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The Oxford Bible Commentary Line-by-line commentary for the New Revised Standard Version Bible.

Literary Genre and Subject-Matter.

1.

James is an encyclical letter to an unknown number of Greek-speaking (Jewish) Christian churches. Starting with the Letter of Jeremiah (Jer 29; cf. 2 Macc 1–2 ; 2 Apoc. Bar 78–86; Par. Jer. 6:17–23 ) there was a tradition of Jewish letters to the Diaspora (Tsuji 1997; Niebuhr 1998 ). Early form-critics assigned James to the literary genre of the Hellenistic diatribe (Dibelius 1976 ), but it is doubtful that this is more than a literary style (Baasland 1988 ). There are some parallels to synagogal homilies, but also to the structure of the Manual of Discipline (1QS) and the annexed Rule of the Congregation (1QSa) from Qumran (Beck 1973 ). Formal parallels exist also to Christian catechetical traditions and writings (connected with baptism?) such as the Matthean Sermon on the Mount or the Lukan Sermon on the Plain, 1 Peter, and the Didache. The use of an elementary narrative mashal from ( 1:23–4; 2:2, 15–17 ), not attested in the earlier wisdom literature but in the Jesus tradition, is a rather ancient feature.

2.

In the opening paragraph on temptation ( 1:2–18 ), James already introduces most of the other main subjects of his letter. That the ‘word (logos) of truth’ ( 1:18 ) must be obeyed is the theme of 1:19–27 . The practical ‘testing of faith’ (pistis, 1:3 ) is treated at length in 2:1–26 . The ethics of speech ( 1:19–21, 26–7 ) is a very important subject (Baker 1995 ), especially in the admonition for teachers ( 3:1–12 ). That wisdom (sophia) and humility (tapeinōsis) belong together ( 1:5, 9–10 ) finds its exposition in 3:13–4:12 . The apocalyptic admonition of the rich ( 1:10–11 ) continues in 4:13–5:6 . What ‘endurance’ (hypomonē, 1:3–4 ) means in practice is explained in the last part of the letter ( 5:7–20 ). As it is typical for the internationality of wisdom literature, parallels to James can be found not only in the OT and Jewish writings, but also in Near-Eastern and Graeco-Roman wisdom traditions. The book of Proverbs is cited and Sirach probably and the Wisdom of Solomon possibly alluded to, but the strongest allusions are to the words of Jesus and other early Christian traditions. James's combination of wisdom, ethics, and eschatology resembles the Enochic tradition (1 Enoch, 92–105) and the thinking of the Essene community of Qumran (Davids 1982: 51–4; Penner 1996 ), especially in a very fragmentary Sapiential work (4Q185).

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