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A book by Rich Van Winkle

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An Amazing Life: Jesus and the Nozerim

Appendix XII – James

"Faith without works is dead." (James 2:12)

Hegesippus, who lived immediately after the apostles, gives the most accurate account in the fifth book of his Memoirs. He wrote as follows: "James, the brother of the Lord, succeeded to the government of the Church in conjunction with the apostles. He has been called the Just by all from the time of our Saviour to the present day....He was holy from his mother's womb; and he drank no wine nor strong drink, nor did he eat flesh. No razor came upon his head; he did not anoint himself with oil, and he did not use the bath. He alone was permitted to enter into the holy place; for he wore not woolen but linen garments. And he was in the habit of entering alone into the temple, and was frequently found upon his knees begging forgiveness for the people, so that his knees became hard like those of a camel...         - Church History II.23.5-6[1]

James (יעקב or Ya‘aqov in Hebrew, Iάκωβος in Greek, and also Jacob in English) has become a key figure in the study of Jesus’ life. Because he is almost universally accepted as the “Brother of the Lord[2]” and the leader of the first “Jesus movement”, information learned or gleaned about him directly relates to Jesus and tells us critical information about Jesus’ family. And, since we have independent historical verification of James and his stature, we are less dependent upon the New Testament (“NT”) for information about him.

James was also known as “James the Just”, “James the Righteous[3]”, “James of Jerusalem”, “James Adelphotheos”, “James the Lesser”, and “James Protepiscopus” (first bishop). Many have identified him as the author of the Epistle of James that appears in the New Testament and he is almost certainly the James mention in Josephus:

And now Caesar, upon hearing the death of Festus, sent Albinus into Judea, as procurator. But the king deprived Joseph of the high priesthood, and bestowed the succession to that dignity on the son of Ananus, who was also himself called Ananus. Now the report goes that this eldest Ananus proved a most fortunate man; for he had five sons who had all performed the office of a high priest to God, and who had himself enjoyed that dignity a long time formerly, which had never happened to any other of our high priests. But this younger Ananus, who, as we have told you already, took the high priesthood, was a bold man in his temper, and very insolent; he was also of the sect of the Sadducees, who are very rigid in judging offenders, above all the rest of the Jews, as we have already observed; when, therefore, Ananus was of this disposition, he thought he had now a proper opportunity [to exercise his authority]. Festus was now dead, and Albinus was but upon the road; so he assembled the sanhedrim of judges, and brought before them the brother of Jesus, who was called Christ[4], whose name was James, and some others, [or, some of his companions]; and when he had formed an accusation against them as breakers of the law, he delivered them to be stoned: but as for those who seemed the most equitable of the citizens, and such as were the most uneasy at the breach of the laws, they disliked what was done; they also sent to the king [Agrippa], desiring him to send to Ananus that he should act so no more, for that what he had already done was not to be justified; nay, some of them went also to meet Albinus, as he was upon his journey from Alexandria, and informed him that it was not lawful for Ananus to assemble a sanhedrim without his consent. Whereupon Albinus complied with what they said, and wrote in anger to Ananus, and threatened that he would bring him to punishment for what he had done; on which king Agrippa took the high priesthood from him, when he had ruled but three months, and made Jesus, the son of Damneus, high priest. (Josephus,  Antiquities 20.9.1).

James is mentioned in a variety of other early works, including:

In the Gospel of the Hebrews, Jesus appears to James after he is risen. "'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.' (Gospel according to the Hebrews (fragment 21) as quoted by Jerome).

In the Gospel of Thomas (saying 12) the disciples ask Jesus, "We are aware that you will depart from us. Who will be our leader?" Jesus said to him, "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."

                Papias (Fragment X[5]) refers to "James the bishop and apostle".

                Epiphanius' Panarion (29.4) describes James as a Nazirite.

                In the Apocryphon of James (in Hebrew), James receives a post-resurrection visit from Jesus.

                The First Apocalypse of James mentions other early traditions including James’ authority over   the twelve Apostles and the early church.

Clement of Rome[6] (30-97 CE) purportedly addressed a letter to James: "James... the Bishop of Bishops, who rules Jerusalem, the Holy Assembly of the Hebrews and the Assemblies everywhere" (Pseudo-Clementine Homilies of Clement; cf. Peter’s Homilies letter with a similar salutation).

James makes numerous appearances in the New Testament, including…

                When the brothers of Jesus are named, one named James always follows Jesus (Mat. 13:55;      Mark 6:3).

At Matthew 10:2, Mark 3:18, and Acts 1:13, two different Apostles named James are listed (“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.” Acts 1:13).

James called "the brother of the Lord" is mentioned in Acts 12:17 and thereafter (A 15:13; 21:18; 1Cor. 15:17; Gal. 1:19; 2:9-12) as the leader of the Jerusalem congregation.

                Paul, listing appearances of the Risen Lord (1 Cor. 15:3-8), includes an appearance to James.

Paul tells of his going to Jerusalem three years after his conversion and conferring there with James (Gal. 1:18-19) and speaks to him again later.

