and the other female disciples would have been more comfortable to go to the tomb at first light sometime around 6:00 AM in the morning.

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Before electric lighting, "midnight" used to literally mean that. People might sleep from 8 or 9 pm until 4 or 5 am. Or perhaps they had two sleeps with a break in the middle for sewing, praying, or other dim-light activities (as was common in Victorian England).

Having finished dinner at 7 pm or later, performing this task during their normal sleeping time wouldn't have been a likely choice. Doing it first thing in the morning would.

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Why did Mary Magdalene and the other women disciples wait until dawn of Sunday before arriving at the tomb?

It is because, for the disciples, the Sabbath day ended not at sunset on Saturday evening, but at dawn on Sunday morning.

It is for the same reason that the women bought spices the day after the Sabbath (Mark 16:1) and prepared them the same day which was simultaneously the day before the Sabbath (Luke 23:56). It is for the same reason that both Mark and Luke could say that the Passover lamb was killed on the first day of unleavened bread (Mark 14:12; Luke 22:7), whereas it is generally agreed the lambs were killed in the afternoon of the 14th Nisan and eaten after sunset which was the 15th, i.e. not the same day but a new day. And it is for precisely the same reason the Last Supper both was a Passover meal (Matthew 26:17; Mark 14:12; Luke 22:8, 15) and yet it wasn’t eaten at the time the priests ate the Passover meal (John 18:28) or on the day approved for all by the Temple authorities.

And the women also, which came with him from Galilee, followed after, and beheld the sepulchre, and how his body was laid. And they returned, and prepared spices and ointments; and rested the Sabbath day according to the commandment. 24 Now upon the first day of the week, very early in the morning, they came unto the sepulchre, bringing the spices which they had prepared, and certain others with them. (Luke 23:55-24:1, KJV)

In the end of the Sabbath, as it began to dawn toward the first day of the week, came Mary Magdalene and the other Mary to see the sepulchre. (Matthew 28:1, KJV)

The official Jewish Calendar in the time of Christ

The official calendar of the Jews in the time of Christ was derived from the Babylonians. It was adopted by the Jews while they were in captivity. The Jewish month names are mostly taken from the Babylonian names. E.g. the Jewish name of month 1 was “Nisan” the Babylonian name was “Nisanu”; month 2, “Iyyar” from “Aiaru”; month 3, “Sivan” from “Simanu”; month 5, “Ab” from “Abu”; 6, “Elul” from “Ululu”; 7, “Tishri” from “Tashritu”; “Kislev”, “Kislimu”; “Tebeth”, “Tebetu”; “Shebat”, “Shabatu”; “Adar”, “Adaru”. In this calendar each day begins, and the date changes, at sunset.

Which Jews went into captivity?

And he carried away all Jerusalem, and all the princes, and all the mighty men of valour, even ten thousand captives, and all the craftsmen and smiths: none remained, save the poorest sort of the people of the land. And he carried away Jehoiachin to Babylon, and the king's mother, and the king's wives, and his officers, and the mighty of the land, those carried he into captivity from Jerusalem to Babylon. (2 Kings 24:14-15).

The elite, the educated were taken into captivity, the poor were left behind. When the elite returned they brought back the Babylonian Calendar with them.

But what calendar did the Israelites have before this? Before this they had the calendar given to them by God through Moses. And this calendar was exactly the same as the Egyptian Calendar used for religious purposes, except that the Israelites were to call the month of the Spring equinox the first month of the year.

And the Lord spake unto Moses and Aaron in the land of Egypt saying, This month shall be unto you the beginning of months: it shall be the first month of the year to you (Exodus 12:1-2, KJV).

Because the Egyptian year consisted of lunar months of 29 or 30 days each, then twelve lunar months totalled about 354 days and every few years an extra lunar month was added to keep the months in step with the solar year, and to ensure the Passover feast fell within the first month following the Spring equinox.

For the Israelites this was achieved by making sure the harvest was fully gathered in before the 15th of the 7th month. If the harvest was not finished then an extra 7th month was added, as implied by this text:-

Also in the fifteenth day of the seventh month, when ye have gathered in the fruit of the land, ye shall keep a feast unto the Lord seven days: on the first day shall be a Sabbath, and on the eighth day shall be a Sabbath. (Leviticus 23:39, KJV)

The difference between the Egyptian Calendar and the Babylonian Calendar

Each month the moon entirely disappears and this is the New Moon.

