October 9, 2017

Who Was the Apostle James the Son of Alphaeus?

St. James the son of Alphaeus (Feast Day - October 9)

James, the son of Alphaeus, was an Apostle of Christ and was numbered among the Twelve Disciples. In the three Synoptic Gospels, his name is listed in the list of twelve (Matthew 10:3, Mark 3:18, Luke 6:15), but other information about him is not reported. He was perhaps the brother of the Apostle Jude and/or the brother of the Apostle Matthew, though we are never explicitly told that James son of Alphaeus had a brother.

Some believe, according to tradition, that James was a tax collector, who after Pentecost preached in Judea, and then went to Edessa with the Apostle Andrew. He then preached the gospel in Gaza and Eleutheropolis.

Because there are several men named James (or Jacob) in the New Testament, with scant information on each, they are often confused and thus there are various traditions associated with them. For this reason, there are several versions of how James of Alphaeus died and was buried. Some, because they associate him with James the Less, believe he was stoned to death by the Jews, but others believe he was crucified in the Egyptian town of Ostrakine.

Crypt of the Apostles James and Philip at the Church of the Twelve Apostles in Rome

James the son of Alphaeus should be distinguished from both James the son of Zebedee (James the Elder) and James the brother of the Lord (James the Less, or the Younger), who was also the first bishop of Jerusalem and is numbered among the Seventy Apostles. This confusion has led many, including certain Church Fathers, to conclude that James of Alphaeus and James the Less are one and the same. This is why in the Menologion of Basil II depicts him as being stoned to death by the Jews, while the Synaxarion of Constantinople describes him as being crucified by the Egyptians.

Just as James of Alphaeus is confused in the details of his life and death, so also are his relics, which are often identified with James the Less, though it is difficult to know for certain. Locations associated with his relics are the Church of the Twelve Holy Apostles in Rome, the Cathedral of Saint Nicholas in Bari, the Cathedral of Saint Mark in Venice, and the Monasteries of Esphigmenou and Panteleimon in the Holy Mountain of Athos.