The Bible in Its Traditions

James 3:1

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My brothers, let not many become teachers, knowing that we shall receive greater judgment.

MY brethren, do not allow doubtful teachers among you; but know, that we are under a great judgment.

1a teachers 1Cor 12:28; Eph 4:11

Text

Literary Devices

1b we will receive a greater judgment Ethos: James’ Appeal to His Authority as a Teacher James identifies himself as a teacher, thus subtly referencing his authority for the community. 

Reception

Christian Tradition

1b greater judgment Erasmus comments that the teacher receives a stricter judgment because if he strays in his words, he leads many people astray, not only himself:

  • Erasmus Iac. Par. "Because the speech (sermo) of a person with authority has very great weight, its poison can spread more widely and dangerously" (Bateman 1993, 154; Bateman 1997, 140).

Suggestions for Reading

1–12 An Ethics of Language The connection of this pericope with Jas 2:14–26 is not obvious. In general, however, it sustains James' concern with proper speech (→Speech in James).  The specific concern of Jas 2:14–26 was the consistency between speech (confession of faith) and action. The major point of Jas 3:1–12 is clear enough: James exhorts his readers to control their tongues.  

Artistry: Coinage of a "Classic"

Structure
  • In contrast with other parts of James that are a collection of materials that have no clear relationship, Jas 3:1–12 is a coherent composition that features substantial rhetorical design (Literary Devices 3:1–12).
Rhetorics
Philosophy

Reception

Among the most notable individual passages:

Text

Vocabulary

1b greater judgment Judgment and Punishment The Greek meizon krima may refer to

  • being judged by a stricter standard, or
  • receiving a harsher punishment.

It is probable that James refers to God's eschatological judgment here, given James' principle that only God is in a position to judge others (cf. Jas 4:11–12; Jas 5:9; see also →James: Judging). This eschatological sense is found in the verbally similar Mk 12:40: "They will receive a very severe condemnation" (lêmpsontai perissoteron krima). See also Biblical Intertextuality 3:1b.

Context

Biblical Intertextuality

1b we will receive a greater judgment Teachers in New Testament Context In his condemnation of the scribes (Jewish teachers in Jesus' time; cf. Mk 1:22), Jesus teaches that they will receive a "greater judgment" (perissoteron krima; Mk 12:40). It is possible that James alludes to, or rewrites, a teaching of Jesus in 3:1. Such a reference would also explain why James introduces this admonition with "since you know."

James seems to be following the general principle enunciated in Lk 12:48: "Much will be required of the person entrusted with much, and still more will be demanded of the person entrusted with more." The teacher of the community has been entrusted with great authority, and so will be held to a higher standard. 

Reception

Christian Tradition

1–4 bridle his entire body also Reason Controls the Passions Some commentators understood James to refer to the Greek philosophical principle that reason (logos) must control the passions of the body:

  • Ps.-Andreas Catena ad Jas 3:3–4 "If we drive back the high spirit (thrasos) of a horse with a bridle, and change the rushing course (hormê) of a ship with a small rudder, how much more should we guide the tongue by right reason (orthos logos) to what is good" (Cramer 1844, 8:19–20). Ps.-Oecumenius Comm. Ep. Cath. ad loc. repeats this interpretation (col. 484).
  • Ps.-Andrew of Crete Bios 7: James placed a restraint on the tongue and taught that one should both remain silent and speak according to reason (kata logon; Noret 1978, 52). See also Literary Devices 1:26.

Context

Biblical Intertextuality

1a teachers The Office of Teacher in the NT The Greek didaskalos is used 58 times in the NT and 49 times in the Gospels (41 times of Jesus).

In an Ancient Jewish Context

A didaskalos meant primarily an expositor of the Torah (cf. Lk 2:46). The title didaskalos presupposes that the man has a group of students or disciples (mathêtês) who follow him. The Hebrew equivalent to didaskalos is rabbi (which, in turn, is etymologically similar to magister); the Gospels occassionally record his disciples addressing Jesus as such (Mt 26:25; Mk 9:5; 11:21; Jn 4:31; 9:2; 11:8). 

