Consequence Of The Death Of The Brother Of Jesus

The Wrath Of God Was So Fierce That He Destroyed The Temple Out Of Anger For What Happened To James

Origen was so totally convinced about the righteousness of James the brother of Jesus that he narrates the reaction of Flavius Josephus in his twenty volume Antiquities of the Jews. Josephus is said to have written that James was held in such high esteem because of his righteousness that people suffered such enormous misfortunes because of his execution. The wrath of God was so fierce that he even destroyed the Temple out of anger for what had happened to James the “brother of Jesus who is called Christ.” (1)


Origen a scholar and early Christian theologian

Josephus had this to say about the murder of James – from a translation by William Whiston pg. 423 “but as for those who seemed the most equitable of the citizens, and such as were the most uneasy at the breach of the laws, (Josephus probably means the Pharisees here) they disliked what was done; they also sent to the king [Agrippa,] desiring him to send to Ananus that he should act so no more, for that what he had already done was not to be justified: nay, some of them went also to meet Albinus, as he was upon his journey from Alexandria (Albinus was probably already a Roman official in Egypt when he received his appointment to the governorship of Judea), and informed him that it was not lawful for Ananus to assemble a Sanhedrin without his consent: whereupon Albinus complied with what they had said, and wrote in anger to Ananus, and threatened that he would bring him to punishment for what he had done; on which king Agrippa took the high priesthood from him, when he had ruled but three months, and made Jesus, the son of Damneus, high priest”. In those days “Jesus” was a very common name. Two of the high priests of that time were called Jesus. (2)

In his book James, Brother of Jesus Robert Eisenman, states that James was the leader of the Essenes in Qumran (See fig. 2) and that his death is the main reason for the Jewish Revolt of 66 CE.

Map showing location of Qumran

Showing the location of Qumran

We know from Paul’s letters and the book of Acts that the Jerusalem church held the leadership role and that the Jewish Christian views of Jesus were the more prevalent. However after the death of James the Pauline version of Christianity overshadowed the pro-Jewish adaptation of Christianity. This transformation was so total that today hardly any Christians know that James the brother of Jesus was the leader of the first Christian community. (3)

Jewish Christianity

To distinguish Jewish Christianity from the other forms of Christianity may not be easy. However it can be said that Jewish Christianity differed from the other versions in two significant respects. One: initially all the followers of Jesus were Jewish and two: they were from the Judaea and Galilee areas. However during that period there was no such a thing as a distinctly identifiable form of Jewish Christianity. While the early form of Christianity had a blend of the variety in Judaism, later form of Christianity was more homogenous because of the pressure for standardization. By the end of the first century the majority of Christians were outside the Judaea and Galilee areas. (4)

Early Christians Were Referred To As A Jewish Sect

When the movement began, it could have been referred to as a Jewish sect. But in time Christianity became so complex that to refer to it as such would have been far from correct. On the contrary by the middle of the second century the movement was more a Gentile experience. Over time a significant difference evolved between Jewish Christianity and the more common form of Christianity. This difference was referred to as Ebionism. While Christians in the Gentile form believed that Jesus was not only the messiah but that he was also divine. Jewish Christians on the other hand while accepting the messiahship of Jesus did not accept his divinity. This is perhaps the single most significant distinction between the Jewish and Gentile forms of Christianity. Whatever the differences between the two forms of Christianity, it must be remembered that initially the only Christians were the Jewish Christians. However, the Jewish form of Christianity ceased to exist after the two Jewish wars. (5)

In the Jewish form of Christianity that James the brother of Jesus and his followers intended to promote, they preferred to “maintain the integrity of the Jesus movement”. Painter refers to the argument of Eisenman who says that to understand James better he has to be seen as the “Qumran Teacher of Righteousness”. Eisenman relates the “events and teachings” of the Righteous Teacher referred to in the Habakkuk Pesher to James the Just.

Is James The Just To The Righteous Teacher Of Qumran?

Painter explains that Eisenman is able to relate James the Just to the Teacher of Righteousness because both are righteous sufferers. According to Painter, Eisenman also relates James to the Righteous Teacher of Qumran because the two are strict adherents to the law. However Painter contends that these grounds are also comparisons to Jesus himself and perhaps even to John the Baptist. Painter also states that James is definitely not the Qumran Righteous Teacher. However he concedes that the description of the Qumran Righteous Teacher fits the role of James in the Jerusalem church and in Jewish Christianity. (6)

Besides this the Righteous Teacher was supposed to be one who would receive the “secrets and mysteries of God”. This is what Jesus must have meant when he told the Apostles that James was one to whom “heaven and earth are open”. According to Theodor H. Gaster, a renowned Dead Sea Scrolls scholar, “the Teacher of Righteousness was the spiritual leader of the community.” (7) James the Just definitely possessed this quality.

