8 votes, average: 4.88 out of 58 votes, average: 4.88 out of 58 votes, average: 4.88 out of 58 votes, average: 4.88 out of 58 votes, average: 4.88 out of 5 (8 votes, average: 4.88 out of 5)
You need to be a registered member to rate this post.

A Gospel Written by Joseph of Arimathea!

In yesterday’s post on the letter forged in Jesus’ name, allegedly to the king of Edessa Abgar, I mentioned another text in which Jesus is alleged to have written a letter.  This one is even stranger.  Far stranger.  It is a letter he writes from the cross to the cherubim in heaven.  It’s in a (much) later gospel called the Narrative of Joseph of Arimathea, an account of Jesus’ Passion allegedly written by the obscure figure in the NT Gospels who buried him.  Among other things, it gives us “information” on the two robbers who were crucified with him.

Here I explain what the text is and then give the opening scenes.  Tomorrow I will give the rest of it (it’s a short gospel).  All of this comes from the book I co-produced with my colleague Zlatko Plese, The Other Gospels, a book you might be interested in getting!  It gives about 40 Gospel texts (many of them only in fragments) from early Christianity.


The Narrative of Joseph of Arimathea

This apocryphon provides an alternative version of the passion narrative, emphasizing the betrayal of Judas and the events that transpired both at the crucifixion and after the resurrection.  Particular attention is paid to one of the two robbers crucified with Jesus–a man named Demas–who is vividly portrayed as having entered paradise after his repentance on the cross.  The account is told in the first person, much like the Gospel of Peter, only now by Joseph of Arimathea.  This legendary expansion sometimes supplements and sometimes contradicts the canonical Gospels, on which it is partially based.

The first half of the narrative focuses on …

To see the rest of what happens in this fascinating text, including a translation of its open scenes, you will need to belong to the blog.  Joining is very fast and inexpensive — less then 50 cents a week.  And every one of those cents goes to charity.  So why not join?

You need to be logged in to see this part of the content. Please Login to access.

An Intriguingly Legendary Account of Jesus’ Death
Do Any Forgeries Claim to be Written by Jesus?



  1. Avatar
    kjadamsfreo  December 4, 2018

    so many imaginings….all the more reason to cling to the historical Jesus

  2. Avatar
    Bamayorgo  December 4, 2018

    I know you don’t believe Jesus was buried, which I personally disagree , but do you think there was a historical Joseph of Arimethea, a Pharisee who may have been sympathetic to Jesus?

    Thanks, and hope you watched that great Alabama game this past Saturday?!

    • Bart
      Bart  December 5, 2018

      No, I doubt it. He doesn’t appear anywhere except in these burial stories, and appears to have been invented for the occasion.

      Yup, saw it. Amazing. A bit upset that I’ll be out of the country for the semifinals of the playoffs; need to figure out how to livestream them….

      • Avatar
        Judith  December 5, 2018

        Pull for ND. They need all the help they can get.

        • Bart
          Bart  December 7, 2018

          Hey, they already have more direct access to supreme power than any of the others. What more do they want? (Maybe a snappier offense?)

  3. Avatar
    fishician  December 4, 2018

    You kind of wonder how people could be taken in by such stories, but then I think of modern equivalents like the fanciful Left Behind series and how many people today take such writings so seriously.

    • Bart
      Bart  December 5, 2018

      Yup, I’m thinking about devoting my next book to that (modern literalist interpretations of the book of Revelation)

  4. Avatar
    AstaKask  December 4, 2018

    Can you date a gospel by how anti-Semitic it is?

    • Bart
      Bart  December 5, 2018

      Not with much accuracy, though it is interesting that when you line up the earliest of our Gospels (Mark, Matthew, Luke, John, Peter, e.g.) — basing your dating on other criteria — they *do* over time become increasingly opposed to Jews and Judaism.

  5. Lev
    Lev  December 4, 2018

    May I ask an off-topic question?

    Is Sir David Attenborough a modern-day apocalypticist?

    I don’t mean in a religious sense, but the opening 25 seconds of his speech at the UN Climate Change Conference in Poland was quite something – it could be summed up as “repent or perish!”: https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/av/science-environment-46428263/sir-david-attenborough-time-is-running-out

    You would only need to change a few words and I could imagine his speech would sit quite well upon the lips of 1st-century apocalypticists. What do you think?

    • Bart
      Bart  December 5, 2018

      Ha! I have no idea. But we are certainly living in apocalyptic times…

      • Avatar
        Boltonian  December 5, 2018

        Stephen Pinker and the late Hans Rosling would disagree with you.

        • Bart
          Bart  December 7, 2018

          If everyone agreed on everything we’d live in boring times….

  6. Avatar
    mkahn1977  December 4, 2018

    Did Joseph even exist or is he just a literary creation?I don’t think he’s mentioned in any of the Pauline letters.

    • Bart
      Bart  December 5, 2018

      I think he was a literary creation, to explain how it is that Jesus would have been allowed a burial.

      • Avatar
        mkahn1977  December 5, 2018

        Is there or was there ever even a town/village/city of Arimathea?

      • Avatar
        mcmemmo  December 5, 2018

        If Jesus wasn’t buried, but thrown into an open pit or allowed to be eaten by dog or scavengers, doesn’t that mean that his ultimate fate was essentially the sane as someone thrown into Gehenna?

