NIV 2011 and James 3:1

So, I’ve not really followed very closely the whole controversy/hubbub about the NIV 2011. It has something to do with dissatisfaction with the TNIV*, but I won’t get into that.  In my humble opinion, they should just call this next revision “Tomorrow’s NIV”. . .  JK. Folks are calling it the NIV 2011, among other things. The text is now available online for all to see (www.biblica.com; www.biblegateway.com).

Robert Slowley has put online a handy comparison of the original NIV, the TNIV and the NIV2011. John Dyer made a similar tool.

So, given the new release of the text, I decided checked out the differences in the Epistle of James (given that I’ve spent a little time studying that book in the past).

One thing I found particularly ‘interesting’ is the translation of adelphoi in James. The author of James uses this  word throughout the letter to address his audience. He particularly punctuates the epistle with reference to adelphoi mou (1:2, 16, 19; 2:1, 5, 14; 3:1, 10, 12; 5:12, 19). In the original NIV, this phrase, adelphoi mou is consistently translated “my brothers”.

That’s an OK translation. The problem is that while the Greek word, adelphos, in the singular generally refers to “a male from the same womb” or “brother”, in the plural it can also refer collectively to a group of both brothers and sisters (male and female). Adelphos can also refer more ‘metaphorically’ to a person “viewed as a brother in terms of a close affinity”, rather than by virtue of being ‘from the same womb’ (BDAG, s.v. ἀδελφός). Of course the precise meaning of adelphos in any given instance is determined by context. If, for instance, you know that a group of individuals being referred to are both male and female, you’d assume that adelphoi means either “brothers and sisters” (siblings) or perhaps “folks associated closely with each other.”

Given this understanding of adelphos, particularly adelphoi (the plural), the TNIV consistently translated adelphoi throughout the Epistle of James as “brothers and sisters.” This makes sense. It is highly unlikely that James would have addressed only males of “the twelve tribes of the dispersion” (1:1) who came from the same womb. He was most likely using the term more metaphorically to refer to those with whom he shared a close association (they were, after all, a part of the same twelve tribes), and just as likely he was referring to both men and women.

Once upon a time in English, one could simply say “brothers” and folks would pretty much understand that both men and women were being referred to. (Growing up, I memorized a lot of the KJV so I was familiar with this inclusive* ‘brothers’ language . . . Shakespeare was a lot easier for me than for the other kids in high school.)  Nowadays, given the way language has shifted over the years, folks might have a hard time with this. If you refer to “brothers” it would pretty much be assumed you were speaking to an all (or mostly) male crowd. So, James is addressing more than just the men in the congregations, why should we leave our ‘sisters’ out?

Well, the NIV2011 retained the TNIV’s translation of adelphoi as “brothers and sisters” in all places but in 3:1. Here is the Greek text and the English translations in the NIV family tree:

  • NA27 Μὴ πολλοὶ διδάσκαλοι γίνεσθε, ἀδελφοί μου, εἰδότες ὅτι μεῖζον κρίμα λημψόμεθα.
    Mē polloi didaskaloi ginesthe , adelphoi mou, eidotes hoti meizon krima lēmpsometha
  • NIV Not many of you should presume to be teachers, my brothers, because you know that we who teach will be judged more strictly.
  • TNIV Not many of you should presume to be teachers, my brothers and sisters, because you know that we who teach will be judged more strictly.
  • NIV2011 Not many of you should become teachers, my fellow believers, because you know that we who teach will be judged more strictly.
So, I’m a bit befuddled. Where did the translators of the NIV2011 get the phrase “my fellow believers”? It’s simply not in the text. James uses adelphoi mou the same as he does elsewhere in the epistle–to address his listeners as a whole. He uses adelphoi to do so, implying a close connection. I guess that “my fellow believers” gives the sense of this close affiliation, but there’s a difference in ‘feeling’ between “fellow believers” and “brothers and sisters.”
Throughout James, the NIV2011 uses “brothers and sisters” to translate adelphoi mou, (see the translation footnote a in 1:2) but in this context, the translation gives no clue that he’s using the same form of address. There is another thing to consider: James talks a lot about ‘faith’ and ‘belief’.* Given the NIV2011’s translation in 3:1, if I didn’t know any better, I’d assume that Jimmy was using one of those ‘faith’ or ‘belief’ words. He did after all just get done preaching about the importance of faith/belief backed up by works. I can imagine a well-meaning-and-observant Sunday School teacher having an “Ahah! moment” reading this translation. James just gets done talking to the folks about the nature of true belief, and then he lovingly refers to his addressees as “fellow believers.” Problem. He is not.

