Location: Texas

Sunday, October 17, 2004

James the Brother of Jesus

This is the introduction to the book as promised. It may help to clear up any confusion that has existed about what I am talking about.


James the brother of Jesus, usually known as James the Just because of his surpassing Righteousness and Piety, is a character familiar to those with some knowledge of Christian origins. He is not so well known to the public at large, an inevitable if peculiar result of the processes being described in this book.

James is not only the key to unlocking a whole series of obfuscations in the history of the early Church, he is also the missing link between the Judaism of his day, however this is defined, and Christianity. In so far as the 'Righteous Teacher' in the Dead Sea Scrolls occupies a similar position, the parallels between the two and the respective communities they led narrow considerably, even to the point of convergence. In the introduction to an earlier book on this subject in 1983, Maccabees, Zadokites, Christians and Qumran, I wrote with specific reference to James as follows:

In providing an alternative historical and textual framework in which to fit the most important Dead Sea Scrolls, it is to be hoped that most of the preconceptions to have dominated Scrolls research for so long will simply fade away and new ideas will be brought into play and previously unused sources given their proper scope. When this is done, individual beings, the facts of whose lives tradition has distorted beyond recognition or who have been otherwise consigned to historical oblivion, will spring immediately to life and a whole series of associated historical fabrications and accusations evaporate.

It is to the task of rescuing James, consigned either on purpose or through benign neglect to the scrapheap of history, that this book is dedicated.

Mentioned in various contexts in the New Testament, James the Just has been systematically downplayed or written out of the tradition. When he suddenly emerges as a principal personality and leader of the 'Jerusalem Church' or 'Community' in Acts 12:17, there is no introduction as to who he is or how he has arrived at the position he is occupying. Acts' subsequent silence about his fate, which can be pieced together only from extra-biblical sources and to some extent seems to have been absorbed into the accounts both about the character we now call 'Stephen' and even Jesus himself, obscures the situation still further.

Once the New Testament reached its final form, the process of James' marginalization became more unconscious and inadvertent but, in all events, it was one of the most successful rewrite - or overwrite - enterprises ever accomplished. James ended up ignored, an ephemeral figure on the margins of Christianity, known only to aficionados. But in the Jerusalem of his day in the 40s to 60s CE, he was the most important and central figure of all - 'the Bishop' or 'Overseer’ of the Jerusalem Church.

Designated as 'the brother' of Jesus, James the Just or the Just One is often confused or juxtaposed, and this probably purposefully, with another James, designated by Scripture as 'James the brother of John', the so-called 'son of Zebedee', thus increasing his marginalization. This multiplication of like-named individuals in Scripture was often the result of the same rewrite or overwrite processes just remarked.

There is a collateral aspect to this welter of like-named characters in the New Testament - even going so far as to include 'Mary the sister of her own sister Mary (John 19:25). These instances are all connected with downplaying the family of Jesus and writing it out of Scripture. This was necessary because of the developing doctrine of the supernatural Christ and the stories about his miraculous birth.


The leader of the 'early Church' or 'Jerusalem Assembly' in Palestine from the 40s to the 60s, James met his death at the hands of a hostile Establishment before the events that culminated in the Uprising against Rome and the destruction of the Temple (66-70 CE). To have been 'Head' or 'Bishop' of 'the Jerusalem Church' (Ecclesia) or 'Community' was to have been the head of the whole of Christianity, whatever this might be considered to have been in this period. Not only was the centre at Jerusalem the principal one before the destruction of the Temple and the reputed flight of the Jamesian community to a city beyond the Jordan called Pella, but there were hardly any others of any importance.

For instance, the famous centre at Antioch in Syria, which may have been confused with the one at Edessa some two hundred miles further east, was only just being formed in the 40s and 50s, all other, in so far as they existed at all, being in a nascent state only. According to Acts, Antioch was where Christians 'were first called Christians' (11:26). It was the former capital of the Hellenized Seleucid kingdom, one of the offshoots of the empire of Alexander the Great, and the Church there consisted mainly of Paul and several associates, including, it would appear, one person associated with the Herodian family in Palestine (13:1).

Because of James' pre-eminent stature, the sources for him turn out to be quite extensive, more than for any other comparable character, even for those as familiar to us as John the Baptist and Peter. In fact, extra biblical sources contain more reliable information about James than about Jesus.

There are also strong parallels between the Community led by James and the one reflected in the Dead Sea Scrolls. This is particularly true when one considers the relationship of James to the person known in the Scrolls as 'the Teacher of Righteousness' or 'Righteous Teacher'. This book will build on the present debate concerning the Dead Sea Scrolls, presenting an alternative manner of viewing these documents. So many doctrines, allusions, and turns of phrase emerge from the material in the Scrolls common to both traditions that the parallels become impossible to ignore.

The research I am presenting here was originally completed under a National Endowment for the Humanities Fellowship at the Albright Institute in Jerusalem in 1985-6, the well-known 'American School', where the Scrolls were first photographed in 1947. It was during the tenure of this award that the insight became clear to me that led to the struggle for open access to the Scrolls, and the final collapse of the scholarly elite controlling their publication and, even more importantly, their interpretation.