James, Peter and John are deemed the "the pillars" and placed their stamp of approval on the mission to the Gentiles. It is noteworthy that James is listed first. (Gal. 2:9).

 In Acts (15:13, et seq.), James has the final word in deciding the issue in dispute.

                His mother is identified as Mary (Mat. 27:56; Luke 24:10; John 19:25).

In Luke (6:16), the apostle Jude (not Iscariot) is called "Judas of James", which is understood to mean "Judas the brother of James."

The author of Jude (the Epistle) calls himself the brother of James.

Thus, we know of a man who was the brother of Jesus, one of his Apostles, and the one chosen as Jesus’ successor who is largely ignored in the good news of the NT. He exists in a substantial body of non-canonical literature and the most important histories of the period. He is recorded as a highly respected opposition High Priest who also led the early movement of Jesus’ followers in the mission Jesus assigned to him. It is of little wonder why he has gained so much attention in recent years[7].

Robert Eisenman (see footnote below) has reconstructed the life of James from exhaustive research and paints a picture of James that substantially contradicts that presented in the New Testament. For Eisenman (and me) James is the historical, rabbinical, and spiritual successor to Jesus and his understanding of the mission given to the apostles is widely divergent from that offered by Paul. Thus, James and Paul were frequently at odds until James’ death in 62 CE when the followers of Jesus chose Simon, another brother-apostle of Jesus, as the successor to James. But when the Jewish revolt began a few years later, Paul took the opportunity to separate his movement from the mission begun by Jesus. Paul used Peter as his authority and established the Roman Catholic Church as a non-Jewish religion based upon Paul’s assertion that Jesus was the Messiah and intended to start a new redemption based religion primarily for gentiles. (The primary theme of “After Jesus”, the sequel intended to follow this book).

This view is highly controversial since it strongly undermines the legitimacy of the some parts of Christianity.   The focus of this debate is generally centered upon four well defined issues:

1.                   Was James Jesus’ brother or just a “brethren” like all the disciples?

2.                   Was James a follower of Jesus prior to Jesus’ “resurrection appearance” to him?

3.                   Was James the leader of Jesus’ mission after Jesus’ death?

4.                   What was James’ influence upon the Jesus movement and early Christianity?


James as Jesus’ brother:

For the first few centuries of Christianity, it was understood that the siblings mentioned in the gospels were just what the gospels said they were – actual brothers and sisters of Jesus[8]. But then there was a new movement offering reverence for Mary and the doctrine of Mary’s perpetual virginity arose. It was supported by Jerome in his controversial fourth century work “Against Helvidius[9]”. There, Jerome proposed that the Greek terms δελφός (“brothers", literally “from the womb”) and δελφή ("sisters", also literally “from the womb”) was intended to mean “cousins”. He supported this view with an odd argument related to the gospel account of the betrothal of Joseph and Mary. Quite simply, the argument cannot be sustained linguistically and on the whole independent scholars reject the attempt to misinterpret the specific words chosen by the gospel writers[10].

Also during the fourth century, Epiphanius proposed another solution to the sibling issue: that Mary was Jesus’ mother but not James’ (Panarion 1.29.3-4; 2.66.19; 3.78.7, 9, 13). He suggested that Joseph had had a wife prior to his marriage to Mary and that the “siblings” were actually the sons of Joseph via the former wife. This possibility has some support from the second-century Protoevanglium of James and perhaps the Gospel of Peter (according to Origen’s Commentary on Matthew 10:17). It may also find support from James’ emphasis on the Davidic identity of the Church (per Acts 15:16). This view is also advanced by Richard Bauckham who points out that under the Helvidian view, Mary would have had to give birth to at least seven children (Jesus, his four brothers, and two or more sisters) in twelve years (based upon the presumption that Joseph died soon after Luke’s story of Jesus being left at the Temple Luke 2:41…)[11]. Since her culture required confinement of women after childbirth and prohibited intercourse with a woman with a flow of blood, the odds of this many pregnancies in such a short period is quite small. Also, there is a reduced likelihood of so many pregnancies due to the prophylactic effect of a new mother’s lactation and a father’s advancing age. And finally, so many pregnancies would defy the odds of every child surviving to age during a time when infant mortality was so high.  

These arguments only make sense if one is desperate to avoid the obvious references in the New Testament, including these and those above…

                    Behold, his mother and his brethren stood without, seeking to speak to him.” (Mat. 12:46).

                    “After this he went down to Capernaum, he, and his mother, and his brethren.” (John 2:12).

                    “His brethren therefore said unto him, Depart hence, and go into Judæa, that thy disciples also may behold the works which thou doest.” (John 7:3-4).

                    “For even his brethren did not believe on him.” (John 7:5).

                    “Is not this the carpenter’s son? is not his mother called Mary? and his brethren James, and Joseph, and Simon, and Judas? And his sisters, are they not all with us?” (Mat. 13: 54, 55; Mark 6:1–3).

