Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Lesson 17 James Brother of Jesus

There is some question as to exactly how many men bore the name James in the New Testament, but there were three who figured prominently in the ministry of Christ and the history of the early church. They were James the son of Zebedee and brother of John and an apostle (Matthew 4:21; 10:2; Mark 1:19; Luke 5:10), James the Less, son of Alphaeus and also an apostle (Matthew 10:3; Acts 1:13) and James the brother of our Lord (Matthew 13:35; Mark 6:3; Galatians 1:18, 19). Jesus had three other brothers in addition to James. They were Joses, Simon and Judas (Matthew 13:55). The Lord's sisters are also mentioned, but not by name (Matthew 13:56). We are not told how many sisters he may have had, but there must have been at least two. Roman Catholics, because of their belief in the perpetual virginity of Mary, argue that those who are mentioned as the brothers and sisters of our Lord were his cousins, or stepbrothers and sisters, children of Joseph from a previous marriage. There is absolutely no support for this idea in the Bible.
James, like the Lord's other siblings, was not supportive of Jesus during his early ministry. The apostle John makes the point that even his own brothers did not believe in him (John 7:5). However, that was to change. Among those disciples who were found with the apostles in Jerusalem following the Lord's ascension were his brothers, which obviously included James, who was to later play a prominent role in the Jerusalem church (Acts 1:14).
According to Paul, an inspired apostle, Jesus appeared to James following his resurrection (1 Corinthians 15:7). Jerome, a fourth century Christian author, records a legend which says that James had made a vow to not eat or drink until he had seen Jesus raised from the dead. Supposedly, Jesus appeared to James and said, "My brother, eat thy bread, for the Son of man is risen from the dead" (F. W. Farrar, The Pulpit Commentary, Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1950, Vol. 19, p. 484). As already noted, before the crucifixion, his brothers were unbelievers. It was the resurrection of Jesus which brought them to faith.
James became a leading figure in the church at Jerusalem. When Peter was released from prison he came to the house of Mary where many in the church had come together to pray for him (Acts 12:12). According to Peter's account of that evening, the Lord had instructed him to tell James and the brethren of his prison escape, which Peter then did (Acts 12:17).
When the controversy arose over certain Judaizers who were demanding the circumcision of Gentle Christians, Paul and Barnabas met in Jerusalem with the apostles and elders, and James played a significant role in that meeting (Acts 15:13-21). It was James who reminded them of Peter's encounter with Cornelius and how the Gentiles were to be brought into the kingdom. He further argued that this was in agreement with what the prophets had predicted. He then recommended they write a letter to Gentile churches in which they would be told to "abstain from pollutions of idols, and from fornication, and from things strangled, and from blood" (Acts 15:20). The apostles, elders and the whole church agreed, and it was done.
Following Paul's third missionary tour, he returned to Jerusalem. One day after his arrival in the city he reported to James and the elders what God had accomplished through him among the Gentiles (Acts 21:18-25). It is not surprising that James is again singled out among those in the church at Jerusalem. It was Paul who referred to James, along with Peter and John, as pillars in the church who had extended to him and Barnabas the right hand of fellowship, and encouraged their work among the Gentiles (Galatians 2:9-10).
But, it is for the New Testament epistle which bears his name that James is most remembered. This epistle offered such a devastating blow to the doctrine of salvation by faith only or alone that Martin Luther refused to accept it as canonical, and referred to it as "right strawy" and thus of no value. Paul had written that Abraham was justified by faith (Romans 3:28). James asserted that Abraham was justified by works (James 2:23-24). But, the passages were not contradictory as Luther believed. Rather, they were complementary. Together they underscored the necessity of a living faith which always produces active obedience. This idea is plainly set forth in Hebrews 11 where believers were commended for demonstrating faith through action or deeds. Abel's faith produced an acceptable sacrifice. Enoch's faith led to a walk with God. Noah's faith built an ark. Abraham's faith caused him to pack up and move at God's bidding, and, ultimately led him to the point where, at God's command, he was prepared to offer his son, Isaac. Both Paul and James understood the relationship between faith and works (obedience) in regard to man's relationship with God. Luther, however, did not!
