Who was Joseph of Arimathaea?
Joseph of Arimathea enabled the body of Jesus Christ to be placed in a tomb after his crucifixion on a cross, as recorded in the New Testament. He was a "rich man" (Matthew 27:57 ), "a councilor of honorable estate," or member of the Sanhedrin (Mark 15:43 ; Luke 23:50), "a good and righteous man ... who was looking for the kingdom of God" (Luke 23:50 ; Mark 15:43 ), and "himself was Jesus' disciple" (Matthew 27:57 ; John 19:38).
Although he kept his discipleship secret "for fear of the Jews" (John 19:38 ), he was yet faithful to his allegiance in that he absented himself from the meeting which found Jesus guilty of death (compare Luke 23:51 ; Mark 14:64). But the condemnation of his Lord awakened the courage and revealed the true faith of Joseph. On the evening after the crucifixion he went "boldly" to Pilate and begged the body of Jesus.
At the tomb
With the assistance of Nicodemus, Joseph of Arimathaea wound it in fine linen with spices (compare Matthew 27:57, Joseph was a "rich man") and brought it to the new sepulcher in the garden near the place of His crucifixion.
There they "laid him in a tomb that was hewn in stone, where never man had yet lain" and 'rolled a stone against the door of the tomb' (compare Matthew 27:57-60; Mark 15:42-46; Luke 23:50-53; John 19:38-42). In this was held to be the fulfillment of the prophecy of Isaiah 53:9 .
The Gospel of Peter, written probably in Syria about the middle of the 2nd century, gives a slightly different account. According to this Joseph, "the friend of Pilate and the Lord," was present at the trial of Jesus, and immediately upon its conclusion besought of Pilate that he might have the body for burial. This was granted, and after the crucifixion the Jews handed the body over to Joseph (compare Hennecke, Neutestamentliche Apokryphen , 27-30).
Legends of a later origin record that Joseph was sent by Philip from Gaul to Britain along with 11 other disciples in 63 AD, and built an oratory at Glastonbury, that he brought the Holy Grail to England, and that he freed Ireland from snakes.
The following article is excerpted from the International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, which is in the public domain.