Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Speaking of Pseudepigrapha

Some interesting comments in the previous post, which I shall have to follow up. Thanks.

I recently got David R. Nienhuis’s Not by Paul Alone from the library, and it looks so interesting I am tempted to purchase it so I can scribble all over it (birthday present, anyone?!).

Essentially, he seems to argue that James, like 2 Peter, is a mid-second century pseudepigrapha, written to provide shape in the developing Christian canon. Indeed, the Catholic Epistles use the names of church pillars (James, Peter and John) in their pseudepigraphal project in an attempt to counterbalance the Pauline dominance in the emerging collection, and particularly its potential (mis)application by Marcionists.

Fascinating! There is something plausible and simple about this thesis which appeals to me.


At 10/15/2008 12:23 AM, Blogger Weekend Fisher said...

That seems like an uphill argument with James. That particular book distinguishes itself by being one of the few books with neither "Jesus" nor "Christ" in its high-frequency word list. (3 John is the other NT book with strikingly little to say about Christ.) And the book of James enjoyed so much less acceptance than most other letters that whoever might have picked that as a pseudonym for his writing made a serious misstep.

I also wonder: leaving aside the Marcionites, even the proto-orthodox Gentile Christians were less Semitic in focus than, say, Matthew and Mark. I wonder how much the going concerns and religious / cultural assumptions of James can be plausibly dated that late?

It would be an interesting study.

Take care & God bless

At 10/15/2008 3:11 PM, Blogger Jason Pratt said...

I agree with my fellow Cadrist. {g} {wave to WF!} I understand the appeal of trying to theorize that the Jacobin epistle was written in mid-2nd-cent to show a pillar of the early church (and relative of Jesus) quoting material found in the Gospels (thus helping shore up the canon against emerging competition)--especially the appeal that this attempt would have to Jesus Mythers. {wry g!}

But compared to other docs that we're quite sure were written at that time to shore up claims of orthodoxy and canon vs. the contemporary competition, "James" sure looks weak in the orthodoxy department! Heck, 2 Peter looks far more like promoting orthodoxy and 'catholic' concerns; which is precisely why it sometimes gets dated to mid-2nd-c. The content of James doesn't lend itself to anything other than primitivity, on the other hand. (Except for that annoying tendency to quote material that some people would rather safely date later... {g})


At 10/15/2008 11:57 PM, Blogger Weekend Fisher said...

Hi Jason

Imagine meeting you here!

Anyway, your parenthetical comment ("and relative of Jesus") reminded me of another comment I'd meant to make on whether this could be a forgery. If someone *were* forging a letter in someone's name to piggyback on their reputation, the least they could do is make it a little bit clearer *which* James they meant, esp. if that was their whole basis for gaining acceptance.

And the translations gloss over some of the evidences for how early this work was written. James 2:2 has "your synagogue" in the Greek. Not something you'd expect from a second-century forger.

Take care & God bless
Anne / WF

P.S. I tried posting this before and the comment box ate my comment. Hope this doesn't end up as a double-post ...

At 10/16/2008 4:29 AM, Blogger Edward T. Babinski said...

Hi weekend fisher & jason pratt.

There is at least one connection I perceive b/w James and the Petrine letters (the latter of which you agree are probably later documents). Namely that both James and Peter 1 & 2 feature passages that seem to be designed to keep the faith afloat in light of the increasing delay of the parousia.

The fact that an attempt to explain the delay of the parousia was made in a late-dated letter such as 2 Peter that someone chose to compose in the name of an apostle already dead, demonstrates to what lengths the church felt it had to resort in order to save face.

But before examining the excuse for Jesus' delay in 2nd Peter, note what was written in 1st Peter:

"...The glory that is soon [mello] to be revealed... [5:1]

"He [Jesus] was foreknown before the foundation of the world, but has appeared in these last times [or last days, or end of times] [1:20]

"The end of all things is at hand." [4:7]

Then in 2nd Peter 3:8 the feeble attempt at an excuse is made:

"With the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day."

