2011-04-25

“Brother of the Lord” – Doherty versus McGrath

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by Neil Godfrey

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I am copying a comment by Earl Doherty here as a post in its own right. Doherty apparently attempted to post it on McGrath’s blog in response to McGrath’s post, James the Brother of the Lord and Mythicism, but was confronted with word-length issues. James was responding to Earl’s Menu Entree #3 in his Antidotes post.

For ease of referencing I copy James McGrath’s post below, followed by Earl Doherty’s response:

Neil Godfrey has posted a “response” from Earl Doherty that nicely illustrates, as usual, why mythicism is not taken seriously by most people, but more importantly pretty much anyone with actual expertise in history and a genuine interest in applying historical methods to learn about the past.

The post is in fact intended to provide an “antidote” some brief responses to mythicist claims that I offered in a post a while back. My own view is that it fails miserably, but I am not exactly an impartial observer. But since brief responses are only persuasive if one is familiar with the wealth of evidence behind them, presumably it may be useful for me to say a little more. Rather than trying to say something about each of Doherty’s points, let me focus on one in this post: how he, as a mythicist, treats the references by Paul to “James the brother of the Lord.”

In my post, I emphasized the importance of context. I perhaps should also have mentioned the importance of attention to detail. The suggestion that mythicists sometimes offer – that Paul’s reference to James as “brother of the Lord” uses “brother” in a non-literal sense – is not inherently implausible. The Synoptic Gospels, and Matthew’s Gospel in particular, offer lots of statements attributed to Jesus which make a wide array of people his “brothers.” Acts refers to Christians as “the brothers” on numerous occasions, and Paul in his letters does the same.

But that is precisely why most interpreters believe that Paul is using brother in a literal sense in Galatians 1:19. If all Christians were Jesus’ brothers, then singling out James using this phrase makes no sense. And if all Christians were Jesus’ brothers, then using the same term to denote a special category of leader makes no sense. And so we are left with one far more obvious option – one that is in fact encouraged by those same Gospels that also provide evidence of that wider usage: that James was the brother of Jesus in the most mundane and literal sense of those words.

Mythicists, like most critics of mainstream science and history, seem to think that if one can merely make a case that their interpretation is not impossible, then there is no reason to not adopt their conclusions rather than those of mainstream scholarship. And that was the point in my earlier post’s mention of “James the brother of the Lord” – the phrase could in theory mean any number of things. But actual attention to the evidence makes one meaning more likely than the others – and that even without considering the later history of who James was thought to be and how these references to him were understood.

It is precisely this sort of attention to detail and concern for plausibility and likelihood that mythicism lacks. And like Intelligent Design and other forms of pseudoscience, it makes appeals to the general public rather than trying to make a case in serious professional publications, showing that its claims and arguments can pass the first basic hurdle of peer review. It might still be found unpersuasive when subjected to the critical scrutiny of experts. But at least it would be clear that it is something that is felt to at least contribute to the academic conversation. Mythicism isn’t even there yet, and as with most pseudoscientific and pseudohistorical ideas, it doesn’t seem like its proponents are even trying yet.

Most of the post by Doherty is him saying that an “unbiased” observer would reach mythicist conclusions or at least take mythicism more seriously than is currently the case. What this illustrates is that mythicists are as prone to think that they are unbiased and their opponents are biased as everyone else is. We all like to think that it is simply bias that prevents others from seeing that we are right – and sometimes that is the case, and sometimes it is the reverse. That’s why we need mainstream historical scholarship, with the checks and balances provided to individual and group bias by the presence of scholars who are atheists or agnostics or represent a wide spectrum of different religious traditions, not to mention different institutional, national and local contexts. Many in the guild would love to be able to say something controversial enough to get a book deal with Harper Collins and supplement their meager educator’s income. Yet such experts consistently reach a different conclusion than mythicists even so. And the example of the “brother of the Lord” illustrates why. The division is not between the biased and the unbiased. The division is between those intimately familiar with the relevant methods and the relevant evidence and concerned to do justice to them, and those who are not.

Posted by James F. McGrath

Earl Doherty responds:

OK, let’s boil down Jim McGrath’s argument against my “brother of the Lord” comments and see what it entails:

(1) Referring to James as ‘the brother of the Lord’ when all sorts of people in the NT, Gospels and epistles are referred to as ‘brothers’ in the sense of fellow-believers, “makes no sense.” Presumably, if everyone is treated as a ‘brother’ in the sense of religious brethren, why use the phrase of James? Would it not be redundant and unnecessary?

(2) If other fellow-believers could be considered brothers of the Lord, how could the same phrase be understood as signifying a leader’s role for James?

