The Art of James the Just

Peter Paul Reubens, 'Saint James the Less' (1610-1612),
Peter Paul Reubens, 'Saint James the Less' (1610-1612), oil on panel, 107x82.5 cm., Museo Nacional del Prado, Spain

The author of the Letter of James was the lead pastor at the Church of Jerusalem for a couple of decades in the mid-first century. He was Jesus' brother, son of Joseph, known as James the Just or James of Jerusalem. He is sometimes confused with James, son of Alphaeus (Mark 3:18), called James the Lesser to differentiate him from the Apostle James the son of Zebedee. This view was proposed by St. Jerome.

James the Just was martyred about 63 AD. According to Eusebius (Church History 2:23), James the Just, because of his reputation for righteousness, Jewish leaders asked him to stand on the pinnacle of the temple and warn the people against the doctrine that Jesus had been resurrected and would come again. When he did the opposite, they pushed him to the ground, stoned him, and beat him to death with a fuller's club. Josephus (Antiquities 20.9.1) records that he was stoned.

In Christian iconography, St. James the Less often holds something intended to look like a fuller's club (the weapon of his martyrdom). In some paintings the "club" is slimmer and has a wooden board attached at a right angle to the end.



Mosaic panel at St. Mark's Cathedral, Venice (12th century) shows the elements of the story of his martydom.




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