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Saint James the Just (Hebrew: יעקב) (Greek Iάκωβος), (died AD 62), also known as James of Jerusalem, James Adelphotheos, or James, the Brother of the Lord, was an important figure in Early Christianity. He is generally identified by Roman Catholics with James, son of Alphaeus and James the Less.

According to the Church Fathers, he has posthumously been described as the first Bishop of Jerusalem, and is believed to be the author of the Epistle of James in the New Testament, the first of the Seventy Apostles, and originator of the Apostolic Decree of Acts 15. In the Epistle to the Galatians Paul of Tarsus describes his first visit to Jerusalem where he met James and John and stayed with Cephas. James is described by Josephus and the New Testament as being "the brother of Jesus", and in the Liturgy of St James as "the brother of God" (Adelphotheos).


James was called "the Just" because of his righteousness and piety.In the Gospel of Thomas, 12,

The disciples said to Jesus, "We know that you are going to leave us. Who will be our leader?"

Jesus said to them, "No matter where you are, you are to go to James the Just, for whose sake heaven and earth came into being."

Miller, Robert J., ed. (1994) The Complete Gospels Polebridge Press. ISBN 0-06-065587-9 The name also helps distinguish him from other important figures in early Christianity of the same name, such as James, son of Zebedee.

He is sometimes referred in Eastern Christianity as "James Adelphotheos," i.e. "James the Brother of God" ( ), based on New Testament descriptions, though different interpretations of his precise relationship to Jesus developed based on Christian beliefs about Mary, the mother of Jesus, who was designated Theotokos by the 431 Council of Ephesus. Therefore, he may simply have been Jesus' cousin and referred to as "the brother of our Lord."


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

According to Jerome, James was the son of Joseph, and of Mary sister of the mother of our Lord of whom John makes mention in his book. After the Passion he was ordained by the Apostles Bishop of Jerusalem. In describing James' ascetic lifestyle, Jerome, De Viris Illustribus, quotes Hegesippus' account of James from the fifth book of Hegesippus' lost Commentaries:

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

Since it was unlawful for any but the high priest of the temple to enter the Holy of Holies, and then only once a year on Yom Kippur, Jerome's quotation from Hegesippus indicates that James was considered a high priest. The Pseudo-Clementine Recognitions suggest this.

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

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

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

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

When the Christians of Antiochmarker were concerned over whether Gentile Christians need be circumcised to be saved, they sent Paul and Barnabas to confer with the Jerusalem church. James played a prominent role in the formulation of the council's decision (Acts 15:13ff). James was the last named figure to speak, after Peter, Paul and Barnabas; he delivered what he calls his "decision" ( NRSV)— the original sense is closer to "opinion". He supported them all in being against the requirement (Peter had cited his earlier revelation from God regarding Gentiles), and suggested prohibitions about eating blood as well as meat sacrificed to idols and fornication. This became the ruling of the Council, agreed upon by all the apostles and elders, and sent to the other churches by letter.

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

Tradition, supported by inferences in Scripture, holds that James led the Jerusalem group as its first bishop or patriarch. This is not necessarily a point against the primacy of Peter in the early Church, and subsequently Roman Catholicism. Though James and not Peter was the first bishop of that group, Roman Catholics believe the bishop of Jerusalem was not by that fact the head of the Christian church, since the leadership rested in Peter as the "Rock" and "Chief Shepherd". John Chrysostom opined: "If anyone should say, 'Why then was it James who received the See of Jerusalem?' I should reply that he [Christ] made Peter the teacher not of that See, but of the world." It has been suggested that Peter entrusted the Jerusalem community to James when he was forced to leave Jerusalem. According to the Church historian Eusebius, Clement of Alexandria in the late second century stated the following concerning the appointment of James to the Jerusalem episcopacy, "For they say that Peter and James and John after the ascension of our Saviour, as if also preferred by our Lord, strove not after honor, but chose James the Just bishop of Jerusalem".(See the Early Church Fathers and Jerome)


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

Though the passage in general is almost universally accepted as original to Josephus, some challenge the identification of the James whom Ananus had executed with James the Just, considering the words, "who was called Christ," a later interpolation. (See Josephus on Jesus.)

