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10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Thorough and Informative Commentary, 10 Feb. 2001
By 
E. T. Veal (Chicago, Illinois USA) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
A reader who encounters the Epistle of St. James without preconceptions is unlikely to see anything in it that would account for its position as one of the most disputed and problematic works in the New Testament canon. On the surface, the book is a series of apparently disjointed reflections and injunctions, emphasizing the absolute goodness of God, human responsibility for sin, the need to restrain intemperate speech and other passions, and the deadness of religious faith that does not lead to action on behalf of the poor and suffering. Both form and content reflect what one would expect from a very early Christian writing in the tradition of Jewish Wisdom literature.
If the same reader consults the typical modern commentary, he will get a very different picture: of a pseudonymous composition, dating from as late as 150 A.D., whose real point is to attack the theology of St. Paul (which is allegedly either misrepresented or misunderstood). This negative view goes back as far as Martin Luther, who branded James "a right strawy epistle" and only reluctantly included it in his translation of the Bible.
Luke Timothy Johnson's commentary ably defends the epistle against its detractors and reveals the profound beauty of its thought. In a lucid fashion, with almost (but only almost) no academic jargon and turgidity (he really ought to find synonyms for "rich" as an adjective and worry less about James' failure to use "gender-neutral" language), Johnson presents a wealth of information about the epistle's literary and historical background, its reception by the Church and its place in Christian thought and worship. Especially acute is his analysis of James' line of argument, which he shows to be remarkably coherent, albeit not linear and easy to grasp.
There has lately been a revival of scholarly interest in James, "the Brother of the Lord". Before turning to the solid but plodding John Painter ("Just James") or the wild-eyed Robert Eisenman, one would do well to absorb Johnson's thorough and informative study.
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The Letter of James (Anchor Bible Commentaries) (The Anchor Yale Bible Commentaries)
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