Legend of Joseph of Arimathea

Legendary extension of the story of Joseph of Arimathea

A miniature accompanying the canticle Confitebor tibi domine … in the Queen Mary Psalter, (British Library Royal 2 B VIII), folio 280v, represents some apocryphal details of the story of Joseph of Arimathaea which are not found in Iconclass.


To tag this narrative some additional concepts must be added to 73D69 Joseph of Arimathaea asks Pilate for the body of Christ

The miniature is divided in four segments, with the two on the right containing two scenes.

The Gospel of Nicodemus that tells this story does not explain all the detail we can see in the miniature, which is probably why the description of the miniature on the website of the British Library summarizes the events.

In the first scene the soldiers guarding Christ’s tomb are apparently pushing Joseph away. The second scene combines what is probably an illustration of Luke 23:52 - Joseph asking Pilate for the body of Christ - with the imprisonment of Joseph as requested by the Jewish elders.
The third segment shows the Resurrection. The fourth one again combines two scenes. The second scene shows the risen Christ speaking to Joseph before he leads him away from the prison. The two angels holding Joseph’s hand to the left of this scene have no direct textual basis in the Gospel of Nicodemus unless it is a less than literal representation of “the house where you shut me in was raised up by its four corners and I saw as it were a lightning flash in my eyes” (quoted from W. Schneemelcher, New Testament Apocrypha (transl. by R. McL. Wilson), Cambridge, 1991, p. 518).

To allow a more accurate tagging of these scenes we need to add some details to the two concepts we now find in Iconclass:
73D69 Joseph of Arimathaea asks Pilate for the body of Christ
73D691 Joseph of Arimathaea (with others) on his way to Golgotha
According to the “notational logic”, the second concept is a narrower term of the first. Its content, however, is simply the next step in the narrative, as it is quite common in this part of Iconclass.
It leads up to the next episode:
73D71 descent from the cross: Christ is taken down from the cross, usually by Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathaea who are standing on the ladders (both arms of Christ detached)
the part of the Passion story which most often includes Joseph of Arimathaea in its iconography.

Joseph coming for the body of Christ after the Entombment, appears to be the subject of the first segment of the miniature. If the Gospel of Nicodemus is the source of this detail, it would be the chapter (XIII:3) where it cites the Gospel of Matthew 28:11-15. It is the part where it is told that the Jewish elders pay the soldiers who guarded the tomb to spread the false rumour that disciples came in the night to remove Christ’s body. The first segment would then show the content of the fabricated story, but focus on Joseph. It could lead to an addition like

73D6911 Joseph of Arimathaea coming for the body of Christ; a false rumour, spread by the guards

It would not be too difficult to incorporate the rest of the apocryphal gospel:

73D692 Joseph of Arimathaea is imprisoned
73D693 Christ appears to Joseph and releases him from prison

The second concept would then cover both scenes in the fourth segment; the (+0) key would always be kept in reserve to express an additional detail in a very general sense:
73D693(+0) Christ appears to Joseph and releases him from prison (+ variant)

Specialists of Christian iconography are invited to offer their opinion about this interpretation and the proposed expansion.

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