In the Synoptic Tradition

Jesus himself is identified as a teacher in statements summarizing his activity (Mk 2:13, Mk 4:1, Mt 7:28f, Lk 5:3). Jesus is said to teach "as one having authority, and not as their scribes" (Mt 7:28). Even non-Christians recognized Jesus as a teacher; Josephus A.J. 18.63 characterizes him as a "wise man,"(sophos anêr) a "teacher" (didaskalos; 8:48-49).  Jesus' designation as a teacher is doubtless part of the reason why James places such weighty importance on this office. 

In the Earliest Christian Communities

  • The office of "teacher" (didaskalos) was recognized. Paul identifies "teacher" as a distinct office in his churches: "Some people God has designated in the church to be, first, apostles; second, prophets; third, teachers" (1Cor 12:28); see also Eph 4:11, "And he gave some as apostles, others as prophets, others as evangelists, others as pastors and teachers." Acts 13:1 identifies "prophets and teachers" in the church of Antioch.
  • Two major functions of an early Christian teacher were: (1) to act as an interpreter of scripture and (2) to instruct and explicate oral traditions from and about Jesus. The author of our epistle fulfills both functions.
  • The necessity of distinguishing true from false teaching was a central issues in the early churches (e.g., 1Tm 4:1; 1Tm 6:3f; cf. Did. 11:1ff; 13:2). See also Christian Tradition 3:1a.

Informal Teaching in Synagogues

James' admonition, "Not many of you should become teachers" seems to assume that becoming a teacher within the faith community was a position accessible to many. The NT portrays members or guests of a synagogue as preaching on occasion, e.g., Jesus at Capernaum (Mk 1:21; Lk 6:6) and Nazareth (Lk 4:16); Acts portrays Paul and associates in a similar way (e.g., Salamis: Acts 13:5; Antioch in Pisidia: Acts 13:14-15; Iconium: Acts 14:1; Thessalonica: Acts 17:1-3).

Reception

Christian Tradition

2:14–3:2a Divisio Textus

  • Ps.-Andreas Catena groups Jas 3:1–2 with Jas 2:14–26 under the heading: "That a person is justified (dikaioutai anthrôpos) not from faith alone (ouk ek pisteôs monon), but also from actions (alla kai ex ergôn);  and not from each one individually, but from both together" (ex amphoion hama; Cramer 1844, 8:14).

See also →James: Medieval Divisio Textus.

Text

Literary Devices

1a my brothers Apostrophe

Actio : Pathos, Appeal to Familiarity 

James uses two techniques in Jas 3:1–12 to underscore his close relationship with his readers: 

  • addessing his readers as "my brothers" (adelphoi): Jas 3:1,10,12; Literary Devices 1:2;
  • employing first person plural address (Jas 3:1–3; 9) to identify himself more closely with his readers: (e.g., 3:2a: "we all stumble in many ways"). 

Dispositio: Change of Topic

The direct address, "my brothers," signals a change in topic or emphasis (see Jas 1:2; 1:16; 1:19; 2:1; 2:5; 2:14). 

1b knowing that Paraenetic Discourse: Appeal to Shared Knowledge James appeals to a shared knowledge that he expects the community to know, a common paraenetic technique.  In this case James may allude to a teaching of Jesus regarding the harsher judgment that teachers will receive (cf. Mk 12:38–40; Jn 9:40–41).

Context

Biblical Intertextuality

1a teachers The Office of Teacher in the NT The Greek didaskalos is used 58 times in the NT and 49 times in the Gospels (41 times of Jesus).

In an Ancient Jewish Context

Didaskalos primarily denotes an expositor of the Torah (cf. Lk 2:46). By definition, a didaskalos has a group of students or disciples (mathêtês) that follow him. The Hebrew equivalent to didaskalos is rabbi (which, in turn, is etymologically similar to magister); the Gospels occassionally record his disciples addressing Jesus as such (Mt 26:25; Mk 9:5; 11:21; Jn 4:31; 9:2; 11:8). 

In the Synoptic Tradition

Jesus himself is identified as a teacher in statements summarizing his activity (Mk 2:13, Mk 4:1, Mt 7:28f, Lk 5:3). Jesus is said to teach "as one having authority, and not as their scribes" (Mt 7:28). Even non-Christians recognized Jesus as a teacher; Josephus A.J. 18.63 characterizes him as a "wise man" (sophos anêr) and a "teacher" (didaskalos; Thackeray 1965, 8:48-49).  Jesus' designation as a teacher is doubtless part of the reason why James places such weighty importance on this office. 

