In the New Testament, Joseph of Arimathea was a rich, devout member of the Sanhedrin who would not consent to that body's decision to put Jesus Christ to death (Matt. 27:57; Mark 15:43; Luke 23:50, 51). After the crucifixion of Jesus, Joseph asked the Roman procurator Pontius Pilate for Jesus' body and, with the assistance of Nicodemus, buried the body in a garden tomb near Golgotha (John 19:38-42; Matt. 25:57-60). Joseph became a popular figure in apocalyptic literature. Medieval legends connect Joseph with the Holy Grail and with Glastonbury, England, where his staff was believed to have taken root and grown into a thorn tree that flowered every Christmas Eve.
Bibliography: Griffith, Leonard, Gospel Characters (1976).
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All that is known for certain concerning him is derived from the canonical Gospels. He was born at Arimathea -- hence his surname -- "a city of Judea" (Luke 23:51), which is very likely identical with Ramatha, the birthplace of the Prophet Samuel, although several scholars prefer to identify it with the town of Ramleh. 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 sepulchre (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 Messias would be with a rich man (Isaiah 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.
Publication information Written by Francis E. Gigot. Transcribed by Mike McLeod. The Catholic Encyclopedia, Volume VIII. Published 1910. New York: Robert Appleton Company. Nihil Obstat, October 1, 1910. Remy Lafort, S.T.D., Censor. Imprimatur. +John Cardinal Farley, Archbishop of New York
Commemorated July 31
Righteous Joseph of Arimathea was a secret disciple of our Lord Jesus Christ. As a member of the Sanhedrin he did not participate in the "counsel and deed" of the Jews in passing a death sentence for Jesus Christ. After the Crucifixion and Death of the Saviour he made bold to go to Pilate and ask him for the Body of the Lord, to Which he gave burial with the help of Righteous Nicodemus, who was also a secret disciple of the Lord.
They took down the Body of the Saviour from the Cross, wrapped it in a winding-cloth, and placed it in a new tomb, in which no one had ever been buried, in the Garden of Gethsemane, in the presence of the Mother of God and the holy Myrrh-Bearing Women (St Joseph had prepared this tomb for himself). Having rolled a heavy stone before the entrance of the tomb, they departed (John 19:37-42; Matt 27:57-61; Mark 15:43-47; Luke 24:50-56). St Joseph travelled around the world, proclaiming the Gospel of Christ. He died peacefully in England.
Dismissal Hymn (First
Lord, save Your people and bless Your inheritance, granting our rulers to prevail over adversaries, and protecting Your commonwealth by Your Cross.
Kontakion (Second Tone)
With far-shining beams, the Cross of Christ goes throughout all the earth bestowing life and grace on all. Let us draw nigh as to a saving beacon in the night of this world; for the Lord, Who was nailed thereto, through it bestows forgiveness on all mankind.
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