I, Joseph of Arimathea

A Story of Jesus, His Resurrection, and the Aftermath
A Documented Historical Novel

Frank C. Tribbe

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ISBN: 978-1-57733-061-5, 412 pages, 9 illus., 6x9, paper, $24.00

The Biblical accounts of Jesus' life and the growth of Christianity in the following years leave so much to the imagination. Frank Tribbe allows his imagination and serious scholarly research to fill in many of the gaps: the events in the tomb on the first Easter morning,  those who met Jesus on the road to Emmaus, the thoughts of "doubting" Thomas--all are recorded in plausible and fine detail.

Drawing on apocryphal New Testament texts, Tribbe recreates the extensive role attributed to Joseph of Arimathea in the period after the crucifixion. The Gospel accounts of Easter weekend themselves point to his activity while the other disciples retreated in fear. Joseph made the arrangements for the burial of Jesus' body, for which he provided burial linens and tomb.

The book also describes the probable survival and earliest history of a mysterious artifact: the Shroud of Turin, believed by many to be the shroud which wrapped Jesus' dead body and which was marked with his "photographic" image. Tribbe also fills in the "lost years" of Jesus before he entered upon his public ministry and presents the thesis that Joseph of Arimathea was the "Apostle of Britain," introducing Christianity to the west before it reached Rome.

The details of daily life in the first century, descriptions of travel, accurate or plausible reconstructions of the Judaeo-Roman "postal system," coinage, business practices, languages, literacy and education, and ancient metallurgy, all bring this amazing story to life.

"By means of truly impressive scholarly research, Frank Tribbe transports the reader vividly into the ambience of Tiberius, Claudius, Nero, Peter and Paul, and of Jesus himself." Daniel C. Scavone

Table of Contents


1. Resurrection!
2. He Is Risen Indeed!
3. The Resurrection Image
4. We Discuss the Image
5. On the Road to Emmaus
6. The Edessa Connection
7. We Make Plans for the Shroud Image
8. A Casket Will Present a Face
9. Easter Morning and the Guards
10. The Judean Disciples Meet
11. The Shroud of Jesus Leaves Jerusalem
12. Fabrication of the Shroud's Casket
13. King Abgar Is Healed by the "Face"

14. With My Father and in School
15. My Extended Family; A Visit to Athens
16. Metallurgy and Visits to Aqaba and Petra
17. I Learn Metal-working in Damascus
18. My Betrothal
19. To Britain, Via the Mediterranean and Atlantic
20. In the Tin Fields of Britain
21. My Early Years in the Family Business
22. Consecration of Jesus at the Temple

23. The Friendship of Lazarus and Jesus
24. The Travels of Jesus
25. Jesus' Capernaum Study Group
26. Jewish Politics and Jesus
27. Bethlehem at Jesus' Birth
28. In Caesarea Philippi with My Brother-in-law, Hebron
29. The Theology of Jesus
30. More Theology; Jesus Watches a Crucifixion
31. The Mount of Transfiguration
32. Raising of Lazarus; Lazarus' Story
33. Jesus' Triumphal Entry; Arrest
34. Mock Trials of Jesus; Scourging
35. The Crucifixion
36. Death and Burial of Jesus

37. Post-Resurrection Appearances
38. Appearances to Peter and James
39. The Ascension
40. The Pentecost Phenomena; My Arrest

41. I Escape from Prison and Prepare for Exile
42. Reminiscences at Sea
43. In Southern Gaul; Welcoming Lazarus
44. A Report of Thaddaeus from Edessa
45. We Become Britons
46. Christianity in Britain and the Near East
47. More Christians in Britain and One from Tarsus
48. Caradoc Versus Emperor Claudius
49. British Christians in Rome
50. Linus and Paul
51. Edessa, Rome and Britain
52. Christianity Wanes in the East and Grows in the West
53. The Focus Is Rome Epilogue

Possible Genealogies of Related Families
"The Twelve" of Galilee
The Judean Disciples
Early Bishops of Rome
Key British Christians
Selected Bibliography and Sources Consulted


It was mostly a matter of instinct, I suppose. A wealthy man soon learns not to be wasteful, else he won't be wealthy very long. So, whatever my unconscious reasons, I, Joseph of Arimathea, took the Shroud instinctively and without hesitation. After all, less than two days previously I had paid fifty silver shekels for that cloth - a very high price, that Nicodemus had chided me for paying, but I wanted only the very best burial shroud for our Master, and had no time to haggle over the purchase. And the Disciples were going to leave it in the tomb!

