Skip to comments.Vanity: An argument that James was not Jesus' brother
Posted on 07/22/2004 11:27:00 AM PDT by dangus
I've read various apologetics concerning the assertion that Jesus had brothers.
One Protestant argument is that the word, "first-born" implies that there were others born later. That's simply false, and not worthy of serious consideration. We see the word "first-born" used for only children throughout history; it signifies status as a preferred heir.
The Protestant argument I want to address is that the bible specifically mentions that Jesus had brothers (Mark 6:3: "Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary, the brother of James, and Joses, and of Juda, and Simon? Are not his sisters here with us?")
The Catholic counter-argument is that these are Jesus' cousins. Hebrew culture does not distinguish between brothers and cousins, and even lacks a word for "cousin." Greek does have a word for cousin, but often uses the word "adelphi," the word used in the bible, to refer to cousins.
Protestants are unswayed by this, pointing out that it's odd to use the word to mean male cousins and female cousins separately in the same context. But would it be wierd for a Jew, thinking in Hebrew, to do so? The Greeks have always treated the Bible as if it were written in perfect classical Greek, but isn't it likely that a Greek-speaking Jewish culture would "over-translate" certain words? I remember reading in "Confessions," that in sinful younger years, St. Augustine had contempt for the gospels because they were filled with what he considered poor grammar. It would be such a help for the Catholic argument if it could be asserted that Jesus did, in fact, have cousins with those names.
John 19:25 lists the women at the cross of Jesus as "his [Jesus'] mother, and his mother's sister, Mary the [wife] of Cleophas, and Mary Magdalene."
In other words, you have three "Marys:" Jesus' mother (who I'll call BVM, for "the Blessed Virgin Mary," Mary of Cleophas, and Mary Magdalene. The King James bible actually gets it right with the punctuation: John always puts the word "and" (trans. of "kai") between each item in a list. So, we know that "his mother's sister, Mary the [wife] of Cleophas" is actually one person.
This seems strange. How could a woman named Mary have a sister named Mary? That simply wasn't done! Well, in ancient times, there was no concept of an "in-law." Mary of Cleophas was apparently BVM's sister-in-law.
From the books of Luke, Matthew and Mark, we find that there is again another "Mary" at the resurrection. This Mary is defined as the "mother of James the lesser and of Joses." (Mt 27:56)
James the less also has a brother named Jude, according to Luke 6:16: "and Judas, [the brother] of James." We can't be mixing up Jameses either, because Luke 6:14 pairs the other James up with John. We know the other James is the brother of John. For instance, Matthew 4:21 refers to, "...James [the son] of Zebedee, and John his brother, in a ship with Zebedee their father."
So, we have James, Joses and Judas who are sons of a woman named Mary who is not the mother of Jesus. And we know that we have at the same time a sister-in-law of the mother of Jesus who is also named Mary. But don't we know that James, Joses and Judas are sons of Alphaeus? How could they be sons of Mary, the wife of Cleophas?
Here's where the business of translation gets tricky. The King James bible calls James, "the [son] of Alphaeus." Why the brackets? Because the word, "son" does not appear in the original text. James is simply James of Alphaeus. Judas is simply Judas of James. Mary is simply Mary of Cleophas.
[Actually, that's Mary of "Clopas," in fact. The "e" and the "h" are inventions of the King James Bible. The authors of the King James bible sometimes changed names to distinguish between two people of the same name. For example, Judas the saint became known as Jude, while Judas Iscariot remained Judas. Why change "Clopas" into "Cleophas?" One of the disciples on the road to Emmaus was named Clopas, and there's no reason to doubt he's Mary's husband.]
While we know Clopas is a person, there is a city called Alphaeus in Northern Palestine. It seems odd for Jesus to have in-laws from that far North, but it seems stranger still for a Jew to be given the Greek name of a city. So, the two disciples who are called "[sons] of Alphaeus" are probably simply from Alphaeus.
In any event, we know that one apostle James is James of Alphaeus, and brother of Judas and Joses. We know the other James cannot possibly be the brother of Jesus, because he is the son of Zebedee. And in this case, we know that Zebedee is the name of James' father, because we meet him in Matthew 4:21, fixing the boat.
