Article Online: “Recent Scholarship on the Structure of James”

Mark E. Taylor, “Recent Scholarship on the Structure of James.” Currents in Biblical Research 3 (2004): 86-115.

The abstract of the article is as follows:

The letter of James, although often neglected in the history of New Testament scholarship, has received renewed interest in the last three decades. Much of the discussion has focused on the letter’s structure, and the result has been a significant departure from the old paraenetic, ‘unstructured’ view of James set forth by Martin Dibelius in favor of a view that sees much more unity and ordering within the composition. Since an assessment of structure virtually determines interpretation, one is not surprised to discover within recent scholarship a thorough re-evaluation of the letter. This shift in perspective raises important questions. Why has scholarship generally set aside Dibelius’s long-standing approach? What new structures have been offered? How crucial is a definitive ‘structure’ to our understanding of the content of the letter? While the overall question of the structure of James is far from settled, some areas of consensus have emerged, and the stage is set for further dialogue.

A full text electronic version of this article is available online at the SAGE Publications website HERE.

Epiphanius, Panarion, Heresies 78.14.1

Epiphanius characterizes James as a high priest. On one occasion, he describes James’ prayer for rain in a way that evokes James 5:17-18, and James’ description of Elijah’s prayer for drought and for rain.

Οὗτος ὁ Ἰάκωβος καὶ πέταλον ἐπὶ τῆς κεφαλῆς ἐφόρεσε· καὶ ποτὲ ἀβροχίας γενομένης ἐπῆρε τὰς χεῖρας εἰς οὐρανὸν καὶ προσηύξατο, καὶ εὐθὺς ὁ οὐρανὸς ἔδωκεν ὑετόν.

See his Panarion, Heresies 78.14.1.

See Theodor Zahn (p. 265), who notes that the passage is reminiscent of Jas 5:17 ff., and compares the incident briefly to Nakdimon’s prayer for rain in b.Taanith 19b-20a:

Mitten in der in allem Wesentlichen nach Heg. Wiedererzählten Geschichte des Jk findet sich auch die Erzählung von einem Gebet des Jk um lange ersehnten Regen, das Erhörung gefunden habe. 2) Die kurze Geschichte trägt Lokalfarbe. Sie paßt vorzüglich zu der Schilderung des beständig für sein ganzes Volk betenden Jakobus bei Heg. (oben S. 230). Daß sie ein jüngerer, etwa aus Jk 5,17f. erwachsener Mythus sein sollte, ist weniger wahrscheinlich, als daß sie zu den alten Traditionen von Jerusalem gehört, deren heg.

2) Haer. 78,14 καὶ ποτὲ ἀβροχίας γενομένης ἐπῆρε τὰς χεῖρας εἰς οὐρανὸν καὶ προσηύξατο, καὶ εὐθὺς ὁ οὐρανὸς ἔδωκεν ὑετόν. Der letzte Satz erinnert stark an Jk 5,18; auch ist zu bedenken, daß Jk 5,16 von δέησις δικαίου die Rede ist, und daß Jk ὁ δίκαιος hieß. — Im Talmud Thaanith 20 wird Ähnliches von Nakdimon = Nikodemus (Jo 3, 1) erzählt.

Theodor Zahn, “Brüder und Vettern Jesu.” Forschungen zur Geschichte des neutestamentlichen Kanons und der altkirchlichen Literatur 4 (1900): 225–364.

See also Pratscher, Herrenbruder, 1994.

Die große Frömmigkeit des Jakobus zeigt sich auch bei seinem Tod: er habe das ihm zugefügte Unrecht nicht als Beleidigung empfunden, sondern noch in der letzten Stunde deines Lebens für seine Peiniger gebetet (); seine Frömmigkeit ist so groß, daß es bei einer Dürre auf sein Gebet hin sofort zu regnen began (Pan LXXVIII 14,1). Es wird sich kaum entscheiden lassen, ob dieses letzte Motiv alter Tradition entstammt [n33] oder aus Jak 5,17f. herausgesponnen ist. Selbst wenn ersteres der Fall sein sollte, so identifiziert sich Epiphanius auf jeden Fall mit dieser Aussage und sagt dennoch nichts, was vom großkirchlichen Standpunkt aus nicht über Jakobus gesagt werden könnte.

