~ An Amazing Life ~ 

A book by Rich Van Winkle

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An Amazing Life: Jesus and the Nozerim

Appendix IX – The Family of Jesus

I. Introduction:

(The family tree (charts) below are being re-formatted. Sorry for the wait).

It is impossible to understand the life of Jesus without understanding his family. In the first century, people were bound to their families in ways we find unthinkable: laws of primogeniture ruled, caste and title were largely bound to lineage, children inherited their father’s debts, and punishments were often inflicted across generations. Paternal identity was so strong that people were specifically known as “the son of” their father and introductions were incomplete unless one knew who a person’s relatives were.

One of the great ironies of the New Testament accounts of the life of Jesus is the great contradiction regarding Jesus’ family. On one hand we are told that Jesus was in the direct line of succession of David, the great Jewish king whose family was divinely appointed to rule the Jews forever. On the other hand, his family is portrayed as poor, remote, and uninvolved. Meanwhile, we are told that Jesus is related to the popular John the Baptist, has friends in very high places (Chuza and Nicodemus), and has “supporters” who include some very wealthy people (Jospeph of Arimathea).

The Biblical story strongly indicates that Jesus’ family ignored him or didn’t accept his “ministry” and yet his successor was his brother James (not Peter or Paul). James not only led the Council of Jerusalem as explained in the book of Acts, but is known in non-biblical sources as “James the Just”- a very important Temple priest in Jerusalem. After the death of Jesus, Catholic history clearly tells us that the family of Jesus (also known as the “Ebionites”) was the foundation of the Jewish movement that would be usurped by Paul to become Christianity.

Over the last century we’ve been able to gather together sources and data that tell an entirely different story about the family of Jesus: a story strongly supported by fact and logic built from the most basic presumption in the Gospels of Matthew and Luke – that Jesus descended from royalty. Elaborating upon and extrapolating from this data, we quickly realize that his family ties involved many of the most powerful and influential people in Judea. One goal here is to explain the probable way in which Jesus could have been thought of as a “son of David” and another is to explain key biblical characters intentionally not identified as Jesus’ family members.

This effort requires two warnings: (1) it is virtually impossible to pursue historical facts about Jesus without specifically and frequently conflicting with the Biblical accounts. For those who choose to accept those accounts as inerrant and historical, this work is not for you; and (2) because the Biblical account relies upon “immaculate conception” and has led to the veneration of Mary by many, some may find the alternatives presented here “offensive”. I would rather be ignored than to offend.

If one is willing to consider the New Testament as a work of humans who not only had a particular message they wanted to convey, but a certain need to write a “history” favoring their message, then a different perspective emerges….

The Christian Bible, as we know it, proves the adage that “the victors write history”. What we call the Catholic Church (“church”, hereafter) was but one of several factions that drew their inspiration and dedication from the life of Jesus, the Nazorean. Initially, the group that dominated in this regard was called the “Ebionites[1]” (“poor ones”) and they were led by the family of Jesus. This historical fact was so prominent and well established that it is reflected in the New Testament. On the other hand, they are ignored or disparaged by the church. We should wonder why.

In the battle over which faction would write the history of Jesus and control how his life was to be perceived, the followers of Paul (“Catholics”) won. Their primary opponents were those who knew Jesus best and those who refused to forego the religion Jesus accepted and advocated. For the most part, those closest to Jesus accepted his immediate family as being the rightful heirs of his legacy – and they understood that Jesus was a man, a Jew, and a model. They focused on his teachings and his ministry instead of mythology and theology.

In order for the Pauline group to usurp the life of Jesus for their purposes, they were forced to surmount the family of Jesus and those followers of Jesus who stayed loyal to his legacy. They were assisted greatly in this effort by the Romans and the Jewish revolt (flowed by the revolt against the Jews). By the time the Catholics got around to writing their “history” (the gospels and the book of Acts), they were able to direct attention away from the family of Jesus.

The focal point here will be three issues made clear in the New Testament (“NT”):

  • The “Apostles” (those chosen by Jesus to lead his disciples) as described in the gospels are dolts – boorish, greedy, stupid and generally insignificant. Even Peter (upon whom Jesus is reported as saying he will build his church) doesn’t have a clue about Jesus’ message or meaning[2].
  • The “Family” (mother, brethren, sisters, cousins, et al) are insignificant, uninvolved, or opposed to Jesus[3].
  • Jesus withdrew from his family and their roles in his life were limited by his choice.

And yet, we have a few statements in the NT that contradict these notions without explanations:

  • Jesus specifically asks the Apostles to carry forth his ministry. That doesn’t make sense if they don’t understand it or are unworthy.
  • Jesus’ mother Mary and  Mary Magdalene remain key figures after Jesus’ crucifixion.  
  • Jesus’ brother James emerges as the unquestioned leader of the Apostles after the death of Jesus.

For the purposes of this section, we will look beyond the other problems associated with “the Twelve” and begin with an easily supported position: that the brothers of Jesus were the core of his disciples and that most of them were related to him. Thus, when we discuss the family of Jesus, we cannot avoid detailed discussion of the Apostles. But first, we will “set the stage” for these characters…

As a prelude to reading this appendix, I would ask that you at least glance through three others first:

  • First, Appendix VIII, “Explaining Jewish Royal Lineage”, which I hope does far more than its title indicates.
  • Then, Appendices II and III regarding Joseph and Mary since any discussion about the family of Jesus should begin with his parents.

