The family of Jesus

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I didn’t actually see the programme, but the blurb for Robert Beckford’s documentary about ‘The Secret Family of Jesus’ made me wince.

“Did Jesus have a real human family? If so, why were they airbrushed from history and excised from the bible? Robert Beckford tells the story of the people who shared his bloodline.”

Jesus had brothers and sisters shock! And cousins! And..er.. Uncles! And they were excised from the Bible!

It’s a stunning shock to everyone – or it would be apart from one tiny detail: they’re not excised from the Bible. And they never have been airbrushed from church history. They’re there for anyone to see. James the Brother of Jesus is a major New Testament figure. His other brothers Joseph, Judas and Simon are mentioned in Mark 6.3 as well as some unnamed sisters.

We also know that John the Baptist was a relative, and, based on the accounts of the women who stood near the cross, there are reasons to think that James and John were cousins as well. So just the four brothers, unnumbered sisters, two cousins and a few other relatives mentioned then. Not what you’d call a very good job of excising is it?

And if we look in the early church writings we find even more of them. Eusebius, the early church historian, quotes a much earlier church chronicler called Hegesippus who attests to the fact that the emperor Domitian interviewed the surviving relatives of Jesus – known as ‘the grandsons of Judas’ – fearing that they might be a threat to him. But he found that they were just simple, poor labourers. He also mentions one Symeon, son of Jesus’ Uncle, Clopas. (Mary, wife of Clopas is mentioned standing by the cross – Clopas was, presumably a brother of Joseph). Symeon became leader in Jerusalem after James.

Now admittedly there are arguments about the exact status of these brothers. The Catholic church, to preserve Mary’s perpetual virginity argues they were children of Joseph from a previous marriage. The Orthodox church argues that they are cousins rather than brothers. The Protestants argue – in my view correctly – that Mary simply had more children after Jesus’ birth, only in the normal way.

So, there has never been a denial of Jesus’ family. James became a significant leader of the Jerusalem church and the letter of James claims its place in the Bible precisely because it is written by a relative of Jesus. His family clearly played major leadership role in the New Testament. There isn’t a hint of airbrushing, there never has been, and it is puerile of the programme-makers to pretend otherwise.

It’s not that there aren’t plenty of mysteries in the Bible (indeed I’m plotting a book on some of these myself). It’s just this ridiculous, puerile insistence on the idea of conspiracies makes me mad. (I blame Dan Brown – ever since the DaVinci rubbish everything has to be a conspiracy.) Robert Beckford is an academic. Knowing the way TV companies work he probably wasn’t responsible for the blurb – but even so, he should know better than to tag along with this. The only spin and distortion in this story comes from the programme makers. The church and the Bible have never hidden a thing.