letters, letters

We have heard from others. Perhaps now is the moment to hear from James himself!

Well, would that were possible. Next best, if the written words of James are not the real thing, to learn from someone purporting to speak on behalf of James.

Though now often displaced by faster means of communication, letters were once vital for communities that were geographically dispersed. There is evidence of a spate of letters in the first century CE addressed to Jews and gentile believers (god-fearers) from rival camps, competing for influence and attention.

On the one hand were the strict adherents of the Law, ‘keepers of the Covenant’, the fundamentalist core of Judaism, in opposition to Rome and its collaborating Sadducee High Priests. This was headed by James the Just or (from the Hebrew) Righteous. On the other were the followers of Saul, at that time promoting a new Jewish sect, shorn of irksome dietary restrictions and the requirement for circumcision and less respectful of the Jewish Law.

There are references to these letters in several sources – and some letters would appear to have survived. But like the gospels these survivors, even if genuine, would have been edited over time. Some promotional texts were later written, as if by Saul or one of the other reputed followers of Jesus, in order to give them added authenticity. Some may be compilations from several texts.

It must be said that there are a few core letters that could in an original form, now hard entirely to reconstruct, have been written by Saul.

Intriguingly, one or two texts that do not appear to be letters may have originated as such. It has been suggested that the Didache may have its origins in a letter sent out, under the authority of James, to advise god-fearers among Jews in the diaspora of their obligations (Acts 15, 19-20; 21, 25).

The Letter of James included in the New Testament (and quoted in part on this site) was probably never a letter at all, almost certainly did not originate from James and shows signs of having been constructed in two or three stages.