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Search for the Twelve Apostles #6

James the son of Zebedee


by McBirnie PhD


     Of the three men who comprised the inner-ring of the
disciples, Peter, James and John, we know the least about James.
Despite the relative silence of the Scriptural account of James,
he was noteworthy among the Apostles. Perhaps the most unusual
thing about his life was the manner and time of his death, for he
was the first of the Apostles of Christ to become a martyr. There
are only two of the original twelve disciples about whose death
we have a Scriptural account, Judas, and James.
     James was the elder brother of John, the beloved disciple.
With John he was a partner with Andrew and Peter in the fishing
trade along with Zebedee, his father. They owned several boats
and employed hired servants, and therefore, this fishing company
must have been quite affluent. There is also some evidence that
James was a first cousin to Jesus Christ and had been acquainted
with Him since infancy.
     James received his call to follow Christ when Jesus was
walking by the Sea of Galilee.

"And Jesus, walking by the sea of Galilee, saw two brethren,
Simon called Peter, and Andrew his brother, casting a net into
the sea: for they were fishers.
And going on from thence, He saw other two brethren, James the
son of Zebedee, and John his brother, in a ship with Zebedee
their father, mending their nets; and He called them.
And they immediately left the ship and their father, and followed
Him" (Matthew 4:18,21,22).

     Now John had been a disciple of John the Baptist and had
forsaken him to follow Jesus. But there is no reference to James
being first a disciple of John the Baptist. After a period of
companionship and probationship with Jesus, James is referred to
as being present at the healing of Peter's mother-in-law at
Capernaum. Following this he was ordained as one of the twelve
disciples of Christ, and from this time forth he occupied a
prominent place among the Apostles. With Peter and John he became
a part of the innermost circle among the disciples. These three,
apart from the other Apostles, were present at the raising of
Jairus' daughter, the transfiguration, and the agony in the
Garden of Gethsemane.
     It is interesting to note that these three disciples, who
were to suffer so much for the cause of Christ, should witness
the raising of the dead to give them courage to die; the
transfiguration of Christ that they might know the reality of the
spiritual world; and the agony in the Garden that they might
understand that they, too, must suffer agony for Christ. Note
that it was Peter who should carry the gospel cause so
prominently forward as the first leader of the Apostles. It was
John who should some day out-live the rest of the Apostles and
die a natural death, after having completed five books of the New
Testament, and having fulfilled a great ministry in Asia Minor as
the leading voice of Christianity in the world up almost to the
year 100 A.D.
     In contrast to these two who were the greatest leaders among
the Apostles, it is James whose life was cut off while the church
was young. As the first of the Apostles to die a martyr's death,
it is significant that Christ permitted him to share the intimate
secrets of His agony in the Garden and His transfiguration.
     Shortly after the transfiguration, when Jesus set His face
to go to Jerusalem, and on the way was passing through Samaria,
the wrath of James and John, his brother, was kindled by the
hostile reception accorded to Him by the people of a small
village through which they went. They requested of Jesus, "Lord,
wilt thou that we bid fire to come down from Heaven and consume
them?" But He turned and rebuked them." It was probably this
hot-headed impetuosity and fanaticism that won for them the
surname, "Boanerges," which is by translation, "Sons of Thunder."
This name was bestowed on them when they were first called to the
     It was not long after this when the mother of James and John
requested of Jesus that He guarantee them the privilege of
sitting one on His right hand and one on His left hand when He
came into His glory. The other ten disciples were moved with
indignation and Jesus rebuked this ungodly ambition. The outcome
of this is told in Mark 10:42-45:

"But Jesus called them to Him, and saith unto them, Ye know that
they which are accounted to rule over the Gentiles exercise
authority upon them. But so shall it not be among you: but
whosoever will be great among you, shall be your minister:
And whosoever of you will be the chiefest, shall be servant of
all. For even the Son of Man came not to be ministered unto, but
to minister, and to give his life a ransom for many."

     James was one of the four who questioned the Lord Jesus
concerning the last things when Jesus delivered His address on
the Mount of Olives as they stood overlooking the Temple. He was
also present when the Risen Christ appeared for the third time to
the disciples and the miraculous draught of fishes was made at
the Sea of Tiberias.
     James was murdered by King Herod Agrippa I, about the year
44 A.D., shortly before Herod's own death. The account is found
in Acts 12:1,2.

"Now about that time Herod the king stretched forth his hands to
vex certain of the church. And he killed James the brother of
John with the sword."

     Thus did James fulfill the prophecy of Christ that he, too,
should drink of the cup of his Master.