(3) Therefore, the ambiguous phrase must have its other meaning, that of ‘sibling.’ This is the deductive process by which historicists judge Galatians 1:19’s meaning.

Because McGrath (seconded by his fellow historicists) regards the above reasoning as air-tight and conclusive, this is supposed to prove they are justified in automatically dismissing mythicists as inattentive to detail, having no concern for plausibility and a case amounting to “pseudoscience.” They can contribute nothing to “academic conversation.” Well, that’s an awful lot to claim on the basis of the very meager and hardly exhaustive argument made above. But this is typical of historicists, who have always thought that there can be nothing to the mythicist case, and thus the least amount of effort will topple it over. McGrath appeals to “the division between those intimately familiar with the relevant methods and the relevant evidence and concerned to do justice to them, and those who are not,” as though the reasoning above regarding “brother of the Lord” is a good example of those methods and treatment of evidence. It is anything but.

First of all, I do not regard the phrase in Galatians 1:19 as necessarily meant to signify that James is the leader of the Jerusalem group, as though some special emphasis on him is entailed in the use of the definite article “the brother…” (I rather think it is not so meant.) But neither can historicists claim that this supposed emphasis points toward an exclusive status for James as “the sibling” on the basis that other “brethren” did not enjoy that status. (I’m not sure if McGrath has such an argument in mind, he does not spell it out.)

Well, the definite article as signifying emphasis or exclusivity does not work in either case. I point out in Jesus: Neither God Nor Man (p.61-2), that the inclusion of the definite article does not have to mean that Paul is intending a stress or special status for James. “James” and “brother” are in grammatical apposition. In such a structure, Greek linguistic practice generally inserts a definite article between them, even if all that was meant was “a brother of the Lord” (Greek has no indefinite article to convey that). In Greek, and especially Koine, this rule may not always be followed, but when it is we are given no necessary intention of stress. One of many examples is 1 Cor. 16:12 where Paul refers to “Apollos (the) brother” (Apollō tou adelphou), which hardly singles him out as some kind of special or exclusive brother, and certainly not a sibling; most translations render it “our brother Apollos.”

So all we really need to prick McGrath’s confident ‘air-tight’ bubble is to argue that there could be a feasible situation in which Paul would feel it necessary or desirable to point out that James was “a brother of the Lord” in the sense of a member of the sect, so that it would not be redundant or “make no sense.” We don’t have to conclusively identify what that situation was; the evidence doesn’t supply one. But if we can reasonably speculate, that’s all that is needed. I suggested in JNGNM:

“Earlier (Paul) has referred to Peter without identifying him in the same way. Perhaps Paul’s readers [in Corinth] were more familiar with Peter than with James. Perhaps there was another James attached to the Jerusalem circle who was not a member of the original sect known by the name…”

I’ll break in here to point out that it is quite feasible that the Jerusalem group, when formed, called itself “brothers of the Lord” (with “Lord” maybe even referring to God), and that it is members of that original core group—to which other apostles (like Paul, and perhaps even Peter) have subsequently associated themselves—who are referred to in 1 Cor. 9:5.

In JNGNM I then offered this analogy (Note 28):

“If I was involved in the Teamsters Union and had contacts with its Head Office, and I wrote a letter to someone detailing my visit to that group, I might refer at one point to the Teamsters members in general, and at another point mention I had lunch with Joe, and also met Frank, a Teamsters member, later that day. The person I’m writing to knows Joe and that he is a member, but needs to have it pointed out that Frank is also a Teamsters member. Paul’s language would not have had the luxury of an indefinite article, and if he were writing such a letter he could, following a common grammatical practice, have inserted the definite article between “Frank” and “Teamsters member” no matter what he was or was not implying.”

So when we give the matter more in-depth thought than McGrath has deigned to give it, we see that it is quite conceivable that Paul’s phrase, with “brother” having the meaning of “brethren,” could indeed “make sense.” Speculation, yes, although speculation is rife throughout established biblical academia. The question is, to what extent may we judge feasibility for such speculation? Surely by weighing other aspects of the text and wider evidence which would tend to argue against sibling-hood for James and thus make it more likely that “brother of the Lord” did indeed mean fellow-believer (just as the vast number of appearances of adelphos in the epistles does).

