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The Mysterious Disappearance of Jesus and the Origin of Christianity

By: Dr. Ahmad Shafaat



Part I



Chapter 3

A Brief History of the Earliest Jesus People

In the last chapter we saw that there existed almost from the very beginning independent and rival groups who used the story of Jesus in radically different ways. We also identified the most important of these earliest groups and their characteristic beliefs. In the present chapter we look at some more traditions about the three groups mentioned in the last chapter as well as some other important people in the Jesus movement.

The earliest Jesus people can be divided into the following groups, not all organized:

* The twelve

* The family of Jesus

* The seven

* Women

* Tax collectors and sinners

* Zealot-type nationalists

The first four groups listed above are mentioned in Acts, with all of them except the seven appearing together at the beginning of the church. After witnessing the ascension at the Mount of Olives, the twelve, except, of course, Judas Iscariot, return to Jerusalem. There "all these were constantly devoting themselves to prayer, together with certain women, including Mary the mother of Jesus, as well as his brothers" (1:14). This is the last mention of the mother of Jesus in the New Testament, although his brothers are subsequently seen active in the Jesus movement. The seven appear suddenly in Acts 6 and then quickly fade away. They are never mentioned in the gospels or elsewhere in the New Testament. Women, especially Mary of Magdala, are often mentioned in the gospels but do not play any significant role in Acts. Likewise the tax collectors and sinners, so visible in the ministry of Jesus, receive no mention in Acts. The zealot-type nationalists found almost everywhere among the Jews are not mentioned in the gospels or Acts but their existence in the Jesus movement at the earliest times is established by indirect evidence. We now briefly profile these people.


The twelve

The names of the twelve given in the four gospels do not agree. Only seven names are found in all the gospels: Peter, Andrew, John and James (sons of Zebedee), Philip, Thomas and Judas Iscariot. In John 21 an appearance of Jesus takes place to seven disciples: Peter, Nathanael, the two sons of Zebedee, Thomas and two unnamed disciples.

The lists in Mark, Matthew and Luke-Acts agree on eleven names (Peter, Andrew, James, John, Philip, Bartholomew, Matthew, James son of Alphaeus, Simon the Canaanean and Judas Iscariot). One name on which they disagree is given in Mark as Thaddaeus and in Luke-Acts as Judas son of James. In Matthew, the best manuscripts have Thaddaeus in agreement with Mark, but some others along with church fathers have Lebbaeus; and most of the manuscripts have "Lebbaeus surnamed Thaddaeus". It is best to assume that the original name in Matthew was Lebbaeus and that the other readings reflect attempts to make Matthew consistent with Mark.

The agreement in regard to the eleven of the twelve names between Mark, Matthew and Luke-Acts is not surprising, since Matthew and Luke are dependent on Mark. We have another list in the apocryphal Epistula Apostolorum which differs more substantially from that in Mark: John, Thomas, Peter, Andrew, James, Philip, Bartholomew, Matthew, Nathanael, Judas Zelotes, Cephas (the betrayer's name being omitted). We may be inclined to dismiss this list as unreliable because Peter and Cephas are distinguished but similar misunderstandings occur in the canonical documents as well.

Who is included in the lists of the twelve and in what order at least partly reflects the relative importance of the disciples in the churches which produced the lists. In the synoptic gospels Peter and James and John, are the first to be mentioned (except for the tendency to mention brothers, Peter and Andrew, together), while Judas Iscariot, the traitor, comes last. But in John and apocryphal gospels completely different order is found.

Mark gives specific information about the calling of only five disciples: Simon, Andrew, the two sons of Zebedee (James and John) and Levi the son of Alphaeus (1:16-20, 2:13-17=Matt. 4:18-22, 9:9-13=Luke 5:1-11, 5:27-32). Later in 3:13-15 Mark says that Jesus "went up the mountain and called to him those he wanted ... and he appointed twelve [some authorities add: whom he also named apostles] to be with him, and to be sent out to proclaim the message, and to have authority to cast out demons." This is followed by a list of the names of the twelve, which does not contain the name Levi who is nevertheless one of the five disciples whose call is described in Mark.

John also describes the call of only five disciples, of which one is unnamed and another, named Nathanael, is not found either among the five whose call is described in Mark or in the lists of the twelve in the synoptic gospels. John does speak of the twelve (6:70;20:24) and names some of them (14:22, 20:24), but does not give a list nor tells us when and why they were appointed.

The Talmud states that "Jesus had five disciples" (Sanh. 43a). Their names are given as Mattai, Naqqai (Nicodemus?), Nezer and Toda (Thaddaeus ?) (Str. Bill., 1.95, II. 417f., III. 461, quoted from Kraeling, The Disciples, p. 251, n.1).

The gospel stories of the call of the disciples are too similar to the stories of the call of disciples in the Greco-Roman philosophical tradition and in the Jewish prophetic tradition to be confidently considered as historical. Thus Socrates goes to the saddler's shop and challenges Euthydemus to become his disciple-companion. He calls Strepsiades, saying: "but come [deuri] and follow me [akolouthesis emoi]. His call of Xenophon is described thus: "'Then follow me,' said Socrates, 'and learn.' From that time onward he was a disciple of Socrates." (Culpepper, John, the Son of Zebedee, p. 19). In the Biblical tradition, we have the following account of the call of Elisha by Elijah:

So he set out from there, and found Elisha son of Shaphat, who was plowing. There were twelve yoke of oxen ahead of him, and he was with the twelfth. Elijah passed by him and threw his mantle over him. He left the oxen, ran after Elijah, and said, "Let me kiss my father and my mother, and then I will follow you [LXX: kai akoloutheso opiso sou]" Then Elijah said to him, "Go back again; for what have I done to you?" He returned from following him, took the yoke of oxen, and slaughtered them; using the equipment from the oxen, he boiled their flesh, and gave it to the people, and they ate. Then he set out and followed Elijah, and became his servant. (1 Kings 19:19-21)

In case of Euthedymus and Elisha the call takes place when would-be disciple is at work just as in Mark Jesus calls the fishermen when they were at work. Socrates tells Strepsiades and Xenophon: "come and follow me" or simply "follow me" just as Jesus does in some stories of the call (Mark 1:16, John 1:39 etc). Elijah tells Elisha to follow him not by words but by an action (throwing his mantle over him, which is understood by Elisha as a call to follow since he responds by saying, "I will follow you."). Elijah "found" Elisha just as Jesus "found" Philip (John 1:43). Elisha leaves his work by slaughtering the yoke of oxen and feeding the people in order to be with Elijah. The disciples leave fishing in order to follow Jesus. The statement of Elisha, "Let me kiss my father and my mother, and then I will follow you" recalls the statement of one of Jesus' disciple: "Lord, first let me bury my father" (Matt 8:21=Luke 9:59 (Q)).

It is noteworthy that in Jewish tradition prophets and rabbis as a rule did not choose their disciples. They accepted some or all of those who came to them (as in case of John the Baptist, Luke 3:7ff.). The only exceptions are Moses and Elijah who chose their disciples by express command of God or on their own. Jesus traditions were sometime created in imitation of traditions about Moses and Elijah.

The reliability of the stories of the call of the disciples is called into question not only by their similarities to the stories found in the Greco-Roman philosophical and Jewish prophetic traditions but also by the fact that they are found in different forms in Mark and John. Thus, for example, in Mark, Peter and Andrew are called when they were fishing in the Sea of Galilee; but in John, first Andrew follows Jesus after listening to the testimony of the Baptist about Jesus and then he brings his brother Peter to Jesus and all this takes place not in Galilee but Judea.

As mentioned above, Mark says that Jesus at an early stage chose the twelve to be with him. This view is carried much further in Acts. Thus Acts 1:21f gives two qualifications of a believer who can replace Judas Iscariot as a member of the group of the twelve: 1) he must be a witness of the resurrection; 2) he must have been with Jesus from his baptism till ascension. This implies that the original eleven possessed these qualifications. This is an artificial scheme designed by Luke or his source to further show that the church tradition has a secure historical foundation so that Theophilus and other readers "may know the truth concerning the things about which you have been instructed" (Luke 1:4), that is, be sure that the things they were told earlier had eyewitnesses. Historically, it seems unlikely that a fixed group of people who later led the Jesus movement constantly accompanied Jesus, for in that case the Christian tradition would have acquired a solid core based on the memories of those people instead of showing such diversity as we find even within the New Testament, not to talk of the non-canonical writings. It is more probable that the twelve first came into existence in the intense eschatological situation in the primitive community (see, e.g. R. Bultmann, Theology of the New Testament, I, p. 37). This view seems to have become unpopular among scholars on the basis of the following objection: how could the betrayer of Jesus be included among the twelve if that group was formed after Jesus' death. Charlesworth first believed that the twelve were formed after Jesus, but later changed his mind, mainly on the basis of this objection (Jesus Within Judaism, p. 137). However, if the evidence presented here against the historicity of the crucifixion and the alternative explanation of the Judas story given in Ch. 18 is accepted, then this argument looses its force.

It may be that at first there was a group of five disciples which was later extended to the twelve. This is also suggested by the story of the feeding of the multitude in which to begin with there are five loaves that end up with twelve baskets of left over food. It is also possible that the two fish represent the two leading disciples (Peter and Andrew or Peter and John) so that two fishes and five loaves represent an earlier group of seven disciples.

Why was the group of the twelve formed? In Mark the purpose of the appointment of the twelve is given as being with Jesus, preaching as apostles of Jesus and casting out demons, that is, assisting Jesus in his mission. But in Q Jesus firmly connects the number twelve with the twelve tribes of Israel and with the messianic kingdom of Jesus in which the twelve will act as judges for the twelve tribes (Matt 19:28=Luke 22:28-30). The Epistle of Barnabas which in its chapter 12 denies the Davidic descent of Jesus and thus his political messiahship says in chapter 8: "those whom he empowered to preach the gospel were twelve in number, to represent the tribes of Israel, which were twelve". In other words, the twelve were preachers not judges. The saying in Q is difficult to attribute to Jesus in view of the evidence that Jesus did not view himself as the Messiah. However, the saying does reflect the understanding of the twelve about Jesus and themselves. If the saying originated from the twelve, it did so before the defection of Judas since nothing in Q suggests that he was not among the twelve judges of the messianic age. That this defection did not take place immediately after the departure of Jesus is quite possible in view of the fact that not only Q but also Paul does not refer to Judas Iscariot or to his defection.

When we think of an early Jesus group whether small or large we should not think of it as a group united on some doctrine. We should rather think in terms of changing alliances, as in most communities, between leading figures. These alliances can break and give way to new alliances. In some cases, the old alliances may be re-established. Also, doctrines can change with changes in alliances or in other circumstances. A relatively late example of this is provided by the case of Barnabas, Paul and John Mark, the cousin of Barnabas. At one point Paul joined Barnabas in a common mission at the invitation of the latter. For some years the two worked together, assisted by John Mark. But the alliance finally broke down, with Paul separating from the other two. Much later, however, we see John Mark again connected with Paul's churches (Col 4:10). The split between Paul and Barnabas probably resulted in changes in the thinking of the two men. Paul became much more independent in his thinking and in particular became much bolder in rejecting the present value of the Jewish law, whereas Barnabas became closer to the more traditional position of James (Gal. 2:11-14).

The twelve provide a much earlier example. We rarely hear of the twelve as a group after the references to Jesus' resurrection appearances to them. When Paul first visits Jerusalem he spends fifteen days with Peter but does not "see any other apostle except James the Lord's brother" (Gal. 2:19). Clearly, there were no weekly meetings of the twelve as a united group where a visitor like Paul could meet all of them. And Paul gives the impression that he met James, the brother of Jesus, only on the side and not as Peter-James team. It is thus likely that the alliance that produced the group of the twelve broke down soon after its formation. Certainly Judas Iscariot defected. Others probably developed their own following and not without rivalry as is shown by Mark 9:33-37, 10:35-45 etc. When Paul visits Jerusalem a second time, he meets James, probably the brother of Jesus, Peter and John. This does not necessarily mean that the Jerusalem church was being jointly led by these three apostles as a united board. Rather, they may well be three prominent leaders, each with his own following, who got together whenever a matter arose of mutual concern to them. Who had prominence at any time and place depended on who had greater following at that time and place. During Paul's first visit Peter was prominent in Jerusalem. He probably arrived in Jerusalem earlier than James the brother of Jesus. But because of his character and his blood relationship with Jesus the following of James soon began to increase, so that during Paul's second visit he is in a more prominent position than Peter. Paul's own importance in the Jesus movement was secured, despite his teachings, by the large following he was able to gain. Since their importance depended on the extent of their following, many leaders pursued their mission aggressively, thus introducing in the Jesus movement a competitive spirit that contributed greatly to the success of Christianity. Paul was especially aggressive in his mission, ceaselessly traveling for his mission from place to place under harsh conditions. Being handicapped by the fact that he did not know Jesus personally, his worth in the Jesus movement was especially dependent on the extent of his following. This is why he chose the Gentile mission, since Gentiles provided an unlimited source of converts and they were less likely to be bothered by lack of Paul's contact with the earthly Jesus.

