Primary Sources on James the Just

The Brother of Jesus

Gospel of Thomas
Galatians 1:19
Acts of the Apostles 15:5-21
Josephus, Antiquities 20. 9.1 199-203
Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History
Jerome, On Famous Men
Epiphanius, Panarion
Ascents of James

Gospel of Thomas 12
The Disciples said to Jesus, "We are aware that you will depart from us. Who will be our leader?"
Jesus said to them, "No matter where you come it is to James the Just that you shall go,
for whose sake heaven and earth have come to exist."

Matt. 13:55 / Mk. 6:3
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?

Galatians 1:19
But I did not see any other apostle except James the Lord's brother.

Acts of the Apostles 15:5-21
Some believers who belonged to the sect of the Pharisees stood up and said,
"It is necessary for them to be circumcised and ordered to keep the law of Moses."

. . .
James replied, "My brothers, listen to me . . . I have reached the decision
that we should not trouble those Gentiles who are turning to God,
but we should write to them to abstain only from things polluted by idols
and from fornication and from whatever has been strangled and from blood."

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Josephus, Antiquities 20. 9.1 199-203
The younger Ananus, who had been appointed to the high priesthood,
was rash in his temper and unusually daring.
He followed the school of the Sadducees,
who are indeed more heartless than any of the other Jews,
as I have already explained, when they sit in judgment. 
Possessed of such a character, Ananus thought that he had a favorable opportunity
because Festus was dead and Albinas was still on the way. 
And so he
convened the judges of the Sanhedrin, and brought before them

the brother of  Jesus, the one called Christ, whose name was James, and certain others,
accusing them of having transgressed the law delivered them up to be stoned.
Those of the inhabits of the city who were considered the most fair-minded
and who were strict in observance of the law were offended at this. 
They therefore secretly sent to King Agrippa urging him,
for Ananus had not even been correct in his first step,
to order him to desist from any further such actions. 
Certain of them even went to meet Albinus, who was on his way from Alexandria,
and informed him that Ananus had no authority to convene the Sanhedrin without his consent. 
Convinced by these words,

Albinus angrily wrote to Ananus threatening to take vengeance upon him

King Agrippa, because of Ananus' action, deposed him from the high priesthood
which he had held for three months and replaced him with Jesus the son of Damnaeus.

(Louis Feldman translation) Back to Top

Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History

Chapter XXIII. The Martyrdom of James, Who Was Called the Brother of the Lord.

1 But after Paul, in consequence of his appeal to Caesar, had been sent to Rome by Festus,
the Jews, being frustrated in their hope of entrapping him by the snares which they had laid for him,
turned against James, the brother of the Lord,252
to whom the episcopal seat at Jerusalem had been entrusted by the apostles.
The following daring measures were undertaken by them against him.

2 Leading him into their midst they demanded of him that he should renounce faith in Christ in the presence of all the people. But, contrary to the opinion of all, with a clear voice, and with greater boldness than they had anticipated, he spoke out before the whole multitude and confessed that our Saviour and Lord Jesus is the Son of God. But they were unable to bear longer the testimony of the man who, on account of the excellence of ascetic virtue254 and of piety which he exhibited in his life, was esteemed by all as the most just of men, and consequently they slew him. Opportunity for this deed of violence was furnished by the prevailing anarchy, which was caused by the fact that Festus had died just at this time in Judea, and that the province was thus without a governor and head.255

3 The manner of James' death has been already indicated by the above-quoted words of Clement, who records that he was thrown from the pinnacle of the temple, and was beaten to death with a club.256 But Hegesippus,257 who lived immediately after the apostles, gives the most accurate account in the fifth book of his Memoirs.258 He writes as follows:

4 "James, the brother of the Lord,
succeeded to the government of the Church in conjunction with the apostles.
He has been called the Just
260 by all from the time of our Saviour to the present day;
for there were many that bore the name of James

5 He was holy from his mother's womb;
and he drank no wine nor strong drink, nor did he eat flesh.
No razor came upon his head; he did not anoint himself with oil,
and he did not use the bath

6 He alone was permitted to enter into the holy place;
for he wore not woolen but linen garments.
And he was in the habit of entering alone into the temple,
and was frequently found upon his knees begging forgiveness for the people,
so that his knees became hard like those of a camel,
in consequence of his constantly bending them in his worship of God,
and asking forgiveness for the people

7 Because of his exceeding great justice he was called the Just, and Oblias,262
which signifies in Greek, 'Bulwark of the people' and 'Justice,'
in accordance with what the prophets declare concerning him