I’m sure it was noticed that McGrath did not address my point that the letters attributed to James and Jude made no such sibling association with Jesus for their authors. He also failed to consider, if Paul recognized James as Jesus’ sibling, why James was accorded, on the basis of that sibling relationship, no authority in the disagreements he had with Paul and his views on the Law, or why Paul would not have had to justify why he did not so accord; or how Paul could ever have said, as he does only a few verses later in Galatians (2:6), that the pillars in Jerusalem had no importance, that God did not recognize any special status for them (not even James as a sibling of His own divine Son, apparently). We could also wonder how it could be that if James was a sibling of a Jesus who actually existed, why teachings had not been accorded to the latter as they are in the Gospels (see Mark 7) making all foods clean, something Paul could have thrown into the debate pot in the argument over eating with gentiles in Gal. 2:11-14. And of course, there is the question of why the entire body of non-Gospel first-century documents of Christianity as a whole, not just James and Jude, never back up Galatians 1:19 by referring to James or anyone else at all as having been a sibling of Jesus on earth.

Clearly, the counter-argument put forward by McGrath suffers from an almost embarrassing superficiality and short-sightedness, dealing neither with most of the mythicist arguments surrounding the interpretation of this verse, nor even recognizing the depth of the question. Should that not warrant an accusation against historicists of inattention to detail and lack of concern for plausibility? Has McGrath’s argument really contributed anything substantial to the “scholarly conversation” over this passage? It certainly makes the “relevant methods” of professional scholarship he touts seem to be sorely lacking.

Earl Doherty

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  • Steven Carr
    2011-04-25 17:22:38 UTC - 17:22 | Permalink

    ‘And of course, there is the question of why the entire body of non-Gospel first-century documents of Christianity as a whole, not just James and Jude, never back up Galatians 1:19 by referring to James or anyone else at all as having been a sibling of Jesus on earth.’

    In fact Luke/Act and John although happy with the idea of Jesus having brothers never name any James as being a brother of Jesus.

  • 2011-04-25 19:59:08 UTC - 19:59 | Permalink

    The reason I do not slap my head and say “Doh, I forgot that Jesus had a brother known to Paul!” is because (1) if Galatians 1:19 is indisputable evidence that Paul did know Jesus had a sibling then many very difficult questions arise about Paul’s concept of Jesus elsewhere in his letters; and (2) I am very conscious of the need to attend to detail and context far more than Dr McGrath appears to be.

    But the above two points do not, for me, preclude the possibility that Galatians 1:19 was originally intended to mean that James was the blood brother of Jesus. It may have been intended to mean exactly that.

    “N.T. Wrong” recently commented on this blog that detailed work is sometimes necessary to establish certain conclusions in biblical studies, and I am quite sure he/she did not mean by that to delve into abstruse rationalizations.

    I suggest therefore that any conclusion — or rationale for failing to come to a final conclusion — needs to consider the following:

    (1) the textual anomalies relating to personal names elsewhere in Galatians (e.g. the curious apparent labeling of one person by two different names within a few verses — Peter and Cephas) and what this suggests about the integrity of the text known to us;

    (2) the above point should also consider that phrase about Paul’s own handwriting and how a similar phrase in another letter is widely understood as a mark of a forger (thanks, Evan, for this one);

    (3) any potential relevance of James being called a brother of “the Lord” rather than a brother of “Jesus”;

    (4) other NT references (and silences) re this sibling relationship and others;

    (5) the theological (including parabolic; ironical) context in which Mark introduces the notions of spiritual and physical relationships to Jesus, as well as the overall context of puns and significant name meanings throughout Mark;

    (6) the chronological trajectories from Paul’s letter to the Galatians, other NT epistles and the canonical gospels along with their theological agendas;

    (7) the date and provenance of the earliest external witness to (a) Galatians and (b) this passage in Galatians, as well as the interests and record (or lack of record) of earliest church fathers to the tradition of James;

    (8) other traditions about James and his relationship — spiritual and/or physical — to Jesus in other early Christian texts, as well as similar relationships of other disciples such as Thomas (the twin), and the spiritual (not familial) centrality of James in the Gospel of Thomas;

    (9) the prevalence of marginal glosses in early manuscripts, and the time lapse from the time Galatians was first written to the time of our ealiest evidence of the Galatians 1:19 passage, and potential motives and background for such a gloss;

    (10) the complexities of the relationship between Paul’s Christological discussions and refrences and a sibling interpretation of Galatians 1:19.

    The mythicist-historicist debate is not a simplistic matter of spit-balling proof-texts at each other. It is not a black and white question to be settled through rote repetition of just one side of the question without serious engagement with one’s interlocutor.

  • vorpal
    2011-04-26 00:36:35 UTC - 00:36 | Permalink

    “brother of the Lord” obviously means a part of a fellowship. If it were otherwise, there would be some reference to being born of the same mother or some other clarification.

    McGrath, do you think that “House of David” means a 1200 sq ft. flat in the middle of Jerusalem with “DaWiD” tacked on the front porch?

    When somebody tells McGrath that a girl is “all legs”, does he think “man, that’s sad, a woman without a torso or a head.”

