Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus

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Lamentation over the Dead Body of Christ - by Sandro BOTTICELLI - from Alte Pinakothek, Munich


"After this, Joseph, who was from the town of Arimathea, asked Pilate if he could take Jesus' body . . . . Nicodemus, who at first had gone to see Jesus at night, went with Joseph, taking with him about one hundred pounds of spices, a mixture of myrrh and aloes." (John 19:38-39)


Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus

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crucifix9.gif (2157 bytes)Joseph of Arimathea

All that is known for certain concerning him is derived from the canonical Gospels . . He was born at Arimathea - - hence his surname - - "a city of Judea", which is very likely identical with Ramatha, the birthplace of the Prophet Samuel, although several scholars prefer to identify it with the town of Ramleh. He was a wealthy Israelite, "a good and a just man", " who was also himself looking for the kingdom of God". He is also called by Saint Mark and by Saint Luke a Bouleutes, literally, "a senator", whereby is meant a member of the Sanhedrin or Supreme Council of the Jews. He was a disciple of Jesus, probably ever since Christ's first preaching in Judea, but he did not declare himself as such " for fear of the Jews". On account of this secret allegiance to Jesus, he did not consent to His condemnation by the Sanhedrin, and was most likely absent from the meeting which sentenced Jesus to death.

The Crucifixion of the Master quickened Joseph's faith and love, and suggested to him that he should provide for Christ's burial before the Sabbath began. Unmindful therefore of all personal danger, a danger which was indeed considerable under the circumstances, he boldly requested from Pilate the Body of Jesus, and was successful in his request. Once in possession of this sacred treasure, he - - together with Nicodemus, whom his courage had likewise emboldened, and who brought abundant spices - - wrapped up Christ's Body in fine linen and grave bands, laid it in his own tomb, new and yet unused, and hewn out of a rock in a neighboring garden, and withdrew after rolling a great stone to the opening of the sepulchre. Thus was fulfilled Isaiah's prediction that the grave of the Messiah would be with a rich man (Isaiah 53:9). The Greek Church celebrates the feast of Joseph of Arimathea on 31 July, and the Roman Church on 17 March.


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A prominent Jew of the time of Christ, mentioned only in John's Gospel. The name is of Greek origin, but at that time such names were occasionally borrowed by the Jews. Nicodemus was a Pharisee, and in his capacity of Sanhedrist, was a leader of the Jews. Christ, in the interview when Nicodemus came to Him by night, calls him a master in Israel. Judging from John 19:39, Nicodemus must have been a man of means, and it is probable that he wielded a certain influence in the Sanhedrin. Some writers conjecture from his question: "How can a man be born when he is old?", that he was already advanced in years. He appears in this interview as a learned and intelligent believer, but timid and not easily initiated into the mysteries of the new faith. He next appears in the Sanhedrin offering a word in defense of the accused Galilean; and we may infer from this passage that he embraced the Truth as soon as it was fully made known to him. He is mentioned finally in John 19:39, where he is shown co-operating with Joseph of Arimathea in the embalming and burial of Jesus. His name occurs later in some of the apocryphal writings. The time of his death is unknown. The Roman Martyrology commemorates the finding of his relics, together with those of Saints Stephen, Gamaliel, and Abibo, on 3 August.