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James, The Jew

We have seen that James was the full brother of Jesus and the undisputed leader of the Jerusalem Church We will now look at his beliefs and practices and compare it with what we know of the historical Jesus.

  • The evidence from all consistently show that James was zealous for the law.

  • What we can decipher from the available evidence shows that James' and Jesus' teachings were not different from one another and that they were both respectful of the torah. Thus the argument from apologists that the "excessive" emphasis on the Mosaic laws seen in the Jerusalem church was due to "re-judaizers" is simply not tenable.

Evidence from the New Testament

James brief appearances in the New Testament - at the Jerusalem council, as the "instigator" of the incident at Antioch and at the reception of Paul's final visit to Jerusalem - all testify to the fact that he was a zealous upholder of Jewish or Mosaic laws. These include the issue of circumcision and dietary laws.

The Apostolic Decree

The first account we will look at is the Jerusalem council, given in Acts 15. The Jerusalem council, as we may recall, was called by the early church to resolve the issue of whether gentiles converts need to be circumcised, and in general adhere to the Mosaic laws, in order to be saved. In his judgement, James was reported by Acts as saying:

Acts 15:19-20
[James speaking] "Therefore I have reached the decision that we should not trouble those Gentiles who are turning to God, but we should write to them to abstain only from things polluted by idols and from fornication and from whatever has been strangled and from blood."

This ruling of James is normally known as the Apostolic Decree. Although the passage shows traces of redaction by it's author (I have italicised those parts that is probably not historical-the reason for this will become clear after our analysis of the decree below) it is likely that the decree itself is historical although, contrary to Acts, it was probably not presented at the Jerusalem council. [a] Theologians have in the past, in their eagerness to force a Pauline interpretation, interpreted this decree as something that simply allows Jewish-Christians and Gentile-Christians to share a common mean and thus allow for fellowship during the Eucharist. [1] In other words, the decree declared the Gentiles free from the Mosaic laws! This view is no longer tenable today.

It has been suggested that the decree corresponds very closely to the Rabinnic "Noachic Commandments". The basis of this is found in the Bible (in Genesis 9:1-11), where God, after the flood, gave these commandments to Noah and his sons. According to Biblical mythology, Noah's sons Shem, Japheth and Ham were the fathers of the Semites, the Indo-Europeans and the Africans respectively. Thus the commandments of God to Noah and his sons applies to both Jews and Gentiles. These commandments, also known as the Law of the Sons of Noah, were elaborated and drawn up by Jewish Rabbis as a basis for "god fearing" Gentiles who want to be associated with Judaism without becoming full proselytes. [b] These are given as seven commandments in the Tosefta:

Aboda Zara 8,4
Seven commandments were given to the children of Noah: concerning the establishment of courts of justice, idolatry, blasphamy, fornication, the shedding of blood, theft and limbs torn from a living animal.

The list of Noachite commandments vary somewhat in Jewish literature but they all relate to prohibitions covering three basic crimes or prohibited actions: fornication, idolatry/blasphemy and "from" blood. The last area, "from" blood, applies to both food laws (where animals are to be completely drained of their blood before they can be consumed) as well as crimes such as murder (where the blood of the victim is shed). Mainly following the exegesis of Jewish scholar Hyam Maccoby, we will now take a closer look at the four rules: [2]

  • Abstain from things polluted by idols
    This does not mean simply abstaining from food offered to idols in the temple. Pagans make offering of food to the gods even at ordinary meals. Thus abstaining from "things polluted by idols" mean more than having the Gentile Christians simply not eat these offerings but that they (not just the Jewish-Christians) abstain from sharing a meal with pagans! The case is made clearer by the passages in Leviticus (17:8-9; 20:2-4) which prohibit not just idolatry but also "closing their eye" (Leviticus 20:4) to it; i.e. being tolerant to it. Since the Leviticus passages apply both to Isrealites and foreigners living under their rule, this means that the decree prohibited Gentile-Christians from sharing a table with pagans.

  • Abstain from Fornication
    This covers a whole list of sexual offences. Leviticus 18:6-24, a ruling which applies to both Jews and Gentiles (living under their rule), covers the various permutations of incest, homosexuality, adultery and bestiality.