    When a student says he “nailed” a test, does McGrath think this is a reference to Jesus on the cross?

    • Mike Wilson
      2011-04-26 04:04:31 UTC - 04:04 | Permalink

      Vorpal, when some one says they are going to their house, do you wonder if they are visiting there family? When someone says they nailed some boards together, do you think that means they put boards together easily? If you have ever had any human conversations, you may note that people often refer to people as being brothers without some reference to being born of the same mother, because intelligent people tend to assume that because that would be normal.

      • vorpal
        2011-04-26 23:46:13 UTC - 23:46 | Permalink

        Mike, give me a break. Jesus having a brother would be a big deal. This isn’t akin to you or I having a house. This isn’t like “BTW: Jesus had a bro”, like you or I would casually mention “BTW: he’s my brother” and let the ambiguity stand because it is of no consequence.

        Moreover, the Bible is filled with metaphorical speech, and the term “brother” is on the top 10 list of metaphors.

        This discussion is so pathetic. I can’t believe Butler U. lets its undergraduate program become devalued with this sort of publicity that Dr. McGrath flaunts.

        • 2011-04-27 01:07:29 UTC - 01:07 | Permalink

          “BTW: he’s my brother”…

          The forger pretending to be Jude seems to think his main claim to fame is the fact that he’s James’ brother. “Hi, I’m Jude. You might have heard of my brother, (wait for it…..) James!”

  • John
    2011-04-26 03:40:30 UTC - 03:40 | Permalink

    Earl,

    You bring up some interesting questions, and for the sake of space I have selected some of them to comment on.

    1. In the reader feedback section of your Jesus Puzzle website, you responded to Brendan about his “brothers of the Lord” question:

    “This would strengthen the interpretation that Paul’s reference in Galatians to James as “the brother of the Lord” (if it is not simply a marginal gloss by a later scribe that got inserted into the text) was in the nature of a title, referring to him not only as part of that core group but almost certainly as its leader and possible originator.”

    And in your post to Neil’s blog you wrote:

    “First of all, I don’t regard the phrase in Galatians 1:19 as necessarily meant to signify that James is the leader of the Jerusalem group, as though some special emphasis on him is entailed in the use of the definite article “the brother…” (I rather think it is not so meant.)”

    Am I misunderstanding your comment to Brendan, or have you changed your mind about this?

    2. “Perhaps there was another James attached to the Jerusalem circle who was not a member of the original sect known by the name…”

    Do you think that Paul’s apostle “James, the brother of the Lord” in Gal. 1:19 is the same as the “pillar” in 2:9 and the one who sent “certain men” to Antioch in 2:12, and the one who is said to have received a resurrection appearance in 1 Cor 15:7? If so, what makes you suspect that Paul (or any “non-Gospel first century documents of Christianity”) might know anyone else named James?

    3. “[I]t is quite feasible that the Jerusalem group, when formed, called itself “brothers of the Lord (with “Lord” maybe even referring to God) …”

    Perhaps. But in the vast majority of instances that Paul uses the word “Lord” in his letters, he refers to Jesus. And when he does use it to refer to God, he sometimes is only citing the Old Testament, like in Romans 9:28. In Galatians, he uses the word “Lord” five times, three of which refer to Jesus (1:3, 6:14 and 6:18), one may refer to God (5:10), and the other one is the “brother of the Lord” reference. In 1:3, he uses “Lord” to distinguish Jesus from “God (theos) the Father,” as he also does in Romans 1:7, 1 Cor. 1:3, 2 Cor. 1:3, Php. 1:2 and 1 Thes. 1:3. In his other letters, the ratio of “Lord” = Jesus to “Lord” = God seems to be even higher. So is it not fair to suppose that Paul means “Jesus” when he says that James is “the brother of the Lord,” like James understands “Lord” when he calls himself “a servant of God (theos) and the Lord Jesus Christ” (Ja. 1:1)?

    4. “… James and Jude made no such sibling association with Jesus for their authors.”

    True. And I admit that I don’t know why that is. Maybe it’s because Jesus was a myth, so why would they mention it, as you suggest. Perhaps we could compare their relationship to the Kennedy brothers, John and Robert. I suppose that when Robert sent out messages as an Attorney General, they might have said something like, “I, Robert Kennedy, Attorney General for President John Kennedy, send you this message.” Though they are brothers, in an official capacity only one of them was “the President,” and the “brother” relationship was immaterial. I’m not going to seriously suggest that this was the case with James and Jude. I’m just speculating, like you are, right?

