by: Anonymous (Author) from: The History of That Holy Disciple Joseph of Arimathea [ca. 1770]
The History of that Holy Disciple Joseph of Arimathea. Wherein is contained, The true Account of his Birth, his Parents, his Country, his Education, his Piety; and how he begged of Pontius Pilate the Body of Our Blessed Saviour, after his Crucifixion, which he buried in a new Sepulchre of his own. Also the Occasion of his Coming to England, and he walked on England’s mountains green where he first preached the Gospel at Glastonbury in the County of Somerset; and where is still growing that noted White-Thorn, which buds every Christmas-Day in the Morning, blossoms at Noon, and fades at Nights, on the Place where he pitched his Staff in the Ground. With a full Relation of his Death and Burial. Printed and Sold in Bow Church-Yard. London.
The person we are going to speak of, named Joseph, was a just, holy, pious, and devout man, born at Arimathea, otherwise called Rameth, and afterwards Ramula. It was a city formerly allotted for the Levites, and situated near Sophim on mount Ephraim, near the confines of the tribes of Benjamin and Dan; and is also noted for being the birth place of Samuel the prophet, who here lived and died, and was buried.
Here Joseph was born, and from hence was called Joseph of Arimathea; he was the son of one Matthias, who was considerable for his extraction, but more for his justice and authority in Jerusalem, which was the metropolis of that country; his bringing up, during his tender years, was with one Jonathan, who was his brother by the same father and mother, with whom he profited in all kind of sciences, having a good memory, and quick apprehension; so that being yet a child of fifteen years of age, he was praised by all men, in regard of the good affection he had to learning, that the priests and noblest citizens vouchsafed to all his opinion of things that concerned their laws and ordinances.
He was born about eight years before the nativity of our blessed Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, and about the age of seventeen years, his desire being to search and have an insight, into the laws and customs of the three sects of the Jewish nation, the Pharisees, which is the chiefest, the second the Saducees, and the third the Esseans; to the end he might chuse the better of the three, when he understood them all. He declined the two latter, and adhered to the former, addicting himself to such great austerities and labours, that hearing of one Malachi an holy man, who lived in a desart, cloathed himself with nothing but what the trees brought forth, fed on no other kind of meat but what they freely yielded, and washed himself oftentimes by day and night in cold water; to keep himself chaste, he went and lived with him, and imitated his course of life, for the space of four years, at which time he returned to Jerusalem again, at the age of one and twenty years.
But now, though Joseph of Arimathea had entirely devoted himself to the sect of the Pharisees, yet was he not addicted to the vices which too evidently appeared among them, especially hypocrisy; for he was really just in all his dealings, pious without ostentation, and very charitable in private: insomuch that he obtained the praise of the rich, and the benediction of the poor, where-ever he went, and gloried more to be a good man than a great senator, to which dignity his incomparable merits had justly preferred him.
However, when Jesus Christ began to take upon him the great work of the ministry of the Gospel, and by his holy life, pure doctrine, and supernatural miracles, had procured many Jews to embrace what he taught them, among the rest of his followers this Joseph of Arimathea became a great admirer of our Saviour’s preaching, insomuch that declining the Levitical laws, as then taught in the Jewish church, he became a sincere convert, and followed Christ in all the journeys which he took throughout the land of Judea and Galilee, for the promulgation of the Gospel.
But when Jesus was betrayed by Judas, who sold the precious blood of our lord and master, for the value of thirty pence, after the condemnation was passed upon him by Pontius Pilate, the Roman president of Syria, and he was crucified on the cross, for the sins of the whole world.–As soon as he was dead, this Joseph of Arimathea, who was a rich man, went, as the evangelist St. Matthew tells us, chap. xvii, 58, 60, 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 the rock, and he rolled a great Stone to the door of the sepulchre and departed.
Now, as for the manner of the sepulchre wherein our Saviour was laid, take the description thereof, as given by Adricomius, in his relation of the Holy Land, and which is as follows: The glorious sepulchre of our Lord, says he, was a new monument, situated about one hundred and eight feet from mount Calvary, and distant one thousand paces from mount Sion. Here it was that Joseph of Arimathea, a noble senator, cut out of a rock that was in his garden, a place of interment, in which he, together with Nicodemus, the blessed Mary, and other women, buried form the cross by consent of Pilate, the body of Jesus, which they had wrapped up in fine linen, perfumed with myrrh and aloes; his head was placed towards the West, from whence it has been the custom ever since, among the Christians, to bury the dead, in many of their church-yards, with the feet towards the East; and those attending his sacred funeral, having rolled a great stone to the door of the monument, they returned to their several habitations.
