Original Hebrew name: Yaakov ben Zevdi
Yaakov ben Zevdi, James the son of Zebedee, is also called James the Greater because his story is told in the New Testament more prominently than that of Yaakov ben Halfai, James the son of Alphaeus, also called James the Less.
Yaakov ben Zevdi’s brother was Yokhanan ben Zevdi.
Yaakov and Yokhanan, the sons of Zebedee, were the first two Apostles he chose after Kefa and Andreas. Rabbis Kefa, Yaakov and Yokhanan were the closest of Rabbi Yeshua’s friends. He called Yaakov and Yokhanan, “Bo-anerges, that is, sons of thunder” Mk 3:17.
We see Rabbi Yeshua, James and John together when Shimeon’s mother-in-law was ill. “And immediately he left the synagogue, and entered the house of Simon and Andrew, with James and John. Now Simon’s mother-in-law lay sick with a fever, and immediately they told him of her” Mk 1:30.
At the Transfiguration. “And after six days Jesus took with him Peter and James and John his brother, and led them up a high mountain apart. And he was transfigured before them, and his face shone like the sun, and his garments became white as light” Mt 17:1–2.
We also find Peter, James and John present at Gethsemane. “And taking with him Peter and the two sons of Zebedee, he began to be sorrowful and troubled. Then he said to them, ‘My soul is very sorrowful, even to death; remain here, and watch with me.’ And going a little farther he fell on his face and prayed, ‘My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as thou wilt.’” Mt 26:37–39.
Surely the Gethsemane witness revealing Rabbi Yeshua as filled with glory but also with suffering, brought to completion by the Holy Spirit at Pentecost Acts 2:1–4, gave Yaakov ben Zevdi great courage in the face of supreme witness. Around AD 41 to 44, “Herod the king laid violent hands upon some who belonged to the church. He killed James the brother of John with the sword” Acts 12:1–2.
Some Catholics believe that this James was the author of the Bible’s “Epistle of St. James.” However, the Epistle begins, “James, a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ, To the twelve tribes in the Dispersion: Greeting” Jas 1:1. Jimmy Akin believes that the Author of James intended, using the phrase “in the Dispersion” to describe Jews scattered abroad, an international audience, and therefore that James the Greater’s death in the early AD 40s makes it unlikely that he authored the Epistle of James. Second Exodus believes that a fresh look at many of the New Testament books suggests that were completed at early dates. Akin himself points out that the Epistle of James is so Jewish in its outlook that it “does not display an awareness of the existence of Gentile Christians.” That would put it before Rabbi Paul’s conversion, but Akin puts it around AD 42.
The Epistle of St. James was more likely authored by the James who had a prominent role in the Council of Jerusalem in AD 49 Acts 15:13–21 and when Rabbi Paul returned from Jerusalem in AD 55 Acts 21:17–26. Rabbi Yeshua was also very close to this James. Jimmy Akin observes that the Risen Rabbi Yeshua made a special appearance to this James, 1 Cor 15:7, who was the Brother of the Lord Gal 1:19, a pillar of the Jerusalem Church Gal 2:9, and was connected with the controversy about whether Gentile Catholics had to be circumcised and keep the Mosaic Law Gal 2:12, which suggest cumulatively a connection with James’ view of faith and works Jas 2:14–16.