The Death of James the Nazarite

James the Just from website deepinto 

There are many good books out there now that look at James/Jacob son of Mary. [i] It is possible they even have found his ossuary, stone bone box. [ii] We don’t know much about James, but we know more about him than about the other family and followers of Jesus because he is in the Book of Acts and in Josephus! In both instances his appearance is after the death of Jesus.  Acts says that James lead the family and followers in Jerusalem after his brother was killed. He was one of the Pillars that Paul met and a strong Jew and well thought of in the city. Here, I want to touch on James being a Nazarite and his ongoing feud with the High Priesthood and with Agrippa. 

When I quoted the famous passage in Hegesippus’ Fifth Book in the last post, I left out one sentence. Here is the full quote again with the omitted sentence…

James, the Lord’s brother, succeeds to the government of the Church, in conjunction with the apostles. He has been universally called the Just, from the days of the Lord down to the present time. For many bore the name of James; but this one was holy from his mother’s womb. He drank no wine or other intoxicating liquor, nor did he eat flesh; no razor came upon his head; he did not anoint himself with oil (neither did the Essen), nor make use of the bath. He alone was permitted to enter the holy place: for he did not wear any woollen garment, but fine linen only. He alone, I say, was wont to go into the temple: and he used to be found kneeling on his knees, begging forgiveness for the people-so that the skin of his knees became horny like that of a camel’s, by reason of his constantly bending the knee in adoration to God, and begging forgiveness for the people. Therefore, in consequence of his pre-eminent justice, he was called the Just, (Righteous) and Oblias, which signifies in Greek Defence of the People, and Justice, in accordance with what the prophets declare concerning him. (As quoted on

An article from the Jewish Encyclopedia online…”NAZARITE”, by: Executive Committee of the Editorial Board., George A. BartonLudwig Blau…tries to simplify a complex issue; what exactly is a “Nazarite.”

Nazarite…One who lives apart; one who has made a vow of abstinence; in the former sense used as early as Sifra, Emor, iv. 3; Sifre, Num. 23.

Nazarite Laws.—Biblical Data: Three restrictions are imposed upon the Nazarite, according to Num. vi.: he may not take wine, or anything made from grapes; he may not cut the hair of his head; he may not touch the dead, not even the body of his father or mother. If a Nazarite has become unclean by accident, he must offer a sacrifice and begin the period of his vow anew. He is “holy unto the Lord” (Num. vi. 8), and the regulations which apply to him actually agree with those for the high priest and for the priests during worship (Lev. x. 8 et seq., xxi.; Ezek. xliv. 21). In ancient times the priests were persons dedicated to God (Ezek. xliv. 20; I Sam. i. 11), and it follows from the juxtaposition of prophets and Nazarites (Amos ii. 11-12) that the latter must have been regarded as in a sense priests…The most prominent outward mark of the Nazarite was long, flowing hair, which was cut at the expiration of the vow and offered as a sacrifice (Num. l.c.; Jer. vii. 29).

A Nazirite (also spelled Nazarite) (from Hebrew: נזיר, nazir meaning “consecrated”), refers to Jews who consecrated their lives to God by taking ascetic vows requiring them to abstain from wine, refrain from cutting their hair, and avoid corpses, graves, and tombs (Numbers 6:1-21). Several famous Nazirites are described in the Bible including Samson and John the Baptist. Some scholars have even suggested that James the brother of Jesus (and perhaps Jesus himself), may have taken Nazirite vows thus giving rise to the term “Nazarene”, which may be derived from the word “Nazirite” rather than “Nazareth”.

The term “Nazirite” comes from the Hebrew nazir meaning “consecrated” or “separated”. A variant translation of the term renders it as “crowned.” The Nazarite’s hair or locks was a sign of “the consecration of his God” (Numbers 6: 7). The “consecration of his God” referred to the fact that the hair of the Nazarite looked like a holy crown on his head.

A lifelong Nazarite would coil his hair on top of his head to resemble a crown. (The portrait of James the Just above depicts the amount of hair a man might grow in 2-3 years.)

