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Joseph, Joseph of Arimathea, and Josephus

When Barbelo was initially reviewed before publication, one of the comments I received was that the number of Josephs in the book was actually a bit bewildering – Joseph, the father of Christ, Joseph, Herod’s treasurer, Joseph (Joses), the brother of Christ, Joseph Barnabas, Joseph Justus Barsabbas, Joseph of Arimathea and last but not least, Josephus, the Jewish historian. The prime focus of my investigation into the historicity of Christ was of course Joseph, his father, who was known as the Old Man (Sabbas) of Judea and died aged 111 years. He was a highly visible public figure, so one would expect Josephus to have mentioned him somewhere in his works, if not Joseph as Herod’s treasurer. Curiously, the author of what appears to be an early version of Josephus’ Wars, a document called The Wonderful and Most Deplorable History of the Latter Times of the Jews: with the Destruction of the City of Jerusalem which History Begins where the Holy Scriptures End, calls himself Joseph ben Gorion. This author of this book is believed to be an Italian Jew who lived in the ninth century or later and falsely professed to be the original Josephus, and he has become known amongst scholars as Joseppon, Josippon, and Pseudo-Josephus. 

A careful reading of the Josippon reveals some information that could only have been known to the real Josephus, and it is actually quite absurd to think that anyone would falsely claim to be this Josephus 800 years later. The most logical conclusion is that the Josippon is merely an early copy of Josephus’ work, which he later expanded to become the version we have today. The obvious question then is, of course, why the real Josephus (ben Matthias) would originally have called himself Josephus ben Gorion. Although the name Gorion (Gurion) is mentioned in the Talmud, its meaning is not immediately obvious. It does, however, appear to be a distorted form of the Greek word geron, which means ‘an old man’ (the Jews often had a Hebrew name as well as a foreign name). If Josephus ben Gorion means Joseph, son of the Old Man, it would immediately suggest that Josephus was in fact called Josephus bar Sabbas, which would make him a half-brother of Christ.

Josephus’ genealogy is shown in Table 1 below (see Barbelo Table 2.2 for details).

Person

Year of birth

Simon Psellus

Unknown

Matthias Ephlias

Unknown

Matthias Curtus

134 BCE

Joseph

68–67 BCE

Matthias

5–6 CE

Josephus

37 CE

 Table 1. The genealogy of Josephus

A curious inconsistency in Josephus’s lineage is that he refers to Simon Psellus as his great-grandfather, who, strictly speaking, should be Matthias Curtus. Nevertheless, there is a Joseph in this list, the one who was born around 68-67 BCE. Could this be ‘Sabbas’, the Old Man?

 This brings us to a man known as Joseph of Arimathea (spelled Arimathaias in Greek), ‘a secret disciple of Christ but also a rich and prominent member of the council and a good and upright man.’ This is the Joseph who boldly asked Pontius Pilate, the procurator of Judea, for Christ’s body after the Crucifixion and placed it in his own, newly cut tomb in a garden at the place where Christ was crucified (according to the itinerary of the anonymous Pilgrim of Bordeaux, the tomb of Joseph of Arimathea was ‘about a stone’s throw’ away from the place of the Crucifixion). In the apocryphal The Gospel of Peter, this garden is in fact called the Garden of Joseph.

Following Luke, it is commonly assumed that Arimathea was a town of Judea, but no town of that name has been identified as yet. Eisler speculates that he may indeed have been Josephus the historian (as Joseph bar Mattathia), who claimed to be the son of a renowned man called Matthias. A closer look at the construction of the name Arimathaias suggests that the name refers to a person and not a place. The Greek word ara means ‘a prayer’ or ‘a curse,’ suggesting that the name simply means ‘the Cursed Mathaias,’ assuming that Matthias is just a variant spelling of Mathaias. Joseph of Arimathaias then becomes Joseph, the son of the cursed Mathaias. This Mathaias must have been a public figure in order for him to have earned such a nickname. As is evident throughout Barbelo, Mathaias would have had every reason to consider himself cursed: he was the father of Joseph, the man who seduced Mary into a new religion and became the father of Jesus Christ, the most hated man in the history of the Jews. And the father of the Joseph in Josephus’ lineage was indeed called Matthias.

We next consider other evidence in support of the above hypotheses.

