James, the brother of Jesus, sometimes known as James the Just, is in the news. A dealer in antiquities, Oded Golan, is on trial in Israel. It is alleged that he fabricated the evidence of the authenticity of an artifact possibly connected to James.
A bit of background is in order.
Many are surprised that Jesus had siblings, and some would deny it altogether, but the Bible contains several clear references. Here’s a partial list, which includes references in each of the four gospels, Acts, and Paul’s letter to the Galatians:
- Is not this the carpenter’s son? Is not his mother called Mary? And are not his brothers James and Joseph and Simon and Judas? And are not all his sisters with us? Mt 13:55-56
- Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary and brother of James and Joses and Judas and Simon, and are not his sisters here with us? Mk 6:3
- Then his mother and his brothers came to him, but they could not reach him because of the crowd Lk 8:19
- After this he went down to Capernaum with his mother, his brothers, and his disciples Jn 2:12
- All these were constantly devoting themselves to prayer, together with certain women, including Mary the mother of Jesus, as well as his brothers Acts 1:14
- but I did not see any other apostle except James the Lord’s brother. Gal 1:19
Acts and Paul’s letters make it quite clear that James became leader of the Jerusalem based, Jewish followers of Jesus after the crucifixion, and he remained in charge until his unlawful death over thirty years after the crucifixion, an event recorded by the contemporary historian, Josephus.
Finally, Acts and Paul’s letters also report the ongoing disagreement between James and the apostle Paul over the question of Gentile inclusion into the movement. James was reluctant to allow Gentiles unless they agreed to follow Torah, including circumcision, dietary rules, and calendar observances. This ongoing conflict between these two leaders forms the plotline of A Wretched Man novel.
Now to the current news of James.
It was the Jewish custom during the 1st century (among the Pharisees and others who believed in the resurrection of the dead) to rebury the bones of deceased family members a year or more after death. The bones would be carefully placed in a stone box, called an ossuary, and placed in the family tomb. Nearly a decade ago, an Israeli antiquities dealer claimed to possess an ossuary with the inscription, “James son of Joseph brother of Jesus”. No one questions that the ossuary and the bones date from the correct time period, and it also appears that the first part of the inscription is authentic. But, prosecutors claim that the defendant skillfully added the words, “brother of Jesus”.
It appears that the academic community is split over the authenticity issue. The judge in the case is now considering his verdict, but the scientific controversy will hardly be settled by his decision in the criminal trial of Oded Golan. In a later post, I will offer a book review of The Jesus Dynasty by James Tabor which considers the James ossuary controversy in depth.