In the Earliest Christian Communities

Paul identifies the didaskalos as a distinct office in his churches: "Some people God has designated in the church to be, first, apostles; second, prophets; third, teachers" (1Cor 12:28); see also Eph 4:11, "And he gave some as apostles, others as prophets, others as evangelists, others as pastors and teachers." Acts 13:1 identifies "prophets and teachers" in the church of Antioch.

Two major functions of an early Christian teacher were:

  • (1) to act as an interpreter of scripture
  • and (2) to instruct and explicate oral traditions from and about Jesus. The author of our epistle fulfills both functions.

The necessity of distinguishing true from false teaching was a central issues in the early churches (e.g., 1Tm 4:1; 1Tm 6:3f; cf. Did. 11:1ff; 13:2). See also Christian Tradition 3:1a.

Informal Teaching in Synagogues

James' admonition, "Not many of you should become teachers" seems to assume that becoming a teacher within the faith community was a position accessible to many. The NT portrays members or guests of a synagogue as preaching on occasion, e.g., Jesus at Capernaum (Mk 1:21; Lk 6:6) and Nazareth (Lk 4:16); Acts portrays Paul and associates in a similar way (e.g., Salamis: Acts 13:5; Antioch in Pisidia: Acts 13:14-15; Iconium: Acts 14:1; Thessalonica: Acts 17:1-3).

Reception

Liturgies

1–12 Use in Lectionary RCL : Proper 19, Year B.

1–10 Use in Lectionary

  • RML: Saturday, Week 6, Year 2.
  • BL : Tuesday, 32nd Week after Pentecost.

Christian Tradition

1a teachers Principles Governing Teaching and Teachers The commentary tradition finds in James' words an opportunity to reflect on Christian teachers and teaching.

Who Should Teach?

  • Many commentators  (e.g., Gregory the Great  Reg. Past. 1.3; Lapide Comm. ad loc. (20:85) apply James' teaching to bishops—the preeminent teachers of the Church. 
  • Aquinas Impug. 2.1 [1.2] refers to Jas 3:1 in his Liber contra impugnantes Dei cultum et religionem, an apologia defending the teaching role of religious orders (specifically written in defense of Dominican and Franciscan teachers at the University of Paris).

Heresy and False Teaching

Many commentators find in James' words the principle that many teachers result in heresy and false teaching. In contrast, there should be a single, clear teacher and teaching, as in the rule that there should be a single bishop for one city. See Gloss. Ord. ad loc. (cols. 1283–84); Aquinas Impug. 2.1 (1.2; Procter 1902, 78); Lapide Comm. ad loc. (20:85–86); and Biblical Intertextuality 3:1a.

  • Isho'dad of Merv Comm. Cath. Ep. ad loc. "He does not forbid that many teachers should be amongst them, but he warns them from false doctrines" (Gibson 1913, 36–37; Syriac: ibid., 50).
  • Aquinas Impug. 2.1 [1.2] (Procter 1902, 78): James refers to the dangers of many (false) teachings, not many teachers.

Qualifications of Good Teachers

Commentators take the opportunity to comment on the qualifications of Christian teachers:

Doctrinal Qualifications
  • The teacher must be discreet and learned in Scriptures (discreti, et in Scripturis docti) (Gloss. Ord. [interlinear gloss] ad loc. (cols. 1283–84); Aquinas Impug. 2.1 [1.2](Procter 1902, 78).
Moral Qualifications

The teacher's words must correspond with his actions:

  •  Ps.-Andreas Catena ad loc.: John Chrysostom connects James' instruction on teachers with other themes in James: "to teach without doing [cf. Jas 2:14–26]...brings much damage....just as the one not stumbling in acting on or speaking (mê ptaiôn en ergôᵢ kai logôᵢ) of those things he teaches, and is able to bridle his entire body, is perfect (teleios). For if he teaches these things, and he marks out the faith of right words (pistin orthôn logôn) with vigorous deeds that harmonize with faith, it is apparent that he has bridled his own entire body, permitting it to have no love for the world" (Cramer 1844, 8:18).

