The crucifixion of Jesus was a horrendous blow to those who followed him and had not anticipated such an event. Although he had warned them beforehand, they did not understand what was to happen, or comprehend why, and when the whole horrific scenario unfolded, most ran for their lives away from the immediate area fearing that they would be associated with having been with him in life, and thus meet the same fate. Nine of the twelve disciples had fled the city immediately after the arrest in the gardens. Only Peter, Joh, Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathea remained. The women stayed and witnessed. Of the people who remained, only Joseph of Arimathea dared to walk the streets. Thus it would have been him that brought food and news to them of what was happening in the city in those first few days. In those earliest days we must consistently remember that these men and women-these followers were Jewish, as indeed were the majority of the early converts after his death until Paul. How we see the situation with the benefit of hindsight and history is not how it seemed at that time. They perceived themselves as being Jewish and bringing about much-needed change to their religion through the revelations of Jesus; in their ongoing struggles for change and spiritual growth within the growing factions of Judaism. Set against Roman rule these people yearned for freedom from its yoke; they were an occupied people, subject to Roman law, Roman rule, Roman taxes and felt oppressed and subjugated. Jesus’s message brought them hope of freedom, hope of equality, hope of a new way of living and a new way of spiritual vision and understanding within their own tradition of being solidly Jewish. No new religion was planned. Just change within their own to make it a fairer, more inclusive and equal way. The New Way. With the crucifixion, all those hopes died on the cross. Their future looked dark and very dangerous. The messages of Love and hope had been crushed under the Roman yoke and the Sadducees iron grip. The light they had believed in and followed had been extinguished and their world, their hopes, their dreams were crushed with it. There would have been people close to them, their own families who had warned them of the dangers of associating with Jesus and the Liberal New when he was alive, warning them of what could happen, of how the Jewish warring factions would not “put up with these challenges” to their authority; of how the Romans would “only take so much dissension and no more”, before they came down hard…and now it seemed, that time, those warnings had come true. Jesus was dead. Any feeling of Divine protection they may have felt had swiftly fled, leaving them alone and afraid. Many of them we know had given up their ways of earning a living to follow him. They would have wanted to band together, to sit and discuss what had happened, who had heard what, that sort of thing. But first they would have fled from each other in blind panic for their own safety; then instinctively they would regroup, to cling to the familiar, to sit with those who had shared what they had, under cover of darkness, in hiding, for support, for comfort…to work out what next, even maybe to make sure they got their “stories straight” before the Sadducees and/or the Romans came for them too. And this is where we find them, when Mary Magdalene bursts in to tell them that the tomb is empty, that Jesus is not there; that someone has stolen the body.
But first, let us look at Joseph of Arimathea and the man called Nicodemus, as they now come into full view of what happens next in the early days and indeed over the next few crucial years. These are the two men who bring Jesus’s battered body down from the cross, and wrap him in linen in the tomb. The Talmud tells us more about them. Mary and Martha are grown women living in their father’s house on a large estate, along with their brother Lazarus. This is most unusual. Ordinarily the only way a woman would return to her father’s house was by being widowed or divorced or if her husband had gone on a long journey and left her otherwise alone. The Talmud has a curious story about a man named Nicodemus. It says he was one of the richest men in Jewish history. This Nicodemus had two daughters named Mary and Martha, and a son named Lazarus. Martha was a widow who returned to her father Nicodemus’ house, while Mary had married an extremely rich man and had brought him a huge dowry. The Talmud does not say why Mary was living at home, but we may assume her husband travelled a great deal. The Talmud places this story 30 years AFTER the Biblical Nicodemus, a generation later. Tradition says that Nicodemus and his whole family were ARRESTED because of their Christianity. All were exiled to Gaul by 37 AD, except Nicodemus, who is said to have seen them sail off from Caesarea. Yet the Talmud seems to place the family a generation later. But according to Psalm 109, people convicted of capital crimes, and the book of Acts says that professing Christianity had become a capital crime had their NAMES BLOTTED OUT “unto the second generation.” So it was FORBIDDEN for the rabbis to publicly discuss or write about someone who had been blotted out, as Nicodemus and his family had been. By the shifting of the “time” of the Talmudic stories 30 years later, rabbis could write about blotted-out events during the “forbidden” period. We have many Talmudic stories about Jesus, Lazarus and other blotted-out New Testament figures, which also exhibit a similar time-shift. It appears, therefore, that the Talmud has coyly “resurrected” some forbidden history of the family of Nicodemus and Mary Magdalene, which shows she was married to one of the richest men in her world. Who could that be?
