Who Was Joseph of Arimathea?

Did He Carry the Holy Grail?

Joseph of Arimathea, drawing c. 1927
Joseph of Arimathea, drawing c. 1927.

The role and behavior of Joseph of Arimathea is one of the few things discussed in all four gospels. According to the gospels, Joseph of Arimathea was a rich man, a member of the Sanhedrin who disagreed with Jesus’ conviction. John and Matthew even say that he was a disciple of Jesus. Joseph took the body of Jesus, wrapped it in linen, and buried it in a tomb that he may have prepared for himself.

Where Was Arimathea?

Luke locates Arimathea in Judea, but aside from the association with Joseph, there is no solid information about where it was and what might have happened there. Some scholars have identified Arimathea with Ramathaim-Zophim in Ephraim, the place where Samuel was born. Other scholars say that Arimathea is Ramleh.

Legends About Joseph of Arimathea

Joseph of Arimathea might pass through the gospels very briefly, but he enjoyed a lively role in later Christian legends. According to various accounts, Joseph of Arimathea traveled to England where he founded the first Christian Church, was the protector of the Holy Grail, and became an ancestor of Lancelot or even of King Arthur himself.

Joseph of Arimathea and the Holy Grail

The most popular legends associated with Joseph of Arimathea involve his role as protector of the Holy Grail. Some tales say that he took the cup used by Jesus during the Last Supper to catch the blood of Christ during the crucifixion. Others say that Jesus appeared to Joseph in a vision and entrusted the cup to him personally. Whatever the case, he is supposed to have taken with him during his travels and any number of sites claim to be its burial location — including Glastonbury, England.

Joseph of Arimathea and British Christianity

Standard histories of Christianity say that missionaries were first sent to evangelize Britain in the 6th century. Legends about Joseph of Arimathea say that he arrived there as early as 37 CE or as late as 63 CE. If the early date were true, it would make him the founder of the first Christian church, pre-dating even the church in Rome. Tertullian does mention Britain being “subjugated to Christ,” but that sounds more like a later Christian addition, not a pagan historian.

Biblical References to Joseph of Arimathea

Joseph of Arimathaea, an honourable counsellor, which also waited for the kingdom of God, came, and went in boldly unto Pilate, and craved the body of Jesus. And Pilate marvelled if he were already dead: and calling unto him the centurion, he asked him whether he had been any while dead. And when he knew it of the centurion, he gave the body to Joseph. And he bought fine linen, and took him down, and wrapped him in the linen, and laid him in a sepulchre which was hewn out of a rock, and rolled a stone unto the door of the sepulchre. [Mark 15:43-46]

When the even was come, there came a rich man of Arimathaea, named Joseph, who also himself was Jesus’ disciple: He went to Pilate, and begged the body of Jesus. Then Pilate commanded the body to be delivered. And when Joseph had taken the body, he wrapped it in a clean linen cloth, And laid it in his own new tomb, which he had hewn out in the rock: and he rolled a great stone to the door of the sepulchre, and departed. [Matthew 27:57-60]

And, behold, there was a man named Joseph, a counsellor; and he was a good man, and a just: (The same had not consented to the counsel and deed of them;) he was of Arimathaea, a city of the Jews: who also himself waited for the kingdom of God. This man went unto Pilate, and begged the body of Jesus. And he took it down, and wrapped it in linen, and laid it in a sepulchre that was hewn in stone, wherein never man before was laid. [Luke 23:50-54]