The teacher's motivations must be correct:

  • Gregory the Great  Reg. Past. 1.3 cites this passage as a warning to those who seek the heavy responsibilities of the bishop's office out of a desire for prestige.  
  • Erasmus Iac. Par. connects the role of the teacher with the office of a bishop. This office "requires a person who is first of all eminently learned in the content of evangelical doctrine (evangelicae doctrinae) and secondly has his emotions completely purged (purgatissimis affectibus)....Conversely, there is great loss to the people when someone occupies the positition of teacher whose doctrine is corrupt or whose mind is corrupted and warped by passions like hatred, anger, revenge, greed, ambition, or lust" (Bateman 1993, 154; Bateman 1997, 140).
The Good Teacher Should Speak Little
  • Dionysius of Alexandria Cat. Hav. Eccl. 5.5–25 connects this passage with Eccl 5:1, "Be not hasty with your utterance to the Christian teacher. The teacher must remember that the divine being (ousia) is beyond human ability to describe. Whatever can be learned from the divinely-inspired Scriptures is sufficient for theology" (Labate 1992, 78).

Specific Applications

  • Ps.-Clem. 1 Ep. Virg. 11.4 applies the verse to those who claim to be Christian teachers, but instead spread false doctrines.
  • Bede Ep. cath. ad loc. notes that in the time of James, the brother of Jesus, many people were eager to teach and preach the word of Jesus, but some were not qualified. A preacher such as Apollos was wise because he realized the deficiencies of his knowledge and allowed himself to be instructed (see Acts 18:24–28), so that he returned "perfect" (cf. Jas 3:2) to the task of preaching. Other preachers, however, taught incorrectly that one could not be saved without being circumcised (see Acts 15:1). James, according to Bede, then removed such teachers from the responsibility of preaching the word so that they would not cause confusion (Hurst 1985, 35). The Gloss. Ord. abridges Bede's commentary (col. 1283).
  • Augustine of Hippo Tract Ev. Jo. 57.6 applies this to his own work as a teacher and preacher, asking that his readers pray for his inevitable sins and failings as he carries out this challenging work.
  • Augustine of Hippo Retract. prol. 2, setting out in his old age to critique his own voluminous writings, quotes this passage in his anxious reflection on the inevitable shortcomings and even simply unnecessary words he used in his teaching: "What remains for me, then, is to judge myself under the one Teacher (sub magistro uno) whose judgment of my offenses I yearn to escape" (Bogam 1968, 22; Knöll 1902, 9). 

Teachers in the Context of James

The Reformed tradition connects the teachers of 3:1 not with an official teaching office, but rather with community members who take it upon themselves to judge the sins of others in the community.

  • Calvin Comm. Iac. ad loc. (Owen 1849, 317–18).
  • →GEN (1599) in a marginal note states: "Let no man usurp (as most men ambitiously do) authority to judge and censure others righteously."

Visual Arts

1:1–5:20 James Depictions of the Author Depictions of James, the author of the epistle, in paintings, statues, manuscript illustrations, engravings, woodcuts, and embroidery on liturgical vestments are particularly prominent in the Middle Ages. A common consensus of the artists is that the author of the epistle is James the Just, leader of the Jerusalem church; he is typically further identified with James, son of Alphaeus, one of Jesus' Twelve (Mk 3:18), and "James the Less" (Mk 15:40). The iconography of James draws particularly on accounts of James recorded in Eusebius of Cesarea Hist. eccl. 23 and Jerome Vir. ill. 2, who in turn draw on accounts from Clement of Alexandria and Hegesipus. See also →James: Introduction

Several prominent features of these portrayals may be noted:

  • Following the tradition that he was the first bishop of Jerusalem, James is often portrayed anachronistically in bishop's vestments.
  • James is often portrayed holding a fuller's club, alluding to the tradition that James was beaten to death with a such a club. Variations show him holding different types of clubs. Another related tradition shows James holding a bow such as one used by hat-makers of the Middle Ages.
  • James bears a striking physical resemblance to his brother Jesus.
  • One artistic tradition, based on accounts found in the preface to the Gloss. Ord. and de Voragine Leg. aur., portrays the infant James as part of a large extended family. According to this legend, St. Anne, mother of the Virgin Mary, had three children named Mary with three different husbands. James and his brothers Joses (Joseph), Simon, and Jude (cf. Mk 6:3) are the sons of Mary (daughter of Anne and Cleophas; cf. Jn 19:25) and Alphaeus (cf. Mk 3:18). James and his brothers are thus cousins of Jesus (son of Mary, daughter of Anne and Joachim) and of St. John the Evangelist and James the Greater (sons of Mary, daughter of Anne and Salomas).

