James of Jerusalem

James son of Joseph (Hebrew: Yaakov ben YosefGreek: Iakо̄bos ton tou Iōsēphwas born c. AD 1 (3761–3762 in the Hebrew calendar) in the Roman province of Judea. Paul of Tarsus identified him as the "Lord's brother," and wrote about meeting him at Jerusalem (cf. Gal. 1:19) after his conversion near Damascus. James shared the same mother, Mary, with Jesus and at least three other brothers—Joseph, Simon, and Jude—and an unknown number of sisters (cf. Matt. 13:55-56; Mark 6:3). However, he did not believe that Jesus was the Messiah until after the resurrection (cf. John 7:5Acts 12:17), as all of his other siblings rejected this claim. The entire family thought Jesus was out of his mind! (cf. Mark 3:21). James of Jerusalem should not be confused with either James son of Alphaeus or James son of Zebedee. He was not one of the twelve apostles as they were (cf. Acts 1:13-14; 1 Cor. 9:5, 15:7).


After James saw the risen Jesus (cf. 1 Cor. 15:7), he not only believed in him, but also became the leader of the Jerusalem church (cf. Gal. 1:18-19). The beheading of James son of Zebedee in AD 44 by Herod Agrippa I and the departure of Peter from Jerusalem allowed James to become the church's leader there (cf. Acts 12:17). He also presided over the Council of Jerusalem in AD 50, in which he devised a middle path for both Jewish and gentile believers (cf. Acts 15:13-21) based on the Law of Moses' regulations for foreigners living in Israel (cf. Lev. 17-18). James helped Paul during his final visit to Jerusalem (Acts 21:18). He also wrote the epistle of James (v. 1:1), which features many of Jesus' own concerns about favoritism (cf. 2:1-13), hypocrisy, judgmentalism, pride (v. 4), slandering others with the tongue (cf. 3:1-12), and hearing/doing the word (cf. 1:19-27). Likewise, he treasured God's wisdom over the knowledge of the world (cf. 3:13-18) and wrote about constant prayer (cf. 5:13-18). Because of his family ties, James did not focus on Jesus' crucifixion, resurrection, or divinity. Instead, he focused on Jesus' teaching; consistent with his personal experience. He did acknowledge Jesus' divinity, calling him "our glorious Lord Jesus Christ" (cf. 2:1).



James was stoned to death in Jerusalem by the Sanhedrin in AD 62. Between AD 93–94, the Jewish-Roman historian Josephus wrote about it in his Antiquities of the Jews:

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, who was called Christ, whose name was James, and some others, [or, some of his companions]; and when he had formed an accusation against them as breakers of the law, he delivered them to be stoned: but as for those who seemed the most equitable of the citizens, and such as were the most uneasy at the breach of the laws, they disliked what was done; they also sent to the king [Agrippa], desiring him to send to Ananus that he should act so no more, for that what he had already done was not to be justified; nay, some of them went also to meet Albinus, as he was upon his journey from Alexandria, and informed him that it was not lawful for Ananus to assemble a Sanhedrin without his consent. Whereupon 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, the high priest (Ant. 20.9.1).


Ossuary of "James son of Joseph, brother of Jesus"

Aside from the New Testament and Josephus' Antiquities, we do not have any more information about James. As obscure a figure that he is in scripture, an ossuary reported in 2002 made headlines across the world because of its inscription: "James son of Joseph, brother of Jesus" (Aramaic: יעקובבריוסףאחוידישוע Yaakov bar Yosef akhui diYeshua). Its authenticity is hotly debated among biblical scholars and even the State of Israel. The owner, an Israeli antiquities dealer named Oded Golan, was acquitted by the Israeli Antiquities Authority in 2012. However, this only means that he did not commit forgery himself, but does nothing to verify the James ossuary. The relic is twenty inches long and its limestone composition dates between the first century BC and AD 70, when Jews were known to collect the bones of the departed and bury them in such chalk boxes. The relic itself is genuine, but the debate centers on the inscription. If the James ossuary could ever be proven beyond a reasonable doubt, it would be the very first archaeological evidence that Jesus was a historical man who lived in first-century Judea.


Blessed are you, LORD our God, King of the universe, following the example of your apostle James, brother of our Lord, grant that your church may give itself continually to prayer and to the reconciliation of all who are at variance and enmity; through Jesus the Messiah our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.


The Book of Common Prayer. Huntington Beach, CA: Anglican Liturgy Press, 2019. p. 633.  http://bcp2019.anglicanchurch.net/wp-content/uploads/2019/08/BCP2019.pdf.


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