I can’t help but wonder about this. Was this simply the slip of the translator’s pen? An oversight in translation consistency? The nuance is slight enough; I think it very well could have been. If it is, it’s an unfortunate slip. James is here admonishing his readers, “Not many of you should become teachers.” If memory serves me correctly,* wasn’t gender and the whole ‘women in ministry’ thing at least tangentially related to the controversies over the TNIV? Why didn’t they use fellow believers elsewhere in the text? The only place where the translators used “fellow believers” to translate adelphoi mou refers to potential teachers. Elsewhere they used somewhat ‘gendered’ language. Were they avoiding explicit reference to brothers and sisters in a place where James may be addressing both brothers and sisters who could potentially be teachers? Was this an attempt to avoid the TNIV feather-ruffle?

My inclination is to believe that this would not be the case. I prefer to give the benefit of the doubt, or at least to believe that there was some other relevant stylistic reason to do this. Still, this made me wince just a little. If anything it provides one of those brave souls who would become a teacher a ‘teachable moment’ in translation theory.

So. That’s my first post in almost a year. I await the darts. 😉

Deppe’s “The Sayings of Jesus in the Paraenesis of James”

Dean Deppe, professor at Calvin Theological Seminary wrote his PhD dissertation on “The Sayings of Jesus in the Epistle of James”. This dissertation has been cited by scholars as one of the most important works on the Epistle of James’ use of Jesus’ teachings. For instance, Richard Bauckham notes:

Deppe’s very thorough study (unfortunately not easily accessible and so not used by most scholars writing subsequently) probably takes this method of approach to the relationship between James and the Gospels as far as it can be taken (see pg. 117 in “James and Jesus” [pgs. 100-137 in The Brother of Jesus: James the Just and His Mission; eds. B. Chilton & J. Neusner; Louisville, KY: W/JKP, 2001]).

Thankfully Dr. Deppe has made an updated version of his dissertation EASILY accessible, as he has given  permission to post it to this site.* This updated version is titled “The Sayings of Jesus in the Paraenesis of James: A PDF Revision of the Doctoral Dissertation, ‘The Sayings of Jesus in the Epistle of James’ by Dean B. Deppe (1990).” Because this is an updated version, the pagination is different from the print version that was printed in Chelsea, Mich. in 1990. I’ve uploaded the file both to this blog and to the Internet Archive.

*Actually, he gave me permission to post this long ago, but I forgot to mention it! My apologies for the delay!

help with an article?

William R. Baker (of Cincinnati Christian University) recently published an article in the Tyndale Bulletin titled “Searching for the Holy Spirit in the Epistle of James: Is ‘Wisdom’ Equivalent?” (TynBul 59.2 [November 2008]). I believe that this is a revision of a paper that Dr. Baker presented at ETS (available at Reclaiming the Mind).

Baker’s article addresses a fascinating take on the the function of “wisdom” in the Epistle of James proposed by J. A. Kirk (“The Meaning of Wisdom in James: Examination of a Hypothesis,” NTS 16 [1969]: 24-38). Kirk proposes that James uses “wisdom” in a way that is “more or less interchangeable with that in which other writers of the New Testament use the concept of the Holy Spirit” (Kirk, 24). Baker takes issue with Kirk’s hypothesis in his ETS paper.

I’d love to get a hold of this article, but this particular issue is missing from the library’s shelf at GCTS! Drat! So, if anyone out there has a copy and can send me a scan, I’ll be your best friend! 🙂

Incidently, Mariam Kamell of The Greek Geek’s Bletherings (and coauthor with C. Blomberg of the “James” volume of the Zondervan Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament) did her master’s thesis on the topic: “Wisdom in James: An Examination of the Roles of Wisdom and the Holy Spirit” (TREN).