  • Abstain from whatever have been strangled
    This clearly concerns meat "prepared" in the Jewish way (where the throat of the animal is slit to allow the blood to be drained away). Strangling an animal means that the blood remains in the animal's body and the prohibition not to "eat blood" (found in the commandment to Noah in Genesis 9:3-4 and in Leviticus 17:10-14) is a Mosaic law which is applicable to both Jews and Gentiles. Note however that Genesis 9:3 ("Every moving thing that lives shall be food for you.") allows the sons of Noah to eat some animals, such as pigs, prohibited to Jews.

  • Abstain from Blood
    Many theologians, eager to interpret the decree as mere dietary suggestions, are often puzzled by the "double" appearance of the food laws; which ostensibly had already been covered by the rule immediately above. However looking at the commandments given to Noah, we will notice that immediately after giving the laws relating to food, God commanded Noah not to shed another man's blood! (Genesis 9:6 "Whoever sheds the blood of a human, by a human shall that person's blood be shed.") Thus to "abstain from blood" in the decree applies to a prohibition of murder.
Looked at this way, we can conclude a few things about the decree by James: [3]

  • The decree, rather than minimizing the impact of the law on Gentiles, demands that they respect it and adhere to its minimum requirements. The commandments given in Genesis 9:1-11 and Leviticus 17-18 & 20 are meant for Gentiles as well, but clearly if the Gentiles do not believe in the validity of the Torah, these rules would not apply to them. Thus by issuing the decree, James, in effect, is affirming the validity of the Torah even for the Gentile-Christians!

  • Contrary to the claims of many Christian theologians, the decree does not facilitate sharing a common meal between Jewish- and Gentile-Christians. For the commandment to abstain from food that has been strangled does not exclude the consumption of meat taboo to Jews such as pork! (Remember Genesis 9:3!)[c]

The Incident at Antioch

In Galatians 2:11-13, Paul tells us that James forbade Peter from eating with Gentiles. This, again, shows his continued adherence to the basic precepts of the torah.

Galatians 2:11-13
But when Cephas came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he stood self-condemned; for until certain people came from James, he used to eat with the Gentiles. But after they came, he drew back and kept himself separate for fear of the circumcision faction. And the other Jews joined him in his hypocrisy, so that even Barnabas was led astray by their hypocrisy.

Paul's Final Visit to Jerusalem

The other passage in Acts shows James continued adherence to the law. This is taken from Paul's last trip to Jerusalem:

Acts 21:17-20
When we arrived in Jerusalem, the brothers welcomed us warmly. The next day Paul went with us to visit James; and all the elders were present...They said to him [Paul], "You see, brother, how many thousands of believers there are among the Jews, and they are all zealous for the law."

This shows that James and his elders at the Jerusalem Church continued to affirm, the validity of the Jewish Law since it was added (by James and the elders) that the new followers were zealous for the law.

We can conclude then, that in the few appearances James made in the New Testament he came across as a very pious Jew who continued to uphold the validity of the Torah for both Jews and Gentiles! [d]

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Evidence from Josephus

The earliest reference to James outside the New Testament was Josephus' (c37-c100) Antiquities; published around 93 CE. Given below is the passage in question:

Antiquities 20:9:1
Ananus, supposing that he had an opportune moment with Festus having died and Albinus still on the way, convened the judges of the council [or Sanhedrin] and arraigned before them the brother of Jesus who was called Christ, James by name, and some others. Having brought the charge that they had violated the law, he handed them over to be stoned. Now those in the city who were regarded as the most reasonable and precise with respect to the laws were burdened with grief over this. So they secretly send [messengers] to the king [Agrippa II], pleading with him to order Ananus to stop doing such things. For he had not acted properly from the outset. Some of them also go to meet Albinus as he makes his way from Alexandria, and inform him that it was not up to Ananus to convene the council without his consent.
[Translation taken from Steve Mason's Josephus and the New Testament (1992) p175]

This is an account of James' death in the hands of Ananus. Taking advantage of the fact that there was no procurator at the time (Festus had just died and Albinus had yet to arrive), he convened the Sanhedrin and had James condemned to death. Then "reasonable" citizens who were "precise with respect to the laws" complained to King Agrippa and to Albinus who was on his way from Alexandria. Albinus then had Ananus removed and made Jesus son of Damneus the high priest.

