JOSEPH OF ARIMATHÆA:
Wealthy Jew (probably a member of the Essene fraternity) who, out of sympathy with Jesus, gave him burial in one of the tombs cut in the rocks near the city of Jerusalem. The story is told with some variations in all the Gospels, but in the simplest form in Mark (xv. 42 et seq.). According to Mark, Joseph was a member of the Sanhedrin, of noble birth, and belonged to those who "waited for the kingdom of God" (or for the Messiah): that is to say, he was one of the Essenes (comp. Luke ii. 25, 38; Pesiḳ. R. xxxiv.-xxxvii.). He asked Pilate for the body of Jesus, which he placed in a tomb newly hewn in the rocks near the city of Jerusalem. Luke xxiii. 50 et seq. represents him as having been a member of the Sanhedrin which, under the presidency of Caiaphas, condemned Jesus, but as not having given his consent to the conviction. In Matt. xxvii. 57 et seq. his (Essene) hope for the Messiah is transformed into a discipleship of Jesus, and the tomb in which he buries Jesus is represented as having been his own new tomb, hewn out for himself. In John xix. 38 Joseph is represented as acting in conjunction with Nicodemus, another prominent and pious Jew, and called "a ruler of the Jews," the two together burying Jesus in a tomb just hewn out in the place where Jesus had been crucified.
Arimathæa, the birthplace of Joseph (called "Ramathem" in I Macc. xi. 34), is the same as the Ramathaim-zophim of I Sam. i. 1, spoken of in Targum Yerushalmi: "Ramata, where the pupils of the prophets [seers] reside" (comp. Meg. 14a). In fact, Ramah, or Bet Ramata, was, according to Ab. R. N. xii. (see ed. Schechter, p. 56), the seat of a Hasidæan colony. Like Simeon and Anna (Luke ii. 25, 36), Joseph (perhaps the leader of an Essene colony near Jerusalem) was claimed for nascent Christianity, as was Nicodemus (comp. "Nicodemus" in Cheyne and Black, "Encyc. Bibl."). Possibly the well-known passage Isa. liii. 9—"He made his grave with the wicked, and with the rich in his death"—led to Matthew's story of Jesus' burial in the tomb of the wealthy Joseph (see Weiss, "Das Leben Jesu," ii. 592).
According to the later Gospel of Nicodemus (xii.), Joseph was imprisoned by the Jews on Friday evening shortly before the Sabbath; but when they went to release him, he was gone, though the gate had been sealed and the key was in the possession of Caiaphas. Another legend sends him to Great Britain as one of the Seventy Apostles, to erect there the first oratory; and out of the staff which stuck in the ground as he stopped to rest himself on the hilltop there grew, they say, a miraculous thorn, said still to grow and bud every Christmas-Day. Out of these legends grew another, connecting Joseph of Arimathæa with the legend of the Holy Grail. The vessel from which Jesus had eaten at the Last Supper Joseph is said to have held in his hand when hetook down Jesus' body; and drops of the blood that was still running from his wounds fell into the vessel and endowed it with transcendent thaumaturgic properties. It sustained Joseph's life in prison during forty-two years and instructed him in heavenly knowledge.
- Winer, B. R.;
- Smith, Dict. of the Bible;
- Helinaut's Chronicles, in Migne's Patrologie, ccxii.