Although at first the twelve were among other Jesus groups who regarded themselves as the legitimate successors of Jesus, they gradually came to be regarded as the sole successors of Jesus and to become nominal heads of the whole Jesus movement. This process was well under way during the apostolic age but reached its conclusion after that age when Christianity, dominated by Gentile Christianity, needed to ground itself in the heritage of Jesus and therefore needed a link between itself and Jesus. Although the Stephenite Hellenists, the twelve and Paul all made decisive contribution to the building of the foundation of Gentile Christianity, Paul and the Stephenite Hellenists could not serve as links with Jesus because they historically had no or little connection with Jesus. This left only the twelve to serve that purpose. The relatives of Jesus such as his brother James were too close to Judaism and to the earthly Jesus to serve the purposes of Gentile Christianity.

Of course, the rise of the twelve to the position of legitimate successors was not without problems. Earlier the twelve were in fierce competition with the Stephenite Hellenists who created stories maligning the twelve. Because of the very early age of such stories they became indelibly written into the Jesus tradition and, as a result, we have the strange situation that the very people who are presented as the transmitters of the Christian tradition and chosen successors of Jesus are seen in some stories as villainous. The gospels make most of the situation by turning the negative stories and statements about the twelve as means of teaching Christians true faith. Thus the twelve become both the successors of Jesus and the representative of Christians with all their weaknesses.

Acts 4:13 describes Peter and John as "uneducated and ordinary men" and one can assume the same about most other members of the group of twelve. But we should not think of them as poor. In first-century Galilee, fishermen were in fact the 'businessmen' of their community; James and John ... were affluent enough to have 'hired servants'" (Stanton, The Gospels and Jesus, 186).

We have no information about the early activities of the twelve in Galilee. We can, however, say that they were not very successful and soon decided to move to Jerusalem. Pseudo-Clementine says that it was seven years after the resurrection of Jesus that the disciples decided to move to Jerusalem to discuss Jesus with the Jews (Recognitions 1:44, 53). This is, no doubt, unhistorical. The actual period was probably more like months rather than years.

After reviewing the available information about the twelve as a group, let us now profile some of the more prominent individual members of the group.



Peter's real name was Simon (Greek) or Shim'o-n (Hebrew). Only Acts 15:14 and 2 Pet 1:1 use the Greek transliteration Symeon of the Hebrew name. Since his brother's name Andrew is Greek, perhaps he was also always called by the Greek name Simon.

Paul refers to Peter as Cephas (Latinized form of the Greek transliteration Ke-phas of the Aramaic Ke-pha-) except at Gal 2:7. This one exception may be due to a copyist's error. Clement of Alexandria thought that Cephas and Peter were two different persons, as did the writer of Epistula Apostolorum.

Peter is called son of John in John 21:15 and Barjona (son of Jona) in Matt 16:17. Barjona has been connected by some with the Aramaic baryo-n_, meaning "ruffian," which is then understood as evidence that Peter was a zealot.

Mark and Luke call the chief apostle Simon until he is given the name Peter by Jesus when he chooses the twelve. Matthew calls him Peter from the beginning but says that the name was conferred on him at the time of his confession (16:17-19). In John the name is conferred at the "call" (1:42) but the reason for the name is not given. John even seems to be unaware that the name has any connection with "rock," since he says that Peter (Greek: Petros) is the translation of Cephas. But in Greek the word for rock is petra not petros. The latter is a true name (Latin: Petrus, possibly an abbreviation of Petronius), borne by at least one Jewish rabbi (Kraeling, Disciples, p. 73).

Meyers, noting that the pre-Pauline name Ke-pha-s is said by all the gospels to be conferred on Simon by Jesus (Mark 3:16, Matt 16:17-19, Luke 6:14, John 1:42) argues for the authenticity of Matt 16:17-19 by the following argument: "no rationale for this new name other than that offered by Matt 16:17-19 has ever been made even minimally plausible" (The Aims of Jesus, 186).

In the gospel tradition Peter is often used as a representative of the twelve or of some other group or of Christians generally. Consequently, he is often brought forward as a character in stories to project a particular point of view and it is difficult to know which, if any, of the great number of stories about him in the gospels contain authentic information about him. The most reliable information about him probably includes the following: Jesus healed his mother-in-law; he maintained good relations with the Jews, the Jewish Christians and Gentile Christians; he remained unaffected by the execution of Stephen; he hosted for fifteen days the Hellenist convert Paul of whom many other leaders were suspicious; he got away with only an arrest when James the son of Zebedee was beheaded by Herod Agrippa I; he shared meals with Paul's Gentile converts in Antioch but withdrew from such shared meals when men from James arrived (Gal. 2:11-14). All this suggests that Peter had a somewhat flexible character, who, either in the larger interest of the Jesus movement and/or his own position in it could bend his behaviour in accordance with differing pressures. It is likely that one of the reasons Peter finally became the chief apostle and disciple of Jesus and the rock on which his church was built is this flexibility in his character. For, in the fluid tradition of the apostolic age, diversifying in numerous directions, the last quality needed to become the rock for the church was to be rigid like a rock. In particular, in the matter of Jesus' death and resurrection Peter might have been at some point far more inclined to go along with the story than the rest of the twelve. This may partly explain why most of the twelve are almost completely ignored in New Testament. Ten of the twelve are not mentioned by Paul except under the group name "twelve". The synoptic gospels do not say anything about eight of them after mentioning their names in their lists. For some of them the mainstream tradition did not even take enough care to remember their names.

Another factor that helped Peter become the chief apostle seems to be the fact that he played the decisive part in constituting the group of the twelve on the basis of the belief that Jesus was the Messiah who will soon return to establish his kingdom. This belief soon became accepted widely within the Jesus movement and with it Peter and the twelve secured a lasting position within that movement as its figureheads. In view of the evidence that Jesus did not regard himself as the Messiah, the belief of Peter and the twelve in his messiahship suggests that they were not as close and constant companions of Jesus as the gospels suggest, for otherwise we should expect them to be more faithful to Jesus' own views. Those who were really close to Jesus either did not join the Jesus movement or the Jesus movement came to ignore them, since what they had to say did not fit with the direction the movement was taking.

Both Mark and John suggest that Peter came in contact with Jesus quite early in the ministry. But this does not mean that he was a constant companion of Jesus. Rather, his subsequent contacts with Jesus might have been only occasional. Paul tells us that Peter was married, and when he traveled for missionary work, generally took his wife with him (1 Cor 9:4-6). If Peter had the same marital status and the same attitude to his marriage during Jesus' ministry as afterwards, then it would be difficult for him to travel constantly with Jesus who was by all indications celibate.

Whatever contacts Peter had with Jesus were enough to leave in him a powerful impression about the person of Jesus. The healing of Peter's mother-in-law by Jesus, which is very probably historical, is one such contact that must have greatly impressed Peter. However, Peter's contacts with Jesus were probably not prolonged enough for him to know much about what type of kingdom of God Jesus preached and what role he would play in it upon his return. As a result of this relative ignorance, it was possible for him to imagine Jesus to be the Messiah.

Paul also tells us that Peter accepted financial support from the churches for his missionary journeys. At some stage, therefore, Peter did leave fishing for a full-time career as a Christian missionary just as the gospels say. But this probably took place after Jesus' ministry and the gospels have, as often, projected events in the life of the church back into the life of Jesus.

Peter traveled for missionary work not only in Palestine but also abroad. In particular, he went to Antioch (Gal 2:11). We may suppose that Peter stayed in Syria for sometime working among the large numbers of Jews there and also meeting with the Gentiles.

Paul talks of a "Cephas party" in Corinth (1 Cor 1:11-12) and Eusebius mentions the claim of Bishop Dionysius of Corinth that Peter and Paul had both planted the seed of the gospel at that place. This suggests that at least the influence of Peter, if not he himself, traveled beyond Palestine and Syria during his lifetime.

The words of Jesus in Matt 16:18, "the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it," can be taken to refer to the rock, i.e. Peter, rather than to the church. One reading in fact has "thee" instead of "it." In that case this would be a promise that Peter will not die similar to the promise given to the "beloved disciple" in John 21. Origen and Porphyry both say that Peter had received such a promise. In the situation that prevailed in the early churches, it would not be surprising that Peter himself or some Christian prophet who created Matt 16:18 was convinced that the leader of the Christian community at least will be alive when the Lord returns. However, things did not quite go that way, as John 21 shows.

In John 21:18, the risen Jesus prophesies about Peter:

Very truly, I tell you, when you were younger, you used to fasten your own belt and to go wherever you wished. But when you grow old, you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will fasten a belt around you and take you where you do not wish to go.

This is interpreted in an editorial comment as a prophecy of Peter's martyrdom:

He said this to indicate the kind of death by which he would glorify God.

That here the prophesied fate of Peter is understood as martyrdom is made clear by reference to that death that glorifies God. Such a description of suffering and martyrdom is found in 1 Pet 4:16 and Martyrdom of Polycarp 14:3, 19:2. However, it is clear that this interpretation is not the original meaning of the prophecy. Note that in the fourth gospel, as in other gospels, earlier traditions can be interpreted in highly creative ways (cf. the interpretation in John 2:21 of Jesus' words to the Jews: "Destroy this temple and in three days I will raise it up"; also see the reinterpretation of the earlier prophecy about the immortality of the beloved disciple in John 21:23). We can make better sense of the original prophecy and its interpretation if we assume that Peter did reach a helpless old age, possibly falling sick, and then died. This was clearly not fitting for the leader of a community whose members were expected either not to die or to die as martyrs. Consequently, the Christians had to do something about the manner of Peter's death. First a prophecy about the death of Peter through old age and sickness was attributed to Jesus. This is similar to the way Jesus was credit with the foreknowledge of other embarrassing traditions such as the betrayal by one of the twelve, denial by Peter etc. Then after some time had passed Peter's death was turned into a martyrdom. The prophecy was then understood as a prophecy of martyrdom. From 21:23 it is clear that the "beloved disciple" died considerable time after Peter and therefore John 21 was written many years after the death of Peter.



In the synoptic gospels Andrew (a Greek name signifying "manhood") is given no action of his own but is simply a tag-along brother of Peter. And even this role diminishes as we go from the earliest Mark to the latest Luke. In Mark Andrew is mentioned, apart from the listing, in three scenes:

* his call, along with his brother, from fishing to discipleship,

* healing of Peter's mother in law,

* discourse about the signs of the end.

Matthew leaves him only in the first of these three scenes while Luke does not mention him in any of them.

In complete contrast to the synoptics, John's gospel presents Andrew as one of the most prominent, if not the most prominent, disciple. He is the first disciple to be called. And while in the synoptics he is called only as a companion of Peter --Luke denies him even that mention -- in John, it is Andrew who brings Peter to Jesus and makes him his disciple! Clearly for some group in the Johannine community Andrew was the leading disciple, superior even to Peter.

In John, Andrew is described as a disciple of John the Baptist and it is the Baptist who introduces Jesus to Andrew as the Lamb of God (1:35-40). There seems to be no reasonable explanation of why John would present Andrew as the Baptist's disciple and so we can accept the tradition as historical. Perhaps Andrew's views were too close to that of the Baptist to be acceptable to the church at large.

According to John, Andrew, Peter and Philip were from Bethsaida. But Mark (1:21, 29), followed by Luke, presents at least Peter and Andrew as residents of Capernaum.

Andrew is said to be crucified at Patras in Achaea on an X-shaped cross. But there is no reference to that effect in Acts or any prophecy about it in John or any other gospels. Considering the importance given him by some groups in the Johannine community it is surprising that no reference to his crucifixion is found in John.



In Mark James and John are called immediately after the call of Peter and Andrew. They are mending the nets in their boat where there is present their father Zebedee and some other workers when Jesus calls them; they immediately leave their father and go with Jesus (1:19-20). They are then seen in the house of Peter witnessing Jesus perform healings (1:29f.), at the raising of Jairus' daughter (5:37), at the transfiguration (9:2), at the apocalyptic instruction about the signs of the end (13:3) and at Gethsemaine (14:32f.). On all these occasions James and John are mentioned with Peter, and in 13:3 with Peter and Andrew, always in the second and third positions. The two brothers appear by themselves in Mark 10:35-45, where they ask for seats of honor next to Jesus. John alone is mentioned in Mark 9:38-41, where he complains about an exorcist.

Matthew and Luke each drops James and John from four of these scenes. But Luke 9:51-56 has a unique story in which the two brothers ask Jesus' permission to command fire on the unbelieving Samaritans.

In Acts 3:1f we find John going with Peter at the 9th hour (the hour of prayer) to the temple and then perhaps speaking along with Peter (4:1). He also goes with Peter to Samaria (8:14-17). Paul once mentions John. In Gal 2:9 he says that during his second visit to Jerusalem he met with James (the brother of Jesus, cf. 1:19), Cephas and John.

