James, son of Alphaeus

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Saint James the Less
Rubens apostel jakobus mindere grt.jpg
St James the Minor by Peter Paul Rubens (1613)
Bornc. 1st century BC
Galilee, Judaea, Roman Empire
Diedc. 62 AD
Jerusalem, Judaea, Roman Empire or Aegyptus (Egypt)
Venerated in Roman Catholic Church, Anglican Communion, Eastern Orthodox Church
Feast 1 May (Anglican Communion),
May 3 (Roman Catholic Church),
9 October (Eastern Orthodox Church)
Attributes Carpenter's saw; fuller's club
Patronage Apothecaries; druggists; dying people; Frascati, Italy; fullers; milliners; Monterotondo, Italy; pharmacists; Uruguay [1]

James, son of Alphaeus (Ἰάκωβος, Iakōbos in Greek; Hebrew : יעקב בן חלפיYa'akov ben Halfay; Coptic : ⲓⲁⲕⲱⲃⲟⲥ ⲛⲧⲉ ⲁⲗⲫⲉⲟⲥ) was one of the Twelve Apostles of Jesus, appearing under this name in all three of the Synoptic Gospels' lists of the apostles. He is often identified with James the Less (Greek Ἰάκωβος ὁ μίκροςIakōbos ho mikros, Mark 15:40) and commonly known by that name in church tradition. He is also labelled "the minor", "the little", "the lesser", or "the younger", according to translation. He is distinct from James, son of Zebedee and in some interpretations also from James, brother of Jesus (James the Just). [2] He appears only four times in the New Testament, each time in a list of the twelve apostles. [3]



Possible identity with James the Less

James, son of Alphaeus is often identified with James the Less, who is only mentioned four times in the Bible, each time in connection with his mother. (Mark 15:40) refers to "Mary the mother of James the younger and of Joses ", while (Mark 16:1) and (Matthew 27:56) refer to "Mary the mother of James".[ citation needed ]

Since there was already another James (James, son of Zebedee) among the twelve apostles, equating James son of Alphaeus with "James the Less" made sense. (James son of Zebedee was sometimes called "James the Greater").

Jerome identifies James, son of Alpheus with James the Less writing in his work called The Perpetual Virginity of Blessed Mary the following:

Do you intend the comparatively unknown James the Less, who is called in Scripture the son of Mary, not however of Mary the mother of our Lord, to be an apostle, or not? If he is an apostle, he must be the son of Alphæus and a believer in Jesus, "For neither did his brethren believe in him."

The only conclusion is that the Mary who is described as the mother of James the Less was the wife of Alphæus and sister of Mary the Lord's mother, the one who is called by John the Evangelist "Mary of Clopas". [4]

Papias of Hierapolis, who lived circa 70–163 AD, in the surviving fragments of his work Exposition of the Sayings of the Lord relates that Mary, wife of Alphaeus is mother of James the Less:

Mary, mother of James the Less and Joseph, wife of Alphaeus was the sister of Mary the mother of the Lord, whom John names of Cleophas, either from her father or from the family of the clan, or for some other reason. [5]

Therefore, James, son of Alphaeus would be the same as James the Less.

Modern Biblical scholars are divided on whether this identification is correct. John Paul Meier finds it unlikely. [6] Amongst evangelicals, the New Bible Dictionary supports the traditional identification, [7] while Don Carson [8] and Darrell Bock [9] both regard the identification as possible, but not certain.

Fresco of Saint James the Less in the Orthodox Church of Vladimir, Russia. 12th century. Apostle James, son of Alpheus.jpg
Fresco of Saint James the Less in the Orthodox Church of Vladimir, Russia. 12th century.
Statue of St. James in the Archbasilica of St. John Lateran by Angelo de Rossi. Jacobus Minor San Giovanni in Laterano 2006-09-07.jpg
Statue of St. James in the Archbasilica of St. John Lateran by Angelo de Rossi.

