The Bible in Its Traditions

James 1:1

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James, a bondservant of God and of our Lord Jesus Christ, to the twelve tribes which are scattered abroad: Greetings.

James, servant of God and of our Lord Jesus Christ, to the twelve tribes of the dispersion, greetings.

JAMES, a servant of God and of our Lord Jesus Christ, to the twelve tribes which are scattered among the Gentiles, greeting.

1b Diaspora 1Pt 1:1; Jn 7:35 1a servant of God Dt 34:5; Rom 1:1; Jude 1:1

Context

Biblical Intertextuality

1b Diaspora Diaspora as Suffering in Exile 1Pt 1:1 refers to "those living as sojourners (parepidêmoi) in the Dispersion (Diaspora),” thus linking the Diaspora closely with the suffering of people exiled from their true home.

Since, in the next verse, he refers to the “various trials" that his readers may be experiencing (Jas 1:2), James may well intend to connect the Diaspora with suffering.

Text

Grammar

1a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ: Reference to Jesus as Divine? Grammatically, it is possible to take the phrase "of the Lord Jesus Christ" (kuriou Iêsou Christou) in apposition to “of God” (theou); the phrase would then be translated as, “James, servant of Jesus Christ, God and Lord.”  Ps.-Andrew of Crete Bios 4.3–8 understood it in this way (Noret 1978, 44).

Reception

Comparison of Versions

1 James Asserting the Apostolic Authoriship of James In the later Latin tradition, as witnessed, for example, in the Gloss. Ord. and C, the title of the letter refers to James as beatus Iacobus Apostolus to clarify the apostolic credentials of the author. Hugh of St. Cher Post. adds the word apostolus to the text of 1:1.

Text

Textual Criticism

1a of God (Gr) Attempt at Clarification Some minuscules (e.g., 429 614) add patros in order to clarify that the referent of theou is God the Father and not the Lord Jesus (Grammar 1:1a).

Vocabulary

1a James The Hebrew “Jacob” Expressed in Greek Iakôbos is the Greek equivalent of the Hebrew Jacob (Ya‘ăqōb); thus for a Greek reader the name would evoke connotations of the great biblical patriarch.

The Hebrew name Ya‘ăqōb was rendered in Greek in two ways: (1) transliterated as Iakôb or (2) rendered in a more hellenized form as Iakôbos. In the NT, the OT patriarch's name is always rendered as Iakôb; this form is also used for Joseph's (husband of Jesus' mother Mary) father Jacob (Mt 1:15–16).

Iakôb is thus used for the ancestors of Jesus; the hellenized form Iakôbos is used for contemporaries and followers of Jesus. English translators have followed this distinction; rendering Ya‘ăqōb / Iakôb as "Jacob," and Iakôbos as "James." The English name "James" is derived from the Latin Jacomus, a variant of Jacobus (Painter 2001, 11).

Literary Genre

1a Greetings Standard Hellenistic Epistolary Greeting The letter begins with a standard Hellenistic epistolary opening, "X to Y: chairein (greetings)"  (cf. 1Mc 10:18,25; 11:30; Acts 15:23; 23:26; 2Jn 1:10–11).

Context

Biblical Intertextuality

1a servant of God A Respected Title in Israel Doulos is the common term for a slave (in Hebrew ‘ebed).

OT

The Israelites were douloi in Egypt (G-1Sm 2:27). But when the word is connected with God, it becomes a title of honor: the greatest leaders of Israel are called “servants of God,” such as Moses (Dt 34:5; Ps 105:26), David (2Sm 7:8; Ez 37:24), and the prophets (Jer 25:4; Am 3:7).

NT

In the NT, Paul frequently refers to himself as a servant of Christ Jesus (Rom 1:1; Gal 1:10; Phil 1:1; cf. Jude 1). Occasionally, believers in general may also be called “servants of God” (1Cor 7:22; 1Pt 2:16).

James’ use of the term, writing as both leader of the church in Jerusalem (Literary Genre 1:1b) and an authoritative teacher (cf. Jas 3:1), places himself in the company of Israel’s other honored leaders. 

