Plethora of James
is one of those names that the Bible reuses with alarming frequency (let's
not forget Mary has a sister called Mary!*).
The result is confused and confusing. At least five (and
possibly eight!) New
Testament characters are called James. Thankfully, they are
almost all phantoms. The characterless "James, son
of Aphaeus" is merely listed as one of the twelve
disciples, he has no part to play in the pageant. Nor does a "James,
brother of Judas" who gets a couple of mentions,
not because he is listed as a disciple but because he has a brother
who is. There is a "James, son of Mary",
who perhaps is the same actor as "James, one of the
four brothers of Jesus" and surely the most
at all, pride of place goes to "James the son of Zebedee,
brother of John" (aka 'James the Greater'). This
guy is on stage for several key scenes: when JC "raises" Jairus's
daughter; when JC "transfigures" into a glowing
figure on a mountain top and is addressed by a speaking cloud;
and when a rather less radiant JC gets himself arrested in Gethsemane.
The son of old Zebedee is also present in that famous "upper
room" at Pentecost and gets his share of fiery holy spirit.
He also has a remarkable posthumous career in far
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
this is curious: the James who, it seems, leads the Mother
Church of Christianity for thirty years and who is nothing
less than a blood-relation of the god-man himself has no
part to play in the gospel story but then lands
up running the whole show! Even more curious, is that, having
headed up the Church for so long during its crucial, formative
years the James' story is so thinly reported. Centre
stage is taken by the dynamic duo Peter and Paul.
We learn more about Paul's vacation in Cyprus than about James'
evangelising in Jerusalem!
your James here:
James was Jesus's blood brother, born of the Virgin
[If Protestant, choose
James was one of Joseph's children by an earlier
[If Orthodox, choose
James was Jesus's "cousin".
[if Catholic, choose
James was a leader of a radical Jewish sect, such
as the Essenes or Nazarenes, whose
biography was cannibalised into at least two persona a "saintly" companion
of the god-man and a "bishop" for Jerusalem.
[If you think for
yourself, choose this option]
what is going on?
issue is surprisingly important because, with the collapse of
just about every other "evidence" for the god-man,
the faithful now cling to our old friend Josephus and, not to
the long discredited Testimonium
Flavianum, but to the "Jamesian reference" in
Josephus' Antiquities (20.9).
would have us believe that James, belatedly became a Christian
after an encounter with the resurrected god-man, led a peaceable,
spiritual movement until he met a glorious martyr's death. He
died as quietly as he lived, it seems. Yet the truth is rather
different from this fanciful legend a truth which accords
with the real politic of Palestine of the mid-1st century.
from Josephus: gang-related killing
we remove Christian interpolation from the "Jamesian" reference
in Josephus, it becomes clear that James was the brother,
not of a non-existent 'Jesus Christ', but of Jesus bar
Damneus, high priest briefly in the year 63. In
the increasingly violent rivalry between the two major families
that had controlled the high priesthood for a century, James
was the brother of one contender. Together with his supporters,
he was eliminated by the boss of the rival faction. Briefly,
the 'aggrieved' family gained control of the Temple. But once
the new Roman procurator was installed he put pressure on Agrippa
II to replace Jesus bar Damneus with a more pro-Roman
candidate and Jesus, son of Gamaliel became
The "James" passage
from Josephus's Antiquities (20.
this passage Josephus is talking about machinations
to secure the high priesthood. Ananus comes from
a dynasty of high priests. We have a passing, almost
blasé, reference to someone called James,
whom Joseph obviously considers a minor character:
when, therefore, Ananus was of this disposition,
he thought he had now a proper opportunity.
Festus was dead, and Albinus was but upon the
road; so he assembled the Sanhedrin of judges
and brought before them the brother of Jesus, who
was called Christ, whose name was
James, and some others; and when he had
formed an accusation against them as breakers
of the law, he delivered them to be stoned."
translations, to preserve a more 'authentic' tone,
have Josephus write "the brother of Jesus the
if we read on, in the same paragraph,
Josephus tells us that there were appeals to
the new procurator (not over the
stoning of James but because of the calling
of the Sanhedrin by Ananus!) and:
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
tells us precisely who James is the brother of Jesus
you drop the spurious clause about "being
called the Christ", doubtless inserted
by a Christian editor, then this James would have
been the brother of the guy who eventually made
high priest because of James' execution! Moreover,
the reference to "Christ" here relies
on the thoroughly discredited "explanation" of
the term inserted in chapter 18! (Testimonium
Josephus' text, Jesus son of Damneus is
the more important of the two, that's why he puts
his name first. James may well have led a zealous
faction of "law breakers", and he clearly
had a brother in high places, but that's about
all we learn from Josephus.
is worth noting that Josephus does not bother
mentioning the death of James in his Jewish
Wars. Instead, it is Ananus who gets
should not mistake if I said that the death
of Ananus was the beginning of the destruction
of the city (Jerusalem), and that from this
very day may be dated the overthrow of her
wall, and the ruin of her affairs, whereon
they saw their high priest, and the procurer
of their preservation, slain in the midst of
little later, at 20.9.4 in Antiquities,
Josephus explains how the "Ananus faction" regained
the high priesthood but also how the two feuding
sects continued their enmity:
now Jesus, the son of Gamaliel, became the
successor of Jesus, the son of Damneus, in
the high priesthood, which the king had taken
from the other; on which account a sedition
arose between the high priests, with regard
to one another; for they got together bodies
of the boldest sort of the people, and frequently
came, from reproaches, to throwing of stones
at each other."
of the high priesthood became more volatile as
the clouds of war gathered.
Priest (with bodyguard)
Dynastic Rivalries at Jehovah Inc.
BC Ananel "obscure
priest out of Babylon" of the line of Zadok
appointed by Herod the Great
36 Aristobulus III (17 yr. old Hasmonaean murdered)
35 Ananel (re-appointed)
25 Jesus, son of Phiabi
23 Simon, son of Boethus (Boethusians,
pro-Herodian sect of Sadducees)
5 Matthias, son of Theophilus (5 Joseph,
son of Ellem (1 day)
son of Boethus
Death of Herod; Archelaus ethnarch of Judaea;
Antipas tetrarch of Galilee
son of Boethus (appointed by Archelaus)
1 BC Jesus, son of Sic
AD Roman Prefecture of Judaea: Coponius
elder son of Seth (appointed
by Quirinius, Roman Legate of Syria)
Prefect Marcus Ambibulus
12 Prefect Annius Rufus
15 Prefect Valerius Gratus
son of Phiabi (Appointed
son of Ananus
16 Simon, son of Camithus
Caiaphas, son in law of Ananus the
elder (removed by Vitellius)
Prefect Pontius Pilate
32 Pomponius Flaccus legate Syria
35 L. Vitellius legate of Syria
36 Prefect Marcellus
son of Ananus (Acts 4.6) (removed by Vitellius)
41 King Herod Agrippa I
son of Ananus (removed by Claudius, Emp.
39 Publius Petronius legate of Syria
41 Simon (Cantheras?) son of Boethus (removed
41 Vibius Marcus legate of Syria
42 Matthias, son of Ananus, brother of Jonathan (removed by Agrippa)
43 Aljoneus (Elioneus) son of Cantheras
45 Josephus, son of Camydus (removed by
Herod Agrippa I dies;
Roman Procuratorship: Cuspius Fadus
45 Cassius Longinus legate of Syria
46 Procurator Tiberius Alexander
son of Nebedus (Acts 24)
Procurator Ventidius Cumanus
50 Ummidius Quadratus legate of Syria
52 Ananias sent for trial in Rome (acquitted? returned?)
52 Procurator Antonius Felix
53 Herod Agrippa II King in Galilee
re-appointed (assassinated by instigation
58 Ismael son of Phiabi (taken hostage by
Poppea, wife of Nero, Emp. 54-68)
60 Domitius Corbulo legate of Syria
Procurator Porcius Festus
62 Procurator Albinus
Cabi, son of Simon (removed by Agrippa
63 Cestius Callus legate of Syria
son of Ananus (removed by Agrippa
son of Damneus (removed by Agrippa
son of Gamaliel (a
protégé of Ananus)
Procurator Gessius Florus (his sequestering of
Temple gold precipitates riot & then the
Matthias, son of Theophilus
66 Phanias son of Samuel (appointed during the war)
69 Licinius Mucianus legate of Syria
- 135 Roman Legates
135 Emperor Hadrian abolishes the
province of Judaea. Henceforth, it is part of Syria-Palestina.
