The Letter of James
J. K. Elliott
The Letter (or Apocryphon) of James belongs to a type of literature increasingly being categorized as ‘Dialogues of the Saviour’. The Epistula Apostolorum, included above for historical reasons among the apocryphal epistles, might really stand alongside this so‐called Epistula Iacobi. The document begins by claiming to be a letter written by James to another person, whose name is not legible; it also claims to be a secret book (apocryphon) revealed to the author and to Peter by the Lord.
This apocryphon occupies the first pages of the Jung Codex of the Nag Hammadi collection (Codex I, 2: 1. 1–16. 30). Koester includes it among the formative gospels of early Christianity. Because of claims, such as his, that we have in our hands a document comparable in age and influence to Papyrus Egerton 2, to Q, and to the Coptic Gospel of Thomas, and also because of its links with the canonical Gospels, it seemed appropriate to provide a translation of it here.
Koester sees rather more links to the canonical and other gospels than are normally shown. He draws attention to links between the following:
|Epistle of James||2 ll. 22–33||John 14: 2, 4, 6|
|3 8–11||Coptic Gospel of Thomas,|
|3 17–26||John 20: 29|
|4 23–30||Mark 10: 28–30|
|7 1–6||John 16: 29|
|9 4–6||John 16: 26|
|18–24||Coptic Thomas, logion 69a;|
|10 32–4||John 16: 23b|
|12 l. 31–13 l.1||John 12: 35–6|
The epistolary framework is perhaps of later date. The bulk of the text is a dialogue between the risen Christ and James and Peter. After Jesus' ascension, the apostles travel to heaven, thus linking the text here with other apocryphal apocalypses.
The date for the original contribution is usually put at third century, but some, like Koester, would give an earlier date. The provenance is likely to be Egypt. The original language is likely to have been Greek, but is known now only in Coptic.
The contents have been variously described as Gnostic of Valentinian origin or an offshoot of early Christian literature without any connection with Gnosticism. It is comparable with the Epistula Apostolorum not only in form but in content—both lack a thoroughly heretical character.
The translation from the Coptic is based on the work of Ron Cameron, who has made a special study of this apocryphon, as can be seen in the bibliography below. I acknowledge with grateful thanks his contribution to this volume.