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St James of Jerusalem, Brother of the Lord

Ask your average Christian to name the twelve apostles…

Ask your average church leader (priest, pastor, bishop) to name the twelve apostles – I mean, without looking this up…

Ask your average Christian or church leader to name the brothers and sisters of Jesus… [yes, I know, in part a trick question…]

There is considerable confusion about the different people called “James” in the New Testament, as well as the relationship of this James and Jesus. He is called the “brother of the Lord”, James the Just (out of respect for his piety and strict observance of the Law) or James Protepiscopus (First Bishop of Jerusalem). The Epistle of James and the Liturgy of St. James are attributed to him.

According to Josephus “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 (Jewish Antiquities 20,9).

Mary (“Miriam”), Jesus’ mother, bears the same name as Moses’ sister, a strong woman. She is married to Joseph – another name from the early period in Genesis. The names of the rest of the family are also names reminiscent of the early history of liberation. Jesus (Joshua = “God saves/liberates/sets free”), James (Jacob), Joseph, Simon (Simeon), Judas (Judah). Jesus had at least two sisters. It is also significant that we don’t know their names!

Does your family go in for royal names (George, James, Henry, William, Elizabeth, Anne)? Famous sportspeople? Jesus’ family seemed to choose early liberation names. Jesus’ family chose names from the foundational deliverance stories of their nation. You can imagine what the Roman oppressors thought of people with names like this.

When the new Joshua (Jesus) crosses the Jordan (baptism) from the far side (Jn 1:28), re-entering the Promised Land, one can imagine the emails and texts that Pontius Pilate’s received from the equivalent of MI5, CIA, or the SIS. This is someone to keep an eye on!

untangle the different biblical James here

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