8 Now some of the seven sects, which existed among the people and which have been mentioned by me in the Memoirs,265 asked him, `What is the gate of Jesus?'266 and he replied that he was the Saviour. 9 On account of these words some believed that Jesus is the Christ. But the sects mentioned above did not believe either in a resurrection or in one's coming to give to every man according to his works.267 But as many as believed did so on account of James. 10 Therefore when many even of the rulers believed, there was a commotion among the Jews and Scribes and Pharisees, who said that there was danger that the whole people would be looking for Jesus as the Christ. Coming therefore in a body to James they said, 'We entreat thee, restrain the people; for they are gone astray in regard to Jesus, as if he were the Christ.268 We entreat thee to persuade all that have come to the feast of the Passover concerning Jesus; for we all have confidence in thee. For we bear thee witness, as do all the people, that thou art just, and dost not respect persons.269 11 Do thou therefore persuade the multitude not to be led astray concerning Jesus. For the whole people, and all of us also, have confidence in thee. Stand therefore upon the pinnacle of the temple,270 that from that high position thou mayest be clearly seen, and that thy words may be readily heard by all the people. For all the tribes, with the Gentiles also, are come together on account of the Passover.'

12 The aforesaid Scribes and Pharisees therefore placed James upon the pinnacle of the temple,
and cried out to him and said: `Thou just one, in whom we ought all to have: confidence, forasmuch as the people are led, astray after Jesus, the crucified one, declare to us, what is the gate of Jesus.'271 13 And he answered with a loud voice, `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.'272 14 And when many were fully convinced and gloried in the testimony of James, and said, `Hosanna to the Son of David,' these same Scribes and Pharisees said again to one another, `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.' 15 And they cried out, saying, `Oh! oh! the just man is also in error.' And they fulfilled the Scripture written in Isaiah,273 'Let us take away274 the just man, because he is troublesome to us: therefore they shall eat the fruit of their doings.'

16 So they went up and threw down the just man, and said to each other,
`Let us stone
James the Just.' And they began to stone him, for he was not killed by the fall;
but he turned and knelt down and said, 'I entreat thee, Lord God our Father,275 forgive them, for they know not what they do.'276 17 And while they were thus stoning him one of the priests of the sons of Rechab, the son of the Rechabites,277 who are mentioned by Jeremiah the prophet,278 cried out, saying, 'Cease, what do ye? The just one prayeth for you.'279

18 And one of them, who was a fuller, took the club with which he beat out clothes
and struck the just man on the head. And thus he suffered martyrdom
nd they buried him on the spot, by the temple,
and his monument still remains by the temple
.281 He became a true witness, both to Jews and Greeks, that Jesus is the Christ. And immediately Vespasian besieged them."282 19 These things are related at length by Hegesippus, who is in agreement with Clement.283 James was so admirable a man and so celebrated among all for his justice, that the more sensible even of the Jews were of the opinion that this was the cause of the siege of Jerusalem, which happened to them immediately after his martyrdom for no other reason than their daring act against him.

20 Josephus, at least, has not hesitated to testify this in his writings, where he says,284
"These things happened to the Jews to avenge
James the Just, who was a brother of Jesus,
that is called the Christ
. For the Jews slew him, although he was a most just man."

21 And the same writer records his death also in the twentieth book of his Antiquities in the following words:285 "But the emperor, when he learned of the death of Festus, sent Albinus286 to be procurator of Judea. But the younger Ananus,287 who, as we have already said,288 had obtained the high priesthood, was of an exceedingly bold and reckless disposition. He belonged, moreover, to the sect of the Sadducees, who are the most cruel of all the Jews in the execution of judgment, as we have already shown.289 22 Ananus, therefore, being of this character, and supposing that he had a favorable opportunity on account of the fact that Festus was dead, and Albinus was still on the way, called together the Sanhedrim, and brought before them the brother of Jesus, the so-called Christ, James by name, together with some others,290 and accused them of violating the law, and condemned them to be stoned.291

23 But those in the city who seemed most moderate and skilled in the law were very angry at this, and sent secretly to the king,292 requesting him to order Ananus to cease such proceedings. For he had not done right even this first time. And certain of them also went to meet Albinus, who was journeying from Alexandria, and reminded him that it was not lawful for Ananus to summon the Sanhedrim without his knowledge.293 24 And Albinus, being persuaded by their representations, wrote in anger to Ananus, threatening him with punishment. And the king, Agrippa, in consequence, deprived him, of the high priesthood,294 which he had held threemonths, and appointed Jesus, the son of Damnaeus."295 25 These things are recorded in regard to James, who is said to be the author of the first of the so-called catholic296 epistles. But it is to be observed that it is disputed;297 at least, not many of the ancients have mentioned it, as is the case likewise with the epistle that bears the name of Jude,298 which is also one of the seven so-called catholic epistles. Nevertheless we know that these also,299 with the rest, have been read publicly in very many churches.300 Back to Top

Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History, Book III

Chapter XI. Symeon Rules the Church of Jerusalem After James.

