Josephus, “Adelphos,” & James, “Brother of Jesus” (vs. Lucas Banzoli)

Josephus, “Adelphos,” & James, “Brother of Jesus” (vs. Lucas Banzoli) December 16, 2022

Lucas Banzoli is a very active Brazilian anti-Catholic polemicist, who holds to basically a Seventh-Day Adventist theology, whereby there is no such thing as a soul that consciously exists outside of a body, and no hell (soul sleep and annihilationism). This leads him to a Christology which is deficient and heterodox in terms of Christ’s human nature after His death. He has a Master’s degree in theology, a degree and postgraduate work in history, a license in letters, and is a history teacher, author of 25 books, as well as blogmaster (but now inactive) for six blogs. He’s active on YouTube.

This is my 54th refutation of Banzoli’s writings. For almost half a year (5-25-22 to 11-12-22) he didn’t write one single word in reply. Why? He says it’s because my articles are “without exception poor, superficial and weak . . . only a severely cognitively impaired person would be inclined to take” them “seriously.” Despite this childish rationalizing, he remarkably concluded at length that my refutations are so “entertaining” that he will “make a point of rebutting” them “one by one.” I disposed of his ubiquitous slanderous insults in Facebook posts dated 11-13-22 and 11-15-22 and 11-23-22. I’ll try my best to ignore them henceforth, and I thank him for so many blessings (Matthew 5:11-12).

Such an unserious person should normally be ignored, but as an honest apologist I also defend my writings and opinions (and retract points as necessary) if and when anyone tackles them point-by-point. Banzoli did some of that, in-between the innumerable personal attacks. I’ll respond to these counter-replies, provided I have patience enough to find the “pearls” in the huge pile of horse manure.

I use RSV for the Bible passages (including ones that Banzoli cites) unless otherwise indicated. Google Translate is utilized to render Lucas’ Portugese into English. Occasionally I slightly modify clearly inadequate translations, so that his words will read more smoothly and meaningfully in English. His words will be in blue.


This is a response to the first part of Banzoli’s article, “Como Armstrong despreza Josefo e deturpa criminosamente Hegésipo para salvar o dogma da virgindade perpétua” [How Armstrong Scorns Josephus and Criminally Misrepresents Hegesippus to Save the Dogma of Perpetual Virginity] (12-13-22), which in turn was a response to my “James: ‘Brother’ of Jesus: Josephus vs. the Bible & Hegesippus” (9-7-22).

Josephus, writing in Greek, refers to James as the brother (adelphos) of Jesus, while he routinely refers to cousins ​​(anepsios) throughout his work, which are clearly distinguished from the brothers – which means that he knew that James was really a brother, and not a “cousin” of Jesus . . . 
This leaves Catholic apologetics in trouble, because a person who is considered one of the greatest historians in history, and who is the closest secular witness to events (preceding by centuries the first Church Fathers to support the theory of cousins) offers overwhelming proof that James was, in fact, the brother of Jesus – as everything in the Bible and history points out.

Josephus didn’t need to be a Christian to say that James was Jesus’ cousin, if he really was one. It takes a miracle for a virgin to become pregnant, but it doesn’t take a miracle for a woman who has already had one child not to have more children (as all women with an only child know well). That’s why it’s simply stupid to put the virgin birth (i.e., a miracle ) side by side with the number of other children that Mary did or didn’t have (which is not a miracle, but something natural).

In other words, even if Josephus did not believe in the virgin birth (because it was a matter of faith and not something that could be historically proven or disproved), that in no way changes the fact that he knew that James was Jesus’ brother , something which anyone living in that time and place would have been able to know well. We must remember that Josephus and James were contemporaries and lived in the same place (Jerusalem), where we know that James was a bishop (not by chance, he is the one who presides over the Council of Jerusalem in Acts 15, and whenever James is mentioned in the Bible, he located in Jerusalem).
What is the chance that the greatest Jewish historian of all time did not know the degree of kinship that a contemporary of his and leader of the Jerusalem church had with Jesus, when he lived in Jerusalem and knew very well who Jesus was? The hypothesis itself is ridiculous.

It’s not ridiculous. He could have known that these relatives habitually hung around Jesus, and assumed that they were siblings, just as Protestants do today. I argued last time that he was simply wrong. And it might still be the case that he was. But I think it’s more plausible (upon further reflection and research) that he used adelphos in much the same way as the NT and LXX writers did.