The Epistle of James at Boston SBL

Michael Bird at Euangelion notes that a draft of the Boston SBL program has been posted. Here’s my own “bird’s eye view” of papers presented on the Epistle of James, or the “historical James”:

  • A New Fragment of James from Oxyrhynchus / Michael Theophilos, University of Oxford

    It is not insignificant that 42% of published New Testament papyri are from Oxyrhynchus, Egypt. Furthermore, of the fifty-eight NT papyri dated to the first half of the fourth century or earlier, Oxyrhynchus contributes to nearly 60% of the material, i.e. thirty four fragmentary papyri. Given Oxyrhynchus’ prominence, prosperity and significant Christian influence this is somewhat understandable, even if it is equally as baffling as to why so much literature, both biblical and otherwise was ‘thrown out’ en masse, only to be found centuries later by two Oxford graduates, B. P. Grenfell and A. S. Hunt of Queen’s College. The primary research that will be undertaken in this study concerns an assessment of a previously unknown New Testament papyrus fragment of the epistle of James from Oxyrhynchus (inventory number 51 4B.18/c [1-4]b). The significance of this study is to offer original and focused research into the history of the textual tradition of the New Testament. Discussion of the fragment will be divided into three sections. Firstly, an extended introduction which will note, among other things, the paleographic points of interest – roll/codex, recto/verso, date, lines/width/height of columns, estimated length of roll and significant reading marks (accents, breathings, quantity marks, punctuation). Secondly, an edited Greek text, both diplomatic and transcriptional (with a short description of how multi-spectral imaging aided in this process, and finally, a section devoted to issues which require further treatment, including exegetical comment, notable paleographic details and collation with other extant manuscripts. Images of the papyri will be included in the presentation.

  • Ill-Skilled Postmen and the Addressees of James: The Socio-rhetorical Function of the Prescript of James / Erin Vearncombe, University of Toronto

    The prescript of James serves an important socio-rhetorical function which provides the key to understanding the purpose of the paraenetic letter as a whole, establishing a guide for exegesis. James 1:1 is the only epistolary element in the document, yet the identification of the (fictive) sender James and the (fictive) audience of the twelve tribes is essential to the interpretation of the text. The address of James “to the twelve tribes in the Diaspora,” along with the pseudepigraphical identification of the author, functions to signal the rhetorical strategy of the letter, acting as a guide for the interpretation of the social world which is constructed in the document. A discussion of previous approaches to the prescript and epistolary status of James, including the characterization of James as a Judean Diaspora letter, an analysis of the pseudepigraphical character of James and the construction of ethos in the letter and a comparison of the text to other Greco-Roman paraenetic letters in terms of the primary importance of status association and negotiation in paraenesis will help to shed light on this socio-rhetorical functioning of the prescript.

  • Jesus and James on Justice in the Courts: A Reconsideration of the Ward/Allison Proposal / Christopher N. Chandler, University of St. Andrews-Scotland

    When interpreters of James come to the discussion about the seating of the rich and the poor in 2:1-13, they are faced with two interpretive options. The majority of recent interpreters, based upon parallel passages in later church orders, opt to understand this to be about seating arrangements in an early Christian worship service. A minority position, which is often noted but rarely taken seriously, is that 2:1-13 depicts an ancient judicial setting between two litigants. This latter position was argued for by R. B. Ward in his 1966 dissertation and a subsequent article in 1969. D. C. Allison demonstrated convincingly in 2000 that Ward’s position, far from being new, was a viable interpretive option among a majority of scholars prior to the 20th century. This paper seeks to build upon the ‘Ward/Allison’ thesis that 2:1-13 depicts an ancient litigious scene in two ways: 1) by demonstrating a significant but rarely noticed parallel between James 2:1-13 and Matthew 7:1-5, and 2) by uncovering the exegetical underpinnings of both of these passages in their halakhic, midrashic engagement with Lev 19:15-18—a section of laws governing just legal judging. Some of the theological implications such an interpretive shift of 2:1-13 might have upon the discussion of faith and works in James 2:14-26 may also be explored.