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

Accordingly, the scribes and Pharisees

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

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

Josephus' account of James' death is more credible because the Acts of Apostles doesn't mention anything about James after the year 60. Josephus, however, does not mention in his writings how James was buried, which makes it hard for scholars to determine what happened to James after his death.

Robert Eisenman argues that the popularity of James and the illegality of his death may have triggered the First Jewish-Roman War from 66 to 73 C.E.


The Epistle of James has been traditionally attributed to James the Just. A number of modern Biblical scholars, such as Raymond E. Brown, while admitting the Greek of this epistle is too fluent for someone whose mother tongue is Aramaic, argue that it expresses a number of his ideas, as rewritten either by a scribe or by a follower of James the Just. Other scholars, such as Luke Timothy Johnson and James Adamson, argue that the historical James could have had such fluency in Greek, and could conceivably have authored the Epistle himself.

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

Robert Eisenman and James Taborhave set forth a thesis that James and the Nazorean Jews were marginalized by Paul and the Gentile Christians who followed him, a thesis that has been widely criticized for his recreation of the hostile skirmishes between Judaism and Pauline Christianity, relating his reconstruction to "proto-Christian" elements of the Essenes, as represented in the Dead Sea scrolls. Some of the criticism deconstructs as Pauline apologetics, but Eisenman is equally harsh on the Nazorean Jews at Jerusalem, whom he portrays as a nationalistic, priestly and xenophobic sect of ultra-legal pietists.

Some scholars, such as Ben Witherington, believe that the conflict between these two positions has been overemphasized and that the two actually held quite similar beliefs.

Some apocryphal gospels testify to the reverence Jewish followers of Jesus (like the Ebionites) had for James. The Gospel of the Hebrews fragment 21 relates the risen Jesus' appearance to James. The Gospel of Thomas (one of the works included in the Nag Hammadi library), saying 12, relates that the disciples asked Jesus, "We are aware that you will depart from us. Who will be our leader?" Jesus said to him, "No matter where you come [from] it is to James the Just that you shall go, for whose sake heaven and earth have come to exist."

Fragment X of Papias refers to "James the bishop and apostle". Epiphanius' Panarion 29.4 describes James as a Nazirite.

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

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

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

Relationship to Jesus

Jesus' "brothers" — James as well as Jude, Simon and Joses — are mentioned in Matthew 13:55, Mark 6:3 and by Paul in Galatians 1:19. Since James' name always appears first in lists, this suggests he was the eldest among them. Even in the passage in Josephus' Jewish Antiquities (20.9.1) the Jewish historian describes James as "the brother of Jesus who is called Christ,".

Paul refers to James, at that time the only prominent Christian James in Jerusalem, as an Apostle. Paul, recounting his conversion, recalls "Then after three years I went up to Jerusalem to visit Cephas, and tarried with him fifteen days. But other of the apostles saw I none, save James the Lord's brother."

While most Christians believe that Jesus was, as the Son of God, born of a virgin, defining the relationship of James the Just to Jesus requires some further discussion in accordance with the Catholic and Eastern Orthodox belief in the Perpetual Virginity of Mary, the belief that Mary's virginity continued even after Jesus' birth.


The most commonly held belief by Eastern Orthodox and Catholics alike is that James was the stepbrother of Jesus.The Protevangelium of James assumes the Greek nature of Jewish practices during this period in history and says that Mary was betrothed to an older relative in order to preserve her virginity (he could not have had sex with her, it would have been incest); that Joseph already had children - James was already a boy when Jesus was born. The Protevangelium of James is one of the earliest documents (AD 150) and although it was not included in scripture, its traditional testimony was accepted by the early church.