But the subject of the person and teaching of James in the Jerusalem of his day is not only more important simply than his relationship to the interpretation of the Scrolls, it is quite independent of it. Even without insisting on any parallel or identification of James with the Righteous Teacher of the Scrolls, the Movement led by James - and it does seem to have been a 'Movement' - will be shown to have been something quite different of the Christianity we are now familiar with. James' relationship to the Scrolls is only collateral not intrinsic to this.

One of the central theses of this book will be the identification of James as the centre of the 'opposition alliance' in Jerusalem, involved in and precitiation the Uprising against Rome in 66-70 CE. The Dead Sea Scrolls like other recent manuscript discoveries - as for instance those from Nag Hammadi in Upper Egypt, which came to light at about the same time as the Scrolls - while important, only further substantiate conclusions such as this, providing additional insight into it.

In the course of this book, it will become clear that James was the true heir and successor of his more famous brother Jesus and the leader at the time of whatever the movement was we now call 'Christianity', no the more Hellenized character we know through his Greek cognomen Peter, the 'Rock' of, in any event, the Roman Church.

Though Peter's name has now become proverbial, he may not be as historical as we think he is, and the role we attribute to him may possibly be an amalgam of that of several individuals by the same name, one a martyred 'cousin' of both Jesus and James and their reputed successor in Palestine, Simeon bar Cleophas. Nor does a normative adherence to Judaism and Christianity appear tenable after pursuing a study of this kind and grasping the real significance of James in the Jerusalem of his time.

Roman Power and its Effects

In historical writing, it is an oft-stated truism that the victor write the history. This is true for the period before us. Paul, for instance, would have been very comfortable with this proposition, as he makes clear in 1 Corinthians, where he announces his modus operandi of making himself 'all things to all men' and his philosophy of 'winning' and 'not beating the air' (9:24-27). So would his younger contemporary, the Jewish historian Josephus (C. 37-96 CE), who in the introductions to his several works also shows himself to be well aware of the implications of this proposition without being able to avoid its inevitable consequences.

There is in this period one central immovable fact, that of Roman power. This was as elemental as a state of nature, and all movements and individual behavior must be seen in relation to it. But the unsuspecting reader is often quite unaware of it, when inspecting documents that emanate from this time or trying to come to grips with what was actually a highly charged and extremely revolutionary situation in Palestine.

This is the problem we have to face in this period, not only where individuals are concerned, but also in the documents that have come down to us. For example, in the Gospels, probably products of the end of this period, one would have difficulty recognizing that this highly charged, revolutionary situation existed in the Galilee in which Jesus wanders peacefully about, curing the sick, chasing out demons, raising the dead, and performing other 'mighty works and wonders'.

But in the parallel vocabulary of the War of the Sons of Light against the Sons of Darkness - a key document from the Dead Sea Scrolls treating the final apocalyptic war against all Evil on the earth, led by the Messiah and the Heavenly Host - these same Messianic 'mighty works and wonders' are the battles God fights on behalf of His people and the marvelous victories He wins. In this Scroll, known among aficionados as the War Scroll, we are in the throes of an apocalyptic picture of Holy War, with which the partisans of Oliver Cromwell's militant Puritanism in seventeenth-century England would have felt comfortable.

On the other hand, where the Gospels are concerned, we are in a peaceful, Hellenized countryside, where Galilean fishermen cast their nets or mend their boats. Would it were true. The scenes in the New Testament depicting Roman officials and military officers sometimes as near saints or the members of the Herodian family - their appointed custodians and tax collectors in Palestine - as bumbling but well-meaning dupes also have to be understood in the light of the submissiveness to Roman power.

The same can be said for the scenes picturing the vindictiveness of the Jewish mob. These are obviously included to please not a Jewish audience but a Roman or a Hellenistic one. This is also true of the presentation of the Jewish Messiah - call him 'Jesus' - as a politically disinterested, other-worldly (in Roman terms, ergo, harmless), even sometimes pro-Roman itinerant, at odds with his own people and family, preaching a variety of Plato's representation of the Apology of Socrates or the Pax Romana.

Josephus, whose own works suffer from many of these same distortions, was himself a defector to the Roman cause. Much like Paul, he owed his survival, as well as that of his works, to this fact. Both, it seems either had or were to achieve Roman citizenship, Josephus in the highest manner possible - adoption into the Roman imperial family. His works were encouraged by persons, previously high up in the Roman Emperor Nero's chancellery (54-68) and equally favored later under Domitian (81-96), with whom Paul also seems to have been in close touch.

Josephus sums up this obsequiousness to Roman power perhaps better than anyone in his preface to his eye-witness account of this period, the Jewish War, a work based at least in part on his interrogations, as a defector and willing collaborator, of prisoners. In criticizing other historians treating the same events, Josephus notes that all historical works from this period suffer from two main defects, 'flattery of the Romans and vilification of the Jews, adulation and abuse being substituted for real historical record'. Having said this, he then goes on to indulge in the same conduct himself.