From these Appendices several key facts emerge:

1. The family of Jesus was uniquely positioned because of the remarkable confluence of bloodlines: Jesus and his siblings had just the right balance of royal, priestly, and aristocratic blood to keep them out of the “firing line” of Herod’s pogrom while giving them power, influence, and independence. Whereas others had equally potent mixes, most of them were killed, exiled, or subjugated.

2. Jesus lived with unusual constraints and issues: his unusual birth circumstance coupled with his prominent status put him in the crosshairs. The only reason he wasn’t killed earlier in his life was his choice to remain remote and politically insignificant. The decision to begin a public ministry and openly challenge the authorities was both bold and seemingly foolish. The fundamental question I hope to address in this book is why Jesus made that decision.

3. Jesus was inexorably linked with powerful and influential people of his time, with groups that shared divergent goals and interests, and with existing competing powers. In many ways, he was “caught in the middle” by his bloodline and family ties: he was related to several competing royals: Hasmoneans (aka Macabbees), and the Exilarchs[4], to several competing High Priests (the true High Priestly family (or “Zaddokites[5]”), the reigning High Priestly families (Boethus, Ananus, and other previous High Priests – especially Yehoshua/Joshua III), to several militant groups (the Zealots, Qumranians, and Sicarii), to three major religious factions (Pharisees, Essenes, and Sadducees) , to the major opposition religious factions or “houses” (Hillelites and Shamaites), and to the two most powerful aristocratic families of Judea (Oniads and Tobiads).

4. The story told in the New Testament is primarily about the family of Jesus, but the goal of its authors was to transfer authority and prestige from the family of Jesus to the founders of the new church being built in his name. Thus, the story struggles to obfuscate the family’s role and undermine their significance. Whether intentional or not, the key mechanism used by the authors and editors of the gospels was name confusion. Luckily, we have some solid starting points…

Jesus’ mother is unquestionably “Mary” who at some point was married to “Joseph”. Mary bore at least five sons[6]: “Jesus”, “James”, “Joses[7]”, “Simon”, and “Judas”. She also had more than one daughter, but their names and number are not specifically given in the NT.

Of the Apostles, we are told there were twelve, but at least 15 are named. To make sense of this, most writers assume that some of the names are nicknames or different names for the same person, such as this…

The “core group”:

  • Simon bar Jonah (Peter) Simon bar Jochanan (Aram.), Cephas (“the rock” Aram.), and Simon Peter - a fisherman from the Bethsaida (Jn 1:44, cf. Jn 12:21; Mk 3:16).
  • Andrew bar Jonah - the brother of Simon Peter, a Bethsaida fisherman, and a former disciple of John the Baptist.
  • James bar Zebedee - the brother of John.
  • John bar Zebedee - the brother of James (aka the Bo-aner'ges or "sons of thunder”. (Mk 3:17).

The uninvolved others:

  • Philip of Bethsaida of Galilee. (Jn 1:44; 12:21).
  • Nathanael bar Talemai (or Tolmai), aka Bartholomew (Jn 1:45-51).
  • Matthew (possibly aka Levi)[8] - a tax collector.
  • Judas the twin, aka Thomas Didymus from the Aramaic T'oma' and Greek Didymos, each meaning twin.
  • Judas of Kerioth (Iscariot), "Judas, the son of Simon”. (Jn 6:71; 13:26).

Those of “the Twelve” not even mentioned in John:

  • James bar Alphaeus[9], possibly "James the Less" or James the Younger.
  • Thaddeus or "Lebbaeus"  - traditionally identified with Jude or as Judas of James.
  • Simon “the Zealot” or Simon the Cananean, possibly Simeon of Jerusalem.

And these are named only in Acts:

  • Matthias – named as an apostle shortly after the death of Judas.
  • Justus bar Sabbas (aka Joses) – the alternative to Matthias who missed out of being named because his “lot” wasn’t drawn (Acts 1:23).

We might begin by noting that the idea of having twelve leading disciples is rooted in Judaism and, while possibly a later insertion, is best supported by the need to fill the vacancy created by the death of Judas. (Acts 1:15-26). On the other hand, it is remarkable that most of them have no part in the NT story of Jesus and that John doesn’t even mention three of them. But, again, our primary interest here is to relate them to Jesus – an interesting excursion…

We begin with the analysis offered in the Catholic Encyclopedia[10]

“James is without doubt the Bishop of Jerusalem (Acts 12:17, 15:13, 21:18; Galatians 1:19; 2:9-12) and the author of the first Catholic Epistle. His identity with James the Less (Mark 15:40) and the Apostle James, the son of Alpheus (Matthew 10:3; Mark 3:18)… may also be considered as certain. There is no reasonable doubt that in Galatians 1:19: "But other of the apostles [besides Cephas] I saw none, saving James the brother of the Lord", St. Paul represents James as a member of the Apostolic college […and] the clause "saving James" be understood to mean, that in addition to Cephas, St. Paul saw another Apostle, "James the brother of the Lord" (cf. Acts 9:27). Besides, the prominence and authority of James among the Apostles (Acts 15:13; Galatians 2:9; in the latter text he is even named before Cephas) could have belonged only to one of their number. Now there were only two Apostles named James: James the son of Zebedee, and James the son of Alpheus (Matthew 10:3; Mark 3:18; Luke 6:16; Acts 1:13). The former is out of the question, since he was dead at the time of the events to which Acts 15:6 ssq., and Galatians 2:9-12 refer (cf. Acts 12:2). James "the brother of the Lord" is therefore one with James the son of Alpheus, and consequently with James the Less, the identity of these two being generally conceded. Again, on comparing John 19:25 with Matthew 27:56, and Mark 15:40 (cf. Mark 15:47; 16:1), we find that Mary of Cleophas, or more correctly Clopas (Klopas), the sister of Mary the Mother of Christ, is the same as Mary the mother of James the Less and of Joseph, or Joses. As married women are not distinguished by the addition of their father's name, Mary of Clopas must be the wife of Clopas, and not his daughter, as has been maintained. Moreover, the names of her sons and the order in which they are given, no doubt the order of seniority, warrant us in identifying these sons with James and Joseph, or Joses, the "brethren" of the Lord… Once this identity is conceded, the conclusion cannot well be avoided that Clopas and Alpheus are one person [Clopas and Alpheus are merely different transcriptions of the same Aramaic word Halphai]. James and Joseph the "brethren" of the Lord are thus the sons of Alpheus.”