Such a late attempt to make excuses for Jesus' delay is an obvious failure. It makes a mockery of all the clear predictions made by earlier authors in the New Testament. It is like saying that when God "inspired" the biblical authors to say they were living in the "last hour," or in the "last days," or when He inspired the author of Hebrews to write that it was only a "very little while" before the "Son of Man" would "come," God really meant "hours" and "days" and "very little whiles" that were "thousands" of years long, or that God was unable to put words into the minds of his earlier prophets that meant what He fundamentally intended them to mean, and had to cover His tracks at a later date (i.e., in a late-dated letter) by redefining a lot more words than just "day." Or perhaps God simply expected some theologically minded folks would step in eventually and forge some letters or even "theologize away" such passages 2000 years later.

But the excuse offered by the author of 2nd Peter even contradicted the predictions in 1st Peter that "the glory is soon to be revealed," and the "end of all things is at hand."

Moreover, even the author of 2nd Peter did not suspect that the end was very far off, for he also wrote:

"God is not slack concerning his promise, the day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night: what manner of persons ought you [the second century Christians he was addressing] to be... looking for, and hastening the coming of God... we are looking for new heavens, and a new earth." [2 Pet 3:9-13]

And he added:

"...In the last days mockers will come with their mocking, following after their own lusts, and saying, 'Where is the promise of his coming? For ever since the fathers fell asleep, all continues just as it was from the beginning of creation.'" [2 Pet 3:3-4]

Note that such speech about "mockers" applied to folks already disturbing the faithful at the time 2nd Peter was written. "For when they [note the use of the present tense] maintain this, it escapes their notice..." [2 Pet 3:5]. Obviously these "mockers" were asking, "Where is the promise of his coming," because other N.T. writings including Paul, the Johannine letters, the author of Hebrews, and the author of Revelation all predicted the soon return of Jesus in final judgment of the whole world.

By the time 2nd Peter was written, these "fathers" had all "fallen asleep," including, one might add, Peter himself, the alleged author of this very late letter. So somebody in the church took it upon themselves to write (or should I say, felt inspired by God to make up excuses), a pseudonymous letter attributed to Peter and supposedly written before his death, as a last ditch effort to counter such "mockery."
(Which only led to more mockery of course, including the modern day skeptical variety.)

The author of the letter of Jude (a letter composed EVEN LATER than the pseudonymous 2nd Peter) reproduced the above passage from 2 Peter to illustrate that the end could not be far off, since "mockers" were plaguing the church in his day with this very same question:

"Certain persons have [present tense, i.e., in Jude's day] crept in unnoticed, those who were long beforehand marked out for condemnation... these men revile the things they do not understand... About these Enoch prophesied saying, 'Behold, the Lord came with many thousands of his holy ones to execute judgment.'

"...But you, beloved, remember the words spoken beforehand by the apostles of our Lord Jesus Christ, that they were saying to you, 'In the last times there shall be mockers, following after their own ungodly lusts.'" [Jude 4, 10, 14-15, 17-18]

So the authors of both Jude and 2nd Peter agreed that they were addressing mockers then plaguing the church. The "last times" for the authors of 2 Peter and Jude were their own - in the second century A.D.


"Come now, you rich [those living at the time this letter was written], weep and howl for your miseries which are coming upon you... It is in the last days that you have stored up your treasure... Be patient, therefore,[i.e., don't lose hope, again a strategic acknowledgment that hope WAS BEING LOST by the time JAMES WAS COMPOSED] brethren, until the coming of the Lord. Behold, the farmer waits for the precious produce of the soil, being patient about it, until it gets the early and late rains. You too be patient; strengthen your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is at hand... ...Behold, the Judge is standing right at the door.' [5:1,3,7-9]

The author of James sought in those verses to address the GROWING IMPATIENCE of some at the delay of Jesus' return. He reassured them that the "the coming of the Lord is at hand," "the Judge is standing right at the door."