from Paul: Rival gangs divide the turf
cults grow up around a nucleus of family (religion, after
all, is a business). A certain James, no doubt with his siblings,
ran the Jerusalem "Church of God" operation. Paul,
the interloper from out of town, muscled in on the action and
a division of territory was agreed.
from Paul's Epistle
purveyor of the Christ cult, mentions James...
But NOT THE
and James: Power Struggle
a missive from an anxious and aggrieved Paul, frustrated
that "so quickly" his supporters are being
recruited by a rival purveyor of protection from on high.
He curses the competition and mixes threats with pleas
in the hope that his erstwhile converts will return to
his faction. Paul avoids naming his rival ("Whoever
it is...? 1.9; Who is it... ? 3.1; "They... 4.17)
but it soon emerges who he has in mind.
In Galatians Paul
gives us a useful resume of his career. He reminds his
readers that he had successfully devastated the Church
of God once before (1.13). He says his position was
dependent on no man (1.16) though he had, in fact, met James (obviously
a notable person) while staying (briefly) in Jerusalem
I saw no one else of the apostles, only James
the brother of the Lord"
throughout the epistle Paul is using the word brother (2.4;
3.15; 4.12) in the sense of member of a brotherhood not
as sibling (at one point he even calls his readers "my
little children" but hardly meaning his offspring!).
first encounter (did James even deign to speak to him?) was
after Paul had spent three years in Arabia (which places
the meeting around 38 AD). Fourteen years later (about
52 AD) Paul is again in Jerusalem. This time he is with
two minders Barnabus and Titus and is far
laid before them the... news... privately... before
those who were outstanding men, for fear that somehow
I was running or had run in vain." (2.2)
is obviously tense ("False brothers... sneaked
in to spy... that they might enslave us to these
we did not yield ... not for an hour." 2.4,5).
This time, Paul is not impressed by the "outstanding
men" (they "imparted nothing new" 2.6).
in this 'turf war' take place. Paul's offer that could
not be refused was to manage operations among the uncircumcised:
"... James and
Cephas and John, the ones who seemed to be pillars,
gave me and Barnabus the right hand of sharing together
that we should go up to the nations, but they to those
who are circumcised." (2.9)
return, Paul agrees to make a payoff to the brothers ("the
poor") in Jerusalem but all is not well between Paul
and his old friend Cephas. Is Paul hoping that he will
defect from the James gang? "When Cephas came to
Antioch, I resisted him face to face" (2.11).
At one point Cephas is eating with Paul's "people
of the nations." But "certain men from James" (2.12)
arrive and Cephas "separates himself."
Pillars of Jerusalem?
In Galatians Paul
mentions nothing about food laws this element
is an invention in Acts. Throughout the epistle
Paul vigorously attacks circumcision which was, no doubt,
a James gang motif when Hellenized Jews were dropping
the practice and some Jews were having 'reversal operations'.
A sarcastic Paul even wishes his rivals would go castrate
nowhere refers to other Jameses, no apostle, no 'James
the Just'. Those characters are to be fleshed out in the
future, when the gospel writers put their fantasy together.
James was a "Church of God" patriarch
in the 50s AD he could well have been the same James eliminated
by high priest Ananas in the early 60s, as reported by
Josephus. But on the evidence of Paul he
was not any 'brother of a Jesus Christ,' he was not a
disciple, he was not a Paulite 'Christian' and he
certainly was not a pacifist.
from the Gospels & Acts: Christian
re-write in progress...
a "Chosen 12"
protagonists James and Paul were dead by the mid
60s but it was the 'James gang', based in Jerusalem, which suffered
most from the disruption of the wars of 69 - 135 AD. The Paulites
ultimately won out in the ghettos
of the diaspora and
when the victors wrote the gospels, the real James radical,
Essene leader? was recast in two guises as 'James
the Just', a pious Bishop, on the one hand; and as 'James
the brother of John', a useful ('real') witness to the major
events in the life of the (fictional) god-man, on the other.