                    “And I went up by revelation, but other of the apostles saw I none, save Peter and James the Lord’s brother.” (Gal.2: 2; 1: 19).

                    “Don't we have the right to take a believing wife along with us, as do the other apostles and the Lord's brothers and Cephas?” (1 Cor. 9:5).

It is difficult to find a context where such references do not make much more sense referencing a blood brother as opposed to a cousin or a “follower”. Indeed, several of the references specifically exclude “brethren” from being a general reference to Jesus’ followers or believers. We must read “from the womb” as meaning exactly what it says. Similarly, it is hard to misunderstand the clear wording of the second century Syriac Apostolic Constitutions that states that James was "the brother of Christ according to the flesh... and one appointed Bishop of Jerusalem by the Lord Himself," (8.35).

James as a follower of Jesus prior to Jesus’ death:

The Gospels portray James and his brethren as far less than sympathetic to Jesus and as unsupportive of his mission.  This is made clear by these passages in the NT:

                    In John, James is presumably included among the unnamed brothers who argued with Jesus about his refusal to go to Jerusalem for a feast (John 7:2-10).

                    In a statement by a skeptical crowd (in “Nazareth”), they are doubtful that the family they know as that of Jesus could be responsible for miracles (Mark 6:1-6; Matthew 13:53-58).

                    James is anonymously among the brothers (and mother) who Jesus declined greet when it would interrupt his teaching (Mark 3:31-35; Matthew 12:46-50; Luke 8:19-21).

                    And when the people of “Nazareth” attempted to throw Jesus down a cliff, Jesus seems to have had a negative view about his own family. (Luke 4:16-30).

                    James may also have been among those of Jesus’ family who were said to think that Jesus was possessed by evil spirits or "out of his mind." (Mark 3:21; John 10:20).

The intended inference was that Jesus and James (and the rest of Jesus’ brothers) were somehow at odds during Jesus’ life and James only “came around” after a resurrection appearance by Jesus. This supposed repentance by James is necessary for the Pauline church because James is recognized within the earliest list (1 Corinthians 15:7) of those to whom Jesus appears after his death[12]. The Paulines simply could not undo the well known popularity of James and the testimony to Jesus’ resurrection appearance to James (having Jesus appear to one after resurrection was akin to being touched by God).

Also, because James was closely associated with the Temple, his authority as a rabbinical leader was well established (at least relative to the other apostles). James emerged as the dominant figure in the Jesus movement from right after the death of Jesus until James’ death. Aside from Paul’s reference to James in his list of witnesses to the resurrection, the New Testament does not record an actual appearance to James, but the non-canonical Gospel of the Hebrews does. There, Jesus assures his brother that "the Son of Man[13] has been raised from among those who sleep" (cited by Jerome, Liber de Viris Illustribus II)[14].

Thus, we have virtually no information regarding the role James might have played in the mission of Jesus while Jesus was alive (and what we do have is largely intended to misdirect us). The situation changes dramatically, however, after the death of Jesus...

James as the leader of Jesus’ mission after Jesus’ death:

The cognate traditions regarding the role of James in the “early church” tell us more than the Catholic Church would like. Because Saul (pre-Paul) informs us that he persecuted the early followers of Jesus (Gal. 1:13), we know they were a cohesive and organized group long before Paul was influential. But the process and basis for James becoming the leader of this group is wholly ignored in the NT. Within the historical record, each author slants the story of James in their own way:

                    The Gospel according to the Hebrews (and then Paul) has James become an important witness to Jesus’ resurrection - the most important event in Christendom.

                    In the Acts of the Apostles, James makes pragmatic compromises (advancing positions consistent with the religious views of Paul) promulgating the Church’s growth.

                    In Paul’s epistles, James is often a divisive figure who doesn’t fully accept the views and authority of Paul.

                    Josephus uses the popularity and stature of James to illustrate how unjust and unholy the High Priest Ananus was (suggesting also that the killing of James was an underlying cause of the Jewish revolt).

                    Hegesippus reflects upon the death of James to illustrate James’ righteousness and that of the early Jesus movement.

                    Clement portrays James as a transitional figure of the apostolic tradition and uses James’ standing in order to disparage Paul (the Clementine Recognitions)[15].

 What is undoubted in each of these portrayals (which may all hold some basis in fact) is that James was a popular figure whose opinion was given great weight and whose leadership was unquestioned (although Paul only gave it weight when it agreed with him). Thus, James was not just involved in Jesus’ mission - he led it after Jesus’ death. (We are left to wonder if he didn’t play a more important role in Jesus’ mission before Jesus was killed).  Once we fully grasp the importance of James in directing Jesus’ mission then we must ask how his influence effected the development and early evolution of primitive Christianity (and the early Christian literature)?