  • “Love Your Neighbor as Yourself” (Leviticus 19:18b) in Early Jewish-Christian Exegetical Practice and Ethical Formulation / Christopher N. Chandler, University of St. Andrews-Scotland

    The exhortation to “love your neighbour as yourself” from Leviticus 19:18b is a central maxim of Jesus and the early Christian movement. Yet the meaning of this expression attributed to Jesus and the NT authors is often taken for granted as a universalizing principle. The central ethic of the Jesus movement, ‘love,’ is therefore either understood as a kind/gentle attitude or is left rather undefined and vague. This discussion needs more nuance. Drawing upon Jewish exegetical traditions surrounding Leviticus 19:15-18, I shall suggest that both Jesus and his brother James understand Leviticus 19:18b not merely as a summary of the entire Torah, but firstly as a summary of the laws governing just legal judging in Leviticus 19:15-18a. Although Paul and Luke, engaged as they are in the Gentile mission, apply with rigour this principle of ‘love’ in a much broader universalizing manner in order to promote inclusiveness among Jewish/Gentile relations, this interpretation of the love commandment should not necessarily be assumed to be the sole view or use of Lev 19:18b in every case in the NT. The conclusion argued for in this paper, therefore, is that “love your neighbour as yourself” was not only viewed by early Jewish Christians as an ethical principle of universalizing peaceful relations between ethnicities, but was also seen to have ethical implications to do justice to one’s neighbour in the judicial system as well.

  • The Speech of Stephen; the Death of James / Shelly Matthews, Furman University

    This paper will consider the martyrdom of Stephen alongside related traditions concerning the death of James to underscore how both traditions grasp for ways to assert the split of Jesus believers, or Christians, from “The Jews.” As part of this analysis, the speech of Stephen will be set alongside the historiographical speech preserved in the Pseudo-Clementine recognitions 1.27-71, so that the relative hostility of each text toward unbelieving Jews might be better assessed.

  • There will be a joint session of the Letters of James, Peter, and Jude and Philo of Alexandria sections on The Formation of the Soul in Hellenistic Judaism and James. The meeting will be chaired by Stanley Stowers (Brown University) and will include the following papers:
    • “Living in the Soul Alone”: Philo of Alexandria on Soul Formation / Hindy Najman, University of Toronto

      This paper is interested in the way Philo depicts the natural course of the life of the sage as he eventually becomes soul or mind alone. Additionally, the paper considers how natural law and mosaic can serve to guide the soul on its journey to its telos.

    • Philo of Alexandria on the Contemplative and the Active Lives / Gretchen Reydams-Schils, University of Notre Dame

      Philo uses the phrase ‘unsociable community’ to criticize misguided forms of sociability. In the Roman era and so-called Middle-Platonism, under the influence of Stoicism, the boundary between the theoretical and the practical life becomes blurred (even more so than in the Stoicism of the Hellenistic era). This paper will examine the relationship between these two types of life in Philo’s work, taking also into account the relation between an individual and community, and the differences among different kind of communities.

    • Stoic Psychagogy and the Letter of James / John S. Kloppenborg, University of Toronto

      Interpreters have occasionally noted the coincidence between James’ vocabulary and technical terms of Stoicism, usually dismissing them as coincidental. This paper argues that in significant ways, James shares with Stoicism notions of care of the soul, control of the epithymiai, and the role of rational persuasion in the guidance of the soul.

    • Self-Mastery, Apatheia, Metriopatheia, and Moral Theory in the Epistle of James / Luiz Felipe Ribeiro, University of Toronto

