A Survey on the Provenance of the Epistle of Jude

While most scholars accept that the intended author of the epistle of Jude is meant to be the brother of James (and thus brother of Jesus as well), not many are convinced that it is authentically authored by such a person. The epistle is instead routinely dismissed as being the product of an “early Catholic” or “post-apostolic” environment, attempting to gain the gravitas it needs to be considered authoritative by claiming to be authored by “Jude, the brother of James” (v. 1).[1] For instance, Roman Heiligenthal considers the question of authorship to be decisively resolved: “Der pseudepigraphe Charakter de Jud wird nicht mehr bestritten.”[2] One could argue, however, that if the epistle is indeed written under the guise of a brother of Jesus in order to come off as authoritative to the reader, it is strange that the author refers to Jude as the “brother of James” instead of the more direct “brother of the Lord”, the latter title carrying more explicit authority while also being a known descriptor of Jesus’ brothers (see Gal 1.19; 1 Cor 9.5; Eusebius, Hist. Eccl., 1.7.11,13–14, 3.20).[3] Unfortunately, as evidenced by the extensive bibliography Heiligenthal provides on Judan scholarship, he was unaware of Richard Bauckham’s 1983 commentary and its arguments against an early Catholic reading of Jude.[4]

John Gunther provides a thorough case for an Alexandrian background to the epistle of Jude.[5] This is due, in part, to its fine Hellenistic literary style and Jude’s proclivity for intertestamental literature suggests such a provenance due to Alexandria being a veritable hub of book production.[6] Gunther also considers various references in the epistle (“Egypt” in v. 5; the “hidden reefs” and “waterless clouds” in v. 12), coupled together with the early acceptance of the epistle in Egypt, as not only being in harmony with an Alexandrian setting but possibly even implying that it was written there. None of Gunther’s arguments, however, provide a compelling reason to locate the epistle in Egypt. Ultimately, I think one has to agree with Charles Bigg who states that there is “no reason whatsoever” for choosing Alexandria as the place of origination, as “any specially Egyptian or Alexandrine ideas it exhibits not the faintest trace.”[7]

Jerome Neyrey, a pioneer in the social-scientific commentary on the biblical text, judges that there is “scant data” to work with to ascertain “a firm decision” regarding the setting and author.[8] He also sees conflicting data in the epistle: there is the fine Greek literary style, but on the other hand there is the author’s usage of Jewish apocryphal literature, the Hebrew Bible instead of the Septuagint, and the presence of Semitisms.[9] Nonetheless, this uncertainty or rejection towards authentic authorship and Palestinian provenance is not without its critics, some of whom judge the epistle to indeed be a product of a Palestinian Jewish-Christian apocalyptic milieu, with the possibility of authentic authorship being a natural corollary.

Michael Green reckons the author to legitimately be Jude, the brother of Jesus, thus naturally entailing that its provenance is “from the heart of Jewish Christianity.[10] Various other commentators, such as William Brosend, likewise have no difficulty accepting authentic authorship.[11] Not all that accept a Palestinian provenance, however, necessarily conclude the ascribed authorship is authentic. In his somewhat dated commentary, J. N. D. Kelly, while not taking a decisive stance on authorship authenticity noting that “the possibility cannot be ruled out,” nevertheless considers the author is “probably, but not necessarily, a Jewish Christian” even if a highly “Hellenized one with a cultivated Greek style.” Moreover, he argues that regardless of whether one considers the epistle to be authentic or pseudonymous it “must have originated in Palestine.”[12]

The most notable proponent of a Palestinian Jewish-Christian provenance is found in the works of Richard Bauckham, most notably in his commentary in the WBC series, Jude, 2 Peter, as well as the later monograph, Jude and the Brothers of Jesus in the Early Church. Despite their age, the former is still the best technical commentary on the epistle to date and the latter volume is a superb and in-depth supplement to it. Bauckham contends that Jude has a firm “debt to Palestinian Jewish literature and haggadic traditions” and that along with “its apocalyptic perspective and exegetical methods, its concern for ethical practice more than doctrinal belief, are all entirely consistent with authorship by Jude the brother of Jesus.”[13] He also takes extensive note of Jude’s usage of a midrashic hermeneutic in the style of the Qumran pesher exegesis.[14]