"And they said unto him, We can. And Jesus said unto them, Ye
shall indeed drink of the cup that I drink of, and with the
baptism that I am baptized withal shall ye be baptized" (Mark


     "The Acts of St.James in India" tells of a missionary
journey of James and Peter to India. According to the "Martyrdom
of St.James," he preached to the 12 tribes scattered abroad, and
persuaded them to give their first-fruits to the church instead
of to Herod.
     "The Apostolic History" of Abdias connects James with two
magicians called Hermogenes and Philetus. The latter was
converted by James and was on the verge of leaving the former.
Hermogenes cast a spell upon Philetus, who sent word to James for
help. James sent his kerchief and by it Philetus was freed from
the spell. Hermogenes sent devils to fetch James and Philetus,
but they were powerless against them. James sent them back to
bring Hermogenes bound, which they did. James released him from
the devils and he became a Christian and spent the rest of his
years in charity performing miracles for the benefit of his
     One legend about James is related by Eusebius who took it
from the seventh book of the lost "Hypotyposes of Clement" of
Alexandria. It tells of the one who led James to the final
judgment seat in Jerusalem and when he heard his testimony he was
moved and confessed that he also was a Christian. He begged James
to forgive him, and they were both led away and beheaded
     The artists of the 14th and 15th centuries adopted the
stories of James as the themes of many of their paintings, thus
the fame of the Apostles spread far and wide. Some interesting
legends developed in the long history of Spain. In "Sacred and
Legendary Art" these are related as follows:

"According to the Spanish legend, the Apostle James was the son
of Zebedee, an illustrious baron of Galilee, who, being the
proprietor of ships, was accustomed to fish along the shores of a
certain lake called Genesareth, but solely for his good pleasure
and recreation: for who can suppose that Spain, that nation of
Hidalgos and Caballeros, would ever have chosen for her patron,
or accepted as the leader and captain-general of her armies, a
poor ignoble fisherman? It remains, therefore, indisputable, that
this glorious Apostle, who was our Lord's cousin-german, was of
noble lineage, and worthy of his spurs as a knight and a
gentleman;-so in Dante.