That historical portions of the New Testament suffer from the same defect should be obvious to anyone with even a passing familiarity with them. But the Dead Sea Scrolls do not, for the simple reason that they did not go through the editorial processes of the Roman Empire. The opposite; they were probably deposited in caves expressly to avoid it. The fact of Roman power, too, was probably the principal reason why no one ever returned to retrieve them. No one could have, because no one survived. It was that simple.

This power is also the key determinant behind the political and ideological orientation of several of the religious groups or parties in this period, including early Christians and Pharisaic Jews, not to mention the group responsible for the composition of the Scrolls themselves, who were in all likelihood destroyed by it.

The Jesus of History

The quest for the historical Jesus has held a fascination for sophisticated Western man for over two centuries now, but the quest for the historical James has never been pursued. Rather than be disconsolate that the material regarding James is so fragmentary and often presented from the point of view of persons like Paul who disagreed with him, it is the task of the historian to revive him, to rescue him from the oblivion in which he was cast, either purposefully or via benign neglect, and to revivify him.

This is not so difficult as it might seem, because the materials about James exist - quite a lot of them. It remains only to place them in a proper perspective and analyze them. This would be much more difficult to achieve for James' brother Jesus. But is Jesus as well known as most people think? Experts, lay persons, artists, writers, political figures from all ages and every time and place constantly assert the fact of Jesus' existence and speak of him in the most familiar way, as if they personally had certain knowledge of him. Unfortunately, the facts themselves are shrouded in mystery and overwhelmed by a veneer of retrospective theology and polemics that frustrates any attempt to get at the real events underlying them. Most who read the documents concerning him are simply unaware of this.

Questions not only emerge concerning Jesus' existence itself, at least as far as the character so confidently portrayed in Scripture, but also regarding the appropriateness of the teaching attributed to him there to his time and place. Where the man 'Jesus' is concerned - as opposed to the redeemer figure 'Christ' or 'Christ Jesus' Paul so confidently proclaims and with whom, via some personalized visionary experience, he claims to be in constant contact - we have mainly the remains of Hellenistic romance and mythologizing to go on, often with a clear polemicizing or dissembling intent. In fact, Paul, portrayed as appearing on the scene only a few years after Jesus' death, either knows nothing or is willing to tell us nothing about him.

Only two historical points about Jesus emerge from Paul's letters; firstly, that he was crucified at some point - date unspecified (1Tim. 6:13, which is not considered authentic, adds by Pontius Pilate), and secondly, that he had several brothers, one of whom was one called James (Gal. 1:19). In fact, taking the brother relationship seriously may turn out to be one of the only confirmations that there ever was a historical Jesus.

Jesus in the Gospels

Where the Gospels are concerned, whatever can be said with any certainty about Jesus is largely presented in the framework of supernatural storytelling. Hellenistic mystery cults were familiar over a large portion of the Graeco-Roman world where Paul was active. They would certainly have provided fertile ground for the propagation of competing models among a population already well versed in their fundamentals.

One attitude, particularly important in determing the historicity of Gospel materials, is the strong current of anti-Semitism one encounters lying just below the surface. This anti-Semtism was already rife in Hellenistic cities such as Alexandria in Egypt and Caesarea in Palestine, and ultimately led to the destruction of the Jewish populations there.

One can assert with a fair degree of confidence that while Messianic agitation in Palestine could be sectarian, it would not be anti-Jewish or opposed to the people of Palestine. This would be a contradiction in terms. Of course, there was internecine party strife, often vitriolic and quite unforgiving, but for a popular Messianic leader to be against his own people would be prima facie impossible and , one can confidently assert, none ever was - except retrospectively or through the miracle of art. The reader may take this as a rule of thumb. For corroboration, where native Palestinian literature is concerned, one need only inspect the Dead Sea Scrolls, which, while often vitriolic and uncompromising towards their opponents in Palestine and the world at large, are never anti-Semitic. The opposite.

Nor can we say that in the Gospels we do not have a composite recreation of facts and episodes relating to a series of Messianic pretenders in Palestine in the first century, familiar from the works of Josephus, interlaced or spliced into a narrative of a distinctly Hellenistic or non-Palestinian, pro-Pauline cast. This includes some light-hearted - even malevolent - satire where events in Palestine are concerned. Josephus displays a parallel, but inverted, malevolence, calling examples of the charismatic Messianic type of leader 'religious frauds' or 'impostors more dangerous than the bandits and murderers', and 'deceivers claiming divine inspiration leading their followers out into the wilderness there to show them the signs of their impending Deliverance'.

The Gospel of Matthew, even more than the other Gospels, has long been recognized as a collection of Messianic and other scriptural proof-texts taken out of context and woven into a gripping narrative of what purports to be the life of Jesus. In describing an early flight by Jesus' father 'Joseph' to Egypt to escape Herod - à la Joseph in Egypt and Moses' escape from Pharaoh in the Bible - not paralleled in the other Gospels, Matthew utilizes the passage, 'I have called my son out of Egypt' (3:15). Whether this passage applies to Jesus is debatable.