After all, as Banzoli takes pains to point out, Josephus was a first century Jew, who lived in Jerusalem. Thus, it stands to reason that he would use the language as the NT writers did (adelphos, since it was the literal Greek translation of the Aramaic word — the language they primarily spoke — for “brother”: which had a very wide latitude of meaning).

James B. Prothro is an Assistant Professor of Scripture and Theology. His academic work “focuses on the letters and thought of the Apostle Paul and on the ancient Greek language.” He obtained a Ph.D. in New Testament from the University of Cambridge and an MA in classics and MDiv in theology from other universities.

He wrote an article entitled, “Semper Virgo? A Biblical Review of a Debated Dogma” (Pro Ecclesia: A Journal of Catholic and Evangelical Theology, Vol. 28, Issue 1, March 7, 2019). It’s a very in-depth look at the issue, including Josephus’ use of adelphos (ἀδελφός). He makes some very strong arguments (in very welcome contrast to Banzoli’s fluffy, surfacey mush):

[F]or many, any suggestive potential is overpowered by the simple fact that Jesus is described as having ἀδελφοί/αί—and that not in “spiritual kinship” contexts (e.g. Heb 2:10–18) but in familial ones like the Nazareth episode.
However, we should ask whether this conclusion is as definitive as it appears. Nowhere in the NT is any of Jesus’ ἀδελφοί/αί identified explicitly as Mary’s child, even when they are referenced together (cf. Mark 3:31 parr.; 6:3 par.; John 2:12; Acts 1:14). Furthermore, when they are referenced together, it is not in intimate household contexts but in places and at times when we might expect a number of relatives to be present (e.g. community or festal functions: John 2:12; 7:3–10) and to take an interest along with Mary in the activity of their most infamous relation (Mark 3:31; 6:3). Nothing necessitates that they are Mary’s children. In the NT, they are not even called Joseph’s children for that matter. Venturing outside the NT, the earliest extant claim that they are Mary’s children comes from Tertullian—not citing sources or traditions but mounting theological arguments for Jesus’ humanity—and second-century traditions predating Tertullian either identify Jesus’ brethren as Joseph’s children from a previous marriage or imply a non-sanguine relationship between them and Jesus (see below). . . .
Typically, the terms ἀδελφός/ή are used of persons of the same household, in the same generation, sharing at least one natural (or adoptive) parent. The last phrase of this summary is key, because it points out that what we might restrictively term “half-”siblings, adoptive siblings, perhaps even foster siblings (one finds even siblings-in-law) were all fine candidates to be designated ἀδελφός/ή. An instructive example comes from Philip’s designation as Herod Antipas’ ἀδελφός, which the Synoptic authors write without qualification (Mark 6:17//Matt 14:3//Luke 3:19). . . . To ask whether Jesus’ ἀδελφοί/αί and he shared a mother is not necessarily special pleading in the interest of some alien “tradition,” but an acknowledgment that our texts—like most—omit much specificity as unessential and that ἀδελφός/ή need not imply uterine fraternity/sorority.
Indeed, the lexemes had an even broader range. Blinzler’s still valid survey looks at two data ranges for the terms, one from the LXX and another from contemporary Greco-Roman usage. The LXX shows that ἀδελφός/ή was felt appropriate to translate חא to predicate “brotherly” relation of many whom we would not term “brothers” or “sisters” at all—some not even in the same generation. One finds this relationship predicated of uncles and nephews (e.g. Gen 14:16; 29:12), of near-relatives as a collective (e.g. Gen 31:23, 37), cousins (e.g. Lev 10:4b; 1 Kgs 10:13; 1 Chr 23:21–22), and occasionally more distant relations (e.g. Job 42:11). . . . The Chronicles translator can use ἀδελφός for חא predicated of a cousin (1 Chr 23:22), yet at another point goes out of his way to render חא predicated of an uncle with the more detailed ἀδελφός τοῦ πατρὸς αὐτοῦ (2 Chr 36:10). The translators, at least in this example, were aware of the relationships to which their texts referred (and not only in famous examples like Abraham and Lot), and still felt ἀδελφός/ή appropriate in most cases.

Prothro makes reference to Josephus’ own usage in this regard:

If we assumed what the Helvidian reading strategy assumes of Jesus’ “brethren,” we would insist that Herod and Philip shared a mother, when in fact they did not (Josephus clarifies: ἀδελφοῦ ὄντος οὐχ ὁμομητρίου [“brother indeed, but not by the same mother”] (Ant. 18.109)) [Book XVIII, Ch. 5, sec. 1]. . . .