Possible identification with James, the brother of Jesus

Jerome apparently voicing the general opinion of Early Church, maintains the doctrine of perpetual virginity of Mary. [10] He proposed that James, son of Alphaeus, was to be identified with "James, the brother of the Lord" (Gal.1:19) and that the term "brother" was to be understood as "cousin." [11] [12] The view of Jerome, the "Hieronymian view," became widely accepted in the Roman Catholic Church, [13] while Eastern Catholics, Eastern Orthodox and Protestants tend to distinguish between the two. Geike (1884) states that Hausrath, Delitzsch, and Schenkel think James the brother of Jesus was the son of Clophas-Alphaeus. [14]

In two small but potentially important works ascribed by some to Hippolytus, On the Twelve Apostles of Christ and On the Seventy Apostles of Christ, he relates the following:

And James the son of Alphaeus, when preaching in Jerusalem was stoned to death by the Jews, and was buried there beside the temple. [15]

It is important to remember that James, the brother of Jesus had the same death; he was stoned to death by the Jews too. This testimony of "Hippolytus", if authentic, would increase the plausibility that James the son of Alphaeus is the same person as James the brother of Jesus.

These two works of "Hippolytus" are often neglected because the manuscripts were lost during most of the church age and then found in Greece in the 19th century. As most scholars consider them spurious, they are often ascribed to "Pseudo-Hippolytus". The two are included in an appendix to the works of Hippolytus in the voluminous collection of Early Church Fathers. [16]

According to the surviving fragments of the work Exposition of the Sayings of the Lord of Papias of Hierapolis Cleophas and Alphaeus are the same person, Mary wife of Cleophas or Alphaeus would be the mother of James, the brother of Jesus, and of Simon and Judas (Thaddeus), and of one Joseph.

(1) Mary the mother of the Lord; (2) Mary the wife of Cleophas or Alphaeus, who was the mother of James the bishop and apostle, and of Simon and Thaddeus, and of one Joseph; (3) Mary Salome, wife of Zebedee, mother of John the evangelist and James; (4) Mary Magdalene. These four are found in the Gospel...(Fragment X) [5]

Thus, James, the brother of the Lord would be the son of Alphaeus, who is the husband of Mary of Cleophas or Mary the wife of Alphaeus. However, the Anglican theologian J.B. Lightfoot maintains that the fragment in question is spurious. [17] [18]

As reported by the Golden Legend, which is a collection of hagiographies, compiled by Jacobus de Varagine in the thirteenth century:

James the Apostle is said the Less, how well that was the elder of age than was St. James the More. He was called also the brother of our Lord, because I have resembled much well our Lord in body, in visage, and of manner. He was called James the Just for his right great holiness. He was also called James the son of Alpheus. He sang in Jerusalem the first mass that ever was there, and he was first bishop of Jerusalem. [19]

Possible brother of Matthew

Alphaeus is also the name of the father of the publican Levi mentioned in Mark 2:14. The publican appears as Matthew in Matthew 9:9, which has led some to conclude that James and Matthew might have been brothers. [20] [21] The four times that James son of Alphaeus is mentioned directly in the Bible (each time in the list of the Apostles) the only family relationship stated is that his father is Alphaeus. [22] In two lists of the Apostles, the other James and John are listed as brothers and that their father is Zebedee. [23]

Gospel of Mark

Calling of James, Son of Alphaeus

Mark the Evangelist is the earliest known source in the Bible to mention "James, son of Alphaeus" as one of the twelve Apostles. Mark the Evangelist mentions a "James, son of Alphaeus" only once and this is in his list of the 12 Apostles Mark 3:16–19. At the beginning of Jesus' ministry he first calls Peter and his brother Andrew and asks them to follow him Mark 1:16–17. In the next verses it tells the story of how James the Greater and his brother John the Apostle came to follow Jesus Mark 1:19–20. After some healing by Jesus he meets Levi son of Alphaeus who was a tax collector and he then asks Levi (better known as Matthew) to follow him Mark 2:14 Matthew 9:9. Peter, Andrew, James the Greater and John the Apostle are listed as Apostles Mark 3:16–19. Levi, son of Alphaeus is listed as an Apostle under the name of Matthew, but James alone is listed as the son of Alphaeus Mark 3:16–19.

