by D. Trull
Sibling rivalry is one of the most influential forces in human development, and its effects can be emphatically seen in those cases of a brother who attains great heights of fame and distinction, and another brother who, well, doesn't. Every shortcoming of the black sheep brother is magnified until he becomes a figure of ridicule or an embarrassment to be ignored. Carter had his Billy, Clinton has his Roger, JFK still has his Teddy, and Jesus had his James.
Yes, that's right: Jesus Christ, possibly regarded as the most famous only child ever begotten in history, may actually have had several brothers. James the Just, who appears briefly in the Bible as an early Christian leader and the first bishop of Jerusalem, is the best documented of Jesus' alleged long-lost siblings.
In addition to the provocative theories about his family ties, there is speculation that James has gone uncredited as the most important figure in the establishment of Christianity after the Crucifixion, playing a more instrumental role than either Peter or Paul. Biblical scholar Robert Eisenman, author of the book James, the Brother of Jesus, characterizes the New Testament's account of James as one of the most successful rewrites of history ever perpetrated.
First, let's take a look at what the Bible does have to say about James. The scriptures make several references to Jesus having brothers, describing James as the oldest of Christ's four younger brothers. That may come as a surprise to most people, mainly because conventional Christian teachings explain that these were not literally brothers, but rather the cousins of Jesus. For that matter, the term "brother" is also imprecise even if they were in fact the sons of Mary and Joseph, since it would seemingly be more accurate to call them Jesus' half-brothers, right?
The Bible explains that all of Jesus' relatives were doubtful towards his ministry and His status as the Messiah while He lived, except for Mary. James did not become a follower of Jesus until after the Crucifixion, when the resurrected Christ appeared to James and convinced him of His holiness. James then dedicated himself as an apostle and spent thirty years as a leading proponent of the fledgling religion in Jerusalem, coming to be known as James the Just. In 62 A.D., James was stoned to death and became a minor martyr to the church.
And that, according to orthodox Christianity, is all there is to James. But revisionist scholars argue that he was of much higher significance than what he has been officially credited with. For starters, they insist that he really was the kid brother of Jesus. The existing records repeatedly describe James as being a rather hirsute individual, suggesting that the hair and the beard might run in the family. The prevalent "just cousins" explanation seems kind of fishy, and could well have been concocted years ago out of squeamishness over the very delicate "Holy Virgin" issue. Hey, once the Blessed Nativity was over and done with, what could be so wrong with an honest married couple deciding to be fruitful and multiply?
Moreover, iconoclasts like Eisenman postulate that James was no incidental supporting character in the history of the church, but was actually one of primary founders of Christianity. Drawing on the Dead Sea Scrolls and other non-canonical texts, Eisenman has concluded that James was the most important person behind shaping Jesus' teachings into a religion. "Jamesian Christianity," to borrow Eisenman's term, was more apocalyptic and less hospitable toward outsiders than the religion we know today. It also involved vegetarianism and the avoidance of consuming blood, which ruled out the ceremony of the Eucharist. But Eisenman says the movement James established set the stage for what would evolve into modern Christianity, and following his stoning, the path was clear for the apostles Peter and Paul to take over as its leaders. Whether the obscuring of the fundamental contributions of James was an accidental omission or a deliberate conspiracy is entirely up for debate.
And putting aside the issue of what this black sheep did or didn't do for the rest of the flock, there remains the more compelling question of his true identity: could James the Just actually have been Jimmy Christ?
Well, not exactly: "Christ" was an honorific term meaning "anointed one," not Jesus' surname. But to be less pedantic: sure, Jesus and James may very well have been brothers. Or maybe they weren't. Like so many other things in this field of study, it's ultimately a matter of faith. In the interests of fair time and good will, here's a song of celebration for the gospel according to James, echoing the ballad of another ugly duckling from Christendom's lore: a outcast named Rudolph.
Well, there's St. Paul and Peter
And St. Luke and St. John,
St. Mark and Matthew
And Judas Iscariot --
But do you recall
The least famous disciple of all?
Jimmy, the bro of Jesus
Had a very hairy beard.
And if you never saw him,
I wouldn't even say that's weird.
All of the Bible scholars
Used to scoff and ignore James.
They never let poor Jimmy
Join in all their dogma games.
Sick of orthodox belief,
Jesus came to say:
"Jimmy, dissing you ain't right --
So what if Mom slept with Joe one night?"
Then how the scholars loved him,
As they shouted out with glee:
"Jimmy, the bro of Jesus,
We'll write you back in history!"
Sources: The Times (London); Alpha Net; The New Grolier Multimedia Encyclopedia, 1993.
© Copyright 1997 ParaScope, Inc.