I should be fair and say that they were very confused that morning, and with good reason. They also were young, of course. Andrew, son of Jonah (brother of Simon whom they were calling Peter), and Matthew the tax collector, were barely in their mid-thirties. Most of the rest were in their late twenties, and with very little worldly knowledge - not only because Galilean life had given them very little sophistication, but also due to the fact that they had been cloistered much of the past five years while accompanying the Master. Judas, who was about of an age with Jesus, was the only cool head among them, and now he, too, was gone.

It was fear, as well as confusion, that caused them to run from the tomb. A fear born of several causes. Of course, we were all awakened in the gray dawn before sun-up by the terrible clap and roar of sustained thunder, and by the simultaneous tremor of earthquake. I don't know why, but in the instant of awakening I thought of the Master in my tomb. Several of us apparently had the same thought, because, from our separate lodgings, we converged on the tomb. It was nearly full daylight, though sunrise and the day's beginning were still an hour away.

We were all hurrying, but at age forty-nine I was not trying to race with the younger men. Even from a distance of fifty paces we could see that the guards were gone and that the tomb's entrance yawned black and without obstruction. As I approached more closely, I stopped with shock upon seeing the massive stone door lying more than ten cubits in front of the opening! This was no act of grave-robbers, or even as a result of the earthquake's vibration. That round stone door is wider than I am tall, and considerably more than a hand-span thick; it had sat on edge in its deep channel, snugly against the tomb opening and carefully wedged in position so that it could not roll in its channel. It had taken proper tools and four of my strongest men to put it in place when I acquired the tomb.

Fear of the returning guards, I am sure, had also motivated the disciples, Simon Peter and "the beloved disciple," to stay no more than a minute or two inside the tomb. Desertion from their post would be punished by death if the Temple guard captain arrived before the guards mustered courage enough to return.

But once the Disciples left the tomb area, doubtless running for the dubious sanctuary of the home of Mary, young Mark's mother and widow of Simeon, I entered by myself. In only the few moments it took for a dozen breaths, I could see that fear of the unknown - perhaps even the unknowable - was the powerful fear that doubtless had gripped their hearts as they ran.

Don't misunderstand me - I was not calm and unperturbed myself, as my eyes adjusted to the murky light inside the tomb. But I intended to stay until I could take it all in. Not that there was so much to see. As approaching evening had signalled the beginning of Sabbath two days previously, Nicodemus and I had been careful to pick up every unused item we had brought with us, and had left the floor of the tomb neat and clean. The floor was still that way; it didn't take much time nor light to assure myself on that point.

Before we left the tomb after burying Jesus two evenings ago, we had assisted my two servants who rolled the stone door into the closed position, wedging it carefully with tapered blocks driven into place with a heavy hammer. The two Temple guards, already arrived, stood at a respectful distance, but carefully watched as we secured the door. Then Pilate's representative moved up to seal the tomb's door, as ordered by Pilate, and promptly left the area, as did we.

Then, as Nicodemus and I had walked toward our respective Jerusalem residences, we noticed that the two Galilean women walked some distance ahead of us, after having stood at the edge of the garden of the tombs to see where we would put Him (these were Mary of Magdala, sister of Lazarus, and Mary Heli, wife of Cleopas Alphaeus, who were parents of Matthew and James and of young Joses).

Now, as I moved slowly this fateful morning, I looked from every angle at the spectacle before me on the stone bench where the Master had lain. Obviously, the Disciples had not touched a thing. What could possibly have happened? The upper half of the long shroud that had wrapped his body, under and over, was still exactly as we had left it. All along each side of the shroud sat the bags of extra spices that Nicodemus had brought - only a hand-span distance from one bag to the next. But clearly, the body was gone! The cocoon had collapsed!

Not that the shroud was totally flat - there was a stiffness in the heavy cloth, and his feet seemed still to be under the cloth. I touched it there, and the protuberance of cloth subsided. The position of the body was almost fully outlined by the oozings of blood that had soaked entirely through the cloth in places, and were readily visible with the morning light from the east that came in the tomb's doorway.

But the sight that had me shivering, even though hints of the day's forthcoming heat were already being felt, was doubtless the sight that had caused the Disciples to flee. It was the place where his head had lain. The shroud there looked exactly as we had left it - as if his head was still under the shroud! Such a thought was foolish, of course, because the rest of the shroud was flat against the stone bench; and as soon as I thought it, I realized the explanation. We had folded the sudarion, the jaw-band, from a large square of linen, until it was a band no more than two fingers wide; this we slipped under his chin and knotted tightly on top of his head to hold the mouth closed, as religious rules prescribed. That loop of cloth was stiff enough to hold the shroud in position, even though the head was gone.

