The James Gang

Pursuing James is a popular thing to do in the pages of the Old Testament. Laban pursued him, as did Esau and a few others. There was good reason: Yaʻaqov, or Jacob, as he was called in the Hebrew language, was a rascal. His name means "heel-grabber" and he seemed to be the kind of punk who would trip you in the school hallway and giggle when you stumbled. He also sired a famous family and was the father of the 12 Israelite tribes (or 13 or 14, but who's counting?).

  Remember the classic "heel trip" in the school hallway? Image from  here  (Accessed 7/10/2018).

Remember the classic "heel trip" in the school hallway? Image from here (Accessed 7/10/2018).

I assume it is because of this latter claim to fame (and not the former) that mothers of old thought this would be a good name to hang on their boys. By the New Testament era Ya'aqov had become 'Iacobus. With a few more linguistic gyrations, 'Iacobus became the James that we know today. 

Which brings us to the starting line.

Pursuing James in the text of the New Testament is a difficult task. One reason is because James appears more than 60 times on the short side of the biblical canon. What makes it tricky is that not all of these appearances seem to refer to the same person.

(In a parallel exercise, count all of the hairs that have been pulled while sorting out multiple references to "Mary" or "Herod").

NT scholars who have gone bald in the effort seem to identify eight different persons in the James Gang. Since I am losing enough hairs for other reasons, I'll let others tease out the details. Our focus for the moment is simply to identify the three "biggies."



1. James the Great

This son of Zebedee is often paired with his brother John (cf. Mt 10:2) and shared with him the nickname “thunderboy." One doesn't get a name like that without reason (Mk 3:17).

He seems to have followed Jesus early (Mt 4:18-22) and became a member of the innermost circle of the disciples of Christ (i.e., Mt 17:1, Mk 5:37; 14:33).

Tradition describes him as James "the Great" to distinguish him from the next character in our list. 

2. James the Less

This James was also one of the 12 and is described as the “son of Alphaeus” (Matt 10:3). Just to keep this spicy, his mother was possibly named Mary (see Mk 16:1).

We know that James the Less was with the boys in the "upper room" at the start of the book of Acts (1:13).

Apart from these and other sparse comments, we know nothing more about James “the Less.”

  James the Less. Image from  here . Accessed 7/14/2018.

James the Less. Image from here. Accessed 7/14/2018.

3. James the Just

This James seems to be of Jesus’s own natural family. He appears in Mt 13:54-55 as coming from Nazareth with his mother Mary. The presence of James and his brothers may also be why Jesus was identified as Mary’s “firsborn son” (Mt 1:25). This James may have been her second.

He may have not become a believer until after the resurrection (Mk 6:1-6). But afterwards he became a leader in the Jerusalem church. Consider how at the beginning of Acts 12, James “the Great” is martyred (Acts 12:2), but by the end of the same chapter, news of the miraculous release of Peter is sent to a different James, a leader in the movement (Acts 12:17).

It is this James who met Paul and appears in Paul’s letters (e.g. Gal 1:18-19).

James "the Just" is also the consensus candidate for the author of the NT book by his name.

Pursuing the James Gang is hard work. But these are the biggies: James the Great, James the Less, and James the Just. Future posts will be devoted to the story and traditions associated with James the Great.

  James the brother of Jesus is also remembered as "James the Just." He was a leading member of the Jerusalem Church. Image from  here . Accessed 7/14/2018.

James the brother of Jesus is also remembered as "James the Just." He was a leading member of the Jerusalem Church. Image from here. Accessed 7/14/2018.



Rabies is not the way to go (part 6)

The treatment for rabies is not what it used to be. 

Not so long ago it consisted of twenty or more painful shots into the abdomen delivered by a needle the size of a fencepost. This treatment is now obsolete, as I have (thankfully) discovered.

Today, human rabies immune globulin is inserted directly into the wound site(s) in a series of injections. As I understand it (and the reader should be cautious now: while I am a doctor, I am not the helpful kind) the purpose of these shots is to provide immediate antibodies to hold the fort until the cavalry arrives. One's own body will muster a response but it takes time. The blast of immune globulin goes to work immediately to keep the rabies virus from charging willy-nilly through the nervous system. This is critical because if those little buggers reach the spinal column and brain, it is 100% fatal. ¡Adios Amigos

  Gamma globulin   arrives. Image from  here.

