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‘The Twelve Tribes in the Diaspora’ (James 1.1)

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  10 September 2014

Joel Marcus*
Duke Divinity School, Durham, North Carolina 27708, USA. email:


Dale Allison is right to assert that ‘the twelve tribes in the Diaspora’ invokes Jewish ideas about the Ten Lost Tribes, but wrong to disassociate this thesis from the scholarly consensus that the pseudepigraphal author sees the church as Israel. For James, rather, the restored Israel consists of members of the Two Tribes of Judah and Benjamin (= Jewish Christians) plus members of the Ten Tribes. The latter, rather than being far away in some mythical, inaccessible realm, have been living since the Assyrian invasion in known Diaspora realms, where they lost their Israelite identity until it was reawakened by their recent encounter with the Gospel. Gentiles who respond positively to the Christian message, then, are for James the Ten Lost Tribes.

Copyright © Cambridge University Press 2014 

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1 On James as a pseudonymous writing, see Theissen, G., ‘Die pseudepigraphe Intention des Jakobusbriefes: Ein Beitrag zu seinen Einleitungsfragen’, Der Jakobusbrief: Beiträge zur Rehabilitierung der ‘strohernen Epistel’ (ed. von Gemünden, P., Konradt, M., Theissen, G.; Beiträge zum Verstehen der Bibel 3; Münster: Lit, 2003) 5482Google Scholar. On the memory of James in Christian and Jewish tradition, see Painter, J., Just James: The Brother of Jesus in History and Tradition (Studies on Personalities of the New Testament; Columbia SC: University of South Carolina Press, 1997).Google Scholar

2 See von Schlatter, A., Der Brief des Jakobus (Stuttgart: Calwer Vereinsbuchhandlung, 1932)Google Scholar 93; Mussner, F., Der Jakobusbrief: Auslegung (HKNT 13.1; Freiburg/Basle/Vienna: Herder & Herder, 1975) 61–2Google Scholar; Allison, D. C., ‘The Fiction of James and its Sitz Im Leben,’ RB 108 (2001) 540Google Scholar; Kloppenborg, J. C., ‘Diaspora Discourse: The Construction of Ethos in James’, NTS 53 (2007) 243–4CrossRefGoogle Scholar. As Schlatter already pointed out, the implication is not that all members of the Twelve Tribes dwell outside of Palestine, but that this letter is directed to that subset of them who do.

3 On the historicity of the Twelve and of Matt 19.28 / /Luke 22.30, see Sanders, E. P., Jesus and Judaism (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1985) 98106.Google Scholar

4 Dibelius, M. and Greeven, H., James: A Commentary on the Epistle of James (trans. Williams, M.; Hermeneia – a Critical and Historical Commentary on the Bible; Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1976; originally published in German 1920) 66–7Google Scholar; Johnson, L. T., The Letter of James: A New Translation with Introduction and Commentary (AB 37A; New York: Doubleday, 1995)Google Scholar 171; Laws, S., A Commentary on the Epistle of James (HNTC; San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1980) 47–8.Google Scholar

5 Cf. Mussner, Der Jakobusbrief, 61–2; Davids, P. H., The Epistle of James: A Commentary on the Greek Text (New International Greek Testament Commentary; Exeter: Paternoster/Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1982)Google Scholar 64.

6 Cf. 4Q554, in which each gate of the new Jerusalem is called by the name of one of the Israelite tribes. The link with the Revelation texts is even stronger because the Qumran community saw itself as the kernel of the new or renewed Israel (see Sanders, E. P., Paul and Palestinian Judaism: A Comparison of Patterns of Religion (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1977) 242–57.Google Scholar

7 Allison, ‘Fiction’; Allison, D. C. Jr, A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the Epistle of James (ICC; New York: Bloomsbury T&T Clark, 2013) 3250.Google Scholar