Josephus can use ἀδελφοί as a collective as an equivalent of συγγενεῖς [syngeneís: usually rendered “cousin”] (BJ 6.356–357). . . .

More speculative but worth noting is that, whether or not the Gospels are based on written Aramaic sources, earliest Palestinian Christianity surely employed Aramaic (cf. traces in, for example, Mark 15:34; 1 Cor 16:22). And, as Blinzler shows from the Targumim, the Aramaic way to unambiguously designate cousins is somewhat cumbersome or often specific to one’s paternal side. This is significant because Jesus’ relatives—in the first generation—became an important and recognized subgroup within earliest Palestinian Christianity and its leadership (cf. Julius Africanus, in Eusebius, HE 1.7.14), such that “brother(s) of the Lord” seems used almost as a title for a group (1 Cor 9:5) and for persons among that group like James or Jude (cf. Gal 1:19; Hegesippus, in Eusebius, HE 2.23.4; 3.20.1; titles used so widely that they were known to Josephus (Ant. 20.200, of James)). . . . Greek speakers surely could have been more specific if they knew an individual’s precise relation to Jesus and if they so desired, but should we expect this of them? The point is to designate the person (James, for example) as not merely a leader but also kin to Jesus, one of a particular group within the first generation of the church. . . We need expect no further specificity.

In the first paragraph above, Dr. Prothro documents how Josephus (proven by his own express explanation) uses adelphos in a sense other than sibling, and in the second paragraph notes that he sometimes uses adelphoi “as an equivalent of συγγενεῖς [syngeneís].” Moreover, in Antiquities, Book XVIII, ch. 4, sec. 6, Josephus refers to “Philip, Herod’s brother” (likely using adelphos there). In Wars of the Jews, Book II, ch. 6, sec. 1, he refers to “Archelaus’s brother Philip.”

But we know that they were not siblings (sons of the same mother and father). In Wars of the Jews, Book II, ch. 7, sec. 4, Josephus mentions “Alexander, who was the brother of Archelaus, . . . This Alexander was the son of Herod the king . . .” Again, he likely uses adelphos, but is not referring to literal siblings, since we know that this Alexander‘s mother was Mariamne. Wikipedia (Philip the Tetrarch”informs us that Philip was “son of Herod the Great and his fifth wife, Cleopatra of Jerusalem, . . . half-brother of Herod Antipas and Herod Archelaus.” The mother of the latter two men was Malthace.

Josephus also uses adelphoi in a sense other than “non-sibling” and very broadly in referring to the Essenes: “every one’s possessions are intermingled with every other’s possessions; and so there is, as it were, one patrimony among all the brethren” (Wars of the Jews, Book II, ch. 8, sec. 3). He also refers to “their brethren the Israelites” (Ant., Book X, ch. 3, sec. 1). And he wrote, similarly:

Now while they were under this deliberation, Johanan, the son of Kareah, and the rulers that were with him, came to Jeremiah the prophet, and desired that he would pray to God, that because they were at an utter loss about what they ought to do, he would discover it to them, and they sware that they would do whatsoever Jeremiah should say to them. And when the prophet said he would be their intercessor with God, it came to pass, that after ten days God appeared to him, and said that he should inform Johanan, and the other rulers, and all the people, that he would be with them while they continued in that country, and take care of them, and keep them from being hurt by the Babylonians, of whom they were afraid; but that he would desert them if they went into Egypt, and, out of this wrath against them, would inflict the same punishments upon them which they knew their brethren had already endured. (Ant., Book X, ch. 9, sec. 6)

. . . he encouraged his soldiers cheerfully to undergo dangers for the sake of their brethren and kindred . . . (Ant., Book XII, ch. 8, sec. 3)

If we do an extensive word-search examination, we discover that Josephus’ use of terms for relatives (excluding the straightforward terms mother, father, son, daughter) is indeed remarkably similar to that of the New Testament writers (as we would expect, since he was a fellow Israelite and lived in the same period). Adelphos appears in the NT 346 times (and 649 times in the Septuagint: the Greek translation of the OT [“LXX”]). Syngeneís only appears twelve times (5 in the LXX). Anepsios appears once (Col 4:10), and once in the LXX. Here is the breakdown of NT terms for relatives (in the RSV):

brethren 191
brother(s) 159
sister 24
mother-in-law 5
daughter-in-law 3
father-in-law 1
cousin 1
uncle 0
aunt 0
nephew 0
niece 0
son-in-law 0
kin 1

Out of these 385 instances, 374 of them (or 97%) are either brother, brethren, or sister. The one appearance of cousin is 0.26% of the whole.

