University of Oxford

File(s) not publicly available

E00173: Eusebius of Caesarea gathers information about *James ('brother of the Lord', S00058) whom he presents as the first bishop of Jerusalem, ascetic and martyr. Account in his Ecclesiastical History, written in Greek in Palestine in 311/325, quoting the 2nd century Christian authors Clement of Alexandria and Hegesippus.

online resource
posted on 2014-11-13, 00:00 authored by erizos
Eusebius of Caesarea, Ecclesiastical History 2.1.2-5, 2.23.3-18

(2.) τότε δῆτα καὶ Ἰάκωβον, τὸν τοῦ κυρίου λεγόμενον ἀδελφόν, ὅτι δὴ καὶ οὗτος τοῦ Ἰωσὴφ ὠνόμαστο παῖς, τοῦ δὲ Χριστοῦ πατὴρ ὁ Ἰωσήφ, ᾧ μνηστευθεῖσα ἡ παρθένος, πρὶν ἢ συνελθεῖν αὐτούς, εὑρέθη ἐν γαστρὶ ἔχουσα ἐκ πνεύματος ἁγίου, ὡς ἡ ἱερὰ τῶν εὐαγγελίων διδάσκει γραφή· τοῦτον δὴ οὖν αὐτὸν Ἰάκωβον, ὃν καὶ δίκαιον ἐπίκλην οἱ πάλαι δι’ ἀρετῆς ἐκάλουν προτερήματα, πρῶτον ἱστοροῦσιν τῆς ἐν Ἱεροσολύμοις ἐκκλησίας τὸν τῆς ἐπισκοπῆς ἐγχειρισθῆναι θρόνον· (3.) Κλήμης ἐν ἕκτῳ τῶν Ὑποτυπώσεων γράφων ὧδε παρίστησιν· «Πέτρον γάρ φησιν καὶ Ἰάκωβον καὶ Ἰωάννην μετὰ τὴν ἀνάληψιν τοῦ σωτῆρος, ὡς ἂν καὶ ὑπὸ τοῦ σωτῆρος προτετιμημένους, μὴ ἐπιδικάζεσθαι δόξης, ἀλλὰ Ἰάκωβον τὸν δίκαιον ἐπίσκοπον τῶν Ἱεροσολύμων ἑλέσθαι.» (4.) ὁ δ’ αὐτὸς ἐν ἑβδόμῳ τῆς αὐτῆς ὑποθέσεως ἔτι καὶ ταῦτα περὶ αὐτοῦ φησιν· «Ἰακώβῳ τῷ δικαίῳ καὶ Ἰωάννῃ καὶ Πέτρῳ μετὰ τὴν ἀνάστασιν παρέδωκεν τὴν γνῶσιν ὁ κύριος, οὗτοι τοῖς λοιποῖς ἀποστόλοις παρέδωκαν, οἱ δὲ λοιποὶ ἀπόστολοι τοῖς ἑβδομήκοντα· ὧν εἷς ἦν καὶ Βαρναβᾶς. (5.) δύο δὲ γεγόνασιν Ἰάκωβοι, εἷς ὁ δίκαιος, ὁ κατὰ τοῦ πτερυγίου βληθεὶς καὶ ὑπὸ γναφέως ξύλῳ πληγεὶς εἰς θάνατον, ἕτερος δὲ ὁ καρατομηθείς.» αὐτοῦ δὴ τοῦ δικαίου καὶ ὁ Παῦλος μνημονεύει γράφων· «ἕτερον δὲ τῶν ἀποστόλων οὐκ εἶδον, εἰ μὴ Ἰάκωβον τὸν ἀδελφὸν τοῦ κυρίου.»

'(2.) At that time, James, who is called brother of the Lord, because he was known as a son of Joseph, and Joseph was known as the father of Christ, because the Virgin, being betrothed to him, was found with child by the Holy Ghost before they came together as the account of the holy Gospels shows [Matthew 1:18]; this James then, whom the ancients surnamed the Just on account of the superiority of his virtue, they report was the first to be entrusted with the throne of the bishopric of Jerusalem. (3.) Writing in the sixth book of his Hypotyposes, Clement reports thus: "For they say that Peter and James and John, after the ascension of the Saviour, even though they were favoured by our Lord, strove not after honour, but elected James the Just as bishop of Jerusalem." (4.) But the same author, in the seventh book of the same work, relates also the following things concerning him: "The Lord after his resurrection bestowed the knowledge to James the Just and to John and Peter, and they bestowed it to the rest of the Apostles, and the rest of the Apostles to the seventy, of whom Barnabas was one. (5.) But there were two Jameses: one was the Just, who was thrown from the pinnacle of the temple and was beaten to death with a club by a fuller, while the other was the one that was beheaded." Of the same Just, Paul also makes mention as he writes: "I saw none other of the Apostles, save James, the Lord's brother" [Galatians 1:19].'