1b twelve tribes Christians as Israel? Some Christian traditions identify the Christian community with phrases originally applied to the community of Israel (e.g., 1Pt 2:9–10: “a chosen race…a holy people"). Paul regularly identifies Christians with Israel: “we are the circumcision” (Phil 3:3); those who have faith in Jesus are children of Abraham and thus heirs of the promise to Abraham (Rom 4:16; Gal 3:7,29).

It is unclear, however, whether James has here in mind Paul’s theology (e.g., Gal 3:14) of including Gentiles (i.e., those who do not follow the Jewish law) within eschatological Israel. With his specific reference to the "twelve tribes" and his apparently unquestioned acceptance of the validity of the entire Jewish Law (cf. Jas 1:25; 2:8–12; 4:11–12), James seems to address specifically Jewish, or rather Jewish Christian, followers of the Lord Jesus.

Peritestamental Literature

1b twelve tribes in the Diaspora Connotations: Eschatological Reunion / Jews Outside the Homeland In the Second Temple period, the Diaspora had both important theological connotations and concrete historical references.

Theological Connotations

Theologically, the designation "twelve tribes who are in the Diaspora" evoked the belief that the tribes of Israel, who had been scattered among the Gentile nations, would be reunited in Jerusalem in the messianic age. See Dt 30:3; Jer 23:3; Ez 37:21; Sir 48:10; 2Mc 2:18. And see also in peritestamental literature: Pss. Sol. 8:28; 11:2–3; 17:26–28; 2 Bar. 78:7; Sib. Or. 2.170–73; 4 Esd. 13:39–50; T. Ben. 9.2.

One variation of this common belief was that the tribes in their entirety would not be gathered, but rather the representative "remnant" of Israel that had remained faithful to the Lord (e.g., Jer 23:3, "remnant" = Greek: kataloipoi; Hebrew: š’ryt). At least some early Christian communities thought of themselves as this remnant (see Rom 11:5). 

Concrete Historical Referent

Though the term evoked the reunited Israel of the eschatological age, in James' time it also had a concrete reference to contemporary Jewish communities outside of the Palestinian homeland, especially the ten tribes which had comprised the Northern Kingdom of Israel before its conquest by Assyria in the 8th c. BC. Some Second Temple traditions locate the ten tribes "east the Euphrates" (see Josephus A.J. 11.133; 2 Bar. 78:1).

Likely Audience

With his frequent use of Jesus' teaching, it is likely that James is writing to Jewish Christians (i.e., Jews who who accept Jesus as the Messiah and follow the Torah as interpreted by Jesus), living outside of the Palestinian homeland, whom he understands as the faithful "remnant" of Israel. 

Reception

Christian Tradition

1a servant An Honorable Title

An Honorable Title, Accepted in Humility

Commentators note that the apostles thought it an honor to bear the humble title, "servant of Christ" 

  • Ps.-Andreas Catena (attr. to Didymus [of Alexandria]): "For as the men of the world, in their written professional exchanges, wish to be named on the basis of their high status (ek tôn peri autous axiômatôn chrêmatizein thelousin), so too the apostles, in the beginnings of their writings, thought it worthy to be called servants of God and of Christ."
  • Ps.-Oecumenius Comm. Ep. Cath. Jac. ad loc., "Above any worldly honor (kosmikon axiôma), the Lord’s apostles prided themselves on being servants to Christ."
  • For Cajetan Ep. Pauli et al. Ap. pref. (362) and Erasmus Annot. Ep. Iac. (van Poll-van de Lisdonk 2014, 426), the author's failure to identify himself as an apostle is a reason to doubt his apostolic credentials. In contrast, for Ps.-Andrew of Crete Bios 4, it is merely a sign of the apostle's humility; similarly Lapide Comm. (20:12–13) notes that Mary also calls herself a servant of the Lord (Lk 1:38).
A Voluntary Servitude
  • Ps.-Hilary of Arles Tract. Iac. pref. explains that an apostle is not an involuntary slave (invitus servus) who fears punishment, but a voluntary servant (voluntarius servus) who "is not at all different from a son" (nihil distat a filio; col. 62).