In its original Old Testament context (Hos. 11:1), it obviously refers to the people Israel as a whole. However, it does have very real relevance to a character in the mid-50s, whom Josephus - followed it would appear by the Book of Acts - actually calls 'the Egyptian', but declines to identify further. This Messianic pretender, according to the picture in Josephus, first leads the people 'out into the wilderness' and then utilizes the Mount of Olives as a staging point to lead a Joshua-style assault on the walls of Jerusalem. But the Mount of Olives was a favourite haunt, according to Gospel narrative, of Jesus and his companions. We will note many such suspicious overlaps in the data available to us.

For his part, Josephus, predictably obsequious, applauds the extermination of the followers of this Egyptian by the Roman Governor Felix (52-60 CE). The Book of Acts, too, is quick to show its familiarity with this episode, including Josephus' tell-tale reticence in supplying his name. Rather it somewhat charmingly portrays the commander of the Roman garrison in the Temple as mistaking Paul for him (21:38).

Other examples of the kind are the so-called 'Little Apocalypses' in the Gospels (Matt. 24:4-31 and pars.). In Luke's version of these, anyhow, Jesus is depicted as predicting the encirclement of Jerusalem by armies, followed by its fall. All versions are introduced by reference to the destruction of the Temple and generally refer to famine, wars, and sectarian strife, along with other signs and catastrophes. These probably have very real relevance to a section in the Antiquities of the Jews, in which Josephus describes in gory detail the woes brought upon the people by the movement founded by someone he calls 'Judas the Galilean' around the time of the Census of Cyrenius in 6-7 CE.

This is contemporaneous with Jesus' birth according to the time frame of the Gospel of Luke too and is also referred to in Acts (5:37). Josephus calls this movement the 'Fourth Philosophy', but most now refer to it as 'Zealot'. Here, as in the Little Apocalypses above, Josephus portrays this movement - the appearance of which, again, is contemporaneous with the birth of Christ in the Gospels - as bringing about wars, famine, and terrible suffering for the people, culminating in the destruction of the Temple.

These 'woes' also have relevance to another Messianic character, depicted in Josephus and a namesake of Jesus, whom Josephus calls 'Jesus ben Ananias'. This man, whom Josephus portrays as an oracle or quasi-prophet of some kind, went around Jerusalem directly following the death of James in 62 CE for seven straight years, proclaiming its coming destruction, until he was finally hit on the head by a Roman projectile during the siege of Jerusalem and killed just prior to the fulfilment of his prophecy.

The applicability of this story to the Historical Jesus (and in a very real way the Historical James), the facts of whose existence and its relevance to mankind's everyday existence have been so confidently asserted for the last nineteen centuries or more, should be obvious. In fact 'Jesus ben Ananias' was set free at the end of Josephus' Jewish War after having originally been arrested. The release of such a Messianic double for Jesus is also an echoed in the Scripture as it has come down to us in the release of another ‘double’. One Gospel anyhow calls this double 'Jesus Barabbas' - the meaning of this name in Aramaic superficially would appear to be 'the Son of the Father' - a political 'bandit' who 'committed murder at the time of the uprising' and is released by Pontius Pilate (Matt. 27:26 and pars).

It is reflected too in another curious episode in a narrative concerning which many profess scepticism but few have explained, called the Slavonic Josephus, because it came down through the Old Russian. An epitome of Josephus' Jewish War, like much in this period it is probably a forgery. However, in expanding the notices about Jesus from Josephus' later Antiquities, it portrays him as a revolutionary who is released only to be re-arrested before the final crucifixion scenario familiar to us.

Variant manuscripts of the works of Josephus, reported by Church fathers like Origen, Eusebius, and Jerome, all of whom at one time or another spent time in Palestine, contain materials associating the fall of Jerusalem with the death of James - not with the death of Jesus. Their shrill protests, particularly Origen's and Eusebius', have probably not a little to do with the disappearance of this passage from all manuscripts of the Jewish War that have come down to us. As will also become clear, other aspects from the biography of James have been retrospectively absorbed into the biography of Jesus and other characters in the Book of Acts in sometimes astonishing ways.

In fact, in what suggests that the Gospels and some Dead Sea Scrolls are virtually contemporary documents - and that the authors of the former knew the latter - it will be shown that fundamental allusions from the Scrolls have been absorbed into Gospel presentations of Jesus' relations with his Apostles. This subject is treated in the section focusing on Jesus' brothers as Apostles and Jesus' post-resurrection appearance to James. There, it will be shown that the presentation of the Apostles as peaceful fishermen on the Sea of Galilee incorporates a play on key ideological usages found in the Dead Sea Scrolls. This is the language of casting down nets implicit in episodes relative to appearances by Jesus to his Apostles along the Sea of Galilee both before and after his resurrection and in parallel notices in the Dead Sea Scrolls and Revelation. This language of casting or throwing down will also be shown to be integral to presentations of the death of James in virtually all traditions we are heirs to.

The 'Galilean' language, also part and parcel of the presentations of Jesus and his Apostles in these and like episodes, likewise can be thought of as playing on the name of the Movement developing out of the activities of Judas the Galilean, the founder of the Zealot Movement mentioned above, which Josephus and the book of Acts will also call the 'Sicarii' or 'Assassins'.