The term “Nicodemus” means “innocent of blood” .When Jesus is condemned by the Sanhedrin, the vote has to be UNANIMOUS. Yet we know that two members, Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus do not feel Jesus is guilty. The Talmud and other sources reveal that Joseph and Nicodemus were wealthy men who travelled far from Jerusalem, in the metals and grain trades respectively. Because they were not always available to vote, they had to give their proxies to the High Priest if away. But history shows the vote was not unanimous. Nicodemus was a “RULER” of the people on the Sanhedrin, a man of great wealth (he held a monopoly on grain in Jerusalem). His friend Joseph of Arimathea was in similar circumstances, being in charge of mining interests around the world. Undoubtedly, both men often travelled together for months at a time. But why did they bury Jesus together? The Jewish law of burial left a man unclean for handling a dead body which would have prevented these men from eating the Passover, if we accept John’s gospel [Jn 18:28]. But the NEXT OF KIN were REQUIRED to bury their family members. That indicates both men were related to Jesus.
Catholic tradition makes Joseph the Uncle of Jesus’ mother, Mary, but they also say he was YOUNGER than Mary. The Church has evolved a view of Mary as staying a virgin AFTER giving birth to Jesus, and this led it to elevate Mary to a semi-divine status, which Rome feels is incompatible with her having any siblings. The idea is that her mother Anna had no other children but Mary. But the starting point of this odd logic is Rome’s belief in Mary remaining virgin AFTER giving birth to Jesus, an idea the Bible goes to great lengths to refute: The Bible seems to indicate that Mary was mother to other children after Jesus. This theory of Mary’s “perpetual virginity” became official dogma at the Council of Chalcedon in A.D. 451, and thus is binding upon both the Greek and Roman segments of the Church. Alexander Hislop has shown a remarkable concurrence between the Vestal Virgins of pagan Rome, and the propensity for virginity that evolved in the digressive church of the post-apostolic period (Hislop, 223, 236-238, 250). The idea thus evolved that it was inconceivable that Mary should have engaged in normal marital relations. It is a baffling mystery how a Church, that holds marriage to be a “sacrament,” can entertain such a misdirected viewpoint (see Heb. 13:4).
A progressively deteriorating church (cf. 2 Thes. 2:1ff; 1 Tim. 4:1ff; 2 Tim. 4:1ff), therefore, was ever attempting to accommodate “Christianity” to paganism, in order to provide a “comfort zone” that would attract the heathen to the religion of Christ. This is a historical reality that not even Catholic scholars deny (see Attwater, 363). For a historical survey of this phenomenon, see Edward Gibbon’s famous work, The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire (Chapter XXVIII). Gibbon concludes this chapter with these words:
“The most respectable bishops had persuaded themselves that the ignorant rustics would more cheerfully renounce the superstitions of Paganism, if they found some resemblance, some compensation, in the bosom of Christianity” (II.70).
Hence the baseless notion was foisted upon the biblical records that Mary remained a virgin for life. And all biblical evidence that suggests otherwise is rationalized away with less-than-imaginative textual manipulations. There is, however, a compelling case against the Catholic view.
There are a number of passages in the New Testament that argue against the dogma of Mary’s perpetual virginity. Note the following:
(1) Matthew affirms that Mary was found to be with child “before [she and Joseph] came together” (Mt. 1:18). The term “came together” (from
sunerchomai) includes the idea of sexual intimacy (cf. 1 Cor. 7:5; see Danker, 970). The implication clearly is that ultimately, they “came together.” H.L. Ellison comments that the construction is “incompatible with the doctrine of the perpetual virginity of Mary” (1188).
