Joseph of Arimathea and the Knights Templar

To understand why the Knights Templar based themselves in the Temple of Solomon in Jerusalem, the mysterious biblical figure of Joseph of Arimathea is worth knowing. He 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.

JOSEPH-TAKES-BODY
Did Joseph of Arimathea possess relics sacred to the Knights Templar?

One blogger has noted that he would have to be the great uncle as being uncle would have meant he had the same name as Jesus’ father. Hardly likely two brothers would both be called Joseph. Another source stipulates that he was Mary’s uncle and so that problem is solved.

Joseph was an unusual choice for a disciple given that apparently, he was a Pharisee – the class of priest that gets a particularly bad write-up in the New Testament. You’ll perhaps remember that the Pharisees were deemed to be total hypocrites – moral on the outside, but corruption within.

It was Joseph who would provide a tomb for the body of the crucified messiah and also the shroud in which he was wrapped. The gospels claim he got permission from the Roman governor Pontius Pilate to take the body away. This begs the question how exactly he got in front of the governor to put forward this request and why it was accepted. Was he a very senior figure in local Jewish society? Did he bribe the governor?

Some have poured scorn on the idea of Jesus being removed so quickly noting that it was far more likely the Romans would have left the body of a trouble maker like Jesus to rot in public for a while on the cross and not allowed something as civilised as a tomb burial. But of course he had to be buried in order to be resurrected. And given that resurrection was supposed to be bodily – not just the soul – the idea of Christ’s body being pecked to bits by crows was never going to be very palatable.

More importantly for the Templars, Joseph was believed to be the man who collected some of Christ’s blood in a chalice as he hung on the crucifix. That chalice we know as the Holy Grail. It’s then claimed that Joseph travelled to England to spread the gospel. He arrived in Glastonbury – known as Avalon at that time – and baptised 18,000 people in one day at the nearby town of Wells. The Holy Grail was hidden away, maybe placed in a well that to this day is known at Glastonbury as the Chalice Well.

At this point I should also point out that it was widely believed in the Middle Ages that Joseph had brought Jesus as a youth to England before returning to the east. It’s even asserted that Jesus worked as a farm hand or a miner during his stay.

So with Joseph you have a lot of associations with important and sacred relics:

  • The holy shroud in which Jesus was buried
  • A chalice used to collect his blood that may also have been held by Christ at the Last Supper
  • The tomb of Jesus
  • Joseph also possessed the lance that pierced Christ’s side according to some accounts

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 very little: Joseph of Arimathea.

 

 

 

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More from the biblical city of Gadara – modern Um Qais

I have just returned from a ten day visit to Jordan – a country with an amazing history sandwiched between Syria, Lebanon, Israel, Iraq, Saudi Arabia and Egypt. Over the next few blog posts, I’m going to share the incredible places I visited.

Staying with Gadara – the city where Jesus cured two demoniacs. Other Roman remains here include the main street with identifiable shops and a basilica later converted into a Byzantine Christian church.

The biblical city of Gadara – my visit

I have just returned from a ten day visit to Jordan – a country with an amazing history sandwiched between Syria, Lebanon, Israel, Iraq, Saudi Arabia and Egypt. Over the next few blog posts, I’m going to share the incredible places I visited.

My first stop was the remains of the biblical city of Gadara by the eastern shore of the Sea of Galilee where Jesus is said to have cured two demoniacs – transferring their madness to swine.

It was one of ten cities grouped by the Romans into the so-called Decapolis. They’d been inhabited since the neolithic and bronze age but it was under the rule of the Greek Ptolemaic and Seleucid empires, founded after the death of Alexander the Great, that these cities flourished.  I’ll be sharing with you my visits to other cities within the Decapolis in future blog posts.

The Romans gave the Decapolis a degree of autonomy and introduced all the hallmarks of Roman civilisation including the obligatory amphitheatre. The one at Gadara was made of basalt – creating a black structure. As Rome declined, the city became part of the Byzantine empire and then the Islamic caliphate. Its fortunes were finally sealed when a huge earthquake destroyed it in the year 749AD. As we’ll see, this natural catastrophe smashed many Roman cities in the region – and they didn’t recover.

Here’s a gallery of images of the amphitheatre. What I loved about it was that it hadn’t been lovingly restored – in fact, bits are propped up with wood as you can see. Local kids were sleeping rough under its arches. But more than other ruins, I could really sense the presence of the Romans who once lived there enjoying the theatre on a warm summer evening. The site is now called Um Qais – enjoy.

