Academic journal article Journal of Biblical Literature

A Spirituality of Perfection. Faith in Action in the Letter of James / Has God Not Chosen the Poor? the Social Setting of the Epistle of James / Logos and Law in the Letter of James: The Law of Nature, the Law of Moses, and the Law of Freedom

Academic journal article Journal of Biblical Literature

A Spirituality of Perfection. Faith in Action in the Letter of James / Has God Not Chosen the Poor? the Social Setting of the Epistle of James / Logos and Law in the Letter of James: The Law of Nature, the Law of Moses, and the Law of Freedom

Article excerpt

(ProQuest Information and Learning: ... denotes non-USASCII text omitted.)

A Spirituality of Perfection. Faith in Action in the Letter of James, by Patrick J. Hartin. Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press, 1999. Pp. viii + 192. $17.95.

Has God Not Chosen the Poor? The Social Setting of the Epistle of James, by David Hutchinson Edgar. JSNTSup 206. Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press, 2001. Pp. 261. $64.

Logos and Law in the Letter of James: The Law of Nature, the Law of Moses, and the Law of Freedom, by Matt A. Jackson-McCabe. NovTSup 100. Leiden: Brill, 2001. Pp. xvi + 286. $102.

Whereas only a few monographs on the epistle of James appeared in the sixties, seventies, and eighties, the situation has radically changed in the last decade. At the same time, the focus has shifted. Instead of the traditional concentration on 2:14-26 and on the comparison with Paul, the perspective has opened up considerably, and the individual theological significance of James and its themes has been more strongly recognized. In opposition to the classical, derogatory assessment of Martin Luther, the letter has therefore undergone a thorough rehabilitation most recently. In the present review, three newly published monographs documenting these new interests will be presented.

Subsequent to publishing his James and the Q Sayings of Jesus (JSNTSup 47; Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press, 1991) and a number of articles, Patrick Hartin has contributed another monograph, A Spirituality of Perfection, in which he draws a comprehensive picture of his understanding of the epistle and simultaneously attempts to unfold the meaning of the letter for today (ch. 7: "On Reading James Today," pp. 149-69). Hartin belongs to those scholars who emphasize the close connection of the epistle with the Jesus tradition. In this new monograph, his primary intention is portraying "how James's concept of perfection operates as a unifying theme by giving meaning to the other themes developed throughout the letter" (p. 10). Additionally, Hartin postulates close resemblances between the letter and the Jesus tradition as it is handed down in the Gospel of Matthew, especially in the Matthean Sermon on the Mount.

Prior to analyzing the Jacobean concept of perfection, Hartin offers "An Overview of the Concept of Perfection in the Ancient World as a Background to the Letter of James" (ch. 2, pp. 17-39), in which he presents the concept of perfection in the classical Greek world, the Hebrew Scriptures and the Septuagint, Second Temple Judaism, and the NT. In his opinion, the OT concept of perfection serves as the main background for James's perception. Hartin discerns three essential aspects here: (1) "the idea of wholeness, or completeness, whereby a being remains true to its original constitution" (p. 26); (2) wholehearted dedication to the Lord; and (3) obedience to the Torah.

As a second preliminary step to the analysis of the idea of perfection in James, Hartin gives attention to the nature or genre of this writing (ch. 3: "The Nature and Purpose of the Letter of James," pp. 41-56). Hartin follows others in categorizing the epistle as a piece of wisdom literature, but defines the writing more precisely as "protreptic discourse," which he distinguishes from paraenesis, for example, by its more strongly argumentative character in comparison with the paraenetic collection of loosely connected exhortations. With this last classification, Hartin joins the new magnus consensus of James scholarship, insofar as the Dibelian view of the epistle as a loose collection of sayings without any situational reference has generally been surmounted, although Hartin's definitions of paraenesis and protreptic discourse are questionable. Moreover, Moreover, since the wisdom classification of the epistle is a highly disputed matter in recent scholarship on the letter, an essential critical point is missed, because Hartin does not engage in intensive discussion with the opposing position. …

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