Unasked questions: What happened to Joseph?

One of the signs of a great story is the listener’s question, “What happened next?” In the National Geographic for March 2012 the cover article is “The Journey of the Apostles”, detailing the lives and teachings of not just the original Twelve, but also others such as Mary Magdalene, after Jesus’ crucifixion.  We have stories about what happened to all of them, and to many others associated with Jesus. Not all the stories are believable, but where there is no fact there is plenty of speculation and legend.

Except in the case of Joseph, the (step)father of Jesus.

This is strange. If his fate was unknown, we would have legends and rumors. Search for “What happened to Joseph of Arimathea?”, for example, and you find him traveling all over the place, carrying the Holy Grail, settling in Britain, you name it. But search for “What happened to Joseph the father of Jesus?”, and you find nothing about him after his last mention in the Gospels, going up to the Temple in Jerusalem with Mary and Jesus when Jesus was 11 or 12.

Mass crucifixions after an uprising

But suppose his fate was a) not something that the early Church wanted to talk about, and b) so well-known that no one could make up an alternative narrative without having the whole thing dragged out into public discussion again. Therefore silence. No narrative, no legends, nothing.

The interesting event that happened around that time (probably later in the same year that Joseph took Jesus to Jerusalem, but the timing is uncertain) was an uprising led by Judas of Galilee with an attack on Sepphoris. (Sepphoris is the Roman name; the Hebrew name is Zippori.) This was Herod Antipas’ capital city in Galilee, 4 miles north of Nazareth. Probably a lot of men from Nazareth were in the uprising. The uprising was crushed by the Romans, and the Romans crucified 2,000 Jews outside Sepphoris.

And after that, we don’t hear anything about Joseph in the Bible, or in legends or stories.

Jesus, however, retains a remarkable father-fixation all his life, and is himself crucified after leading an attack on the Temple in Jerusalem, having tried to claim the messianic kingship of Israel.

So… what happened to Joseph? And why didn’t anyone want to talk about it in the early Church, as they tried to make Christianity acceptable throughout the Roman Empire?

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5 comments on “Unasked questions: What happened to Joseph?

  1. another1171@gmail.com says:

    “What happened to Joseph the father of Jesus?”

    He’s running a coffee shop in Upper Dicker, East Sussex, with Jonathan Kent, adoptive father of Superman. They have a lot in common since both are fictional … as are their “adopted sons”.

    • That’s an amusing response, thank you! But there is actual evidence for the existence of Joseph and Jesus.

      The evidence is from multiple mentions of Jesus recorded within a hundred years of his death by serious historians (Tacitus, Josephus) as well as by the propagators of the Christian offshoot of Judaism, and also by Jewish detractors of Christianity.

      There is less direct evidence for Joseph, but the descriptions of his relationship to Jesus and silence regarding his death also support his reality more than fictional alternatives: an appropriately mythic role invented for him, and an explained and edifying death.

  2. Tim Day says:

    Something to factor in is the record of Jesus’ siblings. Since there is no mention of another man in Mary’s life, it appears Joseph lived until Jesus was in his early twenties (Mark 6:3; Matthew 13:55-56). Jesus’ own brothers, particularly James (or Jacob) may have had a negative view of Jesus because as the eldest, it would have been his responsibility to care for Mary. Jesus heading out to be an itinerate preacher would have placed the burden on the next eldest brother to care for Mary and the family.

  3. Terry says:

    This is the first time I have read anyone else asking that question. I have been pondering for some time now.
    If Joseph had been one of those crucified it adds further meaning to Jesus’ sweat of blood in the Garden the night before his own crucifixion. If he hadn’t been with Joseph, supporting him as he was tortured to death, then it would have been his uncle or his cousin. Everyone in the Galilee would have known someone who had been crucified. Or someone who knew someone. And Jesus, as a young teenager, would have been there with those dying.
    Was Joseph, being a carpenter, forced to make crosses? And would he have refused? No prize for guessing what happened next.
    Terry

  4. I am convinced the Talpiyot Tomb is the families tomb. Joseph was named as the father of both Jeshuah and James. Was this shortly after the gospels were written? However, Judas the Galilean (our Jesus), and his grandfather Mathias are quoted as the ones responsible for the Cleansing of the Temple (Golden Eagle) 6 BC. If Joseph had been alive then, he most likely would have been the second in command. And would have been mentioned by Josepheus. However, their family, known to Josepheus as the Fourth Philosophy- which is known to the Jews as the Nazerene- The Way, was of a long long time movement starting with the Maccabeas. is it possible that Joseph died in a skirmage that isn’t recorded in our only sources?

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