Other themes which James touched upon in his epistle included the nature of temptation and its source (1:2-18); pure religion (1:19-27); the dangers of the tongue (3:1-12); true and false wisdom (3:13-18); the source of discord among brethren (4:1-10); the future and how to face it (4:11-17); the dangers of wealth (5:1-6); and patience, prayer and confession (5:7-20). Addressed to the twelve tribes of the dispersion, it was among the most practical epistles of the New Testament.
According to Josephus, the high priest, Ananus (his father was also called Ananus), a man bold in temperament and very indolent, convened the judges of the Sanhedrin and brought before them a man called James, the brother of Jesus who was called the Christ, and certain others. He accused them of having transgressed the law and delivered them up to be stoned (Flavius Josephus, Antiquities of the Jews, page 598).
Hegesippus, a second century writer, says that James was thrown down from the pinnacle of the temple, stoned, and finally killed by a fuller's club (Jack P. Lewis, Historical Backgrounds of Bible History, page 141).
Although at first unwilling to accept Jesus as the Son of God, James came to be a staunch believer and a respected leader in the early church. Ultimately, he died for his faith.
James the brother of Jesus is named in Matthew 13:55 and Mark 6:3, along with three other brothers (Joseph [or "Joses"], Simon and Judas [Jude]) and at least three sisters unnamed (the most explicit reference to these sisters in the canon being found in Matthew 13:56, "Aren't all his sisters with us?").
The Gospels indicate that neither James nor his brothers were followers of their elder brother before his crucifixion, but after the resurrection they are mentioned among the group at prayer before Pentecost (Acts 1:14). Paul mentions that the risen Jesus appeared personally to James, which may explain the change in heart (1 Cor. 15:7).
It seems that James quickly took the lead of the Church in Jerusalem, officiating at the Council of Jerusalem, thus he is viewed as one who did not oppose the lack of Jewish restrictions of Gentile believers.
In his letter to the Galatians, Paul mentions James along with John son of Zebedee, and Peter as the Pillars of the Church (2:9).
James was well enough known that in the New Testament epistle carrying his name, he refers to himself simply as "James, a servant of God and the Lord Jesus Christ" (James 1:1). To further evidence that James was well-known, Jude (the youngest of Jesus' brothers) simply identifies himself as James' brother, and a servant of the Lord in his letter (Jude 1). (See "author" section in Jude for why the brothers didn't identify themselves as the brothers of Jesus.)
In 61 AD James was executed at the instigation of the high priest Ananus. In the following centuries legends developed surrounding James, none of which are very reliable, but included the possibility that he was known as "James the Just" due to his amazing (Jewish) piety. Recently a burial box is said to have been found containing the bones of James, and giving further evidence to the existence of Jesus (as the inscription on the box reads: "James, son of Joseph, brother of Jesus"), but it has been found to have been an elaborate fake. (See original story from the Biblical Archaeology Society here and a CNN review of some later findings here.)
His epistle is well-known for its seeming anti-Pauline theology: "...a person is justified by what he does and not by faith alone" (James 2:24). However, it is clear when read in context, that James was arguing against the belief (or similar) that faith and a total disregard for a faithful life was sufficient for salvation through Christ. Rather, James says, "Show me your faith without works and I'll show you my faith by what I do" (2:18).
James' point is that salvation is by faith over and above all else, but true faith will be expressed through actions - how can you say that you believe in God yet totally ignore him, trusting that your belief that the Cross had saving power is enough? You can't. In this way then, a person is justified by what they do, as an expression of their faith.
Interest in Jesus’ brother Ya‘aqov, Anglicized as "James," is flourishing. Among recent contributions, one might mention a presentation of texts and analysis by Wilhelm Pratscher,1 a semi-popular treatment by Pierre-Antoine Bernheim,2 and a careful, innovative contribution from Richard Bauckham.3 These books represent vigorous attempts to recover a critical portrait of James. They all respond, directly and indirectly, to the controversial thesis of Robert H. Eisenman, who has argued over a number of years that James is to be identified with the righteous teacher of Qumran.4 Among the many and vehement responses to that thesis, perhaps the most mature and effective is that of John Painter.5
Recovery of interest in James is a useful corrective in both historical and theological terms, in that his place within primitive Christianity had been all but eclipsed by the influence of Paulinism in its many forms. The vehemence of response to Eisenman’s thesis, quite apart from the specific questions it raises (exegetical, historical, and even archaeological), might best be explained on theological grounds. A silent James is, after all, more easily accommodated to the picture of a smooth transition between Jesus and Paul than is a James who (as in Eisenman’s reconstruction) substantially contradicts both Paul and Jesus.
