Deciphering The Gospels
Proves Jesus Never Existed

A Note on James
One of the major questions that comes up regarding the book and the case against the existence of Jesus is the issue of James, the supposed brother of Jesus. Many people think that there is clear evidence that Paul met Jesus’ literal brother, a man named James, and thus, the question of whether of not Jesus existed is easily resolved by the fact that only a real person has a brother.

This issue is addressed extensively in Deciphering the Gospels, pages 213–229. But because there are so many questions around this issue, I will provide an overview of the topic here as well.

Questions about “James the brother of Jesus” are anchored on a passage from Paul’s letter to the Galatians, shown below:

Galatians 1:
11 I want you to know, brothers, that the gospel I preached is not of human origin. 12 I did not receive it from any man, nor was I taught it; rather, I received it by revelation from Jesus Christ.

13 For you have heard of my previous way of life in Judaism, how intensely I persecuted the church of God and tried to destroy it. 14 I was advancing in Judaism beyond many of my own age among my people and was extremely zealous for the traditions of my fathers. 15 But when God, who set me apart from my mother’s womb and called me by his grace, was pleased 16 to reveal his Son in me so that I might preach him among the Gentiles, my immediate response was not to consult any human being. 17 I did not go up to Jerusalem to see those who were apostles before I was, but I went into Arabia. Later I returned to Damascus.

18 Then after three years, I went up to Jerusalem to get acquainted with Cephas [Peter] and stayed with him fifteen days. 19 I saw none of the other apostles—only James, the Lord’s brother. 20 I assure you before God that what I am writing you is no lie.

Volumes of analysis have been produced in relation to this passage. Much of the analysis has to do with specific interpretations of the Greek and a lot of focus is put directly on the passage itself. Far less attention, however, has been paid to the larger context and potential corroborating evidence from other sources. Deciphering the Gospels addresses the question of whether James was a literal brother of Jesus by looking extensively at evidence from other early Christian sources.

Instead of trying to parse the words of verse 19, the approach taken in Deciphering the Gospels is to first determine if there is other evidence that would lead us to the conclusion that the James whom Paul met was a literal brother of Jesus. What is shown in Deciphering the Gospels is that in fact all of the other evidence leads to the oppose conclusion – that the person Paul met was not an actual brother of Jesus.

A high–level overview of that evidence is as follows:

1.    The term “brother of the Lord” or “brothers of the Lord” is used many times in the letters of Paul and other early Christian writings in ways that clearly do not refer to literal siblings. Saying "Jesus' brother" would be a much clearer indication of a familial relationship. Even though Paul did refer to Jesus as "the Lord", "the Lord" refers to a deity and implies a religious, not familial, relationship.

2.    Paul goes to lengths in Galatians to make it clear that his knowledge of Jesus has not come from James or anyone else. He claims that Jesus was revealed to him directly. Paul goes on in later sections of Galatians to dispute the authority of James and Peter. If James was Jesus’ literal brother, why would Paul have such a hostile relationship with him? Why would Paul tout his gospel as superior to, or even on-par with, that of the literal brother of Jesus? Nothing in Paul’s letters makes sense if there is a literal brother of Jesus who knew him intimately and has things to say about Jesus. Paul claims that Jesus is a mystery that is being revealed by prophets. Paul says that he is overwhelmed with desire to know Jesus as intimately as possible, which he claims is only possible via revelation. If Paul is so eager to know as much as he can about Jesus, then why would he care so little about Jesus’ brother? Paul shows no interest in James at all, claims to learn nothing from him and, if anything, to contradict what James says. That can’t possibly be how Paul would treat the literal brother of Jesus.

3.    Christian scholarship and tradition holds that “James the bother of Jesus” is the same person as “James the Just”, who was supposedly leader of the Christian movement in Jerusalem after Jesus died. This is ultimately a product of confusion. It is clear that this confusion arose in the late 2nd century (likely created by Hegesippus). There are no early sources that portray James the leader as a brother of Jesus. The Gospel of Mark portrays Peter, James Zebedee and John Zebedee as the leaders of the movement. Mark does mention that Jesus has four brothers, one of whom is called James, but the brothers of Jesus are given one line in Mark and never mentioned again. If “Mark” thought that the leader of the movement after Jesus’ death was his own brother, then he would have given James the brother of Jesus a much bigger role in his story. Matthew just copies his material about James from Mark. The author of Luke and Acts of the Apostles, however, never names any brothers of Jesus, nor does the author of John.