James’ influence upon the Jesus movement and early Christianity:

From the book of Acts we can be rather certain that James was the unquestioned leader of the Jesus mission after Jesus’ death. We can surmise that his leadership style was akin to a benign dictator – he gathered views and then decided the outcome. He selected disciples (including his brothers) as delegates and “apostles” for the mission which grew quickly. The indications are that the early movement had five primary facets that were collectively known as “the Way”:

  1. Service to God (devotion and prayer)
  2. Service to God (Benevolence to others)
  3. Repentance baptism (forgiveness through a change of heart and renewed commitment to righteousness).
  4. Communion (the collective sharing of both purpose and wealth).
  5. Passing along the “good news” (God’s Kingdom is at hand).


As the mission grew within the Jewish community it was inevitable that it would touch the gentiles and that they would see its merits. While there was a process (including “baptism”) whereby they could become Jews and thereby join the movement, two core requirements provided a substantial barrier: circumcision[16] and separation[17]. The problem with circumcision is obvious – especially with adult males. The issues of separation were not new to the Jesus movement – Jews had debated their relationship with and the restrictions on their interaction with gentiles for centuries before Jesus’ time. But the Jesus movement had “table fellowship[18]” as a core element and Jewish dietary laws made contact with unclean foods and those who ate them unrighteous. The obvious solution was to have everyone – Jews and gentiles – eat kosher food. The major problem arose when someone converted to Judaism and was then prohibited from dining with family members who didn’t convert and abstain from eating non-kosher foods[19]. These were the focal issues brought to the Jerusalem Council by Paul and Barnabas (Acts 15:13ff).


James “the Just” heard the opposing viewpoints and, according to Acts, gave this ruling: 'It is the decision of the holy Spirit and of us not to place on you any burden beyond these necessities, namely, to abstain from meat sacrificed to idols, from blood, from meats of strangled animals, and from unlawful marriage. If you keep free of these, you will be doing what is right.” (Acts 15:28-29). However, there are several problems that this ruling creates – the most significant is that it contradicts the well attested teachings of Jesus…


                    “Think not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfill. For verily I say unto you, Till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled” (Mat. 5:17-18).


                    “As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you; abide in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father's commandments and abide in his love. These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full. This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.” (John 15:9-12).


                    First, love God your Creator more than anything else - do not put anything ahead of God your Creator. Then, love all other people the same as you love yourself. (Composite of Matthew 22:35-40 as restated in Mark 12:28-31 and Luke 10:25-28 building from the First Commandment at Exodus 20:1-17).

                    Treat others as you would like to be treated. (re-phrasing Matthew 7:12;  Luke 6:31; John 15:12).

                    Forgive, and be forgiven. (Matthew 6:12; Mark 11:25-26).

                    Show people your good works – do not hide your righteousness.  (Mat. 5:15-16).

                    Whatever causes you to sin, get rid of it. "Follow the narrow path to life." (Mat.5:29-30; 7:13-14).

                    Do not return offense for offense -turn the other cheek.  (Mat. 38-39).

                    Give what people ask of you, and give more than is required. Give to the needy to please God, not to gain approval. "Feed the hungry, clothe the naked, shelter the homeless, and comfort those in distress." (Mat. 6:1; Luke 10:30-37).

                    Pray and fast privately and simply, not to impress other people - make your prayers be like the lord's prayer. (Mat. 6:5-7; 6:9-15; 6:16).

                    Store up your treasures for heaven, not on earth. (Mat. 6:19-21).

                    Do not worry excessively about your material needs or about the future - if god is your highest priority then your needs will be met (“seek, and ye shall find”). (Mat. 6:25-26; 6:33; 7:7).

                    “Judge not, lest ye be judged.” "Be merciful." (Mat. 7:1-2; John 8:7).

                    Give holy things to the deserving – don’t cast your pearls before swine. (Mat. 7:6).

                    "Beware of false prophets." (Mat. 7:15).

                    Heal the sick, cleanse the lepers, raise the dead, cast out demons –“ freely ye have received, freely give." (Mat. 10:8)

                    Love little children, do not neglect or abuse them. (Mat. 18:10).

                    Do not take titles for yourself – be humble. (Mat. 23:8-12).

These teachings demonstrate more than their “lessons”, they demonstrate Jesus’ view of the place of the law and how one applies it. (For a more detailed look at Jewish law, see Appendix V). For Jesus, the law was definitely not “carved in stone” – he viewed the law from the perspective of purpose and accepted that the scriptural description of the law was merely man’s imperfect view of it. Thus, whenever he discussed the law, the focus was always about achieving its purpose rather than debating some trivial point (distinguishing mere human interpretations of God’s commandments from the actual commandments).

For Jesus, the law served one clear purpose: to facilitate and direct our service to God. That service had one basic purpose – to abide in God’s love. And, the clearest and simplest way to honor God was to keep God’s commandments, all of which he believed could be accomplished with by loving one another through the golden rule. Hegesippus describes James in terms which emphasize his purity  and devotion to God. His association with the Nazirite vow is well established (Hegesippus; cf. Acts 21:17-36) and the reverence which many Jews felt for James (not only his brother’s followers) derives from his willingness to honor his vows and to encourage of others in the practice[20].