Ambiguous Jameses

Overall Mark the Evangelist lists three different Jameses. "James, son of Alphaeus", James the Greater and James the brother of Jesus (Mark 6:3). On three separate occasions he writes about a James without clarifying which James he is referring to. There is a James at the transfiguration Mark 9:2, at the Mount of Olives Mark 13:3 and the Garden of Gethsemane Mark 14:33. Although this James is listed alongside John the Apostle a clear distinction isn't made about which Apostle James is being referred to, even when both Apostles are meant to be in a similar location. All twelve Apostles attend the Last Supper Mark 14:33 which immediately precedes Garden of Gethsemane. There is a reference to Mary mother of James the Younger and Joseph (Mark 15:40); however, Mark the Evangelist has already told us that James the brother of Jesus has a brother called Joseph Mark 6:3.

Gospel of Matthew

Calling of James, Son of Alphaeus

Peter, Andrew, James, son of Zebedee and his brother John were all called to follow Jesus Matthew 4:18–22. In a story that parallels the calling of Levi, son of Alphaeus, [24] Matthew is called to follow Jesus (Matthew 9:9–13). Matthew is never referred directly to as being the Son of Alphaeus in the Gospel of Matthew or any other book in the Bible, [25] but like Levi, Son of Alphaeus Mark 2:14. In Mark he is regarded as a tax collector Matthew 9:9. In the Gospel of Matthew the tax collector (Matthew) called to follow Jesus is listed as one of the twelve Apostles. James, son of Alphaeus is also listed as one of the 12 Apostles Matthew 10:3.

Ambiguous Jameses

Matthew doesn’t mention any James in his Gospel that isn’t identified without association to his family. There are 3 James that are mentioned by Matthew; James, Brother of Jesus, Joseph, Simon and Judas (Matthew 13:55), James son of Zebedee and brother of John (Matthew 10:2) and James, son of Alphaeus. At the Transfiguration it is specified that the James is brother of John (Matthew 13:55) and at the Garden of Gethsemane it is specified that it is the son of Zebedee (Matthew 26:37). It is not specified by Matthew that there was a James at the Mount of Olives; he mentions only disciples Matthew 24:3. Matthew also mentions a Mary the mother of James and Joseph who was at the crucifixion. This James is not given the epithet the younger (Matthew 27:56).


A James was arrested along with some other Christians and was executed by King Herod Agrippa in persecution of the church. Acts 12:1,2 However, the James in Acts 12:1,2 has a brother called John. James, son of Zebedee has a brother called John (Matthew 4:21) and we are never explicitly told that James son of Alphaeus has a brother. Robert Eisenman [26] and Achille Camerlynck [27] both suggest that the death of James in Acts 12:1–2 is James, son of Zebedee and not James son of Alphaeus.

In Christian art, James the Less is depicted holding a fuller's club. [28] Tradition maintains that he was crucified at Ostrakine in Lower Egypt, where he was preaching the Gospel. [29]

See also

Related Research Articles

Matthew the Apostle Christian evangelist and apostle

Matthew the Apostle, also known as Saint Matthew and as Levi, was, according to the New Testament, one of the twelve apostles of Jesus. According to Christian tradition, he was also one of the four Evangelists and thus is also known as Matthew the Evangelist.

John the Apostle apostle of Jesus; son of Zebedee and Salome, brother of James; traditionally identified with John the Evangelist, John of Patmos, and the Beloved Disciple

John the Apostle was one of the Twelve Apostles of Jesus according to the New Testament. Generally listed as the youngest apostle, he was the son of Zebedee and Salome or Joanna. His brother was James, who was another of the Twelve Apostles. The Church Fathers identify him as John the Evangelist, John of Patmos, John the Elder and the Beloved Disciple, and testify that he outlived the remaining apostles and that he was the only one to die of natural causes. However, modern scholars believe these to be separate people. The traditions of most Christian denominations have held that John the Apostle is the author of several books of the New Testament, although this has been disputed by some scholars.

James the Less christian saint

James the Less is a figure of early Christianity, one of the Twelve chosen by Jesus. He is also called "the Minor", "the Little", "the Lesser", or "the Younger", according to translation. He is not to be confused with James, son of Zebedee. In the West he was for long identified with James, the Lord's brother, thought of by St Jerome and those who followed him as really the cousin of Jesus. The sources offer no certainty. Most New Testament scholars now would reject that identification of St James the Less with St James, an actual brother of Jesus, and leader of the early Christian Jewish community. As a result, while St James the Less continues to be commemorated with St Philip on May 1st in the Western calendars, increasingly St James the Brother of the Lord has been included in those Calendars, on October 23rd, for example, in most recent Anglican calendars. Other views are noted below.

