Monday, October 20, 2014

Book Write-Up: James the Just

Dr. David Friedman and B.D. Friedman.  James the Just Presents Applications of the Torah: A Messianic Commentary.  Clarksville: Lederer Books (a Division of Messianic Jewish Publishers), 2012.

Dr. David Friedman and B.D. Friedman are Messianic Jews—-Jews who believe that Jesus is the Messiah and who observe Jewish laws.  This book is a Messianic Jewish commentary on the New Testament Book of James.  Its argument is that the Book of James is a record of James’ teachings about Leviticus 19, which were originally delivered orally in Mishnaic Hebrew and were translated into koine Greek and written down so that they could be delivered to Messianic Jews in the Diaspora.  According to Friedman and Friedman, Messianic Jews in the Diaspora would value what James had to say, for James was a prominent leader and judge in the church, whose headquarters were in Jerusalem.  Friedman and Friedman not only seek to convey the distinct Jewish nature of the Book of James, but they also contend against those who maintain that there is a rift between faith and works, and between Paul and James.  For Friedman and Friedman, James supported the Jewish idea that obedience to the Torah flowed from faith, and Paul deferred to James rather than acting in opposition to him.

This book makes interesting arguments.  Its most interesting argument is that the prayer of healing that saves the sick in James 5:15 refers to the Nazirite vow (Numbers 6).  Friedman and Friedman note that the Greek word often translated as “prayer” refers to a vow in Acts 18:18 and 21:23, and they refer to Josephus’ statement in Wars of the Jews ii.15.1 that people in distress made vows.  Another interesting argument Friedman and Friedman make is that Peter at the Jerusalem conference in Acts 15 had prominence because he was a “Tamid Hakam,” a rabbi’s chief pupil who was an example to other pupils and who carried on the rabbi’s teaching after the rabbi’s death.  (In this case, the rabbi would be Jesus.)  Friedman and Friedman do not offer evidence for this, or for the “Tamid Hakam” being a first century phenomenon, but the notes refer to a book that discusses this issue in greater detail.

I did not entirely agree with some of the Friedmans’ connections between the Book of James and Leviticus 19 or Judaism, and some of their parallels were between elements of the Book of James and things that existed after the first century C.E., the time of the Book of James (which, to their credit, they sometimes actually acknowledge).  Still, as they note, other scholars have argued that the Book of James reflects a distinctly Jewish perspective, and at least one other scholar, Walter Kaiser, has contended that there are parallels between the Book of James and Leviticus 19, so the Friedmans’ thesis is not implausible.  Moreover, while the chapter of the book that argued that the Book of James reflects the Torah rather than Hellenistic thought jumped to conclusions, in my opinion (since even New Testament letters to Gentiles draw from Jewish Scriptures, and there is no rule that a document cannot draw from both the Torah and Hellenism), it did well to highlight how the Book of James could have drawn from the Torah and Jewish life in Israel.

If there is one question that I would ask Friedman and Friedman, it is whether they believe that only Jews are obligated to obey the Torah, or if Gentiles should, too.  They call the Torah the “Heavenly blueprint for human life,” yet they go on to say that it is “the communicator of truth for the entire Jewish people worldwide” (page 93).  I should also note that some of the books advertised in the back of the book are by authors who believe that the Torah was intended to be kept by Jews only, meaning that Gentiles are not obligated to follow Jewish rituals.

I received this book from the publisher through Cross Focused Reviews in exchange for an honest review.

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