    5. “[I]f Paul recognized James as Jesus’ sibling, why [was] James accorded … no authority in the disagreements he had with Paul and his views on the Law, or why Paul would not have had to justify why he did not so accord; or how Paul could ever have said, as he does only a few verses later in Galatians (2:6), that the pillars in Jerusalem had no importance, that God did not recognize any special status for them…”

    Probably because Paul did not like that James saw things differently than he did, as illustrated by the Antioch shunning incident in Galatians 2:11-21, in which “before certain men came from James, [Cephas] ate with the gentiles; but when they came he drew back and separated himself, fearing the circumcision party. And with him the rest of the Jews acted insincerely, so that even Barnabas was carried away by their insincerity.”

    This was because Paul’s gospel was “not man’s gospel. For I did not receive it from man, nor was I taught it, but it came through a revelation of Jesus Christ” (1:11-12). He didn’t have any respect for any “man’s gospel,” whether it was James’ or anyone else’s.

    I know that your questions were intended for McGrath, whom I have no affiliation with and only “know” through this blog, but I thought I would try to answer some of your questions since you have posted them here.

  • 2011-04-26 05:14:14 UTC - 05:14 | Permalink

    Both of my parents had a brother named John and my mother’s sister married a man named John giving me and my siblings three “Uncle Johns.” To distinguish them, we called them “Uncle John Bourbon,” “Uncle John Martini,” and “Uncle John Vodka.” While I remember the first two Uncle Johns consuming copious amounts of Bourbon and Martinis respectively, I have no recollection of seeing the the third Uncle John drink anything more than an occasional glass of wine. I am told that he was more of a drinker in his younger days, but he was no longer by the time I was old enough to remember. However, since “Bourbon” and “Martini” were such perfectly appropriate nicknames for the other two, he was saddled with “Vodka.”

    With all the “Jameses” floating around in the early church, I think I have to allow for the possibility that a designation like “the Lesser,” “the Greater,” “the Just,” or “the Brother of the Lord” may have been driven primarily by the need to differentiate between people of the same name while having little to do with actual characteristics that distinguished one from another.

  • Josh G.
    2011-04-26 06:26:24 UTC - 06:26 | Permalink

    To me, the strongest argument for taking “brother” literally in Galatians 1:19 is that Paul didn’t seem to have that high a regard for James. After all, the entire section is about Paul arguing with the Jerusalem church (probably led by James) over whether circumcision and Torah are necessary for Gentile converts. Based on his other writings, I don’t see Paul as the kind of person who would apply an honorific of this sort to one of his adversaries – so it’s more likely he meant this as a literal description. And the tradition that James was the physical, flesh-and-blood brother of Jesus seems to go back very far, and appears in multiple early sources. There is good reason to believe that James was in fact the successor of Jesus in the leadership of the earliest Jerusalem church, which would correspond with what Paul says in Galatians.

    • 2011-04-26 11:53:36 UTC - 11:53 | Permalink

      There’s something odd about the early evidence for James that does not sit easily with such “obvious” interpretations. It appears that there was an early view that Jerusalem fell because of the martyrdom of James, and not because of the crucifixion of Jesus. (Have discussed this at various times here, here, and here.)

      There was a later effort to replace that early interpretation of James’ death as pivotal to Jerusalem’s fall with Jesus’ death. The synoptic gospels appear to be part of that later attempt to replace that early view.

      There was a time when James had a more important place than Jesus in explaining the fall of Jerusalem, or the end of the age.

      I suggest that this “tradition” and the subsequent insertion of Jesus into the role of James makes more sense if Jesus was a latecomer as a historical actor and whose martyrdom could thus be linked (by the proverbial 40 years) to the fall of Jerusalem.

      Till then, there was a view that James was important enough (even a “brother of The LORD”) to have blood capable of bringing about the end of the entire Mosaic order.

      Paul was not particularly impressed with such bigness, however, and later author of canonical writings (the gospels, Acts) even sought to remove James completely from that position.

      P.S.
      Note also the struggles among extra-canonical writings to come to some agreement on how the blood of the historical Jesus could be linked with the fall of Jerusalem: Justin Martyr has the Romans sweeping in to raze the Temple immediately after Jesus’ crucifixion; Clement of Alexandria has a numerological seven years involving Nero’s reign to explain it . . . .

  • Steven Carr
    2011-04-26 06:46:34 UTC - 06:46 | Permalink

    ‘And the tradition that James was the physical, flesh-and-blood brother of Jesus seems to go back very far, and appears in multiple early sources.’

    In other words, the later Gospels, John and Luke, remove all trace of Jesus having a brother called James, as do the Epistles of James and Jude, while the Gospels which do mention James as a brother of Jesus never give any hint that this person became a church leader.