τὸν δὲ τῆς τοῦ Ἰακώβου τελευτῆς τρόπον ἤδη μὲν πρότερον αἱ παρατεθεῖσαι τοῦ Κλήμεντος φωναὶ δεδηλώκασιν, ἀπὸ τοῦ πτερυγίου βεβλῆσθαι ξύλῳ τε τὴν πρὸς θάνατον πεπλῆχθαι αὐτὸν ἱστορηκότος· ἀκριβέστατά γε μὴν τὰ κατ’ αὐτὸν ὁ Ἡγήσιππος, ἐπὶ τῆς πρώτης τῶν ἀποστόλων γενόμενος διαδοχῆς, ἐν τῷ πέμπτῳ αὐτοῦ ὑπομνήματι τοῦτον λέγων ἱστορεῖ τὸν τρόπον·

'The words of Clement quoted above have already described in some way the manner of James’ death, as he relates that he was thrown from the pinnacle and was beaten to death by a club; but his story is related most accurately by Hegesippus, who lived in the first generation after the Apostles and, in the fifth book of his Memoirs, writes as follows.'

Summary of the account by Hegesippus quoted by Eusebius (2.23.4-18):
James was a brother of Jesus, who succeeded him in the leadership of the church together with the Apostles. He was called ‘just’ by everyone for the holy life he lived from his birth. He never drank alcohol or ate meat, never cut his hair or used the baths. He wore simple linen clothes and no woollen ones. He used to enter the temple and pray alone on his knees, which made them go hard, like those of a camel. He was universally respected and confessed Christ to be the saviour when asked by the Jews. Through his testimony, many believed, even people from Jewish sects rejecting the doctrines of the resurrection and universal judgement. The Pharisees and Scribes, dismayed by the spread of the Christian faith, asked James to stand on the pinnacle of the temple during Passover and warn the people against believing in Jesus. When the day came, James stood on the pinnacle and declared that Jesus is in heaven to the right of God, and will come again on the clouds. This caused many to believe, but the Pharisees and Scribes threw him from the temple and when this did not kill him decided to have him stoned to death. During his stoning he prays for their forgiveness, while a priest attempts to stop the stoning. He is eventually killed by a fuller who hits him on the head with a club. He is buried on the spot, by the temple, and his tomb is still preserved. Immediately afterwards, Vespasian besieges Jerusalem [AD 66].

Text: Schwartz et al. 1999. Translation and summary: Efthymios Rizos.


Evidence ID


Saint Name

John the Evangelist : S00042 Peter the Apostle : S00036 James the Brother of the Lord, also known as James the Just, ob. 1st c. : S00058

Saint Name in Source

Ἰωάννης Πέτρος Ἰάκωβος

Type of Evidence

Literary - Other narrative texts (including Histories)


  • Greek

Evidence not before


Evidence not after


Activity not before


Activity not after


Place of Evidence - Region

Palestine Rome

Place of Evidence - City, village, etc

Caesarea Maritima Rome

Place of evidence - City name in other Language(s)

Caesarea Maritima Rome

Major author/Major anonymous work

Eusebius of Caesarea

Cult activities - Non Liturgical Practices and Customs

Transmission, copying and reading saint-related texts


Eusebius lived in Caesarea Maritima in Palestine between c. AD 260 and 340. He was a pupil and friend of the martyred Christian intellectual Pamphilus. Under Constantine, he emerged as one of the most influential Christian figures of the Roman Empire, and was ordained bishop of Caesarea. Written between 311 and 325, Eusebius’ Ecclesiastical History is the first literary work to employ the methodology and objectives of classical historiography – which, since Herodotus and Thucydides, had traditionally focused on military and political events – in a novel field, the history of the Christian community. The first paragraphs of the work outline its chronological framework and thematic range: it is a narrative of events in the life of the Christian community from the times of Christ and the Apostles to the times of Eusebius (c. AD 260-340); it records the leaders of the most important communities (i.e. successions of bishops in Alexandria, Antioch, Rome and Jerusalem); it records the most notable exponents of Christian doctrine and their works, and also the main heresies and their proponents; it finally records persecutions and people that suffered and were martyred during them. The Ecclesiastical History is mostly a synthesis of quotations and summaries from other sources, for which Eusebius often gives concrete references. Thus his work preserves excerpts from early Christian texts which do not survive any more in their full form. Eusebius’ source material is mostly Greek texts, originating from Christian communities in Anatolia, Syria, Palestine and Egypt. These areas constitute the main geographical range of his narrative, while his information about Christianity in the European provinces of the Roman Empire (except Rome) and North Africa is very limited. The text survives in several Greek manuscripts, in a Latin translation by Rufinus, and in Syriac and Armenian translations.