The following images are noteworthy:

  • A painting of James in the Armenian Sts. James Cathedral, Jerusalem: James is dressed in episcopal robes, wears a miter and holds a crozier (Gowler 2014, 54).
  • Blessed James Apostle. In the Stav. Bib. (1093-97) illuminations of the apostle James are at the introduction to the Catholic epistles (f. 197 r→) and at the beginning of his epistle (f. 197 v→.). The apostle stands, holding a book.
  • Apostle James the Less, statue, south portal of Chartres Cathedral, early 13th century.

Anonymous, James Among Other Apostles (sculpture on limestone, early 13th c.),  South Portal, Chartres Cathedral, France

© D.R. Photo Mary Ann Sullivan→ 

James holds a club.

  • Leonardo da Vinci (1495-98), The Last Supper, Santa Maria delle Grazie, Milan. 

Giampietrino (1495–1549), The Last Supper (oil on canvas, ca. 1520, after Leonardo da Vinci [1452–1519], The Last Supper [1495-1498]),  298 cm x 770 cm

Royal Academy of Arts, London, exhib. Magdalen College, Oxford

Public Domain © Wikicommons→ 

James, who resembles his brother Jesus, is second from his left. This full-scale copy was the main source for the— unfortunate—twenty-year restoration of the original (1978–1998). It includes several lost details such as Christ's feet, the transparent glass decanters on the table, and the floral motifs of the tapestries that decorate the room's interior.  It was first mentioned in 1626 by the author Bartolomeo Sanese as hanging in the Certosa di Pavia, a monastery near Pavia, Italy, but it is unlikely that it was intended for this location. At some point, the upper third of the picture was cut off, and the width was reduced. Giampietrino is thought to have worked closely with Leonardo when he was in Milan. A very fine, full-size copy of this painting, before it was cut down, is installed at Tongerlo Abbey in Westerlo, near Antwerp, Belgium. 

  • Lucas Cranach the Elder (1509), Infant Saint James among his relations, a triptych in the Stadelsches Kunstinstitut, Frankfurt, Germany. The infant Jesus, his mother Mary, and Mary's mother St. Anne are portrayed in the center. To the right is St. Anne's other daughter Mary, her husband Zebedee, and sons John the Evangelist and James the Greater. To the left is another of St. Anne's daughters named Mary with her husband Alphaeus; their children James, Joses (Joseph), Simon, and Jude are in the left and center panels.

Lucas Cranach the Elder (1472–1553), The Holy Kinship, (mixed media on lime, Wittenberg, 1509), Altarpiece, central panel: 100.4 × 121.1 cm; wings: 40 × 120 cm

Städel Museum — 1398, Frankfurt am Main

Public Domain © Wikicommons→

The side and central panels describe a a great hall with blue grey walls and three-colored tiles. In the side panels are depicted the half sisters of Virgin Mary, called after their fathers Mary Cleophas (left) and Mary Salome (right) together with their husbands.

Left panel: St. Mary Cleophas and Alphaeus (with the features of Friedrich the Wise with their two sons, the Apostles St. James the Less (at her breast) and Joseph Justus, called St. Barnabas, as annunciator of the Gospel of Matthew depicted with a book.

Central panel: Joseph, who seems to seems to sleep, the Virgin, dressed in blue with yellow lining, Anna and the Christ Child on her knee, who is stretching out his hand towards an apple given to him by Virgin Mary. Anna's three husbands following de Voragine Leg. aur. are shown in the background in the matroneum: on the left Joachim, who is attracted by the holy women in front of him and whose relation is also shown by the corresponding blue and yellow color of his dress, Cleophas (with the physiognomy and chain of Emperor Maximilian I and Salomas, with the physiognomy of Sixtus Oelhafen von Schöllenbach, secretary of Friedrich III, Maximilian I and Karl V), who are talking to each other. There is an architectural structure by a great stone bench in the foreground of the central panel with two marble columns on the sides, over which is strectched a cloth of gold. On the right column is a tablet with date and signature: [LVCAS CHRONVS FACIEBAT ANNO 1509. The parapet of the matroneum is decorated by a sculptured frieze with dancing putti holding six escutcheons with the six fields of Electorate of Saxony. In the hall are shown the 17 members of the Holy Kinship. In the central panel are shown two more children of Mary Cleophas and Alpheus, the Apostles Simon, patron saint of weavers, dyers, tanners and saddlers and Jude, who went on mission and suffered their martyrdom together and therefore are regularly depicted together.

