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James, Brother of Jesus

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James, Brother of Jesus

Saint James the Just
Icon of James
Martyr, Adelphotheos
Born unknown
Died 62 (according to Josephus and Jerome) or 69 (Hegesippus, Clement of Alexandria, and Eusebius of Caesarea)[1]
Honored in All Christianity
Canonized pre-congregation
Feast May 3 (Roman Catholic), May 1 (Anglican), October 23 (Lutheran), (Episcopal Church (USA)), (Eastern Orthodox), December 26 (Eastern Orthodox)
Attributes fuller's club; man holding a book
Controversy James is sometimes identified with James, son of Alphaeus and James the Less. There is disagreement about the exact relationship to Jesus.

James (Hebrew: יעקב Ya'akov; Greek Ἰάκωβος Iákōbos), first Bishop of Bishops,[2] who died in 62 or 69, was an important figure of the Apostolic Age. He is distinguished from the Apostle James, son of Zebedee by various epithets; he is called James the brother of the Lord by Paul (Galatians 1:19), James the brother of the Lord, surnamed the Just by Hegesippus and others, "James the Righteous", "James of Jerusalem", "James Adelphotheos" (Ἰάκωβος ὁ ἀδελφόθεος), and so on.

In a letter addressed to James from Clement of Rome, James was called as the "bishop of bishops, who rules Jerusalem, the Holy Assembly of Hebrews, and all assemblies everywhere."[3] But like the rest of the early Christians, information about his life is scarce and ambiguous. In the non-canonical Gospel of Thomas, Jesus names James his successor: "The disciples said to Jesus, 'We know that you will depart from us. Who will be our leader?' Jesus said to them, ;Where you are, you are to go to James the Just, for whose sake heaven and earth came into existence.'"[4] Apart from a handful of references in the synoptic Gospels, the main sources for his life are the Acts of the Apostles, the Pauline epistles, the historian Josephus, Eusebius and St. Jerome who also quote the early Christian chronicler Hegesippus and Epiphanus.[5] The Epistle of James in the New Testament is traditionally attributed to him, and he is a principal author of the Apostolic Decree of Acts 15. In the extant lists of Hippolytus of Rome,[6] Dorotheus of Tyre, the Chronicon Paschale, and Dimitry of Rostov, he is the first of the Seventy Apostles, though some sources, such as the Catholic Encyclopedia,[7] seeking to preserve the primacy for Saint Peter as the first Pope, draw the conclusion that "these lists are unfortunately worthless".

Hegesippus in his fifth book of his Commentaries, writing of James, says "After the apostles, James the brother of the Lord surnamed the Just was made head of the Church at Jerusalem."[8]

As a consequence of the orthodox doctrine of perpetual virginity, which does not allow that Mary had children after Jesus, Jerome considered that the term "brother" of the Lord should be read "cousin", and concluded that James "the brother of the Lord," (Gal.1:19) is therefore James, son of Alphaeus, one of the Twelve Apostles of Jesus, as well as James, the son of Mary Cleophas.[9] It is interesting that near contemporary sources also insist that James too was a "perpetual virgin" from the womb, a term which according to Robert Eisenman was later converted to his mother, Mary.[10] According to the Catholic Encyclopedia, he is not, however, identified with James the Great,[9] although this is disputed.[10] Some Protestant groups claim the Matthew 1:25 statement that Joseph "knew her not till she had brought forth her firstborn son" to mean that Joseph and Mary did have normal marital relations after Jesus' birth, and that James, Joses, Jude, and Simon were the biological sons of Mary and Joseph; and, thus, brothers of Jesus.


In the New Testament, James is simply "James", other than Paul's one reference to "James, the brother of the Lord" (Galatians 1:19).

Eusebius records that Clement of Alexandria related, "This James, whom the people of old called the Just because of his outstanding virtue, was the first, as the record tells us, to be elected to the episcopal throne of the Jerusalem church."[11][12][13][14][15] The name also helps distinguish him from other important figures in early Christianity of the same name, such as James, son of Zebedee.

