Saturday, May 23, 2009

Dunn's Beginning from Jerusalem 18.2

Last week I started what will almost certainly be a long and yet incomplete read through James Dunn's Beginning from Jerusalem. For the full deal, Nijay Gupta's your person.

For what I've done so far:

1.1 Defining Terms

This week I skip almost to the end of his massive tome to Dunn's section on the book of James. I am teaching James this Fall and doing some explanatory notes on the side on it. And I find it so hard to read a book from beginning to end. Jumping around helps hold my attention and then I can force myself to endure the boring bits. And lets face it. No matter how good an author is, there will almost certainly be boring bits.

By the way, I think I am an above average author and teacher because I find so much of everyone else so utterly boring. I've never read a book I couldn't put down. I've come to read a lot, but almost every page is painful.

Reading Dunn and others on James makes me glad I've formed a lot of my opinions without having read them. I am on such a different page on many things. It makes me wonder how much of interpretive discussion is biased by reading the commentators. At the same time, certainly we gain much when ground has been plowed as much as Paul has. With James and Hebrews, less plowed, the commentators are less helpful, I think.

Dunn goes through a number of arguments against James as author and then, almost surprisingly, asserts that James in its current form is a collection of James' oral teaching made by someone else after his death.

Dunn finds these arguments against straightforward James authorship unconvincing:

1. The Greek is too good for James.
2. James would have introduced himself as the brother of Jesus.
3. The letter wouldn't have faced so much difficulty becoming canonical if James wrote it.
4. The polemic against the rich doesn't fit James' lifetime.
5. The letter seems more typical of Diaspora rather than Palestinian Judaism.
6. The attitude toward the law doesn't fit the Temple/Jerusalem context of James.

Dunn concludes, "the arguments usually marshalled against attributing the letter of James to James of Jerusalem, the brother of Jesus, are not strong enough to overturn the most obvious implication of the heading of the letter" (1127).

I might say that I still find 1, 5, and 6 significant. And so much scholarship (e.g., Bauckham, Luke Timothy Johnson) I find strangely confuses what is possible with what is probable. The truth question is not, is it possible that a Galilean, Aramaic speaking Jew could write a letter like James in Greek without any help. The question is, is this the most probable scenario, the statistical likelihood. As I said in my initial explanatory notes, I think James has had some help with the Greek if we are to see him as the author.

And ironically, Dunn himself sees James as a collection of James' teaching, which of course means that he does not think James put the letter in its current form even though it accurately reflects the things James taught. Dunn sees James as the legacy of James of Jerusalem (1129). This is an interesting suggestion that, whether true or not, I cannot find fault with from a standpoint of inerrancy.

Dunn answers emphatically no. It is a collection of the wisdom sayings of James, a "commonplace book." I am a little more optimistic about finding an outline to the book than Dunn, as will become apparent as I move through James in my explanatory notes.

Oral Tradition
From Jesus Remembered and A New Perspective on Jesus, Dunn clearly thinks that his appropriation of recent studies on oral tradition to Jesus and now James are cutting edge, and I think they are. He eschews the so deeply ingrained orientation toward literary sources that in so many areas needs to die the death. Similarly, tradition is re-presented in the words of the person passing it on. In short, Dunn has no problem concluding that James contains "genuine recollections of teaching given by James and evidence of the influence he exercised and impact he made" (1136).

Further, he also believes we are hearing in James the same impact of Jesus' teaching on James, passed along in James' teaching perhaps even at times without conscious reflection that he was passing on Jesus tradition.

Emphases of James
Dunn highlights five themes:

1. maturity/perfection ("the teaching of James was not evangelistic, directed to non-believers" (1137).

2. wisdom (not just as a genre, but as a theme)

3. prayer

4. warnings to the rich

"... denunciations, of course, could fit many situations... But one of these is the period prior to the revolt of 66, when arguably the rapaciousness of many landlords was a factor in driving smallholders and tenant farmers into brigandage" (1141).

5. the law and works

Like Dunn, "I do not doubt that the passage evidences a reaction to Paul's teaching" (1142). He maps out parallels to Romans 4, although he does not argue for direct dependence. "And since James is the more polemical, the most obvious inference is that the James version is responding to the Paul version" (1143).

I'll confess that the only reason I can come up with why some scholars argue either that James is independent of Paul or that James was first (indeed, some like to think James is the first book of the NT written) is the old deeply ingrained harmonization tendency. I don't actually think James as it stands contradicts Paul in substance. It is more a parody of Paul that it addresses.

But again the only way I can explain this aversion on the part of some has nothing to do with the overwhelmingly probable best read of James. It has to do with subconscious hermeneutical tendencies that we must get over if we ever want to have a voice on the playing field of truth.

Is it Christian?
Yes. Indeed, Dunn finds in it great potential for information on "embryonic Christianity" (1146). He gives a list of several inferences, one of which is the idea that Jesus teaching formed an important part of the early Jerusalem church.

"The letter of James, then, is an invaluable testimony to a past age, to a time when in effect Christian and Jewish believers in Messiah Jesus were more or less synonymous" (1147).

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