Changing terms with ideological connotations into geographical place names tends to trivialize them. This is certainly the case with confusions relating to whether Jesus came from a place in Galilee called 'Nazareth' (never mentioned in either the works of Josephus or the Old Testament) or whether, like James, he followed a 'Nazirite' life-style or was a 'Nazrene' or 'Nazoraean', which have totally different connotations in the literature as it has come down to us.

These are complex matters and will doubtlessly be perplexing at first, but it is necessary to elucidate them to describe the true situation behind some of these highly prized scriptural re-presentations. It is hoped that the reader will soon get used to the kind of word play and evasions at work. The evidence, which might at first appear circumstantial, will mount up, allowing the reader to appreciate the validity of the explanations provided. This is not to say that the Jesus of history did not exist, only that the evidence is skewed and that the problem is more complex than many think.

The Study of James

The situation with regard to James is quite different and clearer, probably because except for the Gospels and the first eleven chapters of the Book of Acts it has not been so overwritten. Here, too, materials regarding James, where not theologically refurbished, are very helpful. Where rewritten or overwritten, they can by comparison with external materials be brought into focus and sometimes even restored.

But one can go further. It is through the figure of James that one can get a realistic sense of what the Jesus of history might have been like. In fact, it is through the figure of James, and by extension the figure of Paul, with whom James is always in a kind of contrapuntal relationship, that the question of the Historical Jesus may be finally resolved.

The name 'James' should not cause too much of a stumbling block for readers, as this is a corruption of the Greek Jacobus moving into the Latin Jacimus. Except for Jaime in Spanish (which also knows Iago), in most European languages a version of the Graeco-Hebrew original Jacobus or Jacob is preserved. In this book 'James' will be used, despite consequent difficulties in visualizing what the name really was in Palestine.

The same is true with regard to 'the brother of Jesus'. In the original accounts - the Gospels as they have come down to us, Paul's letters, and Josephus - no embarrassment whatsoever is evinced about the relationship with Jesus, and James is designated straightforwardly and without qualification as Jesus' brother. There are no questions of the kind that crop up later in the wake of the developing doctrine of the supernatural 'Christ' and stories about his supernatural birth, attempting to depreciate or diminish this relationship. These stories about the birth of 'Christ’ are, in any event, not referred to by Paul and appear first in the Gospels of Matthew and Luke, thus leading in the second century to embarrassment not just over Jesus' brothers, but the fact of Jesus' family generally, including sisters, fathers, uncles, and mothers.

Embarrassment of this kind was exacerbated by the fact that Jesus' brothers ('cousins', as Jerome would later come to see them at the end of the forth century) were the principal personages in Palestine and Jesus' successors there, important in Eastern tradition generally. What exacerbated the problem of their relationship to Jesus even further in the second century was the theological assertion of Mary's 'perpetual virginity' and with it the utter impossibility - nay, inconceivability - that she should have had other children. This even led Jerome's younger contemporary, Augustine, in the fifth century, to the assertion reproduced in Muhammad's Koran in the seventh, that Jesus didn't have any father at all, only a mother.

To the ideologue, it was simply impossible that Jesus should have had a father or brother, Gospel notices and references in Paul notwithstanding. Nor could Joseph have had any children by Mary. These had to have been by another wife. All such theological considerations will be set aside and all family designations treated naturally. If a person was said to have had a brother, then he was a natural brother, conceived by natural generation, not a half-brother, stepbrother, 'cousin' or 'milk brother'.

The wealth of extra-biblical sources relating to James has already been noted. If we include with these those in the Book of Acts, where not adulterated or retrospectively overwritten with more orthodox historical or theological materials, and notices in the letters of Paul, then there is a considerable amount of material relating to James. James is also mentioned in the Gospels, but here the material is marred by doctrinal attempts either to defame the family and brothers of Jesus or to disqualify them in some manner.

Though a parallel process is at work in the early chapters of the Book of Acts, as one moves into chapter 12 where James is introduced and beyond, the character of the material changes and quickens. For some reason Acts assumes that we already know who James is, in contradistinction to another James it calls 'the brother of John' - elsewhere 'the son of Zebedee' - whom it also conveniently disposes of at the beginning of chapter 12 preparatory to introducing the real James. It is possible to read through this material in Acts to the real history underlying it and the real events it transmogrifies

The same can be said for Paul's letters, which provide additional straightforward witness to James the brother of the Lord' and know no other James. The Historical James can also be reconstructed from the underlying circumstances to which remarks in these letters and directed. These, plus a myriad of extra-biblical materials, such as Josephus, apocryphal gospels, non-canonical acts including the 'Pseudo-' or 'False Clementines', the Gnostic manuscripts from Nag Hammadi in Upper Egypt, and the mass of early Church literature all constitute sources about James. The documentation is that impressive.

If we include in this mix of materials the Righteous Teacher found in the Dead Sea Scrolls, where the commonality of language, themes, and historical setting provide additional correspondences, then we are truly in a position of some strength with regard to James.

