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Who Was James the “Brother” of Jesus?

Question:

Was James, the brother of Jesus, the son of Mary and Clopas? Or was he the son of Joseph per the ossuary of James?

Answer:

The authenticity of the inscription on James ossuary is greatly debated.  Due to inconclusive evidence the inscription should not be relied upon to form historical theories.

James, the brother of the Lord, has been identified by various scholars as either a son of St. Joseph from a previous marriage or as a cousin of Jesus.

The Protoevangelium of James describes St. Joseph as a widower with children.  Based on this tradition some Catholics have believed James to have been a step-brother to Jesus.

The identification of James is sometimes identified as the son of Alphaeus/Clopas for the following reasons:

  • Hippolytus writes of James, the son of Alphaeus, being stoned to death while preaching in Jerusalem.  Josephus also wrote that James, the brother of Jesus was stoned to death in Jerusalem.  Some believe these to be the same person.
  • According to Papias of Hierapolis, Alphaeus and Clopas were the same person.  When Mark 16:1 says that “Mary, the mother of James” went to the tomb this is assumed to be Mary, the wife of Clopas (John 19:25) who was the sister of Mary.

The Church has never issued a teaching on either theory so Catholics are free to believe either one.

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