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James, Brother of Jesus.


A friend from church lent me his copy of James the Brother of Jesus. Rather than review it properly, I’ll just list what the author tries to achieve in terms of my response to it.
Heading 1: Those items I felt the author achieved convincingly.
These are items which the author convinced me of or that I already accepted and found that he wrote convincingly of…

  • That James was likely Jesus’ biological brother.
  • That James was possibly among the twelve, and likely a supporter of Jesus before his death (and that Jesus’ family generally were likely supportive of his ministry)
  • That James was a very important figure in the Jerusalem church, and therefore in early Christianity
  • That James was a devout Jew, continued to worship in the Temple, and maintained good standing with the non-Christian Jewish community in Jerusalem
  • That there was real tension between Paul and the apostles, especially those associated with the Jerusalem church, and this tension was resolved in Paul’s favor only after the death of James and the sack of Jerusalem. This tension was chiefly due to Paul’s view of the Law.
  • That the Saducees were opposed to James because of his disapproval of Temple polity, a disapproval shared by Jesus.
  • The role of James (and the family of Jesus generally) was intentionally obscured in the canonical gospels, and the controversies with Paul were intentionally played down in Acts and, to some degree, in Paul’s epistles.

    Heading 2: Those items I felt were inadequately argued, but toward which I entertain at least a somewhat sympathetic view…

  • That James was a Pharisee
  • That James upheld a very strict view of the Law, and was possibly a Nazirite
  • That Jesus’ view was very similar to James’ in terms of mission and eschatology
  • That Jesus was also a Pharisee.
  • That James’ leadership and subsequent leadership of the Jerusalem church were held dynastically, corresponding to a more-or-less literal view of Jesus’ kingship.
  • Jewish Christianity in the Diaspora, including the Ebionites and other so-called heretical sects of “Judaizers” are the remnants of the Jerusalem church and represent a more authentic Jesus tradition than does the “proto-orthodox” movement.

    Heading 3: Those items which I feel are inadequately argued, and toward which I am quite suspicious…

  • That Jesus’ view was very similar to James’ in terms of the Law, and that Jesus was also likely a Nazarite.
  • That Jesus, knowing the fate of John the Baptist and being devoted to a similar mission, predicted his own death.

    Heading 4: Unqualified statements, not argued per se

  • At least some among the disciples of Jesus during his life experienced or thought they experienced resurrection visitations. This is uncontroversial.
  • That James and the Jerusalem church held a low and adoptionistic Christology, with higher Christology emerging in stages at a later time. This is controversial, but I believe as well or better founded in the evidence as any other. A quesiton of particular importance is how views of the Divinity of Jesus arose in a monotheistic Jewish culture. Several lines of evidence are currently under discussion that relate the origin of Jesus’ Divinity to certain Jewish notions of Divine Emanation, the bestowal of the Divine Name, and/or Angelic co-Divinity. I am inclined to think that adoptionistic Christology represents a form of this so-called “Two Powers” thinking, and that such thinking represents a first step (or two) in the direction of the Divinity of Jesus. No arguments in favor of a Two Powers interpretation of the Divinity of Jesus or in favor of adoptionism appear in the book.

    Heading 5: Grand notions of the import of James scholarship to modern politics and religion… to say that I am skeptical of this is quite an understatement.

  • Because Muhammed is likely to have encountered Jewish Christians in his travels and to have been influenced by them in his theology,a Jamesian (since “Jacobite” is taken) Christianity would represent common ground between Islam and Christianity. Since Jamesian Christianity was thoroughly Jewish, it represents a common ground between Christianity and Judaism. Since such common ground can exist, a revival of James can serve to bring together an ecumenical fellowship of Jews, Christians, and Muslims and bring peace to the modern world. Pollyanna would be proud.
  • Pauline Christianity was the salvation of Jesus’ ethical message despite being unfaithful to it. Without Paul’s missionary work to the Gentiles and his insistence on eradicating barriers to their full fellowship, Christianity would not have survived the fall of Jerusalem and become a major world religion. Without Paul, the writings that do authentically represent Jesus would not be available to us today. While there is some truth to this, very similar ethical teachings from Hillel and other first century Jews would likely have survived, as would have those from other major religions that echo the progressive ethics shared by Jesus.