So, at this point, it seems more than likely that Jesus had cousins named James, Joses and Judas, and that neither James is Jesus' brother.
Not so long ago, newspaper headlines screamed that a New-Testament era ossuary had been found bearing the inscription, "James, son of Joseph, brother of Jesus." The inscriptions later proved to be a fraud, newly scratched on an ancient ossuary. (Didn't anyone check this out BEFORE publishing??? I mean, "Duh!") And the inscription did not say what people claimed it said. It said, "Yacoub [James] of Joses [Joseph] of Yasou [Jesus]." That would imply to me that James was a relative of Joseph, who was the closer relative of Jesus, but I digress. The point is that we had a parade of scholars opining that it was inconcievable, inconcievable that these three names could be mere chance.
Is it possible that Jesus had brothers named James, Joses and Judas, and then went out and found another group of brothers who also had a mother named Mary and who also were named James, Joses and Judas? In addition to disciples named who were also brothers and were also named James and Judas who also had a brother named Joses?
And where were these brothers when Jesus told Mary, "There is THE son of you." And, yes, in the Greek, the article means implies that there are no other sons.
Another odd thoughts: The bible lists five brothers of Jesus, and uses the plural, "sisters." That's seven siblings. When Jesus was twelve, there's no mention of other siblings. Now, here he is at 30, and he's got at least seven? Could "James the elder" have been only 17 when Jesus died?
Later thought: Just to clarify, Mathew 27:56 refers to "Mary the mother of James and Joses, and the mother of Zebedee's children." These are two separate people and not simply a truly bizarre way of expressing one woman's relations. I've established that James and Joses are also Judas' brothers. But the James who is the son of Zebedee is also the brother of John. The bible pairs one James and John as brothers, and in the same list that James and John are mentionned together, calls another James and Judas brothers.
Incidentally, I read in a book (not an apologetic on this subject) where the city of Alphaeus was also known, in Pre-Christian times, as "Clopas." I left that out since I can't source it. But it does suggest that perhaps the evangelists simply associated the two names, considering "Alphaeus" a translation of "Clopas." Anyone know enough Hebrew or Greek to translate either one of those words?
>>During that period of history was the use the words brother and sister also used for friends and acquaintances? It is similar to some members of our society who use the word bro or brother or in the religious sense, brothers and sisters.<<
Very plainly, the word "brother" was used among first-generation Christians to signify that they were all sons of the same Father. For this reason, I didn't address the fact that the author of the epistle of James calls himself the "brother of Christ:" Paul does the same. But to bring that up is to fall into a fault I often find among Protestant apologists: to focus so tightly on the apologetic meaning of the words, that the sense of what the words meant to the characters is lost. Quite apparently, the crowds are asking whether Jesus is the brother of James and the bunch because they are asserting that they knew him as a child, that is, that he did not descend from Heaven. As such, they are asserting a physical relation, not merely a closeness.
I know you meant was that done immediately BEFORE Christ, where as I address the use immediately AFTER Christ. I don't know, and if I did, I'm sure it would be as hotly debated as whether "cousins" refers to "brothers." But I hope I've made my point in aswering.
>>While I understand the desire for Roman Catholic's to prove that Jesus had no biological brothers, I have never got to excited about it. I mean that it isn't something which salvation is hanging on.<<
No, but Protestant apologists keep bringing it up. And a model of perpetual virginity is very important to the Catholic priesthood.
It certainy strikes newspaper editors as important. Can anyone explain to me why an unconfirmed claim about an ossuary was scrawled all the way across every national newpaper of record? I couldn't believe when the scratches proved to be recent. That was the first thing I'd've looked for!
There is a division between Catholics and Greeks on the issue of Jesus' siblings. Greeks assert that the gospel's Greek language is perfect, and therefore assert both that Mary had no children ("THE son of you,") but that Jesus had brothers. Hence, they suppose Joseph had sons by a previous wife. This does fit ancient legends concerning the marriage of Joseph and Mary. (Legend is Joseph was an old man who was ashamed to take practically a mere child -- 13 years old! -- for his wife. Imagine his horror when every-one would've thought he couldn't even wait until their marriage to have relations with her! They must've thought he was a horny old lech!)