In the Ebionite Gospel, John and James are first to be mentioned in the list of apostles, followed by Simon (Peter) and Andrew. In Epistula Apostolorum, we find the order: John, Thomas, Peter, Andrew and James.

In John the picture is uncertain. It has been suggested that one of the two disciples of John the Baptist who followed Jesus on the testimony of the Baptist and who is not named (1:35, 40) is James the son of Zebedee who later introduces his brother to Jesus. If so, the Johannine tradition or a section of it gave considerable importance to the sons of Zebedee. If, however, this suggestion is rejected, then we have the completely opposite conclusion: The sons of Zebedee are of little importance in the Johannine tradition because they are not mentioned at all except in the appendix (John 21) which was clearly added later and which gives the two disciples no special importance since they are last of the named disciples, coming after not only Peter but also Thomas and Nathanael.

There are four traditions about the sons of Zebedee in the synoptic gospels that need to be considered in some detail.

1) Mark 10:35-45 = Matt. 20:20-28. This passage like most other passages of comparable length presents considerable difficulties. James and John request--(in Matthew it is their mother who makes the request) -- that Jesus grant them to sit, one on his right hand and one on his left hand in his "glory" (Matthew: "kingdom"). Jesus' response in the two synoptic gospels is that the two disciples did not know what they were requesting. He asks them, "Are you able to drink the cup that I drink, or be baptized with the baptism I am baptized with?" (Matthew omits the reference to baptism). This looks like a rhetorical question which is understood to have a negative answer even if the disciples may think that the answer is affirmative. Yet Jesus goes on to predict that they will drink the cup that he drinks and be baptized with the baptism with which he is baptized. This is understood to be a prediction of the martyrdom of James and John. But why this way of predicting martyrdom? And how come the disciples could understand the cryptic reference to their death but could not understand clear references to the death of Jesus? Moreover, while there is no reason to doubt the martyrdom of James, that of John is extremely dubious (see below).

Now after Jesus has agreed that James and John are not only able but actually willing to do what Jesus asked them, one expects that he will grant them the two most prominent positions in his kingdom. But in the next verse he tells them that these positions are for those for whom they are prepared. At this point (verse 41 in Mark) the dialogue moves in a different direction. The remaining ten disciples are brought in. They are angry at James and John. Jesus calls them and tells them that they should not be like the Gentiles whose rulers lord it over them but rather the leaders among them should be like servants.

It would seem that the passage from Mark is made up of diverse traditions. First tradition used is found in verses 35-37, 40. In this tradition James and John request that they be given top positions in his messianic kingdom and Jesus denies the request with the comment in 10:40: "To sit at my right hand or at my left is not mine to grant, but it is for those for whom it has been prepared." This tradition might have originated from actual claims on the part of James and John or on their behalf that they occupy the two top positions in the Jesus movement and in the messianic kingdom that was to come soon. Earlier the twelve had claimed or it was claimed on their behalf that they will sit on twelve thrones, presumably along with Jesus, judging the twelve tribes of Israel. James and John were now claiming the best seats on those thrones and hence that they are the leaders of the Jesus movement. That no seat of prominence is requested for Peter means that this is a rival claim. It also means that James and John have developed their own independent following. The story originally was created to counter these claims. But the church preserved it in order to use it to discourage members for coveting positions.

Verses 38-39 represent another originally separate tradition. It stated that in order to share Jesus' glory one needs to share also his suffering, represented here as cup and baptism . This tradition was in use in the Markan church to teach the members to be patient in the face of hardships. It was early introduced in the story of the request of James and John. However, after the martyrdom of James it was necessary to add the note that James and John would indeed share the cup and baptism with Jesus. It is almost certain that only James suffered martyrdom, at least before the writing of Mark. That both brothers are said to share the cup and baptism means simply that the sharing of the cup and baptism does not necessarily mean death and that with the death of one brother the other also suffered.

Finally, in verses 41-45 Mark has introduced a theme linking greatness and service which is also originally independent, since it is found in different forms and contexts in the gospels (Mark 9:33-37 = Matt. 18:1-5 = Luke 9:46-48; Luke 22:24-30 , John 13:12-20).

2) Luke 9:51-56. Here Jesus is going to Jerusalem and on the way sends messengers to a village of the Samaritans who reject the message. James and John ask Jesus, "Lord, do you want us to command fire to come down from heaven and rebuke them?" (some authorities add: "as Elijah did"). Jesus turned and rebuked them." According to some textual authorities he also said: "You do not know what spirit you are of, for the Son of Man has not come to destroy lives of human beings but to save them." Even if the additional words "as Elijah did" in v. 54 are not original, a comparison with Elijah is suggested by the reference to the fire. It is very interesting that James and John compare with Elijah not Jesus but themselves. It is assumed that they have the power to command fire to come down from heaven to consume whom they wish. Perhaps James and John saw themselves as preparing the way for the return of Jesus as the messianic king in an Elijah-type role. Or, perhaps in the original tradition James and John asked Jesus to command fire to come down from heaven, comparing him with Elijah. Luke or his source changed the tradition because it was not acceptable that two of the most important disciples identified Jesus with Elijah. The possibility that James and John at one point believed Jesus to be Elijah is also suggested by the words with which the passage under consideration opens: "As the days were now coming to the full for him to be taken up, he firmly set his face to Jerusalem." According to these words, Jesus is going to Jerusalem to ascend to heaven and not to be crucified! This suggests that this tradition comes from those who did not believe in the crucifixion and who probably thought of Jesus in the likeness of Elijah who was also taken up.

There is another indication that at one point James and John might have been among those who believed in Jesus as Elijah. John 1:34-42 says that there were two disciples that followed Jesus: Andrew and an unnamed disciple. It has been suggested that the unnamed disciple was James who finds his brother John (just as Andrew found his brother Peter) and tells him: "We have found Elijah." If so, then the three messianic roles denied earlier to the Baptist -- Messiah, Prophet and Elijah -- would have been given to Jesus. (See also Ch. 9)

If at one point James and John did thought of Jesus as Elijah, they probably changed their minds when they joined the twelve.

3) Mark 9:38-41 = Luke 9:49-50 (cf. Matt 10:40-42). Here John complains to Jesus about an exorcist who uses the name of Jesus in his exorcism. Disciples tried to stop him because he was not following them. Jesus tells them to leave alone any one doing good in his name.

The historicity of this story is called into question by the unlikelihood of exorcism being practiced in the name of Jesus in his life and the fact that the formula "in Jesus' name" used by Mark in this story three times was current among the early Christians (Acts 2:38, 3:6, 4:10,18, 30, 5:28, 40-41). It has been pointed out that the liberal perspective expressed in the story is better attributed to Jesus (Culpepper, John, the Son of Zebedee, pp. 41-42 referring to E.A.Russell, "A Plea for Tolerance (Mk. 9.38-40)," IBS 8 (1986): 154-60)). But this assumes an early church with a unified point of view and under a single authority. The fierce way in which Paul and the Jerusalem leaders differed and yet cooperated with one another shows that many early Christians might have had the liberal perspective expressed in the story, showing that the story could come from the church despite its liberal attitude.

It appears from the above-mentioned stories that James and John at one point started to build following of their own with the view that they will be the chief ministers of Jesus when his messianic kingdom is established. In all the three stores the sons of Zebedee appear very jealous for their leadership and their mission. They want the best positions in Jesus' glory, they wish for the fire of judgment on those who do not respond to the Jesus mission, presumably as understood by them and they do not want to tolerate any one using Jesus without walking with them, i.e., without being under their leadership.

4) Mark 3:17. In his list of the twelve, Mark mentions that James and John were given the name Boanerges. Scholars are unable to explain the actual meaning of this word with certainty but Mark translates it as "sons of thunder". It is noteworthy that only the "inner three", Peter, James, and John, are given new names. "In Jewish tradition, names were often given either as a promise or as an act of laying upon the recipient a specific task." The name "sons of thunder" for James and John means that they "would be mighty voices, powerful witnesses." (Culpepper, John, the Son of Zebedee, pp. 40, 50). This meaning is consistent with the character of the two sons of Zebedee as painted in the first three traditions discussed above. For some amount of jealousy and ambition for leadership can be helpful to become a powerful voice for a cause.

Martyrdom of James. The character of the sons of thunder as painted in the above traditions makes it hardly surprising that James, the senior of the two brothers, was executed by Herod Agrippa I, especially when we keep in mind the political situation under which the execution was done.

This Herod Agrippa I had played a helpful role in bringing Claudius to the throne after the assassination of Caligula on 24 January 41. The new emperor rewarded him by adding Judea and Samaria to his kingdom which previously consisted of Galilee and Decapolis. The kingdom of Israel was thus restored to its fullest extent under a Jewish king. Herod Agrippa I thus became the last monarch to rule a kingdom like that of David. But his was a very precarious kingdom. Any serious trouble from within could result in his demotion or deposition. If James and John were actively busy preparing for the return of Jesus as the messianic king, this would be a direct challenge and threat to Herod. He may thus find it necessary to stop this movement immediately by executing its current head, James the son of Zebedee.

Luke tells us that King Herod "had James, the brother of John, killed with the sword" (Acts 12:2). That the tradition of James martyrdom is historical is confirmed by the fact that after this he is not seen active in any of the sources. Even in the medieval Spanish legends about James, the patron saint of Spain, it is only the bones of James that travel once he had made a supposed trip to Spain and returned to Judea. Hans Conzelman has observed: "Only one [of the twelve] remains at least largely excluded from the legend-building, James the son of Zebedee, who was put to death about the year 43 (Acts 12:2). Nevertheless, the feature which is also typical of other martyrdoms was invented concerning his martyrdom, that the soldier who conducted him to the court was converted and was likewise beheaded. And in spite of the New Testament, the Spanish church succeeded in connecting him with her country and in preparing a burial place for him which is venerated down to the present (Santiago de Compostela)" (History of Primitive Christianity, p. 150).

James is the first known eyewitness disciple of Jesus to be martyred and the only one whose martyrdom can be affirmed with confidence. Yet tradition left us no Acts of his martyrdom and no epistles or gospels are attributed to him. Why is this so? There are two reasons. First, relative anonymity is the normal fate of those who are involved in a messianic or eschalogical movement and whose brief career is brought to an end by sure execution. Had Jesus been known to be really executed, the same would have been his fate. Second, if the picture developed above is correct, James represented a political messianism of the type that Christianity came by and large to reject.

The execution of James raises another pertinent question. Why did Herod not execute Peter and John? The sparing of John is understandable because James was probably the senior of the two brothers, as is shown by the fact that he is almost always mentioned before John. It was natural for Herod to go after the leader. But in the Jesus movement Peter was by all indication the chief figure. Why was he spared?

Rulers had, it seems, learnt to distinguish between various groups and individuals within the Jesus movement. We saw earlier that the persecution of Stephenite Hellenists did not affect the twelve. Now the execution of James son of Zebedee did not involve the execution of Peter and persecution of James, the brother of Jesus. Herod considered only James son of Zebedee to be dangerous.

Acts does say that Herod, after seeing that the execution of James pleased the Jews, proceeded to arrest Peter also. This was during the feast of Unleavened Bread. Herod put Peter into a prison guarded by four squads of soldiers, intending to bring him to the people after the Passover. However, Acts tells us that Peter was released by an angel of the Lord (12:6-19). This looks like an attempt to provide an answer to the very question, Why was Peter not executed. Or it may be that Peter was indeed arrested and then released or that he was arrested and somehow managed to escape.

We are told in Acts that after his escape Peter left and went to another place (12:17) and also that he went to live in Caesarea (12:19). From this point Peter is no longer the leading figure in the Jerusalem church, although he is present along with James the brother of Jesus and John during Paul's second visit to Jerusalem (Acts 15:7ff.; Gal 2:1, 9). The note about Peter's departure suggests that Peter was indeed under some threat from Herod and lends support to the historicity of his arrest by Herod and his release/escape. For, such a threat from Herod would explain why Peter temporarily moved from Jerusalem. If threat from Herod Agrippa I was indeed the cause of Peter's move from Jerusalem, then he probably returned to the city sometimes after 44 C.E., the year of Herod's death, and before Paul's second visit.

The story of Peter's arrest and miraculous escape may well have been inspired by the story of Jesus' arrest and escape or vice versa. Both Peter and Jesus were arrested around Passover time. Each then goes to his companions gathered in a house who at first do not believe in his return and take him to be a ghost or an angel. Each gives a message for the other believers and their leader (in case of Jesus the message was for "the disciples and Peter" and in case of Peter, the message was for "James and the believers").

The fate of John. In contrast to his brother, the fate of John was unknown and therefore there developed two opposing type of traditions about his end something like what happened in case of Jesus. According to one type of traditions he was martyred while according to the other he died a natural death and was buried; sometimes he is said to be assumed into heaven from the grave. The following quotations are from R. Alan Culpepper, John the Son of Zebedee, pp. 171-174:

In Church History by Philip of Side, written between 434 and 439 C.E., we read:

Papias says in the second [of his five books] that John the Evangelist and his brother James were slain by the Jews.