       The reason why Josephus had changed his surname from ‘son of the Old Man’ to ‘son of Matthias’ must certainly be that everyone knew who the Old Man was, and what his son had done to Judea. Justus of Tiberias had, for example, accused Josephus of having been one of the instigators (along with the Galileans) of ‘that sedition which your country engaged in, both against the Romans and against the king.’ Christ was known as the Galilean and it was his movement that revolted against the Romans and the king they had appointed over Judea. I suspect that a young Josephus had initially become involved with Christ’s uprising against the Romans, but quickly turned his back on him when he witnessed the horrific methods Christ employed to gather support amongst the common (poor) people. He subsequently had to distance himself from ‘the Old Man’ as quickly and as far as possible. 

   One may ask who Matthias might have been, if not Josephus’ real father. Matthias was most likely an older son of Joseph by his first wife, the one who would later become Matthew, one of the disciples of Christ. He could very well have acted as a father figure to the young Josephus, hence the switch from ‘ben Gorion’ to ‘ben Matthias’ (and not just any other name).

       Joseph of Arimathea was assisted by another secretive disciple, Nicodemus. He is widely believed to be the person known as Nakdimon ben Gorion (Gurion) in the Talmud. If Joseph of Arimathea was indeed Joseph the Old Man, this Nicodemus would have been a son of Joseph (Gorion), most likely by his first wife, and he would probably have been only a half-brother of Josephus, not his brother.  

       Possibly the most compelling evidence that the Joseph in Josephus’ genealogy must have been the same person as Joseph of Arimathea, are the dates recorded for his death. In The History of that Holy Disciple Joseph of Arimathea, it is claimed that on Joseph’s tombstone in Glastonbury, Britain, it was recorded ‘He died 45 AD, aged 86.’ The Joseph in Josephus’ table was born in 67 BCE, which would have made him, as Joseph of Arimathea, 67+45=112 years old, which is the same as 111 years taking rounding errors into account. In Barbelo it is argued that Christ was crucified around 21 CE, and that Joseph (of Arimathea) immediately afterwards took Christ as well as some of the women close to him to the British Isles, for Christ to recover from his crucifixion ordeal.

It is certain that once rumours started going around that Christ had risen from the grave, the Roman and Jewish authorities would have wanted to question one man only—Joseph of Arimathea, who undertook to bury Christ after his crucifixion. Some legends of that period claim that Joseph of Arimathea had been arrested and locked up but managed to escape, and that many years later he was sent by Philip to Britain, along with Mary Magdalene, Martha, and Lazarus. However, the four great church councils of Pisa, Constance, Sienna, and Basle all agreed that Joseph of Arimathea arrived in Britain ‘immediately after the passion of Christ.’ Joseph would then have been 67+21=88 years old (please note error in Barbelo, not ‘86’), and his disappearance would probably have been interpreted as his death at the hands of the authorities. However, those who went with him would have known that Joseph, the father of Christ, died when he was 111 years old.

      In legends from the British Isles, Joseph of Arimathea is recorded as having had a son called Josephes, which is essentially identical to the name Josephus.

         In Josippon its author (Josephus ben Gorion) claims that his 130-year-old father Gorion had been locked away in a prison called the Turret. In his Wars, Josephus likewise relates that his father had been kept in prison, and in The Life of James the Less it is recorded that when Titus entered Jerusalem, he freed Joseph of Arimathea from a hole in a thick wall wherein the Jews had shut him up following the crucifixion of Christ. The siege and destruction of Jerusalem occurred in 70 CE, by which time Josephus’ Joseph would have been 67+70=137 years old, which is close to the 130 years he recorded in the Josippon. It would seem that Josephus actually believed that his famously old father might still have been alive at the time. If Matthias had indeed been his father, Matthias would have been about 65 years old, nowhere near 130. It is also confirmed that “the Old Man” and Joseph of Arimathea were one and the same person.

A crucial question is how it would have been possible to stage a crucifixion right under the noses of the Roman authorities, meaning that Christ had been crucified, but removed from the cross before he died. In the Talmud it is recorded that Christ was ‘connected to the government’, and in The Gospel of Peter that Joseph of Arimathea was a friend of Pilate. Furthermore, Christ also convinced a Roman centurion to participate in one of his ‘miracles’, and if Joseph of Arimathea was actually Christ’s biological father and Nicodemus one of his half-brothers, it suddenly seems very likely that Christ did not die on the cross. He was convicted and crucified to satisfy the Jews, but remained alive because of his connections. Joseph, his biological father, would have seen to that.

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