The story of James the Just, also known as James the Brother of the Lord, as recorded by Eusebius, is of major interest as an example of the production of hagiographical legends concerning figures of the apostolic age. In the text, James the Just, who is mentioned very vaguely in the New Testament, is emerging as a concrete figure, a relative of Christ, a bishop, and an ascetic and martyr. Mainly based on lost works of the 2nd century authors Clement of Alexandria and Hegesippus, Eusebius makes a number of necessary clarifications concerning James’ profile. He first offers an explanation about his relationship to Jesus, and about the meaning of the title ‘Brother of the Lord’ – which remained a matter of speculation in later authors as well. The quotation from Clement offers a further necessary distinction between this James (brother of Jesus) and James the Apostle (son of Zebedee). In a later chapter, Eusebius offers a full account of James’ martyrdom, drawn from Hegesippus. Besides offering biographical information about James, Eusebius’ quotations also provide what can be described as the foundation narrative of the bishopric of Jerusalem. One of the objectives of Eusebius’ Ecclesiastical History was to demonstrate the unbroken succession of the catholic episcopate from the Apostles and Jesus. A belief in the apostolic succession of bishops was central in both his understanding of the Church, and in his agenda as a historian. The crucial notion underlying the piece quoted here is Eusebius’ effort to identify the ‘first bishop’ of a particular city – James in Jerusalem – and to produce a narrative concerning his appointment. It thus is one of the earliest examples of the production of hagiographic legends supporting the authority of a particular episcopal see (see Zwierlein 2009, 78-183). The ideas of apostolic succession and sacrality of ordained clergy first appears in the late 1st century in Clement of Rome (1 Clement 42). At roughly the same time, or slightly later, explicit emphasis on the defining role of the bishop within the Catholic community is first attested in Ignatius of Antioch (Letter to the Magnesians 6; Letter to the Smyrnaeans 8). During the 2nd century, the monarchic episcopal constitution was gradually adopted as the standard form of organisation among the Christian groups which defined themselves as the Catholic Church. In an age when there was no canon of accepted New Testament texts, and when various Gnostic groupings claimed possession of authority, knowledge, scriptural sources and charisma, the catholic communities claimed that it was only their bishops that possessed knowledge of the true faith as a gift transmitted to them from Christ. The sources Eusebius quotes here date precisely from that period. The two statements of Clement of Alexandria quoted by Eusebius are of special interest for the evolution of ideas related to the apostolic succession of bishops, and the hierarchy of authority among the various local churches. Clement proposes a hierarchical image of the apostolic group, stating that Peter, James and John were Jesus’ preferred disciples, and implying that they possessed a higher authority: it was a demonstration of humility that the three greater Apostles elected James the Just, who was not among the Twelve, as bishop of Jerusalem. In a somewhat extravagant statement, Clement suggests that Christ bestowed the gift of knowledge (παρέδωκεν τὴν γνῶσιν, paredoken ten gnōsin) on only three, James the Just, John and Peter, who then imparted it to the rest of the twelve and the seventy disciples. This could perhaps be interpreted as implying the higher authority of the catholic churches of Jerusalem, Asia, Antioch and Rome, as communities tracing their origins back to these three figures. All these features demonstrate some of the fundamental aspects and motives of the production of hagiographic legends concerning the apostolic era. Their subject was figures who feature very marginally in the New Testament, and whose profiles they enriched with information from other sources, creating concrete stories and biographies, normally ending with a martyrdom account. These figures and their stories were of a major ‘political’ importance for the justification of hierarchies of authority within the world-wide Christian community. The ideas of apostolicity and succession of particular bishoprics remained central behind the development of the literature and cult of apostolic figures from the 2nd century on, which thus can be described as the most ‘political’ branch of hagiography and of the cult of saints.


Edition: Schwartz, E., Mommsen, T., and Winkelmann, F., Eusebius Werke II: Die Kirchengeschichte. 3 vols. (Die Griechischen Christlichen Schriftsteller der ersten drei Jahrhunderte; Berlin: Akademie Verlag, 1999). Translations: Lake, K., Oulton, J.E.L., and Lawlor, H.J., Eusebius of Caesarea: The Ecclesiastical History. 2 vols. (Loeb Classical Library 153; London and Cambridge, Mass: W. Heinemann and Harvard University Press, 1926). Williamson, G.A., and Louth, A., Eusebius: The History of the Church from Christ to Constantine (London: Penguin, 1989). Further reading: Chesnut, G., The First Christian Histories: Eusebius, Socrates, Sozomen, Theodoret, and Evagrius. Atlanta: Mercer University, 1986. Zwierlein, O., Petrus in Rom: Die literarischen Zeugnisse. Mit einer kritischen Edition der Martyrien des Petrus und Paulus auf neuer handschriftlicher Grundlage (Untersuchungen zur antiken Literatur und Geschichte; Berlin and New York: Walter de Gruyter, 2009).

Usage metrics

    Evidence -  The Cult of Saints in Late Antiquity



    Ref. manager