Oct 232018

Today is the feast of James the Just who, in some Christian denominations is identified as the brother of Jesus. His Aramaic/Hebrew name was Yaʽakob, which is normally Anglicized as Jacob. I am not sure why English translations of the Greek Bible call him James, because the Greek is Ἰάκωβος (Iákōbos). I’ve always had a problem with Anglicized names in translations of the Greek Bible because they obscure the original names so badly. Jesus is the Anglicized version of the Greek mangling of the name Joshua, Mary is what we get out of Miriam, and so forth. Christians should be speaking of their Messiah, Joshua, son of Miriam. That’s my own bee in my own bonnet; let’s talk about a different bee, same bonnet. Was James the Just the biological brother of Jesus?

Catholics, Eastern Orthodox, and some Anglican and Lutheran theologians, teach that James, along with others named in the New Testament as “brothers” of Jesus, were not the biological children of Mary, but were either cousins of Jesus or step-brothers from a previous marriage of Joseph. They do this because their theology will not allow Mary to have had other children. That is the position you wind up in by following your premises to their logical conclusion. John’s gospel makes the claim that Jesus looked human, be he was really God in human form. He had to be born in order to have human flesh, but if he were to escape death he had to be born without sin (most especially Original Sin).

The first Adam brought sin into the world. Before he sinned he was immortal, but the penalty for sin was death. So, after he ate the forbidden fruit he was condemned to die, and, in the bargain, everyone descended from him (that is, all humanity) would be born to die also because through the act of conception everyone inherits his Original Sin. The second Adam, Jesus, was able to escape death, and in the process redeem the sins of the world, because he was born without sin. How? According to Luke and Matthew, he was miraculously conceived and born of his mother, Mary, while she was still a virgin (Matthew 1:18–23, Luke 1:30–37).  John states that Jesus was actually the creative Word of God, temporarily on the earth in human form, and that his body was pure and sinless (like a sacrificial lamb) so that he could die on the cross as a perfect sacrifice for us all. To be sinless (that is, free of Original Sin), Mary had to be a virgin, who also had to have been born of a virgin, so that she too was without sin. Hence, being without sin, she could not die but had to be taken straight to heaven.

You can see what problems theology creates when logic must build on peculiar premises. The oldest gospel, Mark, does not talk about a virgin birth, or a pure, unblemished sacrifice, or Jesus being the Word incarnate, or anything of the sort. Mark talks only about a man around 30 years old of humble origins, who was baptized in the Jordan and, subsequently, went around preaching and doing good things, gathering a huge following, until he fell afoul of the temple authorities in Jerusalem who had him executed (under Roman authority) to get him out of the way. Yet when his tomb was visited after the Sabbath, it was empty – THE END. Mark leaves a mystery, and it is a big one – what happened to the body? But he does not saddle the world with complex theological puzzles, such as resolving how Jesus could be God and man at the same time, how his mother was born without Original Sin, what happened to Mary in place of dying (because she had no Original Sin), and on and on. Luke and John thinking they were tying up loose ends, if fact, just created even more loose ends.

In tidying up these further loose ends, the Catholic and Orthodox churches argue that, not only was Mary a virgin when she conceived Jesus, but remained a virgin ever after. Therefore, Jesus could not have had any biological brothers, even though the Greek scriptures say quite clearly that he did. If you toss out the theology of Luke, Matthew, and John, and stick with Mark, you do not have these theological difficulties, and even the gospel writers did not see the weaknesses in their own logic. According to Matthew, Mary and Joseph “did not consummate their marriage until she gave birth” to Jesus (Matthew 1:25); and Jesus is referred to as the “first-born son” of Mary (Luke 2:7). So, James and the other “brothers” of Jesus are considered by some Christians to be Jesus’ younger half-brothers, born of Mary and Joseph. In addition, Mary, Joseph, and Jesus’s brothers or siblings are often described together, without reference to any other relatives (Matthew 12:46–49, Mark 3:31–34, 6:3, Luke 8:19–21, John 2:12, Acts 1:14), and Jesus’ brothers are described without allusion to others (John 7:2–5, 1 Corinthians 9:5). For example, Matthew 13:55–56 says, “Isn’t this the carpenter’s son? Isn’t his mother’s name Mary, and aren’t his brothers James, Joseph, Simon, and Jude? Aren’t all his sisters with us?” and John 7:5 says, “Even his own brothers did not believe in him.”