1a of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ Reference to Jesus’ Divinity Several authors see in this passage a direct or indirect reference to Christ's divinity:

Jesus as God

  • Ps.-Andrew of Crete Bios 4 takes this phrase to refer to Jesus Christ as "God and Lord" (Grammar 1:1a).
  • Lapide Comm. lists several others, including Thomas Aquinas, who support this view; Lapide also quotes Virgil, Martial, and Suetonius to show that they use both titles to refer to the same divine being.

 Indirect Reference to Jesus' Divinity

  •  Ps.-Oecumenius Comm. Ep. Cath. Jac. comments: “The Father is God, and the Son is the Lord. So that if he is equally the servant of the Father and of the Son, the Son is honored in the same way as the Father, in respect to both essence and activity" (kai kat' ousian kai kat energeian; col. 456a).

1b twelve tribes in the Diaspora Identifying James’ Audience  Accepting that the letter's author is James, brother of the Lord, the Christian tradition regularly identifies the letter's recipients as Jews or Jewish Christians. Reference is often made to Gal 2:9, where James, Cephas and John agree that Paul's apostolate is to the Gentiles, and theirs to the Jews (e.g., Bede Ep. cath., Gloss. Ord., Estius Comm. ep. cath.). Examples of more specific identifications:

  •  Lapide Comm. ad loc.: Jewish Christians who live outside the homeland. He clarifies that James' sense is not that all twelve tribes are in the Diaspora, but rather some Jews from each of the twelve tribes are in the Diaspora.
  • Nicholas of Lyra Post. ad loc.: "converts from Judaism" who live outside of Judea.
  • Bar Salibi Ep. Cath. ad loc.: to those tribes dispersed among the Gentiles, and who believed in Christ, not those who remained in Judaism (Sedlacek 1910, 89).
  •  Calvin Comm. Iac. ad loc.: James writes to the descendants of the 10 northern tribes who had been taken into exile. James does not refer to Christ's grace or faith in Christ because his audience had already been instructed in Christian doctrine, and James writes to exhort them (Owen 1849, 278)
  • Those who had been expelled from Jerusalem due to the persecution that arose after Stephen's martyrdom (Acts 8:1), and thus are currently suffering in exile (Bede Ep. cath. ad loc.; Erasmus Iac. Par. ad loc.; Lapide Comm. ad loc.).

1b Greetings An Apostolic Greeting?

Context

Ancient Cultures

1a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ Parallel in Hellenistic Mystery Religions In Hellenistic mystery religions, an initiate was known as the "servant" or "slave" of the deity:

  • Apuleius Metam. 11.15.30 nam cum coeperis deae (sc. Isis) servire, tunc magis senties fructum tuae libertatis (“for as soon as you become the goddess’s slave, you will experience more fully the fruit of your freedom”; Hanson 1989, 2:320–321) .

Reception

Liturgies

1–12 Use in Lectionaries — Calendar The beginning of the letter of James is often read on the feast day of James, brother of the Lord:

  • BL: October 23.
  • Georgian church: December 28.

1–11 Use in Lectionary RML : Monday, Week 6, Year 2.

Christian Tradition

1–12 Divisio Textus

See also →James: Medieval Divisio Textus.

Text

Vocabulary

1b Diaspora Technical Term, Connotations

  • "Diaspora" is derived from the verb diasporein, “to scatter,” and refers primarily to Jews living outside of the Palestinian homeland (cf. Jn 7:35; 1Pt 1:1; Pss. Sol. 9:2).
  • In addition to simply referring to Jewish communities outside of hā ’āreṣ, the term may also have a negative connotation, namely the scattering of the tribes as God’s punishment for Israel’s sin (e.g., Dt 4:27, Jdt 5:18–19). 

Literary Genre

1b Diaspora Authoritative Encyclical to the Diaspora The genre of the Letter of James is best understood within the Jewish tradition of authoritative letters writtten from Jerusalem to Jews in the Diaspora. Although James does not claim any specific status or office (e.g., apostle, elder), the very genre implies that he is an authoritative religious leader writing from Jerusalem to instruct Jews in the Diaspora (→James: Introduction §Literary Genre).