(2) Matthew declares that Joseph “knew not” (i.e., was not sexually intimate with; cf. Gen. 4:1) Mary “until
heos hou she had given birth to a son” (1:25). While the expression
heos hou does not absolutely demand that Joseph and Mary were intimate after Jesus’ birth, that would be the normal conclusion, unless contextual considerations indicated otherwise (cf. 2 Sam. 6:23). In fact, “elsewhere in the New Testament (17:9 24:39; cf. John 9:18) the phrase (
heos hou) followed by a negative always implies that the negated action did take place later” (Lewis, 1.42). There is no valid reason why Matthew 1:25 should be the exception.
(3) In Luke 2:7, Jesus is called Mary’s “firstborn” child. While the term
prototokon does not demand unequivocally that Mary had other children, this term “most naturally suggests” that she did (Geldenhuys, 103). If the sustained virginity of Mary is such a crucial theological point, why did not Luke simply say that she brought forth her “only” son? That certainly would have settled the issue.
(4) There are several passages that mention the siblings of Jesus (Mt. 12:46ff; 13:55-56). Catholic apologists appeal to the fact that the term “brother” (
adelphos) is sometimes used in a broader, kindred sense, e.g., “cousins.” While
adelphos (which literally means, “out of the same womb”) is employed loosely on occasion in some literature, in the New Testament
adelphos is never used for a “cousin.” The word
anepsioi signifies that relationship (cf. Col. 4:10).
Moreover, Jesus is said to have had “sisters” (Mt. 13:56 –
adelphe). Why should it be assumed that Matthew’s use of “mother” was literal, but that the terms “brothers” and “sisters” were used figuratively? If “sister” is literal in Acts 23:16 (Paul’s sister), what would compel one to view the same term in a different sense in Matthew 13:56? Terry notes: “It is an old and oft-repeated hermeneutical principle that words should be understood in their literal sense unless such literal interpretation involves a manifest contradiction or absurdity” (159).
(5) The alleged perpetual celibate state of Joseph and Mary’s relationship is contrary to the divine ideal. Marriage, as designed by God, was intended to bring a man and woman together as “one flesh” (Gen. 2:24; cf. Mt. 19:5-6). Subsequent to the initial physical bonding is the responsibility to “render” to one another what is “due” —these terms expressing a sacred obligation (1 Cor. 7:3). If there is to be abstinence, it is to be by mutual concession, and that only temporarily (v. 5).
Catholic tradition came to be that Mary had herself had a miraculous birth without original sin and without any siblings. This meant Joseph of Arimathea had to be pushed back another generation BEFORE Mary, even though he was younger than Mary and was said to outlive her by 15 or 20 years.
However the following post shows the Catholic response to questions to Pope John Paul 11 about just such matters.
