The Online Encyclopedia and Dictionary






James the Just

For people and places called Saint James, see the disambiguation page.

Saint James the Just also called James Adelphos (יעקב "Holder of the heel; supplanter"; Standard Hebrew Yaʿaqov, Tiberian Hebrew Yaʿăqōḇ) (died AD 62) was the first bishop or patriarch of Jerusalem, to give him the title assigned to him by Pauline Christianity.



He was called "the Just" because of his ascetic practices, which involved taking Nazarite vows, unless as suggests he was dedicated "from the womb", and to distinguish him from Saint James the Great and Saint James the Less. He is called "Adelphos" (Greek "brother"). Jesus's brothers — James as well as Jude, Simon and Joses — are mentioned in Matthew 13:55, Mark 6:3, Luke (6:14) and by Paul in Epistle to the Galatians 1:19. Several early writers (the Clementine literature, Hegesippus-Eusebius) consider him merely the half brother to Jesus because of the developing dogma of the Perpetual Virginity of Mary. This claim that James was a half-brother assumes that Joseph had children from a previous marriage, and that Mary, the mother of Jesus, was not James' mother. This claim is first described in the 1st and 2nd century texts The Gospel of the Nativity of Mary , The Protoevangelium of James, and in the 1st century Liturgy of St James. Both Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox Christians believe this relationship is correct.


Jerome, De Viris Illustribus, quotes Hegesippus' account of James from the fifth book of his 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."

Jerome adds, "He says also many other things, too numerous to mention." His conception that James went into the Holy of Holies, whether in linen or wool, shows how utterly innocent Jerome was of the most basic Jewish practice.

Paul further describes James as being one of the persons the risen Christ showed himself to (1 Corinthians 15:3-8); then later in 1 Corinthians, 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, and who will minister to "the circumcised" (that is the Jews) in Jerusalem, while Paul and his fellows will minister to the Gentiles (2:9, 2:12).

Acts provides clear evidence that James was an important figure in the Christian community of Jerusalem, although the author minimizes his presence in that work. When Peter, having miraculously escaped from prison, must flee Jerusalem, he asks that James be informed (12:17). When the Christians of Antioch are concerned over whether Gentile Christians need be circumcised to be saved, they send Paul and Barnabas to confer with the church there, and it is James who utters the definitive judgement (15:13ff). And when Paul arrives in Jerusalem to deliver the money he raised for the faithful there, it is to James that he speaks, and who insists that Paul ritually cleanse himself to prove his faith (21:18).

A debated passage, often characterized as a Christian interpolation, in Josephus's Jewish Antiquities records his death in Jerusalem as having occurred after the death of the procurator Porcius Festus , yet before Clodius Albinus took office (Antiquities 20,9)— which has thus been dated to AD 62. The high priest Ananus took advantage of this lack of imperial oversight to assemble 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. Their agitations led to Ananus being deposed as high priest.

Eusebius, while quoting Josephus' account, also records otherwise lost passages from Hegesippus (see links below), and Clement of Alexandria (Hist.Eccles., 2.23). Hegesippus' account apparently varied from what Josephus reports: the Pharisees, upset at his teachings, first threw him from the summit of the Temple of Solomon in Jerusalem, then stoned him, and at last broke his skull with a fuller's club. (Hegesippus' account may be the combination of three varying accounts of James' death.) Vespasian's siege and capture of Jerusalem delayed the selection of Symeon , son of Clopas, to succeed him.


James the Just is sometimes given credit for writing the New Testament Epistle of James, although this epistle has also been ascribed to Saint James the Great and James the Less.

Modern historians of the early Christian churches tend to place James in a tradition of Jewish Christianity, which was more conservative than the tradition Paul was part of; where Paul famously emphasized faith over actions or observance of Mosaic Law, which he considered a burden, James is thought to have espoused the opposite position. 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.

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.

Robert Eisenman has set forth a thesis that James and the observant Christian 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 Jewish and Pauline Christianity, relating his reconstruction to "proto-Christian" elements of the Essenes, as represented in the Dead Sea scrolls. Most of the criticism deconstructs as Pauline apologetics, but Eisenman is equally harsh on the Christians at Jerusalem, whom he portrays as a nationalistic, messianic, priestly, and xenophobic sect of ultra-legal pietists.

Some apocryphal gospels testify to the reverence Jewish followers of Jesus (like the Ebionites) had for James. The Gospel of Thomas (one of the works included in the Nag Hammadi Library) 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."

The First Apocalypse of James (not commonly believed to be actually written by James the Just) 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 Pella before the Roman siege of that city in AD 70. (Ben Witherington suggests what is meant by this was that James' bones were taken by the early Christians who had fled Jerusalem).

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 Hammadi.

Brother, half-brother, step-brother or cousin of Jesus

To many dispassionate outsiders, the number of the Jameses in the immediate circle of Jesus seems to have been multiplied, and Jerome's perhaps inadvertent remark, "Many indeed are called James" has a disarming frankness.

The relationship of James, one of the desposyni or the "heirs of the Master", to Jesus has been rendered problematic to many Christians. Jesus's brothers — James as well as Jude, Simon and Joses — are unequivocably mentioned in Matthew 13:55, Mark 6:3, Luke (6:14) and Galatians 1:19. Even in the passage in Josephus Jewish Wars called the Testamentum Flavianum the Jewish historian describes James as "the brother of Jesus who was called Christ", though this passage has been suggested as an interpolation.

Due to the belief of Christians that Jesus Christ was the Son of God, many Christians believe James the Just therefore was at best a half-brother.

However, the problem has become further compounded by the developing dogma of the Perpetual Virginity of Mary. Following the belief that Mary's virginity continued even after the Virgin Birth, Eastern Orthodoxy treats James as a step-brother, being the son of Joseph, but not Mary and instead by a previous wife of Joseph.

Eusebius of Caesarea reports the tradition that James the Just was the son of Joseph's brother Clopas, and therefore was of the "brethren" (which he interpretes as "cousin") of Jesus described in the New Testament. Jerome (died 420) argued vehemently (De Viris Illustribus, "On Illustrious Men") that James was merely a cousin to Jesus, the son of another Mary, the wife of Clopas and "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."

This opinion has been embraced by the Roman Catholic church, and has the effect of suggesting an identification of James the Just with James the Less. Despite this, biblical scholars tend to distinguish them.

The ossuary

Main article: James Ossuary

In the November 2002 issue of Bible Archeology Review , André Lemaire of the Sorbonne University in Paris, 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 an collector, who quickly turned out to be Oded Golan, a forger posing as a collector. If authentic it would have been the first archaeological proof that Jesus existed aside from the manuscript tradition. The ossuary was exhibited at the Royal Ontario Museum in Toronto, 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.

External links


  • Robert Eisenman, James the Brother of Jesus: The Key to Unlocking the Secrets of Early Christianity and the Dead Sea Scrolls, 1997.
  • Hershel Shanks and Ben Witherington, The Brother of Jesus. New York: HarperSanFrancisco, 2003. ISBN 0-06-055660-9
  • John Painter, Just James. Columbia: University of South Carolina, 1997 ISBN 1570031746
Last updated: 05-07-2005 14:34:18
Last updated: 05-13-2005 07:56:04