Enigmas in the New Testament

There are mysteries about certain people discussed in the New Testament. Especially enigmatic is the relationship, if any, among three named James, but that's not all. And especially enigmatic is that most Christian scholars aren't concerned with the enigmas at all.

Jesus' Family

The Gospel of Mark is generally accepted as the first and best biography of the adult Jesus. Here is what it says (6:3-4) about his family:
Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary, the brother of James, and Joses [Joseph], and of Juda [Jude], and Simon? and are not his sisters here with us? And they were offended at him. But Jesus, said unto them, A prophet is not without honour, but in his own country, and among his own kin, and in his own house.
(The Douay-Rheims translation spells two names differently, shown above in brackets, than does the King James translation.) Whether and where James' brothers are mentioned again is part of the enigma, but let's note that this is the ONLY mention of Jesus' mother Mary in the entirety of that Gospel. Let me repeat that: Despite that Mother Mary is treated by the Church of Rome as second in Holiness only to the Christ Himself, there is only one mention of Mary in the entirety of the Gospel of Mark! If this doesn't seem remarkable, you don't remark easily! And Joseph, Jesus' father is mentioned even less: ZERO times. (Though Matthew replaces "carpenter" in the verse with "carpenter's son".)

Mary presumably DID outlive her son: In Acts she's shown with her other sons ("and Mary the mother of Jesus, and with his brethren") in attendance at the organizational meeting after the alleged Resurrection.

Incidentally, the "prophet without honour" anecdote would seem to have little didactic value. A mythmaker might prefer to have Jesus' brethren recall the tricks the magician performed as a child. The anecdote probably made its way into Mark ... because it was true. This lends some slight support to the idea that Jesus of Nazareth really existed (though that fact is doubted only by the lunatic Carrier-worshiping cult).

Jesus' Twelve Disciples

Luke names twelve disciples. (Again I show Douay-Rheims rendering in brackets.) These include three pairs of brothers (Simon Peter and Andrew, sons of Jona [John]; John and James, sons of Zebedee; and James and Judas [Jude], sons of Alphaeus [Alpheus]) and six others (Philip, Bartholomew, Matthew, Thomas, Simon Zelotes, and Judas Iscariot the traitor). The other two synoptic Gospels replace Judas (brother of James) with Thaddaeus/Lebbaeus.

But eight of the twelve disciples are not mentioned at all outside the list of disciples' names itself. Not at all. Judas Iscariot is mentioned only in connection with his betrayal, so Simon Peter and the sons of Zebedee (John and James) are the three principle disciples mentioned in the synoptic Gospels. The other disciples resent the special attention given to John and James: "And when the ten heard [that James and John wanted to sit next to Jesus], they began to be much displeased with James and John." Mark 10:41

Where's the enigma? The Gospel of John DOES tell anecdotes about some of the disciples the synoptic Gospels overlook, including Philip, Thomas and Andrew, but does not mention James and John by name at all, even though they are two of the three principle disciples; two of the three to witness the Transfiguration. Not once. Curious?

In one story John Chapter 21, the writer identifies the witnesses to a miracle: "There were together Simon Peter, and Thomas called Didymus, and Nathanael of Cana in Galilee, and the sons of Zebedee, and two other of his disciples." but he still doesn't mention James and John by name, writing only "the sons of Zebedee." (This Gospel frequently mentions Nathanael of Cana, but he is never mentioned anywhere else.) By the way, one of these witnesses -- the one who deduced that the man on the distant shore is their Leader -- had a special status, though the Gospel writer never names him: "And he said unto them, Cast the net on the right side of the ship, and ye shall find. They cast therefore, and now they were not able to draw it for the multitude of fishes. Therefore that disciple whom Jesus loved saith unto Peter, It is the Lord."

The Three Pillars

Paul's visits to Jerusalem are discussed both in Acts and in Galatians. The independent accounts of these visits agree that the early Christian church in Jerusalem had three pillars: Simon/Cephas, John, and James. These are the same names as the three principle disciples in the synoptic Gospels and indeed this is the same Simon Peter and the same John son of Zebedee. But it is a different James. Instead of John's brother, this James is the Lord's brother. Is it a coincidence that he has the same name? And why is the death of the first James barely mentioned at all?

The Lord's Brother(s) were not of the Twelve

In the following I suggest that James the Lord's brother might have been the disciple James ben Alphaeus. BUT there is evidence that Jesus' brothers were never listed with the Twelve, for example 1 Corinthians 15:5-7 where James is separated from "the twelve."
So I've shown why I find some of the New Testament enigmatic. The rest of this page goes into greater detail.

Who was James the Less? James the Just?

The New Testament singles out three early Christians named James. Were they three different men? Out with one James, in walks another James: Coincidence? Or were the writers trying to reconcile conflicting accounts? James the Great (or Greater) and James bin Alphaeus were among the Twelve disciples; and James the Just was the brother of Jesus Christ. But who was James the Less? I conclude this is the same man as James the Just, Jesus' brother. We know James the Less had a brother Joses [rendered Joseph in Douay-Rheims]; the three oldest sons of Mary were Jesus, James and Joses. As we will see the synoptic Gospels refer to Mother Mary cryptically at the time of her oldest son's crucifixion.

I do NOT have answers to these questions; but chose to compile a list of the NT references to all these Jameses.

James, sometimes called "the Just," is mentioned by the important historian Josephus Flavius in his Antiquities of the Jews - Book XX. Thus James can be assumed to be historic.

