The Talmidi view of Jacob the Pious (Ya`aqov Ha-Tsaddiq – James the Just)
Within our community, Ya`aqov (James the Just) and Yeshua` (Jesus of Nazareth) are both admired and respected as holy men of God – Ya`aqov as a Tsaddiq (Jewish ‘Saint’), and Yeshua` as a Prophet. The odd thing is, Yeshua`’s ministry lasted for only about 3 years, and yet the world has an almost infinite amount of literature on him. In contrast, Ya`aqov’s ministry lasted an incredible 32 years, and yet there is hardly anything written about him. In mainstream Christianity, ‘St James’ is little more than a minor saint, and within the Catholic Church especially, there is an almost deliberate confusion over who ‘St James’ was.
From what we have found out, we have come to the conclusion that this sorry state of affairs is down to two things: first, that Ya`aqov was the leader of the Jewish community of Yeshua`’s followers, and Shim`on Keyfa (Simon Peter) was subordinate to him. This fact alone is an uncomfortable one for those who believe that ‘Jesus put Peter at the head of the Church’.
The second is the more stunning fact – and potentially, more subversive. Now, there is a Jewish folk belief that, “for the sake of the Pious Ones (ie exceedingly holy and righteous men and women), the world is not destroyed”. It was the belief of the Jewish community of Followers that, through Ya`aqov’s ministry of prayer on behalf of the Jewish people, Jerusalem was spared destruction for as long as he was alive. Ya`aqov’s ministry was viewed by Jewish Followers of the time as one of prayerful intercession on behalf of the sins of the people. Because Ya`aqov was such a pious and holy man, his prayers were able to gain forgiveness for the sins of the many. He didn’t have to suffer or die – his prayer alone as a man of piety gained forgiveness for many.
In terms of theology, this early Talmidi belief about Ya`aqov is an earthquake. No one had to suffer and die, no blood had to be shed, and no animal sacrifices were necessary. Instead, he prayed constantly in the Temple every day for most of his life, and God heard him, and the misery of exile was held back. Shortly after Ya`aqov’s death however, the situation in Galilee & Judea went from bad to worse; within four years, there was war, and eight years after his death the Temple was destroyed.
These two things – that Ya`aqov was the head of the community, not Peter; and that Ya`aqov’s ministry of intercession gained the forgiveness of sins – are uncomfortable for adherents of Paullist theology. It is better therefore that Ya`aqov’s existence remain a blur.
Another interesting little point that has come up in our research: there is a possibility that the reason why we have so little about Ya`aqov, is that the details of his life – his deeds, his words – were poached and used to write the backgrounds of other historical characters.
Best case in point is the martyrdom of Stephen in the book of Acts. There is an ancient Ebionite work called the ‘Ascents of James’. After we remove the few Christian additions to the work, we realise how strikingly similar it is to the story of the martyrdom of Stephen. Now, ‘Stephen’ means ‘crown’ in Greek. One of Ya`aqov’s titles was ‘the crown and prince of the congregation’. We have no doubt that the story of Paul’s attack on Ya`aqov in the ‘Ascents of James’ (and other places), and the story of the martyrdom of Stephen in Acts, are actually one and the same story. The only difference is that Ya`aqov was not killed when Paul physically attacked him; he was just left for dead.
The second example is that Ya`aqov, when he was being stoned to death in 62 CE, he was famously credited as saying, “I beseech you, Lord and Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do” (quoted by Hegesippus). The tale is also told that people would vie to touch the hem of his clothing. This brings up the tantalising question: Could it be that, in the attempt to wipe out the memory of a man whose ministry is so theologically dangerous to Paullist belief, that Paul’s early Believers took apart Ya`aqov’s words and put them into Yeshua`’s mouth? Is it possible that some of Yeshua`’s deeds in the New Testament, were actually the deeds of Ya`aqov? Sadly, these are questions which will never be answered.
The picture that forms in our minds of Ya`aqov is of an intensely holy and prayerful man, a man of justice and selfless kindness. And he was dedicated as a Nazirite from his mother’s womb; it is possible that, like the prophet Samuel (also a Nazirite from his mother’s womb), he was brought up from boyhood as an attendant in the Temple, and so spent most of his life there in service and prayer. Even knowing that Jerusalem and the Temple were going to be destroyed, he decided to stay in Jerusalem, praying for the sins of the people, serving the poor, and encouraging the people to endure and resist violence.
He seems to have been a man so filled with God’s love that, despite his humble demeanour, he was able to disarm others with his words. He was loved and respected by the people of all religious parties of the time – even the Pharisees, who tried to defend him against the High Priest, who eventually had him tried and sentenced to death. And when that failed, it was their protests that got the High Priest deposed.
We, as Followers of the Way, are incredibly privileged to have had such a wonderful, saintly man of simple piety as Ya`aqov in our faith’s history. On the whole, mainstream Christianity does not want him; it would rather he remain obscure. Actually, we’re glad they don’t want him. He was ours. And his life is ours today to inspire us towards the humble and compassionate service of God.
Eisnemann, in his book, ‘James, the Brother of Jess’, wrote: “Whatever James was, Jesus was also”
From what little we have gleaned from the scant sources, and from the opinions of Jacob voiced in the “Ascents of James” in the Clementine Recognitions, it is possible a lot of what Jacob the Pious was got overlaid onto Yeshua. For example, the traditional image of Yeshua as having a long beard and long hair was probably actually Jacob, since HE was a life-long Nazarite.
The image we get of Yeshua is one of an ordinary rustic Jewish man, a true man of the people, able to put the Jewish religion into terms that the ordinary man and woman in the street could relate to, someone who was charismatic and inspired people. He was a true prophet, plucked from his rural, country life and placed on a path which would eventually lead to his death.
Then we have Jacob – Jacob the Pious. He was a very religious, learned man, pious and faithful to Torah in all his ways. He attended Temple every day, was admired and loved by members of all parties. He was considered extremely wise, and was approached often by both the learned and the simple for his opinions. He was a true Tzaddiq, whose ministry was one of constant intercession to God for the city and people of Jerusalem.
These were two different people, their ministries were different, but complementary. Jacob carried on where Yeshua left off.