In the mean time, the priests, scribes, and pharisees, endeavouring to hinder the resurrexion of Christ, they set a guard of soldiers to watch the sepulchre, the mouth whereof they closely shut up, and set their seals on the door, that they might not be deceived thro’ any frauds, either of his disciples or their own keepers; but this diligence of the Jews, who would have obstructed his rising, did rather increase the miracle, and confirm the faith of our Saviour’s resurrection; for, on the third day after his crucifixion, receiving life again, he came to Mary Magdalen, first in the likeness of a gardiner, according to these words of the evangelist, Jesus saith unto her, woman, why weepest thou? she, supposing him to be the gardiner, saith unto him, If thou hast borne him hence, tell me: here thou hast laid him, and I will take him away. John xx. 15.
After the death of our Saviour, Joseph of Arimathea led a solitary life, about six months, in commemoration of our Saviour’s crucifixion for his salvation, as well as the whole race of mankind; but this time of penitence being compleated, he came again among the apostles, and by St. Peter was adopted one of the seventy-two disciples.–So to make good that great charge which he had took upon him, understanding from Felix, who then governed Jerusalem, that certain noble Christians, men of much honour, and more virtue, were, for preaching the Christian faith, sent to Rome by his commandment, to answer what was objected against them in Cæsar’s presence; being desirous of the service, and having special intelligence, that ⱡ the torments wherewith they were martyr’d, lessened not their piety, but that they lived contentedly on figs and nuts. He, for this cause, departed presently for Rome, and was encountered with many and grievous hazards by sea; for the ship wherein he sailed was wreck’d in the midst of the Adriatick sea, and about six hundred of them were forced to swim all night long, and at day-break, by God’s providence, a Cyrenian ship came in sight, and he, and about fourscore others, who out-swam the rest, were taken up, and saved.
After he had in this sort escaped, he went to Diarchia, which the Italians call at this day Puteoli, and grew acquainted with Baliturnus, a Jew born, who was a comedian, and in good reputation with Tiberius; by whose means, insinuating himself into the empress Poppeia’s knowledge, he determined to beseech her to procure the liberty of those Christians in bondage; and being gratified likewise by her with many gifts, he returned again into his own country.
Being now returned home, and having given a full account to the twelve apostles, of what special service he had done for the vindication of the Christian liberty at Rome, he was appointed and ordained to go and preach the Gospel in England; and according as the mission commanded him, he took shipping at Joppa, and sailing with a great deal of difficulty, and meeting many dangerous storms, through the Mediterranean sea, he at length landed at Barrow-bay in Somersetshire, and then proceeding onwards of his journey eleven miles that day; came to Glastenbury in the same county; where, fixing his pilgrim’s staff in the ground, it was no sooner set in the earth, but just like Aaron’s rod (which blossomed flowers when there was a contest betwixt him and other learned Jews for the priesthood) it was presently turned into a blossoming thorn, which supernatural miracle made the numerous spectators, who came to see this wonder, be very attentive to hear his preaching the Gospel, which was concerning Christ crucified for the redemption of mankind.
He arrived at Glastenbury about three years after the death of our blessed Redeemer, being then in the forty-fourth year of his age, doing there such wonderful miracles, that he presently brought to the conversion of Christ above one thousand souls. Besides, as Eusebius, Sozomenes, and Ruffinus, three most faithful ecclesiastical writers, relate, he baptized at the city of Wells, which is within four miles of Glastenbury, eighteen thousand persons one day; so devout, zealous, and holy, was the life of Joseph of Arimathea, that although he found the inhabitants of this island very barbarous and superstitious, yet, by wholesome admonitions, in learnedly as well as strenuously exhorting them to change their erroneous opinions, representing before their eyes, the heinousness of their damnable folly and blindness, he piously persuaded them not to hazard the salvation of their souls, and their posterity, by embracing downright idolatry, in worshipping the sun, moon, and stars, as well as living creatures, both on the earth, as well as in the sea.
Thus Joseph of Arimathea, by his godly life and good behaviour, having obtained the good-will of one Ethelbertus, a king then reigning in the western parts of England, and many other nobles, whom he converted to the Christian faith, he founded a most famous abbey at Glastonbury; which was the first Christian church in the world, and by the large endowments settled upon it afterwards by the Christian princes, it became one of the richest monasteries in Christendom.