1 After the martyrdom of James129 and the conquest of Jerusalem which immediately followed,130 it is said that those of the apostles and disciples of the Lord that were still living came together from all directions with those that were related to the Lord according to the flesh131 (for the majority of them also were still alive) to take counsel as to who was worthy to succeed James. 2 They all with one consent pronounced Symeon,132 the son of Clopas, of whom the Gospel also makes mention;133 to be worthy of the episcopal throne of that parish. He was a cousin, as they say, of the Saviour. For Hegesippus records that Clopas was a brother of Joseph.134 Back to Top

Eusebius, Book IV

Chapter XXII. Hegesippus and the Events Which He Mentions.

1 Hegesippus in the five books of Memoirs152 which have come down to us has left a most complete record of his own views. In them he states that on a journey to Rome he met a great many bishops, and that he received the same doctrine from all. It is fitting to hear what he says after making some remarks about the epistle of Clement to the Corinthians. 2 His words are as follows: "And the church of Corinth continued in the true faith until Primus153 was bishop in Corinth. I conversed with them on my way to Rome, and abode with the Corinthians many days, during which we were mutually refreshed in the true doctrine. 3 And when I had come to Rome I remained a there until Anicetus,154 whose deacon was Eleutherus. And Anicetus was succeeded by Soter, and he by Eleutherus. In every succession, and in every city that is held which is preached by the law and the prophets and the Lord." 4 The same author also describes the beginnings of the heresies which arose in his time, in the following words:
"And after James the Just had suffered martyrdom, as the Lord had also on the same account, Symeon, the son of the Lord's uncle, Clopas,155 was appointed the next bishop. All proposed him as second bishop because he was a cousin of the Lord. "Therefore,156 they called the Church a virgin, for it was not yet corrupted by vain discourses.
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Jerome, On Famous Men,

Chapter 2. James the Just

James, who is called the brother of the Lord, surnamed the Just, the son of Joseph by another wife, as some think, but, as appears to me, the son of Mary sister of the mother of our Lord of whom John makes mention in his book, after our Lord's passion at once ordained by the apostles bishop of Jerusalem, wrote a single epistle, which is reckoned among the seven Catholic Epistles and even this is claimed by some to have been published by some one else under his name, and gradually, as time went on, to have gained authority. Hegesippus who lived near the apostolic age, in the fifth book of his Commentaries, writing of James. says "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." He says also many other things, too numerous to mention. Josephus also in the 20th book of his Antiquities, and Clement in the 7th of his Outlines mention that on the death of Festus who reigned over Judea, Albinus was sent by Nero as his successor. Before he had reached his province, Ananias the high priest, the youthful son of Ananus of the priestly class taking advantage of the state of anarchy, assembled a council and publicly tried to force James to deny that Christ is the son of God. When he refused Ananius ordered him to be stoned. Cast down from a pinnacle of the temple, his legs broken, but still half alive, raising his hands to heaven he said, "Lord forgive them for they know not what they do." Then struck on the head by the club of a fuller such a club as fullers are accustomed to wring out garments with--he died. This same Josephus records the tradition that this James was of so great sanctity and reputation among the people that the downfall of Jerusalem was believed to be on account of his death. He it is of whom the apostle Paul writes to the Galatians that "No one else of the apostles did I see except James the brother of the Lord, " and shortly after the event the Acts of the apostles bear witness to the matter. The Gospel also which is called the Gospel according to the Hebrews, and which I have recently translated into Greek and Latin and which also Origen often makes use of, after the account of the resurrection of the Saviour says, "but the Lord, after he had given his grave clothes to the servant of the priest, appeared to James (for James had. sworn that he would not eat bread from that hour in which he drank the cup of the Lord until he should see him rising again from among those that sleep)" and again, a little later, it says" ' Bring a table and bread, ' said the Lord." And immediately it is added, "He brought bread and blessed and brake and gave to James the Just and said to him, ' my brother eat thy bread, for the son of man is risen from among those that sleep.'" And so he ruled the Church of Jerusalem thirty years, that is until the seventh year of Nero, and was buried near the temple from which he had been cast down. His tombstone with its inscription was well known until the siege of Titus and the end of Hadrian's reign. Some of our writers think he was buried in Mount Olivet, but they are mistaken. Back to Top

