Jesus and James

Back in July, someone asked whether Jesus had
a brother. (( Did Jesus have siblings? ))Cecil’s response quoted the New Testament and mentioned some beliefs of the Catholic Church. Sorry, Cecil, but looking to
standard translations of the Bible or to the Catholic church for historical information is kind of like looking to Aesop’s fables for zoological facts. For one thing, most current biblical translations are from Greek or Latin, which are themselves translations of more ancient languages. Jesus himself spoke Aramaic, which, like ancient Hebrew, is rich in metaphor, lending itself to multiple interpretations of any given phrase. For more on this, see the work of Neil-Douglas Klotz. Beyond the translation problem, we have to remember that the Catholic Church and translators of the Bible were and are, for the most part, more concerned with standardizing belief than with historical truth.
I entered the names Jesus and James into a search engine and found a new site called “Mysteries of the Bible” at and “James the Brother of Jesus” at I also found a ton of commentary on Robert Eisenman’s controversial book by the same name as the latter site. The people responsible for these two sites are scholars who study the Dead Sea Scrolls, which are of course much older and closer to the “original” scriptures than any Greek or Latin translations. The current controversy isn’t even about whether James was really Jesus’ brother; it’s about whether James, and not Jesus, was really the founder of what became Christianity. So I think we’re safe to say they were brothers. It’s not that I have tons of faith in everything I read on the internet, it’s just that I have more faith in the Dead Sea Scrolls than the KJV or church doctrines.

Marianne Potje
Chicago, IL

I have edited in the link to the column – CKDextHavn
[Note: This message has been edited by CKDextHavn]

A couple of minor points:

Most current translations of the New Testament are from the Greek, using any later Latin translations only as commentary to shed light on puzzling Greek phrases. This is because the entire New Testament was written in Greek.
While Jesus spoke Aramaic, no Gospel or Epistle was written in that language–all of those works were written in Greek.
(There is an ancient tradition that Matthew wrote his, originally, in Hebrew (according to Papias), but only a few scholars today support that statement and even if it is true, no example or fragment of Matthew has ever been found in Hebrew or Aramaic.)
Claiming that the New Testament is somehow a corrupted translation of earlier Hebrew or Aramaic texts is without foundation.

I am not sure where you arrived at this idea. I realize that it is popular in some circles to believe that the RCC has some desperate agenda to monopolize the truth, but the documents that the RCC uses to draw their conclusions are open for examination by people of different beliefs. There are quite a few copies of the ancient Gospel texts. Since not all of them are in the possession of the RCC, for the RCC to claim a specific (unsupportable) translation would open them up to immediate challenge by people who had other copies of the texts.
As to the general concept that “translators of the bible” want to standardize belief, you have to remember that those translators come from Catholic, Orthodox, many different Protestant, and several agnostic backgrounds. The idea that all those people would conspire to standardize belief is rather less than plausible.

The Dead Sea Scrolls were first written as much as a hundred years before the birth of Jesus and last written a few years after his death. The early writings are irrelevant regarding statements about Jesus; the later ones are no better than contemporaneous with the Gospels and Epistles. A few texts from Qumran have included passages from a few Old Testament books (notably Isaiah) that have, so far, proven the high quality of the Masoretic texts of the Jewish canon as we know it today.

Anyone who wishes to speculate as to the relationship of Jesus and James (or to concoct theories of who really “founded” Christianity) are welcome to, based on any valid information that they can produce.

Trying to dismiss the current “mainstream” theology or Biblical research based on misunderstandings of which books were written in which languages (and at what times) will not aid in evaluating those speculations.


(The following line was accidentally deleted from my previous post while I restructured its paragraph :slight_smile:

No references to Jesus have been found in any of the Qumran scrolls.

Well Tom, the points you make are certainly more than minor and I appreciate the extent of your knowledge on this topic, which is greater than mine. Neil Douglas-Klotz does say in “Prayers of the Cosmos” (no underline function here) that some scholars still believe that the gospels were written in Aramaic because they were intended for Aramaic-speaking people. Douglas-Klotz lists several sources at the end of his book.
I realize that the Bible has many translators. I was not trying to suggest that all these translators conspired to spread one unified “truth”. I meant that for each particular version we have now, there was a person or group responsible for the final edit, and these individuals or groups had political and moral agendas which affected their translations and their decisions about what to include or leave out. Douglas-Klotz most definitely has an agenda in publishing his translations of the Peshitta and other texts. The difference I see is that he is not a king, he is not part of any official hierarchy; he is someone encouraging readers to explore and experience scripture with open minds.
I didn’t realize that Jesus was never ever mentioned in the Dead Sea Scrolls. My impression was that his appearance was predicted in these texts as some kind of minor player in a drama starring his brother James. I admit I have never actually read the Dead Sea Scrolls. My point was that the scholars who have dedicated their careers to them seem to have no doubts that Jesus and James were brothers. I don’t know how they validate this view.
You mention a popular belief that the RCC is trying to “monopolize truth”. I don’t share this view. I said that I think the church is concerned with standardizing belief, meaning among its members. Obviously people of different faiths believe different things. This is exactly why I don’t think the church, or any church, is a valid source of historical fact, which is what the person who wrote Cecil the question was looking for.
Thank you for your very engaging commentary.