"But it pleased him, in his great humility, to follow, while on
earth, the example of his divine Lord, and reserve his warlike
prowess till called upon to slaughter, by thousands and tens of
thousands, those wicked Moors, the perpetual enemies of Christ
and his servants. Now as James and his brother John were one day
in their father's ship with his hired servants, and were employed
in mending the nets, the Lord, who was walking on the shores of
the lake, called them; and they left all and followed Him; and
became thenceforward His most favored disciples, and the
witnesses of His miracles while on earth. After the ascension of
Christ, James preached the Gospel in Judaea; then he travelled
over the whole world, and came at last to Spain, where he made
very few converts by reason of the ignorance and darkness of the
people. One day, as he stood with his disciples on the banks of
the Ebro, the blessed Virgin appeared to him seated on the top of
a pillar of jasper, and surrounded by a choir of angels; and the
Apostle having thrown himself on his face, she commanded him to
build on that spot a chapel for her worship, assuring him that
all this province of Saragossa, though now in the darkness of
paganism, would at a future time be distinguished by devotion to
her. He did as the holy Virgin had commanded, and this was the
origin of a famous church afterwards known as that of Our Lady of
the Pillar ('Nuestra Senora del Pillar'). Then St.James, having
founded the Christian faith in Spain, returned to Judaea, where
he preached for many years, and performed many wonders and
miracles in the sight of the people: and it happened that a
certain sorcerer, whose name was Hermogenes, set himself against
the Apostle, just as Simon Magus had wickedly and vainly opposed
St.Peter, and with the like result. Hermogenes sent his scholar
Philetus to dispute with James, and to compete with him in
wondrous works; but, as you will easily believe, he had no chance
against the Apostle, and, confessing himself vanquished, he
returned to his master, to whom he announced his intention to
follow henceforth James and his doctrine. Then Hermogenes, in a
rage, bound Philetus by his diabolical spells so that he could
not move hand or foot, saying, 'Let us now see if thy new master
can deliver thee': and Philetus sent his servant to St.James,
praying for aid. Then the Apostle took off his cloak, and gave it
to the servant to give his master; and no sooner had Philetus
touched it, than he became free, and hastened to throw himself at
the feet of his deliverer. Hermogenes, more furious than ever,
called to the demons who served him, and commanded that they
should bring to him James and Philetus, bound in fetters; but on
their way the demons met with a company of angels, who seized
upon them, and punished them for their wicked intentions, till
they cried for mercy. Then St.James said to them, 'Go back to him
who sent ye, and bring him hither bound.' And they did so; and
having laid the sorcerer down at the feet of St.James, they
besought him, saying, 'Now give us power to be avenged of our
enemy and thine!' But St.James rebuked them, saying, 'Christ hath
commanded us to do good for evil. So he delivered Hermogenes from
their hands; and the magician, being utterly confounded, cast his
books into the sea, and desired of St.James that he would protect
him against the demons, his former servants. Then St.James gave
him his staff, as the most effectual means of defence [sic]
against the infernal spirits; and Hermogenes became a faithful
disciple and preacher of the word from that day. But the
evil-minded Jews, being more and more incensed, took James and
bound him, and brought him before the tribunal of Herod Agrippa;
and one of those who dragged him along, touched by the gentleness
of his demeanor, and by his miracles of mercy, was converted, and
supplicated to die with him; and the Apostle gave him the kiss of
peace, saying, 'Tax vobisl' and the kiss and the words together
have remained as a form of benediction in the Church to this day.
Then they were both beheaded, and so died.
And the disciples of St.James came and took away his body; and,
not daring to bury it, for fear of the Jews, they carried it to
Joppa, and placed it on board of a ship: some say that the ship
was of marble, but this is not authenticated; however, it is most
certain that angels conducted the ship miraculously to the coast
of Spain, where they arrived in seven days; and, sailing through
the straits called the Pillars of Hercules, they landed at length
in Galicia, at a port called Iria Flavia, now Padron.
In those days there reigned over the country a certain queen
whose name was Lupa, and she and all her people were plunged in
wickedness and idolatry. Now, having come to shore, they laid the
body of the Apostle upon a great stone, which became like wax,
and, receiving the body, closed around it: this was a sign that
the saint willed to remain there; but the wicked queen Lupa was
displeased, and she commanded that they should harness some wild
bulls to a car, and place on it the body, with the self-formed
tomb, hoping that they would drag it to destruction.. But in this
she was mistaken; for the wild bulls, when signed by the cross,
became as docile as sheep, and they drew the body of the Apostle
straight into the court of her palace. When Queen Lupa beheld
this mirade, she was confounded, and she and all her people
became Christians. She built a magnificent church to receive the
sacred remains, and died in the odor of sanctity.
But then came the darkness and ruin which during the invasion of
the Barbarians overshadowed all Spain; and the body of the
Apostle was lost, and no one knew where to find it, till, in the
year 800, the place of sepulcher was revealed to a certain holy
Then they caused the body of the saint to be transported to
Compostela; and, in consequence of the surprising miracles which
graced his shrine, he was honored not merely in Galicia, but
throughout all Spain. He became the patron saint of the
Spaniards, and Compostela, as a place of pilgrimage, was renowned
throughout Europe. From all countries bands of pilgrims resorted
there, so that sometimes there were no less than a hundred
thousand in one year. The military Order of Saint Jago, enrolled
by Don Alphonso for their protection, became one of the greatest
and richest in Spain." ("Sacred and Legendary Art," Anna Jameson,
p.238, ff )

(Do not take this too seriously. Maybe James preached in Spain
before his death, but the above quote sounds a lot like Roman
Catholic propagander and fair tales - Keith Hunt)


     It is most unlikely that James would have visited Spain
during his lifetime though a bit better case can be made for the
possibility that some of his body relics or bones may have been
transported there in the 7th century. In the introduction to the
notable book, "The Great Pilgrimage of the Middle Ages" by
Hellmut Nell, Sir Thomas Kendrick relates the historical