He is sometimes referred to in Eastern Christianity as "James Adelphotheos" (Greek: Iάκωβος ο Αδελφόθεος), "James the Brother of God". The oldest surviving Christian liturgy, the Liturgy of St James, calls him "the brother of God" (Adelphotheos).[16]

New Testament sources

The earliest New Testament sources on James are the surviving Pauline Epistles from about the sixth decade, describing events roughly during 35–55. The Acts of the Apostles, written between 60 and 100, describes the same period. The Gospels, with a disputed dating ranging from about 50 to as late as 110, describe the period of Jesus' ministry, around 30. In these sources, there is more than one person named James,[9] and different titles are used to distinguish between them.

Paul's epistles

Paul briefly mentions meeting "James, the Lord's brother" in the Epistle to the Galatians:

Then after three years I went up to Jerusalem to see Peter, and abode with him fifteen days. But other of the apostles saw I none, save James the Lord's brother. Now the things which I write unto you, behold, before God, I lie not.[17]
And when James, Cephas, and John, who seemed to be pillars, perceived the grace that was given unto me, they gave to me and Barnabas the right hands of fellowship; that we should go unto the heathen, and they unto the circumcision. Only they would that we should remember the poor; the same which I also was forward to do.[18]

The third mention of James in Galatians is within the so-called "incident at Antioch". According to Paul, Peter cared about James's opinion and what the other Christians thought.

But when Peter was come to Antioch, I withstood him to the face, because he was to be blamed. For before that certain came from James, he did eat with the Gentiles: but when they were come, he withdrew and separated himself, fearing them which were of the circumcision.[19]

A "James" is mentioned in Paul's First Epistle to the Corinthians, as one to whom Jesus appeared after his resurrection. Notable is how Paul names only Peter and James among the disciples and others who saw Jesus:

For I delivered unto you first of all that which I also received, how that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures; and that he was buried, and that he rose again the third day according to the scriptures: and that he was seen of Cephas, then of the twelve:

After that, he was seen of above five hundred brethren at once; of whom the greater part remain unto this present, but some are fallen asleep. After that, he was seen of James; then of all the apostles.[20]

Based on this identification, Paul might also be referring to James earlier in the same letter:

Have we not power to lead about a sister, a wife, as well as other apostles, and as the brethren of the Lord, and Cephas?[21]

This is generally taken as an indication that this James is the same as James, the younger brother of Jesus.[9]

Acts of the Apostles

There is a James mentioned in Acts, which the Catholic Encyclopedia identifies with James, the brother of Jesus:[9]

But he, beckoning unto them with the hand to hold their peace, declared unto them how the Lord had brought him out of the prison. And he said, Go show these things unto James, and to the brethren. And he departed, and went into another place.[22]

James is also an authority in the early church at the Council of Jerusalem (James is quoting Amos 9:11–12).

And after they had held their peace, James answered, saying, Men and brethren, hearken unto me: Simeon hath declared how God at the first did visit the Gentiles, to take out of them a people for his name. And to this agree the words of the prophets; as it is written, After this I will return, and will build again the tabernacle of David, which is fallen down; and I will build again the ruins thereof, and I will set it up: That the residue of men might seek after the Lord, and all the Gentiles, upon whom my name is called, saith the Lord, who doeth all these things. Known unto God are all his works from the beginning of the world. Wherefore my sentence is, that we trouble not them, which from among the Gentiles are turned to God: But that we write unto them, that they abstain from pollutions of idols, and from fornication, and from things strangled, and from blood. For Moses of old time hath in every city them that preach him, being read in the synagogues every sabbath day."[23]

After this, there is only one more mention of James in Acts, meeting with Paul shortly before Paul's arrest:

And when we were come to Jerusalem, the brethren received us gladly. And the day following Paul went in with us unto James; and all the elders were present.[24]


The Gospel of Mark and the Gospel of Matthew also mention a James as Jesus' brother:[9]

"– Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary, the brother of James, and Joses, and of Juda, and Simon? and are not his sisters here with us? And they were offended at him.[25]

The John 7:5).

