Daily Reading for August 1 • Joseph of Arimathea
The legends connecting Jesus and Joseph with Cornwall/Somerset go something like this: 1) There is an Eastern tradition that Joseph was the Uncle of Mary, Mother of Jesus. 2) Further tradition states that Joseph was a merchant in the tin trade that flourished between the west coast of England, and Europe and the Mediterranean. 3) On one or more occasions, the legends state that Joseph brought his grandnephew Jesus with him on business trips to the mines in Cornwall/Somerset. On one of those trips, Jesus and Joseph built the church in Glastonbury (later to be used by Joseph and his followers after the death and resurrection of Jesus). Jesus dedicated the church to his Mother (the niece of Joseph of Arimathea).
As stated earlier, there are no direct early historical, or even literary references to these legends. The earliest reference of any kind may be in William Blake’s famous poem, “Jerusalem,” which is now a much-loved hymn in England:
And did those feet in ancient times
Walk upon England's mountains green?
And was the Holy Lamb of God
On England's pleasant pastures seen?
And did the Countenance Divine
Shine forth upon our clouded hills?
And was Jerusalem builded here
Among those dark Satanic mills? . . .
(William Blake, 1757-1827)
There is some background and indirect evidence that just prevent the legend from being totally implausible. There is no question that there were tin mines in Western Britain in the early first century. And there is no question that the tin was traded with other parts of the Continent. Proponents of the legend point to several place names in Cornwall/Somerset that have Jewish names, or that refer directly to Christ (“Jesus Well,” “Penzance”). . . .
So, are the stories and legends true? In my personal opinion, the idea that Joseph brought a small band of followers to Britain in the first century, and started a church at Glastonbury seems reasonably credible (although not absolutely provable). . . . However, I can speak quite personally that Glastonbury is a very eerie place, and if miracles could occur anywhere in the world, I could believe that they could occur there.
From “Joseph of Arimathea: Biblical & Legendary Accounts” by Robert C. Jones. Copyright 1997. http://www.sundayschoolcourses.com/joseph/joseph.htm