A Reading from the Epistle of St. Jacob. How often have you heard that at Church? Well, if you attend Church with readings done in Ukrainian on weekdays you might have heard it. Because – get this – James is an awkward translation of the Greek Iacobus. Back when John Wycliffe made his English translation of the Bible, he used Jacob as the translation for the Old Testament patriarch, and yet chose James when he was translating the name with the same roots in the New Testament.
English – Jacob
Greek – Ἰάκωβος / Iakobos
Hebrew – יַעֲקֹב / Yaqob
Jacob – Isreal
In scriptures, James was often referred to as “the brother of our Lord.” However, in those times the family unit wasn’t just Mom-Dad-Babies as it is today. Many “families” often lived together in one house, meaning that a family unit consisted of Mom-Dad-Babies-Cousins-Aunts-Uncles-Grandmas-Grandpas. In fact, let’s think about the mystery of finding Jesus in the temple. The Blessed Mary and St. Joseph were able to travel with their family and friends for a whole day without being concerned that they hadn’t seen Jesus.
The Greek word adelphos means brother as well as cousin, as the culture did not have a need to distinguish such relationships at the time. So the Catholic position of James (Jacob) being a cousin of Jesus is easily defendable in scripture. You can check out other resources such as this one if you are interested in more information defending this position.
So who was St. James/Jacob?
*The following information comes from a description given by a very studious and orthodox Catholic priest.
St. James/Jacob was the son of Mary of Clopas and a brother of St. Joseph, making him Jesus’ cousin from his father’s side. Some of the relevant information towards this end are as follows. One, Alphaeus and Clopos are easily related in Greek. Two, it seems likely for the Theotokos to have a sister in law named Mary. Three, but it seems unlikely for Mary to have a sister given she is traditionally a child born to Anna and Joachim in their old age, and if they had another daughter would they really have named their girls Mary and Mary? Four, the gospel of Luke records Jesus’ genealogy from Joseph after already having covered that Joseph was only the adoptive father. This reflects the Jewish custom of an adopted son having the full rights and heritage of an adopted father. So Jacob being a cousin from St. Joseph’s side doesn’t make him any less a brother of Our Lord than if he had shared blood from Mary’s side.
Aside from being called the brother of Our Lord, Jacob is also called “James the Just.” We see this in the work of a Jewish (but not Christian historian called Josephus. Josephus seems to have known Jacob personally. He wrote that “[James was a man most distinguished for his justice, and that the destruction of the temple was probably a punishment from God for killing James, who was martyred after being thrown off the pinnacle of the Temple].” He also noted that James’ death caused extreme scandal among some of the Jews, who knew him to be a just man.
There is a rather interesting scene in the Acts of the Apostles with James and Paul, in Jerusalem. [Acts 21:17-26]. In this passage, James tells Paul to pay for the expenses of some men so that they may shave their heads. And Paul obeys James. This conveys a lot. Especially since Paul is usually viewed as a “rebel who does his own thing.”
What else do we know about James?
Well, James seems to have had some type of vow. It is possible that James might have belonged to an early monastic community as a celibate. There is speculation he might have been in Qumran, which is near where John the Baptist was. Jesus also ate Last Supper in the Upper Room which is the Qumran territory of Jerusalem. Jesus’ instructions to his apostles in finding the location to celebrate the Passover supports this [Luke 22:10]. As only men without wives [which only would have been those of Qumran who had taken a vow] would have carried their own jar of water. Carrying a jar of water was very much a woman’s task in Jerusalem.
James was the first Bishop of Jerusalem. He spent forty years there, helping transition the Jewish Christians out of old testament thought into the revelation of the new testament. (So matters such as circumcision not being necessary for salvation, being able to eat pork, and worship no longer requiring the Temple).
*This marks the end of information coming from the very studious and orthodox Catholic priest.
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