In the Babylonian Calendar the beginning of the month is determined by the first appearance of the new crescent moon after the New Moon. Because the new crescent moon first appears in the evening sky the first day begins after dark, and each subsequent day of the month begins in the evening at sunset.

In the Egyptian Calendar the beginning of the month is determined by the disappearance of the old crescent moon; i.e. the first day there is no moon at all because the old crescent moon has finally gone, and on the day the moon has disappeared this is treated as the first day of the month. And because the old crescent moon is last seen in the early morning the first day starts in the morning; each subsequent day of the month therefore also begins at dawn.

This is the calendar that formed the basis of the calendar God gave to Moses to give to the Israelites when they left Egypt (Exodus 12:1-2). From the time they left Egypt until the time of the Babylonian captivity the Israelites used this calendar. Let me call it the Mosaic Calendar.

There are two essential differences between the Mosaic Calendar and the Babylonian Calendar.

First, in the Mosaic Calendar each day begins, and the date changes, at dawn; but in the Babylonian Calendar each day begins, and the date changes, at sunset.

Second, because the disappearance of the old crescent moon happens about two days before the appearance of the new crescent moon, the dates of the month in the Mosaic Calendar are usually two days ahead of the Babylonian Calendar. For instance, when it is 14th Nisan in the Mosaic Calendar it is 12th Nisan in the Babylonian Calendar.

The calendar for the poor and illiterate verses the calendar for the elite

It was the elite that were taken into Babylonian captivity and brought back the Babylonian Calendar, the poor, illiterate, etc were left in the land of Israel and continued with the Mosaic Calendar (2 Kings 24:14-15). When the elite wanted to impose the Babylonian Calendar not everyone accepted it; they continued with the Mosiac Calendar. So from the time of the return from captivity until the New Testament era there were two calendars in use: the Temple elite used the Babylonian and the uneducated, the poorer folk used the Mosaic.

The Galileans used the Mosaic Calendar.

Each group – poor and elite – celebrated Passover according to their own calendar. So the disciples killed the Passover Lamb on the afternoon of Wednesday 14th Nisan (Mosaic Calendar) and ate the Passover meal after sunset on Wednesday which was still the 14th Nisan.

In the early hours of Thursday morning, during the night, Jesus was arrested. The disciples observed the first day of unleavened bread on Thursday 15th Nisan (Mosaic Calendar) as a special Sabbath, from dawn to dawn of Friday morning (Leviticus 23:6-7, Exodus 12:16).

On Friday our Lord died in the afternoon while the lambs were being killed at the Temple on Friday 14th Nisan (Babylonian based Calendar). On this day also after Thursday the 15th Nisan (Mosaic) Sabbath (Mark 16:1, Exodus 12:16, Lev 23:6-7), the women bought and prepared spices to anoint the body of Jesus which was before the Saturday Sabbath (both calendars) (Luke 23:56). On Friday 14th Nisan (Babylonian) the body was taken down and buried by Joseph of Arimathaea in a nearby tomb before Friday sunset which was the start of the Saturday Sabbath of the Temple authorities. This Sabbath was a high day according to the Temple-approved Babylonian-based calender because it was a Saturday Sabbath and a Sabbath because it was the 15th Nisan, the first day of unleavened bread (John 19:31). The disciples of our Lord complied with the demands of the authorities in keeping the Sabbath from the time of the Friday sunset.

But they rested until Sunday dawn because that was the time the Saturday Sabbath ended according to their Mosaic Calendar.

This answer is based on the work of mainly Professor Colin Humphreys together with checkers and helpers such as Peter Williams and others at Trinity House, Cambridge.

For further study see “The Mystery of the Last Supper” by Colin Humphries, 2011.

