Apologists contend than "after three days" is the same than "on the third day". I disagree even if I think the later does not conflict with the (about) 40 hours of Jesus' death maximum duration (according to Mark's gospel). This time period is spread over three different calendar days (Roman --sunrise to sunrise-- as implied in Mk 15:33-34) from around 3 PM (Mk 5:34) on the day before the Sabbath (Mk 15:42) up to early morning of the day after the Sabbath, the first day of the week (Mk 16:1-2).
That's an important point for me, because I consider that as one main piece of evidence (among six others) to show the empty tomb passage (15:40-16:8) was not written by the original author of gMark. More on that in my next two posts (#78 and #79).
1) Evidence about "after three days" is the fourth day and "the third day" is "after two days":
A) The fourth day (and NOT the third) immediately follows a period of three days, according to ancient customs:
a) Jdg 19:4-5a "Now his father-in-law, the young woman's father, detained him; and he stayed with him three days. So they ate and drank and lodged there.
Then it came to pass on the fourth day that they arose early in the morning, and he stood to depart ..."
b) 2 Ch 20:25b-26a "... and they were three days gathering the spoil because there was so much.
And on the fourth day they assembled in the Valley of Berachah, ..."
c) Josephus' Wars, V, VIII, 2 "Thus did they valiantly defend themselves for three days; but on the fourth day they could not support themselves against the vehement assaults of Titus"
d) Josephus' Ant., IX, I, 3 "He also gave his army leave to take the prey of the enemy's camp, and to spoil their dead bodies; and indeed so they did for three days together, till they were weary, so great was the number of the slain; and on the fourth day, all the people were gathered together unto a certain hollow place or valley, and blessed God for his power and assistance ..."
B) And the third day is the next one after two (NOT three) days (as the seventh day follows six days):
a) 2 Sa 1:1-2a YNG "And it cometh to pass, after the death of Saul, that David hath returned from smiting the Amalekite, and David dwelleth in Ziklag two days,
and it cometh to pass, on the third day, that lo, a man hath come in out of the camp from Saul ..."
b) Ex 16:26 "Six days you shall gather it, but on the seventh day, the Sabbath, there will be none."
c) Ex 20:11 "For in six days the LORD made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested the seventh day."
d) Lev 23:3 "Six days shall work be done, but the seventh day [is] a Sabbath of solemn rest, a holy convocation. You shall do no work"
e) Jos 6:3-4 "... you shall go all around the city once. This you shall do six days. ... But the seventh day you shall march around the city seven times"
Note: in the O.T., there is only one clear-cut exception of that rule:
After Jeroboam says "Depart for three days, then come back to me." (12:5c)
1Ki12:12 "So Jeroboam and all the people came to Rehoboam the third day, as the king had directed, saying, "Come back to me the third day."" (12:12)
Let's notice the words in italics are not what the king says in 12:5 and appear to be an attempt to cover a mistake in the narration at 12:12a. In other words, it looks 12:12b says emphatically "no, this is not an error" and may have been added by an interpolator.
The same verses got copied in 2Ch10:5,12.
f) Josephus' Wars, II, XIX, 7 "There it was that Cestius staid two days, and was in great distress to know what he should do in these circumstances; but when on the third day he saw a still much greater number of enemies, and all the parts round about him full of Jews, he understood that his delay was to his own detriment ..."
g) Josephus' Wars, III, VIII, 1 "Thus he concealed himself two days; but on the third day, when they had taken a woman who had been with them, he was discovered."
h) Josephus' Wars, IV, VIII, 1 "... Cesarea to Antipatris, where he spent two days in settling the affairs of that city, and then, on the third day, he marched on, laying waste and burning all the neighboring villages."
i) Josephus' Ant., I, XIII, 2 "Now the two servants went along with him two days; but on the third day, as soon as he saw the mountain, he left those servants that were with him till then in the plain, and, having his son alone with him, he came to the mountain."
2) How to explain "after three days"?
In Mk 8:31, 9:31 & 10:34, "Mark" had Jesus predicting (thrice) his "rising" after three days (according to the Alexandrian text, deemed the earliest by most scholars). However, even with the forty hours of death (maximum) being distributed over three consecutive calendar days, the last moment of these forty hours cannot be considered after three days, because the third day is not over yet. Let's note also there is no indication, in the 'empty tomb' passage, on when the resurrection occurs: it could have happened very early on!
