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In Search of the Apostles, James the 'son of Thunder'

Updated on August 6, 2016
lawrence01 profile image

Loving God and loving mankind is an important part of who I am, in these hubs we explore what it's like to really follow Jesus.

"James son of Zebedee"

How we often see him
How we often see him | Source

First to find Jesus

One of the first four followers of Jesus. We first meet him on the shores of the Sea of Galilee, mending the nets with his younger brother John and his father Zebedee. Then along comes this young ‘preacher’ by the name of ‘Yeshua bin Yusef’ (Jesus son of Joseph) who simply says “Follow me and I’ll make you fishers of men” and straight away they down tools and follow him right?

Yeah right! Sorry but for me it just doesn’t happen that way! It’s the story that the Synoptic gospels have, but thankfully the one who was actually there gives a bit of a different slant to the story.

See as the younger ‘brothers’ John and Andrew (Andrew’s brother was Simon Peter, possibly the oldest of the disciples and was already married as the story unfolds, so he would have been at least in his late twenties and probably early thirties) were able to leave the family ‘business’ from time to time and spend some time with another ‘wandering prophet’ in the Desert, they were actually disciples of John the Baptist and were there at the time when John saw Jesus coming down to be Baptized, they were the source of the stories of the ‘voice from heaven’ and the words of John.

Who was he really?

According to the catholic encyclopedia James, John and Jesus may have been cousins related through their mothers. If that’s so then it does explain some of the things in the gospels and how they may have known each other.

James appears quite a few times in the Gospels and almost every time he’s there with Peter and John, they were Jesus’ inner circle of disciples, occasionally we read of Andrew being there with them, but not always, it was Peter, James and John who were there at the transfiguration, they were the ones who got ‘front row seats’ at the healing of Jairus’ daughter as Jesus brought her back from the dead.

51 When he arrived at the house, he would not let anyone go in with him except Peter, John, and James, and the child's father and mother.52 Everyone there was crying and mourning for the child. Jesus said, “Don't cry; the child is not dead—she is only sleeping!”

53 They all made fun of him, because they knew that she was dead.54 But Jesus took her by the hand and called out, “Get up, child!” 55 Her life returned, and she got up at once, and Jesus ordered them to give her something to eat. 56 Her parents were astounded, but Jesus commanded them not to tell anyone what had happened.

I have to admit the whole idea of the people making fun of Jesus sounds strange to us, but then again, coming back from the dead sounded (and sometimes still sounds) strange so I can understand why they did.

Jesus actually gave ‘nicknames’ to his ‘inner circle’ of three. Simon he called Peter, which in itself is significant as the name ‘Simon’ means a ‘pebble’ but ‘Peter’ means a rock or boulder! Later tradition would claim that’s to do with his being the foundation of the church, but maybe that’s more to do with him becoming a ‘pillar’ they would need to rely on, something he hadn’t ‘become’ yet.

James and John got the name “Boanagernes” literally meaning ‘sons of thunder’ relating to a story where a village had rejected Jesus, James and John were so enraged they screamed, “Okay Lord, Nuke ‘em!” (Luke 9 verse 51-4) Naturally Jesus didn’t take their advice.

51 As the time approached for him to be taken up to heaven, Jesus resolutely set out for Jerusalem. 52 And he sent messengers on ahead, who went into a Samaritan village to get things ready for him; 53 but the people there did not welcome him, because he was heading for Jerusalem. 54 When the disciples James and John saw this, they asked, “Lord, do you want us to call fire down from heaven to destroy them[a]?”55 But Jesus turned and rebuked them. 56 Then he and his disciples went to another village.

Sea of Galilee, Israel:
Sea of Galilee

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James and John were fishermen on this 'lake' In Roman records it was known as the 'Lake of Tiberius'

Church of St James, Jerusalem, Israel:
Jerusalem, Israel

get directions

Traditional site of James' execution

Santiago do Compostela:
Santiago de Compostela, A Coruña, Spain

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Tradition has it his remains were brought here. His shrine is here in Spain.

Santiago De Compostela

Listen to the full story of the pilgrimage

I was going just to write about James the Apostle, but then I found this video on YouTube telling the full story of how the pilgrimage came about, I'd encourage you all to take the time to watch it as learn why so many people even today walk 'The way of St James'

It's a pilgrimage that is still performed the same way that it was originally performed back in early medieval times. you can literally 'walk the pilgrimage' without leaving your armchair! HOW COOL IS THAT?

Carrying on the story

There actually isn’t that much in the Bible about James after Jesus’ ascension into heaven, but it does indicate some things. One is that he and John seem to have had a bit of a temper, another was that they really wanted the best places in heaven, but it’s not them that ask for it, it’s their MUM!

Yep, James and John’s mother is right there with the disciples as they walk towards Jerusalem in that final encounter, she’s right there with them walking along and learning from the teaching of Jesus.