We might add to this discussion a corresponding analysis of Mark’s gospel… Mark calls Levi “the son of Alphaeus” which probably would identify him as the brother of the Apostle called James, son of Alphaeus. Since mark distinguishes Matthew and Levi (not naming Levi as one of the Twelve), we may accept this as indication that Levi was one of Jesus’ brothers. Interestingly, one of the oldest copies of this gospel (the “Codex Beza”) reads "James" here instead of "Levi"[11].

Thus, in various references, the brothers of Jesus are given the following names (not including all their forms):

James, Joseph, Joses, Judas, Thomas, Levi, Simon, Jude, and Barsabbas[12].

The overlap with the lists of the Apostles is beyond coincidence. The question is not whether the brothers of Jesus were also apostles, but which person is meant when the NT uses the duplicated names – James, Judas, and Simon[13].

The "James" passages in the NT include:

  • The Apostle James: Matthew 4:21; 10:2-3; 17:1; 20:20-23; 26:37;Mark 1:19-20; 1:29; 3:17; 5:37; 9:2; 10:35, 41; 13:3; 14:33; Luke 5:10; ; 8:51; 9:28, 54; Acts 1:13


  • The Apostle James son of Alphaeus/Clopas: Matthew 10:3; Mark 3:18; Luke 6:15; Acts 1:13


  • James the "brother" of Jesus; Jesus' "brothers" in general: Matthew 12:46-50; 13:55;

Mark 3:21, 6:3; John 7:3-5; Acts 1:14; Galatians 1:19; James 1:1.

  • James whose mother is Mary: Matthew 27:56; Mark 15:40, 16:1; Luke 24:10.
  • James, the "brother" of Jesus and Bishop of Jerusalem: Acts 12,2; 12:17; Acts 15:13; 21:18;

1 Corinthians 15:5-7; Galatians 1:19; 2:9, 12; James 1:1; Jude 1:1

  • James, the father of the Apostle Jude: Acts 1:13

We also have substantial non-canonical evidence for James[14]

“Festus was now dead, and Albinus was but upon the road; so he assembled the Sanhedrin of judges, and brought before them the brother of Jesus whose name was James, and some of his companions; and when he had formed an accusation against them as breakers of the law, he delivered them to be stoned.” Josephus, Antiquities Book 20: chapter 9.

 “The Disciples said to Jesus, ‘We are aware that you will depart from us. Who will be our leader?’ Jesus said to them, ‘No matter where you come it is to James the Just that you shall go, for whose sake heaven and earth have come to exist.’" Gospel of Thomas 12

James the Just", it seems, was a holy man who "didn't drink wine and strong drink, didn't eat meat, and never used a razor on his head." Eusebius (quoting Hegesippus) on James "the brother of the Lord, and his death.  Ecclesiastical History 2. 23. 4-7

“The Lord went to James, at with him, blessed him, after the resurrection.” Gospel of the Hebrews (quoted by Jerome, “On Famous Men”, 2).

And other works that mention James[15]


Apocryphon of James

First Apocalpyse of James

Second Apocalypse of James

Protevangelium of James

Gospel of Peter

Apocalypse of Peter

Kerygma Petrou

Kerygmata Petrou

Acts of Peter

Letter of Peter to Philip

Act of Peter (ca 200 CE or later).


Gospel of the Egyptians – Where Jesus assures his brother that "the Son of Man has been raised from among those who sleep" (cited by Jerome, Liber de Viris Illustribus 2).

Epiphanius on Nazoreans, James, and Successors Panarion 29.3.4-29.9.4; 78.14. 1-6.

Ascents of James (recovered from the Pseudo-Clementine Recognitions 1. 33-71: Latin & Syriac versions).

“After the martyrdom of James… (Eusebius of Caesarea, Church History, Book III, ch. 11).

Hegesippus’ account of James’ prominence is confirmed by Clement, who portrays James as the first elected bishop in Jerusalem (also cited by Eusebius, History 2.1.1-6), and by the pseudo-Clementine Recognitions, which makes James into an almost papal figure, providing the correct paradigm of preaching to Gentiles.

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

As if this isn’t confusing enough, we will have the same problem dealing with the many uses of “Mary” in the NT[16] – and in one regard the two names are linked…

Close examination of the Marys at the tomb and crucifixion of Jesus may help us sort out some of the “James” confusion. At the crucifixion scene, Matthew lists Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James and Joseph and the mother of the sons of Zebedee among the women "looking on from afar" (Mat. 27:56). Mark lists Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of James the younger and of Joses, and Salome as being among the women (Mark 15:40). Luke just mentions "the women" and does not name them (Luke 23:49). John specifically places Jesus' mother, her sister, Mary the wife of Clopas and Mary Magdalene at the cross within speaking distance (John 19:25). Mary, as the mother of James and Joses, correlates precisely with both lists of siblings offered in the NT. And, as we will see below, it also correlates with the reference to Mary, the mother of James, at Jesus’ tomb.

