The legal expression takes its meaning from a statement that used to be addressed to jailers detaining a suspect arbitrarily, without stating the reason for the arrest or the nature of the accusation. “You have the body”; you are obliged to free the accused, at least on bail, and allow him to stand before a judge.
But one can imagine a quite different use of the phrase. It could be said of a tomb, any tomb, which indeed contains a body, or what remains of it, a skeleton. Any tomb except one : that in which the crucified Christ was buried. His tomb, wherever it may have been, was, according to the Gospels, found empty after three days. “He is risen, as He promised !” But what if the tomb of Jesus were not empty, what if His body were identified as having been buried, and stayed buried, these last two thousand years ?
This is the premise of the plot of “The Body”, a gripping movie made fifteen years ago, starring Antonio Banderas and Olivia Williams. The film is pure fiction, of course, but its scenario is quite credible : an Israeli archeologist discovers the tomb of a man manifestly crucified and crowned apparently with a crown of thorns (the fact supported by physical traces on the bones), in the year 32 A.D. (a pilatus, a Pontius Pilate coin is found nearby), and his corpse buried, strangely, in a rich man’s tomb, rather than burned as victims of crucifixion (a punishment reserved to the poor) always were. The Vatican, unsurprisingly, is determined to discredit this preposterous claim which would, if validated, destroy Christianity, and therefore sends a devout Jesuit priest to the site in Jerusalem to … bury the rumor. Naturally I will not reveal the story and especially its dénouement. But it deserves a moment’s reflection by believers whose faith and religion are founded on the reality of the Resurrection of Christ.
It is true that no one has ever discovered the body of the crucified Christ. Some historians would not be surprised by this because they doubt that the Man ever existed. But Christians who find no reason to question His historical existence accept the central tenet of Christian faith, attested by the Gospels and the Acts of the Apostles, that Jesus who had died on the cross rose physically from the dead.
It is, as Paul found preaching in Athens, difficult to get people to swallow. But it is also impossible to prove. Even ignoring the New Testament’s discord in the Resurrection narratives, the narratives remain just that : stories put in writing decades after the supposed event of which they were not witnesses, by believers intent on getting others to believe that Jesus was indeed the Messiah, the Savior of mankind, and since His Ascension forty days after Easter, alive and well and reigning gloriously in Heaven at the right hand of His Father.
See the movie. It won’t convert you one way or the other, but it will challenge the credulity of many.
P.S. Christians have, since the time of Christ’s death and burial, claimed that His tomb was discovered three days later to be empty. His alleged tomb is revered in Jerusalem. It may be of interest to note that the Greek words for the phrase “empty tomb” are”kenos” (empty) and”taphos” (tomb) – whence our word Cenotaph. The “Cenotaph” in Sydney’s Martin Place is a monument to Australian service men and women killed in war. The many tombs around the world dedicated to the”Unknown Soldier” are not cenotaphs, which contain no bodies. The premise of the movie “The Body” is that the tomb in question is a real tomb and not a cenotaph.