'Finding Jesus': James, brother of Jesus Q&A

Is this the first physical evidence of Jesus?
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Is this the first physical evidence of Jesus? 01:17

Story highlights

  • Religion professor Candida Moss appears in each episode of the program

(CNN)I'm Candida Moss, and I am professor of New Testament and Early Christianity at the University of Notre Dame. I was an adviser on the "True Cross" episode and served as one of the many on-camera experts in CNN's "Finding Jesus" series, which currently airs on Sundays.

Viewers were invited during the show to tweet and post their questions on the "Finding Jesus" Facebook page. Below are some of the more interesting questions and my answers to them. They have been edited for style and clarity for this article.
Philippe-André Boileau: Let's say, for argument sake, we admit the "brother of Jesus" part is a fake. What is then the probability of this ossuary being the one from the family of Jesus? Sounds to me like it is plausible.
Similarly, Yalanda M. Price asks: Wasn't James a common name for that era? These bones could belong to another man whose name was James.
"James, son of Joseph, brother of Jesus"
Moss: It's still possible that James the son of Joseph could still be James the Just, but it's no longer probable. People were often identified as "son of so-and-so" in antiquity, so it's not exceptional to find a "James son of Joseph" in antiquity. Of course this could still be James the brother of Jesus, but it could also be any number of people.
Dave Dman: Isn't the name "Jesus" an anglicized version of his real name? So having "Jesus" written wouldn't be correct...would it? Greg Yochum: Did the inscription on the ossuary say Jesus or Yeshua?
Moss: Yes, Jesus' actual name was Joshua (Yeshua). This is what is written on the side of the ossuary but for simplicity's sake scholars just say "Jesus" when they talk about it. But great catch! If the ossuary said "Jesus" that would be solid evidence it was a forgery.
Robert Lippner: If I recall correctly, the inscription on the ossuary was dated to 63 AD after its "discovery" by Andre Lemaire. What is the current scholarly opinion on this?
Moss: There's a great debate about the inscription on the side of the ossuary, in particular about the authenticity of the inscription. Everyone is in agreement that the ossuary itself is first century. The inscription and especially the words "brother of Jesus" are the aspects that are contested. I'd recommend Christopher Rollston (who was featured in the episode)'s blog post for more details.
Did Jesus reject his family?
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Did Jesus reject his family? 01:15
'James, son of Joseph, brother of Jesus'
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'James, son of Joseph, brother of Jesus' 01:31
Debbie N Tom Weathers: Why couldn't Jesus have had siblings? Why is this so hard to believe? And what difference does it make anyway?
Moss: The reason people don't think Jesus has siblings is because of Roman Catholic tradition. Hundreds of years after Jesus' death, Christians began to talk about Mary as the "mother of God" and a perpetual virgin. With that perspective in mind they began to see references to Jesus' siblings either as references to elder step-siblings (Joseph's children from an earlier marriage) or as references to cousins. This is why Brenda Campbell also asks about the meaning of the word sibling and suggests that it could mean cousin. There are historical reasons to justify this reading, because family was very fluid in the ancient world and cousins were often raised as siblings. The evidence could go either way. But in terms of 'why do we care?' this question really matters only for Roman Catholics and Eastern Orthodox Christians, for whom the perpetual virginity of Mary is a tenet of faith.
Jack Kilgour: The family, including Mary, are depicted as not understanding His ministry. Why? God came to Mary and told her she would give birth to the Son of God...why wouldn't she have been understanding/supportive during his ministry? John Pangle asks a similar question.
Moss: When I was in Sunday school I learned that she had special information from the Angel Gabriel and perhaps even instructed Jesus about the importance of his mission. Unfortunately what I learned in Sunday school isn't in the Bible, it's from late church writers speculating about the childhood of Jesus.
It's easy to see why they think this -- if we read all four Gospels as a unit it would seem like Mary should have understood (at least partially) who Jesus was. But if we read all of the Gospels together then Mary does some odd things. Why does she try to restrain Jesus in Mark 3? Why does she try to get Jesus to perform a miracle at Cana when he tells her that his hour has not yet come in John 2? Even reading all of the Gospels together there are some unanswered questions and Mary doesn't know everything.
I would argue that we should read the Gospel accounts separately and ask what is each author trying to communicate about Jesus. In Mark -- the Gospel that has the most friction between Jesus and his family -- there are no infancy stories and Jesus' identity is misunderstood by a lot of people (his family, his disciples, and the authorities). In part, Mark seems to be trying to answer the question "why didn't people know who Jesus was? If he was the Messiah how did he end up crucified?" The fact that his own family doesn't recognize the character of his missionary activity can be understood as part of this larger theme.
