The Bible in Its Traditions

James 3:12

Byz
Nes S TR
V TR

12  It is not possible, my brothers, [for] a fig tree to make olives, or a vine [to make ]figs, [is it]? Thus no spring is able to produce [both] salt and sweet water.

12  Can a fig tree, my brethren, yield olives, or a vine figs? Neither [can] salt water yield sweet.

12  My brothers, can the fig tree yield grapes? Or the vine, figs? Then neither is salt water able to produce fresh water.

12 appropriate fruits Mt 7:16-20

Text

Literary Devices

11f Diatribe Style: Rhetorical Questions In the diatribe style, James asks rhetorical questions, expecting negative responses, "Does a spring pour forth both fresh and brackish water from the same opening?" (3:11). "Can a fig tree, my brothers, produce olives, or a grapevine figs?" (3:12a).

Grammar

12b Neither can salty [water] produce sweet water V Nes: A Compressed Expression The grammar of this phrase is very compressed, reading (in Nes) literally: "neither salty produces sweet water." In analogy with the image in Jas 3:11 (a spring does not produce both brackish and sweet water from the same opening) and taking the verbs "can" as implied from 3:12a, one may translate, "neither can salty [water] produce sweet water" or "neither can a salty [spring or fountain] produce sweet water." See also Textual Criticism 3:12b.

Context

Ancient Cultures

12a olives Cultural and Religious Significance James' reference to olives in his analogy would have been familiar to his Mediterranean readers; on the cultural and religious significance of olives (especially in connection with olive oil and anointing), see Ancient Texts 5:14c; Biblical Intertextuality 5:14c; Peritestamental Literature 5:14c.

12a fig tree Cultural Significance of Figs Figs were a staple in ancient Mediterranean cultures; they were eaten fresh or pressed into cakes (e.g., 1Sm 30:12). Figs were also considered to have medicinal value: Isaiah orders Hezekiah to apply a "poultice of figs" to a boil (Is 38:21).

Suggestions for Reading

1–12 An Ethics of Language The connection of this pericope with Jas 2:14–26 is not obvious. In general, however, it sustains James' concern with proper speech (→Speech in James).  The specific concern of Jas 2:14–26 was the consistency between speech (confession of faith) and action. The major point of Jas 3:1–12 is clear enough: James exhorts his readers to control their tongues.  

Artistry: Coinage of a "Classic"

Structure
  • In contrast with other parts of James that are a collection of materials that have no clear relationship, Jas 3:1–12 is a coherent composition that features substantial rhetorical design (Literary Devices 3:1–12).
Rhetorics
Philosophy

Reception

Among the most notable individual passages:

Text

Textual Criticism

12b no spring produces salty and sweet water Explanatory Variants The likely original text (as given in Nes) reads elliptically "neither salty produces sweet water." Various textual traditions added words, apparently in an attempt to clarify the meaning.

  •  א , the second hand of C,  P, and Ψ, along with Byz, add "similarly" (houtôs) to clarify the relationship with the previous clause; TR, S, and V follow this reading;
  • Byz and P add "no spring" (oudemia / oute mia pêgê) to clarify the reference of "salty."

See also Grammar 3:12b.

Context

Biblical Intertextuality

12a grapevine Symbolism

= Prosperity and Eschatological Plenty

Together with the fig tree, owning grapevines was a proverbial sign of self-sufficiency, security, and peace in ancient Israel. See above Biblical Intertextuality 3:12a.

= Israel

In Isaiah's parable, the vineyard symbolizes Israel,and the Lord is the owner (Is 5:1-7). Although the Lord carefully tends the vineyard, it produces only wild grapes, a symbol of the people's unfaithfulness and corruption. Jesus took over this basic symbolism in his parable of the vineyard (Mk 12:1-12) See also Ps 80:8, Jer 2:21; Hos 10:1 for Israel as a grapevine.