    • John
      2011-04-26 07:50:14 UTC - 07:50 | Permalink

      “In other words, the later Gospels, John and Luke, remove all trace of Jesus having a brother called James, as do the Epistles of James and Jude, while the Gospels which do mention James as a brother of Jesus never give any hint that this person became a church leader.”

      I would imagine that as time went on, it became more problematic for Christians to deal with the idea that Jesus had a brother named James who did not agree with Paul, and that it became easier just to dispense with him altogether.

      As for the Epistles of James and Jude, no they don’t mention James as a brother of Jesus, and I gather that you think that they should.

      As for the gospels that do mention James as a brother of Jesus -I assume you only mean Mark and Matthew, but he is also mentioned as such in the Gospel of the Hebrews- they arguably have an agenda to marginalize the family of Jesus, and I wouldn’t expect them to give any hint that he became a church leader for that reason alone.

      However, James does appear to be leading the church by Acts 15, and it is very odd that there is no explanation for how he got the position. His leadership is indicated by the references that, when “the apostles and the elders were gathered together to consider” the matter of circumcision (v. 6) and
      “finished speaking, James replied, Brethren, listen to me” (v. 13), and “Therefore my judgement is…” (v. 19).

      It would be very odd if we are not supoosed to think that this is the same James that Paul calls “the brother of the Lord” who was “of repute” and a “pillar” in Galatians, to whose authority Cephas and “the rest of the Jews … even Barnabas” deferred, especially when you consider that Paul doesn’t seem to know any other person named James.

      • 2011-04-26 12:40:11 UTC - 12:40 | Permalink

        Neil, I realize you are dealing with McGrath and Galatians here, but I thought I would post a link to my response to your reasonings concerning James the brother of Jesus (as it applies to Josephus’ account that uses those words). If authentic, it would have repercussions for the discussion of Galations, especially since Josephus is an independent source. I have it posted on my web site here: http://www.bobmoorepainting.com/BlogPhotos/

      • Steven Carr
        2011-04-26 18:52:35 UTC - 18:52 | Permalink

        ‘I would imagine that as time went on, it became more problematic for Christians to deal with the idea that Jesus had a brother named James who did not agree with Paul, and that it became easier just to dispense with him altogether.’

        I see.So Luke/Acts still referred to James, and this is dispensing with him altogether….

        And somebody decided to write an Epistle of James, as James was such a problematic figure. ‘James’ was an authority figure by then,despite people writing him out of history , marginalising him, and dispensing with him altogether.

        • 2011-04-26 19:35:04 UTC - 19:35 | Permalink

          Dispensing with James altogether was probably not on the cards — after all, the whole universe was created for his benefit, or something like that, according to the Gospel of Thomas — but putting him in his proper (subordinate) place was a practical alternative. (Even that epistle by him is so prosaic it reduces him to the level of a mere scribal copyist of the most mundane rules millennia old.)

        • John
          2011-04-26 21:56:54 UTC - 21:56 | Permalink

          I should have made it more apparent that I was dealing with your comments one part at a time, in the order that you presented them. First you said: “In other words, the later Gospels, John and Luke, remove all trace of Jesus having a brother called James”

          and I said in response to this: “I would imagine that as time went on, it became more problematic for Christians to deal with the idea that Jesus had a brother named James who did not agree with Paul, and that it became easier just to dispense with him altogether.”

          So by “Christians” I mean the ones who wrote “the later Gospels, John and Luke,” and yes, I think they “remove all trace of Jesus having a brother called James”.

          Then I address your second comment about the letters of James and Jude, and then your third comment about the gospels that “do mention James as a brother of Jesus never give any hint that this person became a church leader.”

          • Steven Carr
            2011-04-26 23:03:04 UTC - 23:03 | Permalink

            ‘…yes, I think they “remove all trace of Jesus having a brother called James”.’

            In the way that people removed all traces of Robert Kennedy having a brother called Liberace?

            • John
              2011-04-26 23:39:57 UTC - 23:39 | Permalink

              In the way that, while Mark and Matthew mention that Jesus has a brother named James, Luke and John do not.

  • vorpal
    2011-04-27 00:32:59 UTC - 00:32 | Permalink

    I don’t think it’s even as complicated as Doherty makes it. “Brother of the Lord” is simply a title. It’s a way of giving respect. The bible does this in many ways,
    1) by stating a place “Simon the Cananaean”
    2) by stating a parent-child relationship “Mary the mother of James the younger”
    3) by stating membership to a group “We ought always to thank God for you, brothers and sisters,”

    So the clause after a name is just a way of being respectful, not necessarily required to specify a person.

    It’s like addressing a king. “Your majesty, ruler of all the land” .