 We don’t need to be biblical scholars to see the distinct break between the teachings of Jesus derived from his sayings and teachings of Jesus promulgated by the Pauline church. So long as James was alive and the leadership of the Jesus movement was in the hands of Jesus’ family, his mission was continued as he taught. But Paul had other ideas and because “the victors write history”, after the Pauline church turned to the Romans and the Romans crushed the Jews (including much of the Jesus movement), the Catholic Church changed the history to suit its purposes. The supposed letter by James recorded in the book of Acts (as above) is a clear example of Catholic revisionist history.

First, we should recognize that whenever the NT authors and editors invoke the “Holy Spirit”, they leave a footprint indicating their intervention. By starting their letter with “'It is the decision of the holy Spirit…”, they make it almost certain that this was not written by James of the Jews of the Council of Jerusalem. By suggesting that the Jewish law that should be applied to the gentiles could be reduced to abstaining from eating meat sacrificed to idols, from blood, from meats of strangled animals, and from unlawful marriage, the authors demonstrate ignorance of Jewish law and Jesus’ teachings while reflecting a result plainly favored by Paul and his church. Jewish law could hardly be clearer…

The Jews follow what we call the “Ten Commandments[21]” and they do not expect any non-Jew (gentile) to do so. Gentiles are given a separate set of laws known as the seven Noahide laws (שבע מצוות בני נח‎ or  the Sheva Mitzvot Shel Bene Noach laws[22]:

1.          Do not worship false gods.

2.          Do not murder.

3.          Do not steal (or kidnap).

4.          Do not be sexually immoral. 

5.          Do not blaspheme God.

6.          Do not eat any flesh that was torn from the body of a living animal. 


It is simply unreasonable to think that James would have offered anything less in his response to the gentiles in Antioch, Syria, and Cilicia. The real question was whether these gentiles would be required to convert to Judaism in order to join “the Way”. Such conversion would have required circumcision and adherence to all Jewish law – both of which Paul deemed to be too demanding (disagreeing with Jesus’ clear teachings).

If we accept that the NT was written to support Paul’s views, then it is clear that the letter expressing the ruling of the Jerusalem Council is a fraud. Furthermore, the whole scenario being presented is intended to misdirect and obfuscate. I propose that we should read the story with a “bias filter” and glean out some important aspects:

                    There was a deep and on-going dispute between Paul and the leadership of the Jesus movement that centered upon gentile converts to “the Way”.

                    Paul (who claimed to be trained as a Pharisee) wanted his new religion to more accessible to non-Jews and so he advocated a position that got him into trouble with the movement’s leaders.

                    He was “recalled” to Jerusalem where he was corrected and admonished by those leaders, including James, the leader.

                    The leadership didn’t trust Paul (and Barnabas) to return to Antioch with the correct ruling and so they sent along Judah and Silas to ensure that the correct message was being taught. Once the matter was clarified, Judah returned to Jerusalem and Silas remained behind to make sure the message didn’t become corrupted.

                    The group at Antioch continued teaching together for an unknown length of time, but it is likely that during that time the conflict between Paul and Peter (recorded in Galatians 2:11-14)[23] occurred; Paul was the only “follower” willing to ignore the ruling from James.

                    Soon thereafter, a “paroxysm” arose between Barnabas and Paul. We might accept that this was based upon a dispute over who would take John-Mark[24] with them, but it seems far more likely that the dispute was much deeper - that Barnabas wanted to leave Paul and wouldn’t allow his nephew to remain with the unacceptable Paul. (Barnabas and John-Mark left together for Cyprus).

That left Paul and Silas together and despite the Church’s position that this meant that the Holy Spirit had chosen Paul and Silas over Barnabas and John-Mark, it is more likely that Silas stayed with Paul upon the direction of the Jerusalem Council (still not trusting Paul). Eventually, Paul left Antioch as persona non grata and never returned again. He and Silas (later joined by Timothy and by Luke) crossed to Europe (via Turkey) and preached at Philippi (where they were arrested, imprisoned, and miraculously escaped). Then they went to Thessalonica and Berea where they were at the center of disputes and riots (Acts 17:1-13). Paul and Silas were separated until they joined together again in Athens and Corinth (Acts 18:5). And then Silas disappears from history. Of course Paul became the founder of “Christianity” through his adaptation of the Jesus legend, the restructuring of Jesus’ teachings, and the undermining of the Jesus movement being led by James.

Other than accounts and views of his death, we lack additional reliable information regarding James. But before we discuss that, I wish to offer a different view of his life. Instead of the libelous NT accounts, I would propose that James was both a good friend and devoted follower of his older brother.  By all appearances, he worked to honor his brother’s life, teachings, and mission and was as respected and as devout a man as any of his time. I propose that we follow the words attributed to Jesus in the Gospel of Thomas…

"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."