= Christ

In the Gospel of John (Jn 15:1-17) Jesus applies the imagery to himself: "I am the true vine, and my Father is the vine grower." His disciples are the branches; those that did not bear fruit would be cut off and burned; branches that did bear fruit would be pruned so that they would bear even more fruit. See also Ancient Cultures 3:12a.

Text

Vocabulary

11f sweet and bitter Metonymous Use: Drinkable and Undrinkable Water

  • Glukus ("sweet") and pikros ("bitter") literally refers to sweet and bitter taste; cf. Rv 10:9, "Take it, and eat; it will be bitter (pikrainô) to your stomach, but sweet (glukus) as honey in your mouth." The words are applied by extension to water that is drinkable and water that is not drinkable (e.g, brackish water, or salt water). See Herodotus Hist. 4.52; Philo Her. 208 for the contrast of these two words.
  • In Jas 3:12, the comparison is between fresh water (glukus) and salt water (halukos). Herodotus Hist. 7.35 uses both halukos and pikros to describe the Hellespont in his account of how Xerxes lashed the stream as punishment for destroying his bridge.

Literary Devices

11f Comparisons with Nature

Staying True to One’s Nature

To support his point that one should not both bless God and curse others, James draws some analogies from nature:

  • The same opening in a spring does not produce both fresh and brackish / salty water.
  • Fruit trees produce their own fruit, not the fruit of other types of trees.

The point of the comparisons is that nothing in nature acts against its own nature. Thus James argues not simply that it is inconsistent to bless God and curse others, but rather that such behavior contradicts human nature. God gave humans speech in order to worship God (Jas 3:9a) and to facilitate a harmonius life together (cf. Jas 3:17-18).

See also Ancient Texts 3:7a.

Evoking a Visual Similarity

James' image in 3:11 relies on a visual similarity between the human mouth and the opening of a spring: two types of water gushing forth from a single opening correspond with righteous and unrighteous speech coming forth from a single mouth.

Context

Ancient Texts

12a Can a fig tree Acting According to One’s Nature Hellenistic authors often used agricultural analogies to make the point that all things, including human beings, should act according to their nature in order to reach their fulfillment.

  • Plutarch Tranq. an. 13 "Therefore not all pursuits are for everyone, but one must, obeying the Pythian inscription, 'know one's self,' and then use one's self for that one thing for which Nature has fitted one (chrêsthai pros hen ho pephuke) and not do violence to Nature (phusis) by dragging one's self towards the emulation of now one sort of life, now another…runners are not discouraged because they do not carry off wrestlers' crowns…we do not expect the vine to bear figs nor the olive grapes" (Helmbold 1939, 209-13).
  • Epictetus Diatr. 4.1.121-25 "For when is a vine faring badly? When it is acting contrary to its own nature (para tên heautês phusin prassêᵢ). When is a cock faring badly? Under the same conditions. So also man. What, then, is his nature? To bite, and kick, and to throw into prison, and behead? No, but to do good, to work together, and to pray for the success of others... everything's evil is what is contrary to its own nature... the nature of man is gentle (hêmeros), and affectionate (philallêlos), and faithful" (pistos; Oldfater 1928, 285-87).

Stoic thought makes a clear distinction between the the nature of a good person and the nature of a bad person (phaulos).

  • Marcus Aurelius Med. 12.16 "Note that he who would not have the wicked (phaulos) do wrong is as one who would not have the fig-tree secrete acrid juice in its fruit, would not have babies cry, or the horse neigh, or any other things be that must be" (hosa alla anagkaia; Haines 1916, 331).

Seneca applies this teaching to moral context: an action is good or bad based on its own nature, not on human opinion:

  • Seneca Ep. 87.25 "good (bonum) does not spring from evil (malum), any more than figs grow from olive-trees. Things which grow correspond to their seed; and goods cannot depart from their class" (Gummere 1917, 2:337).

