Thursday, January 6, 2011

Telling Mary's Story - Brother James?

This is all still from the introduction to the first ancient work the Protoevangelion of James/Gospel of Mary, depending on how you want to call it.

-James who?

I the early church this work went by several different titles but the most common mark was some reference to 'James' because that is who claims to have written the work in the closing line: 'I, James, wrote this history.'

The first question we might ask is who's James? There are three famous Jameses in the New Testament. The first was an Apostle and one of the three Apostles closest to Jesus - Peter, James and John. This James is called James the Greater. A second apostle named James was the son of Alphaeus and is called James the Less. Sort of like having two guys named Joe in one group. You call one Big Joe and one Little Joe. Or at my office we have two Holly's in the same department. The Holly who was there first is H1 and the other is H2.

The third James is identified in Scripture as James, the Lord's brother. Also called James the Just. This is the James who is believed to be the author of this Gospel. He appears in the New Testament several times. He received a private appearance of the Resurrected Lord as relayed to us by St. Paul in 1 Corinthians 15. He presided over the first church council in Acts 15 in his capacity as the first bishop of Jerusalem - and perhaps the first bishop anywhere. In addition to having authored the Epistle of James he also wrote the oldest surviving Eucharistic liturgy (the Liturgy of St. James). Edited and condensed in the fourth century this liturgy is still the standard Sunday worship of the Eastern Orthodox Church under the name of the Divine Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom.

"The church historian Hegesippus, writing about AD 165, says that James was respected by all and that even non-Christians called him 'James the Just.' He prayed so much that 'his knees became like those of a camel.'"

James' death, according to history was in AD 62 at the hands of a maddened crowd led by the Pharisees.

He was also the subject of the discovery in Israel of an ossuary bearing the inscription 'James, son of Joseph, brother of Jesus.' Which was proved to be an authentic ossuary from the era of Christ but with a forged inscription.

-Did our Lord have a brother?

The author calls this a 'sticky theological question'. "Since the Scriptures present us with the virginal conception of Christ, classic Christianity has never entertained the idea that the Greek term adelphos meant that James was Jesus' full brother. There have been three ways of understanding the term. James was either Jesus' step-brother, or his half-brother, or his cousin."

The oldest belief is that James is Jesus' step-brother. Joseph was, at the time of his betrothal to the Virgin Mary, a widower with children from his deceased wife. This would make James older than Jesus, but possibly still a child when Mary came to live in Joseph's home. Mary would have taken over the raising of the children and they would have all grown up with Jesus. For all practical purposes they would have been brothers and sisters to anyone who knew the family. The Protoevangelion is written with the assumption that James was present for many of the events described, and old enough to recall them at a later date. This is the historical view of the Church and is the position taken by the Protoevangelion and is still the teaching of the Orthodox Church.

Protestants, on the other hand, tend to believe that after the birth of Jesus Mary and Joseph entered into normal marital relations and that James is a subsequent son, making him Jesus' younger half-brother. There is, in this case, the problem of Mary's perpetual virginity, but Frederica says that we'll consider that later on. Even if Mary and Joseph did have subsequent children together there is still the possibility of older children from a previous marriage, James included.

Roman Catholics tend to take the view that James was not the son of Joseph, but rather a cousin of one remove or another. I say tend because I was not taught that there was one 'correct' way of belief here. It was, according to the deacon who taught my RCIA class, equally possible that James was a brother from Joseph's previous marriage or a cousin and that the answer made no practicable difference. The important factor was that he most definitely was not the son of Mary and Joseph, since Mary was ever-virgin. Those who take the tack that James was a cousin follow a proposal made by St. Jerome sometime in the fourth century suggesting that Joseph maintained perpetual virginity as well. I...feel extreme doubt about that one. Maybe just because I'd never heard it before now.


