Tuesday, March 20, 2007

James 5:6 - Is it James?

John Painter suggests that Jas 5:6's ο δικαιος is a reference to James himself, incorporated into the epistle by a later redactor. Painter writes:
This suggestion gains force if the epistle gathers together tradition originating with James the Just, presenting it in a way relevant to a new and later situation. In other words, the reference of James 5:6 would be understood in relation to the martyrdom of James the Just if the epistle appeared subsequent to that event, as we have suggested.[1]
The unlikely hood of this as a referent to James is firstly the notion of two-stage redaction, proposed by Painter, Martin and others is questionable. Johnson has noted, “all the usual criteria for positing a late dating for New Testament writings are absent… On the face of it, everything in the letter suggests an early dating rather than a late one.”[2] Thus, a hypothesis of redaction or even two-stage composition of James, seems unnecessary.[3] [As noted before, my conjecture is that if James was edited by a later redactor, the traces of this redaction are extraordinarily hard to detect and one could postulate that what the redactor has done is perhaps remove narrative sections from the epistle so as to make it more useful in a wider context. This would explain the awkward genre of James and the abrupt ending that has puzzled scholars for some time.] Bauckham notes that:
There are no serious arguments to weigh against the plausibility of the epistolary situation indicated by James 1:1. The letter can be read as what it purports to be: an encyclical from James of Jerusalem to the Diaspora.[4]
But Painter’s notion that the righteous one refers to none other than James himself persists. The question of course is hindered not just by authorial intent, but by reader response/understanding. Is it likely that the readers of our letter would think of James, any righteous one, or perhaps Jesus specifically when reading this verse? Can we imagine, and plausibly suggest, communities of Jewish-Christians listening to these words and thinking of a specific figure, namely, James? This historical scenario alone appears to be the strongest objection to Painter’s view. The ambiguity surrounding this as a reference to James is too large for us to ignore. If the author of our letter had meant to refer to James, we should expect that the reference be significantly clearer than a reference to “the righteous one.”[5]
However, history may tip our understanding towards Painter’s position due to the testimony of Eusebius, which suggests that James was commonly known as ‘the Just’.[6] Richard Hays carefully notes two interpretive options:
Hegesippus’s claim that James was universally known as ο δικαιος is one more embellishment in an account admittedly heavily embroidered with legendary hagiographic motifs. This source provides no reliable information about what James was actually called by his contemporaries. (2) Hegesippus’s account is indeed reliable on this point at least, and Luke has suppressed the information for reasons that parallel Lake and Cadbury’s embarrassment: ο δικαιος is a title that rightly applies to Jesus alone.[7]
Hays then begin to discuss reasons why the first interpretive option seems more likely.
I think there are good reasons for preferring the first of these explanations: the tradition about the epithet as a designation for James is attested neither by any of the several NT writings that mention him, including most tellingly even the Epistle of James, nor by Josephus. Even if the latter explanation that Luke has suppressed James’s characteristic title is correct, however – indeed, especially if it is correct - Luke bears witness to a stream of early tradition that reserves the epithet ο δικαιος for the eschatological deliverer, Jesus.[8]
Hays is probably correct in his comments about the account recorded in Eusebius. It still appears to me that the epithet of “the Just” could be a later accreditation to James, based on his life and ministry and the legend that developed surrounding James.[9] The question then becomes, how much later? The view that James is an earlier rather than later document still possesses enough explanatory power to suggest that when the epistle of James was written the title of ο δικαιος was used [as a title?] more frequently for Jesus than for James. Thus, Painter’s argument may have merit, depending on when one understands James to have been written and how plausible Hegesippus’s claims are understood. Given our understanding that James is early, it seems unlikely that the reference here is to James, even though later generations, (in the time of Eusebius & Hegesippus?), may have seen here an allusion to James.

[1] Painter, Just James, pg. 259
[2] L. T. Johnson “The Social World of James: Literary Analysis and Historical Reconstruction” in Brother of Jesus, Friend of God: Studies in the Letter of James L. T. Johnson (Eerdmans, 2004), pg. 110. Johnson notes the specific criteria as: “no institutional development, no sense of tradition as a deposit, no polemic against false teachers, no highly developed Christology, no delay of the parousia.”
[3] R. P. Martin, James (Word, 1988), pg. lxxiii.
[4] R. Bauckham, James (Routledge, 1999) pg. 25
[5] We shall analyse the titular notion of ο δικαιος in a forthcoming blog.
[6] Eusebius, Historia Ecclesiastica, 2.23.4 which notes that James “the Just” was known as such “by all men from the Lord’s time to ours.” See also "Primary Sources on James the Just," James Tabor
[7] R. Hays, “Apocalyptic Hermeneutics: Habakkuk Proclaims ‘The Righteous One’” in The Conversion of the Imagination (Eerdmans, 2005), pg. 128. I am thankful to Professor Hays for alerting me to his discussions of this matter.
[8] Hays, “Apocalyptic Hermeneutics”, pg. 128
[9] Apocryphal literature about James suggests hagiographical legends developing. Cf. The Proto-Gospel of James; The “Letter of Peter to James” and its “Reception” both found in B. Ehrman, Lost Scriptures: Books that Did Not Make It into the New Testament (Oxford, 2003). See also "Non-Canonical References to James," J. Julius Scott, Jr.

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