Who is Joseph of Arimathea? He’s the man who allegedly caught some of the blood of Jesus in a cup while he was being crucified. And why is that significant? Because that cup is believed by some to have become what we call the Holy Grail – the sacred item sought so desperately by the Knights Templar.
It’s why the Knights Templar insisted on being based in the Temple of Solomon in Jerusalem. From there they could embark on their Grail quest. To seek this chalice used at the Last Supper and then present at the death of the Messiah. And the man who seems to have been the keeper of this otherwise innocuous piece of crockery is Joseph of Arimathea.
So who was he? Joseph was, according to the Gospel of John, a secret disciple of Jesus – a rich Jewish merchant who may even have been the great uncle of Jesus. Whether or not he was related to Christ, he nevertheless became devoted to his cause.
And that’s a bit weird because Joseph was a Pharisee. Remember them? The hated priests at the temple in Jerusalem who were seen by Jesus and his apostles as hypocrites, sell-outs and immoral. Wealthy Jewish clerics who had bowed to the power of Rome. Hated by the peasantry and the urban poor.
Maybe it’s because he was a privileged Pharisee that explains how he was able to provide a tomb for Jesus. Because that wasn’t cheap at the time. Also, is this a man who had the social clout to convince the Roman governor Pontius Pilate to take the body of Jesus off the cross and give him a decent burial? Because normally, a crucified criminal was left to rot in public for days or weeks. And Pontius Pilate – according to non-biblical Roman sources – was not famed for his clemency.
Cynics wonder if Joseph of Arimathea is a convenient element in the Christian story. Because Jesus had to be buried in order to be resurrected. That resurrection, as Paul insisted in his New Testament letters, had to be bodily. Therefore you couldn’t really have the Messiah’s physical remains being pecked at by crows for days on end. So along comes a wealthy pharisee who makes a nice, timely burial happen while Jesus is still looking OK.
Then how do we get a link from Joseph of Arimathea to the Knights Templar? Step forward the various medieval authors of the Arthurian myth – you know, the quest by the knights of the round table for the Grail. Those knights of King Arthur morph into the Knights Templar in one telling of the story. Which then leads us to the Templars being the guardians of the sacred cup.
In one twist to the tale – it was believed by some in the Middle Ages that Joseph of Arimathea came to England – possibly with the young Jesus. Apparently – and really I’m not kidding – Jesus worked variously as a miner and a farm hand while in England. Joseph ended up in what is now Glastonbury – or Avalon if you prefer – where he baptised 18,000 people in one day near the town of Wells.
Needless to say, one possible location for the Holy Grail is in Glastonbury – at a place called the Chalice Well. Not exactly a subtle clue!
FIND OUT MORE: What was in the Knight Templar rule book?
Joseph, by the way, is said to have also possessed the lance that pierced the side of Jesus. At the risk of sounding a bit tasteless, it almost sounds like he was collecting souvenirs at the crucifixion!
Were the Knights Templar established to protect these relics from being found or stolen? Or they were lost for centuries and the Templars were desperately looking for them under the Temple of Solomon in Jerusalem? If they found these relics, did that account for the Templars’ sudden wealth and power? These and many more theories have circulated for centuries and at the centre of it all is a rather enigmatic figure of whom we really know relatively little: Joseph of Arimathea.