Within this debate, a well defined set of issues has been perennially in play:6
was James really Jesus’ brother?
was James sympathetic to Jesus prior to the resurrection?
did James require circumcision of males along with baptism by way of initiation into the movement of Jesus?
was there any substantial place for non-Jews within James’ understanding of the covenant with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob?
did James oppose a Pauline teaching of salvation by grace with an insistence upon obedience to the Torah?
was James the most prominent person in Jesus’ movement between the resurrection and his own death?
None of the treatments already cited above fails to take a stand on each of these issues, and for the most part each issue is also responsibly engaged in those and other discussions. Of the six questions here cited, only one is easily dismissed on the basis of the evidence to hand. But even that, the third question—and the old canard that James required circumcision of all believers—continues to exert so great an influence in popular and scholarly discussion that it should be addressed here.
In what follows, we will work through the six questions to a conclusion, reviewing major primary sources as we proceed, and articulating what I take to be coherent assessments of the secondary literature in the positions which are staked out. The basis of my evaluation has largely been developed during meetings of "the Consultation on James," which I have chaired on behalf of the Institute of Advanced Theology. But the Consultation itself speaks through its own publications,7 and often expresses out ranges of agreement and disagreement, rather than set findings (in the manner, say of "the Jesus Seminar"), so that judgments expressed here are not attributable to other members of the Consultation.
None of the primary documents at issue is claimed by most scholars to have come directly from James himself. His views are attested even more indirectly than his brother’s. But the case of Jesus sheds light by way of analogy on James: for all that a Jesus of history is not "in" our sources, there is no doubt but that there is a Jesus of literary history behind them.
That is, the Gospels (as well as other documents) refer back to Jesus as their point of generation, and we may infer what practices Jesus engaged in, what beliefs he adhered to, so as to produce the accounts concerning him in the communities of followers which produced the documents. The framing world of those practices and beliefs in the formative period of the New Testament (whether in the case of Jesus or his followers) was Judaism. Practices and beliefs are attested in the documents manifestly, whether or not their attribution to Jesus is accepted, and that is a suitable point of departure for the genuinely critical question of Jesus. That question cannot be formulated as, What did Jesus really say and really do? The critical issue is rather, What role did Jesus play in the evolution of practices and beliefs in his name?8
That generative question may be broadened, of course, to apply not only to Jesus and the Gospels, but also to primitive Christianity and the New Testament.9 In the present case, that involves specifying the practices and beliefs that attach to James within the sources, and seeking to understand his place within them. Not every practice, not every belief may be assumed to be correctly attributed to James, but the various streams of tradition the documents represent do come together to constitute stable associations of practices and beliefs with James. The nodal issues of practices and beliefs, not "facts," represent our point of departure.
was James really Jesus’ brother?
The point of departure for considering this question is Mark 6:3 (cf. Matthew 13:55-56), where James is actually named as Jesus’ brother, along with four other men; at least two unnamed and unenumerated sisters are also mentioned. Until recently, Roman Catholic opinion has been dominated by the position of St. Jerome (in his controversial work, Against Helvidius), who argued that although "brothers" and "sisters" are the terms used in Greek, the reference is actually to cousins. Dispute has focused on the issue of whether that view can be sustained linguistically, and on the whole the finding has been negative. Before Jerome, Helvidius himself had maintained during the fourth century that the brothers and sisters were just what their name implies—siblings of Jesus: although he had been born of a virgin, their father was Joseph and their mother was Mary. That view clearly played havoc with the emerging doctrine of Mary’s virginity after Jesus’ birth, and that issue occupied the center of attention. In a recent work which received the Imprimatur, John P. Meier has endorsed the Helvidian theory, to some extent on the basis of support from second century Fathers.10 During that century, a group referred to as the Ebionites even denied Jesus’ virgin birth in the technical sense; his "brothers" and "sisters" were implicitly that in the full sense of those words (see Irenaeus, Against Heresies 1.26.1-2).
