Joseph of Arimathea appears in the authorized canon of the Bible – in all four of the gospels – as the rich man who took responsibility for the burial of the crucified Jesus after his death. According to the gospel of Mark it was he who supervised the removal of the body from Golgotha and its entombment, assisted by Nicodemus, who brought with him the spices and oils with which the body was prepared. His role completed, Joseph vanishes from the text of the gospels and the subsequent books of the New Testament. According to just one of the four gospels, that of Matthew, it was a tomb meant for his own use where Joseph had Jesus’ body placed.
Though he vanished from the biblical accounts in the aftermathof the entombment, he quickly grew in legend, including in some books of the Apocrypha, such as the Acts of Pilate and the Gospel of Nicodemus. Works by early church leaders, including Hippolytus and Eusebius, exaggerated the legends, and he became accepted as one of the 70 Disciples, which according to the Gospel of Luke were appointed by Jesus and dispatched on their missions in pairs. By the beginning of the 12th century, through oral tradition and the written legends, Joseph of Arithamea became the keeper of the Holy Grail, the cup or chalice which had been used by Jesus at the Last Supper. This position linked him with England’s King Arthur, the Knight’s Templar, and the Arthurian legends, and pre-supposed a youthful visit by Jesus to the British Isles.
Judea, the land of the biblical recantations of the lifetime of Jesus, was one of the furthest corners of the Roman Empire at the time of his birth and throughout his short life. Rome had exerted its influence across Europe and in Brittannia under Julius Caesar, establishing friendly overlords in the latter and collecting tribute. Roman roads traversed the continent of Europe; Roman aqueducts crisscrossed the continent and Roman armies were based from the borders of modern day Germany to the Iberian Peninsula. Specifically just before and during the life of Jesus, Rome and Britain traded with each other, and Roman diplomacy inserted itself in the affairs of the ruling tribes of Britain.
Trade meant travel, and though it was undoubtedly difficult, dangerous, and time consuming, it was possible to travel from one end of the empire to the other. Travel was often by caravan ashore, and convoys at sea. The journey from Judea to Brittannia could be achieved either via coastal vessels along the Mediterranean shores, the Iberian coastline, and across the British Channel, or by road across modern day Europe, or in some combination thereof. In 2010 ORBIS (a tool developed by specialists at Stanford University) demonstrated that a trip from Rome to Londinium (London) could be achieved in as little as four weeks. Travel from Judea to Rome was common in the time of Jesus, both Peter and Paul made the journey, according to biblical accounts, shortly after Jesus death.
In 1808 British poet and painter William Blake wrote a poem entitled And Did Those Feet in Ancient Times? (later entitled Jerusalem) Blake, though a self-professed Christian, was a virulent opponent of all forms of organized religion, especially the Church of England. His poem, which languished in relative obscurity for more than a century, tells of Jesus, still a young boy, travelling to England in the company of Joseph of Arimathea. Today the poem is known as the song Jerusalem, sung at Royal Weddings and during the funeral service for Princess Diana. According to the poem and its writer Joseph of Arimathea was traveling on business (remember, Luke recorded him as a wealthy man).
According to the legend involved with the story, Joseph was Jesus’ great uncle, as Mary was his niece. After the death of Joseph, unrecorded in the gospels, Joseph of Arimathea assumed responsibility for the raising of his niece’s sons. They traveled together on at least one trip to Great Britain, with their destination being modern-day Glastonbury, the Avalon of the legends of King Arthur. The first Glastonbury visit was but one of many according to Arthurian legends, and some believe that there are cryptic clues in the gospel accounts, such as John the Baptist’s uncertainty over Jesus’ – his own cousin – identity, indicating the possibility of a long absence (John 1:33).
13. Jesus and the legend of King Arthur and His Knights
Arthurian legends – that of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table – began to emerge in the twelfth century, based on legends and stories which had survived (with embellishments over time) since before the Dark Ages. Many were and are based on stories of Jesus, and bear many similarities. The Arthurian Round Table is similar to that of the Last Supper in that both contained seating for 13; in the case of Arthur himself and his twelve knights, while Jesus was joined at table by his twelve disciples. Both contained a traitor in their midst. Both, according to some, contain the central character surrounded by twelve images reflecting the twelve signs of the zodiac.
This has led many scholars, students, and theorists to postulate that the Arthurian legends were based in earlier tales relating Jesus’ residence, albeit temporary, in the British Isles. The myths are inconsistent, some present Jesus in England at the start of his ministry, later carried to Judea. Others claim he returned to the Great Britain he visited as a boy after escaping Judea in the aftermath of his crucifixion, which he either survived or avoided all together, in each case aided by his great-uncle, Joseph of Arimathea. As in the case of the four gospels of the Bible, hard evidence, such as archaeological evidence, of Jesus’ life is hard to come by, whether in Capernaum or Glastonbury.
