Due to grading, I missed the feast of Athanasius yesterday, so today I'll catch the feast of SS. Philip and James, Apostles of the Church, and talk about the latter, usually known as James the Less.
Jacob (which is the original name) is extremely common among Jews of the day, so unsurprisingly there ends up being some confusion about which James is which. James the Less is always mentioned in relation to his mother, who was Mary. Unfortunately, this doesn't help us any, because Miriam (the original name) was also extremely common, and being 'James, son of Mary' is a less helpful clarification than one might think. James and his connection with his mother are mentioned in four places:
Many women were there, watching from a distance. They had followed Jesus from Galilee to care for his needs. Among them were Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James and Joseph, and the mother of Zebedee’s sons. (NIV)
Here we see the problem, since Zebedee's sons are James (sometimes known as James the Great) and John, and their mother was also named Mary. There are three different Marys here and two of them have a son named James.
Some women were watching from a distance. Among them were Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James the younger and of Joseph, and Salome. In Galilee these women had followed him and cared for his needs. Many other women who had come up with him to Jerusalem were also there.
This is the passage that gives James the nickname -- he's called the 'less' in the sense of 'less in years', i.e., younger, not as a sign of his quality. (Because of this passage and the previous, 'Salome' is sometimes held to be another name for the Mary who was the mother of the sons of Zebedee.)
The other two, associated with the Resurrection, are slightly more contestable, but still fairly certain given the company she keeps.
When the Sabbath was over, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices so that they might go to anoint Jesus’ body.
When they came back from the tomb, they told all these things to the Eleven and to all the others. It was Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and the others with them who told this to the apostles. But they did not believe the women, because their words seemed to them like nonsense.
Thus, very interestingly, from the gospels we actually know more about the role of Mary the mother of James the Less among the followers of Jesus than we know directly about James the Less. It's fairly clear from comments that the gospels make about 'the women' that, besides the apostles or the Twelve (here the Eleven because it is after Judas's betrayal), there was an at least semi-organized, perhaps even formally recognized, group who are described only as 'the women' (perhaps we should capitalized it as 'the Women') who often were around and seemed to have handled various practical matters. (It's tempting, and perhaps defensible, to think that these may be the seed of what was later broken up into the virgins and the widows, who historically often had a similar practical calling in maintaining churches and missions.) A number of them -- Mary Magdalene and Joanna are explicitly mentioned as such in Luke 8:1-3 -- had been cured of evil spirits and in return helped to support Jesus and the apostles "out of their own means". Not all the women associated with Jesus were such (Jesus' own mother, for instance), so we can't assume that she was necessarily a woman who had been exorcised, but she seems at least to be functioning here as a well-known member of the Women.
Beyond this, things get a bit more speculative. There is one other possible situation that might mention James's mother; we can't be sure the woman in question is James's mother, because the passage doesn't mention James. But it seems at least a reasonable guess that she is, and if so, that is significant for working out who James the Less might be:
Near the cross of Jesus stood his mother, his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene.
Given the company she is keeping here, it seems at least plausible that Mary of Clopas (or Cleophas) and sister (which could mean 'sister' or 'half-sister' or could possibly mean 'cousin', i.e., family in the same generational cohort) of Mary the mother of Jesus, is the same Mary as Mary, the mother of James the younger and Joseph. This verse is usually taken as saying that she was the wife of Clopas, but in fact the original just says, "Mary of Clopas", and we don't know for sure what that means (which becomes significant for discussing her relation to Alphaeus, see below). If this is so, we can identify more clearly James's role, because besides the Twelve and the Women, there was another group associated with Jesus, not so closely during his lifetime but very closely after the Resurrection, the Brothers of the Lord. (In fact, when the leaders of the disciples are mentioned in Acts 1:14, they are identified as the Eleven, the Women, Mary the mother of Jesus, and the Brothers of the Lord.)
“Where did this man get these things?” they asked. “What’s this wisdom that has been given him? What are these remarkable miracles he is performing? Isn’t this the carpenter? Isn’t this Mary’s son and the brother of James, Joseph, Judas and Simon? Aren’t his sisters here with us?”
Coming to his hometown, he began teaching the people in their synagogue, and they were amazed. “Where did this man get this wisdom and these miraculous powers?” they asked. “Isn’t this the carpenter’s son? Isn’t his mother’s name Mary, and aren’t his brothers James, Joseph, Simon and Judas? Aren’t all his sisters with us? Where then did this man get all these things?”
