Who was Joseph of Arimathea?

This week concludes our readings of the Gospels in the New Testament. Although they all have many things in common, one particular person stood out to me: Joseph of Arimathea. For some odd reason, this name seemed familiar to me; after doing some research, I finally figured out that Joseph of Arimathea was mentioned in Monty Python and the Holy Grail. After learning this, I didn’t really expect to find anything else interesting. However, as I started reading more about Joseph, the more intrigued I became. This led me to this week’s blog question: who was Joseph of Arimathea?

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John 19:38 states, “After these things Joseph of Arimathea who was a disciple of Jesus, but secretly for fear of the Jews, asked Pilate that he might take away the body of Jesus, and Pilate gave him permission.”

So Joseph was the man responsible for properly burying Jesus. But why would Pilate listen to a supporter of Jesus? According to the BBC, Joseph of Arimathea was a “wealthy man who came from Arimathea in Judea,” and a member of the Sanhedrin (BBC). This shows that Joseph was an influential member of society, making it easy to believe that the Roman govern of Judea would grant his request. Other than his appearance in the Gospel accounts, there are no other mentions of Joseph of Arimathea (at least not in the Bible we’re using). Naturally, I was curious as to what he did after this scene in the Bible. This is what I found…

“Apocryphal legend…supplies us with the rest of his story by claiming that Joseph accompanied the Apostle Philip, Lazarus, Mary Magdalene & others on a preaching mission to Gaul. Lazarus & Mary stayed in Marseilles, while the others travelled north. At the English Channel, St. Philip sent Joseph, with twelve disciples, to establish Christianity in the most far-flung corner of the Roman Empire: the Island of Britain. The year AD 63 is commonly given for this ‘event’, with AD 37 sometimes being put forth as an alternative” (Britannia). Another source confirms this, and goes even further to suggest that Joseph is an ancestor of many of Britain’s monarchs (Early British Kingdoms). Along with this, it is also said that Joseph built the first church in England (or maybe the entire world) (BBC). So not only did Joseph play a prominent role in the spread of Christianity, he also was important to the British monarchy. It’s amazing to see how a man who appeared a total of four times in our reading could have been so influential.

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Along with Joseph’s importance in Britain, several sources seem to agree with another apocryphal legend, one that states that he is a not so distant relative of Jesus. One site states that the “Jewish Talmud records that Joseph was the great-uncle of Jesus, a younger brother of Mary’s father” (Joseph of Arimathea). This familial relationship with Jesus could have been another contributing factor to him using his prominent position to try to obtain Jesus’s body after the crucifixion.

Joseph of Arimathea is also a prominent figure in another type of legend: the legend of the Holy Grail. Yes, the very same Holy Grail that King Arthur sets out on a quest to find in both Arthurian legends and Monty Python and the Holy Grail. Joseph of Arimathea is actually believed to be the original guardian of the grail (Joseph of Arimathea, Keeper of the Holy Grail). What is the Holy Grail you ask? Generally, the Holy Grail is believed to be the “cup that Christ used at the Last Supper and that Joseph held to collect Christ’s blood at the crucifixion” (Joseph of Arimathea, Keeper of the Holy Grail). According to legend, Joseph hid the Holy Grail in a well in Glastonbury, and to this day the well is called Chalice Well (BBC). However, there has never been any concrete proof of the existence of the Holy Grail, despite all of the legends that revolve around it.

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Another legend states that Joseph was in England before he went with St. Philip; on this early trip, it is said that he might have taken Jesus to England as a teenager (BBC). Personally, I find this hard to believe. The Roman Empire was massive, and although they had a fairly advanced road system, a trip from Galilee to Britain would likely take several months.

Although Joseph of Arimathea may seem like an insignificant character in the Gospels, historically he played a very influential role in the spread of Christianity. Many legends surround his existence; while some may seem a bit unbelievable, others seem like they could very well be true.

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