David Friedman and B. D. Friedman, James the Just: Ya’akov Hatzaddik Presents Applications of Torah, Messianic Commentary (Clarksville, MD: Lederer, 2012).
The commentary at hand is to be
commended for attempting to read James and his book in light of a Jewish
context. Many students of the New Testament have long recognized that the
author James (or Ya’akov as preferred
in the commentary) and his work are one of the most Jewish-oriented of the
so-called general epistles. The authors contend that James was the chief rabbi
of the messianic Jewish community and that the book is best read as a yalkut, a compendium or collection of
teachings of a rabbi. They further contend that the book of James is a
reflection on Leviticus 19 and perhaps interacting with the Parasha readings associated with this
This was a difficult “commentary” to
evaluate. One problem is that so much of the “commentary” is devoted to the
author Ya’akov and less is related to
an examination of his book. While an examination of Ya’akov might be helpful (and has been done) much here is
ultimately speculative, and even if correct, is only marginally helpful. I am
not sure that many serious students of James would deny that he was a chief
leader of the Jewish believers in Jerusalem.
Additionally, an entire section is devoted to explaining why the Hebrew name
Ya’akov was changed to the anglicized
James. Not a problem, but the conclusion presented in the book is unwarranted: “this
situation is minor, but where else has man changed the truth of the Bible” (p.
8). Now my preference would be to use the name Jacob rather than James, but is
using “James” really changing the truth of the Bible? Indeed, the authors might
be guilty of this very same thing when they change the divine name YHWH to
Adonai (e.g., p.17). I understand that this qere
reading is a traditional Jewish practice but should the one who follows a
tradition be so critical of others who also follow another tradition?
A reader also gets the sense that
using the Hebrew pronunciation of certain words adds authenticity or gravitas
to the discussion. It is akin to the equally mistaken assumption held by a previous
generation that the KJV’s “thees” and “thous” were somehow more pious than more
commonly used pronouns. This mistaken notion also results in textual overkill. Many
passages are reproduced in Hebrew/Greek, Hebrew/Greek transliteration, and English.
I am not sure what the point is. Those who can read the Hebrew and Greek don’t
need the transliteration. Those who can’t really can’t do much with the
transliteration other than pronounce it. But pronunciation does not produce
meaning. There is a further problem with the Greek and Greek transliteration.
The Greek does not include breathing marks or accents and fails to utilize the
final sigma at the end of words. The absence of breathing marks is carried over
to the transliteration so that the rough breathing “h” is not included and this
will affect proper pronunciation.
A methodological problem also relates
to the use of the rabbinical traditions often utilized in this work. Namely,
there is the potential of anachronistic interpretations. The authors are
apparently aware of the possible problem (p. 28) but I am not sure that this
awareness really affects the authors’ approach in the use of Jewish sources.
Finally, if this series intends to
reach a broader audience than a Jewish messianic one, then more care will need
to be exercised in defining terms. For example, although this volume contains a
four-page glossary, some terms such as B’rit
Hadesha (p. xv) are not found there. Likewise, less familiar or unfamiliar
abbreviations need to be explained or defined (e.g., CJB, p. 17).
In the end, a commentary should be evaluated
primarily on how successfully it explains the text in question. Here it is a
mixed bag. There are interesting insights here and there but a number of
passages are under-discussed and/or ignored altogether. I doubt whether this
volume does enough to distinguish it from better, more informative, and
balanced commentaries to appeal to more than a niche Jewish messianic audience.
Thanks to Lederer Books for the free review copy used for