Reception

Liturgies

1a James "Liturgy of Saint James"

Rite

The ancient Lit. Jas. is traditionally attributed to James, brother of the Lord. The Liturgy dates at the latest from the mid 5th-c., and is extant in a Greek and Syriac form.

  • It is used frequently in the Syriac, Armenian, Coptic, Ethiopian, and Georgian churches.
  • In the Eastern Orthodox Church, the liturgy is celebrated on October 23, the feast day of St. James.

Commentaries

In addition to his commentary on the Letter of James, the Syriac theologian Bar Salibi also wrote a commentary on the Liturgy of Saint James (Exp. Lit.); see also Bar Kepha Exp. Myst.

Christian Tradition

1a James Authorship of James On traditional and contemporary discussion on the authorship of James see →James: Introduction.

Visual Arts

1:1–5:20 James Depictions of the Author Depictions of James, the author of the epistle, in paintings, statues, manuscript illustrations, engravings, woodcuts, and embroidery on liturgical vestments are particularly prominent in the Middle Ages. A common consensus of the artists is that the author of the epistle is James the Just, leader of the Jerusalem church; he is typically further identified with James, son of Alphaeus, one of Jesus' Twelve (Mk 3:18), and "James the Less" (Mk 15:40). The iconography of James draws particularly on accounts of James recorded in Eusebius of Cesarea Hist. eccl. 23 and Jerome Vir. ill. 2, who in turn draw on accounts from Clement of Alexandria and Hegesipus. See also →James: Introduction

Several prominent features of these portrayals may be noted:

  • Following the tradition that he was the first bishop of Jerusalem, James is often portrayed anachronistically in bishop's vestments.
  • James is often portrayed holding a fuller's club, alluding to the tradition that James was beaten to death with a such a club. Variations show him holding different types of clubs. Another related tradition shows James holding a bow such as one used by hat-makers of the Middle Ages.
  • James bears a striking physical resemblance to his brother Jesus.
  • One artistic tradition, based on accounts found in the preface to the Gloss. Ord. and de Voragine Leg. aur., portrays the infant James as part of a large extended family. According to this legend, St. Anne, mother of the Virgin Mary, had three children named Mary with three different husbands. James and his brothers Joses (Joseph), Simon, and Jude (cf. Mk 6:3) are the sons of Mary (daughter of Anne and Cleophas; cf. Jn 19:25) and Alphaeus (cf. Mk 3:18). James and his brothers are thus cousins of Jesus (son of Mary, daughter of Anne and Joachim) and of St. John the Evangelist and James the Greater (sons of Mary, daughter of Anne and Salomas).

The following images are noteworthy:

  • A painting of James in the Armenian Sts. James Cathedral, Jerusalem: James is dressed in episcopal robes, wears a miter and holds a crozier (Gowler 2014, 54).
  • Blessed James Apostle. In the Stav. Bib. (1093-97) illuminations of the apostle James are at the introduction to the Catholic epistles (f. 197 r→) and at the beginning of his epistle (f. 197 v→.). The apostle stands, holding a book.
  • Apostle James the Less, statue, south portal of Chartres Cathedral, early 13th century.

Anonymous, James Among Other Apostles (sculpture on limestone, early 13th c.),  South Portal, Chartres Cathedral, France

© D.R. Photo Mary Ann Sullivan→ 

James holds a club.

  • Leonardo da Vinci (1495-98), The Last Supper, Santa Maria delle Grazie, Milan. 

