Death of James

Brother of Jesus, Leader of the Church of Jerusalem

James the brother of Jesus was not a believer of Jesus as the Son of God until after Jesus was resurrected.  James was a devout man who was also known as James the Just.  Clement of Alexandria and Hegsippus both wrote epithets that refer to James as the Just. He was a devout man who demanded the respect of both Christian and Jewish leaders. 

Once converted, James is believed to have worked, in the early church at Jerusalem, with the Apostle Peter (Cephas).  The Encyclopedia Britannica explains the James the brother of Jesus may have been a natural fill-in for the martyr James of the son of Zebedee (Acts 12:2). James appears in the book of the Acts of the Apostles to have been an influential member of the church Council in Jerusalem.  Paul the Apostle received council from James when he returned to Jerusalem.  Paul lists James and Cephas at pillars of the church in Jerusalem.  Peter also when he had been released from Prison in Acts 12 told them to go and tell James.  Peter’s singling out of James puts an emphases of the importance of James to the church in Jerusalem.  

James died around 62 A.D.  Christian Historians put his death in Jerusalem where he was martyred for his faith in Jesus as the Son of God.  Eusebius, a 4th Century Christian and historian chronicles 3 different sources of the death of James.  Clement of Alexandria, Hegesippus, and Josephus all have a different version of the martyrdom of James.  Hegesippus’ version is the one Eusebius judges as most correct.

  1. AND now Caesar, upon hearing the death of Festus, sent Albinus into Judea, as procurator. But the king deprived Joseph of the high priesthood, and bestowed the succession to that dignity on the son of Ananus, who was also himself called Ananus. Now the report goes that this eldest Ananus proved a most fortunate man; for he had five sons who had all performed the office of a high priest to God, and who had himself enjoyed that dignity a long time formerly, which had never happened to any other of our high priests. 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 sanhedrin 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 sanhedrin without his consent. (24) Whereupon Albinus complied with what they 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. [i]

Tradition holds that James was brought to the temple and confronted on whether he believed that Jesus was the messiah.  James’ stance of belief that Jesus was indeed the Son of God infuriated the Sanhedrin and James was pushed of a high place of the Synagogue and then stoned.  It is reported that James prayed for his attackers in the same way that Jesus did, “Father forgive them, they know not what they do.”  Then his head was caved in by a club. 

James the brother of Jesus had once doubted Jesus as the messiah.  He probably felt at one time that he was crazy and was ashamed to call him his brother.  This James who believed and followed the Law of Moses to the last dash and the last dot of ink had given his life for his belief.  A belief that Jesus is indeed the Son of God who takes away the sins of the world.


[i] “Josephus on James.” Dr. Beth Elise Whitaker, 11 Apr. 2013, pages.uncc.edu/james-tabor/ancient-judaism/josephus-james/.

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