James in Postcolonial Perspective

James in Postcolonial Perspective: The Letter as Nativist Discourse

K. Jason Coker
Copyright Date: 2015
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  • Book Info
    James in Postcolonial Perspective
    Book Description:

    James confronts the exploitive wealthy; it also opposes Pauline hybridity. K. Jason Coker argues that postcolonial perspectives allow us to understand how these themes converge in the letter. James opposes the exploitation of the Roman Empire and a peculiar Pauline form of hybridity that compromises with it; refutes Roman cultural practices, such as the patronage system and economic practices, that threaten the identity of the letter’s recipients; and condemns those who would transgress the boundaries between purity and impurity, God and “world.”

    eISBN: 978-1-5064-0035-8
    Subjects: Religion

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. vii-x)
  4. Part I. Constructing the Native
    • 1 Introduction
      (pp. 3-12)

      Who has the authority to constitute authentic identity and mark the boundaries between insiders and outsiders? What is at stake in the process of negotiating identity? Who benefits and who is maligned? These questions understand identity as a mutable construct of negotiations rather than a pure essence, and follow Shirley Anne Tate’s interpretation of Stuart Hall: “Identities … are positionings that are constantly being transformed. As such, they are never complete as ideas, world-views and material forces interact with each other and are reworked.”¹ These questions are important for the Letter of James because James, from beginning to end, is...

    • 2 Nativism
      (pp. 13-50)

      According to John Higham, one of the preeminent authorities on nativism in American history, “Nativism has been hard for historians to define.”¹ Besides the fact that nativism “is distinctly American,” Higham’s questions reveal the difficulty in definition: “Does nativism consist only of the particular complex of attitudes dominant in the antiforeign crusades of the mid-nineteenth century [in the U.S.]? Or does it extend to every occasion when native inhabitants of a country turn their faces or raise their hands against strangers in their midst?”² Higham traces the “antiforeign spirit” in American nativism in the middle of the nineteenth century to...

    • 3 Pure and Perfect Piety: Nativist Discourse in the Letter of James
      (pp. 51-106)

      Now that a heuristic map of Judeanness in the first century has been drawn, it is important to situate the Letter of James within this landscape. The debate regarding authorship and addressees within scholarship on James is instructive in this cartographical endeavor. I will begin with the historical issues regarding James’s position within Judeanness and use the category of nativism to shed new light on this topic. The epistolary opening, the overarching theme, the nature of the rhetoric, and the structure of the letter itself all conspire to position the Letter of James as a nativist reaction to empire.


  5. Part II. Confronting Colonialism and Hating Hybridity
    • 4 Identifying the Imperial Presence
      (pp. 109-170)

      As James constructs a center based on purity and perfection, he systematically has two distinct adversaries: the Roman Empire and those who assimilate imperial sociopolitical practices. The Roman Empire stands for the absolute other in relation to the kingdom (James 2:5) to which James gives his utter allegiance and implores his readers/hearers to give theirs. James’s argument against the Roman Empire finds its strongest vocalization in his condemnation of the wealthy (James 2:1-13; 5:1-6) and his condemnation of earthly wisdom (James 3:13-18). In both cases, James constructs a binary between the wealthy and the poor, and wisdom from above and...

    • 5 Identifying the Mimetic Monster, Part 1
      (pp. 171-228)

      Now that the imperial presence in the Letter of James has been exposed, we will turn to the passages within the letter that discipline the mimetic monster, that is, hybrid identity. Roman imperialism was certainly an object of scorn for James, but those from his own movement who would befriend the sociopolitical world of Rome posed the greatest threat to his “authentic” identity. Hybridized identity that could morph depending on the circumstance represented the infiltration of Roman imperialism into the static identity of purity and perfection that James promotes. James confronts this infiltration in four passages in his short letter:...

    • 6 Identifying the Mimetic Monster, Part 2
      (pp. 229-276)

      James 4:1-12 is the most aggressive antihybrid passage in the letter. In the opening verse, James begins with military language to describe the problem in the Diaspora. These “wars” (πόλεμοι) and “battles” (μάχαι) are the result of their desire (ἡδονή) for empire, which is evil (κακῶς). This desire for empire among the Diaspora is evidenced in their urge to “spend freely” on their pleasures. This, in effect, makes them as bad as the wealthy/worldly, or, even worse, it makes them a “friend of the world” (ἡ φιλία τοῦ κόσμου/φίλος τοῦ κόσμου). At this point, James uses the most incendiary language...

  6. 7 Conclusion
    (pp. 277-280)

    While reading James as a form of first-century, anti-imperial, Judean nativism, it is important to remember that James lost. He was killed, according to Josephus, just before the outbreak of the Jewish-Roman war. In fact, the Letter of James was never commonly circulated until it was championed by Origen in the third century, which is why some scholars argue that it is a pseudonymous work written later in the first or second century.¹ Was James an “intercepted letter” as Elsa Tamez suggests?² She argues that the Letter would have been “branded as subversive because of the paragraphs that vehemently denounce...

  7. Bibliography
    (pp. 281-296)
  8. Index of Subjects and Names
    (pp. 297-304)
  9. Index of Scripture and Ancient Literature References
    (pp. 305-315)
  10. Back Matter
    (pp. 316-316)