Richard Bauckham has given new currency to the view of Jesus’ relationship to James developed by Epiphanius during the fourth century (Panarion 1.29.3-4; 2.66.19; 3.78.7, 9, 13), and supported by the second-century Protoevanglium of James 9.2 and perhaps the Gospel of Peter (according to Origen’s Commentary on Matthew 10:17):11 Mary was Jesus’ mother, not James’, since Joseph had a wife prior to his marriage to Mary. Joseph’s relatively advanced age is traditionally held to account for his early departure from the narrative scene of the Gospels, and that reasonable inference lends support to this theory, while James’ emphasis on the Davidic identity of the Church (see Acts 15:16) is easily accommodated on this view. James’ seniority relative to Jesus might be reflected in the parable of the prodigal (Luke 15:11-32). The story of those with Jesus seizing him in the midst of exorcism (Mark 3:21; cf. 3:31-35) reflects the kind of almost parental concern an older brother might feel for a younger brother.
Another, more pragmatic consideration provides support for Epiphanius’ theory, although in a modified form. As mentioned, Joseph disappears from the scene of the Gospels from when Jesus was about twelve years old. His death at that time has been the traditional surmise, and such a chronology has implications for understanding Jesus’ relationships with his siblings. On the Helvidian view, Mary must have given birth to at least seven children in twelve years (Jesus, his brothers, and two or more sisters). Assuming that not every child she gave birth to survived infancy, more than seven labors would be required during that period, all this within a culture that confined women after childbirth and prohibited intercourse with a woman with a flow of blood, and despite the acknowledged prophylactic effect of lactation and Joseph’s age.
Although the consideration of a likely rate of fertility provides some support to the Epiphanian theory, in its unadulterated form it strains credulity in its own way. A widower with at least six children already in tow is not perhaps the best candidate for marriage with a young bride. A modified form of the theory (a hybrid with Helvidius’ suggestion) would make James and Joses the products of Joseph’s previous marriage, and Jesus, Simon and Judah the sons of Joseph with Mary. The latter three sons have names notably associated with a zealous regard for the honor of Israel, and may reflect the taste of a common mother. Absent their names, or even a count of how many were involved, no such assignment of marriages can be attempted for Jesus’ sisters.
On the Helvidian view, James was Jesus’ younger and full brother, in a family quickly produced whose siblings were close in age. On the Epiphanian view, James was older, and Jesus’ half brother, it seems to me that, suitably modified, Epiphanius provides the more plausible finding.
was James sympathetic to Jesus prior to the resurrection?
The Gospels, when they refer to James at all, do so with no great sympathy. He is listed at the head of Jesus’ brothers in the Synoptic Gospels, but in a statement of a crowd in Nazareth which is skeptical that one whose family they know can be responsible for wonders (Mark 6:1-6; Matthew 13:53-58). In John, he is presumably included among the unnamed brothers who argued with Jesus about his refusal to go to Jerusalem for a feast (John 7:2-10), and James is also referred to anonymously in the Synoptics as among the brothers whom, even with his mother, Jesus refused to interrupt his teaching in order to greet (Mark 3:31-35; Matthew 12:46-50; Luke 8:19-21). The most plausible inference would be that Jesus and James were somehow at odds during this period, but personal animosity is scarcely provable. The real breaking point came with everyone at Nazareth at the attempted stoning there (Luke 4:16-30), which seems to have made Jesus negative about his own family.
On the other hand, James is recognized within the earliest list of those to whom the risen Jesus appeared (1 Corinthians 15:7), and—closely associated with the Temple—he quickly emerged as the dominant figure in the Jesus movement. Taken together, that would suggest that, by the end of Jesus’ life, during his last pilgrimage to Jerusalem, James and his brother had reconciled. Aside from Paul’s reference to James in his list of witnesses to the resurrection, the New Testament does not record an actual appearance to James, but the non-canonical Gospel of the Hebrews does. There, Jesus assures his brother that "the Son of Man has been raised from among those who sleep" (cited by Jerome, Liber de Viris Illustribus 2). This vision occurs after James had fasted in consequence of his brother’s death. The authority of James, it seems, was a key force in the complete identification between Jesus and the figure of one like a son of man Daniel 7 (see also Hegesippus, as cited by Eusebius in his History 2.23.1-18)—an angelic figure in the heavenly court—after the resurrection.
did James require circumcision of males along with baptism by way of initiation into the movement of Jesus?