Gamma globulin arrives. Image from here.


What follows may seem out of place in our current story, but if you are patient you will develop a important virtue. Then you may follow me for these four steps.

Step one. There was once a lovely virgin who lived in the mountainous region between Spain and France. Her name was Quiteria. Long story short, she was beheaded by her own father in the fifth century for refusing to renounce her faith. But before the arrival of that awful moment, she once held two mad dogs at bay with nothing more than her saintly voice. Because of this amazing power she is remembered by many as a protectress against rabies.

Step two. Just three days ago I stumbled across a bridge in northern Spain that crosses the Arga River near the little town of Zubiri. Locals call the Roman-era construction El Puente de la rabia, or "the bridge of rabies" because it seems that some of the relics of Saint Quiteria were interred in the central pier of the bridge! You can only imagine my excitement upon learning this unexpected news.

Step three. Tradition has it that animals brought to the bridge and led around the central pier three times will become immune to rabies. And if a rabid animal is led around the pier (don't you wonder what that looks like?) will be cured!

  Wading around the central pillar of  El Puente de la rabia.

Wading around the central pillar of El Puente de la rabia.

Step four: I immediately set about leading myself around the pier three times. Me and this bridge and Quiteria had a few things in common (except for Quiteria's ability to talk down mad dogs).


Back in Beer-sheva, Israel, the doctor-in-boots delivered a series of injections to my leg and hands. And she was right; it did sting, particularly the ones in my hands. However, with each shot I offered a silent "thank you" to God and to the clever people who developed this procedure. In almost any other time or place, I would be dead. The stings were preferable, even though I did lose count after about 20.

As a finisher, I was given another rabies vaccine in the shoulder along with strict orders to continue this treatment once a week for four weeks more. 

I just wish I could have known in Israel that I would discover the Bridge of Rabies in Spain. I'm sure our dour doctor-in-boots would have been pleased. 

  The Ministry of Health released this notice after my experience at Tel Dan.

The Ministry of Health released this notice after my experience at Tel Dan.

Rabies is not the way to go (part 3)

Rabies is not the way to go (part 3)

I rinsed with water from a hose. The clear imprint of teeth on my thigh would have made a dentist proud. But the wounds were also deep so they took a while to stop bleeding. Red streaks mixed with the water and dribbled down my leg and forearms.

Remember me?

Remember me?

I got the skinny from Father Yusef, a local priest. He was waiting to perform a baptism and was happy to chat while the family gathered. What I learned turned out to be an interesting mix of gospel and tradition. It goes like this.

Stork swarm

Stork swarm

Swarms of giant storks were suddenly everywhere. They were beyond counting. In the hundreds? For sure. Thousands? Maybe. Some circled slowly overhead, great wings outstretched. Many more rested, nested, and clattered their bills from poo-spangled trees. 

An exceptional experience

An exceptional experience

While not the excursion that we had planned, the Johnson University study-tour to Israel/Palestine turned into a real-world exercise. And the team responded magnificently.

Serengeti chicken

Serengeti chicken

Safari operators often speak of the "Big Five." This is a linger-longer from the blood-sport days. The phrase does not identify Africa's largest species, but rather the five most difficult/dangerous animals to hunt on foot.

Like a patch ripped off

Like a patch ripped off

Two kinds of cut stone doors used to close tombs in old Jerusalem. One is shaped like a flat disk. The other like a stubby plug. Both can be rolled.

Noah's ark (sortof)

Noah's ark (sortof)

In the story of Noah's Ark, a portion of the living world finds sanctuary in a pinch. I thought about that as our rig bounced down the steep track into Ngorongoro Crater, Tanzania.



Zebras and wildebeests drank the muddy water, flicked their tails, rolled in the dust, and fussed with each other. It may have just been in my head, but somewhere I could hear the soundtrack of "The Lion King" playing.

Taking a safari

Taking a safari

We pitched our duffels and then ourselves into Saidi's knobby-wheeled truck. Saidi found the gear and we lurched forward. Our aim was to encounter the wildness of East Africa, God-willing, in a bloodless way.