    I imagine that later, prosaic-minded priests and monks actually mistook the formality for a literal meaning and all sorts of confusion ensued. Most people in ancient times were just like they are now…dumb. This is essentially Bart Ehrmann’s thesis, and this would probably fit as an apt application of it.

    • Mike Wilson
      2011-04-27 06:37:38 UTC - 06:37 | Permalink

      Vorpal your view of most people is rather ironic considering the source.

  • 2011-04-27 07:28:49 UTC - 07:28 | Permalink

    John,

    Yes, on my website and even in The Jesus Puzzle, I floated the idea that “the brother of the Lord” could have been meant as a kind of ‘title’ used of James, but over the last dozen years since then I’ve abandoned that idea, not least because of the grammatical business of the inserted definite article. Also, I consider it is well within the bounds of possibility that the phrase began as a marginal gloss later inserted into the text, a gloss during the latter 2nd century when it was indeed intended to mark out this James as Jesus’ sibling to distinguish from the Gospel son of Zebedee. But I left out that option in my response to McGrath because I know how sensitive historicists can be to any suggestion of interpolation, especially when there is no necessary textual indication of it; and because I wanted to focus on how it could be accepted as authentic to Paul and feasibly have a ‘brethren’ meaning.

    I think it is unlikely that James became an embarrassment and tended to be shunted into the closet (Carr raises some good points in that regard). I rather think that the present epistle of James was an originally anonymous first century product and only later, probably in the first half of the second century, was it assigned to the legendary Jerusalem pillar and church leader, part of a gradual process of diverse early Christian documents gravitating toward a proto-orthodox collection under the growing umbrella of a proto-orthodox church centered in Rome. That choice would not have been made if James had become some kind of persona non grata, since most if not all ‘forgeries’ were assigned a pseudonymous author on the basis of his perceived importance and value. At that time, however, it would seem that no widespread association (if any at all) of the Jerusalem pillar had been made with a sibling Gospel Jesus. Somewhat (as Neil has pointed out) as James had become, through his murder, the ‘cause’ of the fall of Jerusalem, a view which persisted even until the time of Hegesippus (around 160?—Eusebius quoting him in H.E. II, 23.19), and only began to be supplanted by Jesus as the cause at the time of Melito of Sardis (170s) and later in Origen.

    It matters not if the vast majority of Paul’s usages of “Lord” can be seen to refer to Jesus. He would be quoting a term identifying the Jerusalem sect since its formation, so he is simply adhering to that term (not an “honorific”). Similarly, whether Paul disliked James or not, James’ position as the very brother of Jesus himself should have made it expected that he be accorded respect, and Paul would have had to deal with that. He should especially have been sensitive to the Galatians’ possible negative reaction to him putting down rather nastily the very brother of Jesus the way he does in Galatians 2.

    Josh: “And the tradition that James was the physical, flesh-and-blood brother of Jesus seems to go back very far, and appears in multiple early sources. There is good reason to believe that James was in fact the successor of Jesus in the leadership of the earliest Jerusalem church, which would correspond with what Paul says in Galatians.”

    What “multiple early sources” and how early? I’m not aware of any outside of Galatians before Mark invented the sibling relationship. Though even there we can’t be sure that Mark (6) was not simply listing a few common names to give Jesus a family for the purposes of illustrating the proverb in that particular pericope; and Matthew simply followed Mark’s lead, as he does with so much else. Luke and John did not—nor did Acts—quite possibly because they simply knew no such relationship, not because they excised it; and Gospel of the Hebrews is 2nd century and thought to be derived from Matthew). While the Gospel of Thomas may contain a stratum going back into the latter first century (having some kind of relationship to Q), there is another stratum regarded as very much second century, and the reference to James in GTh cannot be identified as necessarily belonging to the former.

    • John
      2011-04-27 11:40:01 UTC - 11:40 | Permalink

      Earl,

      I appreciate your response to my comments. I am still “new” to your ideas, having become acquainted with them through Carrier’s review of The Jesus Puzzle and more recently Neil’s blog and your website, and it’s great to have the opportunity to discuss them with you personally.

      Thanks for clearing up my confusion about whether or not you feel that “the brother of the Lord” was meant as a title.

      I have no idea when the epistle of James was created or given a name, “since few early writers refer to it,” as Eusebius puts it. I only know that some say that it may date before the Shepherd of Hermas because of possible citations to it there, but it is more certainly by the time of Clement of Alexandria or Origen. I would never suggest that James had ever become some kind of persona non grata, except perhaps in the minds of Mark, Matthew, Luke and John. Regardless of their efforts, he was clearly an important figure in the early church, if not the most important. I think that it may have been precisely this import (and relationship to Jesus) that first Mark and Matthew following him, then more so Luke and John, seek to marginalize and diminish, even if this intention may not have been as successful as they would have liked.