Acts attributes to James (and to James alone) the power to decide whether non-Jewish male converts in Antioch needed to be circumcised. He determines that they do not. Under the influence of the thesis of F.C. Bauer, it is sometimes assumed that James required circumcision of all such converts,12 but that requirement is attributed to Christian Pharisees in Acts (15:5), not to James. Nonetheless, James does proceed to command non-Jewish Christians to observe certain requirements of purity (so Acts 15:1-35). That may explain why emissaries from James make their appearance as villains in Paul’s description of a major controversy at Antioch. They insisted on a separate meal-fellowship of Jews and non-Jews, while Paul with more than equal insistence (but apparently little or no success) argued for the unity of Jewish and non-Jewish fellowship within the Church (Galatians 1:18-2:21). How precisely James came to such a position of prominence is not explained in Acts; his apostolic status was no doubt assured by the risen Jesus’ appearance to him.
Like Josephus (Antiquities 20.9.1 §§ 197-203), Hegesippus (in concert with Clement, Eusebius reports) portrays James as killed by Ananus at the Temple. In addition, Hegesippus describes James in terms which emphasize his purity in such a way that, as in Acts, his association with the Nazirite vow is evident (cf. Acts 21:17-36). James’ capacity to win the reverence of many Jews in Jerusalem (not only his brother’s followers) derives from this practice and his encouragement of others in the practice. The fact is frequently overlooked, but needs to be emphasized, that the Mishnah envisages the Nazarite practice of slaves, as well as Israelites, both male and female (see Nazir 9:1). James’ focus was purity in the Temple under the aegis of his risen brother, the Son of Man, but there is no trace of his requiring circumcision of Gentiles. It needs to be kept in mind that Jesus himself had expelled traders from the Temple, not as some indiscriminate protest about commercialism, but as part of Zechariah’s prophecy (see Zechariah 14) of a day when all the peoples of the earth would be able to offer sacrifice to the LORD without the intervention of middlemen. James’ Nazirite practice realized that prophecy in his brother’s name.
Josephus reports that James was killed in the Temple in 62 CE at the instigation of the high priest Ananus during the interregnum of the Roman governors Festus and Albinus (Antiquities 20.9.1 §§ 197-203). Hegesippus gives a more circumstantial, less politically informed, account of the martyrdom. James is set up on a parapet of the Temple, being known and addressed by his opponents by the titles "Righteous and Oblias," Hegesippus reports. The second title has caused understandable puzzlement (especially when Hegesippus rendering of the term as "bulwark" is accepted13), but it is easily related to the Aramaic term `abal, which means "to mourn." Recent finds in the vicinity of the Dead Sea (not only near Qumran) have greatly enhanced our understanding of Aramaic as spoken in the time of Jesus and his followers. The use of the term is attested there.14 James was probably known as "mourner."
A minor tractate of the Talmud lays down the rule that a mourner (‘aval) "is under the prohibition to bathe, anoint [the body], put on sandals and cohabit" (Semachoth 4:1). This largely corresponds to the requirements of a Nazirite vow and to Hegesippus’ description of James’ practice; for Jesus himself to have called his brother "mourner" would fit in with his giving his followers nicknames. A tight association with the Temple on James’ part is attested throughout and from an early period, but not a universal requirement of circumcision.
was there any substantial place for non-Jews within James’ understanding of the covenant with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob?
Hegesippus’ account of James’ prominence is confirmed by Clement, who portrays James as the first elected bishop in Jerusalem (also cited by Eusebius, History 2.1.1-6), and by the pseudo-Clementine Recognitions, which makes James into an almost papal figure, providing the correct paradigm of preaching to Gentiles. Paul is so much the butt of this presentation that Recognitions [I.43-71] even relate that, prior to his conversion to Christianity, Saul assaulted physically James in the Temple. Martin Hengel refers to this presentation as an apostolic novel [Apostelroman], deeply influenced by the perspective of the Ebionites, and probably to be dated within the third and fourth centuries.15
Yet even in Acts 15, the use of Scripture attributed to James, like the argument itself, is quite unlike Paul's. James claims that Peter’s baptism of non-Jews is to be accepted because "the words of the prophets agree, just as it is written" (Acts 15:15), and he goes on to cite from the book of Amos. The passage cited will concern us in a moment; the form of James’ interpretation is an immediate indication of a substantial difference from Paul. As James has it, there is actual agreement between Symeon and the words of the prophets, as two people might agree: the use of the verb sumphoneo is nowhere else in the New Testament used in respect of Scripture. The continuity of Christian experience with Scripture is marked as a greater concern than within Paul's interpretation, and James expects that continuity to be verbal, a matter of agreement with the prophets' words, not merely with possible ways of looking at what they mean.
The citation from Amos (9:11-12, from the version of the Septuagint, which was the Bible of Luke-Acts) comports well with James’ concern that the position of the Church agree with the principal vocabulary of the prophets (Acts 15:16-17):
After this I will come back and restore the tent of David which has fallen, and rebuild its ruins and set it up anew, that the rest of men may seek the Lord, and all the Gentiles upon whom my name is called . . .
In the argument of James as represented here, what the belief of Gentiles achieves is, not the redefinition of Israel (as in Paul's thought), but the restoration of the house of David. The argument is possible because a Davidic genealogy of Jesus—and, therefore, of his brother James—is assumed.
did James oppose a Pauline teaching of salvation by grace with an insistence upon obedience to the Torah?
It is true that the Epistle of James sets out an elaborate argument—including a reading of Genesis 22 with seems to contradict Paul’s—to the effect that faith without works is dead, (see James 14-26 and Romans 4). But the Epistle does not set out Paul’s position in anything like detail; as Peter Davids has remarked, "There is no sense of the Pauline tension between faith and Torah piety, for James' community is in a different context."16 Paul is without doubt the most prominent explorer of that tension, but his position is subtler than what is refuted in the Epistle of James. That is no surprise, since Paul himself had to correct antinomian readings of his own views among those sympathetic to him (see 1 Corinthians 5-6). The Pastoral Epistles and 2 Peter 3:15-16 suggest this difficulty grew over time.
The dating of the Epistle of James, and particularly the question whether it was written before or after the destruction of the Temple in 70 CE, continues to cause controversy. But the sense of social crisis reflected in the Epistle is unmistakable, as well as its urgent expectation of Jesus’ parousia (James 5:7-8, cf. 2 Peter 3:4, 12). But if we think back to Hegesippus’ description of James’ ethos, that is not surprising. With the threat to the very possibility of sacrificial worship in the Temple (whether after its destruction or in the turbulent conditions which preceded that trauma), a fundamental aspect of James’ position was compromised, an aspect with which Paul himself could agree (as Acts 21:16-36 Romans 15:16 suggest). What remained was Jesus’ identity as the Son of Man, and the challenge to James’ theology (before or after his own death) was to maintain and even enhance that identity, as worship in the Temple became increasingly problematic. In that context, whether James happened to have agreed with Paul in a doctrine that Paul had articulated in quite a different context appears a secondary concern.
was James the most prominent person in Jesus’ movement between the resurrection and his own death?
It is telling that, in his attempt to draw together the material relating to James, Jerome cites the Gospel according to the Hebrews alongside the New Testament, Hegesippus, and Josephus. The conflation attests the fragmentary nature of the references, as well as the appearance they give of having been spun out of one another, or out of cognate traditions. For all that use of these sources is unavoidable, as the necessary point of departure for any discussion of James, they all make James into an image which comports with their own programs. The Gospels’ James is kept at bay so as not to deflect attention from Jesus until the resurrection, when James implicitly or explicitly (in the case of Paul and the Gospel according to the Hebrews) becomes an important witness; the James of Acts reconciles the Church within a stance which leads on to the position of Paul; Paul’s James divides the Church; Josephus relates James’ death to illustrate the bloody mindedness of Ananus, the high priest; Hegesippus does so to illustrate the righteousness of James and his community; Clement makes James the transitional figure of the apostolic tradition, and the Recognitions use and enhance that standing in order to attack the figure of Paul.
Right the way through, James is deployed in these sources to assert what is held to be an authoritative construction of Jesus’ movement. Accordingly, he is marginalized (in the Gospels), appealed to as an authoritative witness (in Acts and Paul), criticized (in Paul), portrayed as a victim (by Josephus) or a hero (by Hegesippus), hailed as both a source of unity (by Clement and in the tradition of Acts) and the trump card to use against Paul (in the Recognitions). Everything that makes the figure of "the historical Jesus" in an historicist understanding problematic makes "the historical James" in that sense out of the question.