It’s hard to get around these direct statements that Jesus had brothers, but those who want to pursue their hardline theology to the end, argue that “brother” was being used in a generic sense, not a biological one. It is true, speaking anthropologically, that a word like “brother” can have more meanings (even biologically) than a male who shares a parent with you. It does not seem to me that in the passages cited above that is the case. On the face of it they are saying that Mary had other sons. My personal theology is not troubled by such an assertion, because I have not built a giant edifice on the notions of Original Sin, the Virgin Birth, and the Incarnation of the Word.

Thus, I am quite happy to celebrate James today as the younger brother of Jesus. Unfortunately the Bible is confusing because there are several Jameses listed and they were all important. James the Just was from an early date with Peter a leader of the Church at Jerusalem and from the time when Peter left Jerusalem after Herod Agrippa’s attempt to kill him, James appears as the principal authority who presided at Council of Jerusalem.

The Pauline epistles and the later chapters of the Acts of the Apostles portray James as an important figure in the Christian community of Jerusalem. 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). Paul describes James as being one of the persons to whom the risen Christ showed himself, and in Galatians 2:9, Paul lists James with Cephas (better known as Peter) and John the Apostle as the three “pillars” of the Church. Paul describes these Pillars as the ones 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) after a debate in response to concerns of the Christians of Antioch. The Antioch community was concerned over whether Gentile Christians need be circumcised to be saved, and sent Paul and Barnabas to confer with the Jerusalem church. James played a prominent role in the formulation of the council’s decision. James was the last named figure to speak, after Peter, Paul, and Barnabas; he delivered what he called his “decision” (Acts 15:19 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.

According to a passage found in existing manuscripts of Josephus’ Antiquities of the Jews, (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 but before Lucceius Albinus had assumed office (Antiquities 20,9) – which has been dated to 62. The High Priest Hanan ben Hanan (Anani Ananus in Latin) took advantage of this lack of imperial oversight to assemble a Sanhedrin (although the correct translation of the Greek synhedrion 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 Hanan’s 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 so far as to arrange a meeting with Albinus as he entered the province in order to petition him successfully about the matter. In response, King Agrippa II replaced Ananus with Jesus son of Damneus.

Here is a recipe for sprouted wheat berry bread that is reputedly like bread that would have been baked in Palestine around the time of James the Just

Essene Bread


3 cups wheat berries

1 tbsp cornmeal


Beginning several days before you want to serve this bread, rinse the wheat berries in cool water, drain and submerge them in cool water in a large bowl. Cover the bowl with a plate or cloth, and allow the berries to soak at normal room temperature overnight or for about 12 hours. The berries will soak up a considerable amount of water. Drain the berries in a colander, cover the colander with a plate to prevent the berries from drying out, and set it in a place away from light and where the sun won’t shine on it. Rinse the berries about 3 times a day, and they will soon begin to sprout. In a couple of days the sprouts will reach their optimum length of about ¼ inch. Growth depends on moisture and temperature.

Grind the sprouts in food mill or in a food processor.

After grinding, dump the mushed up grain on to a clean work surface. Squeeze and knead the grain for about 10 minutes, and then form up 2 small round, hearth-style loaves with your hands. Sprinkle an insulated cookie sheet with a little bran or cornmeal, and put the loaves on it.

Preheating the oven is not necessary. Cover the loaves with cloches, and bake at 350°F/175°C for 30 minutes. Then turn the oven down to 325°F/165°C, and bake for approximately 2 hours and 15 minutes more. Allow the breads to cool thoroughly on cooling racks for several hours, and then, because of the high moisture content, store in the refrigerator. For best results, slice this bread thinly, or break with your hands