"In the early ninth century, perhaps somewhere about the year
810, three bodies, believed to be those of the Apostle, St. James
the Greater, and two of his disciples, were found in the far
north-westem corner of Spain by Theodomir, Bishop of Iria Flavia
(Padron); they lay in a long-forgotten tomb in wild country about
twelve miles from the Bishop's seat. At the time of the discovery
the reconquest of Spain from the Moors had begun, and the kingdom
of the Asturias, in which the find had been made, was an outpost
of Christendom, bravely giving hope to the rest of Europe that
the advance of Islam had been successfully stopped on the south
side of the Pyrenees. Then came the announcement. It was made
first by the Bishop and then by the King of the Asturias, Alfonso
II (791-842'), and they let it be known that the discovery had
been made as a result of heavenly guidance. In other words, at
this time when danger threatened western Europe, St.James had
suddenly offered the potent encouragement of his bones (no small
thing in that relic-obsessed age) to sustain the courage of
Christians fighting on the battle-front against Islam.
If was certainly an astounding thing to have happened, and it is
said that Alfonso II informed the Pope, Leo III, and Charlemagne,
of the wonderful event; but, be that as it may, some will think
that the sequel to the discovery was even more astounding. Over
the deserted necropolis where St. James lay rose the town of
Santiago de Compostela, which by the twelfth century was
bracketed with Rome and Jerusalem as a necessary place for
far-travelling pilgrims to visit (p.13).
We want to know why it was so easy to believe that the body of
St.James had been found in that tomb. The Apostle had no
long-established hold on the affections of the Spaniards. It was
not until the seventh century that they had any reason to suppose
that St.James had preached in Spain during his lifetime, and
even then the reason was no more than a one-word scribal error in
an apocryphal list of the Apostles' mission-fields. At first,
very little notice indeed was taken of this (p.14).
The subsequent honour paid to St. James throughout Europe and
the crowds of Pilgrims journeying to his tomb can, fortunately,
be studied without answering the question whether it really was
the Apostle whom Bishop Theodomire of Iria Flavia found in a
forgotten Galician grave. Argument on that point continues to
this day, and is, indeed, ingeniously carried a stage farther by
the authors of this book Real bones assumed to be those of St.
James and his two disciples were found in a real tomb, and all we
have to do is to marvel at the result of the discovery. Let it be
noted, however, that even as early as the twelfth century there
were pilgrims who were not quite sure that the bout du pelerinage
was all that it claimed to be (p.18).
For the Bollandists accepted as a fact that the Apostle had
conducted a mission to Spain during his lifetime. It was a matter
that had been doubted and St. James's prestige had suffered....
But the Bollandists had come to the rescue (after agonizing
inquiry by William Cuypers), and Spain's renowned ecclesiastical
historian, Enrique Florez, agreed with their verdict, and
Benedict XIV endorsed it (p.28).
It was not until 1879 that they were found again behind the High
Altar, a sensational discovery causing one of the workmen to
faint and become temporarily blind. Elaborate tests were applied
to the mingled remains of St James and his two disciples, and the
skeleton of the apostle was identified with the help of a missing
portion preserved in a reliquary in the cathedral of Pistoya. In
a bull that bears the date of 'All Saints' Day in 1884, Pope Leo
XIII declared that Santiago [St.James] in person had been found
in that cathedral at Compostela where for over a thousand years
the faithful had known the glorious Apostle lay in his grave"

(This again is all Roman Catholic goobadi-goo and hogwash, made
up so over a BILLION people today, as of 2007, believe the RC
church is God's true church - Keith Hunt)
     In the same magnificent book the authors have traced a
history of the relics of St.James.

"We can assume with reasonable certainty that St James died in
the year 44, since he was executed in Jerusalem during the rule
of Herod Agrippa I (Acts 12:2). Thus his original grave must
have been situated near Jerusalem. In the year 814 the Persians
occupied the Byzantine territories in Syria and Palestine, and
some scholars (Tillemont) believe that the body of James was
brought to Galicia at that time. Another suggestion (Gams) is
that the body was transferred rather earlier, in the sixth
century, in the time of the Emperor Justinian, who presented the
relics to the monastery of Raithiu in the Sinai peninsula.
Alternatively, a number of chroniclers between the eighth and
The Search for the Twelve Apostles  twelfth centuries (e.g. the
Breviarium Apostolorum) say that he was buried at 'Achaia
Marmorica' (spelt in several different ways). So far this name
has not been identified conclusively with any known town or place
The miraculous discovery of the relics of St.James in Santiago
occurred in the first quarter of the ninth century (during the
reign of Alphonso II, 791-842, and before the year 842), that is
before the first destruction of the shrine of St.Menas, but at a
time when there must already have been some concern for its
security. Thus it may be assumed that the relics of St. James
were conveyed to Galicia in the early part of the ninth century
at the very latest. It is also possible that the transfer was
made before 711 (the Arab invasion of Spain), but it is unlikely
to have occurred during the Arab occupation of the Iberian
peninsula. It was not until the early part of the ninth century
that the Asturian kingdom in the north of Spain attained
sufficient stability to have any hope of reconquering the
remainder of the country. The first alternative is supported by
the fact that the references to Achaia Marmarica as the burial
place of the saint date from the eighth century (p.34).
If these conjectures are correct, then it is possible that the
route by which the relics were taken from Jerusalem to Santiago
could have passed through Sinai and the town of Menas. In this
case the most likely time for them to have crossed over to Spain
would have been early in the ninth century, that is, shortly
before the construction of the first church in Santiago under the
reign of Alfonso II" (p.35).