Josephus' account sounds straighforward and is probably historical. Furthermore the circumstances surrounding the death of James allow us to date it quite precisely. We know that Albinus arrived sometime around the summer of 62 CE. So James must have died earlier in that year. [5]

The most interesting question here is "Who were the reasonable citizens who protested James' murder or execution?" Josephus did not provide a straight answer but we can get some clues from the manner in which he referred to them.

Josephus had elsewhere mentioned that the Pharisees were the most precise in interpreting the laws:

Jewish War 1:5:2
And now the Pharisees joined themselves to her, to assist her in the government. These are a certain sect of the Jews that appear more religious than others, and seem to interpret the laws more accurately.

Furthermore in telling the story of John Hyrcanus' break with the Pharisees, he mentioned the Pharisee's "mildness" or "gentleness":

Antiquities 20:10:6
So the Pharisees made answer, that he deserved stripes and bonds, but that it did not seem right to punish reproaches with death. And indeed the Pharisees, even upon other occasions, are not apt to be severe in punishments. At this gentle sentence, Hyrcanus was very angry, and thought that this man reproached him by their approbation.

The word translated as "gentle" above is the same word as translated as "equitable" or "reasonable" in the account of James' death. Thus we can say with some certainty that the citizens who protested the sentence on James to Agrippa and to Albinus were Pharisees![6]

Josephus said Ananus had James and some others executed on the charge of transgressing the law. That the Pharisees, who were the most accurate interpreters of the law protested this could only mean that according to the them, James did not transgress any laws (or at least not one serious enough to merit execution). [7] Furthermore that they protested on his behalf clearly showed that they considered him within the fold of Judaism! [8]

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Evidence from the Church Fathers

The next example is from the early church father, Hegesippus (c110-180), quoted by Eusebius (c260-340) in History of the Church:

History of the Church 2:23:4-7
James, the brother of the Lord, succeeded to the government of the Church in conjunction with the apostles. He has been called the Just by all from the time of our Saviour to the present day; for there were many that bore the name of James. He was holy from his mother's womb; and he drank no wine nor strong drink, nor did he eat flesh. No razor came upon his head; he did not anoint himself with oil, and he did not use the bath. He alone was permitted to enter into the holy place; for he wore not woolen but linen garments. And he was in the habit of entering alone into the temple, and was frequently found upon his knees begging forgiveness for the people, so that his knees became hard like those of a camel, in consequence of his constantly bending them in his worship of God, and asking forgiveness for the people. Because of his exceeding great justice he was called the Just, and Oblias,which signifies in Greek, `Bulwark of the people' and `Justice', in accordance with what the prophets declare concerning him

The account by Hegesippus, written around 100 years after the death of James, may already have some legendary elements. But essentially it presented James as someone very zealous for the law: [9]

  • James entering the "holy place" presented him as the "high priest" since only the high priest can go to the "holy place" (or holy of holies). His being dressed in linen and not wool is also consistent with this presentation.

    Leviticus 16:3-4
    Thus shall Aaron come into the holy place...He shall put on the holy linen tunic, and shall have linen undergarments next to his body, fasten the linen sash, and wear the linen turban; these are the holy vestments. [e]

  • James' vegetarianism could be explained by a vigorous application of the command outlined in Leviticus that prohibits the eating of any blood. Being a vegetarian meant that he avoided the possibility of inadvertantly eating some food that may not have the blood completely drained out.

    Leviticus 17:10
    If anyone of the house of Israel of of the aliens who reside among them eats any blood, I will set my face against that person who eats blood, and will cut that person off from the people.

  • His abstaining from wine and not shaving is head suggests he was following the Nazirite rules laid out in Numbers 6:

    Numbers 6:1-3,5
    The Lord spoke to Moses, saying: Speak to the Israelites and say to them: When either men or women make a special vow, the vow of a Nazirite, to separate themselves to the Lord, they shall separate themselves from wine and strong drink...All the days of their Nazirite vow no razor shall come upon the head...

