Just James: The Brother of Jesus in History and Tradition

Just James: The Brother of Jesus in History and Tradition

Just James: The Brother of Jesus in History and Tradition

Just James: The Brother of Jesus in History and Tradition

Excerpt

Just James is the consequence of an invitation by Moody Smith (toward the end of 1988) to contribute to this series of Studies on Personalities of the New Testament. I accepted without hesitation. Because my research and teaching have been directed to the history and literature of early Christianity, rather than narrowly to the New Testament, I was aware that there was more to this James than generally meets the eye. In my days as an undergraduate student, reading Streeter's The Four Gospels and The Primitive Church convinced me of the diversity of earliest Christianity. This view is reflected in my earlier studies of Johannine Christianity and Mark as well as in my teaching of Paul and the Synoptic Gospels. I am glad to find opportunity to acknowledge the debt my generation of students owes to Streeter, not least in the recognition that the literary diversity of the New Testament is rooted in the historical, and probably geographical, diversity of earliest Christianity. Study of James has deepened and enriched this sense of diversity and significantly changed my understanding of the history of early Christianity, leading to conclusions about which I had no inkling when this study began. In this process James the brother of Jesus emerges as one of the outstanding figures in early Christianity.

If this has been obscured in the New Testament, it is because these documents do not derive from pro-Jamesian circles. A tradition of reading the New Testament has developed that is more negative in relation to James than the documents demand. Once certain presuppositions are laid aside, James emerges as the leading figure of the Jerusalem church. This perception of James is strengthened by paying attention to traditions about James outside the New Testament. Just James rereads the evidence about James free of some of the dominating interpretative paradigms. In the study of James there is no safety or security for the unwary, because the sources take sides and should be read in the light of this fact. While there are those who defend the historical accuracy of Acts, the bias of this work is commonly recognized and preference is given to Paul's letters where the two overlap. Even this can be too simple because, although Paul wrote of what he knew at first hand, he was not a disinterested . . .

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