This confusion vanishes in light of the Biblical verses cited above, which removes the need to falsify Mary’s family structure. Joseph was her
younger brother, uncle to Jesus. When their father, Heli Joachim, died, Joseph took over the family’s seat on the Jewish Sanhedrin. If this were
not so, Jesus could not be David’s heir. The “honored seat” Joseph held on the Council was, of course, the seat of the House of David, the KING’S
SEAT. Jesus sat on it at age 12 [Lk 2:41-51]. Joseph of Arimathea had to adopt Jesus by Jewish law if he believed Jesus to be legitimate, for
Joseph was the male elder of the family and a brother had to adopt his sister’s unheired sons. Had Joseph been an uncle of Mary the line of inheritance would have deviated away from Jesus: Mary would not have had it to pass down to Jesus in the flesh. Rome’s efforts to deify Mary deny Jesus the throne of David by natural inheritance, contrary to Scripture [Lk 1:31-33]. So Joseph of Arimathea was obligated to adopt Jesus. Only a BROTHER of Mary could adopt Jesus and keep Jesus in the royal line of succession as the heir of David:
“When Jesus was about to be thirty years of age, He became by
custom [by adoption] the son of Joseph, the son of Heli…”
[Lk 3:23, literal rendering]
All this means that Joseph of Arimathea had to be married to a woman of very wealthy and high status. Only such a woman would be suitable to
wed a man who held his position. Nicodemus married his daughter Mary to such a man. Could Mary be Joseph’s wife? The gospels state that Joseph of Arimathea buried Jesus in his own UNUSED tomb in Jerusalem. Joseph had acquired it RECENTLY, for no one in his family had died and ever been buried in it; yet the average age of death in those days was under thirty, with many babies born dead. This can only mean that Joseph had obtained the site during his life and did not inherit it. The common way such a tomb would come into a family was as part of a Dowry. But if Joseph married Mary of BETHANY of the Mount of Olives, then the dowry tomb would have been on the Mount of Olives and the site of the Crucifixion must have been near Bethany at the summit of the Mount. This is in fact the case . Now we can see that Mary was a woman of great importance. To gain a tomb on the summit of Olivet was one of the most sought-after desires of every Jewish person, but hardly anyone could achieve it. Joseph was given a piece of land when he married Mary; but if he were to divorce her, it would revert to Nicodemus.
THE FAMILY LINE OF MARY MAGDALENE
Nicodemus was not only a member of the Sanhedrin, but a Rabbi and Pharisee and a ruler of the people. All this makes him one of the
Chief scribes. The house of Benjamin was given the right to keep the written genealogies of the priests and kings to decide which persons were
entitled to inherit. The Torah says Benjamin will “divide the spoils”– that is, the inheritances of Israel. Benjamin was allotted six seats on the Council. One of these seats was occupied by the chief elder of the tribe, the ruler of it. John calls Nicodemus a “ruler” and implies Nicodemus is the chief elder. We know from 1 Chronicles 5 that the elders of Benjamin were expected to live in Jerusalem, and that included Olivet. The grain monopoly he held indicates that his family had pre-eminence. To have absolute and total control over the food supply of Jerusalem is hardly the kind of thing a lesser line of Benjamin would inherit. Nicodemus had to be of the chief family–hence the head of the tribe. But there’s a catch. In Benjamin, the WOMEN pass down the line of inheritance. Not Lazarus, but Nicodemus’ elder daughter Mary was the heir of the line. Her son would sit on the Sanhedrin.
The term for the one who holds the authority is “PILLAR” (from the idea that the family is a kind of building and a pillar is the most prominent support of the edifice, hence the regal building block of a family or institution). In Hebrew, “pillar” is a “M’GD’L” or “magdal.” So the name “Mary the Magdalene” means “Mary the Pillar (of her tribe).” She was the chief heir of the tribe of Benjamin.
To compare how this title was used in the Bible, the term used to describe “The High Priest” in Hebrew was “Ha-Kohen Ha-Gadol” or “The Priest, The Pillar”–that is, he was the Supreme Priest of the tribe, the Chief elder of Levi. Mary is called “Ma-Gadol-aH-eN” or “Great Pillar Female One”–that is, she was the “Great Supreme Woman” of her tribe: Benjamin. Now we see her conferring her tribal honor on Jesus, making Jesus
the heir of Benjamin by adoption through her husband Joseph. That had the effect of giving Jesus the legal right to appoint what he called “Scribes of the Kingdom”–the writers of a NEW testament. But the tribe of Benjamin could do more than keep written records that designated the Priest and King. It could ANOINT them.
When Mary brought out the “genuine Nard” and anointed Jesus, she was declaring Jesus the OFFICIAL King. Jesus observed that she in effect had anointed Him for burial. Why? Because it was illegal and he now reeked of contraband oil. The penalty was death under Rome’s law.