The Historical Jesus and the Historical James

It is through documentation of this kind that we can resurrect the person of Jesus as well. The proposition would run something like this: let us assume that a Messianic leader known as 'Jesus' did exist in the early part of the first century in Palestine. Furthermore, let us assume that he had brothers, one of whom was called James.

Who would have known the character Jesus better? His closest living relatives, who according to tradition were his legitimate successors in Palestine, and those companions accompanying him in all his activities? Or someone who admits that he never saw Jesus in his lifetime, as Paul does, and that on the contrary, he was an enemy of and persecuted the early Christian community, and came to know him only trough visionary experiences that allowed him to be in touch with a figure he designates as 'Christ Jesus' in Heaven?

The answer of any reasonable observer to this question should be obvious: James and Jesus' Palestinian companions. But the answer of all orthodox Church circles has always been that Paul's understanding of Jesus was superior and that he knew him better than any of Jesus' other Apostles or companions. Furthermore, it is claimed that the doctrines represented by James and the members of Jesus' family generally were defective in their understanding of Paul's Christ Jesus and inferior to boot. Given the fact that all Christianity we are heirs to is largely the legacy of Paul and like--minded persons, this is just what one would have expected and it should surprise no one.

Moreover, it has been retrospectively confirmed by the picture of Jesus that has comedown to us in the Gospels as well. This is particularly evident in the picture of the Apostles in the Gospels as 'weak' (Matt. 14:31 and pars), a term Paul repeatedly uses in his letters, almost always with derogatory intent, when describing the leaders of the community, particularly in Jerusalem, and their directives (Rom. 14:1-2 and 1 Cor. 8:7-9:22). Occasionally he parodies this, applying the term to himself to gain sympathy, but generally he uses it to attack the leadership, particular those keeping dietary regulations or relying on Mosaic Law - even those whom, as he puts it, 'only eat vegetables’, like James.

In the Gospels, reflecting Paul, when an Apostle as important as Peter 'sinks' into the Sea of Galilee for lack of 'Faith' or denies Jesus three times on his death night, the implications are quite clear. They are 'weak' in their adherence to the Pauline concept of 'Faith', as opposed to the more Jamesian one of salvation by 'works'. In addition, they have a defective understanding of Jesus' teaching, particularly of that most important of all Pauline doctrines, the Christ. This is the situation that has retrospectively been confirmed by eighteen hundred years of subsequent Church history too - however unreasonable or in defiance of real history it might appear.

Here, two aphorisms suggest themselves: 'Poetry is truer than history' and 'It is so, if you think so'. The first has a clear connection to the development of the documents that have come down to us. If the Gospels represent the 'poetry', and truly they are perhaps the most successful literary creations ever created both in terms of their artistry and the extent of their influence, then their authors were the poets. It was Plato, who, comprehending the nature of the ancient world better than many other wished to banish the poets from his 'Republic" or ideal state - not without cause, because, in his view, it was the poets who created the myths and religious mysteries, by which the less critically minded lived. For Plato, this was a world of almost total darkness.

Where the second is concerned and early 'Christian' history in Palestine, one can say with some justice that it does not matter what really happened, only what people think happened. In essence, this is the theological approach of our own time and in the court of public opinion decision has long ago been rendered, not only for Christians themselves, but also for the world at large, including Jews and Muslims - even, for instance, for modern-day Japanese, Hindus, or Latin American Indians - because for all these people the Jesus of Scripture is real too.

This is why the study of James is so important, because the situation is for the most part just the opposite of what most people think it is or consider to be true. The reader will, undoubtedly, find this proposition preposterous. How could so many people, including some of the greatest minds of our history - some even considering themselves secular - from so many different cultures and in so many different places, have been wrong? The answer to this question has to do with the beauty of the concepts being disseminated, however uncharacteristic of the Palestine of the period they might be, ideas epitomizing the highest ideals of Hellenistic Civilization.

Like Plato's picture of his teacher Socrates, Jesus refused to answer his interlocutors or avoid his fate. At least as far as his chroniclers are concerned, he met an end more terrible even that Socrates - but then Socrates was not dealing with the might of Imperial Rome, only of Athens. Of course, the very terribleness of this end is what makes the drama and its symbols so attractive.

It is, it will be remembered, Plato's pupil Aristotle who informed us how the most successful tragedy inspires terror and pity. Indeed, much of the legacy of Plato and Socrates is incorporated into the materials about Jesus, including the notions of non-resistance to Evil and a Justice that does not consist of helping your friends and harming your enemies - all doctrines absolutely alien to a Palestinian milieu, such as that, for instance, represented in native Palestinian documents like the Dead Sea Scrolls.

Beauty and artistry are two reasons for the abiding appeal of the historical presentation of these documents, but so too, for instance, is the attractiveness of a doctrine such as Grace, not something anyone would have any need or desire to resist. Along with these, however, goes the lack of any real historical understanding of this period - which is complex and difficult to grasp - to the extent that oversimplification, artifice and disinformation are preferred. In turn, these have operated on the level of general culture worldwide in an almost hypnotic fashion. It is this phenomenon that has been generalized to describe religion as 'the opiate of the people'. This is not true for all religions. Some operate in exactly the opposite manner.