14. The Life of Saint Issa, the Best of the Sons of Men
High in the remote Himalayas, safely secured in a Buddhist monastery of indeterminate age, is an ancient manuscript, The Life of Saint Issa, which describes the life of Jesus in India during the years of which the gospels have no description. Or so some believe. Jesus living in India is a theory which has been condemned as nonsense and heresy by fundamentalist Christians for over a century. One argument against the theory of Jesus spending much of his life India is based on the distance between the subcontinent and Palestine, an argument frequently put forth by Christian fundamentalists who conveniently forget that according to the Gospel of Matthew the Magi visited the newly born Jesus, having presumably made a similar journey in the opposite direction (Matthew does not specify a number, it is accepted by tradition there were three).
The three are traditionally identified as Gaspar, Melchior, and Balthazar, with Melchior coming from Persia, Balthazar from Arabia, and Gaspar from India. While it is true that the Magi so familiar as part of the Christmas story are likely mythological, their existence indicates that in the ancient world from which the tradition evolved, travel from the mysterious “East” was not out of the question. Neither was travel in the opposite direction. During Jesus’ lifetime the Silk Road was heavily traveled, and a journey to the East was not considered unusual, indeed it was mandatory for merchants needing products for their customers. Long-standing Christian tradition is that it was the Apostle Thomas (of doubting fame) who spread Christianity to India following Pentecost, spending the rest of his life and dying there.
15. Nicolas Notovitch and The Unknown Life of Jesus Christ
One problem with the document purported to be concealed in an ancient Buddhist monastery in the remote Himalayas is that few, if any, from the west have ever seen it, although some have claimed to have read the document. One such individual was a Russian war correspondent named Nicolas Notovitch, who published his story of seeing the original, and a translation of it in French, in 1894. According to his account, Jesus went to India at the age of 13, remaining there until he was 29, studying Buddhism at various locations. His account presented Jesus as studying in Tibetan monasteries, both under Brahmin priests, and alone, including at Nalanda, the traditional seat of Buddhist reflection and learning.
Notovitch was immediately condemned as a fraud and huckster, an evaluation which time and further study strengthened. Even his visit to the monastery at which he claimed to have seen the manuscript was revealed to be a fabrication. Yet one of his most vocal debunkers, Swami Abhedananda, later (1922) claimed to have been to the same monastery and seen the same manuscript, though it was a copy of the original, written in Tibetan. After his death one of his students asked to see a copy of the manuscript allegedly studied by his master, to learn that it had disappeared, and that the original was in a monastery near Lhasa. The Swami’s recantation of his refutation of Notovitch reopened interest and speculation over whether Jesus of Nazareth had been a student in India prior to his ministry in Judea.
16. Was Jesus a myth based on Indian Bhagavan Krishna?
In the 1860s, a French legal scholar and lecturer named Louis Jacolliot published a work which he titled, La Bible dans l”Indie, Vie de Iezeus Christna (The Bible in India, the Life of Jesus Christna). Jacolliot had spent years living in India, where he compared the story of the life of Jesus, as recounted in the gospels, and that of Bhagavan Krishna, as part of a study he conducted searching for the links between Hindu mysticism and the occult in the west. His comparison was done from a legal scholarly viewpoint, rather than a theological one, and from it he concluded that the gospel stories of Jesus were myths based on the story of the Krishna. He further concluded that Christ was derived from Krishna, and wrote it as Christna as a consequence.
Thus Jacolliot postulated that Jesus hadn’t lived in India as a young man, but was instead a mythological creation based on Krishna, as the many similarities between the two attested. The myths evolved in Palestine over the years based on the stories shared by traders and travelers from the mysterious East. His work was immediately attacked as being fraudulent, heretical, divisive, and lacking in any scholarly value by Christian fundamentalists and the Catholic hierarchy in France, as are most writings which express doubt in biblical texts.
17. What of Jesus’ life beyond the so-called unknown years?
In the absence of archaeological evidence, the discovery of additional ancient texts heretofore unknown, with flawless provenance, or an episode of divine revelation, Jesus’ whereabouts and activities during the years not described in the gospels will likely remain unknown. Those who accept the Christian teachings as unimpeachable will continue to do so, those that do not will continue to seek answers to their unanswered questions. The mystery will remain. Whether he resided in Nazareth, working as a simple carpenter, or in Capernaum, as some Bible verses assert, or elsewhere is immaterial to those for whom the question has no merit. For others, there are no provable answers.