    A couple of final notes… I found this book disappointingly haphazard on critical backgrounds for the texts, both canonical and extra-canonical, upon which it relies. Traditions are often cited with only the barest speculation about their provenance in historical reality, leaving one somewhat at a loss to evaluate the strength of the arguments they support. Furthermore, I was disappointed by the absence of mention of Marcion who existed at the anti-Jewish extreme of early Christianity, and whose interaction with the proto-orthodox might have been instructive. Lastly, I found that the book places too much importance on the (much later) Catholic doctrine of perpetual viriginity in explaining the New Testament treatment of Jesus’ family. I would not recommend this particular volume to anyone, but I would encourage anyone to try to get a better glimpse of James and the implications of his tradition for ancient Christianity.

  • 4 comments to James, Brother of Jesus.

    • I’m just glad you believe that Jesus was an historical figure.

      There are those out there who argue that he didn’t even really ever exist and that there is no evidence to the contrary that he did.

      I never understood that but sincerely my friend, I do not give this stuff nearly as much time, thought and effort as you do.

      And I don’t know a single solitary Christian who does.

      The bulk of my theology is staring up at the moon and the stars at night while the dog pisses.

      And man, you ought to see the moon after Lasiks surgery. Holy shit. If only I could paint I would send you a picture of what it looks like to me.

    • I’m strongly convinced that Jesus was a historical figure. I’ve read the counter-arguments, and while they seem persuasive on the surface, there is so much evidence they do not account for. I have to insist that the evidence for Jesus’ historicity is overwhelming, BUT, I am more skeptical of most other claims about him, including the Jesus’ seminar and similar efforts to divine what he actually said and did apart from being crucified. I appreciate their efforts and I expect that they have gotten some things right, but I’m not convinced they possess the necessary evidence to really reconstruct the historical Jesus.

    • Cameron Smiley

      I appreciate your synopsis of the book. I found the question still begging at the end of the book “who was Jesus and why was he significant to James”. Did the author feel that the post resurrection “appearances” to James were authentic (he seems to) and if so what would this signify (by default) about Paul’s divinity claims about Jesus? The “proto-Adam” ideology of Qumran and the Christ “in us” ideology of Paul differ in symantic style only. I find it difficult at the end of the day to read Paul’s letters as a callous anti-semitic political dissimilation of Jamesian Messianism simply to undercut the moral from under Jewish nationalists for the sake of Roman govermental hegemony… as the author would have it… but rather understand the differences between Paul and James as sincere men with genuine differences in their understanding of the “consequence” of Jesus…not to mention the very different “audiences” that they tried to serve with this message of salvation. To some extent they were both limited, not by theology, but by the expectations and preconceptions of the FOLLOWERS attacted to the basic message (which in my view still represents simply two sides of the same coin)…that is a new “salvation” (messianic expectations fulfilled in jesus) from an otherwise cynical, callous and tragicly cruel world…both for the Jew and the Gentile.

    • Thanks for visiting, Cameron! Tood questions all. I’m not smart enough to do them justice, but I’ll try.

      I found the question still begging at the end of the book “who was Jesus and why was he significant to James”.

      You’re right that there were a lot of questions left hanging about the nature of Jesus’ ministry (and I think that’s ok – if you can’t answer responsibly, sometimes its better not to answer at all). I think it’s fair to say that the author believes that Jesus was important to James because they were brothers, and because James was a follower.

      Did the author feel that the post resurrection “appearances” to James were authentic

      I think the author tried to stay neutral on this – dealing only with the question of whether James considered them authentic. I think he feels James did, but it isn’t clear exactly in what way he did.

      and if so what would this signify (by default) about Paul’s divinity claims about Jesus?

      To me, a lot. It isn’t completely clear from the text how Paul understood Jesus to be divine. I think that, if Paul had not had a view consistent with Jewish monotheism, that he would not have had the relationship he did have with James and the Jerusalem church. That inclines me toward the view that Paul’s notions about Jesus were that he was the “principle agent” of God, invested with the Divine Name, but subordinate to God.

      I find it difficult at the end of the day to read Paul’s letters as a callous anti-semitic political dissimilation of Jamesian Messianism simply to undercut the moral from under Jewish nationalists for the sake of Roman govermental hegemony… as the author would have it… but rather understand the differences between Paul and James as sincere men with genuine differences in their understanding of the “consequence” of Jesus…

      I agree. I think that Paul did eventually go “too far” by suggesting – where the certain elite Jerusalem Jews could hear him – that the Law no longer pertained to Jews. I think that this was the reason for his final arrest and fatal trip to Rome. But, I think that his disagreement with the Jewish leadership up to that point had been strenuous but tolerable to at least himself, James & Peter.

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