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Joseph of Arimathea is a person mentioned in the Gospels, who was a wealthy man from the Judean city of Arimathea and a reputable member of the Jewish Sanhedrin. According to the Gospel, he was a good and righteous man who was waiting for God’s Kingdom. But, Joseph had a fear of unbelieving Jews, and did not openly identify himself as a disciple of Jesus. However, he did not vote in support of the Sanhedrin’s unjust action against Jesus. Later, he courageously asked Pilate for Jesus’ body and, along with Nicodemus, prepared it for burial and then placed it in a new rock-cut tomb. This tomb was situated in a garden near the place of impalement that belonged to Joseph of Arimathea (Mt 27:57-60; Mr 15:43-46; Lu 23:50-53; Joh 19:38-42).[1]

Sanhedrin memberEdit

Map-Arimathea

Map of Arimathea[2] (present day Lod) in relation to Jerusalem

Sanhedrin1

Illustration of the ancient Jewish Sanhedrin council—People's Cyclopedia of Universal Knowledge (1883)

The Gospel of Mark calls Joseph of Arimathea “a reputable member of the Council.” The "Council" was the Sanhedrin,[3] the Jewish high court and supreme administrative body (Mark 15:1, 43). Joseph was therefore one of the leaders of his people, which explains how he could gain an audience with the Roman governor. The Gospel of Matthew also reflects that Joseph was a rich man, or well-to-do (Matt. 27:57).[4] The place from which Joseph was from, according to Eusebius in his Onomasticon (144:28-29), identified Arimathea with Ramathaim-Zophim, and writes that it is near Diospolis (modern Lod).[2] Ramathaim-Zophim was a town in Ephraim, the birthplace of Samuel, where David came to him (1 Samuel 1:1, 19).[5]

Secret discipleEdit

As a group, the Sanhedrin was hostile to Jesus. Its members connived to have him put to death. Joseph, however, is called “a good and righteous man” (Luke 23:50). Unlike most of his Sanhedrin colleagues, he lived an honest, moral life and did his best to obey God’s commands. He was also “waiting for the Kingdom of God,” which may explain why he became one of Jesus’ disciples (Mark 15:43; Matt. 27:57). Likely, he was drawn to Jesus’ message out of a sincere desire for truth and justice.[4]

The Gospel of John says that Joseph “was a disciple of Jesus but a secret one because of his fear of the Jews.” (John 19:38) Joseph knew of the Jews’ disdain for Jesus and their determination to expel from the synagogue anyone who confessed faith in him (John 7:45-49; 9:22). Being expelled from the synagogue meant being scorned, shunned, and treated as an outcast by fellow Jews. There was hesitancy on Joseph's part to confess faith in Jesus openly, as it would mean losing his position and his prestige. To Joseph’s credit, the Bible reports that he did not support the Sanhedrin’s plot against Jesus (Luke 23:51). Perhaps, as some suggest, Joseph was not present at Jesus’ trial. Whatever the case, it is likely that Joseph viewed the mistreatment and death of Jesus as a perversion of justice​.[4]

Joseph of Arimathea, however, was not the only one whose reputation was at stake. The Gospel of John also says that “many even of the rulers actually put faith in [Jesus], but they would not acknowledge him because of the Pharisees, so that they would not be expelled from the synagogue.” (John 12:42) Another individual in the same situation was Nicodemus, who was also a member of the Sanhedrin (John 3:1-10; 7:50-52).[4]

Joseph and PilateEdit

Pilate

Pilate, Mihály Munkácsy, 1881

By the time of Jesus’ death, Joseph had evidently overcome his fears and threw in his lot with Jesus’ followers. The Gospel of Mark states: “He took courage[6] and went in before Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus.” (Mark 15:43) It seems that Joseph was present when Jesus died. The passage also seems to indicate that Joseph knew of Jesus’ death even before Pilate did. When Joseph asked for the body, the governor “wondered whether [Jesus] could already be dead” (Mark 15:44).[4]

Jesus burialEdit

Stauros

Stauros (σταυρός), "upright stake" - illustration by Justus Lipsius

Jewish law required that those sentenced to death be buried before sundown.[7] As far as the Romans were concerned, the bodies of executed criminals were either left on the Stauros (σταυρός), meaning "upright stake",[8][9][10][11] to rot or were thrown into a common grave. However, Joseph of Arimathea was not bound to let that happen to Jesus. Close to the execution site, Joseph had a new rock-cut tomb (Luke 23:53). Since the vault had never been used (John 19:41), it has been suggested that Joseph may have recently moved from Arimathea to Jerusalem, possibly with the intention to use the property for his own family burial site. Burying Jesus in Joseph’s own future tomb could be viewed as a generous gesture on Joseph’s part, while fulfilling a prophecy from the Book of Isaiah, that the Messiah would be buried “with the rich”​—Isa. 53:5, 8, 9.[4]

Arimathea to Jerusalem

Arimathea to Jerusalem (23 mi)

All four Gospels record that after Jesus’ body was removed from the Stauros, Joseph wrapped him in fine linen and laid it in his own tomb (Matt. 27:59-61; Mark 15:46, 47; Luke 23:53, 55; John 19:38-40). The only person specifically stated to have helped Joseph was Nicodemus, who brought burial spices. Given the status of these two, it is unlikely that they would have moved the body themselves. It is more likely that they would have used servants to do the actual carrying and burying. The coordinated efforts of these two men was not trivial, as any who came in contact with a corpse incurred ceremonial uncleanness for seven days, making everything that they touched unclean (Num. 19:11; Hag. 2:13). Such a condition would require them to be secluded during the Passover week and to miss all its observances and celebrations (Num. 9:6). By arranging Jesus’ burial, Joseph also risked derision from his colleagues. Yet, at this point, he was willing to accept the consequences of giving Jesus a dignified burial and of openly identifying himself as one of Christ’s disciples.[4]

ReferencesEdit

  1. Insight (1988) Vol.2, pp.106-112, Joseph
  2. 2.0 2.1 Eusebius of Caesarea, Onomasticon (1971), pp. 1-75. Translated by Carl Umhau Wolf.
  3. blb.org, NLT, See footnote
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 4.3 4.4 4.5 4.6 WT (2017) Oct 15, Joseph of Arimathea..., pp. 18-20
  5. Wikipedia, Arimathea
  6. Or, "boldly went"—CSB; or "took a risk"—NLT
  7. Deut. 21:22, 23
  8. R. S. P. Beekes, Etymological Dictionary of Greek, Brill, 2009, p. 1391.
  9. R. S. P. Beekes, Etymological Dictionary of Greek, Brill, 2009, p. 601.
  10. James Strong (1996). "ἵστημι histēmi". Strong's Complete Dictionary of the Biblical Words. Nashville, Tennessee: Thomas Nelson Publishers. p. G2476. 
  11. Pierre Chantraine (1968). "Σταυρός". Dictionnaire étymologique de la langue grecque. 4 (Ρ-Υ). Paris: Klincksiek. pp. 1044–1045. 
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