A Primer on James (Hebrew, Ya'akov; Greek, Iakob)

The New Testament and other early writings contain numerous references to the siblings of Jesus, especially James.  Most of these refer to events after the crucifixion of Jesus and indicate that Jesus' brother James became the leader of the Jesus movement based in Jerusalem.

There were three important meetings between Paul and James in Jerusalem that occurred after Paul's Damascus road conversion. The first comes from Paul's own account.  Paul indicates that he went to Jerusalem three years after his conversion where he stayed with Peter for fifteen days and visited with James.  The date of this meeting is probably 35-37 CE (Jesus was crucified 30-33 CE).  The second occurred over a decade later when Paul led a delegation from Antioch to Jerusalem for the "apostolic assembly".  Paul reports on this meeting, and he refers to James, Peter, and John as the "pillars" of the church.  The book of Acts also has an account of this watershed gathering, which probably occurred around 48 CE, and indicates that James rendered the final decision. The book of Acts relates a third and final visit by Paul to Jerusalem to meet with James, occurring in 56 CE or later after the final missionary journey of Paul.

There are indications that James consistently maintained that Paul's Gentile (non-Jewish) converts must follow the traditional Hebrew ways (Torah) that required circumcision, dietary regulations, and Sabbath observances.  Paul resisted, and this running dispute marked their uneasy relationship.  The conflict between Paul and James is the main storyline of A Wretched Man.

After their deaths in the 60's and after the Jewish Civil War (66-73 CE), Jewish Christianity receded and the church became more Gentile.  With the destruction of Jerusalem, the Jewish Christians had lost their power base, and they were ill-equipped to contend with Torah free, Gentile Christianity in the Roman provinces.  Over the next century, Pauline Christianity emerged as normative and Jewish Christianity became heretical.  Since the victors write the history, the significant role of James as the leader of the first-generation Jesus movement was diminished. The process became complete when James and the other siblings were marginalized as mere cousins of Jesus by an ascetic, celibate monk and papal advisor, later revered as St Jerome, whose doctrine of the Perpetual Virginity of Mary gained ascendancy around 400 CE.

Modern scholarship has rekindled interest in James, and it is the strong scholarly consensus that Mary was the mother of both Jesus and James (and others).  Joseph's role as father is less certain.

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