When therefore [High Priest] Ananus was of this disposition, he thought he had now a proper opportunity [to exercise his authority]. [Procurator] Festus was now dead; and [Procurator] 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. Whereupon Albinus complyed 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 account King Agrippa took the High Priesthood from him, when he had ruled but three months; and made Jesus, the son of Damneus High Priest.
All surviving copies show the "who was called Christ" but some mythicists insist that this was a later interpolation. It is not necessary for the arguments. But two clues suggest that even the Christ mention is authentic Josephus: (1) Christian editors might not add the "called." (2) That James was identified by his brother, not father, suggests the brother's great importance.

Some mythicists assert that mention of James as "the Lord's brother" (in Galatians, see below) is meaningless -- this was a compliment frequently applied to Christians. But in fact, James is the only specific individual to be so designated in the entire Bible. The overall tone of Galatians 1:19 is quite dismissive: not the flattery Paul would be committing if "brother" was metaphoric.

Richard Carrier, leader of the mythicist cult, claims that Jesus ben Damneus, mentioned at the end of the Josephus paragraph shown above, is the James' brother referred to. This is absurd on several obvious grounds.

Although he wrote about 75 years after Josephus, Hegesippus also reports on James the Just:

Hegesippus said that James was holy "from his mother's womb," never drinking wine, eating meat or bathing himself and kneeling in prayer so often "that his knees became hard like those of a camel." He was therefore called "the Just" and, in Greek, Oblias, "Bulwark of the People." ... Following the crucifixion of Jesus, James became leader of the early Christians in Jerusalem. Preaching that Jesus was the Christ, or Messiah, he won many converts, including some from the ruling classes. According to Hegesippus, his preaching alarmed the scribes and Pharisees, who ordered him to stand at the Jerusalem Temple before a large crowd and retract his statements. James went to the top of the Temple, but instead of recanting, he confirmed that Jesus was indeed the Christ. Then, writes Hegesippus,
They [the scribes and the Pharisees] 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 knelt down and said, "I entreat thee, Lord God our Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do." 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.

I've never been particularly religious. But recently I became aware of an enigma in the New Testament. Especially enigmatic are my Google search results: Despite the many millions (billions?) of man-hours that have been spent studying the New Testament, I find no consensus solution to the enigma, nor even acknowledgment that there is an enigma!

The Gospels single out three disciples who were particularly important or prominent: Simon Peter, James and John. Paul the Evangelist singles out three "pillars" of the Christian church in Jerusalem: Simon Peter (though Paul calls him Cephas), James and John. BUT the two Jameses are different people. There is only the tiniest of explicit acknowledgment of the switch from one James to the other.

What gives? Most scholars agree that much of the Gospels are fiction. Are even the three principal disciples fictional? We can assume Paul did indeed meet Cephas, James and John: Did the Gospel writers want to support Paul's account and end up mixing up their Jameses? The scarcity of references to Jesus' family adds to the mystery.

Two of Jesus' twelve disciples were named James: James son of Zebedee and James son of Alphaeus (Alpheus). The former is sometimes called James the Great (though never in the NT). James the Less is mentioned only once in the NT, in Mark); some think thi was the other disciple (James son of Alphaeus) but I conclude it was the same James as is shown as a brother of the Lord Jesus. (Sources insist that "Great/Less" refers to height or age and NOT to importance or actual "greatness.") Others also assume James the Less and James the Just were the same person, but may disagree on details. (I think "Catholic tradition," treats James the Just and James the Less as both names for James ben Alphaeus. I think they treat James as cousin of the Christ, rather than brother.) If James the Just were indeed Jesus' (half-)brother and also James the Less, then Mother Mary had a second husband named Alphaeus. BTW, there is another "Alphaeus" mention in the Bible: Mark 2:14. "And as he passed by, he saw Levi the son of Alphaeus sitting at the receipt of custom, and said unto him, Follow me. And he arose and followed him."

I want to present the essential 1st-century writings with minimal commentary from me. I took the time to search the entire New Testament and find that there are exactly 224 verses in the NT which mention one or more of the names James, John, Mary or Joseph. To this list we will add two verses (19:26-27) from the Gospel of John where Jesus addresses his mother. (I checked two translations: KJV and Douay-Rheims. When translations spelled names differently, I show an alternate in parentheses; Joses/Joseph, John/Jona/Jonas, Judas/Jude/Juda.) These 226 references are found in the Gospels of Mark (35), Matthew (48), Luke (50), John (44), the books of Acts (34), James (1), Jude (1), Revelations (6), and the Epistles to the Hebrews (2), Romans (1), Galatians (3), and 1 Corinthians (1). These 226 verses can be broken down as follows

"Catholic tradition" seems to make Jesus' mother Mary and James the Less/Just's mother Mary to be sisters; this makes "the Lord's brother" his 1st cousin. But was it not unlikely for two sisters to have the same name? And why do the names of one Mary's sons match the other Mary's sons so exactly? (For that matter, why even mention the names of the other Mary's sons except to show this match?)

One final anomaly that may be a big clue. While the synoptic Gospels emphasize Simon, Simon's brother, Judas Iscariot and the two sons of Zebedee (James and John) and never mention the other disciples except once, in the list of disciples; the Gospel of John is completely different. The principal disciples, James and John, are never mentioned by name. Not once. (Unlike the other three Gospels there is no list of disciples.) Thomas, Nathanael, and especially Philip are mentioned several times; and there's even a mention of the other Judas, but the sons of Zebedee are mentioned only once and even then not by name: John 21:2       "There were together Simon Peter, and Thomas called Didymus, and Nathanael of Cana in Galilee, and the sons of Zebedee, and two other of his disciples." Even when he lists James and John, he avoids their names! And he never mentions James the Less at all.

What to make of this? I do not think it is an irrelevant detail to be ignored. At a minimum it gives much support, in my opinion, that the "disciple whom Jesus loved" -- whose name the Gospel also avoids -- was one of the sons of Zebedee.

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