Sunday, July 30, 2006

SNTS 2006 Paper - Kloppenborg on James

One interesting paper given at SNTS was J.S. Kloppenborg: James, Diaspora, and Exemplarity. Here's the blurb.

James 1:1, 'to the twelve tribes in the Diaspora', has routinely been interpreted contrary to its literal sense as an address to Jewish-Christians or to Christians in general living 'metaphorically' in the Diaspora, away from their spiritual home. This paper argues that Jas 1:1 is to be taken in its ordinary sense, and that hte letter was (fictively) addressed to Judaeans of the Diaspora (who may have included members of the Jesus movement). The paper is then concerend with the problems of how an author, (ostensibly) writing to a general audience of Judaeans, establishes ethos , according to Aristled the key means of persuasion. The author does so by invoking and emulating exemplary figures of Israel's past, in particular Solomon, the hero par excellence of biblical wisdom, and for members of the Jesus movement, Jesus himself.
Summary of key points:

- In 1.1 "diaspora" is to be taken literally, to Jews in foreign lands.

- In 1.1 we have "the Lord Jesus Christ" not "our Lord Jesus Christ" implying that the addresees did not necessarily revere Jesus Christ in the same way as the author, although the author clearly identifies with the Jesus movement.

- In 2.1 "brothers" does not necessarily means Christians, but fellow Judaeans.

- In 2.1. Kloppenborg maks a conjectural emmandation whereby the phrase "Jesus Christ" is regarded as an interpolation in the text, so it originally read "our glorious Lord".

- The "royal law" (2.8), "implanted word" (1.21), and "word of truth" (1.18) refer to the Torah and not to Christian proclamation.

- There are echoes of the Jesus Tradition in the letter but it is subtle and only evident to those who know the tradition. James engages in an oblique rebuff of Paul, but without naming him, and in so doing addresses a standard Jewish debate about the nature of true "righteousness".

- Therefore, there is no single feature of the letter that proves that a Christian audience was in mind. This stands in some relation to other proposals like that of A.H. McNeil who supposed that James wrote to Jews in order to show the highest ideals of Judaism were to be found in Jesus and Dale C. Allison who thinks that the author wanted to promote an irenic relationship with Jews.

- According to Kloppenborg the form of the epistle is that of a "diaspora letter" similar to 2, 4 Baruch and the Epistle of Jeremiah. He makes a comparison with 4QMMT (nothing the differences too) where one religious leader tries to persuade another. Kloppenborg also places James in the context of Greco-Roman literature, so at the end of the day the letter of James is somewhat of a hybrid Christianized version of 4QMMT with Stoic influences.

- As such the concern of James is bi-focal: (1) A general Jewish audience with a strong emphasis on Torah-piety and the Wisdom of Solomon; and (2) A Christian audience, a subset of the first audience, who can recognize the Christian coding in the letter (e.g. Jesus Tradition).

My response:

(1) On "diaspora" in 1.1, the same concept emerges in 1 Pet. 1.1 where I think it is obviously "spiritualized" or at least applied to Christians. The only other use of the diaspora image in the NT is one that is fully Christian. I wouldn't argue that "diaspora" was a technical term designating Christians, but I think such language was frequently used to describe Christians. Of course, if we take "diapora" literally do we have to do the same with "twelve tribes" too? Did the author think that he was really addressing the 12 tribes, 10 of which hadn't been seen since the 7th century BC and some rabbinic authors had given up hope of ever seeing them again. Whereas, "diaspora" is somewhat ambiguous as to who it designates, I think alot of language surrounding the number "12" in the NT (e.g. Mark 3.13-13, all over Revelation) is explicitly symbolic of Christians who are the new Israel.

(2) On 2.1 with "Jesus Christ" as an interpolation, not likely in my mind. There are examples of the same phrase elsewhere in the NT. I don't see enough problems with the grammar or confusion with variants to warrant a conjectural emmandation.

(3) On implanted word, royal law, and word of truth, it could go either way. "Royal law" is quite probably Torah, but "word of truth" and "implanted word" certainly have Christian overtones. In fact, I'm certain that "word of truth" was very nearly a technical term for Christian paranesis in some places (e.g. Jn. 17.17; Eph. 1.13; Col. 1.5; 2 Tim. 2.15; Heb. 5.12). Additionally, the reference in 1.18 to "he chose to give us birth through the word of truth, that we might be a kind of firstfruits of all he created" sounds pretty Christian to me.

(4) Is "Lord" in James (with the exception of 1.1) only ever a reference to YHWH? In Christian usage the Hebrew Tetragrammaton (YHWH) is usually designated with an anarthrous Kurios while the titular ho Kurios most frequently denotes Jesus Christ (HT: Larry Hurtado's question to Kloppenborg in the Q-A).

(5) I think James supposes a rural agrarian setting rather than one set in the urban centres of the diaspora.

(6) I believe that 5.7 is a pretty clear reference to the parousia (I confess that I don't remember or didn't hear Kloppenborg's explanation of that one).

The problem is, and I think Kloppenborg and Allison are trying to address it in their own way, to account for the fact that we have a very Jewish letter here, obviously written by a Christian, but it has so little explicitly Christian content. Is that because the author simply drew on a synagogue sermon and made a few cosmetic Christian changes (Dibelius), because it was written largely to non-Christian Jews (McNeil, Kloppenborg, Allison), or because the author drew on the traditions most familar to him (Jewish Wisdom, Jesus Tradition, or perhaps even Stoicism [?]) in order to offer exhortation and spiritual discipline to a group of Jewish-Christians located somewhere in rural Syria? As the flurry of commentaries by Allison, Kloppenborg, Painter, and McKnight come out we can look forward to seeing how they answer such a question.


J. B. Hood said...

On 2.1 brothers could certainly function as an address to Jews generally; cf. Paul in Acts.

Some of his details seem possible--James could certainly use diaspora differently from Pete and others, though the evidence tilts toward your view Mike (unless James is very, very early).

"hybrid Christianized version of 4QMMT with Stoic influences"...aren't various parts of this going to undercut others? I guess that's fine for description but doesn't help us 'categorize' James, I'm afriad. Isn't the "stoic" aspect of the letter [not to say that this comes from stoicism!] undercutting the Solomon ethos? I think there's too much of James that completely undercuts anything like Solomon the Scriptural character as model (apart from his wisdom).

Roland Mathews said...

My suspicion is that the identity of the audience is ultimately unknowable. However, I lean towards the supposition that the audience is Christian in its orientation, perhaps a mixed congregation leaning more towards the "Jewish" side. I think this is a plausible reading, since the term diaspora is used figuratively elsewhere and since the letter bears such rich eschatological overtones.

I would find it hard to imagine that the perfection enjoined in the epistle is something that can be had by a non-Christian--at least from a Christian perspective. The opening of the letter is programmatic in this regard.