In the antient town of Glastenbury the holy Joseph of Arimathea continued till the day of his death, being forty-two years, so that he was eighty-six at his death; and so venerable was his person then held, that six kings of those parts honoured his corpse by carrying him on royal shoulders to the grave; which was made in the chancel of Glastonbury-abbey, and had a most stately tomb erected over him, with the following inscription: Here lies the body of that most noble disciple, recorded in scripture by the name of Joseph of arimathea, and noted by the four evangelists, Saints Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, for his begging the body of our blessed saviour when crucified to redeem lost men from eternal destruction, and burying it in a tomb of his own making. he died a.d. 45, aged 86.
The church-yard of Glastonbury, formerly called Avolonia, is also noted for the burial-place of king Arthur, whose sepulchre was searched for by King Henry II. and found under a stone, with an inscription on it, declaring whose ashes it covered.
And in veneration for Joseph of Arimathea, a lady living at Glastonbury, a little after the death of this holy man, obtained of her husband as much pasture-ground for the good of the inhabitants, as she was able to walk about barefoot in a whole day.
But what is more remarkable is the White-Thorn, otherwise called the Holy-Thorn, which to this very time is noted thro’ all Europe, for its budding on Christmas-day in the morning, blossoms at noon, and fades at night; and the reason is as abovesaid; for that it was the staff of Joseph of Arimathea, which he fixing in the grouad, it instantly took root where this famous thorn grows, and thereby proclaimed that spot a resting place for its master. And though the time of superstitious popery is in this kingdom abolished, yet do thousands of people, of different opinions, go annually to see this curiosity, which appearing supernatural, and contrary to the course of nature, makes us cry out with Psalmist, O Lord! how marvellous are thy ways!
ⱡ The original reads thst.
The History of that Holy Disciple Joseph of Arimathea: A Brief Note
by: Antonio L. Furtado – Pontifical Catholic University of Rio de Janeiro
Before narrating Joseph’s alleged apostolic mission to Glastonbury, The History of that Holy Disciple Joseph of Arimathea, written (circa 1770) by an anonymous author, offers information about his birth from a respected family, his intellectual talents, his first religious inclinations, and—after the crucifixion episode—about a successful expedition to Rome. It so happens that these new “contributions” can be examined in parallel with the beginning paragraphs of the autobiographical The Life of Flavius Josephus. The text to be used here is part of William Whiston’s classic English translation, The Works of Josephus, originally published in 1736, and reedited by Hendrickson Publishers (new updated edition, tenth printing, 1995). A different digital version can be found at: http://www.gutenberg.org/files/2846/2846-h/2846-h.htm.
In this connection, it is opportune to mention that, some years ago, I suggested that the Joseph of Arimathea of Arthurian tradition might have originated from a conflation of the biblical Joseph (Joseph ab Arimathia) with Flavius Josephus (born Joseph bar Matthias); for the details see: http://www-di.inf.puc-rio.br/~furtado/Joseph%20of%20Arimathia.pdf
I selected some fragments from the document and from the updated Whiston translation, reproduced below with prefix (A) for the Anonymous author, and (J) for Josephus:
(A) he was the son of one Matthias, who was considerable for his extraction, but more for his justice and authority in Jerusalem, which was the metropolis of that country
(J) my father Matthias was not only eminent on account of his nobility, but had a higher commendation on account of his righteousness; and was in great reputation in Jerusalem, the greatest city we have
(A) his bringing up, during his tender years, was with one Jonathan, who was his brother by the same father and mother, with whom he profited in all kind of sciences, having a good memory, and quick apprehension
(J) I was myself brought up with my brother, whose name was Matthias, for he was my own brother, by both father and mother; and I made mighty proficiency in the improvements of my learning, and appeared to have both a great memory and understanding
(A) being yet a child of fifteen years of age, he was praised by all men, in regard of the good affection he had to learning, that the priests and noblest citizens vouchsafed to all his opinion of things that concerned their laws and ordinances
(J) when I was a child, and about fourteen years of age, I was commended by all for the love I had to learning; on which account the high priests and principal men of the city came then frequently to me together, in order to know my opinion about the accurate understanding of points of the law
(A) about the age of seventeen years, his desire being to search and have an insight, into the laws and customs of the three sects of the Jewish nation, the Pharisees, which is the chiefest, the second the Saducees, and the third the Esseans; to the end he might chuse the better of the three, when he understood them all
