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Joseph of Arimathea

QUESTION: Joseph of Arimathea - Who was he?


Note that the information presented in this article is acquired from various sources - not strictly biblical manuscripts. The stories have been passed down through traditional documents and can not be proved as accurate.

Joseph of Arimathea was quite an enigma! From history we learn that he was previously known as Joseph de Marmore as he lived in Marmorica in Egypt before he moved to Arimathea.1 There is speculation that Joseph of Arimathea, or Joseph of Glastonbury as he later became known, was the uncle of Mary, mother of Jesus. The relationship to Mary made him a Great Uncle of Jesus. From this, we may presume that he was an elderly man at the time of the crucifixion. We have few verifiable details about Joseph except that he was he was quite wealthy. Some claim that Joseph of Arimathea was a merchant in metals and took young Jesus with him on his business trips to England, India, and even to South America. It is a well documented fact that Britain led the world at this time with its tin mining. Joseph of Arimathea was referred to by the Romans as 'Nobilis Decurio' or Minister of Mines to the Roman Government.

Joseph of Arimathea was not one of the original 12 apostles, but he was a disciple of Jesus and was an important man in his own right. He is mentioned in all four gospels (Matthew: 27:57-60; Mark 15:43-46; Luke 23:50-55; John 19:38-42). He was a high counselor, a voting member of the Sanhedrin2 which officially wanted Jesus condemned to death. We may speculate that he had not consented to, or agreed with, the decision to push Pontius Pilate to impose the death penalty upon Jesus. In spite of his relationship with Jesus, his loyalty to Him was largely kept secret (John 19:38). Jesus was obviously unpopular with the elders of the church, and to outwardly support Him did not bring favor in their eyes (John 19:38).

Even though Joseph of Arimathea had attempted to keep his love for Jesus a secret, he boldly went to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus to be placed in his trust. This is significant in and of itself. Joseph of Arimathea, not Mary Jesus' mother, not Mary Magdalene, or any of the apostles were entrusted with the act of taking Jesus down from the cross. Most of the apostles had fled anyway. Joseph took the body and put it in his own tomb. According to various historical sources, Joseph's actions provoked both the Roman and Jewish elders and he eventually did spend time in prison for his support of Jesus.3

Other historical sources report that Joseph of Arimathea went on a preaching mission to Gaul with the apostle Phillip, Mary Magdalene, Lazarus, and others sometime between the years A.D. 37 and A.D. 63 (the year is in dispute). At Marseilles, Lazarus and Mary parted company with the main group who continued on further up North. When Joseph's party reached the English Channel, Phillip sent Joseph with 12 disciples to the furthest corner of the Roman Empire, the Island of the Britons. Legend has it that Joseph sailed around Land's End at the southern tip of England with the intent of catching up with old business acquaintances in the lead and tin mines. They ran aground in the Glastonbury marshes. Once again, it is reported that after climbing a nearby hill to survey the countryside, they were exhausted and Joseph thrust into the ground a staff made from the 'Holy Crown of Thorns' worn by Christ. He announced that he and his traveling companions were all weary. It is legendry that the thorn staff immediately took root and the thorn bush can still be seen today on 'Wearyall Hill.' Joseph built a church (Vetusta Ecclesia)5 of mud and wattle on the site and decreed that 12 monks should always reside in that most sacred place. It is interesting to note that a spirited shrub which grows near the now ruined Abbey is of the same type that grows in the Eastern Mediterranean and flowers only twice a year - Christmas time and Easter.6

It is also claimed that Joseph collected some of the blood and sweat of Christ after His side was pierced as He hung on the cross. The chalice or cup which Joseph used to collect the fluids is reported to be the same one used during the last supper. Joseph took the cup with him on his voyage to England and is said to have hidden it on the site at Glastonbury, at the bottom of a deep well, called the 'Chalice Well', or the 'Blood Well.' The well is a rather curious place, 25 thousand gallons of red-tinted water pass through the well area each day. The red tint is caused by high iron content in the water.3

1 Lionel Smithett Lewis "St. Joseph of Arimathea at Glastonbury," (Glastonbury Vicar).
2Sanhedrin: The supreme council and tribunal of the Jews during postexilic times (between the end of the exile in Babylon in 538 B.C. and A.D. 1). They were usually headed by a High Priest. It officiated over religious, civil, and criminal matters. (Courtesy of Merriam Webster Dictionary)
3 Gospel of Nicodemus
4 "Joseph of Arimathea" by Hampton Rod, Fox Seth.
5 Timescapes Time and History:

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