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THE DEATH OF JAMES

Another name by which James became known other than "James the Just" was "James of Jerusalem." Apparently, James never lived anywhere else subsequent to Jesus' death. While the other apostles became traveling missionaries, James remained the settled overseer of the Jerusalem Church -- and indeed of the entire Christian community -- until his death, which can be reliably dated to the year A.D. 62 in Jerusalem. Unlike the martyrdoms of the other apostles for which we largely have only legendary accounts, we have quite a bit of reliable information as to how James was martyred, thanks to the well-known Jewish historian, Josephus. Here is the tragic story of how James met his death because of the vengeful plotting of a new high priest, Ananus, who, interestingly, was a relative of Caiaphas, the high priest who tried Jesus. This intriguing story is told in Josephus's acclaimed history, the Antiquities of the Jews: 

"Upon learning of the death of Festus [the Roman governor of Judea], Caesar sent Albinus to Judea as procurator. The king removed Joseph from the high prieshtood, and betowed the succession to this office upon the son of Ananus, who was likewise called Ananus . . . The younger Ananus . . . was rash in his temper and unusually daring. He followed the school of the Sadducees. Ananus thought that he had a favorable opportunity because Festus was dead and Albinus was still on the way. And so he convened the judges of the Sanhedrin and brought before them a man named James, the brother of Jesus who was called the Christ, and certain others. He accused them of having transgressed the law and delivered them up to be stoned. Those of the inhabitants of the city who were considered the most fair-minded and who were in strict observance of the law [the Pharisees] were offended at this. They therefore secretly sent to King Agrippa urging him . . . to order [Ananus] to desist from any further such actions . . . King Agrippa . . . deposed him from the high priesthood which he had held for three months and replaced him."


This account is remarkable in many ways. It provides solid evidence not only of the circumstances of James's death, but also gives us solid evidence to conclude that James was in fact a Pharisee! Here I will quote the insightful analysis of Josephus's report from the highly acclaimed New Testament scholar, John Dominic Crossan:

"Josephus tell us that Ananus was a Sadducee, but he was much more than that. His father, Ananus the Elder, was high priest from 6 to 15 C.E., and is known to us from the gospels as Annas. The elder Ananus was father-in-law of Joseph Caiaphas, High Priest from 18 to 36 C.E., a figure also known to us from the gospels [the high priest who tried Jesus]. He was futhermore the father of five other High Priests . . . The immediate family of Ananus the Elder had dominated the high priesthood for most of the preceding decades, with eight high priests in sixty years, yet the execution of James resulted in the deposition of Ananus the Younger after only three months in office. An abstract illegality could hardly have obtained such a reaction, so James must have had powerful, important, and even politically organized friends in Jerusalem. Who were they? Josephus' phrase "inhabitants . . . who were in strict observance of the law" probably means Pharisees. Was James A Pharisee? . . . we need to think much more about James and how he reached such status among Jewish circles that, on the one hand, he had to be executed by a Sadducee and that, on the other, his death could could cause a High Priest to be deposed after only three months in office." [Jesus: A Revolutuionary Biography, pp. 134-136, italics mine.]

It is almost certain that James's body would have been prepared and buried in a tomb according to Jewish custom to wait for the flesh to decay, after which the bones would have been placed in a burial box, known as an ossuary. Incredibly, an ossuary was recently discovered that bears the fascinating inscription: "James, son of Joseph, brother of Jesus." The controversy over this discovery has been as tendentious as the debate over James himself. See: The Ossuary Controversy