Two disciples named James

The Synoptic Gospels, similarly to the Epistle to the Galatians, recognize a core group of three disciples (Peter, John and James) having the same names as those given by Paul. However, the James in this group is sometimes called the brother of John, which would be James the Great, who is definitely not James the brother of Jesus.

In the list of the disciples found in the Gospels, two disciples named James are mentioned in the list of the twelve disciples:[26]

And he called to him his twelve disciples and gave them authority over unclean spirits, to cast them out, and to heal every disease and every affliction. The names of the twelve apostles are these: first, Simon, who is called Peter, and Andrew his brother; James the son of Zebedee, and John his brother; Philip and Bartholomew; Thomas, and Matthew the tax collector; James the son of Alphaeus, and Thaddaeus; Simon the Cananaean, and Judas Iscariot, who betrayed him.

James, the son of Zebedee, is also known as James the Great, who is not the same James as James the Just.[9] James, son of Alphaeus, however, is usually identified with James the Less.

When they arrived, they went upstairs to the room where they were staying. Those present were Peter, John, James and Andrew; Philip and Thomas, Bartholomew and Matthew; James son of Alphaeus and Simon the Zealot, and Judas son of James.[27]

James, son of Mary

A Mary is also later mentioned as the mother of a James, both in the Gospel of Mark and in the Gospel of Matthew. Catholic interpretation generally holds that this James is to be identified with James, the son of Alphaeus and James, the brother of Jesus.[9]

Some women were watching from a distance. Among them were Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James the younger and of Joseph, and Salome.[28]
When the Sabbath was over, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices so that they might go to anoint Jesus' body.[29]
Among them were Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James and Joseph, and the mother of Zebedee's sons.[30]

Other sources

The Jerusalem Church

Fragment X of Papias (writing in the second century) refers to "James the bishop and apostle". According to Eusebius, the Jerusalem church escaped to Pella during the siege of Jerusalem by the future Emperor Titus in 70 and afterwards returned, having a further series of Jewish bishops until the Bar Kokhba revolt in 130. Following the second destruction of Jerusalem and the rebuilding of the city as Aelia Capitolina, subsequent bishops were Greeks.[31] The evidence of Eusebius is confirmed by the account of the Bordeaux Pilgrim.[32]

Early Christian apocrypha

Some apocryphal gospels testify to the reverence Jewish followers of Jesus (like the Ebionites) had for James. The Gospel of the Hebrews fragment 21 confirms the account of Paul in 1 Corinthians regarding the risen Jesus' appearance to James, and this is mentioned also by the Gospel of Thomas (one of the works included in the Nag Hammadi library), saying 12, which relates that the disciples asked Jesus, "We are aware that you will depart from us. Who will be our leader?" Jesus said to them, "No matter where you come [from] it is to James the Just that you shall go, for whose sake heaven and earth have come to exist." Epiphanius (Panarion 29.4) describes James as a Nazirite.

The pseudepigraphical First Apocalypse of James associated with James's name mentions many details, some of which may reflect early traditions: he is said to have authority over the twelve apostles and the early church; this work also adds, somewhat puzzlingly, that James left Jerusalem and fled to Pella before the Roman siege of that city in 70. (Ben Witherington suggests what is meant by this was that James's bones were taken by the early Christians who had fled Jerusalem).

The Apocryphon of James, the sole copy of which was found in the Nag Hammadi library and which may have been written in Egypt in the 3rd century,[33] recounts a post-resurrection appearance of the risen Christ to James and Peter that James is said to have recorded in Hebrew. In the dialogue, Peter speaks twice (3:12; 9:1) but misunderstands Jesus. Only James is addressed by name (6:20), and James is the more dominant of the two.

The Gospel of James (or "Infancy Gospel of James"), a work of the 2nd century, also presents itself as written by James — a sign that his authorship would lend authority — and so do several tractates in the codices found at Nag Hammadi.

