What You May Not Know About Joseph of Arimathea
Copyright 2020 by Joan Berry
We Christians are familiar with the crucifixion of Jesus Christ and how Joseph of Arimathea secured permission to have Him removed from the cross. With the Sabbath approaching just a few hours away, Joseph and Nicodemus prepared Jesus for burial in a new tomb crafted earlier for Joseph. Joseph is mentioned in all four gospels in the Bible and there is much more to learn about him. This essay is compiled from the Gospels, ancient accounts that are provable, references to letters and third-party accounts, and the Talmud.
Joseph was born in Arimathea in 41 BCE (now Ramallah, Israel) and died in 45 CE at age 86 at Glastonbury, England. He also was a resident of de Marmore in Egypt probably due to his trading business around the Mediterranean Sea, South America, and southern England where there were rich mines of copper and tin. At that time England was the largest producer of tin mining. Joseph was a very wealthy merchant whom the Romans designated as their Minister of Mines.
Jesus, as a teenager and young man, sailed with his great-uncle on his merchant voyages and that would account for those supposed lost years of our Lord. It was also recorded that Joseph followed the teachings of the Essenes. If so, this would account for some scholars believing that Jesus had leanings toward this sect. Members lived apart from their spouses and raised others’ children to maintain their population. This, too, would account for Jesus being under the tutorage of his great-uncle. There are accounts, at that time, of seeing Jesus in coastal cities with his great-uncle, especially in southern England and India; all on trade routes.
Family relationship to Jesus
Joseph is the son of Matthat, son of Levi ben Melchi and Esthra/Estha; Joseph is the husband of Anna bat Simon of Arimathea and Alyuba bat Ekeazar; Joseph is the brother of Joachim, Heli ben Matat, and Bianca; He is the half-brother of JoAnna of Arimathea. His stepmother is Rachel of Arimathea. Joseph is the younger brother of Joachim who was Mary’s, the mother of Jesus, uncle, and great-uncle of Jesus.
Joseph and the Sanhedrin
Joseph is recorded as being an important person in the Sanhedrin with the position of counselor and a voting member. He was careful to keep secret that he was a disciple of Jesus because the synagogue leaders held serious disapproval of Jesus. When he went to Pilate to secure the body of Jesus, the elders and Romans
were furious with him and Nicodemus, a Pharisee who believed in the resurrection. And aided in getting the body of Jesus ready for burial. Normally, preparing a body for burial was left to the family women. However, this was an emergency situation because the Sabbath was only a few hours away. Joseph was family, and took on the responsibility. Most of the disciples had fled for their lives and the women left could not get the task done in time.
The elders didn’t see it that way and arrested Joseph and imprisoned him. They tortured Nicodemus and nearly beat him to death. His brother rescued him and kept him safe for the rest of his life at his country estate. While Joseph was in prison, Jesus appeared to him as He walked through the cell bars. According to this legend, Jesus told Joseph that because he had taken care of His body, that now He would take care of Joseph’s. Jesus took his hand and together they passed through the cell bars into freedom. Joseph fled to Arimathea. The legend continues by relating that the guards found the cell vacant and the lock untouched. After reporting the incident to the elders, the elders contacted Joseph to arrange a meeting. After listening to Joseph’s testimony, they dropped the charges against him. However, that was an exception probably due to Joseph’s influence and wealth.
The Escape by Sea
Several historical sources tell that about 37 CE and after Stephen was stoned to death on order of the Sanhedrin, Joseph and the Apostle Phillip and a group of Jesus’ followers escaped by sea by sailing from Phoenicia. They were fortunate because as they set sail, the Sanhedrin ordered any followers arrested were to be loaded onto boats without sails and oars and set adrift on the sea. Many were rescued or drifted to small islands.
Those who accompanied Joseph and Phillip used the event as their initial sea-borne missionary journey. According to Maurus (CE 766-850), the followers were: Mary, Martha, Lazarus, and the sisters’ maid, Marcella; Eutopus; Mary Salome (Jesus’ sister) and her maid, Sara; Mary Cleopos; Saturnus; Mary Magdalene; Maximin, a young ruler; Martral; Traphimus (or Restitus) and others.
The group sailed from the Levant in the Phoenician homeland. At that time Phoenicia bordered Judea. The Phoenicians were masters of the seas and trading routes and had trading posts around the entire Mediterranean Sea, and beyond to South America and British Isles especially southern England. They established three main trading routes: the shores of the northern sea; the shores of the southern sea; and a route running across the center of the sea to trade with the islands. It was the center route that the group took to Gaul (France) and Marseilles. It was there that Maximinus, Mary Magdalene and Lazarus parted from the group, while Phillip scouted the area for missionary work.
Lazarus became the Bishop of Marseilles, and Maximinus traveled with Mary Magdalene throughout southern France as escort and protector as they carried out missionary work. Maximinus later became the Bishop of Aix-en-Provence. Mary died in 63CE at 72 years of age. When she knew her time was near, she traveled to Aix where the bishop, her friend, took her confession. Her remains reside in the Basilica of Mary Magdalene in Sainte- Maximinus-la-Sainte-Baume. Other countries claim she died in them, but King Charles II found her grave site and built a new tomb. Due to wars and looting, her remains were eventually moved to the basilica with King Charles being informed of the move and why.
From Marseilles, Josepha and Phillip and the remainder of the group sailed to southern England turning east along the coast toward the English Channel and ran aground in the Glastonbury marshes where Apostle Phillip sent Joseph ashore with twelve disciples. According to a legend, that is mostly true, the group climbed a nearby hill to view the surrounding countryside and being tired rested there. This place became known as “Wearyall Hill.” Joseph declared the place as sacred and planted his walking staff that was crafted from Jesus’ crown of thorns. The staff took root and a white thorn bush sprouted and grew. It is reported that this species only naturally grows in the eastern Mediterranean area including Judea. It is also said that the bush blooms twice a year – Easter and Christmas.
Joseph built an abbey (Vetresta Ecclesia) from mud wattle on the sacred site and decreed that twelve monks should always reside there; this church was destroyed by fire in 1184. It was the first Christian church built after Jesus’ resurrection. Joseph died in 45CE at age 86 and was buried very near the abbey. Later, after the abbey was destroyed, his remains were moved to a new grave in the chancel of Glastonbury-abbey where he is honored with an elegant tomb that bears the following engraving:
HERE LIES THE BODY OF THAT MOST NOBLE DISCIPLE, RECORDED IN SCRIPTURE BY THE NAME OF JOSEPH OF ARIMATHEA, AND NOTED BY THE FOUR EVANGELISTS, ST. MATTHEW, MARK, LUKE, AND JOHN, FOR HIS BEGGING THE BODY OF OUR BLESSED SAVIOUR WHEN CRUCIFIED TO REDEEM LOST MEN FROM ETERNAL DESTRUCTION, AND BURYING IT IN A TOMB OF HIS OWN MAKING. HE DIED A.D. 45, AGED 86.
Another legend concerning Joseph is that he was in possession of the chalice (cup) from the Last Supper, The legend reports that Joseph collected some of the blood and sweat from Jesus’ side after it was pierced by the Roman soldier. According to the legend, he hid the cup at the bottom of a deep well at Glastonbury. The well is called the Chalice Well or Blood Well. The well water runs red due to its high iron content.
There are no records regarding how or when Phillip and others aboard the grounded ship continued their voyage by sea. It could be assumed that with Joseph’s influence in that mining area, help would not be far away; however they did continue. Phillip became an important missionary in Samaria and what is today Turkey. He preached mainly in Phrygia until he was martyred in Hierapolis by hanging
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