restricted access Chapter 2: Early James Traditions and the Canonical Letter of James
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99 Chapter two Early James Traditions and the Canonical Letter of James Though the authenticity of the letter of James was generally taken for granted by many church leaders after Augustine, we have seen that several noteworthy patristic figures recorded for posterity their doubts about the document. Origen was the first on record to accept the letter, but comments acknowledging that other churchmen of his time rejected it cast a shadow over his glowing approval (for example, Comm. Jo. 20.10.66 [SC 290.188]). Though Eusebius explicitly acknowledged that by his day James was the canonical head of the CE, he nevertheless had his own scholarly concerns about the letter based on its lack of attestation among his earliest historical witnesses. This concern kept him from supporting its candidacy for the canon (Hist. Eccl. 2.23.25 [GCSNF 6–1.174]). Though its status as NT Scripture was subsequently fixed, clearly Eusebius intended his doubts about James to live on in the Historia Ecclesiastica he left behind. An even more important witness in this regard is Jerome, the internationally known biblical scholar and monk of Bethlehem. In 393 Jerome wrote his widely popular literary history, De viris illustribus. As the preface tells, it was written to establish the philosophical and literary heritage of the Christian church against the slander of those who “accuse our faith of such rustic simplicity” (Vir. ill., pref. [PL 23.605–6; FC 100.4]). Though his intention was to found the church on solid historical ground, it is significant that he did not establish the letter of James on an equally sure foundation: as we have seen, he wanted his readers to know that the letter “is claimed by some to have been published [edita] by someNienhuis .Paul.indd 99 3/5/07 3:26:30 PM 100 NOT BY PAUL ALONE one else under his name” (Vir. ill. 2.2 [PL 23.609; FC 100.7]).1 Only 2 Peter received similar treatment; Jerome anchored every other NT text in the authority of the historic, apostolic tradition.2 Like Eusebius, Jerome was concerned that the Catholic Church be an institution of historical and intellectual integrity; and yet, like Eusebius, he felt it important to record the persistent doubts of his day about the authorship of James. Similar authorial apprehensions resurfaced during the Reformation and have long since found a permanent home in biblical scholarship. To this day there exists no scholarly consensus on the authorship and provenance of the letter. As I described in my introduction, a survey of twentieth-century positions on its dating reveals opinions ranging from as early as 40 C.E. all the way to the middle of the second century.3 Proposed places of origin are equally widespread, placing the letter in Jerusalem, Antioch, Rome, and elsewhere.4 If anything like a scholarly consensus does exist, it is that the letter appears to resist easy historical assessment. In this chapter I seek to strengthen the claim that the letter of James is a pseudepigraph of the second century. Twenty-five years ago this thesis would not have posed that great of a problem, as the magisterial work of Martin Dibelius was still holding court over analysis of the text. Dibelius’s form-critical study of the letter argued that it is an example of paraenesis, which he understood to involve an eclectic and discontinuous string of general ethical exhortations held together by catch-word associations . From this perspective the letter is not an “actual” letter at all, and it was clearly not written by James, the brother of the Lord, before his death in 62 C.E.; it is simply an assortment of teachings with an epistolary prescript attached, having no overarching “theology” and addressing no actual social context. Over the last twenty-five years, however, Dibelius’s position on James has been largely dethroned.5 1 In light of this, it is amazing that J. B. Adamson (James: The Man and His Message [Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1989], 40) can assert that “no historical facts support” the theory that a later editor published traditional James material. 2 He lists traditions attributing Hebrews to Barnabas, Luke, or Clement; and on authority of Papias he explains that 2–3 John were written by John the elder and not the disciple of the Lord. The origins of James and 2 Peter, however, are left afloat in mystery. 3 Again, see the introductory note, as well as the list in W. Pratscher...


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