Joseph of Arimathea plays a strong role in the lore of the British Isles. According to legend he brought Christianity to Britain along with the Holy Grail. Yet, he’s also something of a mysterious figure, only appearing in the Bible around the time of the crucifixion of Jesus. In John 19:38-39, we read: “Later, Joseph of Arimathea asked Pilate for the body of Jesus, but secretly because he feared the Jews. With Pilate’s permission, he came and took the body away. He was accompanied by Nicodemus, the man who earlier had visited Jesus at night.” They then bury Jesus in Joseph’s tomb. In the Byzantine image to the left, you see Joseph in the blue-green robes holding the body of Jesus.
The British church is mentioned by second century historians, so we know Christianity had extended that far by then. However, Joseph doesn’t seem to have been connected with the British church until much later. The first time that connection is made is in the ninth century book The Life of Mary Magdalene, which says that Joseph traveled to Britain with a number of people including Mary Magdalene and Lazarus, who Jesus raised from the dead.
It took about 300 more years for Joseph to be attached to the grail through the poetry of Robert de Boron. As best as most literary and historical scholars can tell, de Boron essentially invented the story of Joseph bringing the grail to Britain. His work seems inspired by a book called The Gospel of Nicodemus which dates back to around the fourth or fifth century and tells the story of Joseph being imprisoned after burying Jesus. After the Sabbath, there’s a bright flash of light and Joseph is freed from prison.
The Joseph of Arimathea legend has even more twists and turns. In one version of the story, Joseph was a merchant and uncle to Jesus. According to this story, Joseph brought the young Jesus to Britain at one point. This legend became the basis for William Blake’s poem “And did those feet in ancient time.”
Stories like this are compelling and make me wonder what truths lie behind them. Were they invented by authors along the way, or are they based on oral traditions? I like exploring the possibilities in fiction, asking questions, and throwing out ideas. It’s why I brought Joseph of Arimathea and the Grail legend into Dragon’s Fall: Rise of the Scarlet Order. My hope is that it will inspire the reader to explore some of these legends for themselves and consider what truths they may reveal.
If you enjoyed this look at Joseph of Arimathea and how he relates to my novel, I hope you’ll take time to learn more. The novel is an adventurous love story that winds its way through the ages from Hellenistic Greece through the middle ages. Dragon’s Fall is available at the following on-line bookstores: