Jesus Never Existed

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Jesus Never Existed

A Plethora of James

James is one of those names that the Bible reuses with alarming frequency (and 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 important?

Not 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 off Spain!

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.

Now 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!

Just what is going on?

This 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).

They 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.

Choose your James here:

1. James was Jesus’s blood brother, born of the Virgin Mary.
[If Protestant, choose this option]

2. James was one of Joseph’s children by an earlier marriage.
[If Orthodox, choose this option]

3. James was Jesus’s “cousin“.
[if Catholic, choose this option]

4. 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]

The Real James?

Evidence from Josephus: gang-related killing

When 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 63In 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 high priest.

The “James” passage from Josephus’s Antiquities (20. 9)


In 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.”

Some translations, to preserve a more ‘authentic’ tone, have Josephus write “the brother of Jesus the so-called Christ”.

But 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 priest.”

Josephus tells us precisely who James is the brother of – Jesus bar Damneus!

If 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 Flavianum)

In 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.

It is worth noting that Josephus does not bother mentioning the death of James in his Jewish Wars. Instead, it is Ananus who gets Josephus’ sympathy:

“I 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 their city.”

A 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:

And 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.

Control of the high priesthood became more volatile as the clouds of war gathered.

Religious Gangsterism
– Nothing New

High Priest (with bodyguard)

Jewish High Priests
 Dynastic Rivalries at Jehovah Inc.

37 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)
Matthias, son of Theophilus (5 Joseph, son of Ellem (1 day)
 Joazar, son of Boethus

4 Death of Herod; Archelaus ethnarch of Judaea; Antipas tetrarch of Galilee

Eleazar, son of Boethus (appointed by Archelaus)
1 BC Jesus, son of Sic

6 AD Roman Prefecture of Judaea: Coponius

Joazar re-appointed
 Ananus elder son of Seth (appointed by Quirinius, Roman Legate of Syria)

  9 Prefect Marcus Ambibulus
12 Prefect Annius Rufus
15 Prefect Valerius Gratus

15 Ismael, son of Phiabi (Appointed by Gratus)
 Eleazar, son of Ananus
16 Simon, son of Camithus

18-36 Joseph Caiaphas, son in law of Ananus the elder (removed by Vitellius)

26 Prefect Pontius Pilate
32 Pomponius Flaccus legate Syria
35 L. Vitellius legate of Syria
36 Prefect Marcellus

36 Jonathan, son of Ananus (Acts 4.6) (removed by Vitellius)

37 Prefect Marullus
41 King Herod Agrippa I

37 Theophilus, son of Ananus (removed by Claudius, Emp. 41-54)
        39 Publius Petronius legate of Syria

41 Simon (Cantheras?) son of Boethus (removed by Agrippa)
        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 Agrippa)

44 Herod Agrippa I dies;
Roman Procuratorship: Cuspius Fadus
45 Cassius Longinus legate of Syria
46 Procurator Tiberius Alexander

47 Ananias, son of Nebedus (Acts 24)

48 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

53 Jonathan re-appointed (assassinated by instigation of Felix)
58 Ismael son of Phiabi (taken hostage by Poppea, wife of Nero, Emp. 54-68)

60 Domitius Corbulo legate of Syria
60 Procurator Porcius Festus
62 Procurator Albinus

61-62 Joeseph Cabi, son of Simon (removed by Agrippa II)

        63 Cestius Callus legate of Syria

63 Ananus, son of Ananus (removed by Agrippa II)
63 Jesus, son of Damneus (removed by Agrippa II)
 Jesus, son of Gamaliel (a protégé of Ananus)

64 Procurator Gessius Florus (his sequestering of Temple gold precipitates riot & then the war)

65 Matthias, son of Theophilus
66 Phanias son of Samuel (appointed during the war)

       69 Licinius Mucianus legate of Syria
       70 – 135 Roman Legates

135 Emperor Hadrian abolishes the province of Judaea. Henceforth, it is part of Syria-Palestina.

The Real James?

Evidence from Paul: Rival gangs divide the turf

Many 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.

Testimony from Paul’s Epistle

Paul, purveyor of the Christ cult, mentions James…


Paul and James: Power Struggle

Galatians is 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 with Cephas.

“But I saw no one else of the apostles, only James the brother of the Lord
(Galatians 1:19)

Now 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!).

This 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 more self-assured.

“I 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)

The confrontation 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).

Negotiations 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)

In 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.”

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 themselves! (5.12)

Paul 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.

If Paul’s 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.

The Real James?

Evidence from the Gospels & ActsChristian re-write in progress…

“Family” versus a “Chosen 12”

Both major 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.

References to “James” in the Gospels & Acts

When 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.