Um Qais amphitheatre Um Qais amphitheatre Um Qais amphitheatre Um Qais amphitheatre Um Qais amphitheatre Um Qais amphitheatre Um Qais amphitheatre Um Qais amphitheatre Um Qais amphitheatre Um Qais amphitheatre

Easter – ten things you never knew

English: Icon of the Resurrection
English: Icon of the Resurrection (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Or maybe you do know some of these things – but just in case:

  1. Easter is a moveable feast that is always on the first Sunday following the Paschal Full Moon.  However, the date of that full moon is determined by lunar dates established by the church in the past as opposed to what the moon is actually doing. Confused? Blame the Council of Nicaea in AD 325 which vexed over whether to use the solar or lunar calendars and came up with a messy compromise.
  2. In the early church, Alexandria was often turned to for advice because its astronomers – in the Greek tradition of learning – were hugely respected. But bust ups over the date of Easter did occur between Rome and Alexandria.
  3. Many early Christians observed Easter on the ‘fourteenth day of the moon’ irrespective of whether this was a Sunday. This practice took centuries of effort by the church to stamp out – continuing in England until the 7th century AD.
  4. In 1583, the Vatican introduced the new Gregorian calendar to correct discrepancies in the older Julian calendar, dating back to the Roman Empire. This changed the date of Easter.  But the Eastern Orthodox church has never accepted the amendments made by the pope to the calendar and stuck with the Julian version. So Easter in the east will be 13 days later this year.
  5. It took until the year 1753 for Britain and its colonies (including America) to adopt the Gregorian calendar and so Easter then fell into line with the rest of western Europe.
  6. Was the Last Supper a traditional Jewish passover meal? Mark, Matthew and Luke seemed to think so but John gave it the thumbs down. The John position is often attributed to Christians seeking to remove the Jewish influence from the story of Jesus. But some Jewish scholars think John may have had a point – Jesus could not have been put on trial and crucified during the Passover – it breaches Jewish religious laws.
  7. There is a rather odd Easter story involving Mary Magdalene – popularly believed in the Eastern Orthodox church. One version has Mary Magdalene having dinner with the Roman emperor Tiberius (details of how such a dinner came to happen are a little scant). The emperor mocked the idea of a resurrection and said there was much chance of that happening as an egg (and he pointed to one conveniently located nearby) turning red. Whereupon said egg turned red! Why red? Because it represents the blood of Christ.
  8. Easter bunnies appear as both hares and rabbits in medieval art – a symbol of fecundity. Hares are prolific breeders and produce litters at this time of year. The medieval mind loved ascribing values and virtues (and vices) to animals. So the Easter bunny was an appropriate symbol of re-birth.
  9. In non-English speaking countries, Easter is known by variants of the word ‘Pasch’ dervied from the Jewish ‘Pesach’ meaning the Passover. The word Easter is often ascribed to an Anglo-Saxon goddess Ēostre and her feast was held during the month of April – something attested to by the Venerable Bede.
  10. It’s claimed that Eleanor de Montfort provided an astonishing 3,700 eggs for her medieval Easter celebrations in the year 1265.

Christmas: The Visitation – a medieval depiction

This is one of a series of Christmas posts showing medieval depictions of the birth of Christ and an insight into how a Knight Templar might have celebrated the season. So here goes with The Visitation – the event sacred to Catholics when the Virgin Mary visited Elizabeth, mother of John the Baptist. Both women were pregnant with the son of God and the Baptist respectively. According to the church, the unborn baby John knew Jesus was in the other womb and leaped for joy. Elizabeth, suffused with holiness, announced that she knew Mary was going to have a very special birth.

The statue was made in about 1310, shortly after the destruction of the Knight Templar order. Look closely at it. There are two cavities on each woman’s tummy covered in rock crystal. In the past, it’s believed that there were images of the babies under the crystal. This kind of imagery was not uncommon in German speaking Europe where this statue came from.

A medieval depiction of The Visitation
A medieval depiction of The Visitation

Maundy Thursday – the day of the Last Supper

As regular visitors to this blog know – last week I visited the site of the Last Supper in Jerusalem.  Today is the very day that Jesus is believed to have eaten that meal with his disciples in advance of being crucified and the resurrection.  The day is more properly referred to as Holy Thursday though I quite like Thursday of Mysteries – as it’s called in the Maronite church.

So the photograph below is the Coenaculum – site of the Last Supper – situated of course in Jerusalem. But most interestingly is the religious history of this building. The Coenaculum is an upper story room that was originally identified by Helena – mother of the Emperor Constantine – as the site of the Last Supper. Helena had some form when it came to identifying places to do with Jesus – his crucifixion, burial, scourging, trial, etc, etc…you name it, her imperial nose sniffed out the locations.

But a church she ordered built on this site was flatted by the Muslims when they invaded. It took the Templars to re-build it and that is the building you see today except…note the minbar. Because the Ottoman Turks subsequently converted it in to a mosque. And so it remained for five hundred years until the British Empire handed it back to Christian use. Quite a history for one room!

Downstairs – by a spooky coincidence – is the tomb of King David!