Although there is no mention about the death of James the brother of Jesus in the New Testament, there are non-biblical sources detailing the end of the brother of Jesus. The earliest report regarding the death of James is by Josephus (c37-c100) Antiquities; published approximately in 93 CE. Porcius Festus who was the Roman procurator of Judea died around the 60s CE. And in his stead Caesar sent Lucceius Albinus. At the same time Caesar removed Joseph from the position of high priesthood and in his place appointed Ananus, who was the son of Ananus.
According to Josephus, the younger Ananus was said to be very arrogant with a bad temper. The new high priest was a Sadducee who was said to be both harsh and rigid in his judgment of wrongdoers. Knowing that the new procurator was still on his way, he convened the Sanhedrin of judges and accused James and a few of his followers of breaking the law. He decided that these men be stoned to death (1).
James And His Companions Are Stoned To Death
As a result James the brother of Jesus and his companions were stoned to death. But to most of the citizens who were witnesses to the punishment meted out to James, this appeared as a gross injustice.
These citizens wrote to King Agrippa about this miscarriage of justice and some of them also went and met Albinus who was on his way from Alexandria. Albinus wrote to Ananus about his displeasure at what had been done and warned him of dire consequences if he should repeat something like this. However King Agrippa took sterner action and removed Ananus from the position of high priesthood (2).
Since the interregnum between Festus and Albinus can be accurately dated, we can to a degree of certainty say that James was executed in the year 62 CE. At this time Josephus was a priest in the temple and his account of the execution of James is probably an eye witness version (3).
The manner of the execution of James has probably been explained in greater detail by Clement. According to him James was first thrown down from the pinnacle of the temple before being stoned and then when his executioners found that he was still alive one of them hit him on the head with a fullers club.
Account Of The Execution Of James By Hegesippus
However the account of the execution of James by Hegesippus who lived a little after the time of the apostles is generally considered the most accurate. In the fifth book of his memoirs he notes that after the crucifixion of Jesus, James his brother was referred to as James the Just to distinguish him from the other James’ who were also involved in the church. Hegesippus states that James took charge of the church in conjunction with the apostles.
Then there came a time when the ruling elite, Jews, Scribes and Pharisees began to feel that there was a mood of uprising among the common people. So they went to James and pleaded with him to address the people when they gather for the feast of the Passover and persuade them not to be carried away because of the teachings of Jesus. They said that they had come to him because he is respected by both the ruling class and the common people. They asked him to stand on the pinnacle of the temple so that everyone who came to celebrate the Passover will see and hear him.
And when James stood on the pinnacle, the Scribes and Pharisees asked him about “the crucified one”. James answered them saying “Why do ye ask me concerning Jesus, the Son of Man? He himself sitteth in heaven at the right hand of the great Power, and is about to come upon the clouds of heaven”. When the Scribes and Pharisees realized that this was not what they wanted James to say, they discussed among themselves “We have done badly in supplying such testimony to Jesus. But let us go up and throw him down, in order that they may be afraid to believe him.’ And they cried out, saying, ‘Oh! oh! the just man is also in error.’ And they fulfilled the Scripture written in Isaiah”. Scribes and Pharisees went up to the steeple and threw down James after which he was stoned and dealt a deathly blow with a fullers club. It is said that James was buried at the spot where he fell.
According to Hegesippus the grave and gravestone of James the brother of Jesus were still there by the Sanctuary at the time of his writing his account of the death of James. The site of the grave was identified as a section of the Jehoshaphat Valley, a section of the Kidron Valley. However according to Painter this could not have been the location of James’ grave for the simple reason that according to Jewish law burials were prohibited inside the old city (4). The Talmud states that no tannery, grave, or carcass may be placed within 50 ells of a human dwelling (5). (See fig. 2)
According to Painter, this error in the account of Hegesippus was in all likelihood because while he may have known the Jerusalem of his time, neither he nor Eusebius could have known the old city and its Temple. When Hegesippus describes James being thrown down from the parapet of the sanctuary, he must have meant “the eastern wall of the Temple mount”. If this is what happened then James would have been stoned and hit with the fullers club nearby the burial ground in the Jehoshaphat Valley (6). There is another account of the execution of James and this is by Clement. According to him James was pushed down from the steeple of the temple and delivered a deathblow with a laundryman’s tool. While all the three accounts are a little different from each other, it would appear that the account of Hegessipus may have been written later than purported because he tries to distinguish between the Jews, the scribes and the Pharisees; a tendency to blame all Jews for the tragedies that happened to early Christians (7).
Jerusalem at the time of Jesus showing the Temple. The Kidron Valley is referred to in the Bible as the “Valley of Jehoshaphat”.
Another important difference between the accounts of Hegesippus and Josephus is the year in which James was executed. Hegesippus states that Vespasian captured Jerusalem immediately after the execution of James. Since the siege of Jerusalem occurred sometime during 67 CE, it would mean that the execution of James was also around that year. However as stated by Josephus the execution of James occurred in 62 CE and this is probably the correct date because it has been corroborated by Eusebius (8).
Please also read my other blogs:
James The Just – What Was He To Jesus? at 99
James – full Brother of Jesus, his step brother or cousin? at
When Did James The Brother Of Jesus Become A Disciple? at
Consequence Of The Death Of The Brother Of Jesus at
A Better Understanding Of What We Believe at
(1) Tabor, Dr. James.D. (1999). Essays on James the Brother of Jesus. Retrieved 2011 from http://religiousstudies.uncc.edu/people/jtabor/jamesessay.html
(2) Thiering, Dr. Barbara. (2007). Ananus the Younger. Retrieved 2011 from http://www.peshertechnique.infinitesoulutions.com/Biographies/Ananus.html
(3) Thiering, Dr. Barbara. (2007). Ananus the Younger. Retrieved 2011 from http://www.peshertechnique.infinitesoulutions.com/Biographies/Ananus.html
(4) Painter, John. (2004). Just James, The Brother of Jesus in History and Tradition. Columbia. University of South Carolina Press, pg 129.
(5) Bava Batra 2:9.
(6) Painter, John. (2004). Just James, The Brother of Jesus in History and Tradition. Columbia. University of South Carolina Press, pg 130
(7) MacDonald, Kevin . (1998). What are the Origins of Anti-Semitism?
Separation and Its Discontents: Toward an Evolutionary Theory of Anti-Semitism. Praeger Publishers, Westport CT.
(8) Painter, John. (2004). Just James, The Brother of Jesus in History and Tradition. Columbia. University of South Carolina Press, pg 130.
(Fig 1) James is stoned to death
(Fig 2) Map of Jerusalem at the time of Jesus