There is however, a third unknown period for those disinclined to believe in the biblical account of the resurrection (the first being from infancy to the age of 12, the second from 12 to about 30). Some believe that Jesus of Nazareth survived the execution ordered by Pilate, and lived away from the jurisdiction of the Jews. Others believe (in accordance with the Koran) that he was raised bodily into heaven without dying, either on the cross or through any other natural means. Some believe that another was crucified in his place, allowing him to escape and continue his divine mission. For these there is another period of the unknown in the life – or rather the story – of Jesus of Nazareth.
In Islam, Isa ibn Maryam (Jesus, son of Mary) is a prophet of Allah and the Messiah (al-Masih) of the Jewish people, whose earthly mission was as a messenger of Allah. Jesus is referred to in the Koran as Isa only 25 times, but additional mentions by other names, titles, references, or as attributions makes him the most often named person in the Koran. Like Christianity, there are many different sects of beliefs in Islam, some of them often in conflict with others, but in general, Islamic teaching is that Jesus did not die, not on the cross nor through any other means, but that Allah raised him bodily into heaven at the end of his ministry. The Islamic Second Coming has Jesus returning to fight and triumph over the False Messiah at the end of the world.
Mary, the mother of Jesus, is the only woman named in the Koran, and she is revealed as being a virgin, though her son, Jesus, is not granted any of the attributes of a deity. He is not regarded as the son of God as he is in Christianity, nor is he perceived as God in the form of Man. He does however retain the power to perform miracles in his Islamic presentation, and he performs several in the name of Allah. There is no Joseph to serve as either Mary’s husband or Jesus’ earthly father in the Koran, Mary is left to face her bearing and rearing of the child alone. Nor does Jesus wear the mantle of a simple carpenter in the Islamic presentation of his life and ministry.
The Koran is clear, according to believers, that Jesus escaped crucifixion and was raised into heaven without first suffering the death of mortal humans. But it is equally clear that there was a crucifixion, and that those who witnessed it doubted whether the man crucified died on the cross. The generally accepted belied in Islam – that Jesus (Isa) was raised bodily into heaven and will return at the end of time – has led into three contending theories over the crucifixion described in the Koran. Some believe that Jesus was crucified, but not long enough for death to have taken place before being rescued. Others argue that such deceit is not possible of the Supreme Deity, and another was crucified in Jesus’ place.
One such replacement argument is that it was Judas Iscariot, the traitor of Christian belief, who died on the cross, deservedly since he was a liar, traitor, and thief. Another is that Simon the Cyrene, the spectator who helped Jesus carry the cross on his path to Calgary, was executed after the minds of the executioners were confused by divine action. Another belief is that Simon Peter was executed in place of Jesus. There are other theories, involving the deaths of others on the cross as well as Jesus being taken down from his supposed execution still alive (the Jesus swooned theory), none of which fully counter the Christian belief of the crucifixion, at the end of which Jesus’s death was confirmed by his being pierced in the side by a Roman soldier with his lance.
20. The belief that Jesus was entombed in France was widespread in the first and second century
The resurrection of Jesus was not widely accepted among the early followers of his teachings, whom in the first century were generally referred to as Nazarenes, rather than as Christians. The symbol with which they identified themselves was less that of the cross, and more widely that of a fish. Sects of the Nazarenes believed that the body of Jesus was removed from the tomb in which it had lain and transported elsewhere. One explanation of this belief, which is widely reported in apocryphal texts, is that Mary Magdalene had the body removed from the tomb and carried to an underground crypt prepared through the approval of Tiberius (the Roman Emperor), in the south of France.
The Avenging of the Savior is an eighth century apocryphal text which recounts Mary Magdalene’s journey to Rome, under the name of Veronica, where she obtained the permission and support of the emperor to have Jesus interred in a crypt near today’s village of St. Thibery (itself a reference to the name Tiberius, rendered Thibere). The document, and others which describe the location of another tomb, to which the body of Jesus was later moved, are held by the French National Library in Paris.
For centuries legends and folklore have described Jesus surviving the crucifixion and fleeing, in company with Mary Magdalene and in some cases with his mother as well, to southern France. During his remaining lifetime, according to the legends, the church born of his followers in Palestine spread, including to the region in which he resided. One such legend is that Jesus died at the Church of Sainte Salyvre in Languedoc, and that his embalmed body was transported to a nearby chateau, where it was buried. It was later moved to a secret location at or near Pic de Bugarach.