In one manuscript of the Chronicle of George the Sinner (ca 840 C.E.), we read:

John has been deemed worthy of martyrdom. For Papias, the Bishop of Hierapolis, having been an eyewitness of his (or of it?), says in the second book of his 'Dominical Oracles,' that he was killed by the Jews, having evidently fulfilled, with his brother the prediction of Christ concerning them."

George also says that Origen corroborated this report in his Commentary on Matthew, but concerning Matthew 20:23, Origen says only that Herod killed James and that John was sent into exile by the emperor.

A homily (343 or 344 C.E.) from the Syrian church father Aphraates claims:

Great and excellent is the martyrdom of Jesus ... to him followed the faithful martyr Stephen whom Jews stoned. Simon also and Paul were perfect martyrs. James and John trod in the footsteps of their Master Christ. Also other of the Apostles thereafter in divers places confessed, and proved themselves true martyrs.

There is no reference to the martyrdom of John in any extant document before the fourth century, unless Mark 10:38-39 is interpreted as a prophecy after the fact of the martyrdoms of both James and John. If Papias did refer to the martyrdom of John, this would be the earliest such reference in a known work. The statement in George the Sinner that John, with his brother, suffered martyrdom in fulfillment of "the prediction of Christ concerning them" suggests that Papias interpreted the prophecy in Mark 10:39 as a prophecy of the martyrdom of both James and John. Aphraates also seems to refer to the prophecy in Mark when he says: "James and John trod in the footsteps of their Master Christ". It is then possible that the view of John's martyrdom arose from the prophecy in Mark rather than on the basis of an independent tradition. In that case we have nothing more to go by than the prophecy in Mark. But the use of Mark 10:39 as evidence of the martyrdom of John flies in the face of the tradition that John lived a very long life in Ephesus, which means that he died after the writing of Mark. It is true that this tradition of John's long life probably arose out of a mistaken identification of John with the "beloved disciple" mentioned in the fourth gospel, but such an identification is more understandable if the tradition did not know of John's fate than if it knew firmly of his martyrdom before the writing of Mark.

The martyrdom of John is also called into serious question by alternative traditions about how the life of this apostle ended. Acts of John, dated to the later part of the second century, tells in its chapters 111-115 that John had his own grave dug up, lied in it and gave up his spirit. Subsequently, this view becomes much more common than the view of John's martyrdom. It is expanded by the legend that John's tomb became empty soon after his burial or that he lies there in a sleep-like state with his body preserved from all form of corruption.

Culpepper, after a discussion of the above traditions says: "The cumulative weight of the references just considered has been enough to keep alive the possibility of the early martyrdom of John but not sufficient to override the tradition of his long residence in Ephesus. As the tradition of the Ephesian residence becomes more suspect there has naturally been renewed interest in the testimonies to John's early martyrdom. It is not necessarily an either/or choice, however, between the traditions of a long residence in Ephesus or an early martyrdom in Jerusalem. Both may be legendary, and the circumstances of the death of John may be unknown, as are the circumstances of the death of most of the other apostles."



The name is Greek and means "lover of horses". Philip is the fifth apostle in all synoptic lists and is never mentioned in the synoptic gospels apart from these lists. But John gives him a considerable importance. He is one of those disciples whose call is actually described and in fact he is the only disciple who is "found" by Jesus himself (1:43-46). He, along with Andrew, has a role in the miraculous feeding of the multitude (6:5-9) and in introducing the Gentiles to the Jesus movement (12:21f.). During the farewell discourses he asks Jesus to show the disciples the Father (14:8f.).

Polycrates, Bishop of Ephesus, says that Philip was buried at Hierapolis, and that two of his daughters lived there as virgins, while a third lived and died in Ephesus (Eus 5.24). This seems to come out of a confusion between Philip the apostle and Philip the evangelist (one of the seven), since according to the earlier testimony of Acts it is Philip the evangelist who has four unmarried daughters (21:8) and they are later said to be buried at Hierapolis. Irenaeus thought that Philip the apostle was the same person as Philip the evangelist. This is in all probability a mistake, since, unless there are some special reasons to the contrary, it is much more understandable that two persons with the same name are identified than a single person becomes two persons. It has been suggested that Philip was originally one of the twelve and later went over to the seven, a suggestion which according to Hengel cannot be excluded as a possibility (Between Jesus and Paul, p. 14). But in that case we should not expect the twelve or their followers to forgive Philip's act of betrayal so easily as to leave no story maligning him.



The name is Aramaic and means "twin". Thomas is yet another of the twelve who is a mere name in the synoptic lists of apostles but is given some importance in John. John translates the apostle's name into Greek and mentions him in the following passages:

In 11:16, upon hearing of the death of Lazarus and Jesus' decision to go to Judea, Thomas makes the strange suggestion to the disciples: "Let us go with him so that we may die with him".

In 14:5, when Jesus talks about his departure and tells the disciples that they know where he is going, Thomas questions Jesus' statement. This is at odds with the assumption made by Thomas earlier that Jesus was about to die.

In 20:24-29, Thomas doubts whether the Jesus seen by the other disciples is the crucified Jesus. This passage shows that Thomas remained a symbol of the doubt about the crucifixion of Jesus for a much longer time than the rest of the disciples (see also Ch. 12).

A gospel, dated by many scholars in the first century, is attributed to Thomas, which shows that the apostle had a following of his own. This gospel is silent about the crucifixion of Jesus, thus lending further support for our view that Thomas did not accept the story of the crucifixion and resurrection.



All four gospels agree that Judas was one of the twelve, something that we cannot say about most disciples in the synoptic lists. There are also several references to him in every gospel, mostly in connection with his "betrayal". We defer a more detailed look at these references to Ch. 18.

Apart from the above seven, there are no other disciples who are found in all the lists of the twelve and about whom anything more than a mention of the name is found in the canonical gospels.

From the above summary of gospel traditions about the twelve it seems that sometime after its formation the twelve were scattered as a group. For a while the two sets of brothers: Peter and Andrew, James and John held together. Then Andrew took his own separate direction. By the time of Paul's first visit to Jerusalem James and John were also separated and Peter was forging relations with Paul and was in some type of alliance with James, the brother of Jesus. After the martyrdom of James, son of Zebedee, his brother John moved closer again to Peter and to James the brother of Jesus.


The family of Jesus

In some Jesus groups in Palestine the family of Jesus, especially his brothers had great influence and importance. Gentile Christianity at first shows indifference and even hostility towards Jesus' family but after its victory over Palestinian Christianity it begins to be much kinder to them.

Some at least of Jesus' brothers were married (1 Cor 9:5) and probably had children. Such descendants of Jesus' family continued to have prestige in some Jesus communities in Palestine. Hegesippus (a Christian from Palestine or a nearby place who about the year 180 C.E. compiled his 'Memoirs' which is known to us only through quotations by Eusebius in his Church History) speaks of two grandsons of Jude, a brother of Jesus, who were brought from Palestine before the emperor Domitian when they were denounced by some "heretics" (i.e. Jews) for being descendants of David. Domitian, during his examination of the two brothers, learnt that they had no wealth and their interest was not in the kingdom of this world. He, therefore, released them out of contempt and the two became leaders in the Churches (Eusebius, Eccl. hist., 3.19-20).

Hegesippus also tells us that after the martyrdom of Jesus' brother James, who was designated "bishop" of Jerusalem by the apostles, his cousin, Simeon, son of Clopas, uncle of Jesus and of James, was appointed to be James' successor and thus to be the second bishop of Jerusalem. In the time of Trajan, this Simeon, like the grandsons of Jude, is denounced as being a son of David and of being a Christian. He was tortured for several days, but bore all this suffering bravely even though he was 120. Finally he was crucified. The office of the bishop of Jerusalem continued to be held by the relations of Jesus. Eusebius records a total of 15 relations of Jesus who held the position of "bishop" of Jerusalem (Eccl. hist 2.23.4, 3. 11, 3.32.3-6, 4.5.3-4). Much of this information is subject to the usual doubts, but it nevertheless shows that relations of Jesus continued to be active in the Palestinian churches for several generations.

The importance that the relations of Jesus acquired in the churches was not least because of their claims to be the descendants of David. Although Jesus' immediate family is not known to push such claims, some later relations of Jesus were quite active in promoting their Davidic descent. According to Julius Africanus (160-240 C.E.), "Herod, who had no drop of Israelitish blood in his veins and was stung by the consciousness of his base origins, burnt the registers of their families ... A few careful people had private records of their own, having either remembered the names or recovered them from copies, and took pride in preserving the memory of their aristocratic origin. These included the people ... known as Desposyni ["master's people"] because of their relationship to the savior's family." From Nazareth and Kochaba they visited the rest of Palestine and, wherever they went, expounded the genealogies from the Books of Chronicles and also from memory as far as they were able (as quoted by Eusebius in his Eccl. hist 1.7.13-14). The fact that the relations of Jesus had to prove their Davidic descent by using the books of Chronicles in contradictory ways and Julius Africanus had to justify this fact by the fictional destruction of the pedigrees of the Jews by Herod calls into question Jesus' own Davidic descent, although it is mentioned as early as Paul.



Of all the relatives of Jesus active in the church, none is more important than his brother James. He is the most historical figure in the first-century Christianity after Paul in the sense that with the exception of Paul, there is no other figure about whom we have more detailed and more reliable information. The information about James is found in his own letter, in Paul, in Hegesippus, in some apocryphal Christian writings and in Josephus. The mention of James by Josephus makes him the only "Christian" figure other than Jesus to be found in an early non-Christian source.

In Paul there are four brief but extremely valuable references to James. In Gal 1:18-19 he tells us that during his first visit to Jerusalem he stayed with Peter for fifteen days and that he "did not see any other apostles except James the brother of the Lord." In Gal 2:9 he tells us that James (probably the brother of Jesus) was among the three "so-called pillars" of the Jerusalem church. In Gal 2:12 he says that during his visit to Antioch Peter used to eat with the Gentiles until certain people came from James, after which "he drew back and kept himself separate for fear of the circumcision faction." And in 1 Cor 15:7 he testifies that fourth of a sequence of six appearances of the risen Jesus was to James. James is probably also included among "all the apostles" to whom Jesus made his fifth appearance.

Some apocryphal traditions go further and present James to be the first believing witness of the resurrection. Jerome says:

The Gospel called the Gospel according to the Hebrews which was recently translated by me into Greek and Latin, which Origen frequently uses, records after the resurrection of the Savior:

And when the Lord had given the linen cloth to the servant of the priest, he went to James and appeared to him. For James had sworn that he would not eat bread from that hour in which he had drunk the cup of the Lord until he should see him risen from among them that sleep. And shortly thereafter the Lord said: Bring a table and bread! And immediately it is added: he took the bread and blessed it and brake it and gave to James the Just and said to him: My brother, eat thy bread, for the Son of Man is risen from among them that sleep. (NTA, I, p. 165)

Connected with the tradition that James was the first witness of the resurrection seems to be the tradition that James was the direct successor of Jesus. This tradition is found in the apocryphal Gospel of Thomas which may come from around the middle of the first century. Also, in Clement of Alexandria James is designated as the first bishop of Jerusalem, even before Peter. In the pseudo-Clementines, Recognitions, James is installed as the bishop of Jerusalem by Jesus himself (1.44) and not by the apostles as Eusebius says (Eccl. hist 4.5.3). According to Epiphanius (78.7), Jesus entrusted his throne over the earth in the first place to James; for this he was fitted on the one hand due to his holiness and on the other hand due to his being the brother of Jesus and son of Joseph and therefore the heir of David and his throne (29.4) (NTA, I, pp. 419).

James seems to have had an upright character by the standards of the time, as is suggested not only by the reference to his holiness in Epiphanius but also by much earlier evidence. He was called "the Just," a title used as early as the Gospel of Thomas. His letter also reveals a person specially concerned about ethical and moral principles. According to a report of Hegesippus, quoted by Eusebius (Eccl. Hist. 2.23.6) James "was found on his knees asking for forgiveness on behalf of the people, so that his knees became hard like a camel's." Hence he was called "Oblias" which was supposed to mean "protection of the people." This is consistent with the emphasis that the Epistle of James places on prayer. Finally, his martyrdom is perhaps another indication that he was a man of some principles, for, one can often avoid execution by showing a little flexibility.

Because of his relation with Jesus James attracted many of those people who were previously drawn to Jesus and because of his just and moral character he also won the respect of many members of other Jewish groups and their leaders. He enjoyed such prestige in the populace and such good relations with the temple authorities that he was permitted to enter the sanctuary of the temple where other laymen were forbidden to enter. Hegesippus says that this special permission for James was because he never wore wool but only linen, that is, because of his ascetic ways. But this looks like an attempt to cover the embarrassingly close relations that James had with Jews and Jewish authorities. The prestige and good relations enjoyed by James among many Jews is also attested by Josephus when he tells us that when James, along with some unnamed "others", was executed by the high priest Annas the younger, the fair-minded and law-abiding people in the city took offence at this, and turned to King Agrippa, while others went to meet the governor Albinus and informed him of Annas' arbitrary judicial proceedings. This led to the deposition of Annas.

