Keith Hunt - How the Gospel came to Britain #2 - Page Two   Restitution of All Things

  Home Previous Page Next Page

How the Gospel came to Britain #2

Joseph who buried Jesus


                       Brian Williams



     NOT only do the Twelve Apostles vanish from the Scripture
record but the Bible is also strangely silent concerning what
happened to Joseph of Arimathaea, the rich man mentioned in all
four Gospels, who buried the Lord in his own new tomb. Matthew
states, "When the even was come, there came a rich man of
Arimathaea, named Joseph, who also himself was Jesus' disciple:
he went 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 his
own new tomb, which he had hewn out in the rock: and he rolled a
great stone to the door of the sepulchre, and departed "1
     Mark tells us, "And now when the even was come, because it
was the preparation, that is, the day before the Sabbath, Joseph
of Arimathaea, an honourable counsellor, which also waited for
the kingdom of God, came, and went in boldly unto Pilate, and
craved the body of Jesus. And ... he gave the body to Joseph. And
he bought fine linen, and took Him down, and wrapped Him in the
linen, and laid Him in a sepulchre which was hewn out of a rock,
and rolled a stone unto the door of the sepulchre".2
     Luke's record reads, "And, behold, there was a man named
Joseph, a counsellor; and he was a good man, and a just: (the
same had not consented to the counsel and deed of them;) he was
of Arimathaea, a city of the Jews: who also himself waited for
the kingdom of God. This man went unto Pilate, and begged the
body of Jesus. And he took it down, and wrapped it in linen, and
laid it in a sepulchre that was hewn in stone, wherein never man
before was laid "3
     Finally, John says, "And after this Joseph of Arimathaea,
being a disciple of Jesus, but secretly for fear of the Jews,
besought Pilate that he might take away the body of Jesus: and
Pilate gave him leave. He came therefore, and took the body of
Jesus "4
     Thus was the prophecy fulfilled of Jesus that "He made His
grave with the wicked, and with the rich in His death."5
     It was prophesied that Jesus should be buried in the tomb of
a rich man, and it was Joseph of Arimathaea who was to fulfil
that prophecy. The Bible says that Joseph "begged the body of
Jesus ... and laid it in his own new tomb."

     Who was this man Joseph of Arimathaea? The Bible indicates
that he was a man of social distinction and official rank, for he
was "an honourable counsellor". It also tells us that he was a
good and just man and he was rich. Moreover we are told that he 
"had not consented to the counsel and deed of them" so that he
was evidently a member of the Sanhedrin. More explicitly it tells
us that "himself waited for the kingdom of God" and that he was 
"a disciple of Jesus, but secretly for fear of the Jews".

     It must have taken real courage then for Joseph to approach
Pilate. Consider for one moment. Having been treacherously
betrayed, Jesus had been taken by the priest's guard which had no
powers of arrest and had then been illegally tried after dark.
After all the evidence had been heard, Caiaphas had taken upon
himself to conduct a vicious cross-examination of the prisoner,
finally demanding that Jesus be tried in the morning before the
Roman governor of Palestine, Pontius Pilate, on a false charge of
treason. (Remember, Palestine was at this time part of the Roman
Empire. The Jews had no jurisdiction in such matters and only the
Roman governor had the power to condemn a man to death.) Pilate
had given way to the demand of the mob howling for Jesus' death
and had - literally- washed his hands of the affair. Thus
condemning Jesus to the ignominious death of a criminal. Such was
the wickedness of those who would destroy Jesus, and such the
suffering of Him who "poured out His soul unto death: [who] was
numbered with the transgressors ",6 and whom God "made ... to be
sin for us, who knew no sin ".7

     So Joseph "went in boldly unto Pilate and craved the body of
Jesus ... and [Pilate] gave the body to Joseph ". This is
strange. One can scarcely believe that Jesus' enemies would have
been willing for His body to be taken down and privately buried
and for His tomb to become the shrine of a martyr. The fact that
Joseph obtained his request would seem to indicate that he had
some rightful claim to the body of Jesus which would only be the
case if he were a relative. And this seems to be the case, for
the Jewish Talmud describes Joseph of Arimathaea as being the
younger brother of the father of the virgin Mary, in other words,
Joseph of Arimathaea was Jesus' great-uncle.

     Now, strangely, the Bible has nothing further to say about
Joseph following the Crucifixion. What would have been Joseph's
reaction when on the third day the stone was rolled away from the
tomb and the grave was empty? Surely this man who was waiting for
the Kingdom of God, who was a disciple of Jesus, but secretly for
fear of the Jews, who had shown rare courage in begging the body
of Jesus, now became the close follower of our Lord. Yet the
Bible never mentions him again.