Another church in the French region of Provence claims to have within its midst the tomb of Mary Magdalene. The church, the Basilica de Saint Maximin La Sainte Baume (Sainte Baume refers to Holy Balm) is dedicated to Mary Magdalene, and has been the destination of pilgrimages for centuries. Pic de Bugarach is the highest peak in the Corbieres. It has long been associated with not only religious pilgrimages by those who believe in the legends of Jesus’ life in southern France, but with visitations by extraterrestrials by those inclined to believe in such activity. Despite is height, the mountain is relatively easy to climb without the use of special equipment by those sufficiently physically fit to handle the decrease in oxygen.
The Book of Mormon is just one source which describes Jesus visiting North America and Mesoamerica, appearing among the Israelite people who had traveled to the continents later known as the New World to escape the Babylonian captivity. Those Israelites, according to the belief, traveled to the Americas about six centuries before the events described as the life of Jesus in Judea occurred. But there were still older legends among the ancient peoples of Mesoamerica, including those of Quetzcoatl and Viracocha, which indicated an appearance centuries before those described in the Book of Mormon.
In the Book of Third Nephi, Jesus appears before the people, identifies himself as Jesus Christ, and displays the wounds from the crucifixion in his hands and feet, as well as invites them to, “thrust your hands into my sideâ¦” Thus the presence of Jesus in the Americas would be one which followed the events of his death and resurrection described in the Christian gospels, though the appearances linked to the myths and legends of the ancient Mesoamerican tribes would have occurred centuries earlier.
23. The denial of the lost years of the life of Jesus
Attempts to discover and describe the life of Jesus outside of the events in the four gospels are blasphemous to most Christians, and the apocryphal books which do so were labeled as false by the Catholic Church centuries before the Reformation and the birth of Protestantism. Yet the banned books remain, many of them written contemporaneously with the earliest texts of the authorized gospels. The Gospel of Luke (2: 40) sums up the childhood of Jesus in a single verse, which reads, “And the child grew, and waxed strong in spirit, filled with wisdom: and the grace of God was upon him” (Luke 2: 40 KJV). The subsequent verses in Luke describe his awe-inspiring visit to the temple.
Despite numerous texts contained in the Apocrypha, life in the home of Jesus, and Mary and Joseph and their children is reduced to the short description in Luke. The adolescent years of Jesus are not addressed at all, unless one considers the age of twelve to be part of adolescence. Interestingly the Infant Gospel of Thomas, Chapter 19, verse 5, contains a passage which is reflective of Luke 2:40. The passage in Thomas, which describes events following the appearance of the twelve year old Jesus before the temple scholars, reads: “â¦And Jesus increased in wisdom and stature and grace.”
24. Jesus is described in the apocrypha as being with his siblings
According to the Catholic faith and many Protestant religions, the persons described in the gospels as Jesus’ “brothers” were sons of Joseph by an earlier marriage, or perhaps cousins or other close relatives. The Apocrypha describes their relationships as children in more detail, perhaps the reason the books are not accepted as canonical. In the Infant Gospel of Thomas, for instance, an event which occurred during the lost years of Jesus is described in which he provides miraculous intervention for the benefit of James. Thomas 16: 1 contains the story of James and Jesus gathering wood at the request of Joseph, and also describes Jesus as the younger of the two children.
“And Joseph sent his son James to bind fuel and carry it into his house. And the young child Jesus also followed him”, reads the passage, which goes on to describe James being bit on the hand by a presumably venomous snake. “Jesus came near and breathed upon the bite, and straightway the pain ceased, and the serpent burst, and forthwith James continued whole”. James later became one of the leaders of the early church following the events described in the gospels, with most of what is known of his life derived from passages in the epistles of Paul. The Gospel of John does not mention him at all.
25. The mystery of the lost years of Jesus of Nazareth
Possibly no other person in the collective history of humanity across the globe has been more closely studied by historians, archaeologists, theologians, and philosophers, than the itinerant Jewish teacher known as Jesus of Nazareth. Yet more than half of his generally accepted lifespan remains a mystery. Eighteen of his 33 years of life on earth are undocumented, or are documented in books labeled as heresies and falsehoods by Christian authorities. Despite the rejection of the books of the apocrypha, many of the stories which they contain are included in the Koran, and many continue to be referenced as legends and folklore.
The decade between the ages of two and twelve, and the eighteen subsequent years leading up to Jesus being baptized by his cousin, John the Baptist, are blank. Outside of the books of the Bible and the Apocrypha, other records, including those of Josephus, record Jesus as having siblings, including James “the brother of Jesus who is called Christ”. For the Christian church it seems that the mystery of faith is enough, but for historians the details of the life of Jesus – his biography – remains a mystery both elusive and intriguing.
Where do we find this stuff? Here are our sources: