| Thursday, June 23, 2005
| RELIGIOUS ENTRY PART II : THE SECRET BOOK OF JAMES
|*** Introduction ***
The Secret Book of James relates that 550 days after his (Jesus) resurrection and immediately prior to his ascension, Jesus imparted a private revelation to James and Peter. The account of this revelation is a "secret book"(apocryphon,1:2,5), which James introduces in teh framework of a letter.
Even though Secret James makes no claim to be a priest, it still deserves to be included in a collection of early Christian gospels. It makes use of various sauings traditions, some of which appear in the New Testament gospels, while others are preserved only in Secret James. In addition, the figures of James and Peter lend authority to the "revealed"(1:2,5) status of Jesus' teaching, a device also used in the composition of the New Testament Gospels (Peter in Matt 16:15-19; the eleven in Luke 24:48). Finally, the term "remembering" was widely used to preface the quotation of oral sayings meaterial (Acts 20:35). The dialogue and discourse are essentially a collection of sayings, some relatively primitive in form, others substantially reworked and still others clearly late formulations.
*** Character and Origins of the Papyrus Text ***
There is but a single extant manuscript of Secret James; it has survived in the collection of bound documents (codices) discovered near Nag Hammadi, Egypt, in 1945. The text, inscribed on payrus, is a Coptic (native Egyptian) translation of a lost Greek original. Though the manuscript is untitled, the text derives its modern name from its introductory material, in which an unknown author appropriates and speaks through the person of James, the brother of the Lord. Psudonymity of this type was conventional in Antiquity, and is well represented within the Nag Hammadi library itself.
It is difficult to date Secret James. Since it deals with martyrdom (5:3-5) it probably was not written after 313 c.e., when the emperorr Constantine officially ended the persecution o f Christians. Indeed, several factors point to a much earlier date. It witness to the compiling or "remembering" of sayings traditions, the conspicuous deference to James and Peter, and the primitiveness of much of its content suggest that it may well have been written in the first half fo the second century.
*** Message to an Ancient Audiences ***
In enthusiam for martyrdoms (5:3-5) is part of a vigorous exhortation to earnestness likely a challenge to complacency within the community to which it is addressed. The Savior dwells with the believer and urges him or her to participate in the realization of salvation. Salvation consists of the knowlege or "fullness" (8:3-4) of "heaven doman" (8:4,11) or the spirit (3:18).
James himself assures his readers of their connection with and superiority to the braoder church. It is James whp trasmiss the private revelation and narrates it in the first person. During the dialogue,. Peter speaks twice (3:12; 9:1) but misunderstands Jesus; James alone is addressed directly by name (6:20), and he maintains the more dominant voice. It is significant that as James and Peter return to the other disciples after the ascension, it is James who sends "each one" on his way, travels to Jerusalem and prays for inclusuon among theose for whose sake James has received the promise of salvation (10:7,9)
*** A Wedding of Religious Ideas ***
In Secret James, traces of Gnosticism blen with concepts that are more expressly Christian. Eminence into the heaven's domain, for example, pre supposes not childlikeness but being "full", a term associated in gnostic sources with knwledge and salvation. Similarly, heavens' domain is discovered through knowledge, the means of salvation in Gnosticism. The gnostic elements in Secret James, however, donot constitute a special system or doctrine, they are expressed through particular vocabulary and by associaiton with other Christian notions.
*** The Structure ***
Although the document contains a minimum of narrative detail, it has a discernible literary pattern:
1). Introductory Letter (1:1-7).
2). Secret Book (2:1-10-9).
... a. Post-resurrection appearance (2:1-3:1)
... b. Dialogue and Discourse (3:2-9:13).
... c. Ascension (10:1-9).
3). Postcripts (11:1-4).
*** Jesus through the Community of Secret James ***
Secret James is an important witness to the diversity of forms inw hich sayings of Jesus were preserved in teh early church. Parables prophecies and wisdom sayings are easily identifiable within the discourse and dialogue. In Secret James, therefore, we can see how traiditonal sayings of Jesus were handed down and transposed in response to communal requriements, a process that continued until the wide spread adoption of the "Fourfold Gospel". The most ancient of the sayings absorbed into Secret James may well belong to the earliest period of collected sayings traditions.
The cross as a symbol of Jesus' suffering is present in Secret James, thogu the brief account of this condemnation, imprisonment, death and burial has no direct literary relationsip to the New Testament passion narratives. The treaties affirms the redemptive value of the crucifixion: belief in Jesus' "cross and death" leads tolife and God's domain. Still, the death of Jesus is the major concern of the document. Its interst, rather, lies in Jesus teaching andin the furnishing of a foundational revelation for a community of gnstic Christians. In order to accomplis this, Secret James assembles and transforms sayings of Jesus', selectively preserving fragments of the Savior's salvific teaching in "parables" (6:5; Marh 4:2).
Abstracted from the book: THE COMPLETE GOSPELS by Robert J. Miller)
|posted by infraternam meam @ 2:16 PM