The Wisdom of Yakob the Elder, by ‘Philologus’, illustrated by Ceri Leeder

Can a teacher from the first century AD have anything to say to us in the twenty-first? The author of The Wisdom of Yakob the Elder believes he can, and has written this collection of five short stories to bring his words to life. They are based on a document called The Letter of James, which dates back to the beginnings of Christianity at a time when it was a Messianic sect of Judaism and its author, St James (or, as his name was originally, Yakob), was the leader of the foundation community in Jerusalem. 

The Letter shows many signs of having been written very early — its simplicity suggests that it is earlier than the letters of St Paul with their complex theology, and its imagery has much in common with that of Jesus’s parables in the Gospels. Such a family likeness is to be expected if St James/Yakob, was, as tradition states, Jesus’s brother.

The Letter is full of practical wisdom, delivered with the clarity and forthrightness of a prophet. It is especially striking that James seems to embed rudimentary dialogues and stories within his teaching, almost a mirror image of Christ’s method of expressing his teaching in the form of stories.

The Wisdom of Yakob the Elder draws out some of these tiny narratives, weaving them into a five-episode tale featuring a fictional character named Sophron. He is imagined to be an associate of Yakob and fellow leader of the community, zealous and well-meaning, but having some way to go in the elements of Christian discipleship. In the course of each story he learns about inclusiveness (Rich Man, Poor Man), what religion really means (Faith and Works), ambition and success (Moth and Rust), goals and prejudices (Desire and Slander), and moral failure and tribulation (Trial and Redemption).

The stories are fictionally expanded, but the advice and guidance that Yakob gives Sophron is taken word for word from the text of the Letter, delivered with humour and ultimate kindness under a superficial gruffness. The book is illustrated by a set of original and striking drawings by Ceri Leeder, a fine artist based in North Wales.

The book is intended as a gateway into the teaching of St James for both those who profess the Christian faith and others who are interested in seeing what it has to say on some fundamental issues of modern life. Questions for thought and discussion are added at the end.

A Note from Mari Howard: A thoughful re-working of a text giving context, imagination, and gentle humour to bring alive some snippets of ‘ancient wisdom’. It’s been a pleasure to work with Philologus and with our lovely talented artist and designer, who together brought style to even this smallest book.

The book costs £5 and can be obtained from Hodge Publishing.
E-mail your request to:, quoting ‘Wisdom of Yakob the Elder, Book Request’