While the Catholic Church does not formally denounce this, Joseph is considered by Catholics and in Catholic prayers to be also "ever-virgin."
But you may wish to consider:
A crowd was sitting around Him, and they said to Him, "Behold, Your mother and Your brothers are outside looking for You." Answering them, He said, "Who are My mother and My brothers?" Looking about at those who were sitting around Him, He said, "Behold My mother and My brothers! For whoever does the will of God, he is My brother and sister and mother." Mark 3:32-35
If brothers are cousins what are "sisters"?
St. James is titled "Brother of the Lord" in Orthodox hymnography because alone among Jesus' juridical half-brothers he was willing to share the inheritance from Joseph with Jesus. He also accompanied the Holy Family into exile in Egypt: Orthodox icons of the flight into Egypt show the aged Joseph, the young Virgin Mary carrying the Christ Child, and a youth--St. James.
That Jesus' brothers were not children of the Theotokos and Ever-Virgin Mary is testified to by Christ's entrusting of Mary to the care of St. John: it would have contravened Jewish law and custom to do so had she had other children.
What does the original Greek say?
Since Mary was legally their mother, wouldn't Jesus, by Jewish tradition, entrust her to these siblings, and not to the beloved Apostle John?
Harley, come on... you're pulling a sleight of hand.
But unlike in English, "cousin" can take on a feminine form. So your answer is that "sister" is "adelpha." But you'll notice I did address the condition problemmatic for the Catholic argument that it is unusual for "adelphae" and "adelphi*" to be addressed separately in the same sentence. Were it not for this peculiarity, there would never be any evidence at all that James et al referred to Jesus' brothers and not his cousins. Since there is this peculiarity, it was needed to create an argument to demonstrate that James was in fact a cousin, and not a brother.
(* As I am presently away from my resources, I'm not positive if that is the correct plural of "adelphos.")
Salome is St. Joseph's previous wife!??? Surely, this is not the same Salome who witnesses the resurrection? I presumed the Orthodox would believe St. Joseph to be a widower, not a divorcee!
(And I state that rhetorically, for I am sure you will dispel my false presumption, will you not?)
Wanna ping the horde?
By the way, I saw on another thread, by bizarre coincidence the assertion that Mary of Clopas was not a sister-in-law, but in fact a sister! The discussion was about Mary Magdeleine, and the assertion was made that Mary Magdeliene was sister to Mary, Martha and Lazarus of Bethany. The author asserted that there had been Jewish prophecies shortly before Christ that the Messiah was about to be born to a woman named Mary. As a result, it was not unheard of for believers in this prophecy to name each daughter Mary. This wouldn't affect my theory at all. The bigger problem is that it's hard to picture St. Anne having other children, given the Catholic legends surrounding her.
In the Protoevanglian St. Anne and St. Joachim had other children, atleast one daughter, back in their younger days. IIRC.
Nah! I personally don't think its worth getting our theological dandruff up over except it is interesting to speculate. To me it does not distract from the humility or honor of Mary whether she had other children or not. I was just yanking some chains. :O)
I saw that about the name of Mary too. I always wondered why everyone was always named Mary, John or James in the New Testament. I though it was because of the monogrammed coffee mugs sold at the temple or because it was easier to spell the Zerubabal.
In spite of her very advanced age? O well, after I wrote it I realized that Sarah had other children after Isaac, too.
Mat 1:2 Abraham begot Isaac. And Isaac begot Jacob. And Jacob begot Judas and his brethren. (DRV)
Mat 1:2 Abraham was the father of Isaac, Isaac the father of Jacob, and Jacob the father of Judah and his brothers. (NASB)
In the first context it would make no sense that Judah begat his cousins.
The verse I quoted from Mark is interesting in that the word sister (Greek: adelphe) is included in the text and is the feminine version of "brother" or "brethren". If our Lord Jesus was referring to "cousins" (or "brethren") there is no feminine side to that. Our Lord Jesus also contrasts the two by saying:
Mar 3:35 "For whoever does the will of God, he is My brother and sister and mother."
I can only conclude the reference here should be accurately translated "brothers".