According to the Book of the Acts, James son of Zebedee was executed in Jerusalem by order of King Herod Agrippa about 44 AD. At that moment, Simon Peter was arrested too, but he escaped from jail with the help of an angel (Acts 12, 1-11).
Six or seven centuries later, it aroused a legend that according to it, James' body was taken to Spain in a stone ship a short time after his death and buried in a cementery in the Spanish land of Galicia. Presently, there is a great and very beautiful cathedral over that tomb, around it there is a nice city named Santiago of Compostela ("Santiago" is the Spanish form of James/Jacob), an ancient pilgrim way, a moderm turism business.... and a server researching on the origin of all those believes :-) Who among you don't know the Way to Santiago (or "el Camino de Santiago")?
My own conclusion about the sojourn of James the Apostle in Spain is another history. Now we know that body in Santiago of Compostela is not James the Elder but a Spanish bishop from 4th century AD named Priscilianus, but that is only the beginning of the history about the Christianity in Spain. The most important thing here is that development of the medieval legends around the Camino (the subject of my present researches) sheds more light on the figure of real James.
And now, an exercise for readers: compare these two texts, one from the Bible and the other one from Flavius Josephus, and say if they are telling the same story or not:
1-"Now about that time Herod the king stretched forth [his] hands to vex certain of the church. And he killed James the brother of John with the sword. And because he saw it pleased the Jews, he proceeded further to take Peter also. (Then were the days of unleavened bread.) And when he had apprehended him, he put [him] in prison, and delivered [him] to four quaternions of soldiers to keep him; intending after Easter to bring him forth to the people. Peter therefore was kept in prison: but prayer was made without ceasing of the church unto God for him. And when Herod would have brought him forth, the same night Peter was sleeping between two soldiers, bound with two chains: and the keepers before the door kept the prison. And, behold, the angel of the Lord came upon [him], and a light shined in the prison: and he smote Peter on the side, and raised him up, saying, Arise up quickly. And his chains fell off from [his] hands. And the angel said unto him, Gird thyself, and bind on thy sandals. And so he did. And he saith unto him, Cast thy garment about thee, and follow me. And he went out, and followed him; and wist not that it was true which was done by the angel; but thought he saw a vision. When they were past the first and the second ward, they came unto the iron gate that leadeth unto the city; which opened to them of his own accord: and they went out, and passed on through one street; and forthwith the angel departed from him. And when Peter was come to himself, he said, Now I know of a surety, that the Lord hath sent his angel, and hath delivered me out of the hand of Herod, and [from] all the expectation of the people of the Jews."
(KJV, Acts 12, 1-11)
2- "However, there was a certain mall of the Jewish nation at Jerusalem, who appeared to be very accurate in the knowledge of the law. His name was Simon. This man got together an assembly, while the king was absent at Cesarea, and had the insolence to accuse him as not living holily, and that he might justly be excluded out of the temple, since it belonged only to native Jews. But the general of Agrippa's army informed him that Simon had made such a speech to the people. So the king sent for him; and as he was sitting in the theater, he bid him sit down by him, and said to him with a low and gentle voice, "What is there done in this place that is contrary to the law?" But he had nothing to say for himself, but begged his pardon. So the king was more easily reconciled to him than one could have imagined, as esteeming mildness a better quality in a king than anger, and knowing that moderation is more becoming in great men than passion. So he made Simon a small present, and dismissed him."
(Josephus, Ant. of Jews 19,7,4, taken from http://www.ccel.org/j/josephus/works/ant-19.htm)
- If King Herod is a good ruler and a good person in Josephus, why is he a tyrant and a murderer in the Bible?
- If this Simon of Josephus is biblical Simon Peter, where is James in this story? Was James actually executed by order of Herod or is it only a fictional account?
© Charles N. Pope, US Library of Congress. All rights reserved.