Feast of the Brother of Our Lord
On October 23rd, we celebrate St. James the brother of Our Lord. This particular St. James is also often referred to as James the Just. One of the places we find this title is in the work of a Jewish (though not Christian) historian called Josephus. From the text, we can see that Josephus seems to have personally met St. James. Josephus wrote the following quotation about James:
“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.”
This quotation is particularly significant, because it shows how James’ death even caused extreme scandal among some of the Jewish population. These Jews were aware of St. James, and recognized him as a very just man.
There is also a rather interesting scene in the Acts of the Apostles which features St. James and St. Paul. It takes place in Jerusalem, in Acts 21:17-26. Here, James tells Paul to pay for the expenses of some men so that they would be able to shave their heads. More significantly, St. Paul obeys James. I like this passage because it also shows another side to St. Paul, who is usually viewed as more of a does-his-own-thing type of man. Because here is an act of obedience to a fellow righteous man.
The Meaning of Brother
There are several different acceptable interpretations of how St. James could be related to Christ. While the Bible calls James “the brother of our Lord,” this does not mean brother in the way we understand it in the English-speaking world today.
For one, the culture of the time was very different to how we (typically) live our lives today. The family unit in the first century wasn’t just Mama, Tato, and their babies, as it is today. Instead, many “families” lived together within one house. This means that a family unit consisted of something more like Mama, Tato, their babies, and the children’s cousins aunts, uncles, and grandparents. This fact is clear from scripture, in the mystery of finding Jesus in the temple. The Theotokos 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 Greek culture did not distinguish between such relationships at the time. So the Catholic position of James (Jacob) being a cousin of Jesus is easily defend-able in scripture. You can check out other resources such as this one if you are interested in more information defending this position.
The Probable Linage of James the Just
*The following information comes from a description given by a very studious and orthodox Catholic priest. Though he prefers not to be named, the following passage can be understood as a quotation from him
St. James 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 James 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.
Other facts about St. James
*More information I obtained from a very studious and orthodox Catholic priest
From scripture we are able to infer that St. James made some type of vow. One theory is that James belonged to an early monastic community as a celibate. There is some speculation St. James spent time in Qumran, which is near where John the Baptist was. Qumran was an ascetic community of celibate Jewish men, and there is some evidence that both John the Baptist and St. James were members of that community.
We also know that Jesus was familiar with the Qumran community. 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 in the first century.
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 above mentioned very studious and orthodox Catholic priest.
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