     A modem authority, William Barclay, in his book, The
"Master's Men" states the most telling argument against the visit
of James to Spain.

"Considering the early date of his martyrdom the connection of
James with Spain is impossible, however much we would wish it to
be true; and the whole story is one of the unexplained mysteries
of legend. In art James is depicted with a copy of the Gospels in
one band, and a pilgrim staff and script in the other, to show
symbolically how far-travelled an evangelist he was" (p.100).

(Barclay is probably closer to the truth - Keith Hunt)

     However, Asbury Smith in his study of the Apostles, "The
Twelve Christ Chose," opens the door to the remote possibility
that James might have visited Spain.

"James is not mentioned in the Gospel of John, a fact of especial
interest if we accept John, the brother of James, as its author.
The Gospel of John is the only source. of information about
Philip, Andrew, and Nathanael Bartholomew. Yet strangely enough,
John tells nothing of James, his brother, and conceals his own
identity under the cloak of 'the beloved disciple': The usual
explanation of these omissions is the reticence of John; but,
even so, they seem unnatural and difficult to understand. This is
one of many portions of the Bible record about which more
knowledge is needed (p.40).
The process by which the country was Christianized is not clear.
Paul in his letter to the Romans spoke of his desire to carry the
Gospel to Spain. Most scholars believe that his martyrdom
prevented him from fulfilling this desire, but there are some who
think that he did go to Spain. The Spanish tradition, however, is
that the Apostle James founded the Christian Church there.
Although his early death makes this conclusion almost untenable,
the legend has exercised great influence on the Spanish people.
Historians generally assign the beginning of Christianity in
Spain to the second or third century. But no one can be sure
about this early period, for there are no trustworthy sources of
information (p.41).
To account for the miraculous presence of the bones of James in
Spain, legends grew up relating his adventures prior to the
discovery of his body. The story has it that after the day of
Pentecost he went to Spain to carry the Gospel. At Saragossa,
weary with his effort to win converts he fell asleep, and as he
slept the Virgin Mary appeared to him and told him to build a
chapel in her honor on that very spot. Another night, while
conversing with some disciples, James saw lights and heard
singing. Looking to heaven, he saw the Virgin Mary on a throne
sustained by a host of angels. By her side was a column of jasper
and a wooden image of herself. She ordered a chapel erected in
her honor. 'For,' she said, 'this place is to be my house, my
right inheritance and possession. This image and column of mine
shall be the title and altar of the temple you will build'" 

(Now we know it is all fantasy. Mary is not alive in heaven. the
demons were most likely playing around and coming as angels of
light to deceive. The RC church has over ONE BILLION deceived
members today, as of 2007 - Keith Hunt)

     J.W.Taylor, in "The Coming of the Saints," seems eager to
accept the theory of James being a missionary pioneer to Spain.

