restricted access Chapter 4: Conclusion
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233 Conclusion This study bears a number of possible implications for contemporary New Testament research. Methodologically, my goal has been to offer a canonical reading justified on historical grounds, or put another way, a historical hypothesis demonstrated to be plausible by a combination of literary and canonical evidence. It is up to others to determine whether or not I have been successful in this endeavor. Regardless, it is offered in the hope that it might contribute to a movement away from the occasionally rancorous and simplistic state of affairs wherein “modern” historical critics caricature literary readings as exercises in historical imagination, and “postmodern” literary critics condemn historical investigation as a philosophically dubious endeavor. What we need is more critical interplay to demonstrate how the historical and literary characteristics of the Bible can be mutually informing. This book has tried to do just that. I have also sought to offer a substantial contribution to contemporary research on the letter of James. Like the methodological state of affairs just described, current James research appears to be similarly polarized between those who insist on its early authenticity and those who take its late pseudepigraphy simply for granted. Rather than present a mediating position, however, I have chosen a side. Against those who argue for authenticity, I have tried to present a compelling alternative account for the letter’s origin as a second-century pseudepigraph. My hypothesis offers a single explanation for a number of confusing features of the letter that have had to be explained away by interpreters seeking to establish its authenticity. In the past we have been offered thin explanations for the letter’s late canonicity; the literary CHAPTER FOUR Nienhuis.Paul.indd 233 3/5/07 3:27:55 PM 234 NOT BY PAUL ALONE parallels between it and other apostolic letters have been too easily explained away by appeal to amorphous categories like “the common stock of early tradition”; the letter’s confusing lack of overt christological reflection has been obscured by readings that fill in the gaps to show that its Christology is quite high; and its engagement with Pauline thought is often either denied outright or too easily harmonized. My hypothesis, by contrast, seeks to offer a credible explanation for all these obscurities, one that puts forward an account of exactly why it was that someone might have found it necessary to pen the letter in the name of James of Jerusalem. There is more to do, of course. I have focused exclusively on the intertextual links that enabled the creation of the CE collection, but further work should be done to work the hypothesis out in relation to the rest of the canon, especially the gospels and the Acts of the Apostles. I do not assume that everyone will accept what has been presented here, but it is hoped, at the very least, that this new hypothesis for the letter’s origin will open new, heretofore unconsidered lines of inquiry. Finally, I have offered an account of the formation of the CE collection that has implications for how we understand the historical development of the NT canon, so the remainder of my closing comments will focus here. Disagreement over the question of exactly when the NT came into being dominated much of twentiethcentury scholarship on the “canonization process,” and the major positions on the issue are now well known.1 At the beginning of the century, Theodor Zahn noted the widespread early use of many proto-NT texts and concluded that a “canon” of scripture was in existence (in concept if not in form) by the end of the first century, being the spontaneous and unselfconscious product of early Christian devotion. There is much to support such a view, assuming we emphasize concept over form— that is, that we understand “canon” to refer to an authoritative standard (Sheppard’s canon 1) rather than a closed, authoritative list of books (canon 2)—for as I have shown, there was no CE collection in existence until sometime in the third century. Zahn’s proto-NT may very well have existed by the end of the first century, and likewise Trobisch’s very Western “first edition of the NT” may have been published in the mid-second century as he has supposed; but the very earliest instantiation of the NT final form cannot have emerged much before Origen’s work in the first half of the third century. It quite likely emerged in the period after Origen. In sharp...