Jesus Christ, the Son of God, had neither wife nor children. But he did have brothers, sisters, nieces, and nephews. Have you ever wondered what happened to his family, the descendants of Joseph and Mary? They are not entirely lost to history. His brothers, James and Judas, after initially rejecting his ministry, were converted, became leaders in the early church, and wrote the New Testament epistles that bear their names—James and Jude.

But there’s more.

On September 13, 81 the Roman emperor Titus died at age 40 after a two-year reign. He was replaced by his brother, Titus Flavius Domitianus, 29, who reigned until 96 as Domitian. As a youth, Domitian was handsome and tall and modest. In later years he developed a protruding belly, spindle legs, and a bald head (though he had written a book, On the Care of the Hair).

The historian Pliny described Domitian as the beast from hell who sat in its den, licking blood. He relished sadistic cruelty. He caught flies just so he could stab them with his knife and entertained himself with gladiatorial fights between women and dwarfs.

He was the first Roman emperor to title himself God the Lord, and insisted others cheer him with the phrases Lord of the earth! Invincible! Glory! Thou Alone! The Jews and Christians refused to utter such blasphemy and were targeted for intense persecution.

Eusebius, Bishop of Caesarea, the “Father of Church History,” cites Hegesippus, a church historian from the second century, as saying that among the oppressed were the great-grandsons of Joseph and Mary: Domitian brought from Palestine to Rome two kinsmen of Jesus, grandsons of Judas, the brother of the Lord, but seeing their poverty and rustic simplicity, and hearing their explanation of the kingdom of Christ as not earthly, but heavenly, to be established by the Lord at the end of the world, when he should come to judge the quick and the dead, he let them go.

He taught in their meeting place, and the people were so amazed that they asked, “Where does he get all this wisdom and the power to work these miracles? Isn’t he the son of the carpenter? Isn’t Mary his mother, and aren’t James, Joseph, Simon, and Judas his brothers? Don’t his sisters still live here in our town?” (Matthew 13:54b-56a)

Robert J. Morgan, On This Day : 265 Amazing and Inspiring Stories About Saints, Martyrs & Heroes, electronic ed. (Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 2000, c1997). Sept. 13.

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