The End Result

It will transpire that the person of James is almost diametrically opposed to the Jesus of Scripture and our ordinary understanding of him. Whereas the Jesus of Scripture is anti-nationalist, cosmopolitan, antinomian – that is, against the direct application of Jewish Law – and accepting of foreigners and other persons of perceived impurities, the Historical James will turn out to be zealous for the Law, xenophobic, rejecting of foreigners and polluted persons generally, and apocalyptic.

Strong parallels emerge between these kinds of attitudes and those of the Righteous Teacher in the Dead Sea Scrolls. For instance, attitudes in the Gospels towards many classes of persons – tax collectors, harlots, Sinners, and the like – are diametrically opposed to those delineated in the Dead Sea Scrolls, but in agreement with anti-Semitic diatribes of the time in Greco-Hellenistic environments such as Caesarea and Alexandria.

At the center of the agitation in the Temple in the mid 50s, hostile to Herodians, Romans, and their fellow travelers, James will emerge as the pivotal figure among the more nationalist-inclining crowd. In his incarnation of ‘the Perfect Righteous’ or ‘Just One’, he will be at the center of the Opposition Alliance of sect and revolutionary groups opposed to the Pharisaic/Sadducean Establishment, pictured in Josephus and the New Testament.

The election of James as leader of the early Church, missing from Scripture in the form we have it, will be shown to be the real event behind the election of the Twelfth Apostle to succeed Judas Iscariot in his ‘Office’ (Episcopate), as pictured in the more orthodox presentation of the Book of Acts. James’ death too, in 62 CE, will be shown to be connected in the popular imagination with the fall of Jerusalem in 70 CE in a way that Jesus’ some four decades before could not have been.

Two attacks on James also emerge in our sources – both physical – one paralleling the attack pictured in Acts on the archetypal Gentile believer Stephen in the 40s, and the other in the 60s, described by Josephus and in early Church sources, ending in his death. The attack on Stephen in Acts, the like the election of Judas Iscariot’s replacement that precedes it, will turn out to be totally imaginary – or rather dissembling – yet written over very real materials central to the life of James.

The modus operandi of New Testament accounts such as those in Acts, some merely retrospective refurbishment of known events in sources relating to the life of James, will be illumined. Once the aim and method of these substitutions are analysed and correctly appreciated, it will be comparatively easy to understand that the highly Hellenized Movement that developed overseas, which we now call ‘Christianity’, was, in fact, the mirror reversal of what actually took place in Palestine under James. It will be possible to show that what was actually transpiring in Palestine was directly connected with the literature represented by the Dead Sea Scrolls, which in its last stages was either equivalent to or all but indistinguishable from that circulating about and normally associated with James.

Paul, on the other hand, will emerge as a highly compromised individual, deeply involved with Roman officials and Herodian kings – a proposition given added weight by the intriguing allusions to a parallel character in the Dead Sea Scrolls called ‘the Lying Spouter’ or ‘Scoffer’ – even to the extent of actually being a member of the family of King Herod.

His contacts will go very high indeed, even into the Emperor Nero’s personal household itself (Phil. 4:22). Appreciating this context will help rescue Jesus’ closest relatives and his religious and political heirs in Palestine from the oblivion into which they have been cast either intentionally or via benign neglect. Coming at this juncture in the debate over the relationship of the Dead Sea Scrolls to Christianity, these kinds of insights should prove enlightening.

This book is written for both the specialist and the non-specialist, particularly for the latter, where interest, as in the case of the Dead Sea Scrolls, is often the most keen. Therefore, all the quotations and explanations necessary to pursue this subject will be provided in the book, which is meant to be complete in itself and treat James in a comprehensive and exhaustive manner. A first volume will treat all aspects of James’ relationships to the New Testament, early Church sources, and the problem of the brothers of Jesus generally. A second volume will explore the Pella Flight and James’ relationship to Eastern conversions and communities generally, as well as providing a more detailed, in-depth, and point-for-point analysis of his link-up with the Dead Sea Scrolls and an identification of the document now popularly known as ‘MMT’ as a letter (or letters) to ‘the Great King of the Peoples beyond the Euphrates’ Agbarus or Abgarus or the character we shall encounter as Queen Helen of Adiabene’s favorite son, King Izates.

Readers are encouraged to make judgements for themselves and, where possible, to go to the primary sources directly and not rely on secondhand presentations. Because of this, secondary sources will not prove particularly useful, except in so far as they supply new, previously overlooked, data, because writing or materials later than 500 CE are for the most part derivative. Later writers too – even modern researchers – sometimes forget the motives of the predecessors, adopting the position and point of view of the tradition or theology they are heirs to. In the recent controversy regarding the Dead Sea Scrolls, a struggle developed with just such an academic and religious elite, not only over the publication of all the documents but even more importantly – and this conflict continues at the time of writing – over their interpretation.

