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Friday, March 19, 2010

Joseph of Arimathea and King Arthur—legends and myths

The danger of wealth and prosperity is frequently lifted up in Holy Scripture. Some samples:

  • The love of money is a root of all sorts of evil (1 Timothy 6:9-10). 
  • The lust for wealth can never be satisfied by any success (Ecclesiastes 5:10)
  • The parable of the rich fool (Luke 12:13-21). 

Yet, in the Bible there are many men of immense wealth. One of those, Joseph of Arimathea, a wealthy member of the Sanhedrin, joined another jurist, Nicodemus, to care for the body of Jesus after His crucifixion. But who was this man of wealth? Little is known and legends abound. 

Austin Cline gets us started in his About.com article: Joseph of Arimathea: Who Was he?

I especially like the legends connecting this Jew from Arimathea with King Arthur of Britain and Glastonbury Abbey.

Christian commentators have seen in Joseph's acts a fulfillment of Isaiah 53:9 where the prophet says of the Suffering Servant that they made his grave with a rich man in his death.

According to the Gospel of Nicodemus or Acts of Pilate, this act of burying Jesus got Joseph into lots of trouble. They captured and imprisoned him, but somehow he escaped back to Arimathea. Later the Jewish elders had a change of heart and invited him back to meet with them. There he told them how he met the risen Christ.

Later Glastonbury legends concerning Joseph tell of how he was the guardian of the Holy Grail that was brought to Britain. The Wikipedia article on Glastonbury details this legend.

But the legends deepen. Some claim that Joseph was the Virgin Mary's uncle and Jesus' great uncle. They speak of him as a rich merchant with a large fleet of ships that ran the tin trade for the Roman Empire, between Britain and the Mediterranean.

Since Jesus' legal father, Joseph, died, possibly early in Jesus' life, Joseph of Arimathea would have been Jesus' legal guardian and next of kin. According to this legend he took Jesus with him on his journeys to Glastonbury, England. In the Traditions of Glastonbury  E. Raymond Capt speculates that Jesus spent his teens and twenties in Britain prior to the start of his ministry. This is interesting speculation, but hardly solid historical proof. The web page Joseph of Arimathea supplies further details to suggest that Joseph was the Apostle to Britain where he established many churches.

All this is delightful fun, but, as I said, hardly solid history. One primary and solid part of history does remain, however. Jesus Christ died on the cross of Calvary and rose victorious from Joseph's grave on the third day (John 19:38-20:29).