I’ve been toying with this idea for some time, but I’ve never put it in writing. I’ve noticed that all of the named figures of the Old Testament mentioned in James (Abraham, Rahab, Job, Elijah / Jas 2:21, 23, 25; 5:11, 17-18) are either considered to be “converts” to Judaism, pious Gentiles or at the very least, in the case of Elijah, a minister to Gentiles.*
- Abraham was the first convert (Gen 12; Josh 24:2-4; Jub. 12).
- Rahab was a Gentile who becomes a worshipper of YHWH and protects the Israelite spies (Josh 2).
- Job is described as a Gentile (from the land of Ausitis [Αυσίτιδι] Job 1:1 [LXX]; Test. Job 1:8). In the Testament of Job, Job is turned from idolatry in a dream/vision from God (ch. 1).
- Elijah is called a “Tishbite of the sojourners in Gilead,” possibly pointing to a Gentile background (1 Kgs 17:1). He also served the Gentile widow of Zerephath (see Luke 4:25-27).
Both Abraham and Rahab can be seen as clear examples of Gentile “conversion,” Abraham being the convert par excellence. While the Hebrew text of Job does not support a Gentile heritage, the LXX and the Testament show the idea developed in later Judaism. The MT of 1 Kgs 17:1 refers to Elijah as a “settler” (tšwb) of Gilead.** This at one time lead Keil to believe that Elijah may have been a Gentile by birth (he later recants). The LXX, however describes Elijah as a “Thesbite, from Thesbe in Gilead” (ὁ Θεσβίτης ἐκ Θεσβων τῆς Γαλααδ). While it is not probable that Elijah, the zealous prophet of YHWH would be a Gentile, it must be noted that Elijah ministered to the Gentile widow of Zerephath (1 Kgs 17:8-24; Luke 4:25-27). Thus, all of the named exemplars in James are either Gentiles or closely associated with Gentiles.***
So, what are the implications for an understanding of James’ Epistle? Does it perhaps point to an Gentile-inclusive view of the “twelve tribes of the dispersion”? Does James pick his Old Testament paradigms carefully, looking for examples that would resonate strongly even with a Gentile audience? If the James of the Epistle is indeed the James of Acts 15 and Gal 2, what are the implications for the supposed ideological divide between James and Paul?
*I’ve been playing with this idea for a while, but it’s been on the back burner because of my thesis. The issue has been brought to the front of the stove by K. A. Richardson’s article in Hearing the Old Testament in the New Testament (p. 219), where he mentions that Sophie Laws makes a similar observation (BNTC 215-16).
**See Lev 25:23, 35, 45 , where tšwb refers to foreigners in the Land of Israel (Cogan, Anchor Bible 10:425).
***The prophets (5:10) are not mentioned by name.