Saint Joseph of Arimathea

Joseph of Arimathea was, according to all four Gospels, the man who donated his own prepared tomb for the burial of Jesus after Jesus' crucifixion. He is mentioned in all four canonical Gospels. According to Mark 15:43, he was an "honourable counsellor (bouleut─ôs), meaning a member of the Jewish Sanhedrin, who was waiting for the kingdom of God". In Matthew 27:57, he is described as a rich man and a disciple of Jesus. In John 19:38, we find out that Joseph was secretly a disciple of Jesus: as soon as he heard the news of Jesus' death, he "went in boldly unto Pilate, and craved the body of Jesus".

Pilate, reassured by a centurion that the death had taken place, allowed Joseph's request. Joseph immediately purchased fine linen (Mark 15:46) and proceeded to Golgotha to take the body of Jesus down from the cross. There, assisted by Nicodemus, Joseph took the body and wrapped it in the fine linen and applied myrrh and aloes Nicodemus had brought, according to John 19:39. Jesus' body then was conveyed to the place that had been prepared for Joseph's own body, a man-made cave hewn from rock in the garden of his house nearby. This was done speedily, "for the Sabbath was drawing on". This event is also mentioned in Luke 23:50–56.

Joseph of Arimathea is venerated as a saint by the Roman Catholic church. His feast day is March 17 in the traditional Roman Catholic liturgical calendar, but he is now listed, along with Saint Nicodemus, on August 31 in the Martyrologium Romanum. Eastern Orthodox churches commemorate him on the Third Sunday of Pascha (i.e., the second Sunday after Easter) and on July 31, the date shared by Lutheran churches.

He appears in some early New Testament apocrypha, and a series of legends grew around him during the Middle Ages, which tied him to Britain and the Holy Grail.


The Gospel of Nicodemus, a text appended to the Acts of Pilate, provides additional details about Joseph. For instance, after Joseph asked Pilate for the body of the Christ, and prepared the body with Nicodemus' help, Christ's body was delivered to a new tomb that Joseph had built for himself. In the Gospel of Nicodemus, the Jewish elders express anger at Joseph for burying the body of Christ, saying:

And likewise Joseph also stepped out and said to them: Why are you angry against me because I begged the body of Jesus? Behold, I have put him in my new tomb, wrapping in clean linen; and I have rolled a stone to the door of the tomb. And you have acted not well against the just man, because you have not repented of crucifying him, but also have pierced him with a spear.
—Gospel of Nicodemus. Translated by Alexander Walker.

The Jewish elders then captured Joseph, and imprisoned him, and placed a seal on the door to his cell after first posting a guard. Joseph warned the elders:

The Son of God whom you hanged upon the cross, is able to deliver me out of your hands. All your wickedness will return upon you.

Once the elders returned to the cell, the seal was still in place, but Joseph was gone. The elders later discover that Joseph had returned to Arimathea. Having a change in heart, the elders desired to have a more civil conversation with Joseph about his actions and sent a letter of apology to him by means of seven of his friends. Joseph travelled back from Arimathea to Jerusalem to meet with the elders, where they questioned him about his escape. He told them this story;

On the day of the Preparation, about the tenth hour, you shut me in, and I remained there the whole Sabbath in full. And when midnight came, as I was standing and praying, the house where you shut me in was hung up by the four corners, and there was a flashing of light in mine eyes. And I fell to the ground trembling. Then some one lifted me up from the place where I had fallen, and poured over me an abundance of water from the head even to the feet, and put round my nostrils the odour of a wonderful ointment, and rubbed my face with the water itself, as if washing me, and kissed me, and said to me, Joseph, fear not; but open thine eyes, and see who it is that speaks to thee. And looking, I saw Jesus; and being terrified, I thought it was a phantom. And with prayer and the commandments I spoke to him, and he spoke with me. And I said to him: Art thou Rabbi Elias? And he said to me: I am not Elias. And I said: Who art thou, my Lord? And he said to me: I am Jesus, whose body thou didst beg from Pilate, and wrap in clean linen; and thou didst lay a napkin on my face, and didst lay me in thy new tomb, and roll a stone to the door of the tomb. Then I said to him that was speaking to me: Show me, Lord, where I laid thee. And he led me, and showed me the place where I laid him, and the linen which I had put on him, and the napkin which I had wrapped upon his face; and I knew that it was Jesus. And he took hold of me with his hand, and put me in the midst of my house though the gates were shut, and put me in my bed, and said to me: Peace to thee! And he kissed me, and said to me: For forty days go not out of thy house; for, lo, I go to my brethren into Galilee.
—Gospel of Nicodemus. Translated by Alexander Walker

According to the Gospel of Nicodemus, Joseph testified to the Jewish elders, and specifically to chief priests Caiaphas and Annas that Jesus had risen from the dead and ascended to heaven and he indicated that others were raised from the dead at the resurrection of Christ (repeating Matt 27:52–53). He specifically identified the two sons of the high-priest Simeon (again in Luke 2:25–35). The elders Annas, Caiaphas, Nicodemus, and Joseph himself, along with Gamaliel under whom Paul of Tarsus studied, travelled to Arimathea to interview Simeon's sons Charinus and Lenthius.


Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus Tomb
This large east-west quarry, which supplied building stone for the ancient city, was abandoned in the first century BC. The resulting excavated area of the quarry was transformed into a garden, becoming a well protected area outside the city walls of Jerusalem. Various tombs were dug in the high walls surrounding the Garden of Golgotha . Amongst these is the "kokhim" tomb popularly known as the tomb of Joseph of Arimathea.





    The Tomb of Our Lord
Archaeological evidence shows that the tomb of Jesus had been dug out in an isolated spur of the quarry. In this spur the proprietor (Joseph of Arimathea at the time of the Crucifixion) had started the preparation of a family tomb. This new tomb facing east had a low door (one had to almost kneel down to get through the passage). It was closed by a big slab. On entering the low opening one found himself in a vestibule leading into the funerary chamber. Here only one funerary bench had been hewn in the northern wall of the funerary chapel (on the right hand, as one enters the tomb). It is probable that Joseph of Arimathea had intended to finish his family tomb by digging two other funerary benches in the western and southern walls but the events of the Holy Week completely changed his plans. It is in this funerary chapel and on this funerary bench that the dead body of Our Lord was laid. And it is from this tomb and from behind this "big stone" that his victory over death was proclaimed through His Resurrection. Today the tomb is completely covered by marble slabs.

The Stone of Anointing
The Stone of Anointing, also known as The Stone of Unction, which tradition claims to be the spot where Jesus' body was prepared for burial by Joseph of Arimathea.



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