Marianne Potje
Chicago, IL

I’ll back up Tom (as usual) on this. There is no mention of Jesus in the Dead Sea Scrolls. There are a few scrolls that talk of a “Teacher of Light” who will come to oppose the dark forces. When the Scrolls were first discovered, there was considerable excitement that the “Teacher of Light” may have been a predictor of Jesus, but almost all scholars now concur that there is very little overlap between the “Teacher of Light” and early Christian texts. In fact, some of the Dead Sea Scrolls posit TWO Messiahs – one a son of David (a warrior who will drive away the Romans) and one a son of Aaron (a high priest who will restore religious purity.)

The problem with most of these texts is that almost everyone has a hidden agenda – whether to prove/verify or disprove/dispute religious dogma. And the further problem is that the classic languages (whether Hebrew, Aramaic, or Greek) used in the texts tends to be poetic and less specific than our language of 2,000 or more years later.

My one point of minor disagreement with Tom is when he says that “a few texts from Qumran have included passages from a few Old Testament books.” Actually, almost every Old Testament book has been found in Qumran, pretty much identical to the Masoretic texts, with a few exceptions (a few differences in wording.)

Cecil doesn’t actually read these pages, does he? I was really trying to point out that he could have looked a little further before he answered the question. Oh well, it’s been done before for different questions. So why do Eisenman, Sanders and whoever else say that Jesus and James were brothers? Do they know or are they just favoring a particular interpretation? You two are certainly more likely to know than Cecil is.

Marianne Potje
Chicago, IL

But that simply isn’t true. Aramaic was a backwater language of no literary importance, and was spoken chiefly by Palistinian Jews, who mostly turned their backs on Christianity from the start. Greek was the world language, just as English is today. (At the time, the overwhelming majority of Jews were using a Greek translation of their scriptures.) The legend (of which we lack proof) that Matthew was first written in Aramaic is telling, here, because it is the only one of the Gospels that is aimed at Jews.

I fear that Mr. Douglas-Klotz may mean, when he says “some scholars”, “the other loonies like me”. It is not uncommon.

There are plenty of biblical translations available. Read them yourself. You will find very few differences in translation influenced by present-day doctrinal questions – indeed, you probably won’t recognize them when you find them. And the good ones will annotate where there are actual questions about the underlying text.

…which any Biblical scholar worth his salt is familiar with.

King James had nothing to do with the “King James” Bible (an American name, and given long after the fact) beyond responding to an official complaint from clergymen that the old English translations needed to be polished up and brought up to date.

Look, the general rule is, when you see a book about “startling new revelations about the Bible”, it means “irresponsible garbage for the National Enquirer crowd”. In general, when someone claiming to be a scholar writes a book for the general public before writing for the experts, it means either that he’s a loony who’s tired of being shot down by the people who can see through him, or that he’s deliberately writing junk to fleece the suckers. This applies equally well to new theories about evolution, and that never-failing well of nonsense, the “Who wrote Shakespeare?” “question”.

That’s what the Church does, unfortunately, when it’s screwing up. But it is not what the Church does when it’s doing its right job.

And if you are writing a history of the United States 1,000 years from now, will you systematically reject everything found in the National Archives?

John W. Kennedy
“Compact is becoming contract; man only earns and pays.”
– Charles Williams

Cece’s reply was specific to the question (rephrased by me) “Why does the RCC talk about Mary, ever virgin, when there are references to His brothers and sisters in the Gospels?”

His answer, that the RCC holds out the “ever virgin” idea and looks to the use of Greek adelphoi to handle Aramaic constructions refering to cousins is pretty much the RCC answer, closing the actual question posed. (In a mild defense of the RCC, such a use of “brothers” can be found in Aramaic–although I have no idea how prevalent that usage was.)

The questions you raise come from other sources. In the Acts of the Apostles, James (with the title(?) “Brother of the Lord”) is identified as the leader of the Christian community in Jerusalem, and that idea is supported by references to him by Paul in the letter to the Galatians. My question mark next to “title,” above, reflects the conjecture by some that while a James is mentioned in the Gospels, there is no specific identification that the two are the same. Scholars that hold that position assert that “brother of the Lord” was simply a title bestowed on James, the leader of the Church. (This, of course, would be an idea that RCC interpretation would embrace, alleviating the need to reconcile “ever virgin” with “sibling of Jesus.”)

Reactions against the “title” idea are the general background for the works you have cited.