James was faithful to his powerful constituency of Jewish Christians and other Jews, which enabled him to replace Peter at one point as the leader of the Jerusalem church. But eventually it was Peter who was destined to be viewed as the chief successor of Jesus, no doubt because of his flexibility.

The prestige James enjoyed among the Jews and the good relations that existed by and large between him and the temple authorities provide us with the background to understand John 7:1-9. In this passage, the brothers of Jesus want him to go to Jerusalem and enhance his fame by showing his works. Jesus replies: "My time has not yet come, but your time is always here. The world cannot hate you, but it hates me because I testify against it that its works are evil" (7:7). That is, James and other brothers of Jesus got along with the world (which in John often means the Jews) while Jesus did not. The brothers were after fame and position while Jesus has no interest in this world, for his kingdom is not of this world (19:36). He has a different agenda. Therefore he goes to Jerusalem separately (7:10). Most of this reflects the situation in the church as perceived by John and not the life of Jesus. The separate trips to Jerusalem by Jesus and his brothers represent separate directions taken by Gentile Christianity and by James and other brothers of Jesus. This is consistent with the absence in James' epistle of almost all the beliefs that are so dear to Gentile Christianity such as the belief in Jesus' death and resurrection, if also not the belief in Jesus as the Christ. James probably had too much information to believe in such things.

There are indications that James behaved, and was perceived to behave, as a leader in his own right, of the same type of movement that was led first by John the Baptist and then by Jesus. Thus the Gospel of Thomas, though in its preamble is explicitly attributed to Thomas, who is presented superior to other disciples such as Peter and Matthew (saying 13), glorifies James even more than Thomas. Saying 12 reads:

The disciples said to Jesus: "We know that you are going to leave us: who will be chief over us?" Jesus said to them: "In the place to which you go, betake yourselves to James the Just, on whose behalf heaven and earth alike were made."

In the Jewish tradition it is usually for figures like Abraham, Moses and the Messiah that heaven and earth are said to be made (L. Ginzberg, The Legends of the Jews, V, pp. 67-68). This suggests that at one point James was regarded as a prophet or a messianic figure in his own right. The Apocryphon of James, towards its conclusion says that James sent the disciples "separately to another place" (16.7f; NTA, I, p. 338). If this refers to the sending of the disciples into the world, then James plays here a role attributed in Matt 28:19 to Jesus. That James considered himself as an independent successor of Jesus (although one who shared common outlook with his brother) is shown by his epistle where he writes on his own authority and never quotes Jesus and quite possibly did not even mention him. James as a member of Jesus' family had a natural advantage in the Jesus movement and therefore he did not have to go out of his way to glorify Jesus to advance himself in that movement, as did others, especially Paul who never even met Jesus.

The position of James in his own eyes and in the eyes of some other people could then be like that of Jesus after John the Baptist. Just as Jesus was a disciple of John but after his mentor's death became an independent leader, so also James became an independent leader after Jesus. And just as Jesus often talked without referring to the teaching of the Baptist, similarly, James did not always write or speak in reference to what Jesus said or did. But while in time Jesus overshadowed John, James could not overshadow Jesus but was himself overshadowed by his brother. This was partly because James lacked charismatic personality, but mainly because of the same reason for which Jesus overshadowed John, namely that James was truly killed while Jesus was not and therefore could be believed to be living in heaven. Had Jesus been truly executed while circumstances of James' death were ambiguous, it is quite possible that today the central figure of Christianity would be James.

Thus it is not quite right to refer to James as the head of the "Christian" church in Jerusalem; he headed his own group, which was a Jesus group because of James' blood connection with Jesus and also because James represented the outlook of his brother.

Although, James and other members of Jesus' family were largely maligned in the New Testament times because they followed a direction opposite to that of most brands of Christianity, the Christian churches had to sooner or later christianize them and thus accept them. For most Christians could not feel comfortable with the fact that Jesus' own mother and brothers and sisters had views radically different from their own, especially the brother who was for decades a leading figure in the Jerusalem church. The christianization and acceptance of the family of Jesus already started with Luke. In Acts 1:14 Luke brings the twelve and the family of Jesus in a happy united group with which the church starts, even though in his gospel he reproduces Mark's story of Jesus' renouncement of his family.

The christianization of James is more clearly visible in the account of James' execution given by Hegesippus:

At a Passover, where Jews and pagans came together, some scribes and Pharisees urged upon James that in virtue of his prestige and righteousness he should give testimony from the pinnacle of the temple to the crowds assembled in the temple court, as to what was the "gate" or significance of Jesus the Crucified. In reply, James declared in a loud voice: "What do you ask me with regard to Jesus, the Son of Man? He sits in heaven at the right hand of the Great Power, and will one day come on the clouds of heaven." Thereupon the scribes and the Pharisees hurled him down, and since he was still alive on the ground, began to stone him. But he prayed on his knees: "I pray thee, Lord God our Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do." Then a priest of the Rechabites (Epiphanius 78.14 substitutes Simeon for the priest) cried out: "Stop! The Just is praying for you!" Then one of them, a fuller, took the cudgel he used for beating clothes, and with it struck him on the head; and so James met with a martyr's death. James was buried on the spot near the temple, and his tomb was still there in the time of Hegesippus. Shortly after this event Vespasian besieged the Jews (NTA, pp. 419-420). This tradition about the martyrdom of James is also briefly mentioned in Clement of Alexandria. In a fragment of the Hypotyposes as preserved by Eusebius we read a reference to James the Just "who was thrown down from the pinnacle of the temple, and beaten to death with a fuller's club" (Hist. Ecc. 2.1.5). The tradition is also found in the Second Apocryphon of James (NH Codex V, 44:11-63:2).

In this tradition of James' execution he has become a Christian martyr, although even here a reference to the death of Jesus is missing in the confession of James: The Jews want him to talk about the significance of Jesus the Crucified, which to them must have meant that Jesus was the false messiah and an accursed one. In his confession, James completely avoids any reference to the crucifixion and talks only of the ascension of Jesus the Son of Man. It is as if James is saying: You, the scribes and Pharisees, want me to say that Jesus was crucified which signifies that he was a false messiah and an accursed one. But I say that Jesus was the true Messiah, the Son of Man; he was not crucified but was raised to heaven and is seated at God's right hand and he will one day return on the clouds of heaven. This confession makes him a Christian like that of the twelve who believed that Jesus was in heaven waiting to return as the Messiah. A more thorough christianization of James takes place in the Apocryphon of James where James not only believes in the messiahship of Jesus but is also instructed by Jesus himself in the necessity to believe in the crucifixion and hence in the resurrection (p. 5:33-7:6 of Ms.) (see Ch. 12)).

Fortunately, we have in Josephus another reference to the execution of James which allows us to assess Hegesippus' account. Josephus tells us that in the early part of the three-month period that elapsed between the sudden death of the Roman procurator Festus (c. 62 C. E.) and the arrival in Judea of his successor Albinus, a newly appointed high priest, Annas the younger, extremely rash and cruel, took advantage of the absence of a Roman governor for independent action.

He convened a judicial session of the Sanhedrin and brought before it the brother of Jesus the so-called Christ -- James by name -- and some others, whom he charged with breaking the law and handed over to be stoned to death (Ant. 20.200).

Subsequently, Josephus tells us that some people took offence at what Annas did and complained to King Agrippa and governor Albinus. As a result, the younger Annas, a son of the senior Annas mentioned in the New Testament (Luke 3:2, John 18:13, Acts 4:6) was removed from the position of the high priest. All this suggests a political motive for the execution: Annas, in order to consolidate his position, wanted to get rid of potential opponents such as James, who might have objected to Annas' appointment as the high priest on grounds of his weak character. Hegesippus' account, on the other hand, does not mention the key figure of Annas and suggests an impulsive action taken by the scribes and Pharisees, the gospel opponents of Jesus, and motivated by religious conflict with Christianity. Also, if James was indeed hurled from the pinnacle of the temple, this would have formed a story remarkable enough for Josephus to know and mention. The date implied by Josephus is 62 C.E. while Hegesippus account suggests about 66.

It is difficult to know how the tradition of James being pushed from the pinnacle of the temple for making his confession started. Perhaps, initially, the tradition said that James made his confession from the pinnacle of the temple without reference to his execution. Since martyrs often die confessing their faith, the confession from the pinnacle of the temple became an occasion and reason for James' execution. It was easy to imagine that the method of execution was a push from the pinnacle. However, there was another tradition that said that James was stoned to death and so the fall was not considered enough to kill James: he was allowed to live for some stoning to take place. The detail that James met his death when he was struck by a fuller with his cudgel seems to be historical: it is quite possible that during the stoning of James a fuller did use his cudgel to put an end to James, either as an act of mercy or of rage. The detail could have been easily omitted by Josephus, so that his silence about it does not speak against its historicity. In Hegesippus' account the blow by the fuller probably serves the purpose of completing to three the number of methods used for inflicting martyr's death; cf. the Coptic Resurrection Story of Bartholomew in which the pious Ananias dies through three-fold torture: stoning, the furnace and the spear (NTA, I, p.420). But this purpose alone cannot explain the story, for it is not clear why the third method should have been a blow by a fuller. Also, in Clement of Alexandria the blow by the fuller is mentioned but only two and not three methods of torture are used.

It should be noted that Hegesippus, compiled five books of 'Memoirs" in order to demonstrate the reliability and unity of the Church's tradition over against "the wild fantasies" of the Gnostics (Eccl. Hist. 2.23.6; 4.8.1f; 4.22.1; 2.23.3). He therefore either had to condemn James as Mark and John do or to christianize him. In the last part of the second century it was difficult for any Christian to condemn the brother of Jesus who was for decades the leader of the Jerusalem church. Christianizing him was the only choice. As noted above, even about a century before Hegesippus, when Luke wanted to demonstrate in Acts the reliability and the unity of the Church's tradition, he could not condemn James and the rest of the family of Jesus.



The Galilean people who collected and/or produced the earlier traditions in Q were probably some of the apostles to whom according to Paul (1 Cor 15:7) Jesus appeared along with his brother, James. This is suggested by a number of similarities between the letter of James and Q: both lack any reference to the death, resurrection or appearances of Jesus; both in their original form may have lacked any reference to the messiahship of Jesus; both assume a mission centered on proclaiming the imminent kingdom and judgment of God, on healing the sick and on teaching of wisdom. Apart from the apostles mentioned in 1 Cor 15 along with James, the only other known group to which the origin of Q may be assigned is the group of the twelve. But there are indications that Q comes from a group other than the twelve. One such indication is that Q mentions none of the twelve. The saying in Luke 22:28-30 = Matt 19:28, where the followers of Jesus are promised that they will sit on thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel, may suggest such a mention, especially in view of Matthew's reference to "twelve thrones" (Luke has only "thrones"). But in its original form, its promise could be to any group of Jesus followers. Moreover, the saying may not belong to the earlier layers of tradition in Q: Kloppenborg assigns it to the last layer (see Mack, The Lost Gospel, pp. 72, 102). It is also significant that unlike the synoptic gospels, the mission sayings are not addressed in Q to the twelve at the time of their appointment or at some later time and that Luke expressly puts the mission sayings in Q in the context of the sending of a group of apostles distinct from the twelve (the group of seventy). (See also Ch. 31)


The Stephenite Hellenists

The Hellenists in Jerusalem were those Jews whose first language was Greek because they had lived outside Palestine for a long time before they came to live in Jerusalem. But along with the language they also acquired some of the way of life and mode of thinking of the foreign lands in which they lived. The term "Hellenists" when used by other Jews probably had a derogatory sense, meaning something like: "followers of the Greeks" (Simon, Stephen, 14ff.) Most of the Hellenists were Jews by birth but some were proselytes, as, for example, Nicolaus of Antioch (Acts 6:5).

A group of Jerusalem Hellenists, led by Stephen, had early accepted Jesus as a prophet. In order to understand the story of these Stephenite Hellenists better it is helpful to understand that those who live away from their country of origin usually develop one or both of the following two attitudes: either their attachment to their own country and religion increases greatly or they become critics of their own traditions and religion. The same two attitudes were found in the Jews of the Diaspora as well as in those who returned to Palestine to live there. Hengel notes that "the Jews who returned to Jerusalem from the Diaspora had primarily religious reasons for their homecoming... As returnees they felt a very deep tie to the Temple and the Torah; otherwise they would not have returned to Judaea, the culture and economy of which was hardly attractive ..." (Between Jesus and Paul, p. 18). However, it is possible that some of the Jews returned to Jerusalem because they could not make it in the foreign lands. Because of their circumstances they were stuck in Jerusalem without any religious attachment to the city. In any case, it is evident that along with very orthodox Hellenists who were very attached to the temple, there were those who were opposed to it. If these latter type of Hellenists also had religious reasons for returning to Jerusalem, then these reasons must have included the preaching of their radical rejection of the temple and its cult.