But her anointing seems so informal, so loving and casual. Or is it? The gospels say she stood behind Him and poured it all out upon His
head and wiped the residue on His feet with her hair. This act of hers in standing behind him and pouring it on his head is standard practice for an official royal anointing. Apparently she did not intend to pour it all out, and when she did, she tried to wipe it up with her hair. Again Mary shows that she understands the bigger picture of what is being played out here before the others. She understands the anointing and his mission for the new way, the new testament.
Let us look at the internal struggles of power going on between the Jewish factions at the time of the trial of Jesus. Contrary to popular belief the Roman guard did not make the arrest. It was executed by the priests guard upon the authority of the Sanhedrin. The arrest was illegal. The Sanhedrin did not have the authority to arrest a citizen. Another breach of judicial process is noted here, the Sanhedrin legislative members had been called to an emergency session at midnight for the sole purpose of trying Christ before its priestly court. Roman law did not permit court hearings to be held after sunset. Even under emergency measures no trial for life could be held after dark. More; a trial for life was exclusively the prerogative of the Roman Court to be held before the Roman Procurator. However Caiaphas, High Priest of the Sanhedrin deliberately flout the all-powerful Roman authority. So Jesus is brought before his enemies, Caiaphas and his father-in-law Annas who as the reigning High Priests of Judaism also represented the powerful and some say despotic Sadducean families of which they were members. As the defence becomes ever more convincing, Caiaphas senses danger and takes over the prosecution himself. When the vote is cast, an amazing result ensued. Out of the seventy-one legislative members of the Sanhedrin, forty voted for the dismissal of the case and the freedom of Jesus. Foiled within the Sanhedrin, Caiaphas played his trump card, one which he knew could not be vetoed; he demanded that Jesus be tried before Pontius Pilate, the Roman Procurator of the Roman Province of Palestine, on charge of treason. What Caiaphas also knew , [which Joseph of Arimathea did not] was that Pontius Pilate had been an active party to a secret futile plot to assinate Tiberius Caesar. Pilate needed Caiaphas’s silence on this…so could be “bought”.
One of the most important characters in the life of Jesus and the early years of the Hebrew Nazarene Ecclesia was the high priest Caiaphas. Caiaphas was appointed High Priest by the Roman procurator Valerius Gratus (15-26 CE), the predecessor of Pontius Pilate about 18 CE. (Josephus, Antiquities, XVIII, iv, 3) This appointment came after a tumultuous few years of annual appointees of new high priests, which for reasons unstated by Joseph were not compatible with the Roman government.
During this era the famous High Priest Annas (6-15 CE), the founder of the House of Annas, was still the primary controlling power broker in political and religious politics in Jewish affairs. It was in his position of brokering the power structure that he kept putting in his own sons and sons-in-law in the office of the high priest. Annas, the son of Seth was appointed high priest in 6 or 7 CE following Joazar by the Roman legate Quirinius who came down to Judea to incorporate the territory of Herod Archelaus, the son of Herod the Great into the Roman province of Syria (Josephus, Antiquities of the Jews, XVIII, ii, 1) As High Priest, Anna was later deposed from the office of the high priest by the Syrian legate Valorous Gratus in 15 CE in which a rapid succession of high priests were appointed over the next three years:
Ismael, son of Phabi (XVIII. i, 2)
Eleazar (Alexander), son of Ananus (XVIII. ii, 2, Acts 4:6
Simon, son of Camithus (XVIII. ii, 2)
Joseph called “Caiaphas” (XVIII. ii, 2; iv, 3; Matt. 26: 3, 57)
Jonathan, son of Ananus (XVIII. iv, 3; “B. J.” II. xii, 5-6; xiii, 3)
Theophilus, son of Ananus (XVIII. 5, § 3)
So we see between 6-30 CE, a period of thirty years, the office of the high priest was controlled by Anna, the founding father of the House of Annas for at least 28 of those years. Power, greed and control were being bred in high places in the leadership of the Jews. Yet that was not all, the office of the high priest was then under the control of two other sons of Anna during the tenure of the Syrian legate, Vitellius between 36-41 CE when King Agrippa I came to the throne of Judea which gave a sum total of thirty-nine out of forty-one years as the leading family in public and religious office. Though Caiaphas was the titular High Priest at the time of the crucifixion of Jesus, the power behind the throne was his father-in-law Annas.
