February 25, 2010

Furniture & Location in James 2:3

There's some good conversation budding below Matt Sevans' post on "Synagogue" in James 2:2, and I wanted to ask this follow up question over here. Does James' contrast between places to sit (in 2:3 - "a good place" versus "here by my footstool") offer any clues as to whether his readers were expected to meet in a home setting or inside a 'traditional' Synagogue?

It may be impossible to say, largely because we can't even say all Synagogues (assemblies) met in a Synagogue (building). Not hardly. As I noted somewhere here previously, about Nazareth's Synagogue, it's likely the architectural form was less important before the Temple's destruction, and we have plenty of evidence that Jews gathered in open areas, by rivers, gates and in personal houses. At least, I think I recall reading that archaeologists date most extant Synagogues after 70 AD, for whatever that's worth.

Still, I've often thought about this question in conjunction with Jesus' words about Jews who loved to sit in the "chief seats". Before I knew more about Synagogue history, I used to lean pretty heavily on that thought, supposing that . I still think James was most likely writing to Christian-Jews who still went to their Synagogues. (Actually, my personal theory is that James' Epistle was good public relations, sent to the entire Diaspora on behalf of those Jewish Christians, for the express purpose of showing that Christ's followers were (or at least, could be) still Jews first. And really good Jews at that. But I digress...)

Getting back to my point about furniture. Whether in a home setting or 'Synagogue', the likelihood of having "good" seats may have been better among congregations that had been established for decades (if not centuries). Likewise, such mature congregations would also have more corporate awareness of budgetary realities, and be more tempted to court the affection of rich visitors. In both points, it's also fair to suggest James was writing about something he'd seen happen generally (assuming the letter's points were general admonitions to a wide assortment of congregations). In all of these cases, I think it more likely James wrote to Jewish congregations.

Any thoughts?


Matt Evans said...

Last night at Bible study I brought up the point you made about "awareness of budgetary realities" being a reason for giving the good seats to the rich men over the poor. That makes perfect sense for a synagogue over a house-church. I agree with you wholeheartedly on that.

Bill Heroman said...

Do you guys have NIGHTLY bible studies? I am thoroughly impressed.

We really need to schedule a DFW bloggers' gathering, btw.

Matt Evans said...

No, just weekly studies. I posted that bit last night after I got back.

Agreed. There are enough of us bloggers in the area that we should get together. I can think of at least three others here.

Charles Savelle said...

The discussion might be moot if some recent interpreter's are correct. Namely, that the context in James 2:2 is a legal court scene. You can see a pretty good explanation of this view in C. Blomberg and M. Kamell's commentary on James which came out last year. William Varner has also suggested this possibility.

Bill Heroman said...

Well color me both skeptical and intrigued, Charles. Thanks for the tip. (Is either resource online?)

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