I pressed firmly at that point and the cloth collapsed. I started, and took a sudden mouthful of air in an involuntary gasp, almost exclaiming aloud as I stepped back in surprise. There was still a lump there from the bulk of the sudarion, and also from the bundle of keiriai cloths I had placed at his head; these were strips of cloth that we would have used to make a final tie at ankles and wrists, and to hold the shroud snugly to the body at two or three points. These final steps we never got to take, as matters turned out. Nor did we get to make our final farewells to him, and worse still, I suddenly realized, we would never again have the Master's presence, his wit, his provocative intellect to spice and sweeten our gatherings.

My head reeled at the magnitude of this resurrection event that my mind still couldn't take in! I staggered slightly with dizziness and reached out to the damp, limestone wall of the tomb to steady myself. The light-headedness passed but my mind still whirled with confusion. The shroud had not been removed, but Jesus' body had dissolved while inside it. He had known he would die and had willingly permitted his own execution. He had said, "Death will not hold me"; but we didn't understand. How could we? We couldn't have expected an occurrence like this! He had said that we are all spirits and would survive death; we accepted his statement, but this was too much! We believed he was truly a real part of God, and special to God - but that belief didn't really help me handle a happening of this nature and magnitude. No wonder Peter and the other disciple ran! They were intelligent men, but intelligence didn't help in this situation.

Thoughts continued to race through my mind, even though I remained in the tomb but a brief time. I was confused as I had never been before. Even though Jesus had said he would rise from the dead, I was numbed by the fact that he just wasn't there! He had brought Lazarus back from the dead, but it wasn't like this. I had buried a number of my relatives in other tombs, and I had opened the tombs later as our Law permitted, to verify that all was correct - but there was always a body there!

Once I fully knew what had happened - that the Master's body had totally dissolved and dematerialized, and in its spirit form had passed through the cloth without disturbing the burial clothes - I realized also that I did not care to be present when the guards returned.

This was the point at which my instinct took over. The shroud - already doubled (half had been beneath and half over the body) - I quickly folded in two, then in four, and then crosswise, brushing the bags of spice aside as I did so. I picked up this bundle containing all of the burial clothes, and then hesitated - the odor of the preservative spices, myrrh and aloes, came strongly to my nostrils, reminding me that these were used burial clothes and were religiously unclean. But in the next instant I was struck by the intimacy of these clothes - the last to touch Jesus' wounded body, and now even that body was gone!

Then my emotions overcame me briefly as I hugged the shroud to my breast and buried my face in it. In these three days of intense grief I had not cried, but now the tears flowed and the shroud soaked them up. The spasm of grief passed quickly and, as I put the bundle under my cloak, with fresh resolve I left the tomb, turned just for a brief look at the black maw of the tomb's opening, and headed away from the city, for I had no desire to meet the guards.

I was sure that I knew the neighborhood better than did the guards and soldiers, and I went quickly along little-used paths from the northern to eastern suburbs of the City, that would take me to the Bethany home of my kinsman, Eleazer - whose Hebrew name was known to the Greeks as Lazarus. This I did to avoid my townhouse in the City, until I could decide what to do with the Shroud of Jesus.

Leaving the garden of tombs, unreasoning fear threatened to grip me and my instinct was to break into a run along this deserted pathway, but my intellect was sufficiently in operation so that I knew a brisk walking pace would be less likely to attract attention.

Of course, even though the taking of the burial clothes was an act of instinct, I was fully aware that I was violating a taboo of Jewish law by touching, much less saving, used burial clothes, because they are inherently "unclean." But I realized as well that the actions of Nicodemus and myself, two afternoons ago, in burying Jesus in the way we did, probably violated several rules of Jewish law. At that moment these were but half-formed thoughts - I hadn't really thought it all through - but the simple fact was that the events of these past four days, from his arrest onward, caused me to radically and permanently change my personal religious stance.

For perhaps five years, I had felt committed to "The Way" as taught by my great-nephew, Jesus, but I had assumed that it could be harmonized with conventional Judaism - now it was clear that such harmony was not possible because it would not be accepted by the Great Sanhedrin, and that I must turn my back on conventional Judaism.

Blue Dolphin Publishing, 2000

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