James vs Paul: Robert Eisenman's James the Brother of Jesus

[Reviewed by Alex Auswaks in the Jerusalem Post Literary Supplement, April 24, 1997.]

Jesus had four brothers: James, Joses, Simon and Judas. This book puts forward the thesis that it was James (marginalized in the Gospels) who was the leader of Christianity in his day, that he was a popular Jewish leader, and that he was the originator of the Jews for Jesus of his time. This is the first volume only and is subtitled "The Cup of the Lord." A further volume will treat (inter alia) the Jamesian Communities in the East, matters connected with his death and much else. It is a tremendous work of historical scholarship, perceptive hypothesizing and matching of data. As with Eisenman's other works, the book highlights the ideological turmoil of the times. But that is the hallmark of a great book. We see our own times in it even as we see ancient times.

The Dead Sea Scrolls are used for verification and illustration only. Otherwise, Eisenman draws on the New Testament and early Church texts.

James vs Paul is one of the major themes of the book.

Paul won. It was Paul's vision of the Church that prevailed and turned Christianity against Jews.

The early chapters of the book set the historical background, beginning with the return from Babylon. There is a display of emotion regerring to Josephus: With military commanders or commissars like Josephus, the Jews had no need of enemies, and the military catastrophe that overtook them was inevitable. New light and fresh hypotheses are advanced regarding Sadducees, Essenes and Zealots. The Maccabees, we are told, must be seen as Sadducees. Eisenman sees early Pauline Christianity and rabbinic Judaism as two sides of the same coin. The uprising against Rome is seen as popular as well as messianic. This may come as a surprise to us, that our Jewish forefathers were messianic. Time and time again I found myself taking sides and realigning myself. Someone please read this book and write a historical novel based on it.

Once the historical background has been set, Eisenman gives us James as seen in the documents of the period. As Bishop of Jerusalem he is Bishop of Bishops (how times have changed in the Christian church). Was he appointed or elected? Fascinating discussion on both these methods.

Then come the personal details of the life of James: his bathing and clothing habits are set out to help us understand him and his times. James is seen as The Just, and also as Oblias, for which no translation has been successfully argued. But we are offered every possible speculation and hypothesis as to what that means, for the edification of linguists, polyglots, translators and lexicographers. Something for everyone in this book.

And then James The Righteous, The Just, was stoned to death.

Who did it? Why? Could it have been Paul? Paul?

As an account of the life of James, his importance in his own times, the times themselves, the conflict of ideologies, this book is unparalleled. But is all this important? asks the Pragmatic Reader (he or she of the casual shrug). The final words of the book are apocalyptic: "Who and whatever James was, so was Jesus."

(From 1986 to 1992 Robert Eisenman led the campaign to free access to the unpublished corpus of the Dead Sea Scrolls.)