There are indications that among the Hellenists there existed a reform movement aimed at freeing Judaism from, among other things, the hold of the temple, its cult and its priests. This movement might have originated as a reaction to the attitude of the Palestinian Jews who considered the religious worship of those in the Diaspora inferior because it was performed away from the temple. As a reaction, some of the Jews in the Diaspora devalued the temple and its cult. The Jewish scripture provided basis for such a rejection or devaluation of the temple and its cult. 2 Sam 7:2-6 reflects early opposition to the temple, coming out of a conservative tendency to stick to the older way in which God dwelt in tabernacles and moved from place to place with his semi-nomadic people. The prophets attacked the temple and its cult, though for the most part, they spoke against the excesses connected with the cult and not the cult itself (but see Jer 7:22-23). Some evidence of the anti-temple outlook among the Hellenist Jews is provided by the fourth book of the Sibylline Oracles, parts of which are pre-Christian. It pays tribute to those "who turn away from every temple and every altar, futile buildings of speechless stone, defiled by the blood of living creatures and the offering of animals" (4.27-30). Stephen and his group were probably linked with such an anti-temple movement among the Hellenists, as is shown by his speech.



The speech that Stephen makes at his trial can be divided into two clearly distinguishable parts. First part (7:2-50) is a relatively long recounting of the history of the Jews from Abraham to David. In this part the tone is very polite: Stephen addresses his judges as "brothers and fathers" (v. 2) and he identifies with the listeners and the Jews generally by speaking of "our ancestors" and "our race" (vv. 2, 19). Also, this part contains no reference to Jesus. The second part (7:51-53) probably does have a reference to Jesus. In this part, the listeners are addressed in a very hostile manner ("you stiff-necked people ...") and the speaker dissociates himself from his listeners as if they belong to a different race (note "your ancestors" in 7:52). This suggests that the two parts originally belonged to different situations and it is Luke who has brought them together. One strong possibility is that the longer part recounting the history of the Jews originally formed part of the preaching that followed the descent of the Spirit upon the Hellenists (see Ch. 2). Luke has removed it from that context as part of his plan to deny the Hellenists any existence prior to establishing the twelve as the sole successors of Jesus in Jerusalem. The second part belonged to a preaching at a later stage when the relation between the seven and the other Jews had deteriorated. It is also possible that the second part originally belonged to a trial speech.

We now make some comments on each of the two parts of the speech.

As already noted, in the first part Jesus plays little or no role. The quotation of Deut 18:15 in Acts 7:37 is often understood to be an identification of Jesus with the prophet like Moses. But this is far from clear on the basis of the speech itself. At some stage, Christians did indeed identify Jesus with the prophet like Moses, the identification finding expression in Peter's speech in Acts 3:22 and later in Pseudo-Clementine literature (Recognitions, I, 36-43), perhaps to affirm an essential unity and continuity between Moses and Jesus and to negate Pauline rejection of the Mosaic law. But if we read Stephen's speech on its own terms we cannot support such an identification. The verse, in fact, appears to be a later addition made during Hellenist preaching among Samaritans who expected a Ta'eb on the basis of the Deuteronomy passage. Sometimes considered a reincarnation of Moses, this Ta'eb will restore the old tabernacle of the wilderness on top of Mount Gerizim, together with the sacred vessels and the ark, buried on that same spot since the time of Moses (J. Bowman, "Early Samaritan Eschatology" JJS, 1955, p. 63, as used in Simon, Stephen, p. 38). The addition of a quotation of Deut 18:15 could have served the purpose of appealing to Samaritan beliefs which also rejected the Jerusalem temple.

The reason that the first part of Stephen's speech does not even mention Jesus is probably because it is based on Stephenite views as they existed in writing before the Hellenists started to use the Jesus story. This use of the Jesus story by the Hellenists probably remained at an oral level until the writing of the second part of the speech.

In order to understand the first part of Stephen's speech, we need to inquire into the purpose behind recounting the history of the Jews. In Acts some of the speeches by Peter and Paul also use the history of the Jews, but in those speeches the historical references point to the coming of the Messiah in the person of Jesus. In Stephen's speech Jewish history serves no such purpose, supporting our view that the Hellenists originally did not believe Jesus to be the Messiah. Connected with this observation is the fact that Stephen's speech does not contain any promises of redemption. Contrast this with the speeches of Peter and Paul in Acts where the Jews or their leaders are blamed for the death of Jesus and yet excused because they acted out of ignorance and even were acting as instruments of divine Providence in that by condemning Jesus they were fulfilling scriptures about the Messiah (Acts 3: 19, 13:26-27). Stephen does say that the righteous one was foretold by the prophets (7:52) but the statement is made without any mention of the promise of redemption. This is no doubt because the Hellenists originally did not attach any messianic significance to the work of Jesus.

The story of the Jewish people from the days of Abraham to the settling in Palestine is also related frequently in the Old Testament and Pseudepigrapha, but there the purpose is often to magnify God and his people (Psalms 105:12-43, 106:6-42, Josh 24:2-13, Neh 9:7-31, Judith 5:6-18, Acts 13:16-41). Again this is not the purpose that the history plays in Stephen's speech.

Stephen's purpose in recounting the Jewish history is brought out in the concluding verses of the first part of the speech:

45) ... And [the tent of testimony] was there until the time of David,

46) who found favor with God and asked that he might find a dwelling place for the God [or, house] of Jacob.

47) But it was Solomon who built a house for him. 48) Yet the Most High does not dwell in houses made with human hands; as the prophet says,

49) "Heaven is my throne, and the earth is my footstool. What kind of house will you build for me, says the Lord, or, what is the place of my rest? Did not my hands make all these things?" (Acts 7:45-50).

The quotation in verses 48-50 is from Isaiah (66:1-2) and it shows the point of the speech to be that the temple is completely unnecessary. Verse 46 makes the same point. It is to be connected with Psalm 132:5:

I will not give sleep to mine eyes, ... until I find out a place for the Lord, an habitation for the Mighty One of Jacob.

This does not refer to the building of a temple -- "to find out a place" is not "to build a temple" -- but is to be understood in terms of the translation of the ark from Kirjath-Jearim to Zion as described in 2 Sam 6:17 (cf. 1 Chronicles 15:3):

And they brought the ark of the Lord, and set it in its place in the midst of the tabernacle that David had pitched for it.

The "place" or "habitation" mentioned in Psalm 132:5 is then not the temple but that precise spot on the hill of Zion on which the ark rested under a tent. The same meaning is to be read in verse 46.

Verses 47-48 take up the contrast found in 2 Sam 7:2-6 between, on the one hand, the house that David intended to build but did not because God disapproved of the plan and, on the other hand, the tabernacle in which God had always moved before David. But unlike 2 Sam, which elsewhere approves the building of the temple by Solomon (7:13-15), Stephen's speech consistently maintains a negative attitude to that action of Solomon.

It has been suggested that Stephen's speech connects the Israelite worship of the gods made with hands (7:40-43) with Solomon's building of the temple supposedly as a dwelling place for God, thus equating the temple cult with idolatry. If so, the reading "house of Jacob" (v. 46), as in NRSV and Jerusalem Bible, is preferable to "God of Jacob" accepted in most other translations. This would remove the contradiction between the claim that God did not dwell in man-made buildings but dwelt in a man-made tent. This contradiction, however, existed before the Hellenists and it is not necessary that they were bothered by it. Also, the reading "house of Jacob" may be a later attempt to resolve the contradiction. Be that as it may, the conclusion of the first part of the speech shows that the objective of narrating the history of Israel is to prove the following point: From Abraham to David the religion of Israel was practiced without any temple and subsequently the prophets taught that God does not dwell in man-made buildings. Hence the temple and its cult are not part of the true religion of Israel. It is possible that this point was made with much greater force than is now the case. Luke has toned down the anti-temple rhetoric because Luke is particularly sympathetic to the temple (see the very positive view of the temple he paints in the beginning of his gospel (2:27, 37, 46), his omission of the charge in Mark 14:58 (=Matt 26:61) that Jesus said he would destroy the temple, and his willingness to present the early Christians in Jerusalem as quite attached to the temple (Acts 2:46)).

The second part of Stephen's speech (7:51-53) reads:

51) You stiff-necked people, uncircumcised in heart and ears, you are forever opposing the Holy Spirit, just as your ancestors used to do.

52) Which of the prophets did your ancestors not persecute? They killed those who foretold the coming of the Righteous One, and now you have become his betrayers and murderers.

53) You are the ones that received the law as ordained by angels, and yet you have not kept it. (7:51-53)

The description of the opponents in verse 51 as stubborn or stiff-necked, as uncircumcised in heart and as opponents of the Holy Spirit is derived from the Old Testament (Lev 26:41, Deut 10:16, Isa 63:10).

The idea that "Israel kills its prophet" used in verse 52 is stated repeatedly in the New Testament (Matt. 5:11-12, 23:29-36, 37-39=Luke 6:22-23, 11:47-51; 13:34-35 (Q); Luke 11:49ff., 13:31-33; Acts 7:52; 1 Thess 2:15). (Q passages apply the idea to the persecution of Christian prophets and teachers and not to Jesus.) The idea is based on the Old Testament tradition. In 2 Kings 17:7-20 we read of the disobedience of Israel to God which continued in the face of God's repeated warnings through "all his prophets." These prophets called people to repentance and to obedience to God's commandments but the people did not heed and kept hardening their necks (cf. "you stiff-necked people" in Acts 7:51). Later, in Neh. 9:26f., exile is said to be a divine punishment for Israel because "they became disobedient," "rebelled against God" and killed God's prophets "who bore witness against them to bring them back" to God. According to Stephenite Hellenists Jesus was one of these prophets and he was killed for the same reason: he bore witness against the Jews to bring them back to the true Law of God which had been adulterated with the addition of the temple cult.

The "righteous one" mentioned in verse 52 is probably Jesus. This abrupt way of referring to Jesus without any introduction suggests that the second part of the speech was originally preceded by some material that Luke has omitted. This omitted material probably consisted of some general condemnation of the temple and the introduction of Jesus as a prophet in support of that condemnation. Luke has removed the reference to Jesus as anti-temple prophet, just as he has omitted the anti-temple saying in Mark 14:4.

In verse 53 Stephen says that the law has been received by the disposition of angels. Also, the verse seems to dissociate the speaker from the law which is described as being given to "you" and not to us, as in the first part of the speech (verse 38). Schmithals (Paul and James, pp. 19ff.) argues that Stephenite Hellenists not only rejected the temple cult but also considered the law as abolished. He observes, quoting E. Haenchen that the persecution of the Hellenists implies "that their 'gospel' necessarily contained something which the Jews could not bear and which was lacking in the preaching of the 'Hebrews'". Then he notes that "it was not uncommon in Jewry to have only a slight regard for the cult and its sacrifices" without such Jews being executed. Indeed, the criticism of the cult and its sacrifices is found already in the Old Testament (1 King 8:27, 1 Sam 15:22, Psalms 40:6, 50:8ff., 51:17, Isa. 1:11ff., 66:1, Jer 7:21f., Hos 6:6, Micah 6:6-8). Also, a lax attitude towards the law was not the reason for Stephen's execution, since "there were plenty of Jews who had a lax attitude to the Law or disputed or ignored some of its regulations who were not executed." And finally, Schmithals notes, it is difficult to believe that "the Jews killed Stephen because he did not impose the Jewish Law on a Gentile who became a Christian." All these observations are correct but one cannot conclude from them that Stephen was killed because he declared the Law as a whole to be abolished. This conclusion forgets that hostility does not always depend only on what is said but also on the manner in which it is said, on how organized, serious and threatening a criticism is. If this is kept in mind, the execution of Stephen can be explained just by his criticism of the temple cult, a criticism which amounted to its rejection and not an appeal for its reform. Stephenite attitude towards the law cannot thus be determined on the basis of the mere fact of his execution but must be supported on the basis of Stephen's speech, our main source of the views of the early Hellenists. And in that speech only verse 53 in the second part can be considered any indication of a rejection of the law. The whole first part of the speech has a decidedly positive attitude towards the law. Moses is glorified and it is expressly said that he "received living oracles to give to us" (verse 38). Indeed, the first part of the speech does not even contain any opposition to the sacrifices, despite the fact that the temple is rejected. In 7:42-43, the following scripture is quoted:

Did you offer to me slain victims and sacrifices forty years in the wilderness, O house of Israel? No; you took along the tent of Moloch, and the star of your god Rephan, the images that you made to worship; so I will remove you from beyond Babylon.

The passage is an interpreted quotation of Amos 5:25-27. Here the sacrifices are considered in a positive way, which shows no thought of abolition of the Law.

