Epistolarity, friendship, and the study of the Letter of James : James 5:12-20 as a test case




Hong, Sung Soo

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Martin Dibelius’s view of the Letter of James as paraenesis has been rightly critiqued and the Letter identified as a letter (Diaspora letter). However, there still is a tendency to view the Letter as a non-letter in nature. This study suggests that we should read the Letter as a letter in the fullest sense. In so doing, this study challenges the assumption that epistolarity results solely from the author’s compositional work or the editor’s editorial work, to be identified with formulaic elements; this study also deconstructs the longstanding dichotomy between the literary and the epistolary. Since this conception begins in antiquity, this study argues against select ancient epistolary theorists as well as modern scholars. The structure of this study corresponds to these critical engagements. The first chapter defines epistolarity and examines its most important effect, namely, the epistolary persona. This chapter argues that epistolarity is a relational quality, constructed through the communication process from the (implied) author to the readers. The second chapter investigates a letter as means of expressing, maintaining, and building friendship. This chapter argues that expressions of epistolarity vary, although ancient epistolary theorists would like to limit them with a set of “epistolary” constraints. This chapter also suggests how to apply the foregoing observations of epistolarity to the study of the Letter. The third and final chapter takes as a test case the closing of the Letter (5:12-20): at the closing “James” reshapes a cluster of epistolary formulae and topoi in accordance with his didactic character which has been constructed within the Letter. This reshaping of the formulae and topoi epitomizes his way of promoting friendship within the audience community. Hence, epistolarity does characterize the Letter. The conclusion relates the implications of this study to some major issues in Jamesian scholarship. A significant implication is that the Letter’s epistolary persona holds the topics of the Letter together and lends coherence to the entire text.


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