Epiphanius, Panarion, 29.3.4

29.3.4 After Alexander this office, which had existed since the time of Salina, also called Alexandra, ceased, this being the time of King Herod and the Roman emperor Augustus.  This Alexander even put a diadem on himself, being one of the anointed ones and rulers.  5.  For once the two tribes, the royal and the priestly, meaning Judah and Aaron and the whole tribe of Levi, had been joined together, the kings were also made priests.  For no prophecy in sacred scripture can prove false.  6.  But from then on King Herod, a foreigner, and not those of David's stock wore the diadem.  7.  Now when the royal chair was changed, the royal dignity was in Christ transferred to the church from the house of Judah and Israel which is of the flesh, but the throne is established in God's holy church forever, the throne whose royal and high-priestly dignity rests on two bases---8.  the royal dignity coming from Our Lord Jesus Christ in two ways, from the fact that he is of King David's seed according to the flesh and from the fact that he is, as is certainly true, a greater king from eternity in his divinity, and the priestly dignity coming from the fact that he is high priest and chief of high priests---James having been ordained at once the first bishop, 9.  he who is called the brother of the Lord and apostle, Joseph's son by nature and spoken of as having the place of the brother of the Lord due to having been reared with him.  For James was Joseph's son from Joseph's <first> wife, not from Mary, as we have said in many places and treated of more clearly. 2. But we find as well that he is of David's stock through being Joseph's son, <and> that he was a Nazarite (for he was Joseph's firstborn and consecrated), and we have found furthermore that he exercised the priest hood according to the priestly order of old.  3.  Thus it was permitted him once a year to enter the holy of holies, as the law ordered the high priests according to what is written.  So say many of the historians before me of him, Eusebius, Clement, and others.  4.  He was also allowed to wear the plate on his head, as the aforementioned trustworthy men have related in their accounts...

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Epiphanius, Panarion, 78.14.1-6

78.14.1-6 James also wore a plate on his head.  And once during a drought he lifted his hands to heaven and prayed, and at once heaven sent rain.  He never wore woolen clothing.  His knees grew hard as a camel's from his continued kneeling before the Lord out of excessive piety.  2.  Thus they no longer called him by his name; his name was "The Just."  He never washed in a bath, did not partake in animal flesh, as I explained above, and did not wear sandals.  And there is much else one could say about the man and his virtuous way of life.

 3.  You see then that this house was in every respect most noteworthy.  For if Joseph's sons revered virginity and the Nazarite life, how much more did that elderly honorable man guard with reverence the holy Virgin and honor the vessel in which the salvation of the human race dwelt!  4. "Does not nature itself teach you" that the man was elderly, greatly advanced in age, grown great among men, faithful in his ways, and reverent in appearance?  For the gospel says that "the God-fearing man sought to divorce her secretly."  5. But James brother of the Lord and son of Joseph, died in Jerusalem, having lived twenty-four years, more or less, after the Savior's Ascension.  He was ninety-six years old when he was struck on the head by a fuller with his club, flung from the pinnacle of the temple and cast down, he who had done no wrong  6. knelt and prayed for those who had thrown him down, saying: Forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.  Thus even Simeon, his cousin, the son Clopas, who was standing at a distance, said, "Stop, why are you stoning the just one?  Behold, he is uttering the most wonderful prayers for you."  And thus he was martyred. . .

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Epiphanius, Panarion, 30.16.6 

Mentions a book of Acts of the Apostles used by the Jewish-Christian sect known as the Ebionites. This was an alternative to the canonical book of Acts produced by Jewish-Christians who considered Paul to be "one of our enemies." This book is preserved in the Pseudo-Clementine Recognitions 1.33-71 (see below). 

30.16.6 They have a another Acts of the Apostles, as they call it, in which is a great deal of impurity, and from which especially they arm themselves against the truth.  7. In the Ascents of James they set down certain means of ascent and narratives in which they have James expounding against the temple and the sacrifices, and against the fire on the alter; and there are a good many other inanities.  8.  For instance, they do not blush to accuse Paul there by means of some words fabricated by iniquity and error of their false apostles, saying that he is from Tarsus, as he himself admits and does not deny.  But they state that his parents were pagan, taking as evidence what he says, and what is true: "I am from Tarsus, a citizen of no mean city."  9. Then they say that he was a pagan, with a pagan mother and father, that he went up to Jerusalem and stayed there a while, that he desired to marry the priestís daughter and therefore became a proselyte and was circumcised, but then did not obtain the girl, who was of such high station, and in his anger wrote against circumcision, the Sabbath and the law. . .