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  • Calendars have little, if anything, to do with assuming the Jews changed their God given day from sunset to sunset to sunrise to sunrise. Nowhere in your answer or in Philo, Josephus, bible can it be shown this supposed change took place.
    – SLM
    Jul 31, 2023 at 21:31
  • See here that the waning crescent moon doesn't only show up at dawn. timeanddate.com/moon/phases/israel/jerusalem
    – SLM
    Jul 31, 2023 at 21:34
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    @SLM - Please explain. The last waning of the moon happens around dawn... always. Jul 31, 2023 at 21:48
  • @SLM - what was God-given to Moses was sunrise to sunrise, a continuation of the Egyptian calendar. It changed to sunset to sunset when the elite went into Babylonian Captiity. Jul 31, 2023 at 22:04
  • This is a good idea, upvoted. What I would caution is within academia (here Colin Humphreys work), there needs to be application to the research to demonstrate impact - even is the application is shaky. Clearly Colin Humphreys spent a long time studying ancient calendars and has applied this to the timing of the tomb visitation. Basically this is an academic theory and doesn't mean this would be respected by common 1st century Jews, it could just be the elites, alternatively the Jews could have reverted to their own (lunar) calendar a long time ago.
    – M__
    Aug 1, 2023 at 12:38
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Four renditions The four Gospels gave four different renditions of the burial of Jesus:

  1. Matthew 28:1 Here no spices are mentioned; neither used by the men or the women.
  2. Mrk 16:1 This passage said the women "bought" spices on Saturday night (They were shopping after the Passover.)
  3. Luke 23:55-56 This stated that the women prepared spices Friday night, then rested on the Passover.
  4. John 19:38-42 Joseph and Nicodemus are said to have brought spices when they buried Jesus.

Various Answers So how one would answer this posted question (Why did Mary Magdalene and the other women disciples wait until dawn of Sunday before arriving at the tomb?) would depend on which scripture version one would want to highlight. But first consider:

NIGHTTIME - Night was just that, "nighttime." No respectable woman who values her life would want to venture out into a scarry Graveyard at night! With the light from the full moon wending its way through the branches leaving foreboding shadows on the path, it would be too much to handle emotionally.

And who knows what scurrilous characters would be roaming around at that bewitching hour? It would not have been safe for women to travel out alone at night. Yes, there were hoodlums and gangs in those days. And don't look for the disciples to accompany them; they were huddled in fear, locked behind closed doors.(John 20:19)

For a description of the banditry rampant in Judea see Julius Scott, Jr., Jewish Backgrounds of the N.T.. Fourth Philosophy Beside the Pharisee, Sadducees, and Essenes, the Fourth Philosophy was a rebellious group seeking independence from occupying Rome. But they were responsible for "sowing the seed of every kind of misery, wars, murders of friends and important persons, robberies, and in short, the general disorders and rebellion which eventually led to the Jewish defeat by the Romans in A.D. 70." (pp. 209-210) Sicarii These were a terrorist group (which Paul was mistakenly identified with, Acts21:38) From the time of Quirinius to the end in Masada, "they conducted a campaign of terror--kidnaping, extortion, robbery and murder." (p. 214) Josephus wrote: "A new species of banditti was springing up in Jerusalem...who committed murders in broad daylight in the heart of the city." (Jewish Wars, 2.13.3 (254-5) Bandits Because of the widening gap between the rich aristocracy and the poor, bandits proliferated around Judea. Rome was not the only object of the Bandits' wrath; insurgents burned records of debt, some drowned members of the aristocracy. The desperate economic situation faced daily by the underclasses of Jesus time caused desperate measures. Because of this dangerous environment, it would be out of the question foe women to venture out at night!

Tomb StoneThere was also consideration for having someone move the Stone so they could have access to the body. Few gentlemen would be hanging out in the Garden Cemetery at night to help them. (We don't know if they were aware of the soldiers' dispatchment since they were sent there on Saturday, long after the women had followed Joseph and Nicodemus to the tomb earlier Friday evening. Luke 23:55-56, Matthew 27:62-66)

LUKE'S VERSION If we accept Luke's version told him, the women prepared the spices Friday evening. So they could have gone to the tomb Saturday evening. Except for one necessity: unleavened bread. The Feast of Unleavened Bread was to begin Sunday and no one was allowed to work on that day...but everyone was to eat only unleavened bread for a whole week. So they could have been preoccupied with a lot of baking that evening. (Leviticus 23:4-8, Numbers 28:16-25). And put off going to the tomb until Sunday morning.

MARK'S VERSION Mark's scenario told of the women "buying spices" after the Sabbath, on Saturday night. They were out shopping at that time, and could not go to the tomb unless they has done that shopping first, and prepared the spices (whatever "preparing" entailed). So they went to the tomb in the morning, Sunday.

OTHER TWO SCRIPTURES The Gospel of Matthew, and of John, are irrelevant to this discussion since no spices are mentioned in Matthew, and John said that the men took care of that.