"St.Peter and St.John were together at Jerusalem during the
years immediately following, but nowhere do we read of the
presence of St.James with them. This is remarkable, because he
had been constantly with them before this. Sole sharer with them
of the special revelation on the Mount of Transfiguration, sole
sharer with them, again, of the final conversation in the Garden
of Gethsemane, his absence from their company afterwards, and
especially when 'Peter and John went up together into the Temple
at the hour of prays'{Acts 3:1), needs emphatically some
explanation. The only possible conclusion is, that their constant
companion in the older days must have been absent from Jerusalem.
Now, there are some very old traditions, reaching back to the
earliest centuries, which, if accepted, thoroughly explain this
phenomenal silence regarding one of the chief of the Apostles.
In these St.James is represented as a distant traveller in the
West in the very earliest years after Christ, and as a missionary
pioneer in Sardinia and in Spain.
These traditions about St.James are so old and so definite,
however improbable they may appear to be, that I make no apology
for reproducing their more prominent features. They represent the
Apostle as coming from the East and preaching the Gospel both in
Sardinia and in Spain; as then returning to Jerusalem for the
keeping of the Passover Festival or Easter at Jerusalem, and as
suffering martyrdom during this visit to the Church and to his
friends in Palestine.
His body is reputed to have been taken care of and brought from
Palestine to Spain by loving disciples, who buried him in Spanish
ground among the people to whom he had first preached the Gospel
of the Kingdom.
A fact mentioned by contemporaneous historians - both Tacitus and
Josephus - makes this mission antecedently more probable than it
appears to be at first sight.
About A.D.19 we are told by Tacitus (Annals, vol. ii, c. 85)
that 4,000 youths, 'affected by the Jewish and Egyptian
superstitions' were transported from Italy to Sardinia. These are
spoken of as '4,000 Jews' by Josephus (Antiquities, bk. xviii,
cap. 3), and it is evident that their banishment and forcible
enlistment (for they were used as soldiers in Sardinia) made a
profound impression on the Jews in Palestine.
Some have supposed that these banished Jews were already
believers in Christ or followers of the teaching of St.John the
Baptist. This is hardly probable; but it is quite possible that
many of them may have been old followers of Judas the Galilean
(Acts 5:37), who had been living as prisoners in Rome during all
the succeeding years. If so, they, or the families from which
they came, would be personally known to 'James and John'. They
would indeed be 'lost sheep of the House of Israel', and would
have a special and urgent claim on the sympathy of the great
The active belief in the legend or tradition of the Spanish
mission of St.James appears to date from about A.D.820 when the
body of the Saint was 'discovered' by Theodosius, bishop of Tira.
Around the reputed body of St.James there gradually grew the
shrine, the cathedral, the city, and finally the pilgrimages of
'Santiago di Compostela'. The original cathedral was consecrated
in A.D.899, and this was destroyed by the Moors under El Mansui
in 997. The later cathedral was founded in 1078 on the site of
the one which had been destroyed. But long before the supposed
discovery - or rediscovery - of the body of St.James, we have
evidence that the essentials of the tradition were held by
Spanish inhabitants and Spanish writers. From immemorial times,
or at least from A.D.400, we find references to the tradition in
old Spanish Offices. In the latter part of the next century or
beginning of the seventh (about A.D.800) there are three
distinct references confirming the tradition of the preaching of
St.James in Spain in the writing of Isidorus Hispalensis (vii,
390, 392 and v, 183), but this author writes of his body as
having been buried in 'Marmarica' (Achaia). The tradition is
again confirmed by St.Julian, who ruled the Church of Toledo in
the seventh century (Acta Sanctorum, vol. 33, p. 88), and by
Freculphus, who wrote about A.D.850 (bk. ii, cap. 4). The
summing-up of the Bollandists in the Acta Sanctorum appears to be
decidedly in favour of the thesis that the reputed Spanish
mission of St.James is reliable and historica." (p.57,58).

     No one seems to have done a more thorough job of research
than J.W.Taylor on the Apostolic Age, but it seems obvious that
this scholarly writer is a bit too anxiuos to prove a case.
However tempting this may also be to us, we simply dare not share
all of Mr.Taylor's enthusiasms. Neither, on the other hand, has
honest scholarship the right to reject them out of hand.

     The best of the Bible encyclopaedias (ISBE ) indicates James
was slain by Herod Agrippa I about 44 A.D. The editors make this
theological comment: "Thus did James fulfill the prophecy of our
Lord, that he too should drink of the cup of his Master." Mark
10:39. The same source quotes apocryphal literature:

"According to the Genealogies of the Twelve Apostles (cf. Budge,
Contendings of the Apostles, II, 49). Zebedee was of the house of
Levi, and his wife of the house of Judah. Now, because the father
of James loved him greatly he counted him among the family of his
father Levi, and similarly because the mother of John loved him
greatly, she counted him among the family of her father Judah.
And they were surnamed 'Children of Thunder,' for they were of
both the priestly house and of the royal house. The "Acts of St.
John," a heretical work of the second century, referred to by
Clement of Alexandria in his "Hypotyposis" and also by Eusebius
(HE, III, 25), gives an account of the call of James and his
presence at the Transfiguration, similar in part to that of the
Gospels, but giving fantastic details concerning the supernatural
nature of Christ's body, and how its appearances brought
confusion to James and other disciples (cf. Hennecke, "Handbuch
zu den neutestamentlichen Apokryphen," (423-59). The Acts of St.
James in India (cf. Budge, 11, 295-303) tells of the missionary
journey of James and Peter to India, of the appearance of Christ
to them in the form of a beautiful young man, of their healing a
blind man, and of their imprisonment, miraculous release, and
their conversion of the people."

     Hugo Hoever, almost three hundred years ago, summed up the
beliefs of Christian scholarship during his era:

"... On account of early zeal of James and John, Our Lord styled
them Boanerges, or sons of thunder.... St.James preached the
Gospel in Spain and then returned to Jerusalem, where he was the
first of the Apostles to suffer martyrdom. By order of Herod
Agrippa he was beheaded at Jerusalem about the feast of Easter,
44 A.D." ("The Lives of the Saints," Hugo Hoover, p.282).