20 The mother of Zebedee’s children (James and John) came to Jesus with her sons. She got down on her knees before Jesus to ask something of Him. 21 He said to her, “What do you want?” She said, “Say that my two sons may sit, one at Your right side and one at Your left side, when You are King.” 22 Jesus said to her, “You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to take the suffering that I am about to take? (*Are you able to be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with?)”They said, “Yes, we are able.” 23 He said to them, “You will suffer as I will suffer. But the places at My right side and at My left side are not Mine to give. Whoever My Father says will have those places.”

What happened?

Okay. So that explains a bit of who he was, but aren’t we supposed to be finding out about what happened to him?

James the brother of John is the one follower of Jesus (apart from Judas that is!) that the Bible tells us what happened to him, but that hasn’t stopped legends and stories growing up about what happened either to him or to his ‘mortal remains’

12 It was about this time that King Herod arrested some who belonged to the church, intending to persecute them. 2 He had James, the brother of John, put to death with the sword. 3 When he saw that this met with approval among the Jews, he proceeded to seize Peter also. This happened during the Festival of Unleavened Bread. 4 After arresting him, he put him in prison, handing him over to be guarded by four squads of four soldiers each. Herod intended to bring him out for public trial after the Passover.

Peter and James get arrested, James is executed in a brutal way, but Peter is left until the next day, possibly Herod’s trying to gauge whether he can get away with putting ‘these two trouble causers’ to death and deal with a potential problem for both Rome and the local authorities.

It was around 44 AD and the church had been growing steadily but was still pretty much centered in Jerusalem and Judea with a few congregations among the Jews in the Diaspora, possibly there are churches in Antioch and maybe even Rome, possibly Thomas is already on his way to India but there’s just no way of knowing what the timeline was like.

James though was one of the top three of the Apostles in Jerusalem that alone probably made him a target! John was probably still in Samaria and out of the reach for Herod Agrippa, but Peter and James were a different story.

How did he die?

I’ve always thought it was by being ‘run through’ with the sword, but apparently Herod had a special thing arranged for James. He met the same fate that his original mentor met in that he was beheaded on the site that the cathedral of St James in Jerusalem is now built.

James wasn’t a ‘criminal’ as such and therefore couldn’t be executed in the Roman fashion of crucifixion, but it wasn’t a religious execution either and therefore wasn’t by stoning, this left only one other method of execution that we know was carried out at that time, beheading!

Santiago De Compostela

Just like all the Apostles the fact that you’re the first to be martyred doesn’t mean that legends can’t grow up about you, and by the 12th Century that’s what happened, it’s around then that the first time that the story of ‘Santiago de Compostela’ started to emerge.

The Legend basically says that St James (the Greater as he was known in the Medieval church) was either resurrected or his mortal remains were transported to the coast of western ‘Hispania’ as Spain was then known where they were ‘entombed’ in a secret location that was later revealed by a dream.

The legend goes on to say that St James before his beheading had carried out a mission to evangelize ‘Hispania’ and had planted the infant church there.

How the church got to Spain isn’t really known apart from St Paul’s desire that once he’d been set free from prison in Rome he wanted to visit there, some see his claim of ‘not wanting to build on another’s foundation’ as being a claim that the gospel hadn’t yet reached the furthest Western reaches of the Empire, but either way the evidence is ‘flimsy’ at best and the only thing we can say is that by the end of first century the church was well established in all provinces of the Empire and well beyond it.

Somehow and in some way St James the ‘Greater’ came to be associated with Spain, some say it’s because of the tradition that he evangelized there, while others say it’s because of the later Muslim incursions and the Christians there putting together a story of the ‘fiery tempered Apostle’ and his relics being used to drive the Muslim Armies back out of Northern Spain, but either way he is celebrated in Spain as their ‘Apostle’


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    • lawrence01 profile imageAUTHOR

      Lawrence Hebb 

      9 months ago from Hamilton, New Zealand


      Glad you liked it, I remember when I was writing the hub that I really enjoyed 'digging out' what James meant to Christians today. A friend of my wife had just done the 'Santiago de Compostella' and I wanted to see what the connection would be.

      Glad you liked it.

    • PegCole17 profile image

      Peg Cole 

      9 months ago from Dallas, Texas

      Fascinating insight into the lives and times of the Apostles. I enjoyed reading this explanation of those closest to Jesus and the map was an additional help. I have an old Bible that belonged to my dad and it has maps from different Biblical times. Very interesting reading here.

    • lawrence01 profile imageAUTHOR

      Lawrence Hebb 

      2 years ago from Hamilton, New Zealand


      Thanks for the testimony about your friend. A friend of my wife's recently did the walk of 'Santiago de Compostela' and like you said it changes you/ As I was writing the article I got thinking about the Christian pilgrimage and the Muslim 'Hajj' and really they're not so different!

      Sorry it took me so long to reply. but I thought that I had.




      The saying says 'History repeats itself, it has to because no one listens!'



    • aviannovice profile image

      Deb Hirt 

      2 years ago from Stillwater, OK

      Interesting. Violence begets violence, and yet we learn nothing even from the days of old. Seems that we are predisposed to the same fate as those before us.