Full brother

It is believed by some that the Jews living in Jerusalem in Christ's time still adhered to the Mosaic Law , which advised married couples to be fruitful and have many children and that this would indicate, assuming Mary and Joseph were average Jews, that they would have had more children after Mary gave birth to Jesus, thus making James a full brother of Jesus assuming Jesus was the biological son of Joseph, and not miraculously conceived . Notably, Josephus (Antiquities 20.200) calls James a brother of Jesus. He does not call him a half-brother (homomhtros adelphos or homopatros adelphos), which are the terms usually used by Josephus to describe half-brothers , nor does he call James a stepbrother or a cousin of Jesus.


For proponents of the doctrine of Jesus' virgin birth, the claim that James may have been a full brother of Jesus is unacceptable; at most James and the other brethren of Jesus would have been co-uterine half-brothers. This is the view of most Protestants, who believe Mary and Joseph lived as a sexually active married couple after the birth of Jesus, as they believe is stated in Matthew 1:25.

A variant on this is presented by James Tabor, who argues that after the early and childless death of Joseph, Mary married Clopas, whom he accepts as a younger brother of Joseph, according to the Levirate law. According to this view Clopas fathered James and the later siblings but not Jesus, who whilst legally adopted by Joseph, is presumed to be the product of an earlier pre-marital coupling, possibly with Panthera.

Crossan suggested that he was probably Jesus' older brother.

Other relationships

Those who assert that James and his brethren are not full or half-siblings of Jesus (the Roman Catholic, Eastern Orthodox and some Protestant churches) point out that Aramaic and Hebrew tended to use circumlocutions to point out blood relationships; it is asserted that just calling some people "brothers of Jesus" would not have necessarily implied the same mother. Rather, something like "sons of the mother of Jesus" would have been used to indicate a common mother. Scholars and theologians who assert this point out that Jesus was called "the son of Mary" rather than "a son of Mary" in his hometown (Mark 6:3).

Spiritual brother

According to the apocryphal First Apocalypse of James, James is not the earthly brother of Jesus, but a spiritual brother.


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This view of James-as-cousin gained prominence in the Roman Catholic Church, displacing the "stepbrother" view to an extent. Roman Catholics may choose for themselves whether James was a stepbrother or cousin of Jesus, since either could be true.

Vaguely related

Also, Jesus and James could be related in some other way, not strictly "cousins", following the non-literal application of the term adelphos and the Aramaic term for "brother". Being close blood relatives, James and his kin could have been treated as brothers to Jesus anyway.

The ossuary

In the November 2002 issue of Biblical Archaeology Review, André Lemaire of the Sorbonnemarker University in Parismarker, published the report that an ossuary bearing the inscription Ya`aqov bar Yosef akhui Yeshua` ("James son of Joseph brother of Jesus") had been identified belonging to a collector, who quickly turned out to be Oded Golan. If authentic it would have been the first archaeological evidence that Jesus existed aside from the manuscript tradition. There is no mention of Jesus' and James' mother. The ossuary was exhibited at the Royal Ontario Museummarker in Torontomarker, Canada, late that year; however, on June 18, 2003, the Israeli Antiquities Authority published a report concluding that the inscription is a modern forgery based on their analysis of the patina. Specifically, it appears that the inscription was added recently and made to look old by addition of a chalk solution. Oded Golan has since been arrested and his forgery equipment and partially completed forgeries have been recovered. On December 29, 2004, Golan was indicted in an Israeli court along with three other men — Robert Deutsch, an inscriptions expert who teaches at Haifa University; collector Shlomo Cohen; and antiquities dealer Faiz al-Amaleh. They are accused of being part of a forgery ring that had been operating for more than 20 years. Golan denies the charges against him.

According to the BBC, when the police took Oded Golan into custody and searched his apartment they discovered a workshop with a range of tools, materials, and half finished 'antiquities'. This was evidence for an fraud of a scale far greater than they had suspected.

In summary Myllykoski wrote "The authenticity and significance of the ossuary has been defended by Shanks (2003), while many scholars — relying on convincing evidence, to say the least — strongly suspect that it is a modern forgery."