Text

Literary Devices

12b Neither can salty [water] produce fresh water Concluding Aphorism James concludes his lengthy exhortation on controlling the tongue with a maxim, a common closing technique (see Jas 1:12; 2:13; 2:26; 3:18; 4:17).

Context

Biblical Intertextuality

12a fig tree Symbolism 

= Security and Peace

Owning one's own fig tree was a proverbial sign of self-sufficiency and calm in ancient Israel: "Every one sat under his vine and fig tree, with no one to disturb them" (1Mc 14:12; cf. 1Kgs 5:5). See also Jl 1:12 for the opposite symbolism.

= Eschatological Fulfilment

The fig tree also figured in visions of eschatological plenty: "the people shall beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks...Every man shall sit under his own vine or under his own fig tree, undisturbed" (Mi 4:3-4; cf. Zec 3:10). 

= Israel as a Whole

The fig tree could represent the people of Israel as a whole (see Jer 8:13; Jl 1:7; Hos 9:10). 

= Use in the Gospel

Jesus' parables refer to fig trees (cf. Mt 24:32: sprouting leaves as a sign of summer); especially significant are references to their ability to produce fruit (cf. Lk 13:6-9). Jesus' cursing of a fig tree has been seen as a symbolic foreshadowing of the coming destruction of the Jerusalem Temple (Mk 11:12-14,20-25).

James Reworking Jesus' Teaching?

  • Mt 7:16-20: "By their fruits you will know them. Do people pick grapes from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? Just so, every good tree bears good fruit, and a rotten tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a rotten tree bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire. So by their fruits you will know them."

Jesus' teaching recorded in Luke connects this principle explicitly with speaking:

  • Lk 6:45: "A good person out of the store of goodness in his heart produces good, but an evil person out of a store of evil produces evil; for from the fullness of the heart the mouth speaks." See also Lk 6:44.

Moreover, Mk 11:12-13,20-21: in Jesus' enacted parable, he curses a fig tree that does not produce fruit.

It is unclear, however, whether James relies on Jesus' teaching here or on common themes of the Greek philosophical tradition (Ancient Texts 3:12a).

Reception

Liturgies

1–12 Use in Lectionary RCL : Proper 19, Year B.

3:11–4:6 Use in Lectionary BL : Wednesday, 32nd Week after Pentecost. 

Christian Tradition

2b–12 Divisio Textus

  •  Ps.-Andreas Catena groups verses Jas 3:2b–12 under the heading, "That the rash and undisciplined (propetês kai ataktos) tongue brings death to its possessor. It is necessary to master it for the honor (euphêmia) and glory of God" (Cramer 1844, 8:19).

See also →James: Medieval Divisio Textus .

11f Logical Interpretation The Gnomon Novi Testamenti summarizes James' verses thus :

  • v. 11: Two contrary principles cannot come forth from one principle (principium).
  • v. 12: No principle can come forth from any other principle, unless it is of that principle's own species (quod sua speciei sit; Bengel 1759, 1110).

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.

Christian Tradition

12 Allegorical Interpretations of Figs, Olives, and Grapes According to Bede Ep. cath. ad loc.:

  • The fig tree stands for making excuses for sins (cf. Adam and Eve covering themselves with fig leaves after their sin: Gn 3:7).
  • The olives stand for the fruits of mercy; cf. Ps 52:8 (G-Ps 51:10): anyone who makes excuses for sin does not busy himself with works of mercy.
  • The grapevine stands for inebriation with divine love: a person drunk with divine love blames no one else but himself for his sins (Hurst 1985, 42-43; Hurst 1983, 207-8).

Context

Ancient Cultures

12a grapevine Cultural Value of the Grape Grapes were an important crop in ancient Mediterranean cultures. They were eaten directly, dried to make raisins, used as a source of leaven for baking bread, or fermented to make wine, a dietary staple. A good harvest from the grapevines was essential to the prosperity of these societies (cf. Jl 2:22).  Sir 39:31 (G-39:26) identifies "the blood of the grape" as one of the basic necessities of life.