    • BlossomSB profile image

      Bronwen Scott-Branagan 

      2 years ago from Victoria, Australia

      Thanks for an interesting article. A friend of mine recently went to France and followed the Pilgrim Route. She had a wonderful time and said she'll never be the same again after the experience.

    • lawrence01 profile imageAUTHOR

      Lawrence Hebb 

      2 years ago from Hamilton, New Zealand


      I have to admit I enjoy these kind of hubs as I get to use some of the Theological stuff I learned at college.

      I wanted to just tell the story of the man but as I got into the writing it was as if I was being led to look at what he came to mean today and especially the pilgrimage people still make.

      Glad you liked it, there's going to be more like this one but I might break things up with other hubs in between.



    • lawrence01 profile imageAUTHOR

      Lawrence Hebb 

      2 years ago from Hamilton, New Zealand


      You've got a point there, I thought about that as I was writing the hub, but decided to just 'hobby' at it to avoid any confusion.

      Basically Hebrew doesn't have some of the sounds we have! They don't use the letters; J, S and B instead using 'yi' 'shim' and 'vi' or 'pi' so the name 'Jesus' becomes 'Yeshua' and James or Jacob becomes 'Yakov' just for starters.


    • lawrence01 profile imageAUTHOR

      Lawrence Hebb 

      2 years ago from Hamilton, New Zealand


      Theirs are incredible stories. Ones that should be told down through the generations.

      Glad the story spoke to you.


    • lifegate profile image

      William Kovacic 

      2 years ago from Pleasant Gap, PA

      Another enjoyable history lesson, Lawrence. enjoyed the read and the research behind it. Thank you for taking your time to put these articles together.

    • Oztinato profile image


      2 years ago from Australia


      I watched the first part of the documentary re solid archaeology.

      I digress a little here. With all the "J"s in names such as James, John, Jesus I thought it would be good to review ancient pronunciations as per the below link.

    • Ericdierker profile image

      Eric Dierker 

      2 years ago from Spring Valley, CA. U.S.A.

      When we are brought into the shoes of great ones we learn great treasures of life. You are a good man to help us to understand more about these great men. The concept of murder for faith must constantly be remembered. Thank you.

    • lawrence01 profile imageAUTHOR

      Lawrence Hebb 

      2 years ago from Hamilton, New Zealand


      True, there are a few with that name. 'James' or Jacob was a pretty common name at the time.

      As to whether Mary had other children or remained a 'virgin' all her life there is a debate goes on there that we touched on a bit in the hub about Mary.

      I thought that while we all probably have our own ideas it was best just to tell some of the ideas and leave it there.

      I'm glad this series is getting the 'old cogs turning' as I really enjoyed the research for this hub.


    • lawrence01 profile imageAUTHOR

      Lawrence Hebb 

      2 years ago from Hamilton, New Zealand


      I agree with all the 'above'. Yet with all that going on they brought us a message that there really is a God who cares.

      Their message changed History and if we let it, it can do it again.

      I started out writing this series 'wanting to argue a point' buy now, I just want to tell their stories!

      Glad you enjoyed it.


    • Mel Carriere profile image

      Mel Carriere 

      2 years ago from San Diego California

      Too many James in the Bible to keep track of without a scorecard.

      I have read the Bible, but I must have missed the part about Herod executing James. I had always thought that James was the author of The Epistle of James, but if he was martyred this early then that now suddenly seemed unlikely.

      I looked up the Epistle of James on Wikipedia, and I guess scholars agree that authorship by James the brother of John is unlikely. The scholars think it was probably James called Brother of Jesus who wrote the Bible book we still use today. This, of course, raises other troublesome theological issues, because how could Jesus have brothers if his mother was a virgin?

      I am enjoying your series immensely. It opens a lot of doors for thinking and investigating. Great stuff.

    • billybuc profile image

      Bill Holland 

      2 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Can you imagine being an apostle back then? The fear...the uncertainty....their stories are great ones, great stories of faith and perseverance and determination.

      Anyway, great article, as always.


    • lawrence01 profile imageAUTHOR

      Lawrence Hebb 

      2 years ago from Hamilton, New Zealand


      This is one that I'd started last week and intended to publish it then but just wasn't 'comfortable' with it as there was so much more especially with the idea of the 'Pilgrimage or way of St James'

      This week I just thought there needed to be a bit of how the pilgrimage thing ties in with James the Apostle so I 're-vamped' a bit and really enjoyed the result.

      Actually I've just been watching the YouTube video and find that the whole link with St James goes back to 5th century Byzantine texts and the Venerable Bede.

      Glad you enjoyed this hub.


    • Carb Diva profile image

      Linda Lum 

      2 years ago from Washington State, USA

      Lawrence - I love the time and attention you are giving to this series. Of course, we need to at times "read between the lines" as you have done here but you are really bringing these people of the Bible to life for us. Thank you for your research and organizing all of the little tidbits from God's word into a chronological story for us.


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