At the tomb of Jesus we are confounded with several “Marys”. The easiest Mary to factor out is Mary Magdalene, who is named in all four Gospels as being present. Matthew adds "the other Mary” (Mat. 28:1). Mark lists "Mary the mother of James and Salome" (Mark 16:1). Luke adds "Joanna, Mary the mother of James and the other women" (Luke 24:10). Is it not apparent that Jesus’ mother – Mary – would be present? We know that she had a son named James and at least two daughters (one of which we should assign the name Salome based upon this reference).

Others have tried to sort out the various James and Mary references, but the most apparent truth is that the NT authors didn’t want it to be clear who we’re dealing with. By obfuscation, we can’t easily tell which James was involved in any particular event so that most would think that James Bar Zebedee was the prominent figure instead of Jesus’ brother James bar Joseph[17]. The family relationships (obviously tied to a common mother – Mary) are also confused in a manner that appears intentional. Nevertheless, we can sort it out.

First of all, James and John – the sons of Zebedee – were cousins of Jesus. Their mother was Salome, Jesus’ aunt (mother’s side). Except for Jesus, we have no reason to doubt (and good reason to accept) that Mary had at least five children: James, Joseph/Joses, Judas/Thomas/Jude, Levi/ Simon, Salome and Lydia[18]. However, when Joseph died, she was taken in a levirate marriage by Clopas/Cleopas/ Alphaeus[19], the brother of Joseph. (The use of the name Barsabbas, meaning literally “son of the father”, may be used to identify the sons fathered by the patriarch – Joseph - as opposed to his brother).

With this view of the family of Jesus and the Apostles of Jesus, we have the following:


Jesus’ (Yeshu's) brothers who were “Apostles”:

  • James (Jacob or Yaa'kov) who was known by many names and titles: "James the Just", "haTzaddik"= The Righteous, Oblias = "bulwark", Mebekkar =  leader, "James of Jerusalem", "James Protepiscopus" (first bishop of Jerusalem) and "James the Younger”. Known to be the “opposition High Priest” and a Nazarite. James is so important that I have written a separate appendix (XII) about him.
  • Joses (Jospeh or Yoset) who was nicknamed Justus, Barsabbas, or Justus bar Sabbas.
  • Simon (Symion or Shimeon), who was nicknamed “the Zealot” and who would succeed James as Bishop of the Jerusalem Council.
  • Judas (Jude or Yehuda) who was nicknamed  "haToma'  (Thomas) or  Didymus - the Twin.

His sisters were (names uncertain):

  • Shelomith or Salome (Shlomet) = peace
  • Levia (Levi'a) – aka Lydia (Greek) = the lioness
  • Miriyam (Mary) who was (or is here) nicknamed Hasia = have mercy.

His close cousins were:

  • John bar Zecharias - the Baptist
  • The sons of Zebedee, James (the Elder) and John (Yohanan) – the Apostles.

His other cousins included:

  • Lazarus, Martha, and Mary of Bethany
  • Simon bar
  • Judas bar Simon of Kerioth who would become known as the traitor.

With these relationships in mind, we can address the numerous gospel references to “Judas” (another common name of the era). In the original Greek New Testament, the name “Ιούδας” is translated as both "Jude" and "Judas" although it is properly the Hebrew name “Yehuda” (Judah)[20]. Given the role of “Judas Iscariot” in the gospel stories, it is obvious why the other people named “Judas” needed to be distinguished and therefore why they are given pseudonyms. Other than “the traitor”, we are interested in two related names: “Jude” and “Judas of James”.

"Jude of James" appears in the lists of apostles at Luke 6:16 and Acts 1:13. It is an unusual reference because the standard appellation “son of” has been left specifically void of “son”. Thus, many have assumed the author intended “brother of” (as in the KJV). That is the interpretation here as well. John 14:22 mentions a disciple or Apostle called "Judas not Iscariot" who has been generally accepted as the same as the Apostle Jude (In some Latin manuscripts he is called Judas the Zealot). In comparing the list of the Apostles, (Mat 10:3 and Mark 3:18), we find that Jude where is omitted, “Thaddeus” or "Lebbaeus who was surnamed Thaddaeus") listed in his place. In an effort to harmonize the lists by positing a "Jude Thaddeus" – an adjustment supported by the fact that "Thaddeus" a nickname for a close friend or a younger brother. Thus, we will work on the presumption that Judah bar Jospeh was the younger brother of Jesus also known as the Apostle Jude nicknamed Thaddeaus[21].

As above, I equate this person to Thomas and I suggest that the nickname “Lebbaeus” (related to the Aramaic Thaddeus meaning one of courageous heart) was yet another reference to this important brother of Jesus. It is odd that few equate this person with the “Ioudas Barsabbas” (Judas, son of the father) [22] mentioned in Acts (15:22-41) since that Judas was chosen from among the Apostles, was called a "chief [] among the brethren", and a “prophet". (Eusebius reports that two grandsons of Jude named Zoker and James were taken to Rome to stand trial before Domitian as leaders of the Christian movement).

