In the former post I mentioned The Burial of Jesus, a collection of essays published by the Biblical Archaeology Society. All but one of the essays in that collection addressed ancient tombs. One essay, however, written by Richard Bauckham and titled “All in the Family: Identifying Jesus’ Relatives,” attempted to provide information regarding Jesus’ family in the early history of the church from both Biblical and extra-biblical sources. I found the topic and article quite interesting, and wanted to share Bauckham’s findings with you here.
The NT tells us very little about Jesus’ family. First Corinthians 9:5 and Galatians 1:19 speak of “the brokers of the Lord.” Matthew 13:55 and Mark 6:3 identify them by name: James, Joseph/Joses, Judas, and Simon. They also tell us Jesus had sisters, but do not specify how many or identify them by name (although I would argue that Matthew’s reference to “all His sisters” makes better sense if Jesus had at least three sisters since one would ordinarily refer to a group of two individuals using “both” rather than “all”). The Protoevangelium of James 19:3–20:4, the Gospel of Philip 59:6–11, and Epiphanius Panarion 78.8.1 and 78.9.6 identify Jesus’ sisters as Mary and Salome. Since the name Salome was very popular in Palestine and very rare outside of Palestine, this tradition may be historically accurate.
The brothers are often depicted as being with their mother (Matthew 12:46–47, 13:55; Mark 3:31–32; 6:3; Luke 8:19–20; John 2:12; Acts 1:14). John informs us that Jesus’ brothers did not believe in Him during His earthly ministry (John 7:3-5). It is a puzzling, then, that we find his brothers present in the company of those who were waiting for the outpouring of the promised Spirit in the upper room in Jerusalem (Acts 1:14). Why the sudden change of heart? Why refuse to believe Jesus is the Messiah during His earthly ministry when He was performing miracles and had a large following, but then come to believe immediately after He was put to a humiliating death as a blasphemer? Surely the time to believe would be before Jesus’ crucifixion, not after. Paul supplies us with the answer. After Jesus rose from the dead, He appeared to James (1 Cor 15:7). This must have convinced James that Jesus was who He said He was after all.
James seems to have quickly ascended to a lofty leadership role in the Jerusalem church. Paul speaks of visiting “James, the Lord’s brother” (Gal 1:19) three years after his conversion, which would only be ~6 years after Jesus’ resurrection. The fact that Paul considered it important to visit James, and important to record his visit in his epistle to the Galatians implies that James was an important Christian leader at that time. It’s clear that within 15 years or so from Christ’s resurrection, James was a very prominent, if not the most prominent leader in the Jerusalem church (Acts 12:17; 15:13; 15:13; 21:18). Josephus records his death in AD 62 by the high priest Ananus II (son of Annas and brother-in-law to Caiaphas).
First Corinthians 9:5 indicate that at least two of Jesus’ brothers were famous Christian missionaries. Since James appears to have been stationed in Jerusalem, Paul was probably referring to two or three of the remaining brothers. Julius Africanus, a native of Jerusalem who lived in Emmaus in the early 3rd century) seems to corroborate this information. He speaks of the desposynoi, meaning “those who belong to the master.” This term is only found in Africanus, via Eusebius’ quotations from his now lost works. Apparently it wasn’t even used much in Africanus’ day because he had to explain what it meant (perhaps he only knew the word because it was contained in a written source he was using). If so, then perhaps it was a specialized term that originated in an earlier age, and had fallen out of use—a term early Christians used to refer to the relatives of Jesus. He spoke of how the family managed to preserve their genealogy when Herod burned the public records. He writes, “From the Jewish villages of Nazareth and Kokhaba, they [Jesus’ relatives] traveled around the rest of the land and interpreted the genealogy they had [from the family tradition] and from the Book of Days [that is, Chronicles] as far as they could trace it.” (Eusebius, Hist. Eccl. 1.7.14.) Julius may be referring to the fact that the relatives of Jesus traveled, preaching the Gospel and using their own genealogy to prove that Jesus was the Messiah.
The earliest extra-Biblical record of any relatives of Jesus comes from a 2nd century Christian, Hegesippus. Fragments of his work are preserved in Eusebius. While his accounts of the family are often legendary, their names and identities are probably based on fact. Hegesippus tells us that Jesus’ father, Joseph, had a brother named Clopas. This name appears a couple of times in the New Testament. John mentions a “Mary of Clopas” as present with Jesus’ mother at His crucifixion (John 19:25). “Of Clopas” refers to her husband’s name. Given how rare the name Clopas was in Palestine, it is highly probable that this refers to Joseph’s brother, making “Mary of Clopas” Jesus’ aunt and His mother’s sister-in-law. Luke 24:18 identifies one of the two disciples on the road to Emmaus as “Cleopas.” This is not the same name as Clopas, but it may be the Greek name given to Clopas. It was common for Jews to have both a Hebrew name and a similar-sounding Greek name (e.g. Saul and Paul, Simeon and Simon). It is possible, then, that one of the two disciples that Jesus appeared to on the road to Emmaus was his uncle.
Hegesippus tells us that after James was killed in AD 62, Jesus’ cousin, Simeon, assumed leadership of the Jerusalem church. Simeon was the son of Mary and Clopas. He was leader for ~40 years until he was killed during the reign of Emperor Trajan because he was suspected of being a political insurgent due to his Davidic lineage.
Hegesippus also relates the story of two of Jesus’ nephews: Zoker and James. These were the children of Jesus’ brother Jude. They were brought before Emperor Domitian because of their blood connection to Jesus and David (they were thought to be political insurgents). According to Hegesippus:
There still survived of the family of the Lord the grandsons of Jude, his brother after the flesh, as he was called. These they informed against, as being of the family of David; and the ‘evocatus’ brought them before Domitian Caesar. For he feared the coming of the Christ, as did also Herod. And he asked them if they were of David’s line, and they acknowledged it. Then he asked them what possessions they had or what fortune they owned. And they said that between the two of them they had only nine thousand denarii, half belonging to each of them; and this they asserted they had not as money, but only in thirty-nine plethra of land, so valued, from which by their own labor they both paid the taxes and supported themselves.
The account of the trial itself sounds apologetic and probably isn’t historically credible, but the existence and names of the relatives of Jesus probably is.
There is another tradition regarding a man named Conon. He lived in Pamphylia, working as a gardener on a large estate. He was questioned by authorities as to his place of origin, to which he replied, “I am of the city of Nazareth in Galilee, I am of the family of Christ, whose worship I have inherited from my ancestors.” While it is possible that he is speaking spiritually, such claims are very rare. This manner of speaking more likely refers to a blood relationship to Christ. Conon seems to be claiming to be a relative of Jesus who inherited his Christian faith from other relatives of Jesus that came before him. This is where the trail ends to the history of Jesus’ family.