In Mark, Matthew and Acts vestiges of the real James are blurred – but are still discernible…

Jesus’s “brother” at Matthew 13:55,56

“Is 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?”

 6.3 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 him mad.

The numerous 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.

–This trio conveniently replaces Paul’s ‘inner three’ of James, Cephas and John.

The book of Acts mentions ‘James’ on a number of occasions:

Acts 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, escape. (12.2)

–Why didn’t the angel help James, one wonders? Did he have to be eliminated to make way for the rise and rise of ‘Peter’?

– James 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 I.

Acts 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)

– Now ‘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’.

In Acts 15.12,29 the writer retells the story of the so-called “Jerusalem Council” already reported by Paul in Galatians.

– This 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.

A few 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 figure.

Paul 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!

Quite a fast-track promotion for a marginal soothsayer!

In contrast, James (the pillar) has disappeared. Says Robert Eisenman, a leading authority on James,

“The marginalization of James … is one of the most successful rewrite – or overwrite – enterprises ever accomplished.”

Eisenman 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!

After 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”.

The fictional persona“James the Just”

Hegesippus brings us “James the Just” – Head of the Jerusalem Church

2nd 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.

We now have a fanciful version of his life and death:

“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.”

After 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.

When 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 a club.

His death became a ‘glorious martyrdom’ – and audaciously is made into the catalyst for the whole war against Rome!

Another example of the Christians stealing Jewish history for their own purposes.

It is Hegesippus who first refers to a monument being set up for James in Jerusalem.

Perhaps he was in the ossuary business as well?! (see: Box of Tricks)


Postscript: Heirs of Jesus –

A remnant 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 ‘blood line’.

The 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 of Islam.


PPS: Did James believe in Jesus? The “Epistle of St James”

Now 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…

The whole 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 would be?

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”.

Perhaps 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.”

Why the cool reception?

– it says nothing at all about the god-man, his birth, his life, his death, his resurrection!

– it quotes nothing at all from the god-man, but does quote extensively from Jewish scripture and the Prophets.

– it 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?)

– it suggests “confessing sins to one another “ (5.16) – hey, that’s Church business!

The 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, 1987)
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 Collins, 1994
Nicholas De Lange (Ed.) The Illustrated History of the Jewish People (Aurum, 1997)

James the Greater

Pious Fictions

Christian tradition has it that the first Jewish revolt was sparked by the execution of ‘James the Just.’

But as the passage from Josephus’ Jewish Wars makes clear, Josephus thought it was the death of Ananas – the executioner of James! – which precipitated the war!

James the Less

Odd Omissions

“If Josephus knew of, and referred to James as ‘the brother of Jesus, him called the Christ’, why does he not refer to James in regard to his membership in any Christian sect, let alone his leadership of it?

If James was the head of a Jerusalem church which had spread its tentacles far and wide across the empire (a la Acts), including right into Rome where Josephus lived and worked, would such an organization, such a success story, have been ignored by him? “

 – Earl Doherty, The Jesus Puzzle

James son of Mary

De-Judaising “Ya’akov”

The name “James”, like “Jesus”, is an English rendition of a Semitic name. “Ya`qûv” became Iakobos in Greek, Jacomus in Latin and hence James in English.

But there is also a perfectly good alternative rendition: Jacob.

Perhaps a little bit too “Jewish” for Christian Europe?

James after all is the patron saint of Spain (“Santiago!” “Saint James!”and a royal decree in 1492 expelled all Jews from Spain!

James brother of Judas


“The brothers of Jesus, as presented in the Gospels and Acts, are too insignificant for any of them to be easily identified with the clearly competent and respected leader of the Jerusalem Church, often referred to in later Christian literature as James the Just.”

– A. Ellegard (Jesus-100 Years Before Christ, p237)

James (‘Brother of John’) rushes back from good work in Spain to have his head removed in Jerusalem

The Real James – Hero of the Dead Sea Scrolls?

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.

– James the Brother of Jesus: The Key to Unlocking the Secrets of Early Christianity and the Dead Sea Scrolls.

James the Just

Elected Bishop?

“James was elected by the apostles as bishop of Jerusalem at the behest of Jesus.”
– Gospel of Thomas (logion 12)

James brother of John

No explanation

How it came about that a brother who had been hostile to Jesus in his lifetime suddenly became the revered leader of the Church immediately after Jesus’ death is not explained, though one would have thought that some explanation was called for.

– Hyam Maccoby, The Myth Maker, p5.

James son of Aphaeus

Mary, Mary

*“Now there stood by the cross of Jesus his mother, and his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Cleophas, and Mary Magdalene.”

– John 19.25

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