     The very authoritative, "A Traveller's Guide to Saints in
Europe" offers this conjecture, "Most scholars think its unlikely
that he visited Spain, but state that this does not dispose of
the claim that the relics at Santiago are his." (Mary Sharp, p.
     The "Encyclopaedia Brittanica" does not reject utterly the
claim of an association of James with Spain, but affirms James'
official martyrdom about 14 years after the death of Christ,
(Acts 12:2) under Herod Agrippa 1, the grandson of Herod the
Great. It adds, "There is a tradition open to serious
difficulties and not unanimously admitted, that James preached
the gospel in Spain and that after his death his body was
transported to Compostela" (Volume 11, p.120 ).

     A rival tradition is held by the writer of the "Armenian
Patriarchate of Jerusalem." This authority affirms that the
Cathedral of St.James in Jerusalem, the seat of the Armenian
Patriarchate, now stands upon the site of the house of James the
Less. [Elsewhere in this volume we have demonstrated that
whatever historfcity there may be to this claim, it is unlikely
to be the burial place of James the Less, but rather the burial
place of James the brother of Jesus.] However, the following
affirmation is interesting as a contrary claim regarding the
present location of the body of James the Great, "The Cathedral
contains the Shrine of St.James the Major (the Apostle and
brother of St.John). The head of the Apostle is buried in this
Shrine" (p.10).

     In another volume, The "Treasures of the Armenian
Patriarchate of Jerusalem;" the claim is made, "The St.James
Cathedral stands on the spot where according to tradition the
head of St.James the Major, brother of John, who was beheaded by
Herod Agrippa in 44 A.D. was buried (under the northern wall of
the present church). At present the grave is within the
Cathedral. According to tradition a chapel was built on the spot
of the decapitation of St.James the Major as early as the first
century. However, there are many evidences that the foundations
of the first church built upon these sacred spots were laid in
the fourth century" (p.9).

     The same authority adds, "According to Armenian tradition,
after the destruction of the monastery in which the body of the
matryred Apostle, James the Younger, was originally buried, his
relics were removed to the Cathedral of St.James and placed on
the spot where the principle altar now stands. This Cathedral is
believed to be the site on which the head of the Apostle James
the Great, brother of John the Evangelist was interred. These
traditions were usually adduced to underscore the Armenian
institution's historic association with the two Apostles whose
relics they have jealously guarded for many centuries." (Arpag
Mekhitarian, p.5).


     The answer to this can be deduced from the evidence in hand
as to the life, martyrdom and subsequent fate of the body of St.

     Admittedly the story of St.James the Great is a mixture of
certainty and conflicting traditions. We suggest the following
hypothesis to harmonize the information while scholarship awaits
further discoveries.

     James lived for 14 years after the resurrection of Jesus.
Considering the ease with which inhabitants of the Mediterranean
basin could travel from one end of the sea to the other, as far
back as the time of Hannibal of Carthage, and considering the
even greater facility of travel at the time of Julius Caesar
(Circa, 60-40 B.C.) who visited Spain at least three times, we
can see no formidable difficulties against the possibility of St.
James visiting the Jewish colonies in Spain. It is not unlikely
that James would preach to the Gentiles except for those who had
become proselytes in the Jewish synagogues in Spain. One
important branch of Judaism, the Sephardim, has been more closely
identified with Spain than with any other European country. 
St.James would hardly have considered his missionary
responsibility to have included a mission to Gentiles since, if
he went to Spain at all, it is likely that the brevity of his
preaching career (14 years) would have taken him only to the
far-flung Jewish colonies in Spain.

     St.Paul had not yet broken the Christian movement loose from
official Judaism at the time St.James would have had to have
left Judea, if indeed be went to Spain. However, the absence of
the name or the record of activities of so prominent an Apostle
as James the Great in the book of Acts, after the first listing
of the Apostles in Chapter 1, could have some significance. We
can hardly accept the notion that James traveled to India and to
Spain as well. Since we cannot utterly rule out a visit to Spain
during the 14 silent years of the history of this Apostle and
since it is reasonable to believe that James was a special target
of the Herodian persecutors of the church, there is no formidable
historical obstacle to a possible visit by St.James to Spain.

     Thus James might have gone to Spain to preach to the Jewish
colonists and slaves there. We do not know why he should have
chosen to go to the Jews in Spain. 