8 See also Kloppenborg, ‘Diaspora Discourse’, 244.

9 On the variation, see Bergren, T. A., ‘The “People Coming from the East” in 5 Ezra 1:38’, JBL 108 (1989)Google Scholar: 678 n. 15; Bauckham, R., Davila, J. R., Panayotov, A., eds., Old Testament Pseudepigrapha: More Noncanonical Scriptures, vol. i (Grand Rapids/Cambridge: Eerdmans, 2013) 348–9.Google Scholar

10 Cf. Jer 29.1; Ep Jer 6.1; 2 Macc 1.1, 10; 4 Bar 6.19; t. Sanh. 2.6; cf. Niebuhr, K.-W., ‘Der Jakobusbrief im Licht frühjüdischer Diasporabrief’, NTS 44 (1998) 420–43CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Allison, ‘Fiction’, 539 n. 30.

11 Allison, D. C., The Jesus Tradition in Q (Valley Forge: Trinity International, 1997) 176–91Google Scholar. As will soon become clear, a basic argument of the present article is that this contrast is a false dichotomy; cf. Pitre, B., Jesus, the Tribulation, and the End of the Exile: Restoration Eschatology and the Origin of the Atonement (Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck/Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2005) 279–83.Google Scholar

12 The Samaritans had a different view; see Grabbe, L. L., Judaism from Cyrus to Hadrian (2 vols.; Minneapolis: Fortress, 1992)Google Scholarii.502–7.

13 See for example Jer 29.1; Ep Jer 6.1; 2 Macc 1.1, 10; 4 Bar 6.19; t. Sanh. 2.6.

14 Cf. Benite, Z. B.-D., The Ten Lost Tribes: A World History (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2009)CrossRefGoogle Scholar 52: ‘What makes the Israelite diaspora amenable to endless repositioning is the way in which it is written into the biblical text as a silent diaspora, one that does not speak. This stands in sharp contrast with the Judahite diaspora.’

15 According to Stone, M. E., Fourth Ezra: A Commentary on the Book of Fourth Ezra (Hermeneia; Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1990)Google Scholar 400, 404, the passages from Fourth Ezra and Josephus are the first developed traditions about the withdrawal of the tribes to a farther land and their eventual return, a motif that becomes common in rabbinic Judaism. ‘Its relative scarcity in the period of the Second Temple is notable.’

16 See Benite, Lost Tribes, 85–111.

17 Allison, ‘Fiction’, 540.

18 On this designation, see Miller, S. S., Sages and Commoners in Late Antique ʾEreẓ Israel: A Philological Inquiry Into Local Traditions in Talmud Yerushalmi (TSAJ 111; Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2006) 118–45.Google Scholar

19 On this imaginary body of water in from Talmudic times on, see Benite, Lost Tribes, index s.v. ‘Sambatyon’.

20 In making this suggestion, I am following the lead of Jason Staples, who has recently advanced a similar argument to explain the otherwise puzzling sequence of Paul's argument in Romans 11.25–6: Staples, J. A., ‘What Do the Gentiles Have to Do with “All Israel”? A Fresh Look at Romans 11:25–27’, JBL 130 (2011) 371–90.Google Scholar

21 See Clines, D., ed., The Dictionary of Classical Hebrew (8 vols.; Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press, 1993–2011)Google Scholari.361–62. The metonymy is commonest in Hosea and the Qumran literature, but widespread in the OT as a whole; see also Sir 47.21, 23.

22 Cf. Staples, ‘Gentiles’, 381, esp. n. 50.

23 J. Hicks-Keeton, ‘Rewritten Gentiles: Conversion to “the Living God” in Ancient Judaism and Christianity’ (Diss.; Duke University, 2014) 237 n. 86. The sigla ‘Bu’ and ‘Ph’ refer to the different versifications in the editions of Burchard and Philonenko.

24 Accepting the textual emendation proposed in Charles, R. H., The Assumption of Moses: Translated from the Latin Sixth Century MS., the Unemended Text of Which is Published Herewith, together with the Text in its Restored and Critically Emended Form (London: A & C Black, 1897) 70–1Google Scholar; cf. Laperrousaz, E.-M., Le Testament de Moïse (généralement appelé ‘Assomption de Moïse’) (Semitica 19; Paris: Librairie d'Amérique et d'Orient, 1970)Google Scholar 118 n. 9.

