“Then after three years, I went up to Jerusalem to get acquainted with Cephas and stayed with him fifteen days. I saw none of the other apostles—only James, the Lord’s brother.”
The typical reader interprets the above passage as Paul saying he had eye witness of Jesus Christ’s brother, James.
My personal speculation, and one that is not far from a popular consensus, is that Paul was referring to the James who is found in Josephus’s Antiquities xx.1.9. This James, citizen of Jerusalem, benefited from an interpolation which made him the brother of Jesus (this assertion is not critical consensus). According to Josephus, James was a prominent leader in Jerusalem, and was brought in front of the Sanhedrin, or the Jewish trial system, by the high priest Ananus ben Ananus (sometimes called Hanan ben Hanan). Because Ananus called the Sanhedrin without the new governor Albinus present, this trial was illegal.
Albinus had recently been appointed governor (procurator), but was in Egypt while Ananus wielded his version of Sadduccean justice against the prominent local leader, James. After he returned from Egypt, procurator Albinus deposed Ananus and appointed Jesus bar Damneus to the high priest position. One speculation, and one to which I subscribe, is that the reference Josephus makes about James (“and brought before them the brother of Jesus who was called Christ“) was actually originally a statement that James was the brother of Jesus bar Damneus, not Jesus Christ – in other words, Albinus’s appointment of bar Damneus was an effort to publicly spite Ananus ben Ananus for the illegal trial and execution of James, and Albinus’s appointment of Jesus bar Damneus was the ultimate insult to Ananus, who came from a long line of high priests.
There is much to be said about James, in terms of the connection between our Josephus character and the character who gets portrayed in Acts of the Apostles. One speculation proposed by Hans-Joachim Schoeps is that Saint Stephen was actually a reference to this same James in Josephus – James in Acts has a different death than James in Josephus; however, Stephen’s stoning death matches Josephus’s James. Robert Eisenman elaborates on this in several books, including James, the Brother of Jesus.
If the James from Josephus is the same James Paul references in Galatians, then we can date Galatians somewhere in the mid-1st century, as Josephus’s James would have been stoned around 62CE. This date is close to academic consensus; the trouble is, as I have pointed out in various posts, is that relying on such intuition is problematic when parsing 1st and 2nd century Christians.
Several early Christian groups, notably the Carpocratians, believed in reincarnation for those souls who failed to undergo enough experiences in their lives. One of the problems in taking such a chronological, intuitive, and modern approach is that there were probably Carpocratians and Marcionites who believed they were a reincarnation of Paul; the fact that Marcion’s theological centerpiece was the epistle to the Galatians increases this concern, as there were many 2nd, 3rd, and 4th century Paraclete claimants – leaders who claimed they had inherited the Christ Spirit. What we might have in Paul’s letters is simply later writers who claimed to be reincarnations of Paul; the fact that there are so many canonical Pauline forgeries supports this hypothesis (although I admit this is not the most economical of all hypotheses put forward about this forgery problem).
When we traverse Paul’s reference to James, we encounter an oddity: Paul assures his readers that his encounter of James actually happened – ” I assure you before God that I am not lying” (Gal 1:20).
Why should Paul lie about such a parochial detail? If Paul’s letter was addressed to Jerusalem natives, such reassurance might make sense, especially if Paul, as an outsider, was the recipient of Jerusalem scorn; however, Paul’s audience were North-Central Turks! Why should they be suspicious of Paul’s claim that he saw James in passing?
One speculation is that James, even when he was alive, was difficult to access – it is no great leap to assume this. The fact that James’s execution triggered the local Jerusalem community to implore Albinus to hurry back to Jerusalem from Alexandria to punish Ananus supports this presumption. A famous leader would be difficult to access, and Paul would not have accidentally encountered James.
Another speculation is that there were many Christians around the empire who were skeptical of everything Paul said. Again, this is not an unreasonable assumption, especially in light of the tradition that has Paul executing Christians prior to his conversion on the Damascus Road (I consider this tradition, including the relationship between Paul and Saul, entirely bogus). Paul also makes reference to James in another epistle, 1 Cor 15:5-8; he is very specific that Christ appeared to Cephas and “the Twelve”. Then he appeared to 500 “brothers and sisters”, and then he appeared to James. It was only after Christ’s revelation to these hundreds of Christians that Christ finally got around to revealing himself to Paul, the one born of a miscarriage. The combination of 1 Cor 15:5-8 and Gal 1:18-19 fits into Paul’s abstract point that he is “the least of the apostles” (1 Cor 15:9), along with the Marcan tradition (Mark 9:35) that the last shall be first.
Consider again Paul’s claim that his encounter with James was not a lie.
Suppose we read this another way. When Paul mentioned James in 1 Cor 15, he did not explicitly claim James was Jesus’s brother; in fact, this omission in 1 Cor 15:5-8 supports the mythicist position that Paul’s reference to James being “the brother of the lord” was simply another way of saying that James was a baptized Christian – after all, those 500 brothers and sisters could not have been biological siblings of Jesus.
“Men from James” went on to cause trouble for Paul, as they convinced Cephas not to eat with the uncircumcised (Gal 2:11-12). Paul went on to link James and those (presumed) Jerusalem natives who made their way to Antioch – this emigration subsequently had the effect of Judaizing Pauline Christians. But this link Paul makes occurs after he claimed that James was “the brother of the lord”.
Perhaps Paul’s assurance about his honesty was not about his claimed encounter with James; rather, perhaps this statement was in terms of James’s relationship to “the lord”. Much of the presumption about the relationship between James and Jesus relies on Galatians, and the subsequent traditions written in Acts, which consensus has in the late 1st century (I’m inclined to presume Acts was written in the mid-2nd century). But what if Paul’s con was to convince later Christian readers that James was “the brother of the lord”?
It is my conclusion that the most economical presumption, given a host of factors we find in the earliest versions of Christianity, is that these early Christian leaders were Paracletes who claimed to possess the Christ Spirit, and that there was no individual Jesus who matches the Gospel character at all; rather, the Gospel Jesus is a composite of several of these Paracletes and their concocted traditions. Paul was adopting this Paraclete template from James, who was revered in Jerusalem; Paul converting James into Jesus Christ’s brother actually demoted James’s role, because it does not necessarily follow that the brother should receive the Christ spirit; rather, it was the one who bore Jesus Christ’s cross (Gal 6:14) and traveled around the empire proving it, not the celebrity who sat in his ivory tower in Jerusalem.
Last Updated: 20170912