Why the contributions of James the Just have been obscured from Christian consciousness
Just James reviews the legends surrounding a towering figure in the early Christian church and fully discloses the importance of a man whose prominence has been eclipsed in church tradition. John Painter explains why Christian leaders have minimized the early influence of James, who served as the first bishop of Christendom's mother church, and brings to light his role as the fountainhead of traditions used to further the interests and causes of Jewish Christians, Gnostics, and the larger Christian community.
Painter explores the many legends associated with James, including those of Mary's perpetual virginity his kinship to Jesus, his receipt of special revelations from the risen Lord, and his status as one of the first Christian martyrs. Dealing with James's relationship to Judaism and Jewish Christians and linking his influence in the church at large to the fate of the Jerusalem church, Painter contends that the larger Christian movement has viewed James's righteousness and martyrdom as useful concepts but has considered his intimate relationship to Jesus and authority in the early church as embarrassments to be effaced.
Painter also examines the New Testament epistle attributed to James, considering its authorship, intended audience, and primary concerns. Suggesting that the letter is an attempt to deal with the marginalized situation of Christian Jews, he concludes that the letter's canonization as a "Catholic" epistle, or an epistle for the whole church, obscured the Jewish character of the book -- the fount from which it sprang.