  • John Painter has suggested that James abstention from anointing himself with oil and not taking baths could be interpreted as a rejection of Greco-Roman (Gentile) ways with their public baths and perfumes.
Another church father to cite James' adherence to the law is Epiphanius (c315-403), Bishop of Salamis. There are two passages from his book Panarion :[10]

Panarion 29:4:2-4
But we find as well that he is of David's stock through being Joseph's son, that he was a Nazarite (for he was Joseph's firstborn and consecrated), and we have found furthermore that he exercised the priesthood according to the priestly order of old.Thus it was permitted him once a year to enter the holy of holies, as the law ordered the high priests according to what is written. So say many of the historians before me of him, Eusebius, Clement, and others. He was also allowed to wear the plate on his head, as the aforementioned trustworthy men have related in their accounts

Panarion 78:13:5
To James alone was it allowed to enter once a year into the holy of holies, because he was a Nazarite and connected to the priesthood.

Epiphanius' description sounds like a summary of Eusebius and he may or may not have sources other than the latter's History of the Church. For us, the important conclusion to take from this is that here too, James' Jewishness is asserted by tradition available to the fourth century bishop.

There is another point worth noting. Epiphanius' interpretation of James' action in the temple as the latter making a Yom Kippur atonement, if correct, is highly significant. Yom Kippur or the Day of Atonement is the holiest day in the Jewish calendar. The High Priest is permitted to enter only once a year into the Holy of Holies, asking for the forgiveness of sins for the whole people. The temple service is described in Leviticus 16:1-34 and Numbers 24:7-11. [11] But, as Hyam Maccoby had pointed out, if the idea that Jesus' death functioned as a once-and-for-all act of atonement was shared by James (and by that extension the Jerusalem church), the whole purpose of the Yom Kippur atonement would have been redundant! [12] This strongly supports our earlier analysis that the teaching of the atonement did not originate with Jesus but came from Paul, someone outside the original followers of the earthly Jesus.

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On James, Jesus and the "Re-Judaizers"

Faced with the compelling evidence of strict adherence to the law within the Jerusalem church, Christian exegetes have tried to explain away this as "re-Judaization". In other words, the early Jerusalem church slowly corrupted the law-free teachings of Jesus back into a strict "law-abiding" Jewish-Christianity. To support their assertion that the early church was more liberal, the case of the conversion of Cornelius given in Acts 10 is normally put forward. Then, as evidence of "re-Judaizing" that came later, they site these two passages.

The first is a scene from the Jerusalem "council":

Acts 15:5
But some believers who belonged to the sect of the Pharisees stood up and said, "It is necessary for them to be circumcised and ordered to keep the law of Moses."

The second is from Paul's last visit to Jerusalem. We have here James and the elders telling Paul this:

Acts 21:20-22
They said to him [Paul], "You see, brother, how many thousands of beleivers there are among the Jews, and they are all zealous for the law. They have been told that you teach all the Jews living among the Gentiles to forsake Moses, and that you tell them not to circumcise their children or observe the customs. What is to be done? They will certainly hear that you have come."

These two passages are taken as proof that the "re-judaizing" tendencies of the early church were due mainly to the new converts (some of whom were Pharisees) from Judaism who wanted to push the new church back towards practicing the law.

Thus there are three elements in the argument:

  • That Jesus (and probably James) were "liberals" with respect to the law
  • That Peter had actually converted an uncircumcised Gentile, the centurion Cornelius, during the early, pre-Jerusalem council, days.
  • That the "Re-Judaization" was due mainly to new Jewish coverts who were zealous for the law.
To answer this, we have to consider each element of their argument.

Jesus and James: Zealous for the Law

First as we have shown earlier, a critical analysis of the tradition regarding Jesus, although it does show he had some differing interpretations of the law from the Pharisees, does not at all support that he advocated a "law-free" religion. Indeed he was very much a Jew with deep respect for the law.

Similarly we have seen above that James himself, Jesus brother, was zealous for the law from the beginning. There is no evidence at all that he was "forced" into that position by new converts.

