The disciples said to Jesus: “We know that you will depart from us. Who is to be great over us?” Jesus said to them: “Whenever you shall come, you are to go to James the Righteous, for whose sake heaven and earth came into being.”
The above quotation not only suggests James’ unique leadership role in the Jerusalem church, but also with the epitaph “the righteous” an essential piety of James is remembered. James was known for his strict adherence to the Torah and was even honored by non-Jesus believing Jews at his untimely and unjust death supposedly at the hands of Ananus the high priest in A.D. 62 (cf. Josephus Ant. 20.197-203; Hegesipus in Eusebius H.E. 2.23. 1-19). Josephus writes, “those of the inhabitants of the city who were considered the most fair-minded and were strict in observance of the Law were offended by this” (Ant. 20.201). This impression of James is confirmed by the letter attributed to him in the New Testament. While there is debate as to whether it was written by James, that it reveals a high regard for the Torah is unassailable (cf. comments in Marcus). And the fact that it was connected to James the brother of Jesus, although the familial relationship is not raised in the letter itself—note the author’s own self designation, “James, the servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Messiah” (1:1), shows at the very least how James was remembered.
Reference to James and Torah-observance leads obviously to a discussion of the controversy at Antioch between Peter and Paul recounted in Galatians 2:11-21 since the occasion seems to have been caused by the arrival of “certain men from James” (Gal 2:12). Furthermore, this controversy is often used as evidence for the supposed division between James and the Jerusalem church (Jewish Christianity) and Paul and his Gentile mission (Gentile
Christianity). We will discuss this in the next post.
Carleton Paget, James. 1999. Jewish Christianity. In The Cambridge History of Judaism: The Early Roman Period, ed. William Horbury, W. D. Davies and John Sturdy, 3:731-75. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Segal, Alan F. 1992. Jewish Christianity. In Eusebius, Christianity, and Judaism, ed. Harold W. Attridge and Gohei Hata, 42:326-51. Leiden ; New York: Brill.