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On the Life and Death of Joseph of Arimathea

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image of Journal for the Study of the Historical Jesus

Recent studies have raised significant questions about where the historical Joseph of Arimathea ends and the Joseph of legend begins. Here it is argued that the Markan Joseph was a devout Jew who buried Jesus for reasons of either personal piety or communal duty. He was subsequently either 'defended' as a sympathizer (Luke), explicitly 'converted' (Matthew, John), or suppressed by 'harmonizing' commentators. Both Crossan's argument that Mark created his Joseph ex nihilo to solve the problem of the loss of Jesus' body, and Brown's argument that the pious Joseph must have subsequently become a believer, are considered and rejected. It is suggested that Mark found Joseph's name in earlier tradition and retained it because it suited a specific motif, the appearance of exemplary characters who provide a critical contrast to the Markan disciples. The historical Joseph almost certainly lived and died a pious Jew.

Affiliations: 1: University of Bristol Bristol, England


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