Angela Dunmore: Wait! If Jesus is on the outs with his family b/c of his ministry, why does his mother ask him to turn the water to wine?
Moss: Excellent point, but even at the Miracle at Cana he's a bit snippy with her! But Jesus' testiness aside, the story of turning water into wine takes place only in the Gospel of John. It's not found in the earlier Gospels and many scholars think that the story developed as part of later Christian tradition.
In the earliest Gospel, Mark, Jesus' family comes to "restrain him" (3:20), potentially because they want to protect him. When he hears that his mother and brothers and sisters are there, Jesus denies that they are special and instead describes those listening to him as his family (3:31-34). He elsewhere tells people that they should leave their families to follow him.
What did Jesus look like? Do we know the truth?
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What did Jesus look like? Do we know the truth? 02:53
Investigating the Bible: Fact vs. fiction
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Investigating the Bible: Fact vs. fiction 02:35
One historical explanation is that these stories are about the experiences of Jesus' followers rather than of Jesus himself and that they were written to comfort those whose families tried to forbid them from joining the Jesus movement. Whether or not this is true, by the end of the Gospel story Mary is present at the crucifixion. Whatever tension there was between Jesus and his family was resolved by the time he went to his death.
Gretchen Sauer Weller: In the Jewish tradition, if Jesus had siblings wouldn't Mary, his mother, have gone to live with them after Jesus death, instead of with John?
Moss: Great point. Well, the only evidence we have for where Mary goes to live after Jesus' death comes from the Gospel of John, our latest Gospel. In it Jesus unites Mary and the Beloved Disciple as mother and son. Assuming that this incident happened, how do we understand this scene? Do we suppose that Jesus is saying this because Mary now has no family and is destitute? Or could Jesus be striking a new bond despite the fact that she has family? Jesus thinks of his followers as a family, so he could just be emphasizing that kind of relationship.
Amanda Wahlmeier‏: is James the brother of Jesus the same James who wrote the book in the Bible?
Moss: According to tradition James the brother of Jesus is the author of the Epistle of James. The author of the letter describes himself as "James, a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ" but it's unclear who this James was. If the letter was really by James the brother of Jesus, it's strange that he doesn't invoke his special relationship with Jesus anywhere in the letter. Based on the content of the letter many scholars think that the letter was written sometime in the late first or early second century, long after James had died.
Interestingly the Protestant reformer Martin Luther thought that the work was a forgery. But we should bear in mind that the letter's interest in salvation through works conflicted with Luther's own theological views. So it was important for Luther that the New Testament epistle be inauthentic.
Herb Scribner‏: What made James change his mind and side with Paul? The show seemed to gloss over that
Moss: One of the reasons that the show doesn't go into too many details about this is that the New Testament itself glosses over the rationale for the shift. In Acts of the Apostles and even in Paul's writings it sounds as if Paul just talks to everyone around. It may well be that after heated debate in Jerusalem the apostles decide to divide the mission so that the original disciples take the Jews and Paul gets everyone else.
Pal Gals‏: How did the apostles feel about Paul and his own form of preaching?
Moss: Well our primary source -- Acts of the Apostles -- wants to smooth over tension between Paul and the other apostles. But it's clear that they got off to a rocky start. In Galatians Paul says that he got his teaching directly from Jesus (via visions) and not from the other apostles. In Galatians 2 he tells a story in which a delegation sent by James had led people in Antioch astray by insisting that Jews and Gentiles eat separately from one another. Paul says elsewhere that he fought with Peter and accuses him of hypocrisy.
It's unlikely that Paul would invent this kind of conflict. Reading between the lines it seems that the original twelve and James were more traditional and saw Paul as an upstart and outsider. It's easy to see things from their perspective -- he was a foreigner (from Tarsus), he had persecuted them, he was from a different social class (being well educated) and he didn't even know Jesus. The New Testament authors want us to think that Peter and Paul were two peas in a pod but the truth is that people disagreed in the early Church, much as they disagree today.
Elizabeth Soliz: Did Jesus study, the practice of healing in his childhood? If so, what age did he start studying?
Moss: We don't have any evidence whatsoever from the New Testament that Jesus received formal medical training. There is a text known as the Infancy Gospel of Thomas, which was mentioned in the show, in which Jesus receives a formal education (as you might imagine he's a quick learner, as you might not imagine he's a rather difficult child) and practices some healing miracles.
My apologies to everyone I didn't get to. Feel free to tweet your questions to me directly.