Every now and then, the subject of Jesus’s celibacy is raised, usually in connection with Mary Magdalene who some suggest was his wife. Still others believe that the tomb of Jesus has been found in Jerusalem, a tomb that contained the remains of Jesus, Mary Magdalene, and their son. While the jury is still out on such proposals, many who are interested in learning more about the historical Jesus remain unaware of the early Christian traditions that testify to other members of Jesus’s family. It is to these “lost” descendants of the Holy Family that we now turn.
Most readers of the New Testament gospels know that Jesus had brothers and sisters. His brothers were named James, Joses (“little Joseph”), Judas, and Simon (Mark 6:3); the sisters are left unnamed though early tradition knows them as Mary and Salome. An unbiased reading of the Gospel of Mark would lead to the conclusion that these children are sons and daughters of Mary and Joseph. Later Christian tradition, emphasizing sexual abstinence as a means of attaining piety, would make them Jesus’s step-brothers and step-sisters or even cousins. Identifying them in this way allowed for the belief that Mary remained a virgin her whole life and that even Joseph sired no offspring. Be that as it may, the brothers and sisters are historical figures and we know something about at least one of them beyond Mark’s meagre introduction.
“James,” an English revision of the Hebrew name Jacob, was a very important person in the life of the early community of those who believed in Messiah Jesus. He is mentioned several times in the New Testament: in the Acts of the Apostles and in Paul’s letters to the Galatians and Corinthians. There is even a letter in the New Testament attributed to him although many scholars remain doubtful as to its authenticity. Regardless, James became the undisputed leader of the apostles in Jerusalem either immediately after the crucifixion of Jesus or after the departure of Peter for places unknown (Acts 12:17).