In the sacred texts, the brothers of James were marginalised
and the number of witnesses (disciples) padded out to make the
magic number twelve, though it would take centuries for writers
of Christian fiction to fabricate "apocryphal" biographies
for most of them.
to "James" in the Gospels & Acts
the Gospels were written, to all intents and purposes,
James and the Jewish "Church of God" were removed
from the story. "Brother" John does
not mention James at all and Luke refers
only to diverse shadowy disciples of that name.
Matthew and Acts vestiges of the real James
are blurred but are still discernible...
Jesus's "brother" at Matthew
not this the carpenter's son? Is not his mother called
Mary?" his astonished listeners ask. "And
are not his brothers James and Joseph and Simon and
Judas? And are not all his sisters with us?"
says just about the same. The names are the English equivalents
of four very common Hebrew names Yaakov, Yosi, Shimon,
and Yehudah. In the legend, none of the brothers of Jesus
became a follower before he died. In fact, his family thought
gospel references to a James are almost all to 'James,
son of Zebedee', a character given prominence with
brothers John and Peter, in an inner circle of three.
trio conveniently replaces Paul's 'inner three' of
James, Cephas and John.
of Acts mentions 'James' on a number of occasions:
12 has King Herod being nasty towards the brothers. He
has James killed by the sword. Lucky Peter comes
off much better though arrested, chained and
under heavy guard, he has a remarkable, angel-assisted,
didn't the angel help James, one wonders? Did he have
to be eliminated to make way for the rise and rise
brother of Damneus was killed during the
reign of Herod Agrippa II; the author of Acts decided
to kill off his James under the father, Herod Agrippa
12.6,10 has Peter (just before his sudden disappearance
to "another place"!) tell the group
at the house of Mary, mother of John Mark, to notify "James
and the brothers." (12.17)
'James' has just been eliminated by Herod, so who is
this? To keep the story line on track, the first James
is made 'brother of John'.
15.12,29 the writer retells the story of the
so-called "Jerusalem Council" already reported
by Paul in Galatians.
version removes the animosity found in Paul's
epistle. It has the brothers "rejoicing" at
Paul's tales of new recruits; it has Peter reminding
the elders and Pharisees of his own mission to the
gentiles; and it has James (not a 'pillar' but still
in charge) deciding that non-Jewish recruits will not
be forced to circumcise or keep Jewish dietary laws.
years later, after his third voyage and about the year
A.D. 57, Acts 21 has Paul confronting James and
the elders again. James says nothing. He is now a silent
is confronted with rumours that he had been dissuading
Jews from circumcision and the Law. He agrees to a 'ceremonial
cleansing' (guilty as charged?) but "the
Jews of Asia" turn the mob against him and he
lands up getting arrested by soldiers. This serves as a
literary device to allow Paul to address "the Jews" at
great length, then the Sanhedrin, then the
High Priest Ananias and eventually arrive before the Roman
Governor and King Agrippa!
a fast-track promotion for a marginal soothsayer!
James (the pillar) has disappeared. Says Robert Eisenman,
a leading authority on James,
marginalization of James ... is one of the most successful
rewrite or overwrite enterprises ever
argues (James the Brother of Jesus: The Key to
Unlocking the Secrets of Early Christianity and the Dead
Sea Scrolls) that the martyrdom of "Stephen" in
Acts is in reality an overwrite of a physical attack on
James by Paul!
The Real James: The Legend
The title "Righteous
One" (Zaddik) was accorded both to claimants of the High
Priesthood and to charismatic Jewish holy men. The real James
("Ya'akov HaTsaddik"), and his brother Damneus, therefore
could have been given such a title. Mistranslated into Greek
as "Sadduc" or "Zadok " the term eventually
surfaced to give us the anodyne "James the Just".
fictional persona: "James
brings us "James the Just" Head of the
century Christian 'historian' Hegesippus and 3rd
century theorist Origen between them massaged the
whole story of James into a pious nonsense. In their
hands the Jewish "opposition
chief priest" metamorphoses into a Christian Bishop about
a century before such a position existed.
now have a fanciful version of his life and death:
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."
the crucifixion of his brother Jesus, he saw the light,
and led the small community of Judeo-Christians in Jerusalem.
