‘Later, Joseph of Arimathea asked Pilate for the body of Jesus. Now Joseph was a disciple of Jesus, but secretly because he feared the Jewish leaders. With Pilate’s permission, he came and took the body away. He was accompanied by Nicodemus, the man who earlier had visited Jesus at night. Nicodemus brought a mixture of myrrh and aloes, about seventy-five pounds. Taking Jesus’ body, the two of them wrapped it, with the spices, in strips of linen. This was in accordance with Jewish burial customs. At the place where Jesus was crucified, there was a garden, and in the garden a new tomb, in which no one had ever been laid. Because it was the Jewish day of Preparation and since the tomb was nearby, they laid Jesus there.’ John 19:38-42
According to the four cannonical Gospels, Joseph of Arimathea was the member of the Jewish Sanhedrin who donated his own tomb for Jesus’ burial. This fact is important because it would show that the place where Jesus was buried was known to the Jews, the Romans, and the followers of Jesus. The significance of this is that the disciples could never have proclaimed the resurrection of Jesus, in Jerusalem, if there were a tomb containing his body.
New Testament historians have established this fact on the basis of:
Jesus’ burial is attested in the very old tradition quoted by Paul in his first letter to the Corinthians. ‘For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, and then to the Twelve. ‘ 1 Corinthians 14:3-5. This four line formula has convinced New Testament scholars that this highly stylized formula was Paul, quoting from an old tradition that he himself had received. This memorized tradition could possibly be traced back to Paul’s journey to Jerusalem around A.D. 36 when he spent fifteen days with the disciples Peter (Cephas) and James. Paul’s receipt of this tradition could date to within 6 years of Jesus’ crucifixion which occurred around A.D. 30. This time span is so short that distortion and legend can feasibly be ruled out. In the words of Jacob Kremer, an Austrian specialist on the resurrection, “By far most exegetes hold firmly to the reliability of the biblical statements concerning the empty tomb.”1
The burial of Jesus is part of very old source material used by Mark, who most contemporary scholars regard as the earliest gospel. The gospels tend to consist of brief anecdotes of Jesus’ life and ministry which are only loosely connected and are often not in chronological order which is a trait of ancient historical writings. The Passion Story, or the final week of Jesus’ suffering leading up to and including his crucifixion, however, is a continuous narrative. This suggests, again according to New Testament historians, that this was one of the sources that Mark used in his writing. Since Mark was the earliest gospel, his source material must have been earlier still, which dates his writings conservatively to between A.D. 55 and A.D. 70. As a member of the Jewish court that condemned Jesus to death, Joseph of Arimathea is unlikely a Christian invention. There was an understandable hostility in the early church toward the Jewish leaders. In Christian eyes, they had engineered a judicial murder of Jesus. Thus, according to the late New Testament scholar Raymond Brown, Jesus’ burial by Joseph is “very probable,” since it is “almost inexplicable” why Christians would make up a story about a Jewish Sanhedrist who does what is right by Jesus.2
No competing burial story exists. If the burial story about Joseph were fictitious, we would expect to find either another historical trace of what actually happened to Jesus corpse or a competing legend of what happened. But all independent sources are unanimous to ascribing to Joseph the interment of Jesus in the tomb. “The burial of Jesus in a tomb is one of the earliest and best attested facts about Jesus.” John A.T. Robinson of Cambridge University3
 Jacob Kremer, Die Osterevangelien–Geschichten um Geschichte (Stuttgart: Katholisches Bibelwerk, 1977), pp. 49-50.
 Raymond E. Brown, The Death of the Messiah, 2 vols. (Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, 1994), 2: 1240-1.
 John A.T. Robinson, The Human Face of God, (Philadephia: Westminster, 1973), 131.