1. James as Full Brother of Jesus

2. James as Half Brother of Jesus

3. James as Cousin of Jesus

Three separate traditions coexist within Christianity regarding the familial relationship between James and Jesus. In one tradition James and the other siblings of Jesus are the children of Joseph and Mary; James is therefore seen as a full brother of Jesus (top diagram). This view is widely accepted in Protestant Christianity.

A second tradition sees James and the other siblings as a product of an earlier marriage of Joseph: Only Jesus came of Joseph’s marriage to Mary (middle diagram). James in this version is a half-brother to Jesus. This view is dominant in the Orthodox Church.

A third tradition, that of the Roman Catholic Church, believes James and the others to be the children of Joseph’s brother Clopas and Mary of Clopas, who later witnessed the crucifixion (bottom diagram). The word “brother” is understood in this version as a general term for relative or kin as well as sibling. James would thus be a cousin of Jesus in this view.

If the James ossuary does refer to the holy family, it would seem to refute the notion that James is only a cousin of Jesus, because it proclaims that Joseph, not Clopas or someone else, is James’s father.

Whether James was a full brother, a half brother or a cousin of Jesus, the significance of the James bone box is not diminished. It likely held the remains of the leader of the early Church in Jerusalem, known in the Gospels as “James the brother of Jesus.”