At 10/17/2008 6:44 AM, Blogger Weekend Fisher said...

Hi Edward

Let me see if I've got your line of reasoning:

1. The book of James expresses a concern for patience in waiting for the Lord, therefore it is written during a time when that was a concern.
2. 2 Peter and Jude were written at a time when that was a concern, and many scholars date 2 Peter fairly late (let's say in the second century).
3. Therefore James was written around the same time.

Does that about sum it up?

Along with the original post, which I should add as another:

4. The book of James was written as part of an anti-Marcionite movement. This would require a fairly late date for it, probably not earlier than 140-150 A.D.


Now, keep in mind, I'm fond of questions, and these next are rhetorical ones, not ones that I expect you to answer. They're just my thoughts as I test out whether these lines of thought hold water.

On the first three, first I take a look: what kind of patience is being urged here? Both patience waiting for Jesus and patience in suffering / tribulation are referenced. So then my main question would be: when, exactly, were those types of patience of main concern in the early church?

Now, at this point, your main argument seems to go: they *ought* to have been increasingly concerned that Jesus wasn't back yet as the 100's A.D. ticked by. I'm not sure I've seen any studies on "What were the main concerns of the church in each decade or so, and when were these concerns paramount?" That would be an interesting study, just to make sure we're not projecting our own expectations backwards and are being historically careful about the dating of when the early church had various concerns on its mind. I'm not sure we have any definitive answer on that one. What were the stages in the church deciding not to be impatient for the second coming after all, and instead start arguing about docetism and so forth? That's the research it would take to be able to suggest a date based on that line of argument.

So on to James being anti-Marcionite ... Well, if he's meant to be a response to a docetist, why doesn't he address docetism? If he's meant to be a response to a Gnostic, why doesn't he address Gnosticism? How about Christ's spirituality/physicality? Given the questions Marcion raised about the nature of God, the nature of Christ, and the relation between them, why isn't that a major topic in James if it were written to counter that? If James is anti-Marcionite, why is it mostly wisdom literature rather than anti-Marcionite material?

On the one hand: the distinctly Jewish character of the book of James would be a thorn in Marcion's side. On the other hand, a distinctly Jewish Christian book hardly requires a post-Marcion date. If James were written as a response to Marcion, then why is the question of the law and the Gentiles left untouched? Why is the Jewish character not an explicit argument as would be likely after someone had overtly challenged the Judaism of Christian works? If it is a response to polemics against Jewish influence, then why is there no overt response about Jewish influence and instead the Judaism is just tacitly woven into the fabric of the language (synagogue, 'Lord of Sabaoth') and concerns (twelve tribes in the diaspora). I think such an unselfconsciously Jewish-Christian perspective argues against an origin in the racially mixed and racially self-conscious church of the second century -- which leaves some interesting possibilities of either a fairly early date or an origin amongst Ebionites/Nazoreans of the second century who either pre-dated Marcion or didn't give a flip about what Marcion thought.

If all the writings which had predated Marcion were Paul's and there were no writings of the other apostles to oppose, then what exactly was Marcion objecting to? And why wasn't Marcion's canon acceptable to his contemporaries, if those other letters hadn't yet been written? (There we get into 1Peter v 2Peter on dating & all that.)

Some of the above also applies to 2Peter as to whether it is anti-Marcionite. For example, Tertullian (to consider someone who certainly was anti-Marcionite) really bats one out of the park with his response to Marcion about the Transfiguration: if Jesus is opposed to Moses, why was Moses at the Transfiguration even in the Marcionite edition of Luke? But here we have 2Peter recalling the Transfiguration, a perfect opportunity to bring up Moses and Elijah and refute Marcion ... no mention of Moses anywhere in 2Peter. Odd, odd, odd - if it really had been written as an anti-Marcionite exercise.