Relationship to Jesus

Jesus' brothers — James as well as Jude, Simon and Joses — are named in Matthew 13:55 and Mark 6:3 and mentioned elsewhere. James's name always appears first in lists, which suggests he was the eldest among them.[34] In the passage in Josephus's Jewish Antiquities (20.9.1), the Jewish historian describes James as "the brother of Jesus who is called Christ", although it is not known whether this is original or added by later Christian editors/copyists. Paul, recounting his conversion, recalls, "Then after three years I went up to Jerusalem to visit Cephas and remained with him fifteen days. But I saw none of the other apostles except James the Lord's brother."[35]

Interpretation of the phrase "brother of the Lord" and similar phrases is divided between those who interpret the phrase literally and those (Catholics, Eastern Orthodox and some Protestants) who presuppose the perpetual virginity of Mary and therefore do not also accept an absolutely literal interpretation.

Younger half-brother, son of Mary and Joseph

The Mosaic Law advised married couples to be fruitful and have many children. According to this hypothesis, Mary and Joseph as zealous Jews may have attempted to have more children after Mary gave birth to Jesus, thus making James a brother of Jesus.

The New Testament says that Jesus was miraculously conceived and born of a virgin, and Jesus is referred to as the "first-born son" of Mary, so James and the other so-called brethren of Jesus could have been younger brothers.

However, Luke's reporting of the visit of Mary, Joseph, and Jesus to the Temple of Jerusalem when Jesus was 12 makes no reference to brothers. Robert Eisenman, however, is of the belief that Luke, as a close follower of Pauline Gentile Christianity, sought to minimise the importance of Jesus family by wherever means possible, editing James and Jesus' brothers out of the Gospel record.[36]

Younger half-brother, son of Mary and a second husband

A variant on this is presented by James Tabor,[34] who argues that after the early and childless death of Joseph, Mary married Clopas, whom he accepts as a younger brother of Joseph, according to the Levirate law. According to this view, Clopas fathered James and the later siblings, but not Jesus.

John Dominic Crossan suggested that James was probably Jesus' older brother.[37]

Older stepbrother, son of Joseph by an earlier marriage

Jerome asserts in his tract The Perpetual Virginity of Blessed Mary that the term first-born was used to refer to any offspring that opened the womb, rather than definitely implying other children.[38]

The Protevangelium of James assumes the Greek nature of Jewish practices during this period in history and says that Mary was betrothed to an older relative in order to preserve her virginity and that Joseph already had children. In this case, James was one of Joseph's children from his previous marriage and, therefore, Jesus' stepbrother.

One argument supporting this view is that it would have been against Jewish custom for Jesus to give his mother to the care of John (who is not at all suspected to be a blood relative of Jesus) if Mary had other living sons. This is because the eldest son would take responsibility for his mother after the death of her husband.[39] So any other sons of Mary should have taken on this responsibility if they existed, therefore arguing against a direct biological brother relationship.

Also, Aramaic and Hebrew tended to use circumlocutions to point out blood relationships; it is asserted that just calling some people "brothers of Jesus" would not have necessarily implied the same mother.[40][41] Rather, something like "sons of the mother of Jesus" would have been used to indicate a common mother. Scholars and theologians who assert this point out that Jesus was called "the son of Mary" rather than "a son of Mary" in his hometown (Mark 6:3).[40]

Cousin, son of a sister of Mary

James, along with the others named "brethren" of Jesus, are claimed by others to have been Jesus' cousins. This claim is justified by the fact that cousins were also called "brothers" and "sisters" in Jesus' postulated native language, Aramaic, which, like Biblical Hebrew, does not contain a word for cousin.[42] Furthermore, the Greek words adelphos and adelphe were not restricted to their literal meaning of a full brother or sister in the Bible; nor were their plurals.[40][41] This use is still common in Greece and other Balkan cultures. This assumes, naturally, that the Middle Eastern authors' usage of Greek reflects their way of speaking. The tradition of considering cousins as brothers or sisters is still evident in most Eastern cultures; in some languages, the term cousin does not even exist.

Eusebius of Caesarea (c. 275 – 339) reports the tradition that James the Just was the son of Joseph's brother Clopas and therefore was of the "brethren" (which he interprets as "cousin") of Jesus described in the New Testament.

