Defense of the People

From Fragments of Five Books of Commentaries on the Acts of the Church (ca. 180)

James, the Lord’s brother, succeeded 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, nor make use of the bath. He alone was permitted to enter the holy place: for he did not wear any woolen 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 callused 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,” and Oblias, which signifies in Greek “defense of the people,” and “justice,” in accordance with what the prophets declare concerning him.

When many even of the ruling class believed, there was a commotion among the Jews, and scribes and Pharisees, who said: “A little more, and we shall have all the people looking for Jesus as the Christ.”

They came, therefore, in a body to James, and said: “We urge you, restrain the people: for they are gone astray in their opinions about Jesus, as if he were the Christ. We urge you to persuade all who have come here for Passover, about Jesus. For we all listen to your testimony; since we, as well as all the people, testify that you are just, and show no partiality.

Therefore, persuade the people not to entertain erroneous opinions about Jesus: for all the people, and we also, listen to your testimony. Take your stand, then, upon the summit of the temple, that from that elevated spot you may be clearly seen, and lur words may be plainly audible to all the people. For, in order to attend the Passover, all the tribes have congregated here, and some of the Gentiles also.”

The scribes and Pharisees accordingly set James on the summit of the temple, and cried aloud to him, and said: “O just one, whom we are all bound to obey, because the people are in error, and follow Jesus the crucified, tell us what is the door of Jesus, the crucified.” And he answered with a loud voice: “Why do you ask me about Jesus the Son of man? He himself is seated in heaven, at the right hand of the Great Power, and shall come on the clouds of heaven.”

And, when many were fully convinced by these words, and offered praise for the testimony of James, and said, “Hosanna to the Son of David,” then again the Pharisees and scribes said to one another, “We have not done well in procuring this testimony to Jesus. But let us go up and throw him down, that they may be afraid, and not believe him.”

And they cried aloud, and said: “Oh! oh! the just man himself is in error.” Thus they fulfilled the Scripture written in Isaiah: “Let us away with the just man, because he is troublesome to us: therefore shall they eat the fruit of their doings.” So they went up and threw down the just man, and said to one another: “Let us stone James the Just.” And they began to stone him: for he was not killed by the fall; but he turned, and kneeled down, and said: “I beseech you, Lord God our Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do.”

And, while they were thus stoning him to death, one of the priests, the sons of Rechab, the son of Rechabim, to whom testimony is borne by Jeremiah the prophet, began to cry aloud, saying: “Cease, what do you do? The just man is praying for us.” But one among them, one of the fullers, took the staff with which he was accustomed to wring out the garments he dyed, and hurled it at the head of the just man.

And so he suffered martyrdom; and they buried him on the spot, and the pillar erected to his memory still remains, close by the temple. This man was a true witness to both Jews and Greeks that Jesus is the Christ.

St. Hegisippus (ca. 110-180) was a Palestinian chronicler, who wrote one of the first accounts of the history of the Church. A few fragments of his writings were preserved by Eusebius in his influential fourth century History of the Church.

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