James, brother of Jesus brother of Jesus, according to the New Testament

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Simon the Zealot apostle of Jesus

Simon the Zealot or Simon the Canaanite or Simon the Cananaean was one of the most obscure among the apostles of Jesus. A few pseudepigraphical writings were connected to him, but Saint Jerome does not include him in De viris illustribus written between 392–393 AD.

Brothers of Jesus four men (James, Joseph/Joses, Judas, Simon) described as brothers of Jesus, along with unnamed sisters; in Christian denominations teaching the perpetual virginity of Mary, rationalized as half-siblings or other relatives

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Cleopas 1st-century Christian and saint

Cleopas, also spelled Cleophas, was a figure of early Christianity, one of the two disciples who encountered Jesus during the Road to Emmaus appearance in Luke 24:13–32.

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Jude the Apostle one of the Twelve Apostles of Jesus; traditionally identified with Jude the brother of Jesus

Jude, also known as Judas Thaddaeus, was one of the Twelve Apostles of Jesus according to the New Testament. He is generally identified with Thaddeus, and is also variously called Jude of James, Jude Thaddaeus, Judas Thaddaeus or Lebbaeus. He is sometimes identified with Jude, the brother of Jesus, but is clearly distinguished from Judas Iscariot, the apostle who betrayed Jesus prior to his crucifixion. Catholic writer Michal Hunt suggests that Judas Thaddaeus became known as Jude after early translators of the New Testament from Greek into English sought to distinguish him from Judas Iscariot and subsequently abbreviated his forename. Most versions of the New Testament in languages other than English and French refer to Judas and Jude by the same name.

Clopas is a figure of early Christianity. The name appears in the New Testament, specifically in John 19:25:

Near the cross of Jesus stood his mother, his mother's sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene.

Alphaeus is a man mentioned in the New Testament as the father of two of the Twelve Apostles, namely:

Mary of Clopas wife of Clopas

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Jude, brother of Jesus One of the brothers of Jesus according to the New Testament

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Matthew 27:55-56

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Mary, mother of James mother of James (the Less) and Joseph

Mary is identified in the synoptic gospels as one of the women who went to Jesus' tomb after he was buried. Mark 16:1 and Luke 24:10 refer to "Mary the mother of James" as one of the women who went to the tomb. Matthew 27:56 says that "Mary the mother of James and Joseph" was watching the crucifixion from a distance. Mark 15:40 calls her "Mary the mother of James the younger and of Joses" (NKJV). Although James the younger is often identified with James, son of Alphaeus, the New Advent Encyclopedia identifies him with both James, son of Alphaeus and James the brother of Jesus.

Zebedee father of James and John, two disciples of Jesus

Zebedee, according to all four Canonical Gospels, was the father of James and John, two disciples of Jesus. The gospels also suggest that he was the husband of Salome: whereas Mark 15:40 names the women present at the crucifixion as "Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James the Less and of Joses, and Salome", the parallel passage in Matthew 27:56 has "Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James and Joses, and the mother of Zebedee's children." The Catholic Encyclopedia concludes that the Salome of Mark 15:40 is probably identical with the mother of the sons of Zebedee in Matthew.

The presence of a group of female disciples of Jesus at the crucifixion of Jesus is found in all four Gospels of the New Testament. There have been different interpretations how many and which women were present. It may be different from different gospels

New Testament people named Mary Women named Mary in the New Testament: includes Mary, mother of Jesus; Mary Magdalene; Mary of Bethany, sister of Lazraus; Mary, mother of James the younger; Mary mother of John Mark; Mary of Rome

The name Mary appears 61 times in the New Testament, in 53 verses. It was the single most popular female name among Palestinian Jews of the time, borne by about one in five women, and most of the New Testament references to Mary provide only the barest identifying information. Scholars and traditions therefore differ as to how many distinct women these references represent and which of them refer to the same person.

New Testament people named John

The name John is prominent in the New Testament and occurs numerous times. Among Jews of this period, the name was one of the most popular, borne by about five percent of men. Thus, it has long been debated which Johns are to be identified with which.