This is echoed by Jerome (c. 342 – 419) in De Viris Illustribus (On Illustrious Men) – James is said to be the son of another Mary, wife of Clopas and the "sister" of Mary, the mother of Jesus – in the following manner:

James, who is called the brother of the Lord, surnamed the Just, the son of Joseph by another wife, as some think, but, as appears to me, the son of Mary, sister of the mother of our Lord of whom John makes mention in his book...

Jerome refers to the scene of the crucifixion in John 19:25, where three Marys – the mother of Jesus, Mary of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene – are said to be witnesses. John also mentions the "sister" of the mother of Jesus, often identified with Mary of Clopas due to grammar. Mary "of Clopas" is often interpreted as Mary, "wife of Clopas". Mary of Nazareth and Mary of Clopas also need not be literally sisters, in light of the usage of the said words in Greek, Hebrew and Aramaic.[40]

Mary of Clopas is suggested to be the same as "Mary, the mother of James the younger and Joses", "Mary the mother of James and Joseph" and the "other Mary" in Jesus' crucifixion and post-resurrection accounts in the Synoptic Gospels. Proponents of this identification argue that the writers of the Synoptics would have called this Mary, simply, "the mother of Jesus" if she was indeed meant to be the mother of Jesus, given the importance of her son's crucifixion and resurrection: they also note that the mother of James and Joses is called "Maria", whereas the mother of Jesus is "Mariam" or "Marias" in Greek. These proponents find it unlikely that Mary would be referred to by her biological children other than Jesus at such a significant time (James happens to be the brother of one Joses, as spelled in Mark, or Joseph, as in Matthew).[40][41][43]

Jerome's opinion suggests an identification of James the Just with the Apostle James, son of Alphaeus; Clopas and Alphaeus are thought to be different Greek renderings of the Aramaic name Halpai.[41] Despite this, some biblical scholars tend to distinguish them; this is also not Roman Catholic dogma, though a traditional teaching.

Since this Clopas is, according to Eusebius, Joseph of Nazareth's brother (see above) and this Mary is said to be Mary of Nazareth's sister, James could be related to Jesus by blood and law.[40]

Other relationships

Also, Jesus and James could be related in some other way, not strictly "cousins", following the non-literal application of the term adelphos and the Aramaic term for brother.[40][41] According to the apocryphal First Apocalypse of James, James is not the earthly brother of Jesus, but a spiritual brother [44] who according to the Gnostics "received secret knowledge from Jesus prior to the Passion." [45]

The Epistle of James

The Epistle of James has been traditionally attributed to James the Just since 253,[46][47] although it is now common for scholars to disagree on its authenticity.[48]


The canonical writings of the New Testament, as well as other written sources from the Early Church, provide some insights into James's life and his role in the Early Church. There is no mention of him in the Gospel of John and the early portions of the Acts of the Apostles. The Synoptics mention his name, but no further information. However, the later chapters of the Acts of the Apostles provide evidence that James was an important figure in the Christian community of Jerusalem.

Jerome (c. 347 – 420), in his De Viris Illustribus, argued that James was not Jesus' brother but his cousin, son of Mary of Cleophas, "the sister of the mother of our Lord of whom John makes mention in his book."[49] After the Passion, Jerome wrote, the Apostles selected James as Bishop of Jerusalem. In describing James' ascetic lifestyle, De Viris Illustribus quotes Hegesippus's account of James from the fifth book of Hegesippus's lost Commentaries:

After the apostles, James the brother of the Lord surnamed the Just was made head of the Church at Jerusalem. Many indeed are called James. This one was holy from his mother's womb. He drank neither wine nor strong drink, ate no flesh, never shaved or anointed himself with ointment or bathed. He alone had the privilege of entering the Holy of Holies, since indeed he did not use woolen vestments but linen and went alone into the temple and prayed in behalf of the people, insomuch that his knees were reputed to have acquired the hardness of camels' knees.[50]

Since it was unlawful for anyone but the High Priest of the Temple to enter the Holy of Holies, and then only once a year on Yom Kippur, Jerome's quotation from Hegesippus indicates that James was considered a High Priest. The Pseudo-Clementine Recognitions suggest this.[51]

Jerome quotes the non-canonical Gospel of the Hebrews: "'Now the Lord, after he had given his grave clothes to the servant of the priest, appeared to James, for James had sworn that he would not eat bread from that hour in which he had drunk the Lord's cup until he should see him risen from the dead.' And a little further on the Lord says, 'bring a table and bread.' And immediately it is added, 'He took bread and blessed and broke and gave it to James the Just and said to him, "My brother, eat your bread, for the Son of Man is risen from the dead."'" And so he ruled the church of Jerusalem thirty years, that is until the seventh year of Nero.[52] (See Early Church Fathers.)

The non-canonical Gospel of Thomas confirms that James was an important leader, stating, "The disciples said to Jesus: We know that you will depart from us; who is it who will lead us?" Jesus said to them, "Wherever you have come from, go to James the Just, for whom heaven and earth came to be."[53][54]

Paul further describes James as being one of the persons to whom the risen Christ showed himself (1 Corinthians 15:3–8); later in 1 Corinthians, Paul mentions James in a way that suggests James had been married (9:5); and in Galatians, Paul lists James with Cephas (better known as Peter) and John as the three "pillars" of the Church (2:9) and who will minister to the "circumcised" (in general Jews and Jewish Proselytes) in Jerusalem, while Paul and his fellows will minister to the "uncircumcised" (in general Gentiles) (2:12). These terms (circumcised/uncircumcised) are generally interpreted to mean Jews and Greeks, who were predominant; however, this is an oversimplification, as 1st-century Judaea Province also had some Jews who no longer circumcised and some Greeks (called Proselytes or Judaizers) and others such as Egyptians, Ethiopians, and Arabs who did.

When Peter, having miraculously escaped from prison, must flee Jerusalem due to Herod Agrippa's persecution, he asks that James be informed (Acts 12:17).

When the Christians of fornication. This became the ruling of the Council, agreed upon by all the apostles and elders and sent to the other churches by letter.

When Paul arrives in Jerusalem to deliver the money he raised for the faithful there, it is to James that he speaks, and it is James who insists that Paul ritually cleanse himself at Herod's Temple to prove his faith and deny rumors of teaching rebellion against the Torah (Acts 21:18ff) (a charge of antinomianism).

Not only does the Book of Acts make it clear that James led the Jerusalem Christian Church as its first leader, this point is also supported by early Christian historians like Eusebius and Clement of Alexandria. In the late 2nd century, Clement recorded the following: "For they say that Peter and James and John after the ascension of our Saviour, as if also preferred by our Lord, strove not after honor, but chose James the Just bishop of Jerusalem".[52][56] (See the Early Church Fathers and Jerome.)


According to a passage found in existing manuscripts of Josephus's Antiquities of the Jews, (xx.9) "the brother of Jesus, who was called Christ, whose name was James" met his death after the death of the procurator Porcius Festus, yet before Lucceius Albinus took office (Antiquities 20,9) — which has been dated to 62. The High Priest Hanan ben Hanan (Anani Ananus in Latin) took advantage of this lack of imperial oversight to assemble a Sanhedrin (although the correct translation of the Greek synhedion kriton is "a council of judges"), who condemned James "on the charge of breaking the law," then had him executed by stoning. Josephus reports that Hanan's act was widely viewed as little more than judicial murder and offended a number of "those who were considered the most fair-minded people in the City, and strict in their observance of the Law," who went as far as meeting Albinus as he entered the province to petition him about the matter. In response, King Agrippa replaced Ananus with Jesus son of Damneus.