So, the two most important followers of Jesus were not Peter and Paul – they were Jesus’ brothers James and Jude (whose prominence were great enough to have their writings included in the NT even though they were contrary to Paul’s ideas). Their prominence is revealed by their various appearances in the gospels and in Acts, but their identities have been hidden by confusing their names. The recent attention given the “Gospel of Thomas[23]” partly explains this – Paul’s ideas were quite different than those of Jesus. But there is one more brother worthy of mention – Simon.

I have already noted that Simon bar Jospeh (Hebrew Šimʿon), was the successor to James as the leader of the Jerusalem Council[24] – what we would think of as the first church of Jesus. This was the Apostle called “Simon Zelotes” (Simon the Zealot), and Simon Kananaios[25] (Simon Cananeus) at Luke 6:15 and Acts 1:13. In the Catholic Church, this Apostle is considered the quiet one who was chosen last and always felt secondary to Peter (the primary Simon). But there is an oddity here that lacks explanation: why would Jesus rename Simon bar Yonah (a respectable Jewish name) to Kephas – a Syriac work that was translated (instead of transliterated) into an unusual Greek name that we read as “Peter”? Although there is less evidence for this presumption, given the pattern we have observed in the NT, should we not assume that Simon was to doer of the good “Simon” deeds and “Peter” the doubtful and troublesome Apostle[26]?

Having suggested (and supported) the idea that James, Joses, Simon, and Judah were not only brothers of Jesus, but Apostles and leaders of the early “church” in Jerusalem, we might begin to re-shape our thinking regarding the family of Jesus.

So, before we deal more deeply with his immediate family, it is useful and important to take another look at his extended family. First, on his mother’s side…

  1. Mary’s paternal grandmother was Elizabeth of Jerusalem, the daughter of John Hyrcanus II, the Hasmonean King and High Priest. (Elizabeth would later marry King Alexander II and become Queen Alexandra II).
  2. Mary’s paternal grandfather was Matthat ben Levi, a prominent Levite priest who was the brother-in-law of Matthat ben Eleazar, a Davidic Prince.  
  3. Mary’s biological father, Alexander Helios (“Heli”), carried Hasmonean blood and would have been a “minor” prince – except that Herod kept killing off the more senior princes. As the son of a Levite priest, he would have offered the rare potential of a priestly king.
  4. Mary’s maternal grandfather was Yehoshua III (aka Joshua ben Phabet), the Jerusalem High Priest from 30-23 BCE[27]. His uncles included the ancestors for most[28] of the future High Priests: Ananelus, Phabet (Fabi), Simon IV, Joazar, Eleazar, Sethus (Sie), and Kantheras. His brother, Joachim, was also a prominent priest in Jerusalem.
  5. Joseph’s paternal grandfather was Matthan bar Eleazar, a “Nasi” or prince in the Davidic succession. He was an early leader in the Nazorean movement.
  6. Jospeh’s father was Ya’akov (Jacob) ben Matthan, the Patriarch[29] (~Mayor”) of Jerusalem from 32-23 BCE. Also a Nasi, he served Herod as envoy and diplomat because of his ties with the Egyptians – partly through his wife…
  7. Jospeh’s mother was “Cleopatra of Jerusalem”, the mysterious woman who later married Herod (her third marriage). She was likely a “secret” daughter of Antony and Cleopatra who I propose was entrusted to the care of Alexandra (above) when it became clear that Octavian would defeat Antony and Cleopatra (30 BCE). This Cleopatra’s second marriage was to the High-Priest Simon IV  (her marriages strongly indicate her royal status).
  8. One of Joseph’s brothers (Jesus’ great-uncle) was Menahem bar Matthan, grandfather of Eleazar, a leading Jewish general in the Jewish War of 66 CE who led the capture of Masada.
  9. One of Joseph’s “uncles” (Jabob’s brother) was Joseph of Arimathea. (This may have been one of those cases where a nephew is older than his uncle).
  10. Joseph’s cousin was Zebedee of Bethsaida, a local merchant with international ties. His wife was Salome, the sister of Elizabeth.

It may be helpful to look at the charted family trees[30]


Mary’s Paternal Bloodline…



                                                                                                             (via unknown wives)       


                                                                                                       |                                                            |

                                                                                                Melchi [32]                                        Theophilus             

                                                                                     ______ |____________ __________

                                                                                     |                                 |               |                  |

                                                                                  Levi                          Jacob    Jonathan    Tolmai

                                                                    |                                  |                                     |

                                                                           Matthat[33]      Joses                          see below                  


                                                 /                                              |                                    \

                                                  /                                                            |                                        \

                           (m. Rachel of Arimathea)                  (m. Alexandra II[34])                          (m. Salome of Idumea)

         _____________|_________                          _______|________                              ___|______

        |             |                 |  |                              |                                  |                                   |            |          |

   Anna      Joseph    Zebedee      Honi            Aristobulus III   Alexander Helios[35]           Gjor     Jesse    Elpis

                                 (m. Salome)  (m. Zibiah)                                         (m. Anna)                        |                (m. Herod)

                                ____|_____           ___|________                                |                             Simon V          

                                |        |          |         |           |            |                                Mary                                   

                       James  John  Jediah    Achim  Mattat  Judas             (m. Joseph)                                                                                                                                                           (m. Eskha)                                                                               


But this doesn’t really paint a complete picture…


If we factor in Mary’s Maternal Bloodline…



Boethus (from above)                                                                    Jannai (via unknown wives)

                |                                                                                           _____________|___________________       

                |____??_____Simon                                                |                                                                                  |

Phabet (Fabi)                                                      Melchi (“Elam” = Mute)[36]                              Theophilus    |____??_____ Mariamme                                __________ |_________ ____________

                |                          (m. Alamyos)                         |                        |                      |                            |