      The reading of the Stoics’ influence on James received little support and only very recently got a comprehensive treatment in Matt A. Jackson-McCabe’s “Logos and Law in the Letter of James: the Law of Nature, the Law of Moses and the Law of Freedom. Before Logos and Law in the Letter of James, Jackson-McCabe contends, two lonely treatments of the Epistle allowed for a straight connection between James and Stoic Philosophy. Arnold Meyer in 1930, and M.-E. Boismard in 1957, independently argued that implanted logon (Jas 1,21) and the Perfect Law of Freedom (Jas 1,25) were drawn by the author of the Epistle from a Greek environment, particularly from Stoicism. According to Jackson-McCabe, James’ use of Implanted Logos derived from the early Stoa understanding of Émphutoi Prolepseis (Implanted Preconceptions). This paper proposes to add to Jackson-McCabe’s thesis of Stoic influences in James’ psychology and moral theory. It argues that the pseudonym Yakob might be read in light of the Jewish Hellenistic reception of Stoicism of the idea of the Stoic sage who achieves apatheia, or of the sage who is striving to control his passions through moderation (metriopatheia). This conflation of the Jewish Patriarch and Stoic sage can be seen in the figure of Joseph in the Testaments of the XII Patriarchs and in Abraham, Isaac and Yakob in Philo of Alexandria. The Epistle of James is seen deriving its own ideas about the sage from the Jewish Hellenistic reception of Stoicism and the tradition of the haploûs sophos, the single-minded sage, the man who is the embodiment of simplicity, showing no sign of duplicity, listening and practicing the Logos (Jas 1, 33-35).

  • The Jewish Christianity / Christian Judaism sessions may be of interest as well:
    • How “Jewish” Is the Protevangelium of James? Mary, the Temple, and Ritual Purity / Lily Vuong, McMaster University
    • Characterization of Women in the Pseudo-Clementine Literature / Päivi Vähäkangas, University of Helsinki
    • Jews and/or “Judaizers” in the Epistle of Barnabas: Internal Threat, External Rival, or Ideological Construct? / James N. Rhodes, Saint Michael’s College
    • Mandaean Polemic against Jews and Christians as Evidence about the Origins and Setting of Early Mandaism / James F. McGrath, Butler University

Wikindx anyone? Anyone? Anyone?

Anyone?Does anyone out there know how to implement Wikindx on a site hosted by Yahoo? Anyone . . . ? Anyone . . . ? The James Bibliography on ΑΓΑΠΗΣΕΙΣ reminds me of a project I’ve had on the back burner. I’ve been meaning to put together a James bibliography for some time now, but I’ve wanted to do it in the database format that the “Paul and Scripture” section of SBL has been using [link]. I haven’t done so, mainly because of my ignorance with MySQL and PHP (which are needed to implement Wikindx). So, if there is anyone out there who knows how to implement Wikindx on a site that’s hosted on Yahoo, I’d love some pointers!

UPDATE: Thanks to the help of the wikindx creator, Mark Grimshaw, I have been able successfully install the program. See http://www.oldinthenew.org/wikindx3. Of course the bibliography is not fully developed yet – given that there are only 3 entries!

Epistle of James Bibliography at ΑΓΑΠΗΣΕΙΣ

“Zephyr,” at ΑΓΑΠΗΣΕΙΣ, has been posting a running bibliography on “Recent Scholarship” on the Epistle of James [link]. It’s a great list, and I’m sure it will continue to grow [see his latest update]. If you know of any more texts, be sure to submit them by way of the comments!

James in the Apostolic Fathers, Continued…

Below is a table that summarizes the location of possible allusions to James in the Apostolic Fathers. I have not noted those parallels between James and the Shepherd of Hermas that are given a “C” classification in the NTAF.1 Special attention must be paid to Hermas as it contains the vast majority of parallels.