Another Judan specialist, J. D. Charles, states that Jude is a specimen of “Palestinian Jewish-Christian literature,” with the text demonstrating “a rich debt to the Jewish matrix,” while simultaneously being wrapped “in the garb of current Hellenistic literary-rhetorical conventions.”[15] The decision for a Palestinian provenance for Jude by Bauckham and Charles, as well as authentic authorship, has been followed by more recent commentators such as Peter Davids and Gene Green,[16] with the latter stating that Jude’s midrashic exegesis of the Old Testament places the epistle “squarely within the sphere of Palestinian Judaism” and that it “brings us into contact with early Palestinian Christianity that was in the process of opening up to the gentile mission.”[17]

Summary

Since Rowston’s influential article on Jude in 1975 there has been a large amount of literature published on the brief epistle, the above being a small sampling. Yet there is no definite consensus concerning the provenance of the epistle and the genuineness of its authorship. A case has been marshalled for authentic authorship and a Palestinian provenance by Bauckham and Charles, though not all are convinced, with many still opting for the early Catholic setting and pseudonymous authorship.

Notes

[1] For an extensive survey of scholarship on the authorship of Jude from the nineteenth century through to the late twentieth century, see Richard Bauckham, Jude and the Relatives of Jesus in the Early Church (Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1990), 171–78.

[2] “The pseudepigraphal character of Jude is no longer in dispute” (Roman Heiligenthal, ‘Der Judasbrief: Aspekte der Forschung in den letzten Jahrzehnten’, Theologische Rundschau 51 [1986]: 117–29; quote from p. 120).

[3] Consider Early J. Richard, a commentator who actually considers the author to be pseudonymous, yet nevertheless notes that this self-designation of being a brother of “James” instead of the “Lord” is indeed “an unusual statement under any circumstance (Reading 1 Peter, Jude, and 2 Peter: A Literary and Theological Commentary [Macon, GA: Smyth & Helwys, 2000]; quote from p. 236).

[4] Heiligenthal, Der Judasbrief, 117–20.

[5] John J. Gunther, ‘The Alexandrian Epistle of Jude’, New Testament Studies 30 (1984): 549–62.

[6] Jerome H. Neyrey blunts this argument a bit when he notes that both 1 Enoch (quoted in Jude vv. 14–15) and the Assumption of Moses (alluded to in Jude v. 9) were “esoteric books which were not exactly household items” (2 Peter, Jude. A New Translation with Introduction and Commentary [Anchor Bible 37C; New York: Doubleday, 1993]; quote from p. 35).

[7] Charles Bigg, A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the Epistles of St. Peter and St. Jude (International Critical Commentary; Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1901), 320.

[8] Neyrey, 2 Peter, Jude, 10. Regardless of one’s position on the authorship and provenance of Jude, one must keep in mind Bigg’s remark regarding the dearth of information to be found in the epistle: “what conclusion can be built upon this slender basis?” (321).

[9] Ibid., 35–36.

[10] Michael Green, 2 Peter & Jude: An Introduction and Commentary (Tyndale New Testament Commentaries; Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1987), esp. pp. 54–56.

[11] William Brosend, James and Jude (New Cambridge Bible Commentary. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2004), 5.

[12] John N. D. Kelly, A Commentary on the Epistles of Peter and of Jude (Black’s New Testament Commentary; New York: Harper and Row, 1969; Reprinted: Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1982), pp. 231–35.

[13] Richard Bauckham, Jude, 2 Peter (Word Biblical Commentary, 50; Waco, TX: Word Books, 1983), 16.

[14] Bauckham, Jude and the Relatives of Jesus, 201–34.

[15] J. D. Charles, Literary Strategy in the Epistle of Jude (Scranton, PA: University of Scranton Press, 1993), 80–81.

[16] See Peter H. Davids, The Letters of 2 Peter and Jude (Pillar New Testament Commentary; Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2006), esp. pp. 9–16; and Gene L. Green, Jude & 2 Peter (Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament; Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2008), 13.

[17] Ibid., 13, 16.

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