'Pure and undefiled religion': the function of purity language in the Epistle of James
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Whereas commentators frequently restrict the categories for purity language in James to either ritual or metaphorical (and uniformly conclude the language is a metaphor for personal morality) this is overly restrictive and ignores how purity language was used in the first-century. Current research of purity language in ancient Israel calls into question the rigid either/or categorization of purity language in James. Such descriptions are not only unjustifiably restrictive, but they also fail to account for the function or meaning of the purity language within the rhetorical goals of the composition. The central argument of this investigation is that purity language both articulates and constructs the composition's worldview and thus serves as an important theme in the text. Chapter two discusses the different methods of analysis of purity and offers a taxonomy of purity language. This taxonomy provides a more precise approach to understanding the function of purity language. Chapter three argues for several important aspects of the structure and strategy of the text. Specifically the three interdependent characteristics of 1) an epistolary structure; 2) a coherent rhetorical argument based on polar oppositions; 3) and the special function of James 1: 2-27 as an introduction are suggested. While attuned to the textual issues argued in chapter three, the categories developed in the taxonomy were applied as a heuristic guide to understand the function of purity and pollution in chapter four. This analysis demonstrated four specific things: 1) though purity language occurs relatively infrequently, it is used at crucial points of the composition (1: 26-27; 3: 6,17; 4: 8); 2) that the use of purity and pollution specifically functions within the overall strategy of contrasts which leads readers to a decision; 3) that the majority of the time purity language labeled the world (and by extension those associated with it) as set against the implicit purity of God; and therefore, 4) the readers of James must be separate from the impure world ("pure") in order to be wholehearted in devotion to God ("perfect"). Because the purity of the audience is directly related to their proximity to the world, chapter five asks what kind of separation is envisioned by the use of purity language. While purity is indeed boundary language, the cultural stance of James is complex. The author shows signs of acculturation, yet this acculturation is employed to call the audience to specific points of separation from surrounding culture, namely separation from patron-client relationships with the "rich" and use of inappropriate and deceitful speech. Thus the composition is not calling for sectarian separation from the surrounding culture, but rather is a complex document demonstrating cultural accommodation while calling forth specific socio-cultural boundaries between the readers and the world.
Thesis, PhD Doctor of Philosophy
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