I know the original argument on "not Paul alone" is simple and has great explanatory power; that's just not quite enough for it to get past the general "perspective-check" type questions.

You know, if we get much more long-winded, maybe we should take the discussion to our own blogs rather than hijacking poor Chris' comment box ...

Take care & God bless

At 10/22/2008 11:56 AM, Anonymous TJ said...

"(birthday present, anyone?!)"

Don't look at me, man! Buy your own stuff!!!

At 10/23/2008 4:10 PM, Blogger Chris Donato said...

I recoil pretty hard from this thesis. Having taught through James for about a year now, I see a predominant recapitulation of OT wisdom and Jesus everywhere in it. Totally primitive Xian doctrine and practice…

At 12/05/2008 5:34 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

In my opinion, any claim that James is a late and spurious work is laughable. As to the accusation against 2nd Peter that it is a late inauthentic addition, consider this: You cannot have an inauthentic 2nd Peter and an authentic Pauline corpus because the only thing that really raises suspicion against 2nd Peter's authenticity is its reference to Paul's epistles as Scripture. Either both are authentic or both are inauthentic, or Paul is inauthentic and 2nd Peter is authentic but two verses of it are not. If you believe that Paul's epistles are inauthentic (such as perhaps that Macrion actually wrote them rather than mutilated them) then it makes sense to believe that 2nd Peter was written to justify adding Paul to the orthodox canon (after the epistles were revised from their Marcionite form be more orthodox) and also to warn readers against interpreting Romans 9 as teaching predestination as based on anything other than foreseen faith, for all Paul really means is that "that the longsuffering of our Lord is salvation." The problem with this theory, even if you did believe that Paul's epistles were inauthentic, is that forging the entire epistle of 2nd Peter merely to legitimize Paul's epistles seems silly and like overkill. It would be more likely that 2nd Pet 3:15-16 are later interpolations added to a legitimate letter of Peter to legitimize Paul's (or so-called Paul's) epistles. But look, this is all a double edged sword. If you throw 2nd Peter out, you might as well throw Paul out. Yet again, if you throw out Paul you must throw out at least 2 verses from 2nd Peter, i.e. 2nd Pet 3:15-16. But look Paul's claim to canonicity becomes weak without Peter's testimony in favor of his epistles. Paul did not walk with Jesus in the gospels. Nor does Acts does not represent Paul as an apostle of equal authority to Peter, but only really as an apostle of the church of Antioch. Nobody but rank heretics who have no concern or love whatsoever for truth would ever accept the Galatian letter's claim that Paul is an apostle of Jesus Christ "not of men, neither by man, but by Jesus Christ," without 2nd Pet 3:15-16's testimony in acceptance of Paul's epistles as Scripture, for it is clear that Paul did immediately confer with flesh and blood when he was baptized by Ananias and that he did go to Jerusalem long before Galatians says and did see the apostles and was known by face to the churches of Judea and that something was added to him in conference by the other apostles and that he did give into the circumcising party and circumcise Timothy. Paul's epistles would not last outside of a rabidly anti-gospel sola-fidean heresy context apart from 2nd Pet 3:15-16 because nobody would feel the need to jump through hoops to harmonize Galtians and Acts without Peter's testimony. So far from 2nd Peter being written to water Paul down in favor of orthodox concerns, therefore, it would have been written to water Peter down and bring in Paul who would have been considered questionable if not heretical prior to his being granted acceptance by 2nd Peter and he never could have enjoyed the status he does now! So far from being an apostle not by man nor through man, Paul's apostleship rests entirely on 2nd Peter 3:15-16 being considered to be authentic words from Peter's pen! He is subject and subservient to Peter, to the extent that throwing 2nd Peter out throws him out. Are you prepared to throw out your favorite apostle? You might have to obey Jesus if you do, because you can't hide behind Faith Only heresy without Paul's epistles to twist in an unlearned and unstable way as you do the rest of the scriptures unto your own destruction.


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