The Conversion of Cornelius

Second we look at the conversion of Cornelius, given in Acts 10. The story is rather long, so rather than quoting the whole chapter, I'll provide the "Reader's Digest" version here. Cornelius, a Gentile, was a centurion of the "Italian Cohort" in Ceasarea who gave alms freely, was well liked by the "whole Jewish nation" and was a "god-fearer" (Acts 10:1-2, 22). He experienced a vision in which an angel came to him and instructed him to seek out Peter in Joppa. He then called some of his men to find Peter. (Acts 10:3-8) Meanwhile, Peter in Joppa had a vision while he was praying on the roof. He saw a large sheet coming down from heaven, in it were all kinds of animals, clean and unclean. He then heard a voice saying "Get up, Peter, kill and eat." Peter protested, saying he had never eaten anything unclean. The voice chided him saying "What God has made clean, you must not call profane." (Acts 10:9-16) While Peter was still mulling over his vision, the men sent by Cornelius arrived, looking for him. While they were outside, the Spirit appeared to Peter telling him to go to them. Peter invited them to stay with him. (Acts 10:17-23) The next day he went with them to Caesarea. Upon arrival he met Cornelius and asked the latter why he was sent? Cornelius told him about his vision. Peter then began to preach the "good news". While he was preaching, the Gentiles (Cornelius and those with him) began to speak in tongues. The Jewish Christians who had came with Peter from Joppa were astounded. Peter then order them to be baptised in Jesus' name.(Acts 10:24-28). When Peter returned to Jerusalem, some Jewish Christian there confronted him with the fact that he had "eaten with uncircumcised men." Peter held firm and explained his vision (of the sheet and the animals) in detail to them. (Acts 11:1-17) Upon hearing this, the circumcised believers were silenced. Then they praise God proclaiming that "God has given even to the Gentiles the repentance that leads to life." (Acts 11:18)

This, then in a nutshell, is the story of Cornelius' conversion. This event was placed just after Paul made his first visit as a believer to Jerusalem (9:26-20)[c 35 CE] and before the Jerusalem council (Acts 15) [c 50]. Note that Cornelius is depicted as the first full Gentile who was baptised before being circumcised. Thus according to Pauline-Christian apologists, this shows that the trend within the Jerusalem church was "liberal", with respect to Gentile converts, before the council.

Before we start our analysis of this story, we need to make an important point. The fact that Luke had to show Peter here requiring a vision before he would declare all food to be clean shows that the historical Jesus never abrogated the food laws. This proves that the account such as Mark 7:17-19 where Jesus supposedly "declared all food clean" is fictional. Note that this still holds even if we discover that the Cornelius episode is unhistorical, since it shows that the tradition available for Luke to draw on, still had to deal with the issue of food laws after Jesus is dead. The normal reply by apologists was that Peter was too "thick-witted" to understand Jesus' first pronouncement (in Mark) and required a second vision to understand the command. However, as Hyam Maccoby notes, it would be really incredible for anyone to be so thick witted! [13]

Turning our attention now to the Cornelius story in Acts, we immediately notice some problems.

  • The "Italian Cohort" of the Centurion (Acts 10:1-2) could not have existed during that time; for it only existed from 69 CE onwards! [14]

  • The portrayal of Cornelius the centurion as a "god fearing" Gentile well liked by the Jews is almost certainly unhistorical. Josephus (see Antiquities 19:9:2) commented that the Ceasarean legionaires were brutal and it was partly due to their brutality that the Jews were finally pushed to rebel. If Cornelius was a centurion [f] he must no doubt be included among this brutal group! [15]

  • Making Cornelius a Roman centurion fits so neatly and so completely into Luke's apologetic aims that it must be unhistorical. As Gerd Ludemann pointed out, Luke wrote his two volume work with "one eye on the Roman State"; he was eager to show that the Christians were not trouble makers and Roman officials who knew Christians were generally positively disposed towards them. Examples of this apologetic tendency abound in Luke-Acts. Pontius Pilate is presented as being the reluctant executioner of Jesus who tried to get him off the hook (Luke 23:1-25, Acts:3-13). Gallio found nothing in Paul's action worth convicting (Acts 18:12-17), Felix, who was "familiar with the way", made Paul's stay in detention as pleaseing as possible. (Acts 18:12-17) And finally Festus, was among those who said, after examining Paul, that the latter would have been freed had he (Paul) not appealed to the emperor (Acts 24:22-23). All these Roman officials share one thing in common: having examined Christians up close, they found nothing offensive about Christianity and were generally quite tolerant towards it.[17]

  • The Jerusalem council, as presented by both Acts 15 and Galatians 2:1-10, was called because of the need to discuss the question of whether Gentile convert needs to be circumcised before they convert. Yet in the Cornelius episode, Peter is shown as baptizing the uncircumcised Gentiles in Jesus name but the main complaint of the Jewish Christians when Peter returned to Jerusalem was that Peter ate with them. (Acts 11:1-3) The episode is shown as though the idea of uncircumcised Gentiles getting baptised is no longer an issue. [18]