(J) when I was about sixteen years old, I had a mind to make trial of the several sects that were among us. These sects are three :– The first is that of the Pharisees, the second that of the Sadducees, and the third that of the Essenes, as we have frequently told you; for I thought that by this means I might choose the best, if I were once acquainted with them all
(A) hearing of one Malachi an holy man, who lived in a desart, cloathed himself with nothing but what the trees brought forth, fed on no other kind of meat but what they freely yielded, and washed himself oftentimes by day and night in cold water; to keep himself chaste
(J) I was informed that one, whose name was Banus, lived in the desert, and used no other clothing than grew upon trees, and had no other food than what grew of its own accord, and bathed himself in cold water frequently, both by night and by day, in order to preserve his chastity
(A) he went and lived with him, and imitated his course of life, for the space of four years, at which time he returned to Jerusalem again, at the age of one and twenty years
(J) I imitated him in those things, and continued with him three years. So when I had accomplished my desires, I returned back to the city, being now nineteen years old
(A) understanding from Felix, who then governed Jerusalem, that certain noble Christians, men of much honour, and more virtue, were, for preaching the Christian faith, sent to Rome by his commandment, to answer what was objected against them in Cæsar’s presence
(J) At the time when Felix was procurator of Judea, there were certain priests of my acquaintance, and very excellent persons they were, whom on a small and trifling occasion he had put into bonds, and sent to Rome to plead their cause before Caesar
(A) having special intelligence, that the torments wherewith they were martyr’d, lessened not their piety, but that they lived contentedly on figs and nuts
(J) I was informed that they were not unmindful of piety towards God, even under their afflictions; but supported themselves with figs and nuts
(A) He, for this cause, departed presently for Rome, and was encountered with many and grievous hazards by sea; for the ship wherein he sailed was wreck’d in the midst of the Adriatick sea, and about six hundred of them were forced to swim all night long, and at day-break, by God’s providence, a Cyrenian ship came in sight, and he, and about fourscore others, who outswam the rest, were taken up, and saved
(J) Accordingly I came to Rome, though it were through a great number of hazards, by sea; for as our ship was drowned in the Adriatic Sea, we that were in it, being about six hundred in number, swam for our lives all the night; when, upon the first appearance of the day, and upon our sight of a ship of Cyrene, I and some others, eighty in all, by God’s providence, prevented the rest, and were taken up into the other ship
(A) After he had in this sort escaped, he went to Diarchia, which the Italians call at this day Puteoli, and grew acquainted with Baliturnus, a Jew born, who was a comedian, and in good reputation with Tiberius; by whose means, insinuating himself into the Empress Poppeia‘s knowledge, he determined to beseech her to procure the liberty of those Christians in bondage
(J) when I had thus escaped, and was come to Dicearchia, which the Italians call Puteoli, I became acquainted with Aliturius, an actor of plays, and much beloved by Nero, but a Jew by birth; and through his interest became known to Poppea, Caesar’s wife, and took care, as soon as possible, to entreat her to procure that the priests might be set at liberty
(A) being gratified likewise by her with many gifts, he returned again into his own country
(J) when, besides this favor, I had obtained many presents from Poppea, I returned home again
There are small differences, concerning the age of the characters at specific periods, their names, etc. The brother of Josephus was called “Matthias”, like their father, whilst “Jonathan”, the name of Joseph of Arimathea’s brother in the anonymous document, figures in the autobiography as an ancestor of Josephus. On the other hand, the two texts concur in reporting the devotion of their respective Josephs to the sect of the Pharisees, though the document – this time with no correspondence in the autobiography – hastens to explain that its Joseph never became “addicted to the vices which too evidently appeared among them”.
But of all differences the most important – and revealing – is that which is stressed in boldface type. Presenting Poppea as the wife of Tiberius is a gross historic error. It appears that the unknown author, seeing the name “Nero” in the autobiography of Josephus, deliberately replaced it by “Tiberius”, in a clumsy attempt to displace the action to the start of Christianity.
All in all, the inevitable conclusion is that the eighteenth century document transposes passages from The Life of Flavius Josephus, in nearly verbatim form, to the story of Joseph of Arimathea prior to his legendary visit to England.