James the brother of Jesus

The origins of Christianity

The New Testament contains strong indications that that the most basic doctrines of modern Christianity were promulgated by the evangelist Paul, over the strenuous objections of Jesus's original followers. In this book, Robert Eisenman looks closely at this struggle. His work dissolves away some of the comforting features of modern Christianity and uncovers a skeleton: James "the Just", brother of Jesus, and an apocalyptic, xenophobic, fundamentalist agitator. The unstated but overwhelming implication is that Jesus was not the inoffensive love-preacher of subsequent tradition. That figure is a creation of the dominant Graeco-Roman culture of the time. Jesus, it seems, was Ayatollah Khomeni not Ghandi; Elijah Muhammed not Martin Luther King. In essence, Jesus was the brother of James.

Enemies and friends of Rome

Eisenman divides Palestine of Jesus's time into two power blocks: the rulers and the populists. The rulers were the Romans, and those who obtained power by serving their purposes. They included the Herodian puppet dynasty; the collaborationist pharisees; and Paul, Roman citizen and purveyor of the Christ cult, a seductive synthesis of familiar Greek ethics with exotic Hebrew monotheism. The populists were the demagogues who mobilized against Roman domination by fuelling the zealotry and nationalism of the Jewish people. They included the early Jewish Christians, the Qumran community (writers of the Dead Sea Scrolls), and others (Zadokites, Essenes, Ebionites, Rechabites...) whose delineations and relationships will probably never be clarified. United under the influence if not leadership of James, they formed an "opposition alliance" against the establishment, and launched a revolution against it in AD 66-70 that brought about the Roman siege of Jerusalem and the destruction of the temple. In the aftermath, only the collaborators prospered. From the accomodationist pharisees came Rabbinic Judaism; from the Pauline Christ-cult came Christianity. Some of the fanatical Jamesian sects hung on until the standardization of Christianity under Constantine, when they were proscribed, and dispersed into a variety of desert cults, some of which would later contribute to the theology of Islam.

What about Peter?

According to Paul, James the brother of Jesus was the leader of the original Jewish Christian church in Jerusalem. Peter, who most Christians think of as the "rock" on which the church was built, is portrayed by Paul as a vacillating middle-man. When visiting Paul he imitated Paul's pro-gentile stance, but when James's zealots were around, he became a zealot and shunned Paul. At some point he went to the Jewish-Christian community in Rome. There, far from Jerusalem, he seems to have finally abandoned James's fundamentalist ideology. After all, Jamesian fundamentalism was not attractive to Roman goyim. Then, when Jerusalem was destroyed in AD 70, Rome suddenly became the dominant center of Christianity. The Gospels were written, removing James and Jewish Christianity from the story of Jesus, and fully refurbishing Christianity as a Graeco-Roman religion. Peter became the primary apostle and first pope. Christianity as we know it was born.

The victor tells the tale

Eisenman peels back the layers of pro-Roman sugar-coating in the Gospels and Acts. The Romans in Palestine were a merciless colonialist force, their tactics documented for us by the Jewish turncoat Josephus. Their portrayal in the Gospels and Acts as good-hearted moderators of the excesses of the pharisees (themselves depicted as zealous/populist) appears to be a fiction designed to appeal to a Roman audience.

The Dead Sea scroll connection

Eisenman is well known for believing that the major figures of the dead sea scrolls, the Teacher of Righteousness and the Wicked Priest, can be identified as James and Paul. Eisenman makes many connections between the early Christian sources on James and the Dead Sea scrolls, but a layman cannot evaluate his scholarship. I don't know which parts are conventional wisdom and which are Eisenman's own theories, but the whole account is plausible and coherent. There's no reason for it to be 1000 pages, though.

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Copyright © Mark Alford (1998)


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