     For the disciples of Jesus the transforming experience came
at Pentecost. "And when the day of Pentecost was fully come, they
were all with one accord in one place. And suddenly there came a
sound from heaven as of a rushing mighty wind, and it filled all
the house where they were sitting. And there appeared unto them
cloven tongues like as of fire, and it sat upon each of them. And
they were all filled with the Holy Ghost, and began to speak with
other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance ".8

     Immediately after Pentecost there began a great persecution
of the Church. Those who had hounded Christ to His death now
directed their fury against Jesus' disciples. The Bible records
the death of the Church's first martyr - Stephen - and then tells
us, "And at that time there was a great persecution against the
church which was at Jerusalem; and they were all scattered abroad
throughout the regions of Judaea and Samaria, except the
apostles. And devout men carried Stephen to his burial, and made
great lamentation over him. As for Saul, he made havock of the
church, entering into every house, and haling men and women
committed them to prison. Therefore they that were scattered
abroad went every where preaching the word".9

     But where was Joseph? Traditions of great antiquity tell us
very few years of the Crucifixion. In fact, there is reason to
believe that Joseph was already familiar with the British Isles
long before he became a disciple of Jesus. The Latin Vulgate
renders "honourable counsellor" as 'nobilis decurio.' 'Decurio'
was the name given to a town counsellor and also to an officer in
the Roman Army. But since one Dr.C.R.Davey Biggs wrote in a
little booklet 'Ictis and Avalon' that the officer in charge of a
tin mine was also called a 'decurio,' there has been much
speculation as to the possibility that Joseph of Arimathaea was
involved in tin-mining. This would certainly explain the source
of Joseph's wealth referred to in the Bible.

     But what makes the possibility even more interesting is the
fact that there has long been a tradition in the tin-mining area
of South-western England that - "Joseph was in the trade". It so,
then it may be said with certainty that Joseph would have come to
Britain, and probably not once but many times. Britain was the
main source of tin. The British Isles were referred to by
classical writers as the Cassiterides - tin-bearing islands. In
fact, while we have been at work on this book it has been
announced that more tin mines are to be opened in Cornwall. The
Sunday Telegraph, 21st September, 1969, has said, "There is still
probably as much tin under the Cornish ground as ever came out of
it". How then did Joseph of Arimathaea come to return to this
land with which he was already familiar, not as a merchant of tin
but as a messenger of the Cross?

     Tradition tells us that at this time of great persecution
Joseph of Arimathaea and eleven others were cast adrift from
Joppa in an open boat, and that they drifted across the
Mediterranean to Marseilles. We find this account recorded by
Cardinal Baronius, the 16th century Roman Catholic historian, who
spent thirty years writing his 'Annales Ecclesiastice,' and had
access to the archives of the Vatican Library. Baronius states
that it was in the year A.D.35 that Joseph of Arimathaea, (5
years after Jesus was put to death and raised to immortal life -
Keith Hunt). Lazarus 10 (whom Jesus raised from the dead and whom
the Jews sought to kill 11, Mary and Martha, Lazarus's sisters,
also Marcella their maid, and Maximin a disciple, were put into a
boat without sails or oars, and that they eventually came to
Marseilles in France and afterwards crossed to Britain.
     A glance at the map facing page 61 will show the route
travelled by Joseph. His companions are also stated by the poet
Mistral to have included Trophimus 12 Cleon, Eutropius,
Restitutus whom we know from the Bible as "the man born blind",13
Martial, Saturninus, Mary the wife of Cleophas 14 and Mary
Magdalene 15 Whatever the exact complement of Joseph's party,
Lazarus is to this day recognised as having become first Bishop
of Marseilles while the names of these other saints are
perpetuated in the records of the Gallic Church.

     And so Joseph and his little party came to Britain, sailing
inland to the Isle of Avalon which we now know as Glastonbury. In
those days the sea which is now fourteen miles away came much
further inland and lapped the foot of Glastonbury Tor, the
500-foot high hill which dominates the countryside for miles
around - see the photograph facing page 21. Joseph is said to
have planted his staff in the soil of Wearyall Hill, and there it
took root and grew into a thorn tree. Of this thorn tree more
will be said later.