For three years before this trial the Sanhedrin had been spilt on religious policy. The old ultra conservatives led by Annas and Caiaphas clung to the emasculated Judean faith into which they had injected their own corrupt policies. The new Liberal party had openly declared for the new spiritual order, but the Sadducees controlled the wealthy ruling power; except for one man whose influence was so great that it spread beyond the boundaries of Judaism into the high places of Roman administration. The only man who the Sadducees dared not oppose was Joseph of Arimathea, uncle to Jesus, and Noblilis Decurio [St Jerome], he was the minister of mines for the Roman administration. As such he was also a legislative member of a provincial Roman senate, as well as an influential member of the Sanhedrin. His financial and social standing is extremely high, he owned a palatial home in Jerusalem, as well as a fine country residence just outside Jerusalem and a spacious estate at Arimathea, known today as Ramalleh. He held importance and influence both within the Jewish and Roman hierarchies and he and Nicodemus held diplomatic immunity.
It was Joseph who went to Pilate to plead for the body. Unless his body, the body of an executed criminal, was claimed by the next of kin, according to Jewish and Roman law, his body would be tossed into a common pit and the memory him would be obliterated from all memory. That a member of the Sanhedrin and a Roman Senator, also a known member of the Jesus’ Jewish family could walk without fear of molestation into the court of Pilate and request the body of Jesus suggests very good contacts. Was Joseph of Arimathea also totally immune to the power of the Sanhedrin? At this moment, he probably did make one consideration, his request to take possession of the body of Jesus would best be made in private audience with his friend, the Roman procurator, and bypass the intentions of Annas and Caiaphas, not only to kill his nephew Jesus, but to destroy his body, and make his memory totally extinct.
The Bishop of Antioch writing in 180 AD quoted from the Apocryphal ‘Gospel of Peter’ stated this fact that Joseph of Arimathea was a close friend of Pontius Pilate and he requested that the body of one put to death had to be buried.
Gospel of Peter 2:2-5a – “Now there stood there Joseph, the friend of Pilate and the Lord, and knowing that they were about to crucify him he came to Pilate and begged the body of the Lord for Burial. And Pilate sent to Herod and begged his body. And Herod said, ‘Brother Pilate, even if no one had begged him, we should bury him, since the Sabbath is drawing on. For it stands written in the law: the sun should not set on one that has been put to death.”
It is to this man that we owe the survival of most of the early disciples. Using his wealth, influence and contacts he got as many of them out in those early crucial years as he could; away from the persecution and danger to their lives.
- Attwatter, Donald (1961), A Catholic Dictionary (New York: The Macmillan Co.).
Danker, F.W., et al. (2000), A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and other Early Christian Literature (Chicago: University of Chicago).
Ellison, H.L. (1979), The New Layman’s Bible Commentary (Grand Rapids: Zondervan).
Geldenhuys, Norval (1956), The Gospel of Luke Grand Rapids: Eerdmans).
Gibbon, Edward (n.d.), The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire (New York: The Modern Library), Three Volumes.
Gibbons, James (1917), The Faith Of Our Fathers (Baltimore: John Murphy Co.).
Hislop, Alexander (1959), The Two Babylons (New York: Loizeaux Brosthers).
Jackson, Wayne (1995), Select Studies in the Book of Revelation (Stockton, CA: Courier Publications).
Lewis, Jack (1976), The Gospel According to Matthew (Austin: Sweet).
Maas, A.J. (1912), “Virgin Mary,” The Catholic Encyclopedia (New York: The Encyclopedia Press, Inc.), Vol. XV.
Pelikan, J.J. (1958), “Mary,” Encyclopedia Britannica (Chicago: Britannica, Inc.).
Sweet, L.M. (1939), International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, James Orr, Ed. (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans).
Terry, Milton (1890), Biblical Hermeneutics (New York: Eaton & Mains).