George Albert Wells challenges the identification of the James whom Hanan ben Hanan had executed with James the Just, considering the words "who was called Christ" to be a later interpolation. Wells also noted that the Church Father Origen, who consulted the works of Josephus in around 248, related an account of the death of James that gave it as a cause of the Roman siege of Jerusalem, something not found in our current manuscripts of Josephus,[57] a fact that is repeated by mainstream Biblical scholars.[58][59]

Eusebius, while quoting Josephus's account, also records otherwise lost passages from Hegesippus (see links below) and Clement of Alexandria (Historia Ecclesiae, 2.23). Hegesippus's account varies somewhat from what Josephus reports and may have been an attempt to reconcile the various accounts by combining them. According to Hegesippus, the scribes and Pharisees came to James for help in putting down Christian beliefs. The record says:

They came, therefore, in a body to James, and said: "We entreat thee, restrain the people: for they have gone astray in their opinions about Jesus, as if he were the Christ. We entreat thee to persuade all who have come hither for the day of the passover, concerning Jesus. For we all listen to thy persuasion; since we, as well as all the people, bear thee testimony that thou art just, and showest partiality to none. Do thou, therefore, persuade the people not to entertain erroneous opinions concerning Jesus: for all the people, and we also, listen to thy persuasion. Take thy stand, then, upon the summit of the temple, that from that elevated spot thou mayest be clearly seen, and thy words may be plainly audible to all the people. For, in order to attend the passover, all the tribes have congregated hither, and some of the Gentiles also."[60]

To the scribes' and Pharisees' dismay, James boldly testified that Christ "Himself sitteth in heaven, at the right hand of the Great Power, and shall come on the clouds of heaven." The scribes and pharisees then said to themselves, "We have not done well in procuring this testimony to Jesus. But let us go up and throw him down, that they may be afraid, and not believe him."

Accordingly, the scribes and Pharisees

... threw down the just man... [and] began to stone him: for he was not killed by the fall; but he turned, and kneeled down, and said: "I beseech Thee, Lord God our Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do."

And, while they were there stoning him to death, one of the priests, the sons of Rechab, the son of Rechabim, to whom testimony is borne by Jeremiah the prophet, began to cry aloud, saying: “Cease, what do ye? The just man is praying for us." But one among them, one of the fullers, took the staff with which he was accustomed to wring out the garments he dyed, and hurled it at the head of the just man.

And so he suffered martyrdom; and they buried him on the spot, and the pillar erected to his memory still remains, close by the temple. This man was a true witness to both Jews and Greeks that Jesus is the Christ.
—Fragments from the Acts of the Church; Concerning the Martyrdom of James, the Brother of the Lord, from Book 5.[60]

Vespasian's siege and capture of Jerusalem delayed the selection of Simeon of Jerusalem to succeed James.

According to Schaff in 1904, this account by "Hegesippus has been cited over and over again by historians as assigning the date of the martyrdom to 69", though he challenged the assumption that Hegesippus gives anything to denote such a date.[61]

Josephus does not mention in his writings how James was buried, which makes it hard for scholars to determine what happened to James after his death.

Modern interpretation

Modern historians of the early Christian churches tend to place James in the tradition of Jewish Christianity; where Paul emphasized faith over observance of Mosaic Law, which he considered a burden, an antinomian disposition, James is thought to have espoused the opposite position, which is derogatively called Judaizing. One corpus commonly cited as proof of this are the Recognitions and Homilies of Clement (also known as the Clementine literature), versions of a novel that has been dated to as early as the 2nd century, where James appears as a saintly figure who is assaulted by an unnamed enemy some modern critics think may be Paul. Scholar James D. G. Dunn has proposed that Peter was the "bridge-man" (i.e. the pontifex maximus) between the two other "prominent leading figures": Paul and James the Just.[62]

Traditional Christian theologians have maintained likewise that the two held the same beliefs; evangelicals claim that James's talk of works referred to works that God produced in Christians as evidence of conversion (as Paul himself assumes that works will follow faith). On the other hand, Orthodox and Catholic theologians claim that Paul did not discount the importance of works (citing passages such as Romans 6 and 8) and that James was not referring to ceremonial works of the Torah (citing the fact that at the First Council of Jerusalem, James declared that only a small portion of the Torah should be applied to Gentile converts).