     Joseph and his companions were met by King Arviragus who
granted them tax-free twelve hides of land. A hide is thought to
have been 160 acres, so that the total area represented 1,920
acres. We find this Royal Charter recorded in the official
archives from that day to this! Domesday Book, published in 1087,
tells us of: "The Domus Dei, in the great monastery of
Glastonbury, called the Secret of the Lord. This Glastonbury
Church possesses, in its own ville X11 hides of land which have
never paid tax" and the twelve hides may still be traced today,
as will be seen in the reproduction, facing page 53, of "A Map of
the Hundreds of Glaston XII Hides" from Phelps' "The History and
Antiquities of Somersetshire," published in 1836.
     This charter of land was often referred to in succeeding
centuries whenever disputes arose as to the seniority of the
British Church above the claims of Rome. In fact, the primacy of
the Church in Britain was never held in question until at the
Council of Pisa in 1409 it was disputed by the Ambassadors of
France and Spain. It was then contended that the French and
Spanish Churches must yield precedence to the British Church as
this had been founded by Joseph of Arimathaea immediately after
the Passion of Christ. This ruling was further upheld by the
Councils of Constance 1417, Sienna 1424 and Basle 1434.
Archbishop Ussher (1581-1656) states that the basis of this claim
was the burial of Joseph of Arimathaea at Glastonbury and the
donation of twelve hides of land.

     Joseph and his companions now erected what must certainly
have been the first Christian church above ground. Of course, we
know from the Bible that it was the custom for Christians to
gather for fellowship in their homes. The Church, the Greek word
'ekklesia' meaning the 'called out ones', was the PEOPLE, not the
building. Notice, Paul says, "Greet Priscilla and Aquila ...
likewise ... the CHURCH that is in their house" 16 "Aquila and
Priscilla salute you ... with the CHURCH that is in their
house" 17 "the CHURCH which is in [Nymphas'] house" 18 and 
"Archippus our fellow-soldier, and ... the CHURCH in thy
house" 19
     During the time of intense persecution by the Roman Empire
the Christians at Rome met in the catacombs underground.
Gradually, the place where Christians met became known as the
church instead of the PEOPLE.
     So here, if the tradition be true, we have Joseph and his
companions constructing the first church building above ground.
It was made from wattles daubed with mud, and was thatched with
reeds, and when completed it measured sixty feet long and
twentysix feet wide, approximately the same dimensions as the
Tabernacle in the wilderness 20

     For hundreds of years this sacred building was preserved. In
the year 630 Paulinus encased it in lead and built over it a
beautiful chapel. Unhappily, in 1184 there was a disastrous fire,
and the little Wattle Church was completely destroyed. However, a
Norman chapel was built over the same spot immediately afterwards
and, though ruined, this remains today. Thus we can say with
reasonable certainty that St.Joseph's Chapel at Glastonbury Abbey
stands today exactly where the Wattle Church was erected only a
few years after the Resurrection, and where Joseph himself was
buried. John Leland tells us, quoting Maelgwyn of Avalon's
Historia de Rebus Britannicis, written about A.D. 540:

     "The Isle of Avalon greedy of burials ... received thousands
     of sleepers, among whom Joseph de Marmore from Aramathea by
     name, entered his perpetual sleep. And he lies in a
     bifurcated line next the southern angle of the oratory made
     of circular wattles by thirteen inhabitants of the place
     over the powerful adorable Virgin ".

     This would suggest that Mary the mother of Jesus was buried
at Glastonbury. Is this why, long before such dedications became
the custom, St.Joseph's Chapel was also called St.Mary's? And is
this why ... there is a stone set in the South wall of the Chapel
bearing the simple inscription JESUS MARIA? It is curious that
William of Malmesbury in his "Magna Tabula Glastoniaea" refers
alike to Joseph as to John 21 as the paranymphos or guardian of
Jesus' mother.
     The tomb of Joseph was inscribed with a simple epitaph:

Translated this reads:


     Nothing now remains of Joseph's grave. But there is an empty
stone sarcophagus in St.John's Parish Church. There, according to
tradition, and in circumstances we have not space to tell, his
remains were placed.

     And so he who buried Jesus in his own new tomb found a
resting place in Britain. The honourable counsellor who in the
days of Jesus' earthly life had been His secret disciple was he
who brought the gospel to these shores.

     It is a wonderful story we have begun to tell!

1.Matthew 27:57-60       
2.Mark 15:42-46     
3.Luke 23:50-53     
4.John 19: 38  
5.Isaiah 53:9  
6.Isaiah 53:12 
7.2 Corinthians 5: 21         
8.Acts 2:1-4   
9.Acts 8:1-4   
10.John 11:1-46     
11.John 12:10-11    
12.Acts 20:4
13.John 9:1-38 
14.John 19:25
15.Mark 16:9
16.Romans 16: 3-5
17.1 Corinthians 16:19
18.Colossians 4:15
19.Philemon 2
20.Exodus 26: 1-37
21.John 19: 26-27



  Home Previous Page Top of Page Next Page

Navigation List:

Word Search: