Dale Allison’s ICC James – Part I

Only just today did I have a chance to finally begin reading Dale C. Allison’s new ICC volume on James (Bloombury, T & T Clark, 2013). I was able to complete the introduction and I can confidently say that Allison’s knowledge of the secondary literature is astonishing and his discussion always insightful. He has read and interacts quite extensively with the relevant literature, not only in the last century, but throughout the centuries of Christian interpretation of this text. Indeed, he makes it a point to say that, while he intends to stay true to the ICC’s emphasis on historical-critical issues, he has a particular interest in the history of reception. Here are some key matters of note from the introduction.

(1) The commentary commences with a 49-page bibliography – a gold-mine of information for further study!

(2) The whole introduction is 109 pages, more than 1/8 of the total sum of pages.

(3) Authorship – As you might guess, Allison spends a good bit of time on the question of authorship. He lays out the history of the discussion fairly and engages the arguments for authentic attribution (along with scholarly rebuttals), and also those against (also but rebuttals). In the end, he leans towards (and then works from) the side that sees this is pseudonymous. He finds the most decisive matters to be these: (a) “there is no clear knowlesge of [James] in early times, or even before the time of Origen” (p. 13); (b) James “struggled to enter the canon” (18), (c) there are early Patristic referents to a pseudonymous letter of James (mentioned by Jerome), and (e) Allison finds a mismatch between the person James and the Greek of the text: “…how likely [is it] that the brother of Jesus could have written fairly accomplished Greek, possessed such a large Greek vocabulary, employed the LXX, and adopted Hellenistic literary topoi” (p. 25)? Also, given the likelihood that this text shows knowledge of 1 Peter and Romans, Allison dates it later than 100 (c. 100-120).

(4) Purpose and Setting – Here’s where things get interesting. Allison notes that, while James borrows from Christian tradition (and Jesus tradition), there is almost nothing explicit regarding Christian beliefs.  Put another way, “everything we think of as being characteristically Christian remains at best tacit” (p. 37). Allison builds from some work done by J.H. Moulton and A.H. McNeile to argue that the audience of this text is probably and mixture of Christian Jews and non-Christian Jews. Thus,

…James represents Christian Jews who did not define themselves over against Judaism. That is, our book emerged from a Christ-oriented Judaism, from a group that still attended synagogue and wished to maintain irenic relations with those who did not share their belief that Jesus was the Messiah. (p. 43).

Allison thinks of three groups: “There are Christian Jews, there are rich oppressors, and there are those belonging to neither group, whose sympathy James seeks to gain or preserve” (p. 45). Allison admits that, while James is not trying to evangelize, there is an apologetic element here: “James communicates, among other things, that Jesus’ followers are not apostates from Judaism but rather faithful members of the synagogue who live according to the Jewish moral tradition, are faithful to Torah and oppose those who want — as no doubt was rumored of other Christians — to divide faith from works” (p. 44).

From Allison’s point of view, then, the author collects teachings and arguments that help demonstrate this shared heritage of fidelity to Jewish religion: “It is designed to be Jewish; it is designed to look traditional” (48).

This is a fascinating theory and one worth further discussion (I know there is a SBL review session on this commentary, and I cannot be there, sadly!). My wider concern is this: is it likely to have such a purpose and situation (Christian Jews worshipping with non-Christian Jews in the synagogue in large enough numbers for this text to meet a wider audience) 3-5 decades after the temple’s demise and growing hostility against followers of Christ? Also, aren’t 1:1 and 2:1 enough to cause some Christian offense, James being a “slave” of Jesus Christ along with God? (Allison thinks that, for 2:1, the original text did not name Jesus Christ; see pp. 382-384). Many questions raised, but Allison can nowhere be accused of carelessness.

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