James Apostolic Fathers Cited in:
1:4 Polycarp, Phil. 12:3 BP, Lake
1:4 Herm. Mand. 9:6 (39:6) NTAF {C}
1:5 Herm. Sim. 5.4.3 (57:3) AFNTC
1:5 Herm. Mand. 9:1-3 (39:6; cf. Sim. 9.24.1,2 [101:1,2]) NTAF {C}
1:6-8 Herm. Mand. 9:5,6 (39:5,6; cf. Sim. 1.3 [50:3]) BP, AFNTC, Lake, NTAF {C}
1:17 Herm. Mand. 9.1 (39:1; cf. Mand. 11.5 [43:5]) NTAF {C}
1:27 Herm. Sim. 6.1.1 (61:1) AFNTC
1:27 Herm. Sim. 1:8 (50:8) BP, AFNTC, Lake
1:27 Herm. Mand. 2.7 (27:7) Lightfoot
2:7 Herm. Sim. 8.6.4 (72:4) AFNTC, Lake
2:23 1 Clem. 10:1, 7 BP, Ehrman, Lake
2:25 1 Clem. 12:1 BP, Ehrman, Lake
3:15 Herm. Mand. 11.5,6 (43:5,6; cf. Mand. 9.11 [39:11]) AFNTC, Lake, NTAF {C}
3:18 Herm. Sim. 9.19.2 (96:2) AFNTC, Lake
4:4 2 Clem. 6:3,5 NTAF {D}
4:6 1 Clem. 30:2 (cf. 1 Peter 5:5; Prov 3:34; Ign. Eph. 5:3) BP, Holmes, Ehrman, Lake, NTAF2
4:7 Herm. Mand. 12.2.4 (45:4) AFNTC, Lake
4:7 Herm. Mand. 12.5.1 (48:2) BP, AFNTC, Lake (index)
4:11 Herm. Vis. 2.2 (27:2) BP, Lighfoot
4:12 Herm. Mand. 12.6.3 (49:3) AFNTC, Lake, NTAF {C}
4:12 Herm. Sim. 9.23.2-4 (100:2-4) AFNTC, Lake, NTAF {C}
5:4 Herm. Vis. 3.9.6 (17:6) AFNTC, Lake
5:5 Herm. Sim. 6.1.6 (61:6) AFNTC
5:7,8,10 2 Clem. 20:2-4 NTAF {D}
5:11 Herm. Mand. 9.2 (39.2) NTAF {C}
5:16 2 Clem. 15:1 NTAF {D}
5:19-20 2 Clem. 15:1 BP, AFNTC
5:20 1 Clem. 49:5 (cf. 1 Peter 4:8; Prov 10:12) NTAF3
5:20 2 Clem. 16:4 NTAF {D}

KEY:

BP = Biblia Patristica
AFNTC = The Apostolic Fathers: A Translation and Commentary
Ehrman = Bart Ehrman’s Loeb Classical Library translation
Lake = Kirsopp Lake’s Loeb Classical Library translation
NTAF = The New Testament in the Apostolic Fathers

Notes:

  1. The classification system used in the NTAF is described as follows:

    Class A includes those books about which there can be no reasonable doubt, either because they are expressly mentioned, or because there are other certain indications of their use. Class B comprises those books the use of which, in the judgement of the editors, reaches a high degree of probability. With class C we come to a lower degree of probability; and in class D are placed those books which may possibly be referred to, but in regard to which the evidence appeared too uncertain to allow any reliance to be placed upon it (NTAF iii).

    It should be noted that parallels between James and the Apostolic Fathers are only given C and D ratings in the NTAF.

  2. A. J. Carlyle notes the dependency of 1 Clem. 30:1-2, 1 Peter 2:1; 5:5 and James 4:6 on Proverbs 3:34 (NTAF 55).
  3. Again Clement, Peter and James are dependent upon Proverbs, though the wording of Clement (ἀγάπη καλύπτει πλῆθος ἁμαρτιῶν) agrees exactly with Peter over against James and the LXX (NTAF 56).

James in the Apostolic Fathers

Rick Brannan at PastoralEpistles.com has been writing a blog series on “The Pastoral Epistles in the Apostolic Fathers.” His interest was sparked, in part, by his discovery of the The New Testament in the Apostolic Fathers (Oxford: Clarendon, 1905), a text available as a PDF at the Internet Archives (10MB). This title could be available for Logos Bible Software in the future.

His posts have got me to thinking about James in the Apostolic Fathers. I have not done any work in the Fathers before, so I think it would be beneficial to take a look. The presence of allusions to James in the Apostolic Fathers (or the lack thereof) can be particularly important to deciding when James was written. If there are clear allusions or quotes of James in the Fathers, it would indicate an earlier date. Of course all the issues of determining dependence and the danger of parallelomania need to be taken into consideration.

So, stay tuned. I hope to be a bit more active on this blog now that I’ve rested my brain a little.

