Joseph of Arimathaea (1911 Encyclopedia Edition)
JOSEPH OF ARIMATHAEA, found in the New Testament, a wealthy Jew who had been converted by Jesus Christ. He is mentioned by the Four Evangelists, who are in substantial agreement concerning him: after the Crucifixion he went to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus, subsequently prepared it for burial and laid it in a tomb. There are, however, minor differences in the accounts, which have given rise to controversy. Matthew (xxvii. 60) says that the tomb was Josephs own; Mark (xv. 43 seq.), Luke (xxiii. 50 seq.) say nothing of this, while John (aix. 41) simply says that the body was laid in a sepulchre nigh at hand. Both Mark and Luke say that Joseph was a councilor (~bo-xipswv fSocXwl-ij1, Mark xv. 43), and the Gospel of Peter describes him as a friend of Pilate and of the Lord. This last statement is probably a late invention, and there is considerable difficulty as to councilor. That Joseph was a member of the Sanhedrin is improbable. Luke indeed, regarding him as such, says that he had not consented to their counsel and deed, but Mark (xiv. 64) says that all the Sanhedrin condemned him to be worthy of death. Perhaps the phrase noble councilor is intended to imply merely a man of wealth and position. Again Matthew says that Joseph was a disciple, while Mark implies that he was not yet among the definite adherents of Christ, and John describes him as an adherent secretly for fear of the Jews. Most likely he was a disciple, but belonged only to the wider circle of adherents. The account given in the Fourth Gospel suggests that the writer, faced with these various difficulties, assumed a double tradition: (I) that Joseph of Arimathaea, a wealthy disciple, buried the body of Christ; (2) that the person in question was Joseph of Arimathaea a councilor, and solved the problem by substituting Nicodemus as the councilor; hence he describes both Joseph and Nicodemus (xix. 39) as co-operating in the burial. Some critics (e.g. Strauss, New Life of Jesus, ch. 96) have thrown doubt upon the story, regarding some of the details as invented to suit the prophecy in Isa. liii. 9, they made his grave with the wicked, and with the rich in his death (for various translations, see Hastings Did. Bible, ii. 778). But in the absence of any reference to this prophecy in the Gospels, this view is unconvincing, though the correspondence is remarkable.
The striking character of this single appearance of Joseph of Arimathaea led to the rise of numerous legends. Thus William of Malmesbury says that he was sent to Britain by St Philip, and, having received a small island in Somersetshire, there constructed with twisted twigs the first Christian church in Britain afterwards to become the Abbey of Glastonbury. The legend says that his staff, planted in the ground, became a thorn flowering twice a year (see GLASTONBURY). This tradition which is given only as such by Malmesbury himself is not confirmed, and there is no mention of it in either Gildas or Bede.
Generally identified with Ramathaim-Zophim, the city of Elkanah in the hilly district of Ephraim (I Sam. i. 1), near Diospolis (Lydda). See Euseb., Onomasticon, 225. 12.
Joseph also plays a large part in the various versions of the Legend of the Holy Grail (see GRAIL, TEE HOLY).
- conclusion: Joseph was a follower of Jesus, but not a total disciple