Josephus’ works, The Antiquities of the Jews and The Wars of the Jews (translator William Whiston for both) are easily searched. Here is what I found (a few here and there would have been in added footnotes; I didn’t check every one):

The Antiquities of the Jews

brethren 165
brother(s) 411
sister 109
cousin 9
uncle 32
aunt 4
nephew 1
niece 1
various “in-law” 54
kin 13

Of 799 total terms of this nature, 685 (or 86%) are either brother, brethren, or sister. The nine appearances of cousin are 1.1% of the whole.

The Wars of the Jews

brethren 50
brother(s) 107
sister 25
mother-in-law 2
daughter-in-law 0
father-in-law 4
cousin 4
uncle 12
aunt 4
nephew 0
niece 1
son-in-law 9
sons-in-law 2
kin 5

Of 225 total terms of this nature, 182 (or 81%) are either brother, brethren, or sister. The four appearances of cousin are 1.8% of the whole.

The grand total for these two works is 1024 relative terms, of which 867 (85%) are brother, brethren, or sister. The thirteen appearances of cousin are 1.3% of the whole.

Now to compare his statistics with the NT:

brother, brethren, or sister (NT) 97%
brother, brethren, or sister (Josephus) 85%
cousin (NT) 0.26%
cousin (Josephus) 1.3%

Josephus uses only a little bit more variety of relative terms than the New Testament, but he is still clearly using the words overall in the same general fashion, including a use of adelphos in a broad sense (as I proved above), precisely as in the New Testament, and as established, in terms of variety of definition, by any standard Greek lexicon or dictionary.

Therefore, when Josephus refers to “the brother (adelphos) of Jesus, who was called Christ, whose name was James” (Ant., Book XX, ch. 9, sec. 1), we simply don’t have enough information to know if he intended a meaning of “sibling.” This is the only time “brother(s) / brethren of Jesus” / “brother(s) / brethren of Christ” appears in these two works of Josephus, so it seems that we have no further relevant data.

Banzoli and many other Protestants who bring this one instance up, seem to casually assume that he meant sibling, but they can’t prove it, unless they produce more explicit passages from Josephus that clarify the matter; and we already know (at a minimum, minus exhaustive analysis) that Josephus uses it sometimes (exactly as the NT does) for half-brothers, cousins, members of the same Jewish sect (Essenes), and the Israelites as a whole.

Banzoli doesn’t get anywhere remotely close to detail like the above, related to Josephus’ use of adelphos. He doesn’t even begin (despite his advanced degree in history) to approach this serious level of analysis. He simply rants and raves and asserts (for the 50th time) that I’m stupid and dishonest, etc. But I produced hard and objective facts directly relevant to the topic at hand: dealing with Josephus’ use of adelphos. No one could fail to notice the extreme contrast between our two methods.

Banzoli does manage, however (in-between his usual absurd invective), to construct a fairly rational and serious case against the interesting data from Hegesippus (credit where it is due). One of his commenters under his article presents a far more detailed and tightly argued case “against” Hegesippus as a witness for perpetual virginity.

An argument from Hegesippus’ few relevant statements can be made, consistent with the “cousins” theory, and I did my best to make it. But it’s not airtight, by any means (since it’s difficult to prove which “Symeon / Simon” he was referring to); upon further consideration it’s relatively weak evidence. We mustn’t claim for arguments more than they merit (good advice for all apologists and any debaters at all).

The overall argument for perpetual virginity and Jesus as an only child is already substantially — I would say almost compellingly — present in Holy Scripture itself (I have extensively presented it in many articles: see my Blessed Virgin Mary page for those), before we even get to tradition and the fathers. In any event, it doesn’t rely upon, or stand or fall with Hegesippus (or for that matter, St. Jerome).

And it remains true that the vast majority of the Church fathers (a large consensus) held to the perpetual virginity of Mary. Protestants can try to dismiss that and rationalize it away if they wish (I guess they were all dishonest imbeciles and biblical illiterates, too, like Banzoli and his buddies vainly imagine I am), but it won’t do them any good. Their founders, almost to a person, believed in this doctrine as well (Calvin was very impatient with those who rejected it), thus proving that it is not “solely a Catholic thing” at all.


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Photo creditThe Virgin of the Lilies (1899), by William-Adolphe Bouguereau (1825-1905) [public domain / Wikimedia Commons]


Summary: Josephus uses adelphos [lit., “brother”] many times in a sense other than “sibling.” Thus, his meaning when he refers to James, the “brother of Jesus” isn’t certain.

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