Biblica 88.1 (2007) – James 4:1-4

Biblica 88.1 (2007) has just been released to the web. It features an article on James 4:1-4 and the “two ways” tradition. Here is the publication info and abstract:

H. van de Sandt, «James 4,1-4 in the Light of the Jewish Two Ways Tradition 3,1-6» , Vol. 88(2007) 38-63.

The author of the Letter of James accuses his readers (Jas 4,1-4) of being responsible for war, murder and adultery. How are we to explain this charge? This paper shows that the material in Jas 1,13-21; 2,8-11 and 4,1-4 is closely akin to the teknon section in Did 3,1-6. The teknon section belonged to the Jewish Two Ways tradition which, for the most part, is covered by the first six chapters of the Didache. Interestingly, Did 3,1-6 exhibits close affinity with the ethical principles of a particular stream of Rabbinic tradition found in early Derekh Erets treatises. James 4,1-4 should be considered a further development of the warnings in Did 3,1-6.

Access article online (PDF)

I don’t have any time to read this one… I’ll have to put it on my post thesis reading list. Well, I can hear the whip cracking. I would rather avoid the sting, so I better get going… Back to the thesis!

Sirach’s Elijah in James

Tim Brookins at Scripta de Divinis is posting a great series on Jewish intertestamental literature. His last post highlights the Wisdom of Sirach (hat tip M. Goodacre). In his post, Brookins highlights a few parallels between Sirach and the NT, including one parallel in James:

Eccl. 15:11-13, James 1:17

  1. Ecc. 15:11-13 – “Do not say, ‘It was the Lord’s doing that I fell;’ for he does not do what he hates. Do not say, ‘It was he who led me astray;’ for he has no need of the sinful.”
  2. James 1 – “No one, when tempted, should say, ‘I am being tempted by God;’ for God cannot be tempted by evil and he himself tempts no one.”

The NA27 has no less than 110 references to Sirach in its margins, 11 of which are in James. I’ve not seen a full length treatment on the influence of Sirach on the New Testament, and the only work that I know of that is completely focused on Sirach’s influence on James was written by Antonius Boon and published in 1860. (PDF available**). Are there any Latin scholars out there with time and the desire to translate it? (Don’t all email me at once!)

One slice of my thesis looks at Sirach 48:1-11, Sirach’s “praise” of Elijah and its relationship to James 1:1 and 5:17-18:

1 Then Elijah arose, a prophet like fire,
     and his word burned like a torch.
2 He brought a famine upon them,
     and by his zeal he made them few in number.
3 By the word of the Lord he shut up the heavens,
     and also three times brought down fire.
4 How glorious you were, Elijah, in your wondrous deeds!
     Whose glory is equal to yours?
5 You raised a corpse from death
     and from Hades, by the word of the Most High.
6 You sent kings down to destruction,
     and famous men, from their sickbeds.
7 You heard rebuke at Sinai
     and judgements of vengeance at Horeb.
8 You anointed kings to inflict retribution,
     and prophets to succeed you.
9 You were taken up by a whirlwind of fire,
     in a chariot with horses of fire.
10 At the appointed time, it is written, you are destined
     to calm the wrath of God before it breaks out in fury,
to turn the hearts of parents to their children,
     and to restore the tribes of Jacob.
11 Happy are those who saw you
     and were adorned with your love!
     For we also shall surely live. (NRSV)

This passage is fascinating for several reasons, but for the purposes of my thesis, I am particularly interested in v. 10, where Sirach references the concluding words of Malachi:

5 Lo, I will send you the prophet Elijah before the great and terrible day of the Lord comes. 6 He will turn the hearts of parents to their children and the hearts of children to their parents, so that I will not come and strike the land with a curse. (4:5-6 NRSV)

The second half of Sirach’s quote broadens the mission of the eschatological Elijah by dropping Malachi’s “[to return] the hearts of the children to their parents” and adding “to restore the tribes of Jacob.” Sirach blends Malachi’s prophecy of Elijah’s return with Isaiah’s description of the Servant’s mission:

6 It is too light a thing that you should be my servant
     to raise up the tribes of Jacob
     and to restore the survivors of Israel;
I will give you as a light to the nations,
     that my salvation may reach to the end of the earth. (49:6 NRSV)

This blending of the Servant’s and Elijah’s mission is striking. Sirach is known for having little emphasis on eschatology, but here in his praise of Elijah he not only mentions Malachi’s prophecy but develops it further. Elijah is to restore the exiled tribes of Jacob. In a vivid prayer for national vindication, this hope of restoration was voiced earlier in Sirach:

10 Hasten the day, and remember the appointed time,
     and let people recount your mighty deeds.
11 Let survivors be consumed in the fiery wrath,
     and may those who harm your people meet destruction.
12 Crush the heads of hostile rulers
     who say, ‘There is no one but ourselves.’
13 Gather all the tribes of Jacob,
16   and give them their inheritance, as at the beginning. (36:10-16; see Sirach 36:1-22.)

