Joseph of Arimathea? Can anyone help me with this question?


Hello everyone,

I am working on an assignment for my class “Intro to the New Testament,” and I have been stuck on one of the questions for days now. I am sure it has an obvious answer that I am overlooking, but I would rather not guess to avoid losing points!

Why we can say that the story of Joseph of Arimathea providing for the burial of Jesus is an “ancient tradition”?

I can’t seem to find the answer to this anywhere. Hopefully someone out there can help me! Thanks.


It is in the Gospel, and the Gospels are ancient sacred literature?

[quote=Mark 15]The Burial of Jesus

42It was Preparation Day (that is, the day before the Sabbath). So as evening approached, 43Joseph of Arimathea, a prominent member of the Council, who was himself waiting for the kingdom of God, went boldly to Pilate and asked for Jesus’ body. 44Pilate was surprised to hear that he was already dead. Summoning the centurion, he asked him if Jesus had already died. 45When he learned from the centurion that it was so, he gave the body to Joseph. 46So Joseph bought some linen cloth, took down the body, wrapped it in the linen, and placed it in a tomb cut out of rock. Then he rolled a stone against the entrance of the tomb. 47Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of Joseph saw where he was laid.



That question is poorly worded. :expressionless:

It either means that the story of Joseph of Arimathea itself is an ancient tradition passed down by Christians and then incorporated in the gospels (which *sounds *suspiciously like a subtle attack on Christian understanding of the Gospels as collections of eyewitness accounts) **or **it is referring to the tradition of embalming the dead (literally an ancient tradition of Jewish custom).

Can you ask the teacher to clarify?


If the tradition the teacher is after has to do with the timing of the burial, then the following:

Deut. 21:22-23 * “And if a man has committed a crime punishable by death and he is put to death, and you hang him on a tree, his body shall not remain all night upon the tree, but you shall bury him the same day, …”*

From the Jewish Encyclopedia (under “Time of Burial”)"
Although the law in Deut. xxi. 23 refers only to the culprit exposed on the gallows, the rabbinical interpretation derives from it that “no corpse is to remain unburied overnight” …“To keep the dead overnight was not permitted in the city of Jerusalem”

If the tradition is supposed to have something to do with the particular person of Joseph of Arimathea and his being wealthy, then perhaps it’s a reference to a prophecy in Isaiah (in the NASB translation) that connects the Messiah’s burial with a rich man.

Isaiah 53:9 His grave was assigned with wicked men, yet He was with a rich man in His death,


As I’ve thought about it overnight, it most probably has to do with not leaving the body unburied overnight. Time wise, it was close to the end of Friday (which would end around 6 pm). Jesus did not own a burial plot in Jerusalem, and His mother and relatives lived some distance away. Thus, for Jesus to be buried in an honorable way before nightfall there needed to be a burial plot in Jerusalem or very nearby for Him to be laid in. If one had not been provided, He would probably have gone into a common grave with other criminals.

Also, the Sabbath began at 6 pm. I don’t know if burying the dead was allowed on that day. Maybe somebody else knows.


Not only did the Sabbath begin at 6 pm, but Passover day also.
(See reason number 6 under the section giving why burials may be delayed.)

This site - - says that funerals may not be held on the first and last days of the Passover (Pesach) celebration.

What I’m not sure of is whether these regulations were in effect at them time of Jesus’ death.


Exactly. In connection with named people who appear in the Gospels, “ancient tradition” would imply statements or beliefs about them which are not specifically mentioned in the Gospels. For example, the martyrdom of St. Bartholomew and others of the Twelve, or the various legends about the later life of Pontius Pilate after his return to Rome. That is clearly not the case here, in connection with Joseph of Arimathea and his tomb .

The only possibility that occurs to me is this. All three Synoptic Gospels report the Joseph of Arimathea incident, but only one of them – Matthew – explicitly states that the tomb was Joseph’s own. Mark and Luke simply describe it as a newly dug tomb, in which nobody had yet been buried. Is it possible, I wonder, that the teacher who set this paper is implying that, because only a single Gospel is explicit on this point, Matthew’s assertion may perhaps be based only on a “tradition” rather than on an eyewitness report?

Here are relevant excerpts, using the Nabre translation (links below):

Matthew: When it was evening, there came a rich man from Arimathea named Joseph, who was himself a disciple of Jesus. He went to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus; then Pilate ordered it to be handed over. Taking the body, Joseph wrapped it [in] clean linen and laid it* in his new tomb** that he had hewn in the rock. Then he rolled a huge stone across the entrance to the tomb and departed.*

Mark: Joseph of Arimathea, a distinguished member of the council, who was himself awaiting the kingdom of God, came and courageously went to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus. Pilate was amazed that he was already dead. He summoned the centurion and asked him if Jesus had already died. And when he learned of it from the centurion, he gave the body to Joseph. Having bought a linen cloth, he took him down, wrapped him in the linen cloth and laid him* in a tomb that had been hewn out of the rock. *Then he rolled a stone against the entrance to the tomb.

Luke: Now there was a virtuous and righteous man named Joseph who, though he was a member of the council, had not consented to their plan of action. He came from the Jewish town of Arimathea and was awaiting the kingdom of God. He went to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus. After he had taken the body down, he wrapped it in a linen cloth and laid him in a rock-hewn tomb in which no one had yet been buried.