James the Just vs. Agrippa the Pure

The Book of Acts mentions the high priest and priests eleven times in the beginning chapters as Peter and the disciples’ main enemy. So, James was being presented by Hegesippus, as a lifelong Nazarite who was a righteous High Priest (for those who did not understand the requirements or “for those with eyes to see) with the key word “just” and holy wearing only linen and entering the Holy of Holies…all priestly and high priestly attributes.

While that was going on King Agrippa was also keeping himself “entirely pure,” as we have seen. He was also given the right to name the High Priest’s by Rome and he did name several. (Remember that back before Mariamne the Queen had been married to Herod, the Hasmonean family were priests and as rulers had first been High Priests…the second generation of Hasmonean High Priests…the sons of John Hyrcanus…added the title of king, and even though the descendants of Mariamne the Queen and Herod could not be High Priest because of mixed blood, there must have been nostalgia for the role.)[iii]

The House of Ananus was a dynasty of High Priest after the House of Boethus were deposed, but after Caiaphas, Ananus’ son-in-law, was deposed, possibly over the death of “Prince” Jesus, as Acts calls him (among other things 5:31-21), the honor changed hands frequently. King Agrippa “Junior” also could name high priests, including for a brief time when Simon son of Boethus returned to the High Priesthood, “whose daughter king Herod had married.” Josephus’ book Antiquities XX documents the increasing tensions between the priests and the rise of “seditions.” The people and especially the freedom “bandits” fueled the early rebellion, not against Rome so much as against the High Priesthood who they saw as sellouts to the Romans. They were demanding a “pure” high priest…which may be why James took on the role of a lifelong Nazarite/High Priest.

CA 63 A.D., about thirty years after Jesus was killed, James was also killed.

And now Caesar, upon hearing of the death of Festus, sent Albinus into Judea as procurator; but the king (Agrippa II) deprived Joseph of the high priesthood, and bestowed the succession to that dignity on the son of Ananus, who was also himself called Ananus…but this younger Ananus…was a bold man in his temper, and very insolent; he was also of the sect of the Sadducees, who were very rigid in judging offenders, above all the rest of the Jews…when therefore, Ananus…thought he had now a proper opportunity [to exercise his authority]…he assembled the sanhedrim of judges, and brought before them the brother of Jesus, who was called Christ, whose name was James, and some others…and when he had formed an accusation against them as breakers of the law, he delivered them to be stoned…whereupon Albinus (the Roman Procurator)…wrote in anger to Ananus, and threatened that he would bring him to punishment for what he had done; on which king Agrippa took the high-priesthood from him, when he had ruled but three months, and made Jesus, the son of Damneus, high-priest.  Antiquities of the Jews XX.IX.

Two sons of Mary were executed by High Priests of the House of Ananus. Jesus was killed because the High Priest demanded it of Rome. James was killed more directly by a new arrogant High Priest of the House of Ananus. It is right after the death of James and the replacement of this Ananus as High Priest that Josephus first speaks of the Sicarii [v], the silent assassins who set out to kill high priests in Jerusalem with their hidden knives. Antiquities XX.IX.2-3



[i] Read Robert Eisenman’s book on James the Brother of Jesus, 1998 Penguin Books USA……for a look at James as the Essene Teacher of Righteousness…outsider priests.

[ii] James Tabor has a FB page and several books on James and the finding of tomb caves in Jerusalem that may be the Jesus family tomb.

[iii] The Epistle of Paul to the Hebrews claims that Jesus was made “a priest forever after the order of Melchisedec,” not by bloodline… “not after the law of a carnal commandment, but after the power of an endless life.” Hebrews 7

[iv] It might be helpful to also bear in mind that the New Testament books were all written AFTER the war with Rome and Jerusalem and the Temple were destroyed and the High Priest and the priests were out of work.

[v] Josephus called all seditionist but especially the Sicarii “banditti” or robbers. (see his index)…which casts a new light on Jesus being crucified between two “robbers.” Most of the rebels had to resort to robbery to finance their operations.

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