It is only in verse 53 in the second part of the speech that there seems to be some indication that the Stephenite Hellenists rejected the law as a whole. If so, it reflects a later attitude on the part of some Hellenists. But even verse 53 does not necessarily imply a rejection of the law. The idea that the law was given by the angels is found elsewhere in Jewish and Christian texts and may be understood as debasing the law by stressing that it was not given directly by God (Gal 3:18, cf. Heb 2:2) or as safeguarding divine transcendence (Philo, On Dreams, 1.141ff; Josephus, Ant., 15.5.3). In the first part of the speech the idea is already used without any negative connotations when in verse 38 it is said the angel spoke to Moses in the wilderness (see, also, verses 30ff.). There is no reason that one must understand the reference to angels in verse 53 in a negative way. Also, the words in verse 53 that "you are the ones that received the law ...and yet you have not kept it" need not mean a distinction between the listeners and the speaker of the type which implies a rejection of the law. Such address is part of the prophetic way of speech, especially in the context of condemnation of the ways of the people of Israel or a group among them. Thus Jeremiah, upon being rejected by some people, speaks of "you and your ancestors" and of "your land" (Jer 44:21-22) without, of course, meaning that he stopped being one of the people of Israel.

Thus early Stephenite Hellenists probably did not consider the law to be abolished. Their mission was primarily concerned with showing that God does not need a fixed place like the temple for sacrifices or worship or his presence. The worship of the Jews in the Diaspora without any reference to the temple is not only quite valid but is also based on the true interpretation of divine will as revealed through the whole history of the Israelite people. There is thus some point in the comparison made by Simon between Stephen and the 16th century reformers such as Luther and Calvin. Stephen aimed to root out all the adulterated practices and beliefs heaped up by centuries upon the religion of Moses, just as Luther and Calvin aimed to root out corruptions and additions to the true Gospel found in medieval Catholicism. Watchword on one side is "back to the authentic Gospel" and on the other "back to the authentic Law of Moses." (Stephen, 46f.) On one side the papacy is rejected as a departure from the true gospel and on the other the temple cult is condemned as an adulteration in the authentic Law of Moses.

In summary, Stephen's speech is composed of two parts:

1) The first part is based on the preaching of the Hellenists in Jerusalem in which the speaker treats the people with respect and politeness. This preaching, which summarized Israelite history from Abraham to David with a view to point out that God does not need a fixed place as his residence, does not in any way refer to Jesus and was probably done by some Hellenists even before the appearance of Jesus.

2) The second part is based on traditions belonging or purported to belong to a stage after the use of Jesus had become a fixed part of Stephenite preaching and after the hostility between Stephen and the other Jews had greatly increased. This part could originally belong to a trial speech which presented Stephen as a courageous martyr who, in the manner of the martyrs of old, bore witness against his unjust and evil persecutors. Reflecting bitterness of the persecution suffered by the Hellenists at the hands of their fellow-Jews and their authorities, the second part dissociates the speaker from the audience and addresses the audience in a tone of harsh condemnation. It originally mentioned Jesus as a prophet who also condemned the temple cult and who for thus bearing witness to the truth was martyred by the Jews.

Luke has, first of all, combined the two parts and, second of all, removed from the second part a reference to Jesus' condemnation of the temple cult.



In the trial and stoning of Stephen, Hellenists zealous for the temple played a prominent part. Acts 6:8-14 tells us that the hostility with Stephen started among the Hellenists, no doubt those who were zealous for the temple and the law. These same Hellenists later instigated charges against him, seized him and brought him before the Sanhedrin.

According to Acts, one zealous Hellenist who participated in the execution of Stephen was Paul (7:58, 8:1) who is later presented as acting as a persecutor of Christians under the authority of the high priest (9:1). The tradition is doubtful in view of Paul's own statement in Gal 2:22 that he was not known by face to those in Judea even after his conversion, unless Paul is talking about the other Jesus groups in Judea, such as the twelve, that were not affected by the persecution of the Hellenists.

Hengel has suggested that the execution of Stephen was entirely a mob lynching without any involvement of the temple authorities. But it is difficult to see how the Hellenists could have acted without involvement by the temple authorities. The leaders of the Hellenist synagogues, consisting, as they did, of those who returned to Jerusalem from the Diaspora because of their zeal for "the Temple and the Law and the holiness of the land" (Hengel, Between Jesus and Paul, p. 20) are expected to be in close touch with the temple authorities and act according to their advice. It is true that synagogue authorities "had the possibility of exercising discipline -- extending in some instances as far as the flogging mentioned in Deut. 25:3. By his own confession, Paul had been flogged five times by the synagogue authorities (2 Cor. 11:24)" (p. 20). But this was outside Jerusalem. In Jerusalem such freedom on the part of the synagogues to exercise discipline would have posed an intolerable diffusion of authority for the Temple rule.



Acts says that the persecution of the Hellenists continued after the execution of Stephen and led to their exodus from Jerusalem (8:1). This persecution probably consisted of some lashes. Jewish law prescribes thirty-nine lashes (makkot arbaim) for ignoring specific prohibitions and a disciplinary lashing (makkot mardut) at the discretion of the local court up to a maximum (kath' hyperbolen) of thirty-nine lashes. In addition to such forms of legal punishment, there would be other consequences such as economic hardships because of hostile attitude. In case of the seven, the twelve denied food to their poor from the common funds. Similar forms of difficulties may be experienced from other members of the Jewish community. Thus some lashing and some form of economic boycott forced the Stephenite Hellenists to leave Jerusalem. Paul probably subjected early Jesus followers in Damascus to similar type of persecution and for the same reason: for preaching against the temple.

After leaving Jerusalem, the Stephenite Hellenists carry a mission outside Judea, first in Samaria and elsewhere in Palestine and then in Phoenicia and Cyprus, their furthest outpost being in Antioch, 250 miles from Galilee (8:5ff., 8:26, 40, 11:19-21). They mostly preached among Jews. We have no way of knowing how the content of their preaching changed with time, but it is to be expected that there were some changes.

Philip, the most important Hellenist after Stephen seems to have taken residence in Caesarea. According to Acts, Paul's party visited Philip in Caesarea and stayed with him as they were on their way to Jerusalem. They are joined by some disciples in Caesarea who later take them to the house of one Mnason of Cyprus where they stay, presumably upon their arrival in Jerusalem (21:7-15). This suggests that there were once again Hellenists in Jerusalem. Paul never mentions Philip, perhaps because Philip ceased to have any great importance in the Jesus movement which had developed in directions other than Philip stood for. Any importance that Philip was given was due to his great seniority as a member of the Jesus movement. A contact between Pauline tradition and the Stephenite Hellenist tradition is also found in 1 Thess 2:14-16 (see Ch. 10).

Apart from the list in Acts 6:5, none of the early Hellenists other than Stephen and Philip are mentioned elsewhere in Acts or in the New Testament, unless the Nicolatans condemned in Rev 2:6, 15 for eating food sacrificed for idols and committing fornication, are followers of Nicolaus.



The gospels tell us, and we have no reason to doubt, that "followers" of Jesus included women. Probably the most comprehensive statement of this fact is given by Luke:

The twelve were with him as well as some women who had been cured of evil spirits and infirmities: Mary, called Magdalene, from whom seven demons had gone out, and Joanna, the wife of Herod's steward Chuza, and Susanna, and many others, who provided for him [or them] out of their resources. (8:1-3).

Mark also says that several women followed Jesus in Galilee and ministered to him and traveled to Jerusalem with him (15:40). The gospel tradition also mentions several women by name as witnesses of Jesus' crucifixion, burial, and the empty tomb. Of these the most frequently mentioned name is that of Mary Magdalene, from the village Magdala on the west side of the Sea of Galilee. Other women appearing as witnesses of the crucifixion etc are: Mary the mother of James the less and of Joses, Saloame (Mark 15:40), the mother of the sons of Zebedee (Matt 27:56) Joanna (Luke 24:10) the sister of Jesus' mother, Mary of Clopas (John 19:25), Martha and Sarah (Epistula Apostolorum 9).

For the most part the role of women in the life of Jesus was to serve at meals and provide some financial support, as Mark and Luke tell us. But in a story in Luke, Jesus prefers women who go beyond this role and sit at his feet to learn what he had to teach (10:38-42).

It is difficult to say how active these women followers were in the Jesus movement after his departure. In Acts 1:14 Luke says that the earliest church in Jerusalem included some women, mentioning by name only Jesus' mother. But subsequently in Acts they do not play any role. Both Paul and Acts, however, agree that there were women in the early church who prophesied (1 Cor 11:5, Acts 21:9), although these were probably not among the followers of Jesus but joined the church after his departure.

In Paul and the synoptic tradition we do not hear the voices of any women, whether they followed Jesus or joined the Jesus movement after him. This is not surprising, given the Jewish attitude towards women at the time, which is reflected by Paul himself, as in the following passage:

As in all the churches of the saints, women should be silent in the churches. For they are not permitted to speak, but should be subordinate, as the law also says. If there is anything they desire to know, let them ask their husbands at home. For it is shameful for a woman to speak in church. (1 Cor 14:33-35)

The silencing of women in the churches naturally contributes to the silencing of the voices of women followers of Jesus in the orthodox tradition. But this silencing is also partly due to the same reason for which Jesus himself, his eyewitness male disciples and his relatives are not, for the most part, allowed to speak for themselves: what they knew and said did not fit with the emerging orthodoxy.

If it were not for some special circumstances, to be uncovered in detail in Part VI, which resulted in women followers becoming witnesses of the empty tomb and then of the crucifixion and burial, we would probably have not heard anything at all about Jesus' women followers in the synoptic tradition. But it is otherwise in the Gnostic tradition, not because what the women had to say was more in support of gnosticism than of the orthodox position but because of a more positive attitude towards women in the Gnostic tradition and also because of the Gnostic tendency to use figures that are neglected in the orthodox tradition. The Gospel of John, which partly comes from the Gnostic tradition, tells extensive stories about women in John 4 (Samaritan woman) and John 11:1-12:8 (Mary and Martha). The Gnostic Gospel of Thomas ends with the verse:

Simon Peter said to them: Let Mary go forth from among us, for women are not worthy of the Life. Jesus said: Behold, I shall lead her, that I may make her male, in order that she also may become a living spirit like you males. For every woman who makes herself male shall enter the kingdom of heaven (Logion 114)

The fact that Jesus will first make Mary male before she enters the kingdom of God does not mean that male is superior but reflects the view that the Gnostic is beyond gender. The Gospel of Thomas could probably also have said that the male had to become female in order to enter the kingdom of God, for in logion 22 we read:

When you make the two one, ... and when you make the male and the female into a single one, that male be not male and the female not female, ..., then shall you enter the kingdom [of God].

Indeed, it is because the Gnostic is beyond gender that the Gnostic tradition could have a positive attitude towards women.

In the later Gnostic tradition Mary [Magdalene] is at times given a very privileged position, sometimes even above Peter and the twelve. In Pistis Sophia, for example, of the 46 questions put to Jesus by the disciples, 39 are asked by Mary Magdalene. Even some gospels are attributed to her: The "Little Questions of Mary," "the Great Questions of Mary" and the Gospel of Mary. In the Gospel, Mary encourages the disciples to go forward with the mission Jesus entrusted to them and also teaches them some of the revelations she received from Jesus separately. She, however, meets with unbelief and contempt from some of the male disciples:

But Andrew answered and said to the brethren, "Tell me, what do you think with regard to what she says? I at least do not believe that the Savior said this. For certainly these doctrines have other meanings." Peter in answer spoke with reference to things of this kind, and asked them about the Savior, "Did he then speak privily with a woman rather than with us, and not openly? Shall we turn about and all hearken unto her? Has he preferred her over against us?" Then Mary wept and said to Peter, "My brother Peter, what do you then believe? Do you believe that I imagined this myself in my heart, or that I would lie about the Savior?" Levi answered (and) said to Peter, "Peter, you have ever been of a hasty temper. Now I see how you exercise yourself against the woman like the adversaries. But if the Savior has made her worthy, who then are you, that you reject her? Certainly the Savior knows her surely enough. Therefore did he love her more than us. Let us rather be ashamed, put on the perfect Man, as he charged us, and proclaim the Gospel, without requiring any further command or any further law beyond that which the Savior said (NTA I, 343).

But despite thus doing some justice to women followers of Jesus, the Gnostic tradition did not really break their silence, for they never speak for themselves in the Gnostic tradition any more than in the orthodox tradition. The result is that we know next to nothing about them beyond the fact of their existence and the fact that some of them were rich enough to provide financial support to Jesus and that some were cured of diseases, mostly demonic possession, by Jesus.


Tax collectors and sinners

Sinners were people who had given up trying to live according to the Jewish law in all matters. Tax collectors were a particular type of sinners (Luke 19:7, where Zacchaeus is a sinner by virtue only of the fact that he is a tax collector) who as the description suggests collected tax on behalf of the Roman occupiers or local Jewish rulers. They were always well off and sometimes rich, as in the case of Zacchaeus. It was often assumed that they extorted from the people more than was due (Luke 3:13) and this was considered to be one of the reason they were rich and sinners (Luke 19:8).

John's baptism was primarily directed to sinners (cf. Luke 3:13, 7:27, Matt 21:32), for those who were committed to the law were provided by the law itself a system of obtaining forgiveness of their failings. After John sinners also gathered around Jesus.

