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Saint James the Less: Wikis

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Saint James, son of Alphaeus
Statue of St James at the Church of the Mafra Palace, Portugal
Born Unknown
Died Unknown, Egypt or Jerusalem
Venerated in Roman Catholic Church, Anglican Communion
Feast 1 May (Anglican Communion),
May 3 (Roman Catholic Church)
Attributes carpenter's saw; fuller's club; book
Patronage apothecaries; druggists; dying people; Frascati, Italy; fullers; milliners; Monterotondo, Italy; pharmacists; Uruguay[1]

Saint James, son of Alphaeus (Ἰάκωβος, Jacobos in Greek) was one of the Twelve Apostles of Jesus Christ He is often identified with James the Less and commonly known by that name in church tradition.[2]

James, the son of Alphaeus, is rarely mentioned in the New Testament, but he is sometimes identified with James the Just, an important leader in the New Testament church. He is clearly distinguished from James, son of Zebedee, another one of the Twelve Apostles.



James, son of Alphaeus, only appears four times in the New Testament, each time in a list of the twelve apostles.[3]


Possible identity with James the Less

James, son of Alphaeus is often identified with James the Less, who is only mentioned three times in the Bible, each time in connection with his mother. Mark 15:40 refers to "Mary the mother of James the younger and of Joses", while Mark 16:1 and Matthew 27:56 refer to "Mary the mother of James".

Since there was already a more prominent James (James, son of Zebedee) among the twelve apostles, equating James son of Alphaeus with James the Less made sense. (James son of Zebedee was sometimes called "James the Greater"). However, it also made it imperative to identify Clopas, the husband of Mary, with Alphaeus, the father of the Apostle James.[4] (For the argument on this, see Alphaeus.) This identification was accepted by early church leaders and, therefore, tradition knows him more commonly as Saint James the Less.

Modern Biblical scholars are divided on whether this identification is correct. John Paul Meier finds it unlikely.[5] Amongst evangelicals, the New Bible Dictionary supports the traditional identification,[6] while Don Carson[7] and Darrell Bock[8] both regard the identification as possible, but not certain.

Fresco of Saint James the Less in the Orthodox Church of Vladimir, Russia. 12-th century.

Possible identity with James, the brother of Jesus

James, son of Alphaeus, has also been identified with James the Just. This was supported by Jerome and therefore widely accepted in the Roman Catholic Church[9], while the Eastern Orthodox and Protestant tend to distinguish between the two.

Possible brother of Matthew

Another Alphaeus is also the name of the father of the publican Levi mentioned in Mark 2:14. The publican appears as Matthew in Matthew 9:9, which has led some to conclude that James and Matthew might have been brothers. However, there is no Biblical account of the two being called brothers, even when they appear side by side in the synoptic list of the Twelve Apostles, next to the fraternal pairs of Peter and Andrew and the sons of Zebedee.


A tradition holds that Saint James, though strongly clinging to Jewish law, was sentenced to death for having violated the Torah.[citation needed] This however, is highly unlikely as the Jewish authorities did not practice crucifixion, and unless a possible rebellion was at hand, the Roman authority would not involve themselves in Jewish religious affairs. In Christian art he is depicted holding a fullers club because he was martyred when they beat him to death with a fullers club at Ostrakine in Lower Egypt, where he was preaching the Gospel


  1. ^ Catholic Forum Patron Saints Index: James the Lesser
  2. ^ He is also labelled "the minor", "the little", "the lesser", or "the younger", according to translation.
  3. ^ Matthew 10:3, Mark 3:18, Luke 6:12-16 and Acts 1:13.
  4. ^ Clopas is only mentioned in John 19:25; see the Clopas article. Some avoided this problem by identifying Clopas as Mary's father and Alphaeus as Mary's husband.
  5. ^ John Paul Meier, A Marginal Jew volume 3, p. 201. "There are no grounds for identifying James of Alphaeus - as church tradition has done - with James the Less."
  6. ^ New Bible Dictionary, 2nd Edition (IVP 1982), "James" entry (by P.H.Davids)
  7. ^ "The Expositor's Bible Commentary CDROM, commentary on Matthew (by Don Carson), commentary on Matthew 10:2-4
  8. ^ Luke, by Darrell Bock (Baker 1994), commentary on Luke 6:15
  9. ^ Catholic Encyclopedia: Saint James the Less

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