  1. Catholic Encyclopedia: Saint James the Less
  2. Philip Schaff: History of the Christian Church, chapter 4, § 27. James the Brother of the Lord: "And in the Liturgy of St. James, the brother of Jesus is raised to the dignity of "the brother of the very God".
  3. Eisenman,R. (1996) James the Brother of Jesus Viking. ISBN 0-670-86932-5
  4. Jerome, letters.
  5. James Priest, Wheaton.
  6. Jerome, On Illustrious Men, 2
  7. The Gospel of Thomas, login 12
  8. New Testament Apocrypha: Gospels and related writings, by Wilhelm Schneemelcher, Robert McLachlan, p. 119
  9. Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, Vol. 3 (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1993); See also Strong's G2919
  10. Mckenzie, John L. The Dictionary of the Bible. "Peter". (Roman Catholic)
  11. Ryland,Ray. "Peter and the Orthodox: A Reprise." Originally published in This Rock, Vol. 7, No. 10, October 1996. Retrieved September 10, 2007 (Roman Catholic)
  12. The Navarre Bible, footnotes (Roman Catholic)
  13. Eusebius Church History Book 2:1 quoting Clement of Alexandria's Sixth Hypotyposes
  14. Jerome, On Illustrious Men, 2
  15. Schaff, Philip (1904) Henry Wace "A Select library of Nicene and post-Nicene fathers of the Christian church" BiblioBazaar ISBN 1110373465
  16. The Canon Debate, McDonald & Sanders editors, 2002, chapter 32, page 577, by James D. G. Dunn: "For Peter was probably in fact and effect the bridge-man (pontifex maximus!) who did more than any other to hold together the diversity of first-century Christianity. James the brother of Jesus and Paul, the two other most prominent leading figures in first-century Christianity, were too much identified with their respective "brands" of Christianity, at least in the eyes of Christians at the opposite ends of this particular spectrum. But Peter, as shown particularly by the Antioch episode in Gal 2, had both a care to hold firm to his Jewish heritage, which Paul lacked, and an openness to the demands of developing Christianity, which James lacked. John might have served as such a figure of the center holding together the extremes, but if the writings linked with his name are at all indicative of his own stance he was too much of an individualist to provide such a rallying point. Others could link the developing new religion more firmly to its founding events and to Jesus himself. But none of them, including the rest of the twelve, seem to have played any role of continuing significance for the whole sweep of Christianity—though James the brother of John might have proved an exception had he been spared." [Italics original]
  17. Robinson, James M., ed. (1978) The Nag Hammadi Library Harper & Row. ISBN 0-06-066933-0
  18. John Dominic Crossan. Jesus: A Revolutionary Biography, 1994, ISBN 0-06-061662-8
  19. Brethren of the Lord, Roman Catholic.
  20. - Catholic Encyclopedia, "The Brethren of the Lord"
  21. This position is articulated in footnotes of the Christian Community Bible, published by Claretian Communications (Roman Catholic) link
  22. BBC on Oded Golan [1]
  23. Myllykoski, Matti (2007), James the Just in History and Tradition: Perspectives of Past and Present Scholarship (Part II), Currents in Biblical Research; 6; 11,p.84, DOI: 10.1177/1476993X07080242

External links


  • Raymond E. Brown. An Introduction to the New Testament. New York: Doubleday, 1997. ISBN 0-385-24767-2
  • Robert Eisenman. James the Brother of Jesus: The Key to Unlocking the Secrets of Early Christianity and the Dead Sea Scrolls. New York: VikingPenguin, 1997. ISBN 0-670-86932-5
  • John Painter. Just James. Columbia: University of South Carolina, 1997 ISBN 1-57003-174-6
  • Hershel Shanks and Ben Witherington, The Brother of Jesus. New York: HarperSanFrancisco, 2003. ISBN 0-06-055660-9
  • Francis Watson. Paul, Judaism and the Gentiles. Cultural background.
  • Biblical Archaeology Review Articles in various issues in 2004 and 2005 concerning the ossuary.

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