Note that n33 refers to Zahn, Theodor: “Brüder und Vettern Jesu,” pg 265 in particular.

Attention should be paid to the tradition surrounding Honi the Circle Drawer & his prayers for rain (described by Josephus [Ant. §14, 2.1.22] and in Rabbinic Literature). See in particular Adolph Büchler, “Ḥoni the Ḥasid and his prayer for rain” Types of Jewish-Palestinian Piety from 70 B.C.E. to 70 C.E.: The Ancient Pious Men (New York: KTAV, 1968), 196-264.

See Josephus’ account below:

Now there was one, whose name was Onias, a righteous man be was, and beloved of God, who, in a certain drought, had prayed to God to put an end to the intense heat, and whose prayers God had heard, and had sent them rain. This man had hid himself, because he saw that this sedition would last a great while. However, they brought him to the Jewish camp, and desired, that as by his prayers he had once put an end to the drought, so he would in like manner make imprecations on Aristobulus and those of his faction. ᾽Ονίαν δέ τινα ὄνομα δίκαιον ὄντα καὶ θεοφιλῆ ὃς ἀνομβρίας ποτὲ οὔσης ηὔξατο τῷ θεῷ λῦσαι τὸν αὐχμὸν καὶ γενόμενος ἐπήκοος ὁ θεὸς ὗσεν κρύψαντα ἑαυτὸν διὰ τὸ τὴν στάσιν ὁρᾶν ἰσχυρὰν ἐπιμένουσαν ἀναχθέντα εἰς τὸ στρατόπεδον τῶν ᾽Ιουδαίων ἠξίουν ὡς ἔπαυσε τὴν ἀνομβρίαν εὐξάμενος ἵν᾽ οὕτως ἀρὰς θῇ κατὰ ᾽Αριστοβούλου καὶ τῶν συστασιαστῶν αὐτοῦ

Book Reviews

The Society of Biblical Literature regularly provides book reviews, collected into the Review of Biblical Literature, and made freely available online. Below is a list of books reviewed on topics related to both the epistle & the historical James:

  • Klein, Martin. “Ein vollkommenes Werk “: Vollkommenheit, Gesetz und Gericht als theologische Themen des Jakobusbriefes. Stuttgart: Kohlhammer, 1995. Review by Todd C. Penner. HERE
  • Hartin, Patrick J. James of Jerusalem: Heir to Jesus of Nazareth. The Liturgical Press, 2004. Reviews by L. T. Johnson, P. H. Davids & Darian Lockett HERE
  • Hartin, Patrick J. A Spirituality of Perfection: Faith in Action in the Letter of James. The Liturgical Press, 1999. Review by Christopher Bowman. HERE Reviews by Christopher Bowman & Matthias Konradt. HERE
  • Johnson, Luke Timothy. Brother of Jesus, Friend of God: Studies in the Letter of James. Eerdmans, 2004. Reviews by Markus Öhler, William Wilson, Steve Patton & Kari Syreeni. HERE
  • Wall, Robert W. Community of the Wise: The Letter of James. Valley Forge, PA: Trinity Press International, 1997. Review by Patrick J. Hartin. HERE
  • Schmitz, Franz-Jürgen, Ed. Das Verhältnis der Koptischen zur Griechischen Überlieferung des Neuen Testaments: Dokumentation und Auswertung der Gesamtmaterialien Beider Traditionen zum Jacobsbrief und den Beiden Petrusbriefen. Berlin: de Gruyter, 2003. Review by Thomas J. Kraus. HERE
  • Popkes, Wiard. Der Brief des Jakobus. Leipzig: Evangelische Verlagsanstalt, 2001. Review by Matthias Konradt. HERE
  • Wachtel, Klaus. Der Byzantinische Text der Katholischen Briefe: Eine Untersuchung zur Entstehung der Koine des Neuen Testaments. Berlin: Walter de Gruyter, 1995. Review by W. Larry Richards. HERE
  • Perkins, Pheme. First and Second Peter, James, and Jude. Louisville: John Knox Press, 1995. Review by Andrew Chester. HERE
  • Edgar, David Hutchinson. Has God Not Chosen the Poor?: The Social Setting of the Epistle of James. Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press, 2001. Reviews by Matt A. Jackson-Mccabe & Matthias Konradt. HERE
  • Sleeper, C. Freeman. James. Nashville: Abingdon, 1998. Review by Matt A Jackson-Mccabe. HERE
  • Hartin, Patrick J. James. Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press, 2003. Review by Tobias Nicklas. HERE
    Brosend Ii, William F. James and Jude. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2004. Review by Tommy Wasserman. HERE
  • Painter, John. Just James: The Brother of Jesus in History and Tradition. Columbia, SC: University of South Carolina Press, 1997. Review by Robert Eisenman. HERE
  • Jackson-Mccabe, Matt A. Logos and Law in the Letter of James: The Law of Nature, the Law of Moses and the Law of Freedom. Reviews by Joel B Green & Matthias Konradt. HERE
  • Thomas, John Christopher. The Devil, Disease, and Deliverance: Origins of Illness in New Testament Thought. Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press, 1998. Review by Graham Twelftree. HERE
  • Penner, Todd C. The Epistle of James and Eschatology: Re-reading an Ancient Christian Letter. Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press, 1996. Review by Peter H. Davids. HERE
  • Osburn, Carroll D. The Text of the Apostolos in Epiphanius of Salamis. Atlanta/Leiden: Society of Biblical Literature/Brill, 2004. Reviews by Tommy Wasserman & Peter Williams. HERE