Giampietrino (1495–1549), The Last Supper (oil on canvas, ca. 1520, after Leonardo da Vinci [1452–1519], The Last Supper [1495-1498]),  298 cm x 770 cm

Royal Academy of Arts, London, exhib. Magdalen College, Oxford

Public Domain © Wikicommons→ 

James, who resembles his brother Jesus, is second from his left. This full-scale copy was the main source for the— unfortunate—twenty-year restoration of the original (1978–1998). It includes several lost details such as Christ's feet, the transparent glass decanters on the table, and the floral motifs of the tapestries that decorate the room's interior.  It was first mentioned in 1626 by the author Bartolomeo Sanese as hanging in the Certosa di Pavia, a monastery near Pavia, Italy, but it is unlikely that it was intended for this location. At some point, the upper third of the picture was cut off, and the width was reduced. Giampietrino is thought to have worked closely with Leonardo when he was in Milan. A very fine, full-size copy of this painting, before it was cut down, is installed at Tongerlo Abbey in Westerlo, near Antwerp, Belgium. 

  • Lucas Cranach the Elder (1509), Infant Saint James among his relations, a triptych in the Stadelsches Kunstinstitut, Frankfurt, Germany. The infant Jesus, his mother Mary, and Mary's mother St. Anne are portrayed in the center. To the right is St. Anne's other daughter Mary, her husband Zebedee, and sons John the Evangelist and James the Greater. To the left is another of St. Anne's daughters named Mary with her husband Alphaeus; their children James, Joses (Joseph), Simon, and Jude are in the left and center panels.

Lucas Cranach the Elder (1472–1553), The Holy Kinship, (mixed media on lime, Wittenberg, 1509), Altarpiece, central panel: 100.4 × 121.1 cm; wings: 40 × 120 cm

Städel Museum — 1398, Frankfurt am Main

Public Domain © Wikicommons→

The side and central panels describe a a great hall with blue grey walls and three-colored tiles. In the side panels are depicted the half sisters of Virgin Mary, called after their fathers Mary Cleophas (left) and Mary Salome (right) together with their husbands.

Left panel: St. Mary Cleophas and Alphaeus (with the features of Friedrich the Wise with their two sons, the Apostles St. James the Less (at her breast) and Joseph Justus, called St. Barnabas, as annunciator of the Gospel of Matthew depicted with a book.

Central panel: Joseph, who seems to seems to sleep, the Virgin, dressed in blue with yellow lining, Anna and the Christ Child on her knee, who is stretching out his hand towards an apple given to him by Virgin Mary. Anna's three husbands following de Voragine Leg. aur. are shown in the background in the matroneum: on the left Joachim, who is attracted by the holy women in front of him and whose relation is also shown by the corresponding blue and yellow color of his dress, Cleophas (with the physiognomy and chain of Emperor Maximilian I and Salomas, with the physiognomy of Sixtus Oelhafen von Schöllenbach, secretary of Friedrich III, Maximilian I and Karl V), who are talking to each other. There is an architectural structure by a great stone bench in the foreground of the central panel with two marble columns on the sides, over which is strectched a cloth of gold. On the right column is a tablet with date and signature: [LVCAS CHRONVS FACIEBAT ANNO 1509. The parapet of the matroneum is decorated by a sculptured frieze with dancing putti holding six escutcheons with the six fields of Electorate of Saxony. In the hall are shown the 17 members of the Holy Kinship. In the central panel are shown two more children of Mary Cleophas and Alpheus, the Apostles Simon, patron saint of weavers, dyers, tanners and saddlers and Jude, who went on mission and suffered their martyrdom together and therefore are regularly depicted together.

Right panel: St. Mary Salome and Zebedee (with the features of Frederick III, Elector of Saxony, and his brother Herzog Johann der Beständige). St. Mary Salome, dressed in gold with dark red lining, is combing her son Saint James the Greater and while Saint John the Evangelist is hiding in her dress.

  • Paolo Veronese (Caliari) James as Bishop (1500s). Burghley House Collection, Lincolnshire, UK. The Bridgeman Art Library. James with crozier and miter, holding a book.

Paolo Veronese Cagliari (1528-1888), Saint James, (oil on canvas, ca. 1578), 200 X 85 cm, One of the volets of the organ of the church of San Jacopo, Murano, Venice — the other is a portrait of St. Augustine.

Burghley House Collection, Lincolnshire, UK, © A Graduate of Pomona→

  • Saint James the Less, painting by El Greco (c. 1612), Museo del Greco, Toledo, Spain. 

