As I mentioned earlier, when I refer to Christian orthodoxy I am specifically talking about the Western Catholic tradition. At some point I may explore the differences between western orthodoxy and eastern (including Coptic) traditions. According to the Catholic tradition, there are two apostles recognized as Saint James. One is designated Saint James the Greater, the other Saint James the Lesser.
The Catholic tradition uses the works of Eusebius(4th century) and Clement of Alexandria(Late 2nd century), as well as Scripture, for early church historical orthodoxy. According to Eusebius and Clement, James the Greater was one of the sons of Zebedee, and the brother of Saint John, who may or may have been the Evangelist. This James, according to the tradition, was beheaded in 44 CE, roughly 14 years after the Crucification and about 6 years prior to the first Council of Jerusalem mentioned in the letters of Saint Paul and the Acts of the Apostles. We will be discussing this Council in greater detail when we get to Saint Paul. So, Saint James the Greater could not have been the James, the brother of Jesus, who mediated the dispute about circumcision between Paul and Peter.
The catholic encyclopedia identifies James, son of Alpheus, as being the same person as James, brother of Jesus. That makes sense since Joseph at the time of Jesus’ birth was already considered an old man, He probably died sometime after Jesus was twelve, since he is mentioned as being present when Jesus was presented at the temple in Jerusalem. It is highly unlikely that he would have been alive thirty years after the Netivity. So James the lesser would be in modern terminology the half-brother of Jesuswith Mary being his mother and Alpheus, Mary’s second husband, being his father, Tradition believes that James the Lesser, the accepted first bishop of Jerusalem, was also martyred.
Therefore, we can safely conclude that Saint James the Lesser is the James mentioned in Acts. It is this James that resolves the dispute between Peter and Paul over circumcision. We will return to discuss this dispute in greater detail when we discuss Saint Paul. It is my opinion that the first great Christian heresy is the Pauline interpretation of Jesus’ message and Jesus’ understanding of who and what he was. Before we can discuss the Pauline heresy we need to look at how Jesus understood Mosaic Law and his relationship to The Law.
The following is excerpted from Wikipedia, The Free Online Encyclopedia. It provides some evidence that James the Lesser(aka also known as James the Just) may have been a Jewish High Priest. If this is true, this raises some very interesting questions about the orthodox traditions’ attitude toward Jews. We will discuss these questions in a later post.
The canonical writings of the New Testament, as well as other written sources from the Early Church, provide some insights into James’ life and his role in the Early Church. There is mention of him in the Gospel of John and the early portions of the Acts of the Apostles. The Synoptics mention his name, but no further information. However, the later chapters of the Acts of the Apostles provide evidence that James was an important figure in the Christian community of Jerusalem.
Jerome, in his De Viris Illustribus, argued that James was not Jesus’ brother but his cousin, son of Mary of Cleophas, “the sister of the mother of our Lord of whom John makes mention in his book.” After the Passion, Jerome wrote, the Apostles selected James as Bishop of Jerusalem. In describing James’ ascetic lifestyle, De Viris Illustribus, quotes Hegesippus’ account of James from the fifth book of Hegesippus’ lost Commentaries:
After the apostles, James the brother of the Lord surnamed the Just was made head of the Church at Jerusalem. Many indeed are called James. This one was holy from his mother’s womb. He drank neither wine nor strong drink, ate no flesh, never shaved or anointed himself with ointment or bathed. He alone had the privilege of entering the Holy of Holies, since indeed he did not use woolen vestments but linen and went alone into the temple and prayed in behalf of the people, insomuch that his knees were reputed to have acquired the hardness of camels’ knees.
Since it was unlawful for any but the high priest of the temple to enter the Holy of Holies, and then only once a year on Yom Kippur, Jerome’s quotation from Hegesippus indicates that James was considered a high priest. The Pseudo-Clementine Recognitions suggest this.