So here we have a James and a Joseph in association, and if we accept that Mary, the sister of the Lord's mother, is their mother, then James the Less is one of the Brothers of the Lord. If we accept this, this gives us lots more information, in the sense that there are definite traditions about James the Brother of the Lord. The Church Fathers are consistent in saying that James the Brother of the Lord was also known as James the Just; that he had 'knees like a camel's knees' because he prayed so often; that he was the leader of the Jewish Christians (those Jews who converted to Christianity and continued to follow Jewish law) and the first bishop of Jerusalem. He would then be the James who, with Peter and John, Paul says was a pillar of the Church, and whose followers tried to get Peter and Paul in trouble in Antioch over their relations with Gentiles, leading to James hosting the Council of Jerusalem mentioned in Acts.
He was eventually martyred by Jewish opponents who saw his practices as heretical, in an event that shocked even many Jews who had no particular sympathies toward the Christians, as Josephus records in his Antiquities of the Jews (Book XX, Chapter 9):
But this younger Ananus, who, as we have told you already, took the high priesthood, was a bold man in his temper, and very insolent; he was also of the sect of the Sadducees, who are very rigid in judging offenders, above all the rest of the Jews, as we have already observed; when, therefore, Ananus was of this disposition, he thought he had now a proper opportunity [to exercise his authority]. Festus was now dead, and Albinus was but upon the road; so he assembled the sanhedrim of judges, and brought before them the brother of Jesus, who was called Christ, whose name was James, and some others, [or, some of his companions]; and when he had formed an accusation against them as breakers of the law, he delivered them to be stoned: 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, 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, and informed him that it was not lawful for Ananus to assemble a sanhedrim without his consent.
Some argue that the "brother of Jesus, who was called Christ" part is a later Christian interpolation, but it's actually very difficult to find good grounds on which to argue this, so the common view is that the particular phrase is probably authentic. (No one doubts that the passage as a whole is authentic.)
Traditionally, James the Just is the James who wrote the biblical book of James.
Now, another, even more speculative, possibility is that the James the Less is the figure also known as James son of Alphaeus, one of the Twelve. And, indeed, this is a common identification historically: James the younger would then be the son of Mary of Clopas and Alphaeus. Now, it's possible from this that Alphaeus was also called Clopas (Jews having more than one name was extremely common in those days, as is perhaps given that they all have the same given names, and a fragment attributed to Papias, who would be a relatively early source identifies Alphaeus and Clopas), or it could be Mary was called 'of Clopas' for a different reason we don't know, perhaps her father or older brother or something. (Cleophas was also the name of one of the disciples who met the Risen Jesus on the way to Emmaus, so if it's the same man, he seems to have been considered quite significant and well known despite not being one of the Twelve.) The only thing we know from Scripture about James son of Alphaeus, if he is not James the Less or James the brother of Jesus or James the Just (all of whom may or may not be the same person), is that he is always listed as one of the Twelve. However, we have very early tradition that James the son of Alphaeus was stoned to death by Jews and buried outside the Temple, which sounds very similar to the death we find attributed, independently, to James the Brother of the Lord, and can be taken as a minor confirmation of the identification. In any case, we know one other person identified in Scripture as a son of Alphaeus, Levi the tax collector; Levi is pretty universally identified with Matthew. But having a father with the same name of course raises the possibility that James was Levi's brother.
So of James the Younger, as we really should call him, we know for certain that his mother was Mary, one of the women (or Women, if we think of it as a specific semi-formal or formal group of followers, as it sometimes seems to be) who followed Jesus, and his brother was named Joseph. It is extremely likely that his mother Mary was Mary of Clopas, the sister of the Virgin Mary. If that is the case, James the Younger is definitely the cousin of Jesus and therefore probably also James the Brother of the Lord, since the term 'brother' here can often cover family members in the same generational cohort. (Some people want to argue that the the Brothers of the Lord were closer relatives than cousins, so it's not quite as certain, but it would be very plausible.) In that case, his other brothers besides Joseph are Simon and Jude. And according to tradition, James the Brother of the Lord was the first bishop of Jerusalem, and traditionally is said to have been succeeded in that see by his brother Simon (or Simeon). He would also, again according to tradition, be the author of the Epistle of James and the brother of the author of the Epistle of Jude. He might also be James the son of Alphaeus, one of the Twelve, in which case he might possibly also be the brother of another of the Twelve, Levi or Matthew.
Or it could turn out to be that any of these Jameses are different Jameses. Historically, the feast of St. James the Less or the Younger has usually been celebrated as if they were the same, so if they are different, then, as someone has noted, we can consider today's feast to be the Feast of St. Philip and the Holy Jameses.
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