James’ devotion to the Temple and to his brother as the Danielic Son of Man after the resurrection made him the most prominent Christian leader in Jerusalem. The practice of the Nazirite vow was his distinguishing feature, and his belief in his brother as the gate of heaven, the heavenly portal above the Temple, made him a figure to be revered and reviled in Judaism, depending upon one’s evaluation of Jesus. Among Christians, he promulgated his understanding of the establishment of the house of David by means of an interpretation reminiscent of the Essenes, although he insisted that baptized, uncircumcised non-Jews had an ancillary role. As the bishop or overseer (mebaqqer, in the Dead Sea Scrolls ) of his community, he exercised a function which entered the Greek language as episkopos, and the influence of his circle is attested in the New Testament and later literature (including the Gospel according to Thomas, the Apocryphon of James, the Protevangelium of James, the First and Second Apocalypse of James, the Gospel of Peter, the Apocalypse of Peter, the Kerygma Petrou, the Kerygmata Petrou, the Acts of Peter, the Letter of Peter to Philip, and the Act of Peter (ca 200 CE or later).
Once James’ distinctive importance has been recognized, it is natural to ask: how great was his influence upon the earliest phase of primitive Christian and early Christian literature? It has been argued, for example, that passages within the Synoptic Gospels might well bear the stamp of James’ perspective. Within the narrative of Jesus’ passion in the Synoptics, only one passage makes the Last Supper correspond to Passover (Matthew 26:17-20; Mark 14:12-17; Luke 22:7-14), and that presentation conflicts with the Johannine and Pauline presentations. That would limit participation in the meal and in its commemoration to those circumcised, in the case of males (see Exodus 12:48), a move which would accord with James’ Israelite construction of the Church’s leadership.17 Similarly, the teaching attributed to Jesus in regard to vowing property as qorbana, a gift to the Temple, manifests an interest in and a familiarity with cultic institutions, as well as a style of exegesis associated with the pesharim of Qumran, which better accords with James than with Jesus (Matthew 15:1-20; Mark 7:1-23).18 Lastly, the story of the demons and the swine of Gergesa, with its emphasis on the impurity of non-Jews (Romans especially; Matthew 8:28-34; Mark 5:1-20; Luke 8:26-39) has been linked with a Jacobean cycle of tradition, and the secret knowledge of the demons that Jesus was Nazarenos, a Nazirite, is plausible linked to the same cycle.19
Within the terms of reference of early Judaism and primitive Christianity, no single issue can compare in importance to that of the Temple. The Nazirite practice attributed to James and those in contact with him provides a highly focused degree of devotion to the Temple. As usually practiced, of course, the social history of primitive Christianity and early Christianity has been Hellenistic in orientation. That is perfectly natural, given the actual provenience and language of the New Testament and the bulk of the corpus of Christianity in late antiquity. Still, social histories such as those of Wayne Meeks,20 Abraham Malherbe,21 and Dennis Smith and Hal Taussig22 have tended not to engage the sources of Judaism, and especially the Judaism of Aramaic and Hebrew sources, with the same vigor that has been applied to the Hellenistic dimension of analysis. That is perfectly understandable, given the particular documents they have dealt with, and the specific questions that they applied to those documents. But a figure such as James will simply remain a cipher, and in all probability a cipher for some form of Paulinism or another, as long as he is not located within the milieu which not only produced him, but which was embraced as a consciously chosen locus of devotion and activity. Many teachers associated with the movement of Jesus managed at least partially to avoid the Temple altogether; James is virtually found only there after the resurrection.
The specificity of that location raises the issue of James’ relation to other forms of Christianity, to other forms of Judaism, and especially to those responsible for the operation of the Temple. Here, the analysis of James in socially historical terms comes closest to classic history in its specificity.
Whether in the key of an emphasis on the "social" or the "historical" within socially historical analysis, what emerges from our consideration is a distinctive, cultic focus upon the validation of the covenant with Israel which blesses all nations on the authority of Jesus, understood in his resurrection to be identifiable with the "one like a son of man" of Daniel 7.

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