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Nicodemus (Greek: Νικόδημος) was a Pharisee and a member of the Sanhedrin, who, according to the Gospel of John, showed favour to Jesus. He appears three times in the Gospel: the first is when he visits Jesus one night to listen to his teachings (John 3:1-21); the second is when he states the law concerning the arrest of Jesus during the Feast of Tabernacles (John 7:45-51); and the last follows the Crucifixion, when he assists Joseph of Arimathea in preparing the corpse of Jesus for burial (John 19:39-42).
The discussion with Jesus is the source of several common expressions of contemporary Christianity, specifically, the descriptive phrase born again used to describe the experience of believing in Jesus as Saviour, and John 3:16, a commonly quoted verse used to describe God's plan of salvation.
An apocryphal work under his name — the Gospel of Nicodemus — was produced at some point in the medieval era, and is mostly a reworking of the earlier Acts of Pilate, which recounts the harrowing of Hell.
Though there is no clear source of information about this Nicodemus outside the Gospel of John, the Jewish Encyclopedia and many Biblical historians have theorized that he is identical to Nicodemus ben Gurion, mentioned in the Talmud as a wealthy and popular holy man reputed to have had miraculous powers. Christian tradition asserts that Nicodemus was martyred sometime in the first century. Nicodemus is venerated as a Saint by the Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox churches. Roman Catholics celebrate his memorial on August 3. The Franciscan Order erected a Church carrying his name and the name of St. Joseph of Arimathea in Ramla. The Orthodox Church celebrates him on the Sunday of the Myrrhbearers, a variable date falling always on the third Sunday of Easter and also on August 2, the date when tradition states that his relics were found, along with those of the Apostle and Protomartyr Stephen and Gamaliel (another member of the Sanhedrin who, according to a disputed Christian tradition, converted to Christianity).
Nicodemus in Art
Nicodemus figures prominently in medieval depictions of the Deposition in which he and Joseph of Arimathea are shown removing the dead Christ from the cross, often with the aid of a ladder. Like Joseph, Nicodemus became the object of various pious legends during the Middle Ages, particularly in connection with monumental crosses. He was reputed to have carved both the Holy Face of Lucca and the Batlló Crucifix, receiving angelic assistance with the face in particular and thus rendering the works instances of acheiropoieta. Both of these sculptures date from at least a milennium after Nicodemus's life, but the ascriptions attest to the contemporary interest in Nicodemus as a character in medieval Europe.
Nicodemus was portrayed by Laurence Olivier in the Franco Zeffirelli television miniseries Jesus of Nazareth (1977). In the miniseries, Nicodemus tries to warn Jesus that he might be arrested, and is there to watch the Crucifixion. He speaks the famous words "And with His wounds we are healed" (Isaiah 53:5).
Nicodemus is mentioned often in popular Christian music and literature as a character questioning aspects of faith, such as Nichole Nordeman's song To Know You, which includes the lyrics, "Nicodemus could not understand how You could truly free us. He struggled with the image of a grown man born again. We might have been good friends, 'cause sometimes I still question too how easily we come to You."
- Cornel Heinsdorff: Christus, Nikodemus und die Samaritanerin bei Juvencus. Mit einem Anhang zur lateinischen Evangelienvorlage (= Untersuchungen zur antiken Literatur und Geschichte, Bd.67), Berlin/New York 2003
Washington Philips song "I Was Born to Preach the Gospel" features the following lyrics:
well, you take ol' Nicodemus well, they made him as a ruler to rule but he went (by night)? to meet Jesus and he found himself an educated fool
- ↑ Gertrud Schiller, Iconography of Christian Art. Volume 2. The Passion of Jesus Christ. Janet Seligman (tr.), Greenwich, CT: New York Graphic Society, 1972: 144-5, 472-3.
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