Monday, June 04, 2007

Reading James with New Eyes

A new book that we all should note is: Reading James with New Eyes: Methodological Reassessments of the Letter of James edited by Robert L. Webb and John S. Kloppenborg (LNTS; London: Continuum, 2007).

Reading James With New Eyes is the first of four volumes that incorporate new research in this area. The essays collected here examine the impact of recent methodological developments in New Testament studies to the letter of James, including, for example, rhetorical, social-scientific, socio-rhetorical, ideological and hermeneutical methods, as they contribute to understanding James and its social context. Each essay has a similar three-fold structure, making them perfect for use by students: a description of the methodological approach; the application of the methodological approach to James; and a conclusion identifying how the methodological approach contributes to a fresh understanding of the letter.


Big Daddy Kane said...

Hello Michael,

I am working on a thesis on the Epsitle of James and have considered buying this book ($$$). Could you tell me something more about it? Is there a place to view of the table of contents?



Geoff Hudson said...

James – An Epistle of the Spirit (that is through my eyes)

This epistle was written originally by James the prophet, son of Judas the prophet. James’s theology saw the Spirit of God providing purification for the spirit of anyone who obeyed the Spirit. The epistle was subsequently edited so that James appeared to teach that deeds or keeping the law was the way to being made right with God .

The original dispute in this epistle was about the means of achieving purity. Contrary to what is usually reckoned, prophetic Jamesian theology was about achieving purity by the Spirit which cleansed the personal spirit of the obedient. It was not about deeds or obeying the Jewish law.

In a Jewish context (see the DSS), it was the spirit of deceit in a person who "DECEIVES" (Jam.1:16), and "a double–minded" person was one who obeyed his spirit of deceit or darkness as well as his spirit of truth or light (Jam.1:8). There was no such entity as "evil", but spirits of deceit or darkness cause wrong actions when they were listened to and obeyed.

James wrote his epistle at a location (probably Rome) to the prophets (Christians) at Rome. These people were being persecuted by the priests who came there from Jerusalem.

James’s principal opponent (again in Rome) was Ananus the high priest, the son of Ananias the high priest. Ananus had a reputation for anger, being “a bold man in his temper and very insolent”. (Ant.20.9.1).
He appears as “that man” (Jam. 1:7), “the one” (Jam.1:10), “the rich man” (Jam.1:11), “no-one” (Jam.1:13), “each one” (Jam.1:14), “man’s” (Jam.1:20), “anyone” (Jam.1:23,26). The tension in this letter indicates that these terms once were the name of a specific individual.

The prophets believed that obedience of the Spirit was the way to be made pure before God. They had rejected animal sacrifices for some time prior to the early first century CE. Once obeyed, the Spirit was received and it purified the person’s spirit. For the prophet, obedience of the law, or doing acts that the law required, did not make the spirit pure. But the priests believed that keeping the law including the requirement for animal sacrifices was the way to be right with God.

Michael Barber said...

When you get a chance, I'd love to see a post on another book you're reading--Fuller's "The Restoration of Israel". It looks great but I'm always a little wary about shelling out $130 for a book.

Michael F. Bird said...

Try email one of the authers to get an overview of the contents.

Your view of James is somewhere between weird and imaginative and without any historical support I can think of. I'd stick to some more viable options if I were you.


I have M.Fuller's book on my shelf and will be reviewing it for JSNT.

Geoff Hudson said...


But you are not me. And I have thought long and hard.

The perceived 'history' is mostly that of naive literalists. I could name a few, particularly some interpreters of the writings attributed to Josephus. And as for James, there is only one option for me - that option is that he was indeed a Jewish prophet of Essene origin, but that he was transmogrified by editors into into a messianic type Jew who was for obeying the law. Imaginative, my view may be, but there are glimmers of real contextual history in it - the two spirits of the DSS being an example.

You wouldn't expect the 'real' history to be laid on a plate, would you? It wasn't.