No town called Arimathea has ever been found in the Jewish East, and there is no other reference to such a town in other contemporaneous records.

Also, taking Joseph of Arimathea as a start, it is not hard to get Joseph Ari Matthea- meaning Joseph the son of Matthea, or Matthias. This was common method of appellation in those days.

Just saying’


The editors at the Trinitarian Bible Society would disagree with that view.

See 1 Chron. 27:27, Shimei the Ramathite, in Hebrew ha-Ramathi (הרמתי), where “ha-” is the definite article (link below). The Trinitarian Bible Society has published a Hebrew translation of the NT, in which the same word ha-Ramathi is used for Joseph “the Ramathite” in the Gospels.

There were several different places in Biblical Judea called Ramah, which simply means a high place. For instance, in present-day Israel the Heights of Golan are called, in Hebrew, Ramat ha-Golan.



A friend of mine seems to have found the answer to your question. See if you can get hold of the Dictionary of Jesus and the Gospels, edited by Joel Green and Scot McKnight, published in the mid-nineties by Inter Varsity Press. My contact says there’s almost a whole page explaining the so-called “tradition”, p.90, under the heading Burial of Jesus. Good luck!




Please, when you find out, let us know the answer your teacher was looking for. :slight_smile:


Interesting, although Luke does say it was a town in Judea. Luke 23:51.


Hello mmk39,

maybe your teacher is looking at scripture as part of ‘Ancient Tradition’ and so you can answer the question with scripture as ancient tradition.

Best of luck with your assignment.


Bart, it’s a long way from Arimathea to Ramah, or even Ramat.

Thanks for trying.


Steve, the problem with that idea is really:

(1) I’m not aware of any Hebrew or Aramaic word ari that means ‘son of’. In Aramaic, ‘son (of)’ is bar, hence Simon Barjona, Barabbas, Barjesus, Barnabas, Barsabbas, Bartholomew, Bartimaeus. (The Hebrew equivalent would be ben.) If Arimathaias really means something like ‘son of Matthias’ or ‘son of Matthew’ or something along those lines, I would expect something like Barmatthias or Barmathaias or Barmatthaios here.

Trying to extrapolate bar out of ari is really stretching the text IMHO: how could the evangelists have transliterated the bar in Barabbas or Bartholomaios but not the supposed bar in Arimathaias?

(2) The gospels imply that Arimathea was a place. Luke in fact expressly does so: “a man named Joseph, who was a member of the Council, a good and righteous man, (he had not consented to their plan and action), from Arimathea, a city of the Jews, who was waiting for the kingdom of God.” Matthew implies the same thing: “When it was evening, a rich man from Arimathea named Joseph came.”

Plus, the grammar in the Greek expressly implies Arimathaias is a place name: all four gospels really call the person Iōsēph (ho) apo Arimathaias ‘Joseph, (the [one]) of/from Arimathaias.’ If Arimathaias was just a sort of patronymic or last name or nickname, the apo wouldn’t be there. Instead the two names would be strung together: Iōsēph Arimathaias - just like Iēsous Barabbas (Jesus Barabbas) or Simōn Bariōna (Simon Barjona).

(3) Just because there is no reference to an ‘Arimathea’ outside the gospels doesn’t mean that it couldn’t have existed. I mean, that’s the same thing you have with Nazareth. The place is not mentioned in Josephus (or in any other contemporary source) either, but the idea that Nazareth the village didn’t exist in the time of Jesus is something no longer held by any serious person.


Let me approach this from another direction. The word “tradition” comes from the Latin “tradere”–to hand over or hand down. Before the Gospels were set in writing they were verbally handed down as the teaching of the early Church. Thus, before the Gospels were written, the account of Joseph of Arimathea had already been handed down to the early Christians. The oral tradition predates the written Gospels. In that sense, the story of Joseph of Arimathea is an ancient tradition.

Could this be what your teacher is looking for?


Patrick, you are correct. Don’t know what I was thinking on “ari.”

The oral Gospel tradition doesn’t predate the written tradition by much unless you are a Crossan-like late datophiliac.


Quite the opposite, Crossan’s the guy who came up with the theory of the so-called ‘Cross Gospel’ - an early written source describing Jesus’ death that was supposedly used by the four gospels and the apocryphal Gospel of Peter.

(But just because it’s early - Crossan thinks the Cross Gospel was written in the 40s - doesn’t necessarily mean to him that the contents were factual. Crossan is after all the same person who suggested that nobody really knew what happened to Jesus other than that He was crucified; nobody knew or cared what happened to His body. :rolleyes:)

If anything, I think Crossan isn’t the type that lays great weight on oral tradition, or at least, the validity of oral tradition.


"Why we can say that the story of Joseph of Arimathea providing for the burial of Jesus is an “ancient tradition”?

“providing for the burial” seems to be key. That seems to have been answered by someone in a previous post. Who said that the dead were to be provided for burial before sundown in Hebrew tradition. Which meant, as part of tradition, the body was wrapped first before being laid in the tomb. The body was also to be anointed with oil and perfumes. But in the case of Jesus, there wasn’t time before the next day started.

But it was said that the woman who previously poured perfume over the head of Jesus while he was still living, was anointing Jesus for his burial.


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