The ossuary controversy

Main article: James Ossuary

In the November 2002 issue of Biblical Archaeology Review, André Lemaire of the Sorbonne University in Paris published the report that an ossuary bearing the inscription "Ya'aqov bar Yosef achui d'Yeshua" ("James son of Joseph brother of Jesus") had been identified belonging to a collector, who quickly turned out to be Oded Golan. The ossuary was exhibited at the Royal Ontario Museum in Toronto, Canada, late that year; but on June 18, 2003, the Israeli Antiquities Authority published a report concluding, based on an analysis of the patina, that the inscription is a modern forgery. Specifically, it appeared that the inscription had been added recently and made to look old by addition of a chalk solution. However, The Discovery Channel's 2004 documentary James, Brother of Jesus shows the examination of the inscription's patina by the Royal Ontario Museum using longwave ultraviolet light, and they concluded there was "nothing suspicious" about the engraving, and Golan has put out a 34-page document defending the authenticity as well.[63]

On December 29, 2004, Golan was indicted in an Israeli court along with three other men — Robert Deutsch, an inscriptions expert who teaches at Haifa University; collector Shlomo Cohen; and antiquities dealer Faiz al-Amaleh. They were accused of being part of a forgery ring that had been operating for more than 20 years. Golan denied the charges against him. According to the BBC, "when the police took Oded Golan into custody and searched his apartment they discovered a workshop with a range of tools, materials, and half finished 'antiquities'. This was evidence for a fraud of a scale far greater than they had suspected."[64] However, on March 14, 2012, Golan was declared innocent of all charges of forgery, though with the judge saying this acquittal "does not mean that the inscription on the ossuary is authentic or that it was written 2,000 years ago" and "it was not proven in any way that the words 'the brother of Jesus' necessarily refer to the 'Jesus' who appears in Christian writings."[65][66]

Feast day

In the Roman Catholic Church, the feast day of Philip the Apostle, along with that of James the Just, was traditionally observed on 1 May, the anniversary of the dedication of the church dedicated to them in Rome (now called the Church of the Twelve Apostles). The current ordinary calendar transfers this combined feast to May 3.

In the Eastern Orthodox Church, James is commemorated as "Apostle James the Just, brother of Our Lord", and as such, multiple days are assigned to his feasts. His feast days are on October 23, December 26 and the next Sunday of the Nativity along with King David and Saint Joseph and January 4 among the Seventy Apostles.

In the Episcopal Church of the United States of America and Lutheran Church, James, brother of Jesus and martyr is commemorated on October 23.


  • Richard Bauckham. James: Wisdom of James, disciple of Jesus the sage. London: Routledge, 1999. ISBN 0-415-10369-X (-3); Jude and the Relatives of Jesus in the Early Church. London: T & T Clark, 1990, 2004. ISBN 0-567-08297-0 (paperback).
  • Raymond E. Brown. An Introduction to the New Testament. New York: Doubleday, 1997. ISBN 0-385-24767-2
  • James the Brother of Jesus: The Key to Unlocking the Secrets of Early Christianity and the Dead Sea Scrolls, Faber & Faber, 1997.
  • John Painter. Just James. Columbia: University of South Carolina, 1997 review
  • Hershel Shanks and Ben Witherington, The Brother of Jesus. New York: HarperSanFrancisco, 2003. ISBN 0-06-055660-9
  • Francis Watson. Paul, Judaism and the Gentiles. Cultural background.
  • Biblical Archaeology Review Articles in various issues in 2004 and 2005 concerning the ossuary.


External links

  • James the Just, Cleopas'companion
  • Eusebius
  • Book 20, Chapter 9
  • ch.2, the second chapter, directly following Simon Peter.
  • Fragments of Papias
  • Catholic Answers: The Brethren of the Lord
  • Catholic Encyclopedia: St. James the Less, whom this article identifies as James the Just
  • Catholic Encyclopedia: The Brethren of the Lord
  • Jewish Encyclopedia: James
  • Schaff's History of the Christian Church on James, section 27
  • Encyclopædia Britannica
  • Armenian church of St. James in Jerusalem (photo)

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