Journal Articles on the Epistle of James

These articles on James are hosted on a fantastic site provided by Ted Hildebrandt, professor at Gordon College in Wenham, Massachusetts. See his faculty page at Gordon College HERE.

  • Burns, John A. “James, The Wisdom of Jesus.” CTR 1.1 (1986): 113-135. *.html, *.pdf, *.doc
  • Davis, George B. “Preaching From the Book of James.” CTR 1.1 (1986): 137-147. *.html, *.pdf, *.doc
  • Dockery, David S. “Commenting on Commentaries on the Book of James.” CTR 1.1 (1986): 167-169. *.html, *.pdf, *.doc
  • Dockery, David S. “True Piety in James: Ethical Admonitions and Theological Implications.” CTR 1.1 (1986): 51-70. *.html, *.pdf, *.doc
  • Heide, Gale Z. “The Soteriology of James 2:14.” GTJ 12.1 (1992): 69-97. *.html, *.pdf, *.doc
  • Hiebert, D. Edmond. “The Unifying Theme of the Epistle of James.” BibSac 135 (1978): 221-31. *.html, *.pdf, *.doc
  • Howard, Tracy L. “Suffering in James 1:2-12.” CTR 1.1 (1986): 71-84. *.html, *.pdf, *.doc
  • Rakestraw, Robert V. “James 2:14-26: Does James Contradict the Pauline Soteriology.” CTR 1.1 (1986): 31-50. *.html, *.pdf, *.doc
  • Sloan, Robert B. “The Christology of James.” CTR 1.1 (1986): 3-29. *.html, *.pdf, *.doc
  • Warden, Duane. “The Rich and Poor in James: Implications for Institutionalized Partiality.” JETS 43.2 (June 2000): 247-257. *.pdf
  • Wells, C. Richard. “The Theology of Prayer in James.” CTR 1.1 (1986): 85-112. *.html, *.pdf, *.doc

CTR=Criswell Theological Review; JETS=Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society; BibSac=Bibliotheca Sacra; GTJ=Grace Theological Journal

Elijah’s prayer for rain (TgJ 1 Kgs 18:37)

Targum Jonathan on 1 Kgs 18:37 explicitly states that Elijah prayed for rain.

Receive my prayer, Lord, with the fire;
receive my prayer, Lord, with rain;
and may this people know by your doing for them the sign,
that you, Lord, are God,
and by your loving them you are asking for them by your Memra
to bring them back to fear of you.
And they gave their divided heart.