 Yehoshua III                          |                                   Levi                  Jacob           Jonathan         Tolmai

               |                               Joachim                                |                        |                                                   |

______|_________                                              Matthat            Joses                                      Zecharias

|              |                                          _____________             |__________                                    (m. Elizabeth) 

Jane   Elizabeth  (H)anna              |                              |                        |                                                  

                                      |          Joseph (Arimathea)  Jorim   “Heli” ben Matthat                            

                    |_____________________________(m. Hanna)                                                                                                                                                                                     |                                                   

Joseph’s Paternal Bloodline[37]

                                                                             Matthan ben Eliazar    


                                                             /                                                                 \

                                                             /                                                    \

                                          (m. Hazibah)                                                            (m. Tirzah)

                                 ________|___________________                                         ___|________

                                |                   |                     |                      |                             |                           |

                           Junia           Jacob[38]     Hezekiah[39]     Menahem[40]      (below)                           Milcha         

                                         (m. Salome)              |                        |                                                    |

                                                    |                    Judas              Matthan                           Rachel (of Arimathea)  

                                             Joseph                   |                        |                                    (m. Matthat ben Levi)

                                 _______|_______     Simon          Eleazar                          _______|________

                                                                 |                                                                     |                   |                  |

                (m. Hanna)                    (m. Mary)                                        Anna       Joseph     Zebedee

     _______|________                        |

     |                 |                |             _____|_______________________________(m. Clopas)______

Melkha     Eliezar     Eskha        |            |             |              |            |              |           |                   |

                                                      Jesus      James     Joses    Salome   Simon    Lydia        Judah   Miriyam (Hasia)


                                                                                                                                                                 Joses[41]                                                                                                                                                                                       _____|______

                                                                                                                                                     |                           |          

                                                                                                                                                Zoker                     Yacob


From Mary’s maternal bloodline, above…


                                                                                Tolmai bar Melchi                                                                                

                                                                                   (m. Rhebecha)


                                 |                              |                      |                        |                                  |     

                            Ruth                     Zecharias            Simeon            Phedra                Janna

                        (m. Honi)             (m. Elizabeth)      (m. ??)        (m. Alphaeus)      (m. Jonas)

                ______ |______                 |             _____|______           |                         |      

                |              |             |              |            |           |            |          |             JoAnna

            Elias       Levi     Jannai           |       Martha  Mary  Lazarus    |            

          (m. ??)  (m. ??)                        John                                   ______|________

                 |               |                                                                         | |                  |

                 ?              ?                                                                    Tolmai    Tobias          Tubal


More detail from Joseph’s paternal bloodline, as above…


                                                                                Matthan ben Eliazar

                                                                                         (m. Tirzah)                                                                


                                                                                |                                    |

                                                                         Shielatiel                     Milcha                  

                                                                ______                |                        ____|___________          

                                                                |                                        |                                       |

                                                              ??                       Rachel (of Arimathea)      Terezah   

                                                                                         (m. Matthat ben Levi)                                                 


                                                                     |                |                      |                                       |                                    

                                                                Anna        Joseph           Zebedee                        Honi                

                                                                                                        (m. Salome)                 (m. Zibiah)         

                                                                                                     ______|_____               _____|_________

                                                                                                    |               |           |            |                |              |

                                                                                                James    John    Jediah     Achim     Mattat    Judas                  

                                                                                                                                                                           (m. Eskha)


And with his second wife…



                                                                                Matthan ben Eliazar

                                                                                         (m. Hazibah )                                                                           



                                                                                        (m. Salome)


                                                                     |                            |                          |

                                                                 Joseph               Ptolas                Clopas     

                                                             (as above)       (m. Escha)       (m. Ophel) -------------  (m. Mary)

                                                                                           ___|___             ____|____                             |

                                                                                          |               |           |                    |                      (as above)

                                                                                   Arsinoe    Selene    Philip          Jezer




Joining Mary’s maternal bloodline – as above…                                                                                               


                                                                Onias (the line of legitimate High Priests)







                                                                                |                   |                  |

                                                                        Alamyos       Tamar      Japheth

                                                   (m. Mariamme dau Phabet)     ____|______                 

                                                                                |                              |                        |   

                                                                                |                         Emmanuel       Silas

                                         _______________|_________                                |

                                        |                    |                  |                  |                                Zeru

                                Joachim        Escha     Salome   Mary Salome    (m. Anna of Arimathea)

               (m. Jane dau Yehoshua)




(Escha married Ptolas, one of the brothers of Joseph, Salome married Zebedee,  Mary Salome, married Clopas, Jospeh’s other brother).


As much as Judaism is patrilineal, it is also practical. Bloodlines were “acquired” – being traded, bought, and sold – often through marriage. Among the worst things that could happen to a Jewish man was to be childless or to have no (living) sons at death. There is much discussion regarding the inheritance of title and little doubt that titles were largely treated as property. However, we should understand that the idea of entitlement was quite flexible (then, as now) and people claimed titles for which they had marginal credentials. In the two centuries before the time of Jesus, there had been a great transition in tradition and titles were bestowed, bought, and belonged to those who offered the best bribes.

