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James the Less

James the Less is a figure of Early Christianity. He is also called "the minor", "the little", "the lesser", or "the younger", according to translation. He is not to be confused with James the Great ("James, son of Zebedee"). In most opinions he might be the same person with James, son of Alphaeus, but the sources offer no certainty. In the past, the Western church used to identify him with James, "the Lord’s brother" or "the Just", but that is no longer the case.[1]


Statue of Saint James the Minor, Apostle, at the church of the Mafra Palace, Portugal

In the New Testament, the name "James" identifies multiple men. James the Less is named only in connection with his mother "Mary" in Mark 15:40, who is also the mother of Joses (Joseph). "Mary the mother of James" is referred to in two other places, but he is not called "James the Less" there. This "Mary" may have been Mary of Clopas (alternately Cleophas), mentioned only in John 19:25. It is unlikely to be Mary the mother of Jesus since she is not identified as Jesus' mother but only called the mother of James the Less and Joses.

Identification as James, the son of Alphaeus

File:Saint James the Less (Menologion of Basil II).jpg
Saint James the Less, as depicted in the Menologion of Basil II (c. 1000 AD)

The title, "the Less", is used to differentiate James from other people named James. Since it means that he is either the younger or shorter of two, he seems to be compared to one other James. In the lists of the twelve apostles in the synoptic Gospels, there are two apostles called James, who are differentiated there by their fathers: James, son of Zebedee, and James, son of Alphaeus. Long-standing tradition identifies James, the son of Alphaeus, as James the Less. James, son of Zebedee, is then called "James the Great", which is not a name found anywhere in the New Testament. Some propose that Alphaeus was the same man as Cleophas or at least the husband of Mary Clopas.

Identification as James the Just

James the Less could also be identified as being the brother of Jesus, James the Just. In Roman Catholic tradition, James's mother is none other than Mary Cleophas who was among the women at the foot of the Cross of Jesus, weeping. For that reason, and given the fact that the Semitic word for brother is also used for other close relatives, James son of Alpheus is often held as a cousin to Jesus and so is Thaddeus who is considered a brother of James, both being sons of Alpheus.


  1. ^ "Saint-James. Apostle, son of Alphaeus". Encyclopaedia Britannica. Encyclopaedia Britannica, Inc. 


  • James the Less: The Latter Rain Page
  • Eusebius, Historia Ecclesia
  • Who's Who in The New Testament, Ronals Brownrigg, Oxford University Press, 1993
  • The 12, The Story of Christ's Apostles, Edgar J. Goodspeed, Holt, Rinehart and Winston
  • The Search for the Twelve Apostles, William Steuart McBirnie, Ph. D. Tyndale Pp 183–194.

External links

ca:Sant Jaume el Menor apòstol

cs:Jakub Alfeův de:Jakobus, Sohn des Alphäus el:Ιάκωβος ο μικρός es:Santiago el Menor fr:Jacques d'Alphée ko:알패오의 아들 야고보 it:Giacomo il Minore he:יעקב בן חלפי hu:Ifjabb Szent Jakab ja:ヤコブ (アルファイの子) pt:Santiago Menor ro:Iacob cel Tânăr (apostol) ru:Иаков Алфеев sk:Svätý Jakub mladší fi:Jaakob nuorempi sv:Jakob (apostel, Alfeus son) tl:Santiagong Makaunti