        I’ve just been reading your posts on what Jesus meant by Gehenna. In your 9/10 post, you wrote, “Jesus talked about people ending up there…would end up very badly indeed because (a) they would not receive burial and (b) even worse, their corpses would be thrown into the most hideous literally-god-forsaken place a Jew could imagine.” Later, you write, “Gehenna was seen as a desecrated place of slaughter for God’s enemies at the last judgment. This judgment is said to last “forever.” …those who are killed have no chance of coming to life again, ever.”

        Replace “God” with “Rome” in the last quote and you pretty much have a description of Jesus’ fate if he wasn’t buried in a tomb. That’s quite ironic given what he preached for those who failed to follow him.

        This is off topic, but Justin Brierley is going to love your book on the afterlife. He favors an annihilationist interpretation of what Jesus preached about the ultimate fate of those who reject him. I hope you have a chance to be on his show to discuss it!

        • Bart
          Bart  December 7, 2018

          Yes, pretty much. A dishonored burial.

          • Avatar
            Sami  December 11, 2018

            Was Gehenna in active use during Jesus’ time? Could it be that his body ended up there? Now that would be ironic!

          • Bart
            Bart  December 11, 2018

            We don’t know!

      • Avatar
        brandon284  December 8, 2018

        why do you think he’s a literary creation, Dr. Ehrman?

        • Bart
          Bart  December 9, 2018

          Because there is no evidence he existed, no reference to him in other sources (e.g., Paul), plenty of reason for later Christian storytellers to come up with him as a legendary figure (to allow Jesus to be buried, despite firm Roman practice and custom), even though the account itself (for the same reason) is highly implausible.

  7. Avatar
    mannix  December 5, 2018

    Are there any extant Christian denominations or sects which include in its/their canon this or any of the works covered in your “Other Gospels” book?

  8. Avatar
    AstaKask  December 5, 2018

    What does the author mean by saying Demas was “carrying off the law itself in Jerusalem”?

    • Bart
      Bart  December 7, 2018

      Apparently the idea is that “the law” was an actual book, in a single copy, kept in Jerusalem. Until it got carried off!

  9. Avatar
    HenriettePeterson  December 8, 2018

    If literacy was low and we know of so many ancient Christian forgeries doesn’t that imply quite a high percentage of literate Christians were deliberate liers and deceivers?

    • Bart
      Bart  December 9, 2018

      Well, there’s a handful of people out of thousands, so I’m not sure it’s a high percentage. But it is interesting that in the entire New Testament, only one author (Paul) both names himself (the Gospel writers and others don’t do that) and names himself *correctly* (as opposed ot the authors of Ephesians, Colossians, 2 Thessalonians, and all the general epistles, e.g.)

  10. Avatar
    chixter  December 21, 2018

    Dr. Ehrman: If the body of Jesus was left on the cross as was Roman practice, I would think that the people living in this area would have been aware of it. How then could the 20 or so followers begin the story of Jesus being raised from the dead, the empty tomb, etc. in the same location where people could have observed the crucified body for however long it was there? What am I missing here? How soon after the crucifixion did these stories begin to circulate? I am under the impression it was just days or weeks.

    • Bart
      Bart  December 23, 2018

      It appears that the followers who were with him fled to Galilee, possibly at the time of his arrest, and so were not around in Jerusalem to see.

  11. Avatar
    Petter Häggholm  December 30, 2018

    I doubt you’re a big fan of Richard Carrier (to be frank, neither am I), but one thing he has advanced that I find very intriguing is this: He has claimed that “Arimathea” can be interpreted (via Aramaic?) as “Best-Disciple-Town”; and that, therefore, “Joseph of Arimathea” is best viewed as a literary creation—a name as evocative as [Jesus] *bar-Abbas*—to represent someone superior to the disciples, which (here I add my own gloss) seems to fit very well with the “messianic secret” motif of Mark, where Joseph of Arimathea first appears: an insightful outsider, much like the centurion.

    How would you respond to (or agree with) the “Best-Disciple-Town” interpretation?

    • Bart
      Bart  December 30, 2018

      I didn’t know he had argued that, but I’ve floated it as a possibility before, some years ago. I decided the evidence isn’t strong enough, though, and so decided not to push the point in my book Jesus Before the Gospels where I was dealing with the issue. (I’m not sure where he got “town” from though; the word Arimathea *could* be a botched etymological derivation from “best disciple,” from Greek)

      • Avatar
        Petter Häggholm  December 30, 2018

        Again, to be fair to Carrier, I am not quoting, but paraphrasing from hazy memory; maybe it was something like ‘Joseph of Best-Disciple-[town]’ with the “town” being not part of the translation but implied by (or added to the interpretation) by the “Joseph of —” bit. Or some similarly garbled thing in my memory, with “Best-Disciple” on one thing and the putative “town” of Arimathea on the other.

        So I take it the verdict is: credible but not enough evidence to confidently publish.

  12. Avatar
    Ferrante83  May 18, 2020

    Dear Dr. Ehrman,
    You have written that Joseph of Arimathea may be an invented character.
    Do you think he is based on Isaiah 53:9?

You must be logged in to post a comment.