The fact that the author of Luke/Acts never names any brothers of Jesus is very significant, because the author of Luke/Acts was clearly trying to make a definitive account of the state of Christian lore as he knew it. The whole point of his work was to clarify who all of the players were and how everything came about. It is clear that whoever wrote Luke/Acts did not think that James the leader, whom Paul met, was a brother of Jesus, because nowhere in either Luke or Acts is any brother named James identified. There is some confusion in Acts around James, because at some point in Acts it becomes unclear which James is being talked about (Zebedee or Alphaeus). But no where in Luke or Acts is a brother of Jesus named James ever introduced, and so the idea that any of the “Jameses” in Acts represents the brother of Jesus is a product of misattribution by early Christian apologists, it is clearly not the intent of the author. So none of the Gospel writers considered the James Paul met to be a brother of Jesus, they all associated him with James son of Zebedee.

4.    The letters of James and Jude do not say that they are they from brothers of Jesus. Traditional Christian scholarship holds that the letters of James and Jude were written by literal brothers of Jesus. Neither letter, however, claims to be from a brother of Jesus. Either these letters were written by the real James and Jude, who were not brothers of Jesus, or they were written pseudonymously. If they were written pseudonymously then it is clear that at the time they were written the belief that James was a brother of Jesus had not yet been established. Not only that, but the letters of James and Jude provide no description of Jesus at all and treat Jesus as a heavenly deity, not a person that they have any personal knowledge of.

Given these observations, what are the possible explanations for the Galatians 1:19 passage?

It could be that all or part of Galatians 1:19 is a later interpolation into the text, added after it came to be believed that Jesus was a person with a brother named James.

It could be that “James, the Lord’s brother” is a designation of significance like “James the Just”. This would be describing James as “the Lord’s brother” because he is the leader of the apostles.

It could be that “James, the Lord’s brother” is clarifying that James is not an apostle at all – that James is, “just a Christian”. This would be Paul saying that he met the apostle Peter, and also some other Christian named James.

It could be that “James, the Lord’s brother” is clarifying that James is not an apostle – but that James is the leader. This would be Paul saying that he met the apostle Peter, and also James the leader, who is not considered an apostle. This would be Paul noting that apostles are of a lower position than the leadership role of James.

But wherever this passage came from and whatever it means, what is clear is that none of the other early Christian sources indicate that James the leader of the Jesus movement in Jerusalem was a literal brother of Jesus. Furthermore, nothing in Paul’s letters indicates that Paul ever talks about two different Jameses. Paul appears only to ever talk about a single James, whom he indicates is a leader of the church in Jerusalem.

Even the Gospel of Thomas, which is dedicated to “James the Just”, does not indicate that James is a brother of Jesus. The first person to clearly claim that “James the Just” is the “the Lord’s brother” is Hegesippus around 170 CE. Hegesippus is also known for making many false and confused statements and to have gotten much of early Christian lore wrong regarding many other topics. From Hegesippus on there is increasing commentary and lore built up around the idea that “James the Just” was the person that Paul met, who was a literal brother of Jesus, who was the leader of the church in Jerusalem after Jesus died, who was subsequently killed. According to this scenario, James Zebedee, a main character in the Gospels, is really a nobody, who played no major role in anything. He would have been a major disciple of Jesus’ who was killed shortly after Jesus died and played no significant role in the later movement. But clearly, James Zebedee in the Gospels is supposed to represent James the leader that Paul met. The later premature killing-off of James Zebedee in Christian lore was a device used to clear the way to replace “James Zebedee” with “James the Lord’s brother”. This is because James Zebedee is portrayed poorly in the Gospels, because the Gospel of Mark is a pro-Pauline polemic against the other leaders of the Jerusalem church, which is why James, John and Peter are all portrayed poorly in the Gospel of Mark, which sets the tone for the rest of the Gospels that all copy from Mark.

Indeed, Christian lore around “James” is an entire tangled mess of confusion, which, at this point, is all dubious. It is clear that there was massive confusion around all the Jameses: Zebedee, Alphaeus, “the Just”, the brother of Jesus, and the James described by Paul. It is likely that all of the Jameses, except the one described by Paul, were fictitious and that the fictitious James son of Zebedee was meant to represent the real James described by Paul, who was the leader of the Jerusalem church, who was later designated in Christian lore as “James the Just”, who at that point had become a legendary figure only loosely based on an amalgamation of the real James and the fictious brother of Jesus.

So the real James was not a brother of Jesus, he was represented in the Gospels by “James son of Zebedee”. But in later Christian lore “James son of Zebedee” is given an early death and replaced by the imaginary “James the Lord’s brother” who becomes the legendary “James the Just” about whom many fictious stories were produced.

All of this is addressed in much greater detail in Deciphering the Gospels, with many quotes and citations to clarify the evidence. The passage from Josephus that supposedly refers to James is addressed as well.

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