Scholars have questioned the originality of this eschatologically minded prayer, as Sirach wrote during the reign of Antiochus III – during a time of relative peace for the Jews. J. J. Collins suggests that it was added during the Maccabean crisis. Either way, the prayer was most likely a part of Sirach before the first century A.D.

This hope for the restoration of Israel is bound to be important for our understanding of a letter addressed to “the twelve tribes of the dispersion.” James writes to a people who while still “dispersed” are the firstfruits of the reconstituted twelve tribes. Given Sirach’s description of Elijah’s eschatological mission, I do not think it coincidental that James ends his letter citing the prophet as an example for his readers. That James may have in mind the eschatological expectations of Elijah is made plausible given the following:

First, the last chapter of James is dripping with eschatological anticipation. James instructs his readers to wait patiently for the coming of the Lord as a farmer waits for the former and latter rains. The community is to “strengthen their hearts” as the Lord’s coming is near, and they are not to grumble or swear, lest they face the condemnation of the Judge “standing at the doors.” James concludes this chapter in a no-less eschatological manner. The community is called to pray regardless of circumstances. Their prayer, confession of sins and anointing in the name of the Lord brings healing and salvation – marks of the Kingdom inaugurated by James’ brother. Finally, James explains that those who return a sinner from their wandering ways saves them from death.

Second, James seems to cite Elijah as an example in a way that would perk up the eschatological anticipation of his audience. Note how James does not cite Elijah’s healing of the widow’s son. This would seem to be the most obvious and logical example from the prophet’s resume given that James is teaching about prayer and healing. Instead, James cites Elijah’s prayer for drought and rain. This makes sense if one notices that James’ account of Elijah is sandwiched between two teachings concerning sin and repentance. In vv. 13-16 healing (both physical and spiritual) occurs in the community in the context of righteous prayer, repentance and confession. In vv. 19-20 the community is exhorted to actively pursue those who wander, calling them to repentance and saving them from death. Elijah’s drought fits this theme beautifully, as it was the result of Israel’s sin. The drought was lifted only after Israel’s repentance. That James puts this historical episode in eschatological terms is seen by his description of the drought’s length – 3.5 years (a number ripe with eschatological symbolism). Also, the drought and rain imagery evokes the rain imagery that James used to describe the coming of the Lord in vv. 7-8.

As my Bible college professor, Dr. Dippold would say, “So what?”

James places his Epistle between eschatological bookends. The community to which he writes is evidence of God’s restorative power – bringing together the twelve tribes of Jacob. These tribes are still dispersed. There is still a final consummate restoration to come, but the restoration envisioned by the prophets (and by Sirach) has already begun. The mission of Elijah, according to Sirach, was both to restore the community (turning the hearts of the fathers towards their children) and to restore these twelve tribes. This newly restored community is given an Elijah-like charge in vv. 13-20, calling the rest of the twelve tribes and the world to repentance. James reminds his readers that Elijah was simply a man, lest the community fears this to be too lofty a mission. After all, Sirach could ask of Elijah “Whose glory is equal to yours?” But while reminding his readers that Elijah is human, he also hints that they have the potential to be a community of eschatological Elijahs, calling the world to repentance. This community of prophets is evidence of the reign/rain of the soon coming Lord, as bodies and relationships receive healing as a result of a prophetic community’s prayer.

**Many thanks to Gordon-Conwell graduate – Jonathan Moo for obtaining a copy of this rare work from one of the Cambridge libraries. (Jonathan’s the son of Douglas Moo. The apple did not fall far from the tree.)