Conversely, I am confident that James would tell us that Jesus was his Rabbon[25] and his inspiration. And, if asked, he would undoubtedly have held that the gentiles who wish to join the Way need only abstain from:

1.          Worshiping false gods,

2.          Murder,

3.          Stealing (which includes kidnapping),

4.          Sexual immorality,

5.          Blasphemy against God,

6.          And, eating any flesh that was torn from the body of a living animal.


(“If you keep free of these, you will be doing what is right.” Acts 15:28-29). Similarly, there should be little doubt that James the just would have held that those who wished to fully honor God would choose to be circumcised – following his brothers clear edict:

“I tell you the truth, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until [the Kingdom of Heaven is manifest on Earth]. Anyone who breaks one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the Kingdom of Heaven, but whoever practices and teaches these commands will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. For I tell you that unless your righteousness [is more sincere than] that of the Pharisees and the [scribes], you will certainly not enter the Kingdom of Heaven." (Mat. 5:18-20 – my edition).

Paul’s idea that Jesus’ death somehow fulfilled the law and ended its effect is about as contrary to the teachings of Jesus as is possible. (“…by abolishing in his flesh the law with its commandments and regulations.” Eph. 2:15). James not only understood Jesus’ teachings (which he actually heard and Paul didn’t), he lived them…

Josephus recorded the tradition that James was of great Holiness [obeying the law] and had the reputation among the Jews as being among the most righteous of men. "So holy was James that the people zealously tried to touch the fringes of his garment," the fringes commanded to be worn by observant Jews in Numbers 15:38. (Jerome, Commentary on Galatians 1:19). James was known and addressed by even his opponents as "the Righteous” and “Oblias[26]" – the mourner (Hegesippus). Any Jew who would have suggested that God’s commandments were somehow negated by Jesus’ death could not have been held in such regard (and probably would have been stoned to death). Additionally, we are told by these same (and other) sources that James honored a lifelong Nazirite[27] vow (unlike the temporary Nazirite vow that Paul took). If the position of James was that the law no longer applied, he would have been freed from this vow.

As we know, the position of James and the loyal Jewish followers of Jesus did not prevail over time. James’ death and the ensuing Jewish revolt ensured that Judaism would be diminished for centuries thereafter and the early survival of “Christianity” was premised upon its ability to distinguish itself from Judaism.  However his influence continued after his death, mostly in the form of his epistle that was canonized into the New Testament. We will look at it briefly after we deal with James’ death.

The death of James:

Josephus reports that James was killed at the Jerusalem Temple in the year 62 CE[28] (at the instigation of the high priest Ananus ben Ananus; ). Hegesippus, Clement, and Eusebius offer us some interesting details…

[The Scribes and Pharisees, being directed by the High Priest Ananus] coming therefore in a body to James said, ‘We entreat you to restrain the people for they have gone astray in believing that Jesus was the Messiah. You must, therefore, persuade the people to not to be led astray about Jesus since the whole people, and all of us also, have confidence in you’. James answered loudly, “How can you ask me to speak against my brother?” So the Scribes and Pharisees went up, set James upon a parapet of the Temple and threw him down to the rocks below. When this didn’t kill him, they stoned him to death. “And immediately Vespasian besieged them.”

Josephus (a Jewish contemporary of James) also held that the Jewish people believed James' death was the primary cause for the fall of Jerusalem to the Romans: "[The revolt and destruction] happened to the Jews in requital for James the Righteous, who was a brother of Jesus, for though he was the most Righteous of men, the Jews put him to death."[29] Commenting this story, Eusebius says, "So remarkable a person must James have been, so universally esteemed for Righteousness, that even the most intelligent of Jews felt this was why his martyrdom was immediately followed by the siege of Jerusalem" (Early History 2.23).

It has also been suggested that the killing of James was a “tipping point” that led those who were already inclined to revolt against the Romans and their “puppet High Priests” to begin their uprising. That may be partially true, but the real revolt didn’t begin until 3-4 years after the death of James. Also, the continued misdeeds of the family of Ananus have led to speculation about a family feud with that of James/Jesus/Jospeh and that their generally unholy and greedy High Priesthood under the Romans was a more central cause for the revolt. (Of course, the failure of the revolt had to mean that God was against the Jews and they searched for their failures and misdeeds that might have justified God’s anger with them).

There is one last report regarding the death of James’ that I wish to note. This account comes from the “Acts of the Church”, an interesting commentary of the early history of the Catholic Church:

“[James] 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 thus 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.”  Commentaries on the Acts of the Church, Hegesippus,  Book 5:35 (fragment).

While some suggest that James is repeating what Jesus reportedly said on the cross (Luke 23:34), I propose that Luke took a well known quotation from James and attributed it to Jesus. The mention of a Rechabite priest who was willing to risk his own safety to defend James is also of interest. And finally, we should note that a pillar (that is still standing) was erected on the spot of his martyrdom – something that was not done for Jesus.

The Epistle of James:

To conclude our look at look at James without discussing the epistle bearing his name would be more than a mistake. While there is the possibility that the epistle was not authored by James, its authorship is better attested and more reasonable than almost any other canonized work of the New Testament. In part, support for its authenticity derives from the very fact that its inclusion makes no sense unless it was authentically from James. How else would a letter so contrary to the Church’s central dogma be presented?