      As far as there being no mention of a brother relationship to Jesus in the letter of James, as I said in previous comments, I don’t know why that is. Maybe it is because Jesus was a myth. Maybe it wasn’t as important to whoever wrote it, whenever they wrote it, as it may have been to Paul and Josephus.

      I would be more convinced that Paul’s use of “the brother of the Lord” is meant as a term identifying the Jerusalem sect were it not for the possibility -the possibility- that the Josephus reference is not an interpolation, and the additional use of the term by Hegesippus in the second century. And since it remains questionable what Paul means, I do think it is important to take into consideration what he usually means by “Lord” elsewhere, and how it is used in the other NT epistles as well.

      Even if we assume that Paul means by “the brother of the Lord” that James was Jesus’ brother, I don’t know anything that indicates that it was this relationship that gave him a “position,” but rather his righteousness. Jesus is very early on presented as having other brothers too (Mark, Matthew and Hegesippus), but there is nothing to indicate any of them ever held a “position” because of this, only regard (in the latter, even if the existence of Jude and his grandsons was only imaginary).

      So as far as I can tell, Paul really only needs to “deal with” the fact that James is leading a church that had a different gospel than his, and we know how he feels about anyone else’s gospel. And I get the impression that Paul did have a hard time convincing Galatians to accept his gospel, when he says, for example, “I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting him who called you in the grace of Christ and turning to a different gospel” (1:6). Could this possibly be referring to James?

      • John
        2011-04-27 12:33:55 UTC - 12:33 | Permalink

        I stand corrected. I said that “There is nothing to indicate that they any of them ever held a “position” because of this, only regard …,” and Eusebius says that Hegesippus did say that the grandsons of Jude “became leaders of the churches, both because of their testimony and because they were of the Lord’s family” (EH 3.20). It is my fault for not double checking that.

        So Paul would certainly have had to “deal with” this status if James was related to Jesus, though it doesn’t seem to have earned his respect if this was the case, and he still had a hard time convincing Galatians that his gospel was the correct one.

        What are we to make of this tradition in Hegesippus?

  • John
    2011-04-27 15:02:18 UTC - 15:02 | Permalink

    I’m having trouble going to sleep. I feel like I’ve reached the limit of my ability to process information. This is such a strange thing that we do, thinking about Christian origins. How do you guys live your lives
    “normally”? I find myself going about my life thinking things like, “Looks like I need more more bread. Oh, and I’ve got to check and see if Origen knew Hegesippus!”

    So engaging with this discussion with Doherty has my mind racing, and now I can’t sleep or know what to make of the many details that make up Christian origins, and maybe you guys can help.

    For example, I have yet to find anything that shaows that Origen knows of or cites Hegesippus. No one seems to know or cite Hegesippus before Eusebius. Eusebius believed it was okay to lie if it helped spread Christianity. Did he make up Hegesippus, then? Does anything he cite or say about Hegesippus contradict his own views? If not, what if he did make up Hegesippus? Would that mean that Origen could not have confused him with Josephus in his Commentary on Matthew 10, then? Or if Origen doesn’t show any awareness of Hegesippus, how can we say he confused him with Josephus? If Hegesippus was real, what do we make of the “James the Lord’s brother” and Jude’s grandsons references? And on and on and on. I don’t know, and I can’t sleep because of it and thought I would think out loud and maybe someone here might have some answers.

    • 2011-04-27 15:21:50 UTC - 15:21 | Permalink

      Well, if Eusebius told me the sun came up in the East, I’d still want to double-check to be sure.

      As far as getting some sleep, here’s something you can try. Go to Google and type in this search:

      site:ccel.org Hegesippus

      Then read all the hits. I think it would certainly put me to sleep.

      • John
        2011-04-27 21:29:01 UTC - 21:29 | Permalink

        That was delicious, Tim. I now have my doubts that Eusebius invented this person, so perhaps Hegesippus existed. Now what do we make of his referring to Jude as Jesus’ “brother, humanly speaking,” and his grandsons? And if Origen cannot be shown to know him (though perhaps, for the sake of argument, we could presume that he did), what should we make of what he says about Josephus in Comm. Matt. 10.17?

        Also, I have some nagging doubt about the reference to Jude’s grandsons becoming leaders of the church in part because of their relationship to Jesus, as that section is technically Eusebius’ words.

        This is an interesting subject. I will have to chew on these things.

        Also, I would like to own up to another mistake. I certainly do think we should consider how Paul usually uses the word “Lord,” but “how it is used in the other NT epistles” is not only not relevant to this point, it does not help it. If I had been thinking more clearly, I would have omitted that part.

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