קביל צלותי [בעותי] יוי באישׁתא
קביל צלותי [בעותי] יוי במטר
וידעון עמא הדין ארי במעבדך להון נסא
ארי את יוי הוא אלהים
ואת ברחמתך [ברחמותך] יתהון משׁתאיל להון במימרך
לאתבותהון לדחלתך
ואנון יהבו [יהבין] ית לבהון פליג

The Masoretic Text makes no mention of Elijah praying for rain, but James explicitly gives Elijah’s prayer for rain as a second example of the prophet’s effective prayer (5:18). Given James’ emphasis on “double mindedness” (δίψυχος) in the context of prayer (1:5-8, cf. v. 8), Targum Jonathan’s use of “divided heart” (לבהון פליג) is particularly interesting. Elijah’s prayer for drought and rain is not simply a hyperbolic example of effective prayer, but is instead an example of intercessory prayer for judgment and mercy for the sake of effecting repentance. Thus this example is wholly appropriate in the greater context of vv. 13-20, where prayer for the sick takes place in a context of repentance and confession.

Translation by D. J. Harrington & A. J. Saldarini, Targum Jonathan of the Former Prophets (Aramaic Bible 10; Wilmington, DE: Michael Glazier, 1987), 248-49. Aramaic text from the Comprehensive Aramaic Lexicon; brackets (e.g., [בעותי]) indicate variants given in Sperber’s Aramaic Bible (Leiden: Brill, 1959-73).

mercy:distress::rain:drought

Plagued recently with insomnia, I’ve been reading Sirach. I am struck by the similarities between Sirach’s teaching on prayer in the midst of trouble and James’ instruction in ch. 5. In particular, Sir 35:26 reads, “His mercy is as welcome in time of distress as clouds of rain in time of drought.” Unfortunately the Heb. is incomplete in Ms. B:

ן מצוקה כעת חזיזם בעת בצורת[…………]

The LXX reads:

ὡραῖον ἔλεος ἐν καιρῷ θλίψεως αὐτοῦ ὡς νεφέλαι ὑετοῦ ἐν καιρῷ ἀβροχίας (v. 24).

The Vulg. has

speciosa misericordia Dei in tempore tribulationis quasi nubes pluviae in tempore siccitatis.

I hope to explore the context of this passage in greater detail. For now, it is sufficient to note that Sirach provides an analogy between God’s mercy in distress and rain in drought. Elijah’s prayer for rain in James, when read against this backdrop fits well with the broader eschatological context of James 5.

Be patient, then, brothers, until the Lord’s coming. See how the farmer waits for the land to yield its valuable crop and how patient he is for the autumn and spring rains. You too, be patient and stand firm, because the Lord’s coming is near (vv. 7-8).

James admonishes his readers to remain patient–waiting for the Lord’s coming–waiting for rain–waiting for his intervention ἐν καιρῷ θλίψεως. Elijah’s prayer for rain in James mirrors our prayers for the mercy that attends the coming of the Lord.

Elijah’s drought in the Yalkut Simeoni

I recently came across a small, relatively unknown article by De Lacy O’Leary that gives a few rabbinic parallels to material found in James. The last two parallels are particularly interesting for James 5:17-18. The first contains the only extra-biblical reference that I know of to Elijah’s drought lasting specifically three years and six months. Yalk. Sim. on 1 Kgs 18:1 reads, “R. Berachia and R. Kalbo in the name of R. Jochanan said, Three months before and three months after, and twelve in the middle made eighteen months, and because thery were days of suffering he called them many days” (רב ברכיה ור״ הלבו בשם רבי יוחנן ג׳ חדשים בראשונה וג׳ חדשים באחרתה וי״ב באפצע הרי י״ה חדשים וכי ימים רבים חיו אצא ימים של צער לפינך הוא קורא אותן רבים). O’Leary explains that this means that the “third year” of the biblical narrative lasted eighteen months, hence the drought would have lasted a total of three and a half years if this period is added to the preceding two years.

The second illustration is from Yalk. Sim. on 1 Kgs 17, “‘And Elijah the Tishbite said there should not be dew or rain.’ R. Berachiah said R. Josa and the Rabbonin dispute about this; one said that God accepted his prayer concerning the rain but not concerning the dew, and the other that he was heard both concerning the rain and the dew” (ויאמר אליהו התסבי אם יהיה טל ימסר רבי ברכיה אמר רבי ייסא ורבנין חד אמר על המטר נשמע לן על הטל לא נשמע לו וח אמר על הטל ועל המטר ושמע לו). This passage confirms James’ account of Elijah’s prayer invoking the drought and the rain–a tradition present elsewhere in early Jewish literature.

