He was the head of the Jerusalem Church since the crucifixion of Jesus.
This ancient account is from Eusebius (quoting Hegesippus).
Representatives of the seven sects among the [Jewish] people, which I previously described (in the Memoirs), asked him what "the door of Jesus" meant, and he replied that he was the Savior. Because of this, some believed that Jesus was the Christ. The sects mentioned above did not believe in a resurrection or in One who is coming to reward each according to his deeds, but those who did believe did so because of James. Now, since many even of the rulers believed, there was an uproar among the Jews scribes, and Pharisees saying that the whole populace was in danger of expecting Jesus as the Christ. So they assembled and said to James: "We call on you to restrain the people, since they have gone astray after Jesus, believing him to be the Christ. We call on you to persuade all who come for the Passover concerning Jesus, since all of us trust you. We and the entire populace can vouch for the fact that you are righteous and take no one at face value. So do persuade the crowd not to err regarding Jesus, since we and all the people respect you. So stand on the parapet of the temple, where you can be clearly seen from that height and your words be heard by all the people with all the tribes, and Gentiles too, gathered for the Passover."
So the scribes and Pharisees made James stand on the temple parapet, and they shouted to him, "0 righteous one, whom we all ought to believe, since the people are going astray after Jesus who was crucified, tell us, what does 'the door of Jesus' mean?" He replied with a loud voice, "Why do you ask me about the Son of Man? He is sitting in heaven at the right hand of the Great Power, and he will come on the clouds of heaven." Many were convinced and rejoiced at James's testimony, crying, "Hosanna to the Son of David." Then the scribes and Pharisees said to each other, "We made a bad mistake in providing such testimony to Jesus, but let us go up and throw him down so that they will be afraid and not believe him." And they cried out, "Oh, oh, even the just one has gone astray!" This fulfilled the prophecy of Isaiah: "Let us remove the just man, for he is unprofitable to us. Therefore they shall eat the fruit of their works."
So they went up and threw down the righteous one. Then they
said to each other, "Let us stone James the Just," and they began
to stone him, since the fall had not killed him. But he turned and
knelt down, saying, "I implore you, 0 Lord, God and Father, forgive
them: they do not know what they are doing." While they
were pelting him with stones, one of the priests among the sons
of the Rechabites, to whom the prophet Jeremiah bore witness,
cried out, "Stop! What are you doing? The righteous one is praying
for you." Then one of them, a laundryman, took the club that
he used to beat out clothes and hit the Just on the head. Such
was his martyrdom. They buried him on the spot by the temple,
and his gravestone is still there by the temple. He became a true
witness to both Jews and Gentiles that Jesus is the Christ.
(Eusebius, The Church History, 2:23)
Why did it take some 30 years before the scribes and Pharisees asked what Jesus was about?
Why were they suddenly afraid that on this particular Passover
"the whole populace was in danger of expecting Jesus as the Christ".
"We call on you to restrain the people, since they have gone astray after Jesus, believing him to be the Christ."
And What is the "door of Jesus" anyway?
"I [Jesus] am the gate. Anyone who enters through me will be safe; such a one will go in and out and will find pasture." John 10:9
So, just as Jesus some 30 years before, James was killed. Killed by priests and people alike.
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(c) 2005 Thomas F. Swezey All rights reserved.