But then, why "after three days", rather than the more appropriate "on the third day", as "corrected" in GMatthew (Mt 16:21, 17:23, 20:19) and GLuke (Lk 9:22, 13:32, 18:33, 24:7)?
It appears that more than three days of death before becoming alive again is required for a (true) resurrection:
Jn 11:23-25a "Jesus said to her, "Your brother will rise again [but Martha thinks that will happen later, and not now from Jesus]." Martha said to Him, "I know that he will rise again in the resurrection at the last day". [but Jesus is intent to demonstrate he can perform resurrection!] Jesus said to her, "I am the resurrection and the life [which he proves next, in the case of Lazarus!]."
Jn 11:39 ""But, Lord," said Martha, the sister of the dead man [Lazarus], "by this time there is a bad odor, for he has been there [in the tomb. For Jews, it is the custom to bury soon after death, usually the same day] four days""
Jn 12:17 "... he called Lazarus from the tomb and raised him from the dead ..."
Let's note, that according to:
Jn 12:6-7 "So, when He heard that he was sick, He stayed two more days in the place where He was Then after this He said to the disciples, "Let us go to Judea again.""
Jesus delays inexplicably his return, preventing him to resurrect Lazarus some two to three days after death!
After three days, it seems the body is considered irremediably corrupted and beyond a mere revival. So getting alive after being dead more than three days is an act of God!
Jn 11:4 "When Jesus heard that, He said, "This sickness [of Lazarus] is not unto death, but for the glory of God, that the Son of God may be glorified through it."
Rev 11:11 "But after the three and a half days breath of life from God entered them, and they stood on their feet, and terror struck those who saw them."
More evidence from later Jewish sources:
a) Midrash Genesis Rabbah 100.7 "Bar Kappara taught: Until three days [after death] the soul keeps on returning to the grave, thinking that it will go back [into the body]; but when it sees that the facial features have become disfigured, it departs and abandons it[the body]. Thus it says, `But his flesh grieveth for him, and his soul mourneth over him' [Job 14:22]"
b) Midrash Leviticus Rabbah 18:1 "For three days [after death] the soul hovers over the body, intending to re-enter it, but as soon as it sees its appearance change, it departs, as it is written, `When his flesh that is on him is distorted, his soul will mourn over him.' [Job 14:22]"
A) If we accept 1 Cor 15:3-11 as an interpolation, then "Mark" would be the one who first mentioned a delay between Jesus' death and rising (& specified "after three days" as for a true resurrection). Why?
Probably in order to "prove" the resurrection of dead Christians (an area of great concern for the Corinthians, as seen through 1 Cor 15:1-2, 12-58 & 2 Cor 5:1-10); because earlier, in several occasions, Paul drew a close parallel between Christ's rising and the future ones of the deceased believers:
a) 1 Th 4:14 "For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so God will bring with Him those who sleep in Jesus."
b) 1 Cor 15:15-18 "Yes, and we are found false witnesses of God, because we have testified of God that He raised up Christ, whom He did not raise up--if in fact the dead do not rise. For if the dead do not rise, then Christ is not risen. And if Christ is not risen, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins! Then also those who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished."
c) 1 Cor 15:20 "But now Christ is risen from the dead, and has become the firstfruits [first & example, forerunner] of those who have fallen asleep."
B) How "Matthew" and "Luke" handled the problem: differently!
a) "Matthew" pretended that 'after three days' and 'until the third day' have the same meaning:
Mt 27:63-64a "Sir," they said, "we remember that while he was still alive that deceiver said, `After three days I will rise again.' So give the order for the tomb to be made secure until the third day ...""
And "Matthew", in order to have Jesus provide a sign, introduced an error: there is no third night in the alleged period of Jesus' death (about forty hours), from Friday afternoon (Mt27:46) to Sunday at dawn (Mt28:1):
Mt 12:40 "For as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of a huge fish, so the Son of Man [Jesus] will be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth.
[Hades (Mt 16:18), into which dead people's souls were thought to inhabit (Hellenistic belief)]"
b) Carefully avoiding the issue, "Luke" removed all "after three days" and replaced them with "on the third day" (9:22,13:32,18:33).