Joseph of Arimathea

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All that is known for certain concerning him is derived from the canonical Gospels. He was born at Arimathea, "a city of Judea" (Lk 23:51), which is very likely identical with Ramah, the birthplace of the prophet Samuel (1Sam 1:19), although several scholars prefer to identify it with the town of Ramleh.

He was a wealthy Israelite (Mt 27:57), "a good and a just man" (Lk 23:50), "who was also himself looking for the kingdom of God" (Mk 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 (Jn 2:23), but he did not declare himself as such "for fear of the Jews" (John, xix, 38). On account of this secret allegiance to Jesus, he did not consent to Jesus' condemnation by the Sanhedrin (Lk 23:51), and was most likely absent from the meeting which sentenced Jesus to death (cf. Mk 14:64).

Jesus' crucifixion 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 (lit. "having summoned courage, he went") requested from Pilate the Body of Jesus.

Pilate ascertained from the centurion that the death had really taken place, and granted Joseph's request (Mk 15:43ff). Having already purchased fine linen (Mk 15:46), Joseph proceeded to Golgotha to take the body down from the cross.

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 sepulchre (Mt 27:59f; Mk 15:46; Lk 23:53; Jn 19:38ff). This was done in haste, "for the Sabbath was drawing on". Thus was fulfilled Isaiah's prediction that the grave of the Messias would be with a rich man (Isa 53:9).

The Greek Church celebrates the feast of Joseph of Arimathea on 31 July, and the Roman Church on 17 March. The additional details which are found concerning him in the apocryphal Acta Pilati, are unworthy of credence. Likewise fabulous is the legend which tells of his coming to Gaul A.D. 63, and thence to Great Britain, where he is supposed to have founded the earliest Christian oratory at Glastonbury. Finally, the story of the translation of the body of Joseph of Arimathea from Jerusalem to Moyenmonstre (Diocese of Toul) originated late and is unreliable.

This entry includes text from Easton's Bible Dictionary, 1897.
Portions of this entry are taken from The Catholic Encyclopedia, 1907.
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