  • Furthermore, the conversion of an uncircumcised Gentiles had always been presented by Paul in his epistles as his own gospel revealed to him by God. For he mentioned in Galatians 1:15-17 that after his conversion he "did not confer with flesh and blood" and did not meet with the Jerusalem apostles until three years later. (Galatians 1:15-18) Indeed during the Jerusalem conference, Paul wrote that he had to explain "the gospel that I proclaimed among the Gentiles" to the apostles to "make sure that I was not running, or had not run, in vain" (Galatians 2:2) This strongly suggests that preaching to the Gentiles (at least up to the point of the Jerusalem conference) was something new to the apostles in Jerusalem. [19]

  • Gerd Ludemann showed that Acts 10 (the conversion of a Roman centurion in Caesarea by Peter) shared some similarities with Luke 7:1-10 (the healing of a Roman centurion's slave). [20]

    • In both cases both centurions were presented as people who were charitable to the Jews and were well liked by them:

      Luke 7:4
      When they came to Jesus, they appealed to him earnestly saying, "He [the centurion] is worthy of having you do this for him, for he loves our people, and it is he who built our synagogues for us."
      Acts 10:2
      He [Cornelius] was a devout man who feared God with all his household; he gave alms generously to the people and prayed constantly to God.
      Acts 10:22
      They answered, "Cornelius, a centurion, an upright and God fearing man, who is well spoken of by the whole Jewish nation..."

    • In both accounts the centurion did not go to see Jesus (or Peter) himself but sent his men to find them.

      Luke 7:2
      When he heard about Jesus, he sent some Jewish elders to him, asking him to come...
      Acts 10:5-7
      [An angel speaking to Cornelius], "Now send men to Joppa for a certin Simon who is called Peter..." When the angel who spoke to him had left, he called two of his slaves and a devout soldier from the ranks of those who served him, and after telling them everything, he sent them to Joppa.

    Since the account in Luke's gospel probably came from Q (Matthew 8:5-13), it is likely he had borrowed details of this story into the Cornelius account.
Thus the story of Cornelius, as it stands in Acts 10:1-11:18 is not historical. The only nugget of tradition we can probably derive from the whole story is that at some time after the Jerusalem conference (that it could not be before, we have shown above), Peter baptized a Gentile named Cornelius and then shared a meal with him. Some Jewish-Christians then confronted Peter about this (i.e. sharing a meal). Stated this way, the account sounds very much like the "incident in Antioch" mentioned by Paul in Galatians!

Galatians 2:11-13
But when Cephas came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he stood self-condemned; for until certain people came from James, he used to eat with the Gentiles. But after they came, he drew back and kept himself separate for fear of the circumcision faction. And the other Jews joined him in his hypocrisy, so that even Barnabas was led astray by their hypocrisy.

This too happened after the Jerusalem conference and involved Peter eating with the Gentiles and then having him confronted with Jerusalem Jewish-Christians! The only difference here is that while Acts presented Peter as being steadfast in his decision, here Peter withdrew from fellowhip. Indeed, Hyam Maccoby has suggested that the Cornelius story is simply a reworked version of the Antioch incident with Luke "smoothing over" the difficulties at the end. [21]

Jewish Converts Who Were Zealous for the Law

Finally the idea that new converts were forcing the leaders of the Jerusalem church to "re-Judaize" is totally untenable for two reasons:

  • This implies that Jesus' (supposed) new teachings which supposedly abrogated the law were quickly forgotten or abandoned by James, Peter and the rest (people who knew the historical Jesus) the moment the new Jewish converts came in. [22]

  • It is inherently unlikely that devout Jews zealous for the law would have joined the nascent sect if it was initially lax in the application of the law. It is more probable that they would have joined the movement if it allowed them to both affirm Jesus' messiahship (in the Jewish sense) and to continue to be faithful to the law.[23]


In conclusion we can confidently say that there was no "re-Judaization" in the early Jerusalem church, it was zealous for the law from the very beginning.