Under his leadership, the Jerusalem "church" tried
to preserve the Jewishness of the group, and opposed attempts
to convert the goyim, the uncircumcised.
By the 60s AD he had managed to attract many to believe
in Jesus. This alarmed the "scribes and the Pharisees" who demanded that he "restrain
the people", and for this purpose, stood him on the wall of the
Temple Mount. But James refused to deny the gospel of his brother, and
therefore he was thrown off the wall.
it turned out that he hadn't been killed by the fall, "they
started to stone him," and one person among the crowd,
a laundryman as it happened, beat James on the head with
death became a 'glorious martyrdom' and audaciously
is made into the catalyst for the whole war against Rome!
example of the Christians stealing Jewish history for
their own purposes.
is Hegesippus who first refers to a monument being set
up for James in Jerusalem.
he was in the ossuary business as well?! (see:
Box of Tricks)
of the 'James gang' survived at least into the fourth century.
Known as the Desposyni, they claimed descent
not from any Jesus but from 'cousins' of the Lord. A delegation
to Rome was given the cold-shoulder by Pope Sylvester in 318.
Already for more than half a century Rome had mooted its claim
to authority via "apostolic succession" it was
not about to concede a claim to a rival authority from a divine
sectarian milieu of "Jewish Christianity" Zadokites,
Essenes, Ebionites, Rechabites, Elchasites, Sabeans, Mandaeans etc. hung
on at least until the proscriptions of Constantine. Dispersed
into the desert, or driven underground, some of these fanatical
sects would later contribute to the theology
Did James believe in Jesus? The "Epistle
of St James"
here's a curious little New Testament tract it
all but avoids mentioning Jesus entirely! This letter
of 'James' is written in Greek in the classical style
of a Cynic-Stoic diatribe. Would a Galilean from a poor family
have written in this Hellenized rhetorical style? If he
did, his testimony is rather odd...
piece (it's not really a letter) is from "James
a servant of God" to "the 12 tribes
that are scattered about." Now guess who they
The phrase "and
of the Lord Jesus Christ" has been slipped into
verses 1.1 and 2.1 aside from that, the whole
thing is Jewish agitprop, with semitic constructs
like "doers of the word".
that's why for four centuries this epistle was all but
forgotten. The Council of Trent put it in the canon in
1563 but Erasmus didn't like it and Luther called it "an
epistle of straw, unworthy of the apostolic spirit."
the cool reception?
nothing at all about the god-man, his birth, his
life, his death, his resurrection!
nothing at all from the god-man, but does quote extensively
from Jewish scripture and the Prophets.
actually takes issue with the Pauline formula of "faith
alone" and condemns the 'rich man' and his finery (a
bit too close to home for the bishops?)
suggests "confessing sins to one another " (5.16) hey,
that's Church business!
Letter was not ascribed to 'James' before Origen in
the 3rd century, a fair indication that it was Origen
who interpolated the two JC references to bring it "on message." The
statement (5.6) "You have murdered the Righteous
One" could be a faint echo of the murder of James,
brother of Jesus bar Damneus, recorded by Josephus! Perhaps
it originated with the Desposyni...
Paul Johnson, A History of the Jews (Phoenix Grant,
Dan Cohn-Sherbok, The Crucified Jew (Harper Collins,1992)
Henry Hart Milman, The History of the Jews (Everyman, 1939)
Josephus, The Jewish War (Penguin, 1959)
Leslie Houlden (Ed.), Judaism & Christianity (Routledge, 1988)
Karen Armstrong, A History of Jerusalem (Harper Collins, 1999)
Robert Eisenman, James, the Brother of Jesus (1997)
Michael Grant, Herod the Great (American Heritage, 1971)
Norman Cantor, The Sacred Chain - A History of the Jews (Harper
Nicholas De Lange (Ed.) The Illustrated History of the Jewish People (Aurum, 1997)
Some fifty articles are now available as a book.
For your copy order:
Copyright © 2004
by Kenneth Humphreys.
Copying is freely permitted, provided credit is given to the author and no
material herein is sold for profit.