  1. For some reason Mr. Holmen's first comment didn't appear on the blog while his follow up comment did. So I'm posting the first comment that showed up in my email for him:

    Thanks for your post about James. Although he was of major importance in the early church, he was largely written out of church history for several reasons. First, as your article discusses, his parentage creates problems for certain dogmas such as perpetual virginity. Secondly, his side was the loser in the conflict in the early church over Gentile inclusion. Paul led the fight for full Gentile inclusion without pre-conditions, but the Jewish church in Jerusalem, led by James, had an attitude of "yes, but". Yes, Gentiles may be included in the Jesus movement but only if they first became circumcised and obeyed Torah dietary and calendar rules. This was a bigger issue in the early church than most folks realize. As the church became increasingly Gentile, the victors wrote the history, and James and the pro-Torah faction were relegated to the trash heap of history. Sorry for the blatant self-promotion, but my recently released novel, A Wretched Man, a novel of Paul the apostle brings this conflict to the forefront. Click on my name for more information.

  2. LOL @ H1 and H2 in your office, but good example of James the Greater/Less.

    "He prayed so much that 'his knees became like those of a camel.'"

    Wow! I loved all this background info on James!

    I like hearing the church's views from history. You are right about Protestants of today re: Mary. I did read recently, however, that the earlier Protestants did not believe this way. Maybe it was their coming straight out of RCC so the perpetual virginity of Mary was a nonissue to them.

    Thanks for sharing about this book! I'm enjoying the lessons!

  3. Mr. Holmen,

    I don't see St. James as having been 'largely written out' of church history. Perhaps in the West, where the Protestants seem to have decided to throw out anything historic that doesn't mesh precisely with their very modern interpretations of Scripture he and other saints have been pushed to the wayside or only trotted out when there's some sort of angle to be had. But he has always been remembered and given his proper honors in the East.

    Second, when one takes into account the traditional knowledge that we have about who St. James was his parentage presents no problems for Mary's perpetual virginity. It's only once one decides that the only truths about Christianity are contained within the Bible and throws out Tradition and our history that it becomes a problem.

    Third, yes there was a question of how Gentiles should be received into the Church and there were two camps on the matter. However, once led by the Holy Spirit to the correct understanding the matter was resolved. I'm not denying that this was a large and very important question, but it was handled in the manner that such theological and practical questions are handled by the Church. And I should point out that St. James presided over the council of Jerusalem, the one that debated this question and the one that (again, led by the Holy Spirit) brought down the ruling that the Mosaic Law for the most part did not apply. I don't see that as St. James being against St. Paul's point. In fact I believe it was St. Peter who was the most ardent supporter for having the Gentile converts come in under the full weight of the Mosaic Law. Though I admit to not being an historian so I could, of course, be mistaken on this point. Regardless, I cannot see your point that St. James was relegated to the 'trash heap of history'.

    In regards to the blog commenting policy: I don't like hit and run anons who make arguments and/or insults and then leave. I believe that I also dislike those who come and drop a comment for the simple sake of self promotion. Of course I hadn't realized that until this very comment. I shall have to change the commenting policy to reflect this newly revealed attitude.

    I'm leaving your comments up because they do actually relate to the content of the post and add something to discussion. In addition I hadn't put up notice that comments for the sole sake of self promotion weren't allowed.

  4. Susanne,

    It's true that the early Protestants retained opinions on Mary that were closer to the historical view. I think that, like so many things, the modern view of Protestants is in reaction to the perceived view of Rome.

  5. Amber, while we don't have all the different days for saints and prayers of them that we recite in our churches, we never wrote James out of the church. His book is very well liked and one that my dad had me memorize as a child! :)

  6. Susanne,

    It's why I said 'perhaps'. :) I grew up Protestant and I was taught about St. James. So I'm really not sure where Mr. Holmen got the idea that he'd been written out of history. Some traditional facts have been lost to the Protestants, for sure, and (from my point of view) the saints aren't given the honors due to them, but that doesn't equal the 'trash heap of history'. Um. Clearly that choice of phrase bothers me. :)

  7. Yes me too! Actually I was indirectly replying to him through you...oops.

    I also didn't care for Paul being thought of as a wretched man if that is whom his book discusses. I tried to view the link he provided, but it did not work. Granted I know not everyone thinks of Paul as I do so I should live and let live ... :)

  8. Hah! S'okay. :)

    I assume that since St. Paul is the main character in the book that the title refers to him. Here's a link to it on Amazon if you want to look at it:

    Hey, you put up with my low opinion of St. Paul in the beginning, so I think you're doing well!


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...