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Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Joseph of Arimathea—The Stuff Of Legends

When last we heard of Joseph of Arimathea he and his companions had come ashore on the southwestern coast of the Island of the Britons, near the town of Glastonbury. His staff, made from the same thorn bush used to create Christ's crown of thorns and driven into the earth, now began to grow and bloom but twice a year, at Christmas and at Easter.

On his journey Joseph also brought the chalice Christ used at the Last supper. In it he had collected the sweat of Christ on the cross and some of the blood that flowed from Christ's side  when the Roman soldier drove a spear into it. This was the famous Holy Grail. Joseph hid it at Glastonbury at the bottom of a deep well, still called today the Chalice Well. From there a long and mysterious legend developed around the Grail.

Indiana Jones with the Holy Grail—from The Last Crusade

But the story is just getting going.

Joseph had often been to Glastonbury. Upon now returning he met Caratacus, king of the Catuvellauni. It is the time of the Roman invasion in AD 43 under the Roman commander, Aulus Plautius. Caratacus and his brother Guilderius were the sons of King Cunobelinus. After their father's death the two brothers led a campaign to resist the Roman invasion for nearly nine years. Ultimately the Romans were victorious. Caratacus was captured and taken to Rome where he spent the rest of his life.

Meanwhile Joseph and his family remained keepers of the Holy Grail.

Now the story gets really strange.

Some maintain that Joseph of Arimathea was really Joseph ben Mathias. Arimathea was a word play and not an historical reference to a town. That means that Joseph of Arimathea was really the well-known Flavius Josephus, Jewish historian and onetime governor of Galilee. After joining the fight against Rome, Joseph was captured by the Romans and imprisoned. From prison he sent a message to Vespasian, informing him that God told him Vespasian would become emperor of Rome. When Nero was assassinated and Vespasian did become emperor, Josephus was freed and henceforth traveled in Vespasian's entourage, recording Roman history, history widely read to the present.

The rest of the story of Joseph of Arimathea is even more legendary and connected to the Arthurian legends of Britain in a variety of ways. Its best that I leave all this to historians and
people interested in King Arthur. If you are interested in further legends and stories, here are some sources to explore:

So what do we make of all this? Simple. The hand of God guided all things concerning Jesus, His birth, life, death and resurrection. That Joseph should provide a tomb for our Lord Jesus was predicted hundreds of years before by the prophet Isaiah.  
And they made his grave with the wicked and with a rich man in his death, although he had done no violence, and there was no deceit in his mouth.—Isa.53:9
The Apostle Paul wrote, "that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures . . . (1 Cor.15:4). This is why the story of Joseph of Arimathea was preserved in the Gospels. To speculate and discuss legends about Joseph beyond what is in Scripture is indeed entertaining and may even be useful to a certain extent. But the stories remain legends. And a legend is definitely something the Bible is not. Through it God continues to speak His Word to warn, guide and encourage us all.

One final note. Movie makers have gotten hold of the legend of Joseph of Arimathea. Watch for the film to start playing sometime toward the end of this year 2012. It is to be called Glastonbury: Isle of Light.