Right panel: St. Mary Salome and Zebedee (with the features of Frederick III, Elector of Saxony, and his brother Herzog Johann der Beständige). St. Mary Salome, dressed in gold with dark red lining, is combing her son Saint James the Greater and while Saint John the Evangelist is hiding in her dress.

  • Paolo Veronese (Caliari) James as Bishop (1500s). Burghley House Collection, Lincolnshire, UK. The Bridgeman Art Library. James with crozier and miter, holding a book.

Paolo Veronese Cagliari (1528-1888), Saint James, (oil on canvas, ca. 1578), 200 X 85 cm, One of the volets of the organ of the church of San Jacopo, Murano, Venice — the other is a portrait of St. Augustine.

Burghley House Collection, Lincolnshire, UK, © A Graduate of Pomona→

  • Saint James the Less, painting by El Greco (c. 1612), Museo del Greco, Toledo, Spain. 

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El Greco (Domenikos Theotokópoulos) 1541-1614, The Apostle James the Greater, (Oil on canvas, 1610-1614), 100 cm X 80 cm

 Museo de El Greco→ (Toledo, Spain), © Wikicommons, 

James is shown holding a Bible, symbolizing his status as a scriptural writer, in one hand. James is depicted in the Mannerist style with elongated form and without any of the traditional iconographic symbols

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Nicolò Bambini (1651-1736), San Giacomo Minore (Oil on canvas, 1722-1723), Communion of St James (Series of the Twelve Apostles), Presbytery: right wall, center, Saint Stae,Venezia, © Chorus Venezia→ 

The risen Jesus appears to James and breaks bread with him (based on an account recorded in Jerome Vir. ill. 2, said to be drawn from the Gospel according to the Hebrews).

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Angelo de' Rossi (1671 – 1715), Jacobus Minor (Sculpture on marble, 1710-1711), Gli Apostoli, (h: 424 cm), Nef, San Giovanni in Laterano, Roma, © Wikicommons

James holds a book and club.

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James Tissot (French, 1836-1902), James the Lesser, (Opaque watercolor over graphite on gray wove paper, 1886-1894), 30.6 x 23.5 cm, Brooklyn Museum, 00.159.237, © Brooklyn Museum photograph, 2008

James, resembling Jesus, prayers on his knees with outstretched arms. It perhaps reflects Hegesippus' statement that James spent so much time in prayer that his knees were as hard as a camel's.

Eastern Orthodox traditions

  • James the Just, Russian icon, 16th century. Novgorod. James is depicted in episcopal robes and holds a book.

Anonymous, James the Just, (pigments on wood, mid. 16th c.), icon, Novgorod or Moskow, Novgorod

Public Domain © Wikicommons→,

The inscription bearing the name of the saint has disappeared, but the iconography—facial features and beard shape —suggest that the icon is of James. Byzantine art places him among the founding fathers of the Church. As the creator of the first liturgy containing memorial services and the author of the message, which speaks of the healing power of prayer (Jas 5:14-16), he was also worshipped in ancient times as a healer. In Novgorod, James is prayed for the end of the epidemics. In sacred iconography, the representations of James of Jerusalem alone are very rare. We know the icons of Novgorod in which he is represented with other saints: Nicholas the Thaumaturgist, James the brother of God, Ignatius the bearer of God, end of the 15th c.; James the brother of God, Cosmas and Damian, 2nd quarter of the 16th c. The icon comes from the best workshops in Moscow or Novgorod.

  • Martyrdom of James the Just. Illustration from the Menologion of Basil II. (PG 117:6-612). Late 10th, early 11th c. AD. Vatican Library. Vat.gr. 1613. Image 131.→  

For discussion of visual depictions, see Gowler 2014, 53-62; Bedford 1911.