Job in James 5

Patrick Woods of “So Much For Straw” has been blogging on James’ use of Old Testament figures as “verbal icons” [here]. His most recent post focuses upon James’ reference to Job’s patience/endurance (Jas 5:11) [here]. His posts reminded me of some of my own thoughts on this passage, so I figured I’d write a note for the blog… Please excuse the scattered thoughts:

I’ve wondered about the juxtoposition of “compassionate and merciful” with Job in James 5. I think that this is an allusion to the declaration of YHWH in Exodus 34:6 “The LORD, the LORD, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness.” The LXX’s οἰκτίρμων καὶ ἐλεήμων does not completely line up with James’ πολύσπλαγχνός … καὶ οἰκτίρμων, but the gist is there. The self-revelation of YHWH in Exodus 34 is referenced in several places throughout the OT (Neh 9:17, 31; Ps 86:15; 103:8; 110:4; 144:8; Joel 2:13; Jonah 4:2). James’ use comes on the heals of his description of the eschatological judgment of the rich (5:1-6) and his admonition to the community to endure patiently through present-day trials in light of the imminent arrival of the Lord (5:7-9). The emphasis is upon the patience/endurance of the community in light of temporal and/or physical nearness of the Lord/Judge. In the canonical story of Job, “the end” of the story rests in God’s theophanic ‘nearness’ in the midst of “the whirlwind and clouds” (Job 38:1). The original declaration of God’s graciousness and compassion in Exodus also takes place in the midst of Gods’ theophanic nearness (see Exod 19 for the description of Sinai). I wonder if James is pulling these themes together. Job’s suffering was vindicated in God’s revelation/arrival. The suffering of James’ community will be vindicated in the arrival of the Lord/Judge. The flip side of God’s “mercy and compassion” in Exodus is his promise to “visit the iniquity of the parents upon the children and the children’s children, to the third and the fourth generation” (Exod 34:7). For James, the future arrival of the Lord will be characterized by his graciousness and compassion upon those who endure, but his judgment upon those who oppress.

Another reference to God’s graciousness and compassion occurs in Sirach 2:11. The context of this allusion is particularly pertinent to themes found throughout James:

My child, when you come to serve the Lord, prepare yourself for testing. 2 Set your heart right and be steadfast, and do not be impetuous in time of calamity. 3 Cling to him and do not depart, so that your last days may be prosperous. 4 Accept whatever befalls you, and in times of humiliation be patient. 5 For gold is tested in the fire, and those found acceptable, in the furnace of humiliation. 6 Trust in him, and he will help you; make your ways straight, and hope in him. 7 You who fear the Lord, wait for his mercy; do not stray, or else you may fall. 8 You who fear the Lord, trust in him, and your reward will not be lost. 9 You who fear the Lord, hope for good things, for lasting joy and mercy. 10 Consider the generations of old and see: has anyone trusted in the Lord and been disappointed? Or has anyone persevered in the fear of the Lord and been forsaken? Or has anyone called upon him and been neglected? 11 For the Lord is compassionate and merciful; he forgives sins and saves in time of distress. 12 Woe to timid hearts and to slack hands, and to the sinner who walks a double path! 13 Woe to the fainthearted who have no trust! Therefore they will have no shelter. 14 Woe to you who have lost your nerve! What will you do when the Lord’s reckoning comes? 15 Those who fear the Lord do not disobey his words, and those who love him keep his ways. 16 Those who fear the Lord seek to please him, and those who love him are filled with his law. 17 Those who fear the Lord prepare their hearts, and humble themselves before him. 18 Let us fall into the hands of the Lord, but not into the hands of mortals; for equal to his majesty is his mercy, and equal to his name are his works. (Sirach 2 NRSV)

Note the themes of testing and endurance/patience (vv. 1-2, 4-5; cf. Jas 1:2-8; Jas 5:7-11). Note also the admonition to “wait” for the Lord’s mercy and not to stray (v. 8; cf. Jas 5:7-11; Jas 5:19-20) and the warning against walking a “double path” (v. 12; cf Jas 1:8). Sirach asks “What will you do when the Lord’s reckoning comes?” (v. 14; cf. Jas 5:1-11). A detailed comparison of James and Sirach (looking for similarities, differences and possible allusions) would be fruitful. Several commentators (Hartin, Davids, Johnson, Frankemölle, Chaine, Cantitat, etc.) have done so in the introductions to their commentaries. Also see Antonius Boon’s 1860 dissertation (unfortunately only available in Latin) and the works by Núria Calduch-Benages.* There are other parts of Sirach that may have had an influence on James’ letter. See some of the discussion in my thesis on Elijah in Jas 5:17-18.

  • *Calduch-Benages, Núria. “Amid Trials: Ben Sira 2:1 and James 1:2.” In Intertextual Studies in Ben Sira and Tobit: Essays in Honor of Alexander A. Di Lella, ed. Jeremy Corley and Vincent Skemp, 255-263. Catholic Biblical Quarterly Monograph Series 38. Washington, D.C.: Catholic Biblical Association of America, 2005.
  • ——-. “Ben Sira 2 y el Nuevo Testament.” Estudios bíblicos 53 (1995): 305-316.

Cowley & Neubauer’s Hebrew Sirach

MSBI’ve made a PDF scan of Cowley & Neubauer’s The Original Hebrew of a Portion of Ecclesiasticus (XXXIX. 15 to XLIX. 11) together with the Early Versions and an English Translation followed by the Quotations from Ben Sira in Rabbinical Literature (Oxford: Clarendon, 1897).

The Hebrew text represents part of Manuscript B. This version has been usurped by more modern presentations of the Hebrew text of Ben Sira (the most handy edited by Pancratius Beentjes).* Still, Cowley & Neubauer’s edition is handy as it presents the Latin text in one section and the Hebrew, Syriac, Greek, and an English translation of the Hebrew in another. The Syriac is particularly pesky to track down, so you can at least get some sense of what’s going on in Sirach 39:15-49:11 using this text. Two plates are included, though they are scanned black and white and are not of a good quality.

I’ve provided two versions. The first is easier to read on the screen, as it presents the Hebrew text in correct order, and it contains bookmarks to various sections. The second version is meant for printing, and when viewed on the screen the Hebrew pages will scroll in reverse. This second version allows you to print the text double-sided and get a pretty decent facsimile of the original.

PDF Downloads:

*Beentjes, The Book of Ben Sira in Hebrew. A Text Edition of all extant Hebrew Manuscripts and A Synopsis of all parallel Hebrew Ben Sira Texts (VTSup 68; Brill: Leiden, 1997). The Brill edition is quite expensive, but SBL has reprinted it in paperback.

UPDATE 3 August 2007: Broken link to “print version” of Cowley & Neubauer fixed.

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.)

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.