The family of Jesus was not among the most powerful in Judea, but it had close ties to those most powerful families – the Herodians, the Oniads, the Hasmonenas, the Tobiads, and the Ptolemies. Many of these relationships occurred through marriage…

Mattat/ Mattathias had three famous wives: Hasmonean Princess Alexandra (II) (aka Elizabeth of Jerusalem), Rachel of Arimathea, and Salome of Jerusalem (aka “The Proselyte”). From these wives, we have the following offspring:


     Princess Alexandra II > Aristobulus III (the High Priest for three months) and Alexander III Helios[42]

     Rachel of Arimathea > Joseph of Arimathea (the biblical character)

     Salome of Jerusalem > Prince Gjor (father of Simon V Bar Gjora[43])


Yehoshua III, the High Priest from 35-23 BCE fathered three daughters: JoAnna, Elizabeth, and Hannah…


     JoAnna married Joachim, the grandson of Alamyos, the Governor of Judea from 50-47 BCE,

     Elizabeth married Zechariah, a Priest of the Abijah Order, and

     Hannah (aka Anne) married Alexander III Helios, the Hasmonean Prince (as his second wife). 


Alamyos, the Governor of Judea from 50-47 BCE (an Onaidite) also had three daughters:


     Escha married Ptolas, one of the twins who were the brothers of Joseph (Abiudite Line),

     Salome married Zebedee (brother of Joseph of Arimathea), whose sons were; James and John

     Mary Salome, the first wife of Clopas (aka Cloepas), the other twin.


It might be worth repeating what seems to have happened with Anna (Mary’s mother). Legend records “Joachim” as Mary’s father and it was useful to the Catholic Church to allow this legend to stand. Alexander Helios was executed by Herod around 29 BCE and it would have been clear to any observer that Anne was at risk (most likely of an assigned marriage to a Herodian) – especially if she was pregnant. Lacking a male relative (sibling) in her own bloodline, she was taken in by her sister Joanne and her husband, Joachim. Given the timing, it seems likely that Mary never knew her biological father and grew up as Joachim’s daughter.


 The details offered here fit the facts and legends pretty well, but more importantly, they fit the circumstances better than the gospel accounts. There’s enough content and debate surrounding the family of Jesus that one could fill volumes. Hopefully, this approach will pique interest and people will begin to pursue this important part of history with more zeal – especially when we consider how “zealous” the family of Jesus was (see Appendix I, Appendix IV, and Appendix XVI ).

[1] The New Testament does not use the word “Ebionite” (or its like), but Acts 1:14 says that Mary and all four brothers belonged to the Nazarenes, the term for the larger community of “believers”.  Other Catholic literature does reference the Ebionites and makes their parallel to the Nazoreans clear. “Desposyni”, in Greek meaning "belonging to the Lord", was a term reserved uniquely for Jesus' blood relatives. The ancient Nazorean church was governed by a desposynos who carried one of the family names: Zachary, Joseph, John, James, Joses, Simeon, Matthias, and so on (but never Jesus).

[2] One would think that Jesus’ “apostles” should be twelve of the best known people in history. As witnesses to Jesus’ “miraculous” deeds, students of his divine teachings, and carriers of the” good news” Jesus wanted to share with mankind, we should expect them to be famous and well documented figures in history. Instead, the NT tells us almost nothing about them and the church relies upon legend and myth to reveal useless “details”.

[3] In Mark (3:21;31), they wondered if Jesus was "out of his mind", and they attempted to "take charge of him" (and bring him home). In Matthew (12:46-50), he refused to talk to his mother and brothers when they tried to see him. John (7:5) is clear that "even his own brothers did not believe in him." But, see below.

[4] The exilarchs were the Jewish royal family that stayed behind when other Jews left the Babylonian exile to return to Jerusalem and Judea. For a fuller examination of their royal claims and circumstance, see Appendix VIII.

[5] The title “Zaddokites” was used by several Jewish groups and not always as the successors of the High Priest Zaddok.

[6] There are about ten instances in the New Testament where "brothers" and "sisters" of the Lord are mentioned (Matt. 12:46; Matt. 13:55; Mark 3:31–34; Mark 6:3; Luke 8:19–20; John 2:12, 7:3, 5, 10; Acts 1:14; 1 Cor. 9:5). See Matthew 13:55and  Mark 6:3 where names are offered.

[7] “Joseph” in Luke

[8] Based upon the similarity between Mt 9:9-10, Mk 2:14-15 and Lu 5:27.

[9] "Clopas" and "Alphaeus" seem to be variations of the Aramaic name "Chalphai” which may be adapted from the Hebrew Halpai.

[10] Bechtel, Florentine. "The Brethren of the Lord." The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 2. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1907.

[11] See Gill's Exposition of the Entire Bible.

[12] Levi (the son of Alphaeus), the same with Matthew (Mat. 9:9) (and son to the same Alphaeus as James was) (Mat. 10:3), was the brother of James, and also of Simon and Jude; so that there were four brothers of them apostles: and if Joses, called Barsabas, was the same Joses that was brother to these, as seems probable, a fifth was put up for an apostle, though the lot fell on Matthias. Gill's Exposition of the Entire Bible.

[13] Symeon [Simon] bar Clopas was selected by the Apostles to succeed James as the Bishop of Jerusalem after James was martyred. (Hegesippus). This position was held by a blood relative of Jesus for three generations.

[14] We also have to factor in "James the Just", "James the Righteous", "James of Jerusalem", "James Protepiscopus" (first bishop of Jerusalem) and "James the Less", all of whom turn up in diverse Christian testimonies.

[15] Robert Eisenman – a leading authority on James – believes that the major figure of the Dead Sea Scrolls, the "Teacher of Righteousness" can be identified as James.

[16] Note that nearly half the women in 1st century Judea were named Mary, Salome, or their equivalent.