The Epistle of James[30] offers a compelling argument that faith without works is dead – in direct contradiction of Paul’s argument that faith alone is the key to salvation (James 5:17 vs. Rom. 4). James relies upon Hebrew scripture (Genesis 22 –Abraham offering up his son Isaac as a deed to show his faith) to support his position that words of faith are “useless” unless perfected through works (James 5:20-22). While the Paulines struggle to make this rebuke of Paul’s ideas seem insignificant, one cannot miss the clarity of James’ meaning and how much better it aligns with the sayings best attributed to Jesus.

Do not merely listen to the word and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says… (James 1:22,25)

 “What good is it my brothers if a man claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such a faith save him? Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to him, "Go, I wish you well; keep warm and well-fed" but does nothing about his physical needs, what good is it? In the same way, faith by itself if it is not accompanied by action is dead.” (James 2:14-18).

Another compelling and informative part of the Epistle of James is its expectation of Jesus’ parousia[31] (“the coming of the Lord is near” - James 5:7-8). This is also in conflict with Paul’s position (which is in conflict with Jesus’ words: “this generation will not pass away until all these things take place.”) (2 Peter 3:4, 12 cf. Matthew 24:34, Mark 13:30, and Luke 21:32).


James is the most difficult follower of Jesus for the Pauline Church. As Jesus’ blood brother, his prominence and authority could not be disputed so they invented (or stole) the virgin birth concept. His position of “mebaqqer” (bishop or overseer which later became known under the Greek term “episkopos”) over the first community of Jesus’ followers (including Jesus’ other family members) was too well established in history for the Pauline’s to deny it, so they sought to minimize and marginalize James. But his memory and reputation lingered long enough that the Church couldn’t simply pass him over. Indeed, they were compelled to admit his prominence and influence to the point of having to canonize his epistle.

James’ influence (and that of his brothers) is confirmed in the New Testament and later literature including the Gospel according to Thomas, the Apocryphon of James, the Protevangelium of James, the First and Second Apocalypse of James, the Gospel of Peter, the Apocalypse of Peter, the Kerygma Petrou, the Kerygmata Petrou, the Acts of Peter, the Letter of Peter to Philip, and the Acts of Peter. And yet, the efforts of the Paulines to write James out of history were not in vain because few people know anything of James beyond what the Church tells them (which is very little and largely erroneous).

And yet, Jerome (relying upon Hegesippus, Clement of Alexandria, and the Jewish historian Josephus) knew that “[James] alone[32] enjoyed the privilege of entering the Holy of Holies, since, indeed, he did not wear woolen, but only linen clothes, and went into the Temple alone and prayed on behalf of the people, so that his knees were reputed to have acquired the callousness of a camel's knees," and that after Jesus departed "was immediately appointed Bishop of Jerusalem by the Apostles." (“Lives of Illustrious Men", Ch. 2). However, instead of following James and his teachings, the Pauline Church elevates Paul and his teachings to the level of divinely inspired dogma even when it plainly contradicts the words of both Jesus and his chosen successor.

Anyone who claims to follow Jesus should strive to know James.

(Author’s note: I am indebted to Robert Eisenman for offering us his remarkable scholarship regarding James and although I might disagree with some of his conclusions, I regard him as the foremost authority on James. His 1000+ pages in “James the Brother of Jesus” (Penguin, 1997) gives us a great start in studying the most important man in Jesus’ life).



[1] Hegesippus’ account of James’ prominence is confirmed by Clement (also cited by Eusebius, History 2.1.1-6).

[2] Although those who accept the perpetual virginity of Mary as doctrinal deny that Jesus had any actual brothers and contend that the plain wording in the original Greek works refers to a cousin, half-brother, or the like.

[3] In Hebrew, it would seem that James would have been called "Yaakov HaTsaddik". Tsaddik means "righteous one", but carries the additional connotation of an especially charismatic holy man.

[4] I would agree that the italicized text was a later insertion and that far less likely is that “the brother of Jesus” was also inserted by Christians later.

[5] Grabe’s fragment from the Bodleian Library with a margin inscription "Papia”. Some question its authorship. The statement occurs in this context… “Mary…who was the mother of James the bishop and apostle, and of Simon and Thaddeus, and of one Joseph…”

[6] In another passage surviving only in Eusebius, Clement of Alexandria tells us that the "Gift of knowledge" was imparted by Jesus to "James the Righteous, to John, and to Peter," and that these in turn "delivered it to the rest of the Apostles, and they to the Seventy, of whom Barnabas was one" (Early History 2.1).

[7] Wilhelm Pratscher, Pierre-Antoine Bernheim, John Painter, and Richard Bauckham have each published books focused on James and responding to the seminal work of Robert H. Eisenman (“James, the Brother of Jesus” Penguin (1997)). While his research is amazing and his arguments are well made, I disagree with Eisenman’s conclusion that James may be identified also as Qumran’s “teacher of righteous” (Dead Sea Scrolls).