One of the original seven Dead Sea Scrolls discovered in 1947 was the Habakkuk Commentary or the Pesher Habakkuk. It was found in Cave 1 in Qumran and was labeled 1QpHab. It was published in 1951. It is one of the most researched and scrutinized of the scrolls. This pesher is said to have been written sometime during the latter half of the 1st century BCE. The commentary is on the writing of Habakkuk done half a millennium earlier. This was thought of as the prophecies of Habakkuk. The commentaries attempt to relate contemporary persons to the prophecies.

The Habakkuk Commentary

According to the Habakkuk Pesher members of the Essene sect were expected to follow an individual referred to as the Teacher of Righteousness, a figure who is referred to in some of the other Dead Sea Scrolls. According to the pesher Teacher of Righteousness is an individual who is in direct communion with God and has learned the exact meaning of the scriptures. Although it is generally understood that the individual referred to as Teacher of Righteousness may never be identified, Eisenman not only draws parallels between James and Teacher of Righteousness, he believes that James was indeed considered to be this individual. (8)

The Burial of James (Also referred to as Jacob)

The first and most accurate recording of the death of Jacob (according to a New Testament translation tradition James the brother of Jesus was also referred to as Jacob) was given by Josephus which was in all likelihood referred by Hegesippus. But this account does not mention anything about the burial of Jacob. This is to be expected, as the primary task of Josephus was to write the history of Ananus the high priest and not a narration of the execution and burial of Jacob. In his work “The Jewish War” Josephus wanted to show that the perpetrators of the injustices meted out to the Jewish people were the rabble rousers and not the Jewish leadership. However although it is unlikely that someone executed for breaking the law would have been given a formal burial, Josephus explains that Ananus was removed from the office of high priest for what he did to Jacob, thereby laying the circumstances under which Jacob may have indeed been given a formal burial. (9)

The Mishnah Tractate Sanhedrin 6:5b-6a relates to persons executed by the Jewish council:

“They did not to bury him in the burial place of his fathers, but two burial places were kept in readiness by the court, one for those who were beheaded or strangled, and one for those who were stoned or burnt. When the flesh had wasted away they gathered together the bones and buried them in their own place.”

Under this provision it is quite likely that they first buried Jacob in one such place reserved for just such a situation and then later his bones were buried together with his own in a family tomb probably in an ossuary.

Of the different accounts of the execution of Jacob referred by Eusebius the account of Hegesippus alone refers to the burial of Jacob. Hegesippus notes “In this way he [Jacob] suffered martyrdom. They buried him on the spot, by the Temple, and his gravestone is still there by the Temple. He became a true witness to Jews and Greeks alike that Jesus is the Christ”. It is quite likely that Hegesippus’ account of the execution and burial of Jacob is accurate because he writes only about this one execution and no other. (10)

James the Just became a true witness to Jews and Greeks alike that Jesus is the Christ

Hegesippus does not specify as to who buried Jacob, but is instead vague by simply referring to those who buried Jacob as “they” probably because it was obvious that “they” referred to those who executed him. According to Jewish Law even criminals were buried “before the going down of the sun” (Jewish War 4.5.2). (11)

The law regarding the burial of men condemned to death as explained in the Mishnah tractate Sanhedrin is confirmed in three other sources: the Talmud, the Tosefta, and the Midrash Rabbah.

Consider the following two passages:

“And they began to stone him as he did not die immediately when cast down; but turning round, he knelt down, saying, ‘I beseech Thee, O Lord God and Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”

“Thus they were stoning him, when one of the priests of the sons of Rechab, a son of the Rechabites spoken of and by Jeremiah the prophet, cried out, saying, ‘Stop! What are you doing? The Just is praying for you.”

“Thus one of them, a fuller, beat out the brains of the Just with the club he used to beat out clothes. Thus he suffered martyrdom, and they buried him on the spot where his tombstone still remains, close to the Temple. He became a faithful witness; both to the Jews and to the Greeks that Jesus is the Christ. Immediately after this, Vespasian invaded and took Judea.” (12)

Two facts become obvious from this: One that “they” referred to the executioners and that not everyone in the crowd was a rabble rouser. There must have been some in the crowd of onlookers who sympathized with Jacob but were too afraid to show their compassion.

That there were sympathizers is also apparent from the following account of Hegesippus:

When Jacob (James) was questioned by the Scribes and Pharisees as to what the door to Jesus is, he answered them saying that they should not question him about Jesus the Son of Man as he sits in heaven at the right hand of the “Great Power”. Many in the crowd were confirmed, and glorified the testimony of James, and said ‘Hosanna to the Son of David’

And so James was buried in the graveyard meant for those who were burned or stoned to death. It is quite likely that he was buried by his sympathizers with the approval of his executioners who were as keen as anyone one else to adhere to the Jewish law relating to the burial of those condemned to death. The fact that Hegesippus notes that a gravestone was put where James was buried supports the claim that he was buried by his supporters. Certainly a gravestone would not have been erected by his executioners. (13)

Were Essenes the supporters of James the brother of Jesus?