Divine Providence But above and beyond all these reasonings, is the recognition of the prophetic word of Jesus: As Jonah was in the belly of the whale (bowels of the Earth, so the Son of Man would be in the Earth "three days" and then rise gain!

The women couldn't go and reveal the risen Christ until the three days were up. If it wasn't this or that, something else would have prevented them from going to the tomb before they were supposed to! The prophetic Word must be fulfilled. (Matthew 16:21, 17:9,23, 20:19, 26:32, 27:62-66, John 2:19-22)

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  • Revision This second answer by Ray Grant comes after a thorough study of all the verses pertaining to the resurrection. It will probably be considered somewhat more accurate than the first answer, eh? Peace.
    – ray grant
    Jul 31, 2023 at 21:54
  • Feast of Tabernacles was not Feast of Unleavened Bread. The women bought spices after the Sabbath, prepared before the Sabbath, and rested on the Sabbath. They bought spices on Sunday the Triumphal Entry Day (after the Sabbath). They prepared spices upon the crucifixion before the Sabbath. They took the spices Sunday morning.
    – SLM
    Aug 1, 2023 at 15:53
  • @raygrant - You have interpretted buying spices after the Sabbath to mean they bought spices on Saturday night. It is logically impossible to buy spices on Saturday night and then to prepare them "before the Sabbath" (Luke 23:56). You would do better to stick to the text of Mark 16:1 without trying to interpret it. Better still, understand that for the women, there must have been a Sabbath prior to the Saturday Sabbath. The only possibility is that this prior Sabbath was for the first day of unleavened bread, which is normally on the 15th Nisan. Aug 3, 2023 at 13:43
  • @raygrant - And, seeing that the 15th Nisan was itself the Saturday according to the conventional Jewish Calendar for AD 30 and AD 33, the women must have been going by a different Calendar. Aug 3, 2023 at 13:46
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John 2:19 Jesus answered and said unto them, Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up. Matthew 17:22-23 Jesus Predicts His Death a Second Time When they came together in Galilee, he said to them, “The Son of Man is going to be delivered into the hands of men. They will kill him, and on the third day he will be raised to life.” And the disciples were filled with grief. So, in answer to your question - Why did Mary Magdalene and the other women disciples wait until the dawn of Sunday before arriving at the tomb? Jesus foretold it would take 3 days he prophesied already knowing this it was 'Predestined'

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  • Thanks John, but the point is that the usual view is that the third day began at sunset on Saturday night. He could have risen from the dead at 8pm on Saturday night and it would still have been 3 days, according to Jewish reaconing and the usual understanding. Saturday night at 8pm would still have fulfilled the prophecies. Aug 1, 2023 at 22:39
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    – agarza
    Aug 1, 2023 at 22:54
  • @Andrew Shanks- Hebrew "Days" consisted of "evening" and "morning," to be sure. And Jesus was to be in the grave "three days and three nights." So, is it possible that the Sunday "morning" was needed to help complete the trilogy? Or did Saturday evening complete the trilogy? Peace.
    – ray grant
    Aug 2, 2023 at 20:46
  • @raygrant - By what is the common understanding of when a day starts, that it starts at sunset, rising from the dead on Saturday after sunset would be "the third day". In my answer above, following Colin Humphrey's book, I argue that rising on Saturday night after sunset but before dawn on Sunday morning would not be sufficient because our Lord was committed to the more biblical, Moses's definition of "day" that it starts and ends at dawn. See my answer to another question here: christianity.stackexchange.com/questions/3310/… Aug 3, 2023 at 12:39
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In John 20:2, Mary Magdalene reports to Peter that ' they ' have taken away the Lord from the tomb and hidden Him somewhere . Magdalene perceived the Body of Jesus as a living person. In deed, the Zoroastrians of Persia ( present- day Iran ) believed that the Soul of a dead person lingers around the body for three days after the death. The Jews of Jesus' time may have borrowed the belief, and therefore, considered it necessary to preserve the dead bodies of their dear ones for a few days( just in case the soul wanted to return to the body). In fact, the myrrh and spices used in embalming the body served the purpose. Considering that the Sabbath was ensuing, Nicodemus brought in abundant quantity of the spice mixture, 34 plus kilograms in that ! It would be against the law to do the embalming work on Sabbath. So, the women availed of the earliest available opportunity i.e. before sunup on Sunday to continue with the embalming.

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