Butler’s Lives of the Saints – Saint Joseph of Palestine

Article

[commonly called Count Joseph] The Jews, after the destruction of Jerusalem, erected two academies, the one at Babylon, the other at Tiberias, a city on the lake of Genesareth, rebuilt by Herod, in honour of the Emperor Tiberius. Both these schools flourished till the Saracen empire overran those countries. That of Tiberias produced the Massoretes or Massoretic doctors, so famous for the invention of the vowel points in the Hebrew tongue, and their care in preserving the genuine text of the Holy Bible. Though the Jews then retained no sort of jurisdiction or form of government, yet they chose one among their chief doctors to whom they gave the title of patriarch or prince of the captivity. The most celebrated person who ever bore this honour among them was Hillel, whose name is still in great veneration with the Jews, and who was their most learned oracle, and the principal founder and ornament of their academy at Tiberias. This Hillel, a few days before his death, sent for a Christian bishop in the neighbourhood, under the character of a physician, who ordered a bath to be prepared in his chamber, as if it had been for his health, and baptized him in it. Hillel received the divine mysteries, and died.

Joseph, one of his assistants, called Apostoli, whose life we are writing, was witness to this secret transaction, and having always been the confidant of Hillel, had the care of his son Judas, who succeeded him in the dignity of patriarch of the Jews. He found the holy gospels in Hillel’s treasure, and read them with incredible pleasure. The young patriarch fell into evil courses, and employed magical arts to seduce a Christian woman; but the sign of the cross made his charms of no effect. Joseph was surprised to hear this prodigy. He seemed in a dream one night to see Christ, and to hear from his mouth these words: “I am Jesus whom thy fathers crucified; believe in me.” He relished our holy faith more than ever, and going into Cilicia to collect the tenths for the patriarch, he borrowed again the holy gospels. The Jews, already dissatisfied with his conduct, finding him with this holy book, dragged him to their synagogue, and cruelly scourged him. They were preparing worse treatment for him, when the bishop rescued him out of their hands. Joseph having already begun to suffer for Christ, was soon disposed to receive baptism.

Constantine the Great became master of the East in 323. He gave Joseph the title and rank of count, with authority to build churches over Palestine, wherever he should judge proper. Joseph began to raise one at Tiberias. The Jews employed many artifices to hinder the work, and stopped his lime-kilns from burning by enchantments, but he, making the sign of the cross upon a vessel of water, and invoking the name of Jesus, poured it on the kilns, and the fire instantly burst forth and burned with great activity. Count Joseph showed no less zeal against the Arians than against the Jews, and both conspired together to persecute him; but he was protected by his dignity of count, which gave him a superior command and authority. Joseph, however, when the Emperor Constantius persecuted the orthodox prelates, retired from Tiberias to the neighbouring city Scythopolis, where, in 355, he lodged St. Eusebius of Vercelli, banished by the Arians. His was the only Catholic house in that town. He harboured many other illustrious servants of God, and among the rest St. Epiphanius, who had from his own mouth the particulars here related. Joseph was then seventy years of age. He died soon after, about the year 356. The Greeks and Latins both mention his name in their martyrologies.

MLA Citation

  • Father Alban Butler. “Saint Joseph of Palestine”. Lives of the Fathers, Martyrs, and Principal Saints, 1866. Saints.SQPN.com. 20 July 2013. Web. 25 July 2014. <>