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El Greco (Domenikos Theotokópoulos) 1541-1614, The Apostle James the Greater, (Oil on canvas, 1610-1614), 100 cm X 80 cm

 Museo de El Greco→ (Toledo, Spain), © Wikicommons, 

James is shown holding a Bible, symbolizing his status as a scriptural writer, in one hand. James is depicted in the Mannerist style with elongated form and without any of the traditional iconographic symbols

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Nicolò Bambini (1651-1736), San Giacomo Minore (Oil on canvas, 1722-1723), Communion of St James (Series of the Twelve Apostles), Presbytery: right wall, center, Saint Stae,Venezia, © Chorus Venezia→ 

The risen Jesus appears to James and breaks bread with him (based on an account recorded in Jerome Vir. ill. 2, said to be drawn from the Gospel according to the Hebrews).

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Angelo de' Rossi (1671 – 1715), Jacobus Minor (Sculpture on marble, 1710-1711), Gli Apostoli, (h: 424 cm), Nef, San Giovanni in Laterano, Roma, © Wikicommons

James holds a book and club.

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James Tissot (French, 1836-1902), James the Lesser, (Opaque watercolor over graphite on gray wove paper, 1886-1894), 30.6 x 23.5 cm, Brooklyn Museum, 00.159.237, © Brooklyn Museum photograph, 2008

James, resembling Jesus, prayers on his knees with outstretched arms. It perhaps reflects Hegesippus' statement that James spent so much time in prayer that his knees were as hard as a camel's.

Eastern Orthodox traditions

  • James the Just, Russian icon, 16th century. Novgorod. James is depicted in episcopal robes and holds a book.

Anonymous, James the Just, (pigments on wood, mid. 16th c.), icon, Novgorod or Moskow, Novgorod

Public Domain © Wikicommons→,

The inscription bearing the name of the saint has disappeared, but the iconography—facial features and beard shape —suggest that the icon is of James. Byzantine art places him among the founding fathers of the Church. As the creator of the first liturgy containing memorial services and the author of the message, which speaks of the healing power of prayer (Jas 5:14-16), he was also worshipped in ancient times as a healer. In Novgorod, James is prayed for the end of the epidemics. In sacred iconography, the representations of James of Jerusalem alone are very rare. We know the icons of Novgorod in which he is represented with other saints: Nicholas the Thaumaturgist, James the brother of God, Ignatius the bearer of God, end of the 15th c.; James the brother of God, Cosmas and Damian, 2nd quarter of the 16th c. The icon comes from the best workshops in Moscow or Novgorod.

  • Martyrdom of James the Just. Illustration from the Menologion of Basil II. (PG 117:6-612). Late 10th, early 11th c. AD. Vatican Library. Vat.gr. 1613. Image 131.→  

For discussion of visual depictions, see Gowler 2014, 53-62; Bedford 1911.

Suggestions for Reading

1 Standard Opening Address The letter’s opening is a standard Hellenistic epistolary greeting. Its address to the “twelve tribes in the Diaspora” places it in a distinctive Jewish genre: authoritative letters written from Jewish authorities to Diaspora Jews (Literary Genre 1:1b;→James: Introduction §Literary Genre).

Addressees

The reference to the “twelve tribes in the Diaspora” raises several interpretive possibilities, both implicit and explicit. It likely denotes Jewish Christians living outside of the Jewish homeland and connotes a situation of suffering and exile, evoking at the same time an eschatological hope for the reunion of the dispersion (Vocabulary Jas1:1b; Peritestamental Literature Jas1:1b).

Author

The author’s simple self-identification as “James, servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ,” has led some to question the author’s apostolic status (Christian Tradition Jas1:1b ; →James: Introduction); the later manuscript tradition shows a marked tendency to explicitly identify the author as an apostle (Textual Criticism Jas1:1; Comparison of Versions Jas1:1). In referring to himself as the “servant of the Lord,” the author simultaneously affirms a humble yet authoritative status (Biblical Intertextuality Jas1:1a; Christian Tradition Jas1:1a).