[8] During the first century, the early followers of Jesus (known as the “Ebionites”) rejected the idea of Jesus’ virgin birth (Irenaeus, Against Heresies 1.26.1-2). This group included Jesus’ mother and siblings.

[9] Helvidius maintained that the brothers and sisters were just what the NT said they were—siblings of Jesus.

[10] Although those fixated upon the perpetual virginity dogma continue to play word games and advocate that there is room for dispute about what “from the womb” means. Ironically, most of those who continue to argue the linguistics rely upon the same faulty reasoning and grounds as the early church writers who rarely gave alternative views and consideration.

[11] Because Luke mentions Jesus’ “parents”, it has been assumed by most that this means Joseph and Mary.

[12] This appearance is also known in the non-canonical Gospel of the Hebrews.

[13] The church utilizes the authority of James to help complete the post-resurrection identification of Jesus as the “son of man” figure from Daniel (“In my vision at night I looked, and there before me was one like a son of man, coming with the clouds of heaven. He approached the Ancient of Days and was led into his presence. He was given authority, glory and sovereign power; all peoples, nations and men of every language worshiped him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion that will not pass away, and his kingdom is one that will never be destroyed). Dan. 7:13-14. See Hegesippus, as cited by Eusebius in his History 2.23.1-18.

[14] This appearance occurs in a vision after James had sworn he wouldn’t eat until Jesus returned.

[15] Recognitions [I.43-71] even relate that, prior to his conversion to Christianity, Saul physically assaulted James in the Temple.

[16] “Some men came down from Judea to Antioch and were teaching the brothers: ‘Unless you are circumcised, according to the custom taught by Moses, you cannot be saved’.” (Acts 15:1).

[17] The purity laws of Judaism are based upon respect for God and God’s commandments and are not “separatist” or exclusive. Jews who become ritually unclean are no different than gentiles who have become unclean through non-compliance with purity laws.

[18] Among the most important of the new rituals practiced by the followers of the Way were the common meal called the “agape” (“love feast") and the “eucharist” (a celebration of the last supper). The controversy over eating with Gentiles reached to the very core of the community and its rituals.

[19] Although some believed that restriction did not apply if gentiles at kosher food with Jews.

[20] The Mishnah (Nazir 9:1) speaks of the Nazarite practice of both male and female Israelites. More information is available in Appendix V.

[21] There are said to be 613 commandments in Judaism, including 77 mitzvot aseh (positive commandments) and 365 mitzvot lo taaseh (negative commandments). See http://www.jewfaq.org/613.htm and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/613_Mitzvot.

[22] The Talmud states: "Righteous people of all nations have a share in the world to come" (Sanhedrin 105a). Any non-Jew who lives according to these laws is regarded as one of "the righteous among the gentiles" (if their obedience is based upon respect for God instead of mere logic or compliance). Thus, a non-Jew who is precise in the observance of these Seven Noahide commandments is considered to be a “Righteous Gentile” and may earned a place in the world to come.

[23] Paul says that he told Peter: "You are a Jew, yet you live like a Gentile and not like a Jew. How is it, then, that you force Gentiles to follow Jewish customs?" (Gal. 2:11-13).  Paul then mentions that “the rest of the Jews” and Barnabas also sided with Peter. Ibid

[24] Those who suggest that Paul was unhappy with John-Mark ignore 2 Tim. 4:11.

[25] Also “Rabboni” – a term/title of utmost respect for a great teacher and “master. A “Rab” might correspond to “Teacher”, Rabbi to “Professor”, and Rabboni to professor of professors. It was a title of great dignity rarely given in Judaism.

[26] Our recent archeological finds (including the Dead Sea Scrolls) have given us a much better understanding of the Aramaic language as was spoken during the time of Jesus. Thus, we now know that Hegesippus probably mistranslated the Aramaic `abal, as “bulwark” and should have read it to mean "to mourn." James was probably known as "the mourner."

[27] Not the same as Nazorean, although related. See Appendices I and V for more information.

[28] Josephus specifically states that this occurred during the interregnum of the Roman governors Festus and Albinus (Antiquities 20.9.1 §§ 197-203).

[29] This passage exists in Eusebius' Early History, Jerome's Commentary on Galatians, and Origen's Contra Celsus but is no longer extant in any manuscript of the works of Josephus.

[30] The dating of the Epistle of James continues to cause controversy, although it seems clear that it was written during the tense period just before James’ martyrdom and the ensuing Jewish revolt (66 CE) - the sense of social crisis reflected in the Epistle is clear.

[31] The Greek term parousia (παρουσία) means "arrival", "coming", or "presence", but the Pauline Christians use it to represent the “second coming of Christ” - when Jesus will return from heaven, resurrect the faithful, pass judgment, and formally establish God’s Kingdom on Earth.

[32] An astounding statement since only the legitimate High Priest was allowed to do so. If James was given this privilege “alone”, then he was so recognized (perhaps as the “opposition High Priest”, see Appendix VII) and the appointed High Priest (being illegitimate) was denied this most sacred privilege.


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