This is clear from the writings of Hegesippus, a respected early
chronicler of the Christian faith, who is believed to have lived
between AD 110 and AD 180.
"The succession of the church passed to James, the brother of
the Lord," he said.
As the first Bishop of Jerusalem, James had an arch-rival in the
apostle Paul, whose teachings differed from his in one key respect:
the issue of whether Jesus really was the son of God.
Like Jesus, James was a Jew and, in line with Old Testament
prophecies, he believed that Jesus was an ordinary man chosen by God
to lead his people. This was very different to the idea championed
by Paul that Jesus was a divine being, born of God himself.
Although Paul never met Jesus and based his beliefs on a series
of mystical visions, his ideas quickly gained popularity as more and
more Gentiles joined the movement and the Jewish-Christians led by
James soon found themselves outnumbered.
Then the Jewish-Christians suffered two very serious setbacks.
In the year AD 62, James was stoned to death on the orders of
the Jewish High Priest of the temple in Jerusalem, who was jealous
of his influence.
Just five years later, the Romans captured Jerusalem and
destroyed the great temple itself, robbing James's followers of
their headquarters and the focus of their faith.
Parading the temple's sacred treasures through the streets of
Rome, the marauders sold off the looted gold to pay for the building
of their city's most famous landmark - the Coliseum.
Downfall of the original church
The downfall of James's Jewish Christianity was complete, and
when the Emperor Constantine made Christianity the official religion
of the Holy Roman Empire in the fourth century and the church
fathers began to compile the New Testament, they set about obscuring
the existence of James and Jesus' other brothers and sisters.
At the same time, many of Paul's teachings became enshrined in
official church doctrine, including the belief that salvation could
be achieved through faith in Jesus Christ as the son of God.
According to Dr Beckford, this idea was perhaps more palatable
to the establishment because it could be interpreted, wrongly, to
mean that the rich and powerful could redeem themselves through this
belief alone, without any need to change their lifestyle.
Having settled on this doctrine, Dr Beckford believes that the
church then began altering the details of Christ's life to support
the idea that he was a divine being.
He says there is virtually no evidence in the Bible for the
assertion that Mary was a perpetual virgin, but the early church
elevated her to this status since it seemed more fitting for the
mother of God.
They also set about changing the circumstances of the Nativity
For 2,000 years, the traditional Christmas story has related how
Jesus was born in Bethlehem near Jerusalem, after Mary and Joseph
travelled there from Nazareth to register for a Roman census.
However, Bethlehem is 90 miles (140km) away from Nazareth, and
Dr Beckford questions whether a woman who was nine months pregnant
could really have undertaken this arduous four-day journey on a
He points out that there is another town called Bethlehem which
is in Galilee. In 1992, building works there revealed the ruins of a
sixth century church - built on top of the kind of natural cave in
which many scholars believe Christ was born.
Since this Bethlehem is only four miles from Nazareth, Dr
Beckford believes this cave is more likely to have been the genuine
site of the Nativity, but that the church fathers had good reason to
suggest that Christ's birth took place in its now celebrated
In this, they were fulfilling an Old Testament prophecy which
stated that the new Messiah would be a descendant of King David, and
this meant he had to be born in the same town as David - in the
Bethlehem near Jerusalem.
Playing down John
In their attempts to establish Christ's divinity, Dr Beckford
claims that the early church fathers also played down the role of
one of the most important figures in the Christian movement, the
prophet John the Baptist.