James and Jacob

Old co-conspirator Dwight Peterson pursued the “James”/“Jacob” question more diligently than I, with some intriguing results. First, the translation “James” seems to have prevailed from the time of Tyndale and Wycliffe. Second, even the languages that don’t supply a starkly different form for the New Testament author tend to differentiate the Old Testament patriarch in some way: German “Jakob” OT, “Jakobus” NT; the Vulgate, “Iacob” OT, “Iacobus” NT. Likewise, he notes that the French Bible Jerusalem in his collection identifies the OT figure as “Jacob,” while the NT figure is “Jacques.” And of course, the New Testament and the Septuagint apply the name Ιακωβ (undeclined) to the patriarch (and to Jesus’ grandfather), but Ιακωβος (the declinable form) to all the companions of Jesus who go by this name.

Quite intriguing. It clearly makes no vast difference in most ways — an apostle by any other name would remain in the New Testament canon, even if the letter may be pseudepigraphical — but it suggests a lot about the role that presuppositions play in biblical interpretation. Even scholars who wear their non-theological identity proudly collaborate with the linguistic proclivity to mark a sharp rupture between the “Christian” James and the “Jewish” Jacob.

3 comments / Add your comment below

  1. Commenting as a friendly outsider (raised Episcopalian, converted to agnosticism by a fundie, but with lingering affection for Bluff Hal’s church) isn’t there a far more dramatic instance of the James/Jacob distinction, namely Joshua/Jesus?

    — Rick

  2. Excellent point, Rick — one that illustrates the extent that theology (inescapably) overlays ostensibly “neutral” topics such as translation. Could I get away with translating Jas 1:1 as “Jacob, slave of God and of the Lord Joshua Anointed”?

    ŒßœÅŒ?œÉœÑŒøœÇ seems to be functioning here as part of a proper name more than as a title, so it’s not “Joshua the Anointed”; but doesn’t “Joshua Anointed” sound odiously precious? Should I then retreat from rendering ŒôŒ±Œ?œâŒ?ŒøœÇ as “Jacob”? Good challenge.

  3. To take the flip side of this, wasn’t there a High Priest around the time of the Maccabees whose given name was Joshua (Yeshua, or some such?), but who was so Hellenized that he called himself Jason?

    Suppose that had caught on, and the verse you cite came down in English as “James, slave of God and of the Lord Jason Christ.” Would people say Jason H. Christ? What would kids make of Jason and the Argonauts?

    (And I thought for sure you’d ding me for “Bluff Hal’s church!”)

    — Rick

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