I, personally, find the whole discussion to be mildly interesting, but not exciting enough to pursue. We simply don’t have a verse in Scripture (or even among the Patristics) that says “James, while ordering the affairs of the church, often recalled his childhood with Jesus.” Failing that sort of document, the best that champions of any theory can do is lay out all the best inferences and deductions for their version, throw stones at the other version, and hope that their version is stone proof.

Regarding Dex’s response: I have simply been away from the Qumran Scrolls for far too long and was unaware of the extent of the Jewish canon that had been found. My point was basically to show that where Scripture is found among those Scrolls, it very strongly supports the critical reconstruction attempted by the Masoretes, confirming the quality of their efforts.


No prob, Tom. You and I are usually pretty much in agreement on this stuff (except, of course, when it comes to the religious interpretation thereof, he said with a grin) … every once in a while you catch me on a detail, and far more rarely I catch you.

So Cecil’s inconclusive response was the best we could hope for anyway. Thanks.

Basically, Yes.
There really are not a lot of documents from the first century that describe early Christianity. Using knowledge of the general history of the times plus commentaries from early (late first through late third century) Christian writers, and comparing some thoughts to Jewish and, occasionally, pagan writers of the same period, many people have built up a lot of beliefs regarding the origins of Christianity.

The paucity of actual documents to support many of the claims or beliefs of the early Christians is a point seized upon by those who do not profess Christianity (which leads some Christians to make louder claims that are not based on evidence–sort of like whistling past the graveyard).

It can be interesting to speculate on what really happened, and it certainly provides a source of income to folks like Klotz and Eisenman.

I have not found “radical reinterpretations” productive in the past, and generally do not follow new ones for that reason. This is not to say that Klotz and Eisenman have not, in fact, produced new interpretations that should be seriously considered. I, however, do not generally leap to investigate each new claim, simply because new claims have become a cottage industry in the last 70 years and I will generally wait until a new discovery has survived a while before I chase it down.


John W. Kennedy writes:

This may give a false impression.
Aramaic was in fact the lingua franca of the East, supplanted in this role by Arabic only after the Muslim conquest. It was certainly the native tongue of most, if not all, of the people of Syria-Palestine and of Mesopotamia (roughly, modern Iraq), had been the literary language of the Achaemenidae (the Persian dynasty that ruled 559 - 330 BCE), and would again be the literary language of the Sassanidae (ruled Iran 226 - 642 CE).
Koine Greek was certainly the learned language of the Roman Empire, and Greek the native tongue of Greece, Asia Minor, southern Italy, and bits and pieces here and there. Despite Luke’s hyperbole, however, the Roman Empire was notsynonymous with the world, and the educated inhabitants of the Empire knew that very well (for the average peasant, “the world” probably meant his village, and maybe the market town ten miles away). With Greek and Aramaic, one could undoubtedly make oneself understood from the mouth of the Adriatic to the Hindu Kush (Latin probably extended this range, at least from the second century CE, to the Pillars of Hercules and the Firth of Clyde).
As for the Jews of Palestinian, many were undoubtedly bilingual or even trilingual or quadrilingual. What their milk tongues might have been is another story. Aramaic is overwhelmingly probable, but we do have references to Hebrew being used as a mother tongue down to the eve of the Arab conquest. Greek was probably rare as a mother tongue in Palestine (although common in Egypt), and, if any Palestinian Jew was ever reared speaking Latin, it could only have been by accident. But, given a text in any one of those four languages, he probably could read it (Latin being the least likely of the four).

“Kings die, and leave their crowns to their sons. Shmuel HaKatan took all the treasures in the world, and went away.”

For the point of view of someone who’s done
an awful lot of legwork on the
Jesus-James-brotherhood bit, y’awl might
want to check out The Messianic Legacy by
Baigent et al (sorry I dont have any more
detailed bibliographic info to hand). This
book has been around since the early-to-mid
eighties, so I guess it cant exactly qualify
as a crackpot flash-in-the-pan (whatever
other kind of crackpot whatever you may call
it :slight_smile: ). It is impressive for the breadth
of their research base, if nothing else.
The authors touch on the
David-Messiah/Aaron-Messiah bit in relation
to Jesus and family, as well as a possible
schism between a Jacobean Christianity and a
Pauline Christianity, with a wishy-washy
Peter in the middle. They also (couldnt you
just see this coming?) discuss evidence for
the legend that Mary Magdalene was Jesus’
wife and the mother of his daughter Sarah.

Im not trying to say the book holds The
Truth, or even to say I agree with all of
it, but if youre seriously interested in the
topic of Jesus and possible siblings and
other family connections, it really ought to
be on your reading list.

Kara’s Bizarre Movie Quote for the Day:
“And if you take cranberries and stew them like applesauce, they taste much more like prunes than rhubarb does.”