  1. Catholic Forum Patron Saints Index: James the Lesser Archived June 25, 2007, at the Wayback Machine
  2. "Saint-James. Apostle, son of Alphaeus". Encyclopædia Britannica. Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc.
  3. Matthew 10:3, Mark 3:18, Luke 6:12–16 and Acts 1:13.
  4. saint, Jerome. The Perpetual Virginity of Blessed Mary Fragment 15. newadvent.org. Retrieved 3 September 2015.
  5. 1 2 of Hierapolis, Papias. Exposition of the Sayings of the Lord. Fragment X. earlychristianwritings.com. Retrieved 10 September 2015.
  6. John Paul Meier, A Marginal Jew volume 3, p. 201. "There are no grounds for identifying James of Alphaeus – as church tradition has done – with James the Less."
  7. New Bible Dictionary, 2nd Edition (IVP 1982), "James" entry (by P.H.Davids)
  8. "The Expositor's Bible Commentary CDROM, commentary on Matthew (by Don Carson), commentary on Matthew 10:2–4
  9. Luke, by Darrell Bock (Baker 1994), commentary on Luke 6:15
  10. Cross, FL, ed. (2005), "Brethren of the Lord", The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church, New York: Oxford University Press.
  11. John Saward – Cradle of redeeming love: the theology of the Christmas mystery p18 2002 "St Jerome concludes that St James, son of Alphaeus, and St James, brother of the Lord, are one and the same person.169 But why is James, son of Alphaeus, called our Lord's 'brother'? St Jerome's answer is as follows. In Matthew 13:55 we hear of four 'brothers' of our Lord: James and Joseph, Simon and Jude. Later, in the Passion narrative, St Matthew mentions a Mary who is the mother of James and Joseph (cf Mt 27:56) "
  12. The brother of Jesus: James the Just and his mission p17 Bruce Chilton, Jacob Neusner – 2001 "Given that James has been identified as the son of Alphaeus, Jerome indicates he cannot explain the connection of Mary the ... Chrysostom (347–407) was first to suggest that James the brother of the Lord is the son of Clopas though ..."
  13. "CATHOLIC ENCYCLOPEDIA: St. James the Less".
  14. John Cunningham Geikie The life and words of Christ Volume 1 1884 "Alphaeus, or Alpheus __, and Clopas are different ways of pronouncing in Greek the Hebrew name ___ (Chal'phai) ... Hausrath, Delitzsch, and Schenkel, think James the Just was the son of Clophas-Alphaeus."
  15. of Rome, Pseudo-Hippolytus. "On the Twelve Apostles" and "On the Seventy Disciples". newadvent.org. Retrieved 10 September 2015.
  16. Ante-Nicean Fathers, ed. Alexander Roberts, James Donaldson and A. Cleaveland Coxe, vol. 5 (Peabody MA: Hendrickson Publishers, 1999), 254–6
  17. "The Brethren of the Lord by J.B. Lightfoot". Archived from the original on 2018-06-18. Retrieved 2015-12-05.
  18. "Papias of Hierapolis".
  19. Stracke, Richard. Golden Legend: Life of Saint James the Less . Retrieved 29 October 2018.
  20. John MacArthur, Jr., Daily Readings from The Life of Christ, page 50 (Moody Publishers, 2009).
  21. Warren W. Wiersbe, The Wiersbe Bible Commentary: The Complete New Testament, page 848 (David C. Cook, 2007). ISBN   978-0-7814-4539-9
  22. Matthew 10:2–3, Mark 3:16–19, Luke 6:11–16 and Acts 1:13.
  23. Matthew 10:2–3, Mark 3:16–19
  24. The Good News Bible Revised Edition 1994 indicate that Mark 2:13–17 and Matthew 9:9–13 are the same story
  25. The Good News Bible Revised Edition 1994
  26. "James brother of Jesus" Robert Eisenman
  27. "CATHOLIC ENCYCLOPEDIA: St. James the Greater".
  28. Hilarie Cornwell, James Cornwell, Saints, Signs, and Symbols, page 49 (Morehouse Publishing, 2009). ISBN   978-0-8192-2345-6
  29. Philip Schaff, History of the Apostolic Church: with a General Introduction to Church History, page 389 (New York: Charles Scribner, 1853). Citing Nikephoros, Historia Ecclesiastica II:40.