Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Book Note: Not by Paul Alone (David Nienhuis)

You wouldn't guess it from the title, but a new book on James has just been released by Baylor University Press. It is written by David R. Nienhuis (Assistant Professor at Seattle Pacific University), Not By Paul Alone: The Formation of the Catholic Epistle Collection and the Christian Canon (2007). The book is about the Catholic Epistles - James, 1 and 2 Peter, 1, 2, and 3 John, and Jude - as a canonical collection, rather than as individual letters or tracts. The hope is that by studying them as a collection, we can learn something about when the epistle of James was written and for what purpose(s).

Thus the book includes hefty and informative coverage of the patristic literature in reference to the history of the catholic epistles, including some very helpful charts organizing the reception history of the epistles within the patristic literature of the Syrian church, the Eastern church, the Western church, and the manuscript traditions through the fifth century.

The rest of the book takes up the problem of James - as a letter and as the leader of the Jerusalem church - and describes the first and second century references to him even in gnostic sources. It is too bad that Nienhuis did not know about the Tchacos Codex which contains another version of the 1 Apocalypse of James with significant variations from the Nag Hammadi version. One such variation is the story of James' martyrdom, which is rehearsed at the end of the Tchacos version. This is not preserved in the NH version. Another is an explanation for his epithet "the Just", an epithet which was given to him because he was serving the Demiurge, God the Just, before Jesus intervened and brought him gnosis.

Nienhuis finds it odd that no trace, allusion, or reference to the epistle of James can be located in any of these materials. This leads him to consider the letter of James to be pseudonymous and late. So then he must find a reason for its writing. This reason he thinks can be found in the collection itself - that the author of the collection was creating a "Pillars" of the church collection. Because we would expect "some kind of deliberate engagement with the Pauline witness," one that represented the "Catholic" position, James was written (pp. 160-161).
Excerpt: "The letter of James was probably written sometime in the middle of the second century, possibly by someone associated with the church in Jerusalem, given that church's keen interest in maintaining James' authority...The letter was born out of the same broader anti-Marcionite logic that fueled the composition of 2 Peter and the writings of Irenaeus and Tertullian. It was written to forge together a Jerusalem Pillars letter collection to balance the emphases of the Pauline collection, defend the authority of the Jewish scriptures, and uphold the continuation of the covenants - in short, to protect against the theological distortions that tended to arise whenever readers championed Paul alone."
If you are interested in issues of canon development or the study of James, this book offers a lot for you. If you are a scholar who thinks that the letter of James is old and written by James, this thesis has much to answer to (if it doesn't persuade you to Nienhuis' position). It did occur to me when reading the book that the reasons that Nienhuis outlines for its pseudonymous creation, may in fact be reasons that an old letter that no longer supported the apostolic church doctrinally (especially its position on the Torah and its disinterest in christology) was dug out of the archives and refreshed, taking on new relevance at a new time in the church's history.

2 comments: said...

The 'Essenes' were of no certain city (Josephus). Thus they were itinerant prophets (Didache). I believe James was one such prophet who travelled, in particular to Rome. He wrote an original prophetic Epistle of James later distorted by the Pauline editors who created Paul.

Jared Calaway said...

Cute title--a play on the Lutheran "sola fides" derived from exegesis of the Pauline corpus, no doubt. I do like books that draw attention away from the Gospels and the (authentic) Paulines. It seems that the catholic and pseudo-Pauline epistles just do not get nearly as much scholarly attention. Although, once again, because of Luther's dislike of James, James may be the exception here.