25 In most of the passages cited here, the authors call on God to gather his scattered people without specifying whether these are the exiles of the first or the second diaspora (i.e. the Ten Tribes or the Two). One suspects that most ancient Jews probably conflated these two groups, and that by the time of James they would have read the relevant texts as an allusion to both.

26 συνάγαγε τὴν διασποϱὰν Ισϱαηλ ... ἵνα μὴ καταπίωσιν ἡμᾶς ἔθνη.

27 See for example Isa 43.5–9; 49:6; Mic 2.12–13; 4.1–7; Zech 2.6–12; 8.7–8, 20–3; Tob13.5–13; 14.5–7; Pss. Sol. 11.2–3; 17.26, 30–2; T. Benj. 9.2; 10.10–11. Some of these passages are discussed by Pitre, Jesus, 279–83 in making an argument about Matt 8.11–12 // Luke 13.28–9 similar to the one made here about James 1.1.

28 See, though with different emphasis, Grelot, P., Les poèmes du Serviteur: de la lecture critique à l'herméneutique (Lectio Divina; Paris: Éditions du Cerf, 1981) 91–2Google Scholar; Ekblad, E. Robert, Isaiah's Servant Poems According to the Septuagint: An Exegetical and Theological Study (CBET 23; Louvain: Peeters, 1999)Google Scholar, 109. Skarsaune, Oskar (The Proof from Prophecy: A Study in Justin Martyr's Proof-Text Tradition: Text-Type, Provenance, Theological Profile (Supplements to Novum Testamentum 56; Leiden: Brill, 1987) 326–7, 348–9)Google Scholar calls Isa 49.6 an ‘association type’ text: ‘The nations (τὰ ἔθνη) are added to the restored tribes of Jacob.’ That characterisation, however, fits the MT of Isa 49.6 better than it does the LXX.

The two different recensions of Tob 14.7 provide a similar illustration of the blurry boundary between the restoration of the Jewish exiles and the salvation of the Gentiles. G ii has ‘all the sons of Israel who are saved in those days’ praising the Lord, whereas G i has ‘all the nations’ doing so; see Fitzmyer, J. A., Tobit (CEJL; Berlin/New York: de Gruyter, 2003)CrossRefGoogle Scholar 322.

29 ταῦτα ὑμεῖς μὲν εἰς τὸν γηόϱαν καὶ τοὺς πϱοσηλύτους εἰϱῆσθαι νομίζετε, τῷ ὄντι δὲ εἰς ἡμᾶς εἴϱηται τοὺς διὰ Ἰησοῦ πεϕωτισμένους. Translation altered from St Martyr, Justin, Dialogue with Trypho (Selections from the Fathers of the Church 3; Washington, DC: Catholic University of America Press, 2003)Google Scholar 183. Contrast Acts 13.47 and Barn. 14.8, which quote only the second half of Isa 49.6.

30 Scholars have sometimes missed Justin's connection between proselytes and the dispersed tribes of Israel because they have assumed that his remarks in Dialogue 122.1 apply only to the second part of Isa 49.6, which speaks of the Servant becoming a light to the Gentiles; see e.g. Skarsaune, The Proof from Prophecy, 348–9. But Justin says that the whole passage (ταῦτα) refers to the proselyte, not just its conclusion.

31 Cf. Hvalvik, R., The Struggle for Scripture and Covenant: The Purpose of the Epistle of Barnabas and Jewish-Christian Competition in the Second Century (WUNT 2.Reihe 82; Tübingen: J. C. B. Mohr (Paul Siebeck), 1996) 272–3.Google Scholar

32 Bergren, T. A., Fifth Ezra: The Text, Origin, and Early History (Septuagint and Cognate Studies Series 25; Atlanta: Scholars, 1990) 24–6Google Scholar. Bergren infers that the work was probably composed between 130 and 250 ce.