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a.Saying that the decree is historical is not the same as saying that it was introduced during the time of the apostolic conference. Indeed I think it was actually presented some time after the conference. We review this elsewhere.
b.Some scholars have suggested that these prohibitions parallel more closely the rules provided mainly in Leviticus 17-18 which governs Israelites and foreigners living in Israel. As to which is more likely need not concern us here. (Indeed I am inclined to think it is a combination of both-the rather enigmatic reference to Moses in Acts 15:21 may be a reference to the laws contained within the Five Books of Moses-or the Torah as a whole) The main point is that Apostolic Decree, far from minimizing the importance of the Mosaic Law actually demands that the Gentiles pay respect and adhere to its minimal requirements.
c.As an aside, I would like to invite the reader to compare the spirit of the decree by James, which affirms the validity of the law for both Jews and Gentiles with these statements about the law made by Paul in his epistle to the Galatians:

Galatians 3:28
There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Jesus Christ

Galatians 2:16
Yet we know that a person is justified not by the works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ. And we have come to believe in Christ Jesus, so that we might be justified by faith in Christ, and not by doing the works of the law, because no one is justified by doing the works of the law.

Galatians 5:1
For freedom in Christ have set us free. Stand firm, therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery

Note how far in spirit Paul was from James! He made no distinction between Jew and Greek, does not think the "works of the law" are of any value and he even compared the law to slavery.

d.The reader may notice that I have deliberately omitted any reference to the epistle of James in providing the evidence for James Jewishness. This may seem surprising, for the letter shows evidence of strong adherence for the Jewish law and works as well as a marked anti-Paulinism (or at least anti-Pauline as it was developing in some areas towards the end of the first century). Some examples of this: [4]

  • James 2.24 (which justification by works and not faith alone-compare Galatians 2.16, 3:11 and Romans 3:27-28)
  • James 1.25 (which describes the law as "the perfect law of liberty"-compare Galatians 5:1 where Paul compares the law to slavery!)
  • James 2:10 (which stresses the importance of following every percept in the law and challenged believers to follow it-compare Galatians 5:3, & Galatians 3:10, although Galatians 5:3 is superficially similar to James 2:10, viewed in the context of Galatians 3:10 it is quite clear that Paul meant that since no one could fulfil it the whole law, "they are under a curse.")

The reason is simple. The letter was probably not written by the historical James and the identity of the author is unknown. Most scholars think the author is a later (c. 85CE?) Jewish Christian admirer of James. This conclusion is based primarily on the content, some of which are listed above. Now to use this conclusion, that it was written by a Jewish Christian follower of James, as additional evidence for James' Jewishness (which was a premise on which the conclusion was based) would be circular. However the letter does show that some anti-Pauline works did inadvertantly made it to the canon of the New Testament!

e.Leviticus 16:4 certainly commands "bathing". Hegesippus may have been combining stories about James from various strains of traditions. For the probable reason why James did not bathe see the suggestion by John Painter above.
f.Depending on the seniority, a Roman centurion could have anywhere between 80 and 5,400 men under them.[16]

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1.Willaims, The Acts of the Apostles: p183
2.Bernheim, James, Brother of Jesus: p170-172
Maccoby, The Mythmaker: Paul and the Invention of Christianity: p140-141
3.Bernheim, op cit: p173
Chilton & Neusner (ed), The Brother of Jesus: p144-145
Maccoby, op cit: p141-142
4.Bernheim, op cit: p233-240
Ludemann, Opposition to Paul in Jewish Christianity: p140-146
5.Painter, Just James: p136
6.Mason, Josephus and the New Testament: p175-177
7.Bernheim, op cit: p148-149
8.Maccoby, Revolution in Judea; Jesus & The Jewish Resistance: p232-233
9.Bernheim, op cit: p213-214
Eisenman, James, the Brother of Jesus: p310-312
Painter, Just James: p124-126
10.Amidon, The Panarion of St. Epiphanius: p91, 350
11.Eisenman, op cit:p310-311
Epstein, Judaism: p175
12.Maccoby, The Mythmaker: p126-127
13.ibid: p133
14.Ludemann, Early Christianity According to the Tradition in Acts: p126
15.Eisenman, op cit:p532, 539, 642
16.Wells, The Roman Empire: p127
17.Ludemann, Early Christianity According to the Tradition in Acts: p126
Ludemann, Paul, Apostle to the Gentiles: p18
18.Bernheim, op cit: p161-162
19.ibid: p163
20.Ludemann, Early Christianity According to the Tradition in Acts: p125-126
21.Maccoby, The Mythmaker: p132
23.Bernheim, op cit: p209-210

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