James and the other early believers in Jerusalem still considered themselves as Jews. Like Jesus, James was a Jew and, in line with Old Testament prophecies, he believed that Jesus was an ordinary man chosen by God to lead his people. This was very different to the idea championed by Paul that Jesus was a divine being, born of God himself.

No historical evidence proving a relationship between the Essenes and early Christianity has ever been established. The striking similarities between the two faiths, however, strongly suggest that the earliest Christians were influenced by the Essenes. However scholars have identified similarities in principles, scriptures and religious practices between the Essenes and early Christianity and are convinced that the later evolved from the former. (14)

The early believers of Jesus in Jerusalem continued to think of themselves as Jews. And the early believers were basically Essenes. Like the Essenes they believed, in accordance to Old Testament prophecies, that Jesus was an ordinary man selected by God to lead his people. This was in line with the conviction of Jewish Christians that Jesus was a messiah but not divine. James too – initially at least – held a similar belief. (15)

In addition to this commonality, like the Essenes, James challenged the authority of the “priestly hierarchy of the Sadducees”

What is certain is that the later church took away some of the importance of James in the establishment of the early church. The fact remains that he was the one chosen by Jesus to head his mission after his death and not Paul.

Besides it became convenient for the later church to showcase Paul. However the fact remains that he was the one who added a messianic dimension to the personality of Jesus and caused much of the controversy.

Probably the most seminal of the controversies authored by Paul is the physical resurrection of Jesus. This, in spite of the fact, by his own narration, Paul saw the resurrected Jesus as a spirit and not in flesh and blood. Since Paul made this dogma the basic tenet on which Pauline Christianity was founded and accepted by the later church, there can be no compromise about this claim.

Did The Later Church Take Away The Importance Given To James By Jesus Himself?

So did the later church take away the importance given to James by Jesus himself? Was James the blood-brother of Jesus and then made step-brother /cousin only to be sidelined and give way to Pauline Christianity because it suited the later church better?

From the information gathered about James the brother of Jesus we are given to understand that the leadership of his mission was given to James directly by Jesus. We have also seen that this leadership was hijacked by Paul and the others and the original message of Jesus was modified to suit a predominantly Gentile audience. There is no doubt that James was later sidelined and his leadership of the early church was subsequently trivialized. If nothing else he deserved to be buried together with Jesus.

Be that as it may but we still have to figure out how the ossuary of James landed in the Talpiot tomb, if indeed it did, when he was supposed to have been buried where he fell, which is a couple of miles from Talpiot.

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

Death Of James The Brother Of Jesus at

A Better Understanding Of What We Believe at


(1) Painter, John. (2004). Just James, The Brother of Jesus in History and Tradition. Columbia. University of South Carolina Press, pg 202.

(2) Ingermanson, Randy. (1999-2012). Retrieved 2012, from

(3) The First and Second Jewish Revolutionary Wars with Rome. (n.d.). Retrieved 2011, from

(4) Painter, John. (2004). Just James, The Brother of Jesus in History and Tradition. Columbia. University of South Carolina Press, pg 228.

(5) Painter, John. (2004). Just James, The Brother of Jesus in History and Tradition. Columbia. University of South Carolina Press, pg 228.

(6) Painter, John. (2004). Just James, The Brother of Jesus in History and Tradition. Columbia. University of South Carolina Press, pg 234.

(7) Shirts, Kerry A.(1992). Who Was the Teacher of Righteousness in the Dead Sea Scrolls? Retrieved 2011, from

(8) Habakkuk Commentary. (2012). Retrieved 2011, from

(9) Painter, John. (2004). Just James, The Brother of Jesus in History and Tradition. Columbia. University of South Carolina Press, pg 315.

(10) Painter, John. (2004). Just James, The Brother of Jesus in History and Tradition. Columbia. University of South Carolina Press, pg 317.

(11) Jasondulle. (2011) Biblical Archaeology 39: The Crucified Man. Retrieved 2011, from

(12) Hegesippus as quoted in Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History, Book II, xxiii

(13) Mock, Robert D. (1999). The Murder of James the Just (62 CE) And the Final Years of the Hebrew Nazarene Ecclesia in Jerusalem. Retrieved 2011, from

(14) Shirts, Kerry A. (1992). Who Was the Teacher of Righteousness in the Dead Sea Scrolls? Retrieved 2011, from

(15) Leafe, David. (2006). Did Jesus Have a Secret Family? Retrieved 2011, from
Picture Credits:

(Fig 1) Origen a scholar and early Christian theologian

(Fig 2) Map showing location of Qumran

(Fig 3) The Habakkuk Commentary


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