Scot McKnight at Jesus Creed has an interesting post on Mary (looking at what we know about her life and how it impacts our theology of women in ministry). In it he observes:
Mary “taught” her children — both Jesus and James. . . .
A neglected influence can be found by comparing the Magnificat and the letter of James: the minimum one can say is that both James and Mary breathed the same Jewish, biblical theology; it is more likely that Mary had a direct influence on James’ concern for the poor and for his critique of the rich. But what about this: “Pure and undefiled religion before God and Father is this: to look after the orphans [this means “fatherlessness” more often than it means “parentlessness” in Judaism] and widows in their affliction” (James 1:27). Mary was most likely a widow; her children therefore “orphans” in Judaism; Jesus was deeply concerned with widows. Not hard to put together.
I’ve researched the themes of the “Great Reversal” in James in the past on a paper I wrote on James’ use of Isaiah 40 in 1:9-11 (PDF available). While writing that paper I noticed that the themes of reversal in Hannah’s song (1 Sam 2) corresponded rather well with James’ own teaching. Many have noted the thematic and even verbal similarities between Hannah’s song and the Magnificat. While writing that paper, I often wondered if James could hear his mother humming the tunes of Hannah’s and her own songs as he wrote his letter. It’s nice to think that a scholar such as McKnight recognizes the similarities as well. I’m looking forward to reading more in his soon to be published book, The Real Mary.