James (Greek "Ιακώβος translit. Iakobos from Hebrew יעקב translit. Ia'akov) the son of Zebedee, was one of the twelve Apostles of Jesus Christ. Before becoming a Disciple, than Apostle of Jesus, James was a fisherman alongside his brother John, who also became an Apostle.
As a business partner with Simon Peter, James became close to Jesus when he took unto himself an inner circle of confidantes. The four fishermen left their nets for good only after Jesus met them after his Resurrection. However, for the most part, gathering fish for food was not a part of their lives after the band of disciples grew. At that point, the initial call to follow the Teacher became a commission to serve the Master.
Among the Twelve, James served Jesus as an Apostle for three and a half years. He, his brother and Peter were especially close to the Master. Only the Three were allowed in sensitive situations, such as the raising of an official's daughter, where secrecy was essential. The Three would fail the master on the night that He was betrayed.
After the Ascension of Jesus, James cast a vote that elected Matthias to replace Judas Iscariot. He then began preaching alongside his brother John to as many Jews as he could reach in and around Jerusalem. His effectiveness helped build the assembly in the Holy City into thousands. It also got the attention of the apostate Jewish leadership. This led to James becoming the first Apostle to die in the persecution that arose against "the way," as what was considered a heretical branch of Judaism was called.
The name James is an English version of an altered form of the Latin form of the Greek translation of the Hebrew name Jacob (or Yaqob). Suffice it to say, as such "James" means nothing in and of itself. The name Jacob, on the other hand, means "Heel," and by extension "Heel grabber." This goes back to the giving of the name at the birth of twins Esau and Jacob to Rebecca, wife of Isaac. The act of grabbing the heel came to mean "surplanter" and then, more peacefully, "succeeder." Jacob became the heir to the promise made to Abraham.
Jacob Ben-Zebediah was born during the reign of the Emperor Caesar Augustus, most probably in the fishing village of Bethsaida on Lake Galilee. His mother's name was Salome. Zebediah (Greek: Zebedaios) ran a successful fishing enterprise that employed his extended family.
The family would have been subject to stiff taxes by the Roman government. Like most Jews in Galilee, they would have been suspicious of the Gentiles living in the region. They would have been devout in their religion. By the time Jesus called James and his brother, the Emperor Tiberius had been in power for about fifteen years. The "Pax Romana" (Roman Peace) had begun to unravel somewhat. Galilee would prove to be a hotbed of political descent.