Of course, it should be noted that the Yalkut is a very late document, but at the very least it shows that medieval Jewish exegetes did view the narrative in a similar way to James.

See De Lacey O’Leary, “Rabbinical Illustrations of the Epistle of James,” Expository Times 15 (1903-1904): 334-335.

The text above concerning the Yalk. Sim. on 1 Kgs 18:1 is taken from Lev. Rab. 19:5. The following text is from the Soncino edition (pages 244):

For many days Israel was without the God of truth,’ etc. Were they then really many days?1 – [No], but because those were days of distress,2 Scripture calls them ‘many’,3 Similar thereto is: And it came to pass after many days, that the word of the Lord came to Elijah, in the third year,4 etc. (I Kings XVIII, 1). R. Berekiah and R. Helbo said in the name of R. Johanan: Three months at the beginning, three months at the end, and twelve in between make eighteen months; are these then ‘many days’?– [No], but those were days of distress, and Scripture therefore designates them as ‘many’. Similar, again, is: And it came to pass in the course of those many days that the king of Egypt died, etc. (Ex. II, 23). Were they really ‘many days’?5 – [No], but because those were days of distress, they are called ‘many’. Similar, again, is: Many days, even a hundred and fourscore days (Est. I, 4). Were they really ‘many days’? – [No], but because those were days of distress,6 they are called ‘many’.

(1) ‘Many days’ in many Biblical verses obviously means ‘many years’ or ‘long periods’.
(2) V. Chron. XV, 4.
(3) Pain and suffering make time seem longer.
(4) Sc. of drought and consequent famine.
(5) In Ex. R. I,34 (q.v.) the verse is interpreted to mean that he became leprous, not that he actually died. His leprosy did not last long, hence this question.
(6) For the Jews, who saw the vessels of the Temple used at Ahasuerus’ feast. v. Est. R. II, 11. Mah. says that the Haggadist must have had in mind that since Scripture, in addition to stating a definite number of days, says first—apparently redundantly—‘many days,’ this expression must have some special meaning.

The parallel to this passage is found in Esther Rabbah 2:2

2. MANY DAYS (I, 4). They were days of tribulation; and similarly we find, And it came to pass in the course of those many days that the king of Egypt died (Ex. II, 23). Now were they really many days? No, only because they were days of tribulation, Scripture reckoned them as many days. Similarly we find: And it came to pass after many days, that the word of the Lord came to Elijah (I Kings XVIII, 1). Now were they really many days? No, only because they were days of tribulation, Scripture calls them many days. How many were they? R. Berekiah said in the name of R. Helbo reporting R. Johanan: One month in one year, and one month in another and twelve months in the middle, making altogether fourteen months. Similarly, And if a woman have an issue of her blood many days (Lev. XV, 25), on which R. Hiyya taught: ‘Days’ signifies two, ‘many’ signifies three. Are these then many? No, only because they are days of pain they are called ‘many’.

Introductions…

James the brother of Jesus, or “James the Just,” was the first ἐπίσκοπος (episkopos or “bishop”) of Jerusalem in the early church. In spite of his importance, the study of the “historical James” has been largely neglected by biblical scholars until recently. The discovery of the supposed James Ossuary (a box that may have once contained his bones) has sparked quite a flury of interest [MORE]. There have also been a series of publications that have emerged out of the discussions held at the Institute of Advanced Theology at Bard College [MORE].

My own interest in James began with my study of the Epistle of James as a teenager in the A/G program “Bible Quiz.” I quickly held fast to James’ challenge to endure in the midst of temptation/trial during my rocky teens. At seminary, I have spent much of my time studying the Epistle, and recently I have begun delving deeper into the historical situation of James the Just, who is possibly (and in my opinion-probably) the author.

In the future,
I plan to post pages contining primary resources for studying the historical James (both in the original language and in standard English translations). I hope also to collect links to various print and electronic resources that pertain to Jacobean studies, along my own research from the past.

For the next academic year, I plan on writing a thesis on James’ use of Elijah as an example of prayer (5:17-18). I hope to post research on the topic here, with the goal of “discussing” my findings with others who may be interested.