33 See Staples, ‘Gentiles’; the quoted words are found on p. 383.

34 See Staples, ‘Gentiles’, 385–7.

35 van der Horst, P. W., ‘”Only Then Will All Israel Be Saved”: A Short Note on the Meaning of καὶ οὕτως in Romans 11:26’, JBL 119 (2000) 521.Google Scholar

36 See πϱῶτον in Plato, Rep. 2.368d; ἔπειτα in Xenophon, Anab. 7.1.4; 1 Thess 4.16–17; εἶτα in Aristotle, Poet. 1455b 1; Epictetus 3.23.1–2; T. Ab. (rec. A) 7.11; Tabula Cebetis 19.1; λοιπόν in Epictetus 2.15.8; this is about half of the passages van der Horst cites. Van der Horst, ‘All Israel’, does acknowledge this difficulty on p. 523, but his answer is less than satisfactory, and it does not undermine the fact that, in these instances at least, οὕτως by itself does not indicate a temporal progression.

37 ‘The stick of Ephraim' is probably a scribal gloss to make the reference to the northern kingdom clear; see Greenberg, M., Ezekiel 21–37: A New Translation with Introduction and Commentary (AB 22A; New York: Doubleday, 1997)Google Scholar 754.

38 Didymus the Blind, conversely, asserts that ‘the people called from the nations is the staff on which is written “Judah”, “the one who confesses”, while that from the circumcision is the scepter dedicated to Joseph’ (Didymus the Blind, Commentary on Zechariah, trans. R. C. Hill (The Fathers of the Church 111 Washington, DC: Catholic University of America Press, 2006) 279, commentary on Zech 11.14; the Greek text can be found at PG 22.1172). This seems to be deliberately polemical against something like Eusebius' interpretation, since it makes the Gentiles rather than the Jews into ‘Judah’ and the Jews rather than the Gentiles into ‘Joseph’, apparently out of a desire to assert Gentile superiority over Jews or Jewish Christians.

39 E.g. R. E. Brown, The Gospel According to John (2 vols.; AB 29 & 29A; Garden City: Doubleday, 1966–70) i.397; Schnackenburg, R., The Gospel According to St. John (3 vols.; New York: Crossroad, 1968–82)Google Scholarii.300. On the many linkages between Ezek 34–37 and John 10–11, see Manning, G. T., Echoes of a Prophet: The Use of Ezekiel in the Gospel of John and in Literature of the Second Temple Period (JSNTSupp; London/New York: T&T Clark International, 2004) 100–35Google Scholar, esp. the chart on 112–13.

40 Manning, Echoes, 124–31, esp. p. 127, comes close to this interpretation when he says that the echoes of Ezek 34 and 37.21–6 in John 10.14–16 and 11.51–2 ‘by themselves could be taken as a promise to gather Diaspora Jews to Jesus, but in John, Gentile believers are suggested by John's description’.

41 See for example ‘The Lost Tribes of Israel, Scattered Among the Nations’, n.p. [cited 11 July 2011], available at:; ‘Two-House Theology’; n.p. [cited 11 July 2011], available at:

42 See Johnson, Marshall D., The Purpose of the Biblical Genealogies: With Special Reference to the Setting of the Genealogies of Jesus (SNTSMS; Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1988 2)Google Scholar; Wilson, R. R., Genealogy and History in the Biblical World (Yale Near Eastern Researches; New Haven: Yale University Press, 1977).Google Scholar

43 See Josephus, AJ 14.9, who ascribes the fabrication to Nicolas of Damascus; cf. Cohen, S. J. D., The Beginnings of Jewishness: Boundaries, Varieties, Uncertainties (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1999)Google Scholar 17 and Goodman, M., ‘Jewish History 331 bce–135 ce’, The Jewish Annotated New Testament (ed. Levine, A.-J. and Brettler, M. Z.; Oxford/New York: Oxford University Press, 2011)Google Scholar 509.