An influential tradition in visual arts identifies the author of the Letter as James of Jerusalem, brother of the Lord, who is further identified with “James, son of Alphaeus,” one of the Twelve, and with “James the Less” (cf. →The Brothers of Jesus; →The Jameses Near Jesus; →The Family of Jesus in the Primitive Church). A distinctive iconography grew up around this figure (Visual Arts Jas1:1–5:20).

Text

Textual Criticism

1 (Gr) Later Clarifications of the Title The great uncial manuscripts of the 4th and 5th c. identify the letter simply as the “Letter of James”:

  • Codex Sinaiticus: epistolê Iakôbou (subscriptio);
  • Codex Alexandrinus: Iakôbou epistolê (subscriptio);
  • Codex Vaticanus: Iakôbou epistolê (inscriptio).

Later manuscripts, however, add qualifying adjectives: “catholic” to describe the letter, and “apostle” to further identify James. Thus the 9th-c. Codex P (025) reads, Iakôbou apostolou epistolê katholikê.

Reception

Christian Tradition

1a James Allusion to the Patriarch Jacob

James and the Patriarch Jacob, the Supplantor and Wrestler

An interlinear gloss in the Gloss. Ord. to the name James/Jacob (Iacobus) reads, “supplantor of vices, or wrestler” (supplantator vitiorum, vel luctator).

  • The name Jacob may be derived from ʿqb which can mean “follow at the heel” as well as “supplant,” “assail,” and “circumvent” (cf. Gn 25:23,26). Perhaps “Jacob” can mean “wrestler” inasmuch as wrestling is the art of overturning one’s opponent and planting him on the ground.
  • In addition to the literal meaning of his name, Jacob is “supplantor of vices” because he buys the birthright from his elder brother, Esau, thus supplanting his place as first-born son (Gn 25:26; 27:36). In turn, following Hb 12:16, Esau is identified with sensuality and carnality since he traded his sacred birthright for mere food (see also Gloss. Ord. ad Gn 25:26–34).
  • Moreover, he is “wrestler” because Jacob wrestles with a mysterious man, who then renames Jacob “Israel,” since Jacob strove “with God and with men, and have prevailed” (Gn 32:25–26). Jacob himself identifies this figure as a theophany (Gn 32:30) while Hosea identifies him as an angel (Hos 12:4).

Since James shares the patriarch Jacob’s name, it was commonly assumed that he shared the patriarch’s characteristics.

Allegorical Interpretations

  • Ps.-Andrew of Crete Bios 1 “The name [James] signifies (sêmainô) his life (bios). For he is named “supplantor of passions” (pternistês tôn pathôn) as was that ancient Jacob." Ps.-Andrew and the Glossa here follow Philo’s allegorical interpretation of Jacob as the “supplantor of passions” (e.g., Philo Leg. 2.89 and 3.93).
  • Lapide Comm.: “wrestler” applies in a spiritual or mystical sense (mystice) to all Christians who wrestle spiritually against demons, the flesh, the world, and hell (20:12).

James and Justice

  • Ps.-Andrew of Crete Bios 1 “For he is named supplantor of passions as was that ancient Jacob or Oblias, that is, ‘protecting wall’ (periochê) and ‘the just one’” (dikaios).

  • Here Ps.-Andrew alludes to traditions that attribute the nickname “James the Just” to Lord’s brother and author of the epistle (see Eusebius of Cesarea Hist. eccl. 2.1.2–5 and 2.23 and Jerome Vir. ill. 2). See also →James: Introduction.

  • Langton Comm. Iac. prol. attributes the cardinal virtue of justice to the Letter of James: “Because he deals with the faith by which the sinner is justified and the just one lives (alluding to Rom 1:17 / Hb 2:4), it is right to attribute justice (iusticia) to him. This is also right due to the interpretation of his name. For the interpretation of ‘James’ is ‘supplantor’ or ‘wrestler’: the one who truly supplants vices (vicia) or wrestles against them turns away from evil and thus fulfills both parts of justice” (Dahan 2013, 82).