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The Scriptures refer to Joseph of Arimathea as a "rich man," a "prominent council member," and a "good and just man" who "had not consented" to the trial that condemned Jesus (see Matthew 27:57-60; Mark 15:42-46; Luke 23:50-53).
After Christ’s death, Joseph, "being a disciple of Jesus, but secretly, for fear of the Jews, asked [the Roman governor Pontius] Pilate that he might take away the body of Jesus; and Pilate gave him permission" (John 19:38). Then, after preparing Christ’s body for burial, Joseph laid the body in a rock-hewn tomb in a garden (verses 39-42). This tomb was probably owned by Joseph, as the Messiah was prophesied to be buried in a rich man’s grave (see Isaiah 53:9).
Mark says that Joseph went boldly to Pilate to request the body of Jesus (Mark 15:43)—and just in time. Barnes’ Notes on the New Testament comments: "Unless there had been a special application to Pilate on behalf of Jesus, his body would have been buried that night in the common grave with the malefactors, for it was a law of the Jews that the body of an executed man should not remain on the cross on the Sabbath [John 19:31]" (1970, note on Mark 15:43).
But on what grounds did Joseph so boldly claim the body of Christ? The Jewish authorities, who hated and despised Jesus, would surely have resisted Him being given an honorable burial in a private tomb—unless there were irrefutable grounds in favour of Joseph having the right to receive the body.
Joseph of Arimathea was most likely a close relative of Jesus and, according to some traditions, he had become an adoptive father to the family after the death of Mary’s husband Joseph. More specifically, "Joseph of Arimathea is by Eastern [Orthodox] tradition said to have been the younger brother of the father of the Virgin Mary" (Richard W. Morgan, St. Paul in Britain, 1860, 1984, pp. 69-70 footnote)—thus making him Mary’s uncle and Jesus’ great uncle. Mary’s father Heli was essentially a royal prince of the Davidic line of Nathan—and so would Heli’s brother have been. So Joseph of Arimathea may well have been of royal blood. (Some even claim an earlier tradition that Joseph was the brother of Mary and thus Jesus’ direct uncle—which would still have made him of the same family.)
As mentioned, Joseph was also described as a "prominent council member" (Mark 15:43). The original Greek here is ‘euschemon bouletes’, which the Amplified Bible describes as a "noble and honorable in rank and a respected member of the council...He is also called by St. Mark and by St. Luke a ‘bouleutes’, literally, ‘a senator,’ ... a member of the Sanhedrin or supreme council of the Jews" ("Joseph of Arimathea," The Catholic Encyclopaedia, 1910, Vol. 8, Online Edition, 1999, www.newadvent.org/cathen).
There are also traditions connecting Joseph with Britain and in particular with "Glastonbury Abbey, a ruined abbey in Somersetshire, about 6 miles south of Wells, England. Tradition has it that it was here that Joseph of Arimathea established the first Christian Church in England" (Collier’s Encyclopedia, 1959, Vol. 9, p. 120). It is understood that he was involved in tin mining and, more importantly, the tin trade with the Mediterranean.
Among other evidence Dr. Susser further says: "A persistent legend also refers to the presence of at least one Jew in England at the beginning of the Christian era. He was Joseph of Arimathaea, a wealthy Essene Jew who, it is said, out of sympathy with Jesus, gave him burial in a rock tomb near Jerusalem . . . (Jewish Encyclopaedia (New York, 1901) . . .). A variant of the legend makes Joseph travel through Cornwall accompanied by Jesus . . ." (chap. 1).
In the early 300s, the renowned church historian Eusebius wrote: "The holy apostles and disciples of our Saviour were scattered over the whole world. Thomas, tradition tells us, was chosen for Parthia, Andrew for Scythia, John for Asia [Minor], where he remained till his death at Ephesus. Peter seems to have preached in Pontus, Galatia and Bithynia, Cappadocia and Asia [Minor], to the Jews [or, rather, Israelites] of the Dispersion" (Book 3, chap. 1). Paul specifically mentioned his intention to go to Spain (Romans 15:24, 28) and, in another of his works Eusebius wrote, "The apostles passed beyond the ocean to the isles called the Britannic Isles" (Demonstratio Evangelica or Proof of the Gospel, book 3, chap. 7).
Thus, with such prevalent traditions surrounding Joseph of Arimathea’s presence in southern England in the first century A.D., and numerous corroborating factors, it seems quite probable he was there, after he witnessed the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus Christ, and may have also visited earlier in order to oversee his trading interests in the area.