(Simple, when you understand Israelites, not just Jews were in
Spain at this time in history - lost Israelites of the House of
Israel - Keith Hunt)

Upon his return to Jerusalem from Spain, it might well be
possible that James could have been accused by Herod Agrippa I of
spreading sedition among the Jewish slaves in Spain. Doubtless,
Herod was unpopular in Judea because he had sent those Jewish
captives into slavery. Or it could have been that he did not seem
to raise enough objection against Rome for having enslaved them.
Most probably however, the Jewish slaves in Spain were enemies of
both Herod and Rome. Anyone from Judea who made the long journey
to Spain and who was observed or overheard speaking to the slaves
might very well, upon his return, have been considered by Herod
as a potential enemy of his throne.
     With the rapid growth of the Christian movement in Jerusalem
itself, Herod might have seen all or some Christian leaders as
potential insurrectionists. He might well have thus accused James
of spreading sedition and had him beheaded as a manifest enemy of
the state. He would not have been without sympathizers among the
priesthood or ruling groups of the Jews by his act against James.
By 44 A.D. Jewish religious and political leadership was no
longer tolerant of Christianity, even if during its earliest
years it might have been considered too small to be potentially

     This writer can see no reason why James could not have
indeed fallen victim to Herod's fears and wrath on just such a
charge as sedition. If Herod was determined to stamp out
Christianity, or at least immobilize it to please the Jewish
ruling circles, it would not have been untypical of him to
suborn various "witnesses." Or it may be entirely possible that
the preaching about a Messiah who had come, and who would return
won for James many followers and believers among the Jewish
slaves in Spain. If so, this would have resulted in the Romans
having trouble with those Jewish slaves and this disturbance
might have been laid primarily at the feet of James. One need not
even theorize that false witnesses would be necessary. The
resultant death of James due to a mere suspicion of illegal
activities was a hallmark of all the Herods.

     Admittedly, we cannot go beyond postulation to prove this
theory. But it is entirely possible that a number of Jewish
slaves in Spain were indeed converted to Christ by James, and
have based on this their miraculous tales concerning the visit of
St.James which might well have been the foundation of a later
association of St.James with Spain. Such a visit was entirely in
character with what we know of the personality of James. He was a
zealous Jew who could have been filled with compassion for the
salvation of those doubly unfortunate Jewish slaves in Spain. He
would have wanted them for Christ and have felt keenly their
separation from the main body of Israel.


     Upon the death of James it is certain that his friends and
fellow Apostles buried his body somewhere in Jerusalem. A family
tomb near the present location of the Armenian Patriarchate might
well have been the depository of his body and severed head. It is
not impossible that the head might have been preserved in that
location and, when a later church was built, have been interred
there. It is certainly not impossible that with the increase in
the early medieval practice of the veneration of Apostolic
relics, some of the bones of the Apostle, perhaps the
body, might have been taken to Spain to escape the invading
Persians. The head might well have been kept in Jerusalem,
because a reliquary containing the skull could have been quite
easily hidden regardless of invading and pillaging Persian
soldiers. The body, apart from the head, could well have been
sent to Spain for safekeeping. One can easily imagine the
Armenian Christians long ago prudently deciding to separate the
relics of the Apostle James so that at least some of them might
be preserved regardless of the possibility of some being lost in
the process. Even to this day such places in Spain as the
Escorial claim fragments of the bodies of almost all of the
Apostles. The fragmentation of relics was an almost universal
practice in the early Middle Ages and there is no sound reason
for denying the possibility that some major portions of the
relics might be in St.James at Compostela in Spain to this day.
As we have stressed, this possibility must be labeled as a
postulation because we posses no facts which can either confirm
or seriously challenge it. It is not likely that any shall be
found, so we must be content with theory. This writer, for one,
having confirmed the fact of the practice of the fragmentation of
Apostolic relics, and having visited both Spain and Jerusalem,
sees no reason to doubt the possibility that the bones of James
the son of Zebedee are located partly in Spain and partly in
Jerusalem to this day.



(Well this writer of me, thinks it's VERY UNLIKELY that any bone
fragments remain ANYWHERE in any town or church or Cathedral
ANYWHERE in the world of ANY of the 12 apostles. The Roman
Catholic church claims it may have some, that Mary as been seen
by people, that statutes weep, that blood comes from this or
that. But Satan can work miracles, and he can come as an angel of
light, to DECEIVE! And he HAS DONE A GREAT JOB OF IT! He deceives
the WHOLE WORLD - Revelation 12:9!

It is true that James MAY HAVE preached in Spain. One thing we do
know about him was that he was willing to die for his faith, the
first of the 12 it is believed who died a martyrs death.

Keith Hunt

Entered on this Website December 2007

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