The Bible in Its Traditions

James 3:6c

Text

Literary Devices

6c staining the whole body Use of Cultic Purity Language James uses cultic purity language elsewhere at Jas 1:18b; 1:27; 3:17c; 4:8bc. This passage's use of spiloô is a specific echo of  the use of the cognate aspilos at Jas 1:27 "to keep oneself unstained by the world." See also Literary Devices 1:27.

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:

Context

Peritestamental Literature

6d Gehenna References to Gehenna and Connection with Fire The term appears in Second Temple literature, e.g.: Apoc. Ab. 15:6; Sib. Or. 1.103; 2:292; 4:186; Mart. Ascen. Isa. 1:3; 4:14.

Some texts associate it explicity with fire: Apoc. Ab. 15:6. Many other texts associate eternal punishment with fire: e.g., 1 En. 10.6; 54.1; 90.24–25; 4 Esd. 7:36–38.

Text

Vocabulary

6d wheel of birth Course of Life? The noun trochós has the basic sense of "wheel" (distinct from tróchos "race-course"). The word can refer metaphorically to the turning and changing of events, a cycle, a whole round of; cf. Ps.-Phoc. 27: "life is a wheel" (ho bios trochos; van der Horst, 88–89). See also Peritestamental Literature 3:6d.

The phrase "of birth" (tês geneseôs) translates the Greek word genesis, which means also the beginning and origin of something. It can refer to a person's birth (e.g., Diodorus Siculus Bib. hist.  17.51.3). James also uses this term at Jas 1:23 (Vocabulary 1:23b). One can understand James' phrase as referring to a person's course of life, beginning from birth.

Reception

Christian Tradition

6bc the tongue …staining the whole body: Body as the Body of Christ

  • Bar Salibi Ep. Cath. ad loc., understands the body as the church, the body of Christ, and the parts of the body as the members of the church (Sedlacek 1910, 96–97; Syriac: ibid., 126), referencing 1Cor 12:27. He takes, "among the parts of our body" to refer to the tongue's injurious speech against fellow Christians."

See also Grotius Annot. Jac. ad loc. (36).

Comparison of Versions

6d is flamed by Gehenna Interpretation of Gehenna S renders "by Gehenna" with bnwr’ ("by fire"). Isho'dad of Merv Comm. Cath. Ep. interprets this as a reference to eschatolgoical punishment: "burns in punishment from God" (Gibson 1913, 37; Syriac: ibid., 50).

6d wheel of birth Attempt at Clarification

  • In translating the phrase trochos geneseôs, S renders both meanings of trochos ("race-course" and "wheel"; Vocabulary 3:6d) and translates genesis as "generation": "the course of our generations that roll on like a wheel."
  • Isho'dad of Merv Comm. Cath. Ep. paraphrases, "[the tongue] devastates and destroys generations and tribes, as gradually when the former ones die, later ones follow, which are generated like the swift runners of the wheels" (Gibson 1913, 37; Syriac: ibid., 50).

Context

Historical and Geographical Notes

6d Gehenna Valley of Hinnom, South of Jerusalem The name "Gehenna" (Greek: geenna) derives from the Aramaic and Hebrew names of the Valley of Hinnom, south of Jerusalem. See also Vocabulary 3:6d.

Ancient Texts

6c wheel of birth An Orphic Background? Some commentators see an Orphic background to this phrase. To express their concept of existence as an endless cycle of birth, death, and rebirth, Orphic literature used such phrases as the "wheel of fate and birth" (trochos tês heimarmenês te kai geneseôs), as in Simplicius In Cael. 2 [168B] (Heiberg 1894, 377).

Peritestamental Literature

6c wheel of birth The Instability of Life Second Temple Jewish authors used the word trochos to refer to the instability of life:

  • Ps.-Phoc. 27 "Suffering is common to all; life is a wheel; prosperity is unstable" (van der Horst 1978, 88-89); cf. Sib. Or. 2.87).

Reception

Liturgies

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

1–10 Use in Lectionary

  • RML: Saturday, Week 6, Year 2.
  • BL : Tuesday, 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 .

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.

Text

Vocabulary

6d Gehenna Etymology The word geena is a Greek form of the Aramaic gé hinnam, which in turn derives from the Hebrew gé hinnōm, an abbreviation of gé ben-hinnôm (see Jo 15:8): the Valley of Hinnom.  See below Historical and Geographical Notes 3:6d.

Reception

Christian Tradition

6d wheel of birth Interpretations of “Trochos Interpreters understand the phrase to mean that the sins of the tongue affect the entire course of one's life: 

  • Ps.-Andreas Catena ad loc. explains that the phrase refers to the course of our lives. James "calls time a 'wheel' (trochos) because of its circular and cyclical form (trochoeides kai kuklikon schêma), for it rolls into itself" (Cramer 1844, 8:20–21).
  • Erasmus Iac. Par. ad loc. paraphrases, [the tongue] "keeps a person's entire life (totam vitam) from the cradle to extreme old age ablaze with the fire of every vice" (Bateman 1993, 155; Bateman 1997, 142).
  • Calvin Comm. Iac. ad loc. notes that "when other vices are corrected by age or by the succession of time, or when at leat then do not possess the whole man, the vice of the tongue spreads and prevails over every part of life" (per omnes vitae partes; Owen 1849, 321; Reuss and Erichson 1896, 410).

6d flamed by Gehenna Various Interpretations

The Devil's Instigation to Sin

  • Bede Ep. cath. : Hell refers to the influence of the "devil and his angels" who "always burn with hellish fire" (igne semper ardent gehennali) even as they tempt humans with vices (Hurst 1985, 39–40; Hurst 1993, 205).
  • Gloss. Ord. (V) ad loc. the interlinear gloss reads, "at the suggestion of the devil" (suggestione diaboli; col. 1286); cf. Aquinas ST 1.64.4.
  • Calvin Comm. Iac. ad loc. "Satan by the fans of temptations kindles the fires of all evils in the world" (Owen 1849, 321; Reuss and Erichson 1896, 410).
  • Erasmus Iac. Par. ad loc. "This evil was inspired (afflata est) from the fire of Gehenna which first infects the mind with evil spirits" (Bateman 1993, 155; Bateman 1997, 142).

Eschatological Interpretation

  • Grotius Annot. Jac. ad loc., Taking the present participle (phlogizomenê) in a future sense, Grotius understands James to refer to the eschatological punishment of those who sin with the tongue, referencing Mt 5:22 (de Groot 1830, 36).
  • Isho'dad of Merv Comm. Cath. Ep. ad loc. also seems to indicate an eschatological punishment: the tongue "also burns in punishment from God" (Gibson 1913, 37; Syriac: ibid., 50). 

See also Comparison of Versions 3:6d.