What part these sinners, including the tax collectors played in the Jesus movement, both during the ministry and after the departure of Jesus? Since the tax collectors and sinners were generally prosperous they probably supported Jesus financially, both by money and provisions. Zacchaeus the tax collector hosts Jesus in Jerusalem and donates half of his money to the poor, presumably the poor in the Jesus movement (Luke 19:5, 8). Jesus eats and drinks with tax collectors and sinners, according to both Q (Luke 7:29= Matt 11:19) and Mark (2:15-17) (cf. Luke 15:1-2). A female sinner anoints Jesus with an expensive ointment (Luke 7:37-38).

Despite their strong presence during the ministry of Jesus, tax collectors and sinners are absent from the early mainstream church. Neither Paul nor Acts say anything about them. In some Jesus group they are even rejected like the Gentiles (Matt 18:17, cf. Matt 5:46). However, this indifference and hostility probably did not drive them away from the Jesus movement. In fact, they seem to have formed a loose Jesus group in Galilee centered around Levi the tax collector who may have distinguished himself on the basis of his knowledge about religion. This is suggested by the existence of a number of traditions concerning the tax collectors and sinners in the gospels which are not historical and which could not have been created by any other known group, since there is no evidence of any such group being interested in tax collectors and sinners to the point of creating stories about them and Jesus.

Among the traditions coming from the tax collectors and sinners is probably Mark 2:13-17 = Matt. 9:9-13 = Luke 5:27-32, which describes the call of Levi the tax collector in a way that is fitting only for the most prominent members of the group of the twelve. Yet Levi is not included in the lists of the twelve. Then there are also the following puzzling facts: a) Mark and the Gospel of Peter describe Levi as "son of Alphaeus" whereas the apostolic lists include a "son of Alphaeus" named James; b) Matthew changes "Levi" to "Matthew" in his parallel to Mark 2:13-17 and omits "son of Alphaeus" while Luke retains the name Levi and omits only "son of Alphaeus;" and c) in his apostolic list Matthew adds after the name of Matthew "the tax collector." How are we to explain these facts?

It is possible that in the pre-Markan tradition there existed many different apostolic lists and the relative uniformity of the synoptic lists is due to Mark's influence. In particular, the seventh and the ninth positions may have had different names just as now the eleventh position has different names. Levi the son of Alphaeus, Levi the tax collector, Matthew, James the son of Alphaeus or James the younger may be some of the names that occurred in the seventh and ninth position. Two of the possibilities are:


Possibility 1

Position 7. Levi the tax collector

Position 9. James the son of Alphaeus


Possibility 2

Position 7. Matthew

Position 9. Levi the tax collector

That Levi was considered by some as one of the twelve is shown not only by the story of his call, but also by the fact that in the Gospel of Peter (14:60) and the Gospel of Mary (see above), Levi is mentioned in the company of Peter and Andrew in a way which probably assumes that he was among the twelve.

Starting with the above two lists we can explain some of the differences between Mark, Matthew and Luke.

As noted earlier the prominence of the tax collectors and sinners reduces considerably as we move from the ministry of Jesus to the early church. This naturally created a strong tendency to reject the inclusion of Levi the tax collector among the twelve. This tendency favored Matthew for the seventh position and James the son of Alphaeus for the ninth, giving us what we find in


Mark's list

Position 7. Matthew

Position 9. James the son of Alphaeus

It was, however, thought by some that if Levi is to be replaced in the apostolic list by Matthew, then he must also be replaced by him in the call, since the call bestowed on Levi an honor that elsewhere belonged only to some of the twelve. This, of course, turned Matthew into a tax collector and so Matthew began to be described as a tax collector. The first gospel reflects this development.

Also, the presence of alternative names, Levi the tax collector and James the son of Alphaeus, in the ninth position results in Levi becoming son of Alphaeus as in Mark, which both Matthew and Luke omit, either because it was rightly missing from their copies of Mark or both evangelists correctly found it inconsistent with the fact that the son of Alphaeus was James.

The above explanation of the facts does not necessarily mean that Levi the tax collector was originally one of the twelve. It only means that he was so considered by some Jesus group.

It is generally agreed that Mark 2:1-3:6 is largely based on a pre-Markan source. Since it is precisely this section that contains the call of Levi the tax collector, it is possible that this set of traditions developed among the group of Levi. Other similar stories involving tax collectors and sinners such as Luke 7:36-50 (anointing by a sinful woman), 18:9-14 (the parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector) and 19:1-10 (Jesus and Zacchaeus) probably also come from this same group. One characteristic of these stories is that they stress the importance of love, devotion and humility which is considered more efficacious for salvation than righteousness based on meticulous observance of the law and resulting self-confidence. In the story of the anointing by a sinful woman and of Zacchaeus the love, devotion and humility is directed to Jesus (Luke 7:38, 19:4). Levi's group seems to have identified Jesus with the Son of Man at some stage. Its members felt that they were forgiven as a result of their love and devotion to Jesus without having to go through any ritual sacrifices. In Mark 2:1-12, they are using the well-known healing of a paralytic to make the point that Jesus could indeed forgive sins. In Luke 7:36-50, a similar point is being made on the basis of the well-known story of the anointing by a woman.


Zealots and the Jesus movement

According to some scholars, we can properly apply the term "zealots" or "zealot party" only for the coalition formed after the revolt against Rome was well underway, in the winter of 67-68 C.E. (Horsley, "The Death of Jesus", 408). However, the nationalist-militant thinking represented by the zealots was there throughout the Roman rule and now and then manifested itself in ad hoc movements of varying degrees of popular participation, scope and violence. Indeed, it seems fair to say that an overwhelming majority shared the zealot sentiments and objectives and the only thing that set them apart was their willingness to act on the basis of those sentiments and objectives. It thus seems justified to apply the term "zealot" to describe any Jewish activist-nationalist movement as well as members of such a movement. In what follows we shall use the term in this general sense.

A clear evidence of the presence of zealots in the Jesus movement from the earliest times is provided by the fact that the list of the twelve in Mark and Matthew contains the name of a Simon called Canaanaean. The lists in Luke and Acts also mention a Simon but he is called the Zealot. It is almost certain that the two Simons are one and the same person. The Aramaic word for "zealot" is qannai which was rendered into Greek as kananaios.

In John 1:45-51 a disciple given considerable importance is named as Nathanael. He confesses Jesus in the political terms "King of Israel." He himself is described in nationalist terms as an Israeli in whom there is no deceit, that is, a true Israelite.

There were occasions during the first decades of the life of the Jesus movement when in Palestine nationalist feelings were flared, which are expected to have sustained a continued attraction between zealots and some of the Jesus followers. Thus in 40 C.E. (?) Caligula (37-41 C.E.) ordered the installation of his image in the Jerusalem temple which created considerable protest among Jews, so much so that he later had to withdraw his order. Then in 44 C.E. Cuspids Fadus, the procurator of Palestine faced the revolt of Theudas (Josephus, Ant. 20. 5.1). Fadus was succeeded by Tiberius Alexander, a renegade Jew from Alexandria and a nephew of the philosopher Philo. Tiberius Alexander took strong actions against the zealots and crucified their two leaders, James and Simon, who were sons of that Judas of Galilee who had founded a zealot party. Other incidents of a more local nature may have occurred which are not recorded by Josephus. Such incidents are expected to bring out militant attitude in some of the Jesus followers and generate a nationalist, militant understanding of his mission, which in turn is expected to attract some more zealots to Jesus movement.

We can see some evidence of militant activity by some Christians in a note in Suetonius. He tells us that Claudius "expelled the Jews from Rome because they, incited by Chrestus, were constantly creating uproar" (Claudius 25.4). Chrestus here clearly refers to Jesus, even though Jesus lived in the reign of Tiberius and not Claudius. One thinks here of Acts 6:14 where Jews accuse Stephen of saying that "this Jesus will destroy this place ..." This does not necessarily mean that Jesus was alive at the time of Stephen's execution but simply that through his movement Jesus will become the instrument of the destruction of the temple. Perhaps Suetonius or his source simply heard some Jesus followers say that "Christus will destroy the Roman power" or some such thing, from which it was concluded that Christus was personally inciting the trouble among the Jews of Rome. In any case, the constant riots among the Jews in Rome is attributed to Jesus and there is no distinction between the Jews and Christians: all of them are expelled. Much of this finds confirmation from the New Testament. Luke mentions two Jews that were affected by the expulsion from Rome by order of Claudius -- Priscilla and her husband Aquilla. Paul also mentions the two, using the shorter form Prisca for Priscilla. They are introduced as Jews expelled from Rome. They meet Paul as if they are already Jesus followers, for their conversion is not described and they are later seen in Ephesus, correcting the views of one Jesus follower named Apollos (Acts 18:1-4, 26; 1 Cor 16:9; Rom 16:3).

Thus it seems that Christians in Rome played a leading part in a political action that was militant enough to warrant their expulsion and the expulsion of other Jews whom they incited for such action. Although, Josephus does not mention similar involvement of Jesus followers in Jewish political and militant activity in Palestine, but it is expected that such involvement did take place, for it is unlikely that all Jesus followers were immune to the sort of Jewish sentiments that produced such actions.

The continued presence of zealots in the Jesus movement was strong enough to find expression in a whole book of considerable size which even managed to get a canonical status. The New Testament book, Revelation, manifests a fierce, zealot-like, anti-Roman sentiment. This sentiment is not typical of the Christian writings of the period and therefore it cannot be explained in terms of Christian experiences such as that of the Nero persecutions. It must be an expression of a very specific tendency within the Jesus movement and it is natural to link it with the zealots whose presence in the Jesus movement, as we noted above, goes back to a very early stage. It is true that the message of Revelation is not activist but apocalyptic, but, as we learn from Josephus apocalyptic prophecy often accompanied political and militant action by the zealots and replaced it when possibilities of such action were severely limited, as was the case when Revelation was written: some decades after the crushing defeat of the first revolt in 70 C.E. when Roman authorities were constantly looking for any sign of nationalist organization among the Jews.

Scholars like Brandon have argued that Jesus was himself a zealot who was captured and crucified when he was leading a militant revolt to free Palestine. Most scholars have rejected this theory and rightly so because it does not plausibly explain a great mass of other evidence. Nevertheless the work of Brandon and others have made one valid point, now recognized by many scholars: the crucifixion should be naturally interpreted to mean that Jesus was a political rebel. However, after recognizing this fact scholars opposed to the theory of Brandon either say that the crucifixion of Jesus was the result of a misunderstanding on the part of the Romans and/or conscious framing by the Jewish authorities on a false charge or they give some political dimension to his work which is said to culminate in some way in his temple action that led to the crucifixion (see Horsley, "The Death of Jesus," 409-412). However, since the evidence admittedly does not enable us to see what were Jesus' political aims, how he sought to achieve those aims and how his activity led to his crucifixion, another approach is to question whether Jesus was crucified in the first place. One such alternative explanation taking much of the evidence seriously is that from the very beginning Jesus story began to be used by various groups and that zealots were among these groups. Some of the sayings and actions that Brandon and others attribute to Jesus in order to prove that he was a zealot should then be attributed to the zealots using the Jesus story rather than to Jesus himself. Thus the saying in Luke 22:36 ("...the one who has a purse must take it, and likewise a bag. And the one who has no sword must sell his cloak and buy one") is used by Brandon and others to show the militant nature of Jesus' mission. But it can be credited to a zealot in the Jesus movement who put it in the mouth of Jesus in order to recruit support from the Jesus movement for some zealot cause. This fabricator further supported his call to arms by using Isa 5:12 (applied in an interpolation in Mark to the crucifixion of Jesus between two bandits (lestes)) which he interpreted to mean that the Messiah must be counted among the transgressors like other zealots who were called robbers or bandits. It is probably because of the scriptural application that the saying survived. Luke accepts it for the same reason but not without harmonizing it with other traditions and with the generally accepted image of Jesus in the later part of the first century. By verse 35 he is trying to explain the tradition in which Jesus told his missionaries not to carry purse or bag or sandal. His explanation of the change in the command is: "now" it was time to fulfil the scriptures that the Messiah should be counted among transgressors. In verse 38 he tries to tone down the call to arms. The disciples tell him that they have two swords, to which Jesus says, "it is enough." This is not in the spirit of Jesus' earlier call to arms which tells every one to get a sword even if it means selling one's cloak. Luke means to convey the impression that Jesus' words were meant to fulfill the scripture in a symbolic way. The context in which Luke puts the call to arms is also worth noting. Jesus makes this call after his last supper just before he leaves for the Mount of Olives where he is arrested. This is Luke's way of telling us that there never was any intention on the part of Jesus to use arms and if one of the disciples did use a sword later and cut off the ear of the slave of the high priest, then this was, firstly, after the decision to arrest Jesus had already been made, and, secondly, this was done without the approval of Jesus who in fact healed the ear of the slave.

If zealots in the Jesus movement invented sayings and produced books such as Revelation, then it is possible that they also contributed some traditions about the passion of Jesus. In particular the tradition that Jesus was crucified by Romans as an insurrectionary and a messianic pretender may well be their creation. This would then provide an alternative explanation of the whole evidence on which the thesis of Brandon is based.

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