[17] It is worthy to note that every specific reference to the “sons of thunder” (James and John, the sons of Zebedee) is unfavorable (See Matthew 20:2-28, Mark 10:35-45, Luke 9:51-56; 22:24-30)., but the non-specific references regarding “James” show him as a close and trusted friend of Jesus (Matt. 17:1-8; Luke 8:40-56;Mark 13:3-4; 14:32-42) .

[18] The Protoevangelium of James (3rd century) offers the names Melkha and Eskha. Epiphanius (4th century) gives them the names Mary and Salome and claims they are half sisters. Another 4th century work, History of Joseph, gives them the names Lydia and Assia. The Coptic History of Joseph (5th century) names them Assia and Lydia – as Joseph's daughters (but with his first wife). Many authors refer to one sister as “Mary Salome”.

[19] The New Testament authors often struggled with “foreign names” and we have no better example than Alphaeus/Cleophas/Clopas/Halpai. Cleopatros was a common Hellenistic name (meaning "son of a renowned father").  This name was sometimes condensed into Cleopas. Halpai was a common Aramaic name that had the Hebrew equivalent of Clopas.  Alphaeus (or Alphasus) is the Greek transliteration of Cleopas/Clopas. Thus, depending upon who you asked, the same person might readily have had all these names.

[20] Meaning "praised" - a son of Jacob in the OT and a grandson of Jacob here.

[21] According to Nicephorus Callistus, who Eusebius quotes in his history of the Church, Jude was the bridegroom at the marriage feast at Cana. That makes sense to me and it is consistent with other legends. See “The Apostles" by Otto Hophan, The Newman Press, Westminister, Maryland 1962 for this detail and many others.

[22] Given the patronymic Barsabbas, others have concluded that Judas was probably the brother of Joseph Barsabbas – the Apostle I have identified as Justus, brother of Jesus.

[23]A “must read” for those who give Jesus any credence. See  http://www.earlychristianwritings.com/thomas.html and “The Five Gospels: What Did Jesus Really Say? The Search for the Authentic Words of Jesus” by Robert W. Funk, Harper Press (1996).

[24] According to Hegesippus, Simon was a son of Clopas - to be identified with Alpheus, the brother of Joseph and the father of James the Less. He also confirms that this Simon was the second bishop of Jerusalem.

[25] Both words are derived from the Hebrew word “qana”, meaning the Zealous and have been mistakenly confused as referring to the Canaan region of Galilee. Talmudic references to kanna'im indicate "avenging priests in the Temple" instead of a sect. See “James the Brother of Jesus: The Key to Unlocking the Secrets of Early Christianity and the Dead Sea Scrolls” by Robert Eisenman, Viking Penguin (1997) ps.33-4.

[26] Peter’s character has been well patched in the NT, but several instances reveal more of his true nature: he denounces Jesus after swearing he never would, he draws his sword and cuts off the ear of a guard at Gethsemane, he chided Jesus when he was first told of the “passion and death” prophecy. 

[27] Yehoshua represented the Rhesaite line of Davidic succession. Since he had no sons, the line could only continue through marriage.

[28] At least 19 of the remaining 25 (or 26) High Priests were descendants from this family.

[29] Jacob represented the Abiudite line of Davidic succession. The Abiudite prominence and prestige was due as much to their Persian royal blood as their Jewish royal blood.

[30] These family trees have been simplified but appear complex because several ancestors had multiple wives (some polygamous, others in succession).

[31] Probably Alexander Jannaeus, the Jewish king and High Priest from 103-76 BCE. While he provided the blood lineage, the true connection was through his wife, Alexandra of Jerusalem (Salome Alexandra) who became the popular regnant Queen when the hated Jannaeus died. Rabbinical legends state that she was the daughter of Setah Bar Yossei (Yossei Bar Yochanan) and that the Pharisee sage Simeon b. Shetah was her brother. She died in 67 BCE.

[32] Melchi was nicknamed “Elam” (“the mute”) and his disability prevented him from becoming the High Priest.

[33] Mattathias ben Levi (aka Mattan) was a prominent priest in the Davidic line who married three notable women: Esther (Elizabeth) Alexandra II of Jerusalem, Rachel of Arimathea (daughter Anna), and Salome of Idumean (a Herodian princess who was also called “The Proselyte”). Mattathias and Alexandra II had a son named Heli ben Mattat who would be known as Alexander III Helios; the father of Mary. But Mary’s family also had roots along other prominent lines.

[34] This Princess  Alexandra was known as Esther (Elizabeth) of Jerusalem.

[35] Aka “Heli” ben Matthat

[36] Melchi was nicknamed “the mute” and his disability prevented him from becoming the High Priest.

[37] I realize that this seems meaningless if Jesus was either born of immaculate conception or under “suspicious circumstances”. Regardless, Joseph was Jesus’ “legal” father, step-father or adopted father.

[38] Jacob the Patriarch – an emissary to and for King Herod from around 32-23 BCE.

[39] Hezekiah the Zealot – father of Judas (captured and executed during the revolt in 4 BCE).

[40] Menahem, grandfather of Eleazar, a Jewish general in the revolt of 66 BCE.

[41] The name of Judah’s son is not known. We know Judah’s grandsons from Hegesippus and Epiphanius Monachus.

[42] Mattathias and Alexandra II also had a daughter named Alexandra III who married Ptolemy Bar Mennius, the  Exilarch who was deposed 13 BCE and fled to Parthia.

[43] Simon V Bar Gjora became the last king of the Jews in Judah during the Roman siege of Jerusalem in 66 CE.

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