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Monday, April 9, 2012

Joseph of Arimathea And The Empty Tomb

Little mention is made of Joseph of Arimathea in the Gospels other than that he and Nicodemus buried Jesus' body in a new tomb, apparently belonging to Joseph. Who was this enigmatic figure? And where was Arimathea?

According to the common Greek of the NT Arimathea would correspond to the Hebrew Ha-Ramathaim, possibly Ramathaim-Zophim in Ephraim, the birthplace of Samuel, where David came to him (1 Samuel 1:1, 19). Others identify it with Ramlah in Dan, or Ramah in Benjamin (Matt. 2:18). Ramathaim may have been a town 4-5 miles NW of Jerusalem.

Here's what we know from the Gospels about Joseph. The Catholic Encyclopedia states:
He was a wealthy Israelite (Matthew 27:57), "a good and a just man" (Luke 23:50), "who was also himself looking for the kingdom of God" (Mark 15:43). He is also called by St. Mark and by St. Luke a bouleutes, literally, "a senator", whereby is meant a member of the Sanhedrin or supreme council of the Jews. He was a disciple of Jesus, probably ever since Christ's first preaching in Judea (John 2:23), but he did not declare himself as such "for fear of the Jews" (John 19:38). On account of this secret allegiance to Jesus, he did not consent to His condemnation by the Sanhedrin (Luke 23:51), and was most likely absent from the meeting which sentenced Jesus to death (cf. Mark 14:64).
The Crucifixion of the Master quickened Joseph's faith and love, and suggested to him that he should provide for Christ's burial before the Sabbath began. Unmindful therefore of all personal danger, a danger which was indeed considerable under the circumstances, he boldly requested from Pilate the Body of Jesus, and was successful in his request (Mark 15:43-45). Once in possession of this sacred treasure, he—together with Nicodemus, whom his courage had likewise emboldened, and who brought abundant spices—wrapped up Christ's Body in fine linen and grave bands, laid it in his own tomb, new and yet unused, and hewn out of a rock in a neighbouring garden, and withdrew after rolling a great stone to the opening of the sepulcher (Matthew 27:59, 60; Mark 15:46; Luke 23:53; John 19:38-42). Thus was fulfilled Isaiah's prediction that the grave of the Messiah would be with a rich man (Isaiah 53:9).
Aside from that information we have legends and some historical documents of Jesus' family history. And that's where it gets fun.

Joseph lived at one point in Marmorica, on the coast of Egypt, and was the uncle of Mary, mother of Jesus. Anne, mother of the Virgin Mary, was married three times. Her first husband was Joachim by whom she had the Virgin Mary. Her second husband was Cleophas and her third was Salome. According to Hachette's guide Bleu Bretagne there is an ancient Breton tradition that Anne was born in Cornouaille (Cornwall?) of Royal blood.

When Anne was pregnant with the Virgin Mary, Joachim ill treated her and she fled from Europe to Jaffa and  finally settled in Nazareth where Mary was born. That would not make Joachim much of a revered saint. Anne had a sister named Bianca who was the mother of Joseph, the Virgin Mary's husband, making Joseph Mary's first cousin. Of course, not all legends agree with this part of the tale.

But back to Joseph of Arimathea, Jesus' great-uncle. He was quite wealthy, a merchant in metals . Often he took Jesus with him on business trips to the Island of the Britons, to India and even to South Africa. Britain led the world of that time in tin mining. Joseph of Arimathea
was dubbed Nobilis Decurio or Minister of Mines to the Roman Government. Early documents of Britain and Gaul refer to Joseph in the same manner. The Welshman Maelgwyn of Llandaff calls Joseph the Nobilis Decurio, as does Rabanus Maurus (776-856 A.D.), Archbishop of Mayence and writer of the manuscript called the "Life of St. Mary Magdalene." A copy of this document is to be found in the Magdalen College Library at Oxford, England, and dates from the early part of the fifteenth century.

View From Wearyall Hill Over Glastonbury
With Holy Thorn Foreground, Tor in Background

Sometime during the 25 years after Jesus' resurrection Joseph accompanied Phillip, Mary Magdalene, Lazarus and others on a preaching mission to Gaul. At ancient Marseilles, Lazarus and Mary parted with the group to continue north. When Joseph's group reached the English Channel, Phillip encouraged them to head over to the Island of the Britons. This they did, sailing around Land's End at the southern tip of England to head up the west coast to where the tin mines were. Their ship ran aground in the Glastonbury marshes. The party made it ashore and climbed a nearby hill to survey the countryside. Exhausted and weary from the journey, Joseph drove his staff into the ground. That staff was made from the same thorn tree that was used to fashion Christ's Crown of Thorns (Matt. 27:29). The staff came alive, took root and grew into another thorn bush. A similar thorn bush can still be seen on Wearyall Hill where Joseph also built a church of mud and wattle that ultimately became an Abbey.

But we're just getting started with the tale. Check with me next time to learn about Joseph's connection with the legendary King Arthur.