All too often, a docile public has been easily dominated by a religious or scholarly hierarchy claiming to know or to have seen more. In religious matters, given the place of scholarly élites in upholding religious ones, this has been the case more often than not. Therefore, almost everything in this book, from the restoration of James to his rightful place as successor to his brother Jesus and heir to Christian tradition in Palestine, to the elucidation of the Dead Sea Scrolls in a manner at odds with dominant scholarly consensus, will occur outside the traditional or received order. Only a knowledgeable and enlightened public can change this state of affairs.

I have done my best to make the Dead Sea Scrolls, which have come along as if miraculously to redress the balance or haunt those who would adopt an ahistorical approach, available across the board to a wider populace. It is now time to move to the next level and a wider subject matter. The matters before us are not for those who docilely accept biblical writ or scholarly consensus as the final word. The criticism we are doing is historical and literary criticism, looking at the way a given author actually put his materials together and to what end. It is the weight of the gradual accumulation of detail and textual analyses of this kind that ultimately renders the presentation credible.

To follow the arguments, as well as to make sure the materials are being correctly presented from the sources, the reader is urged to have a copy of the New Testament, the works of Josephus and a translation of principal Dead Sea Scrolls at his or her disposal. Nothing more is really required. Even though all necessary quotations from these sources are provided verbatim in the book, it is still very useful to see them in their original context and to follow the sequencing and order surrounding a specific historical or legal point.

Where the New Testament is concerned, it should be realized that, aside from the Greek original, most translations are only that. But even a knowledge of Greek, while helpful, does not always guarantee clear understanding. Common sense is the better tool, for even those with the most accurate knowledge of languages often miss the underlying relationships or crucial meanings lying just beneath the surface of the text. Therefore, when it comes to key passages and allusions, I have tried to follow the original languages as closely as possible. These, I hope, will at least be consistent where key Palestinian usages are concerned. This is important, because often the sense of a translation one encounters is wrong.

With regard to the Dead Sea Scrolls, the best translation in English is that of G. Vermes in the Penguin edition, though this also should be used with caution where key formulations are concerned. Michael Wise and I recently published translations in the Dead Sea Scrolls Uncovered (penguin, 1992) of what we considered the Qumran fragments from the previously unpublished corpus. While helpful in emphasizing the ‘Jamesian’ aspects of a given document or its uncompromising ‘Zealot’ bent, it was not meant to be exhaustive or include the principal Qumran documents, which had already been published, though it does signal important sections from these last.

When using Vermes, it should be remembered that translations are simply one person’s view of the sense of a given passage as opposed to another’s. What is crucial is a firm historical grasp and literary-critical insight. His translations sometimes fall short in key passages, for instance, in the all-important interpretation of ‘the Righteous shall live by his Faith’ in the Habakkuk Pesher and other obscure materials related to this, describing the destruction of the Righteous Teacher and/or the Wicked Priest.

Often translations of pivotal terminologies such as the Messiah, doing, works (both based on the Hebrew root), justify, the Holy Spirit, Judgement (‘the Last Judgement’), Belial, and Satan, are inconsistent and sometimes even misleading. Occasionally, a critical phrase is omitted or singulars inexplicably changed to plurals. The more recent Dead Sea Scrolls Translated, by F. Garcia Martinez, done in the Netherlands (Leiden, 1994), while more complete, is even more inconsistent and inaccurate, being rendered into English from the Spanish! Therefore, as far as possible, I have endeavoured to provide my own translations. The reader will be able to find my complete translations of the Habakkuk Pesher, the Damascus Document, and the Community Rule – the three most important previously published Qumran documents, in The Dead Sea Scrolls and the First Christians (Rockport, 1996). These will be included in an appendix to Volume II.

Where Josephus is concerned, any translation will do, as fine distinctions such as these in a historical work are not so crucial. Josephus’ works are packed with data and, as far as showing the scope and flow of events in this period, invaluable, Translations of the relevant passages are provided here too, along with the analysis necessary to understand them.

The same applies for Eusebius’ Ecclesiastical History and the other early Church Fathers and their works. Eusebius, for instance, was resulting in Christianity’s takeover of the Roman Empire. His works, though tendentious and often vindictive, present either epitomes or long quotations from Josephus and early Church historians such as Hegesippus, Papias, Clement of Alexandria, and Julius Africanus – now lost.

Wherever an important quotation is taken from a text as, for instance from Josephus or the New Testament, an effort is made to give the reader some idea of its context or surroundings in the original. Too often in this field and religious matters in general, readers have been treated to words or quotations taken out of context. This is not only unfair to the original text, but misleading as well, allowing the person using the quotation to mystify or otherwise take advantage of the ignorance of the person for whom it is intended. Paul does this often. So do the Gospels.

It is important to look into the original contexts of passages used in scriptural and scholarly debate, because the ambience of such materials in important in determining the frame of mind and intent of the original, not its derivative application. References are confined as far as possible to primary sources, the trends implicit in secondary one often ebbing and flowing with the times and one generation’s consensus being overturned by the next’s.

For this reason, readers are advised to go directly to the ancient sources themselves. It is in the ancient sources that the data is to be found and this is where the battle must be joined. What is required is a critical faculty-sensitivity to language, and simple common sense. These, one hopes, are shared by everyone.

Fountain Valley, California
May 1996


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