🔼The name James in the Bible
The English name James is the same as the Greek name Jacobos, which in turn comes from the Hebrew name Jacob, the arch-father who became Israel. There are several men named Jacobos (James) in the New Testament, but it's not clear how many as the characters are clearly designed to overlap. The reason for this is that the Jameses should all be recognized as embodiments of formal schools of thought (read our extensive article on the name Mary for argumentation for why this would be so) and James of Zebedee might relate to James of Alphaeus the way, say, a Hubcap of a Ferrari relates to a Hubcap of a Honda.
Which of the Jameses finally becomes the James-without-epithet (Acts 12:17, 15:13, 21:8, 1 Corinthians 15:7) is unclear, which is perhaps deliberate, although in Galatians 1:19, Paul speaks of James the Lord's Brother. There is also no entire certainty which James wrote the epistle of James (1:1) or which Judas-brother-of-James wrote the epistle of Jude (1:1), but these are most plausibly the brothers of Jesus.
It should also be noted that the four evangelists wrote from four widely different perspectives and hence caught the same story in four widely varying accounts (which is why Matthew told of Magi and Luke of shepherds, who were obviously the same Persian rabbis). That means that the identities of characters that show up in one gospel can not be confirmed simply by using data from another gospel without also transcribing contexts and such.
Having pointed that out, the Jameses of the New Testament are:
- James of Zebedee, the brother of John (Matthew 4:21, Mark 1:19, Luke 5:10) who were two of the twelve disciples (Matthew 10:2). Note that James is never called "James son of Zebedee" but always (via a genitive form) "James of Zebedee". The "sons of Zebedee" were most likely a Judaic sect, also known as Boanerges (Mark 3:17), and James and John its main subdivisions or subdisciplines.
James and John are called "joint venturers" with Simon Peter (Luke 5:10) and these three remain Jesus' most inner circle (Mark 9:2, Luke 8:51). The duo James-and-John are mentioned so often in unison that it's reasonable to expect that whenever a James or John are mentioned separately, they are other ones. That is, until James-brother-of-John was executed by Herod Agrippa (Acts 12:2).
The sons of Zebedee also have a mother, who would represent the informal social concern in which this sect had originated. This mother is mentioned by Matthew as one of the women under the cross (27:56) and may therefore also have something to do with Salome, whom Mark mentions (16:1) or Mary of Clopas whom John mentions (19:25).
- James of Alphaeus, also one of the twelve (Matthew 10:3, Mark 3:18, Luke 6:15, Acts 1:13). This James is mentioned in one breath with the previous one and is thus clearly distinct. But the name Alphaeus is the same as Clopas (same name, different dialect), which could mean that the mother of James of Alphaeus is Mary of Clopas. It could also mean that this similar name is indeed borne by two separate men, whose duality is ostensibly indicated by the difference of their names.
- James the Just, the (half-)brother of Jesus of Nazareth. His mother is Mary of Nazareth and his brothers are called Joses (same as Joseph), Simon, and Judas (Matthew 13:55, Mark 6:3). They also have an untold number of unnamed sisters (informal social effects) but their father is not specifically named since Joseph of Nazareth drops off the Biblical radar after the return from Egypt and is later mentioned only as father of Jesus. Note that the brothers and sisters of Jesus — whether considered biological individuals or embodiments of social movements — are not born of similar parents but have matured into similar modes of behavior (Matthew 12:49-50). This famous saying of Jesus is often explained as an emotional hyperbole but is perhaps better understood literally.
- James of Judas, whom we know of because of references to "Judas of James" (Luke 6:16, Acts 1:13). This may be a totally different James with a totally different brother or son Judas, but this Judas may also congrue with Jesus' brother Judas and be a subdivision of brother James. John mentions a sister of Mary of Nazareth (John 19:25), Barnabas was originally named Joses (Acts 4:34), and was a cousin of John Mark (Colossians 4:10), whose mother was called Mary (Acts 12:12). Although Barnabas was from Cyprus, he was a Levite, like John the Baptist, the cousin of Jesus and thus of James the Just and the rest of the brothers and sisters.
- James son of Mary and brother of Joses/Joseph (Matthew 27:56). This James may be any of the others, but it's not clear which one. The brother of this James is consistently called Joses/Joseph while the brother of James of Zebedee is consistently called John (and although these names look somewhat similar in English, they are widely different in Hebrew and even in Greek). He might be James the Just, but this would raise the mystery why the evangelists call Mary "of James" (Mark 16:1, Luke 24:10) or "of Joses" (Mark 15:47) rather than "mother of Jesus" while she is standing right under the cross where Jesus hangs. One possible reason may be that in society Jesus was deemed an illicit son and, particularly after Joseph's mysterious disappearance, Mary had become formally known as Mary mother of James, Joses and so on.
- James Mikron, which means James Junior or the Less. This catchy epithet occurs only once in the New Testament, in Mark's distinction of Mary "she-of-James-Mikron-and-of-Joses-the-mother" as she stands among the women who watch the cross from afar (Mark 15:40). She might be the same as Mary "of Joses" who watches Jesus' burial in the evening (Mark 15:47) and Mary "of James" who tends the grave two mornings later (Mark 16:1), and thus the same as Mary of Nazareth. That would suggest that James Mikron was Jesus' oldest younger brother, also known as the Just. But then, James Mikron may also have been Mary's father, uncle or place she called home. It's actually far from unthinkable that James Mikron was in fact the name of a particular school of thought, dubbed Little Israel. The country we know today as Israel is of course not the same as the Biblical Israel, which rather denotes mankind's wisdom and which was a world-wide phenomenon (see our article on the name Mary). The wisdom effort of Roman Judea as a microcosm of mankind at large could rightly be called Little Israel. This school (if we had to guess, a Pharisaic denomination) may even have had something to do with the apostle Paul, whose name means Little.
The name James, or Jacobos, occurs 42 times in the New Testament; see full concordance.
🔼Etymology of the name James
The name James comes, after a very curious evolution, from the Hebrew name Jacob. The name Jacob, in turn, comes from the Hebrew verb עקב (aqab) meaning to take by the heel or supplant:
When in Greek times people were named after Jacob — the arch-father of Israel — they were given the Hellenized version Jacobos (Iakobos). In the 4th century AD the Greek Septuagint was translated into Latin, and the name Iakobos became transliterated into Iacobus. Late Latin turned that into Iacomus — the b and the m being somewhat similar in sound in nasal languages. The early French version of this Latin name became the shortened Gemmes, which then traveled into the English speaking world as James.
When the Bible was translated into English, the translators truncated the Greek names into the versions we know now — Paulos became Paul, Petros became Peter (but Titus and Jesus, curiously, remained Titus and Jesus; perhaps this is because people didn't want to be reading from the book of Tit, or pray to Jees). And the name Iakobos didn't become Jacob, it became James, and this while King James VI of Scotland ordered in 1604, "a translation to be made of the whole Bible, as consonant as can be to the original Hebrew and Greek ... ".
The name James doesn't mean anything, but it came from the name Jacob, which means Supplanter.