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Ascents of James, from the Pseudo-Clementine Recognitions, 1.33-71

In the middle of a discussion between Clement and Gamaliel,
Paul's teacher according to Acts 22:3

"These sayings of Gamaliel did not much please Caiaphas; and holding him in suspicion, as it seemed, he began to insinuate himself cunningly into the discussions: for, smiling at what Gamaliel had said, the chief of the priests asked of James, the chief of the bishops,61 that the discourse concerning Christ should not be drawn but from the Scriptures; `that we may know, 'said he, `whether Jesus be the very Christ or no.' Then said James, `We must first inquire from what Scriptures we are especially to derive our discussion.' Then he, with difficulty, at length overcome by reason, answered, that it must be derived from the law; and afterwards he made mention also of the prophets."

"To him our James began to show, that whatsoever things the prophets say they have taken from the law, and what they have spoken is in accordance with the law. He also made some statements respecting the books of the Kings in: what way, and when, and by whom they were written, and how they ought to be used. And when he had discussed most fully concerning the law, and had, by a most clear exposition, brought into light whatever things are in it concerning Christ, he showed by most abundant proofs that Jesus is the Christ, and that in Him are fulfilled all the prophecies which related to His humble advent. For he showed that two advents of Him are foretold: one in humiliation, which He has accomplished; the other in glory, which is hoped for to be accomplished, when He shall come to give the kingdom to those who believe in Him, and who observe all things which He has commanded. And when he had plainly taught the people concerning these things, he added this also: That unless a man be baptized in water, in the name of the threefold blessedness, as the true Prophet taught, he can neither receive remission of sins nor enter into the kingdom of heaven; and he declared that this is the prescription of the unbegotten God. To which he added this also: `Do not think that we speak of two unbegotten Gods, or that one is divided into two, or that the same is made male and female. But we speak of the only-begotten Son of God, not sprung from another source, but ineffably self-originated; and in like manner we speak of the Paraclete.'62 But when he had spoken some things also concerning baptism, through seven successive days he persuaded all the people and the high priest that they should hasten straightway to receive baptism."

"And when matters were at that point that they should come and be baptized, some one of our enemies,63 entering the temple with a few men, began to cry out, and to say, `What mean ye, O men of Israel? Why are you so easily hurried on? Why are ye led headlong by most miserable men, who are deceived by Simon, a magician? 'While he was thus speaking, and adding more to the same effect, and while James the bishop was refuting him, he began to excite the people and to raise a tumult. so that the people might not be able to hear what was said. Therefore he began to drive all into confusion with shouting, and to undo what had been arranged with much labour, and at the same time to reproach the priests, and to enrage them with revilings and abuse, and, like a madman, to excite every one to murder, saying, `What do ye? Why do ye hesitate? Oh sluggish and inert, why do we not lay hands upon them, and pull all these fellows to pieces? 'When he had said this, he first, seizing a strong brand from the altar, set the example of smiting. Then others also, seeing him, were carried away with like readiness. Then ensued a tumult on either side, of the beating and the beaten. Much blood is shed; there is a confused flight, in the midst of which that enemy attacked James, and threw him headlong from the top of the steps; and supposing him to be dead, he cared not to inflict further violence upon him."

"But our friends lifted him up, for they were both more numerous and more powerful than the others; but, from their fear of God, they rather suffered themselves to be killed by an inferior force, than they would kill others. But when the evening came the priests shut up the temple, and we returned to the house of James, and spent the night there in prayer. Then before daylight we went down to Jericho, to the number of 5000 men. Then after three days one of the brethren came to us from Gamaliel, whom we mentioned before, bringing to us secret tidings that that enemy had received a commission from Caiaphas, the chief priest, that he should arrest all who believed in Jesus, and should go to Damascus with his letters, and that there also, employing the help of the unbelievers, he should make havoc among the faithful; and that he was hastening to Damascus chiefly on this account, because he believed that Peter had fled thither.64 And about thirty days thereafter he stopped on his way while passing through Jericho going to Damascus.At that time we were absent, having gone out to the sepulchres of two brethren which were whitened of themselves every year, by which miracle the fury of many against us was restrained, because they saw that our brethren were had in remembrance before God." Back to Top

In The Nag Hammadi Library (Books in Alphabetical Order):

Apocryphon of James
First Apocalpyse of James
Second Apocalypse of James
Gospel of the Egyptians