Buchanan, George Wesley. “The Present State of Scholarship on Hebrews.” Pages 299-330 in Christianity, Judaism and Other Greco-Roman Cults. Part One: New Testament. Studies for Morton Smith at Sixty. Edited by Jacob Neusner. Leiden: Brill, 1975.
George Wesley Buchanan is Professor Emeritus of New Testament at Wesley Theological Seminary in Washington, DC (1960-1990) and is the author of two commentaries on the book of Hebrews.
Buchanan believes that the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls was an important turning point in Hebrews research. He therefore divides his history of scholarship into two parts. The first part he surveys works published prior to 1955 in chronological order. In the second part he evaluates post-1955 works according to a topical arrangement.
In the first part, “Scholarship before the Scrolls,” Buchanan briefly surveys the works of Johann Jakob Wetstein, Friedrich Bleek, Moses Stuart, Samuel Hulbeart Turner, Franz Delitzsch, Charles John Vaughan, Brooke Foss Westcott, Eduard Riggenbach, James Moffatt, Hans Windisch, Ernst Käsemann, Ceslas Spicq, and William Manson (299-307). The assessments are of uneven value ranging from a couple of sentences to substantial paragraphs. Some of the issues he highlights are authorship, recipients, provenance, date, genre, integrity, background, use of the OT, and other distinctive characteristics of the works featured.
In the second part, Buchanan arranges his analysis according to the various issues related to the study of Hebrews. With regard to the Dead Sea Scrolls, early on some scholars believed that the recipients of Hebrews had some sort of Essene connection (Spicq, Daniélou, Kosmala, Yadin), while some scholars noted the affinities between Hebrews and the Qumran writings (Flusser, Yadin). The publication of 11QMelchizedek was important because of its identification of Melchizedek with the Messiah. (308-309)
Scholars have also noted the similarities of the ideas and terminology between Hebrews and Philo. Spicq concluded that the author of Hebrews was a student of Philo before he became a Christian. Spicq’s thesis was thoroughly refuted by Ronald Williamson who said that “the author of Hebrews was a competent, original scholar, non-Philonic, and heavily dependent on the OT, but with a different view of time and history and a different method of exegesis from that of Philo” (311). Other scholars who note the similarities and differences between the two writing include Friedrich Schröger, Sidney Sowers, and C. K. Barrett.
Buchanan notes that scholars continue to posit non-Palestinian backgrounds for Hebrews such as Alexandria, Ephesus, and Rome, but he finds these attempts to be unconvincing (311).
Some scholars have noted the literary artistry of Hebrews (e.g., James Moffatt and Otto Michel), while others have done extensive study on the literary structure. Leon Vaganay used inclusions and hook-words to compose an outline of the book (312). Albert Vanhoye built upon Vaganay’s work and proposed a concentric structure for Hebrews. Vanhoye observed four markers that signified unit divisions: 1) announcement of the subject to be discussed, 2) catch-words, 3) characteristic terms, and 4) inclusions (312). Buchanan suggests two improvements to the analysis of the structure. First, one should recognize that chapter 13 is a later addition and should not be part of the structural analysis. Second, one should observe that Hebrews is a homiletical midrash on Psalm 110 (315).
With regard to the author’s use of the OT, George Howard noted the correspondences and divergences of the OT quotes with relation to both the MT and the LXX (317). Buchanan remarks that scholars are divided on Hebrews’ use of the OT since it is difficult to identify quotations as opposed to allusions; the author tended to change quotes to suit his purposes or he paraphrased, so it is impossible to know when the author is using a different version of a text or not (317-318). Williamson found great differences between Philo’s and Hebrews’ use and exegesis of the OT (318). Schröger “found elements of rabbinic exegesis, elements of apocalyptic-pesher exegesis, and elements of Hellenistic-late Jewish-synagogue exegesis” (319).
Scholars have generally neglected the use of “Son of man” in Hebrews 2:6 and have denied any messianic connotations for the term. This was remedied by I. H. Marshall and W. O. Walker who restored the “close relationship between messiahship and Son of Man theology that is evident in Hebrews and the gospels” (320). Buchanan notes that many of the psalms utilized by Hebrews have royal connotations, so it is likely that the author of Hebrews construed the terms “Son of God” and “Son of man” to designate a messiah or king (320-321).
Buchanan observes that the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus receive little attention in Hebrews as opposed to Paul’s letters. Instead the author of Hebrews is interested is interested in Jesus’ death as an atonement offering. Hence, he emphasized the connection of Jesus’ death with the Day of Atonement, rather than the Passover Feast as the gospels record. Jesus was the high priest who offered himself as the perfect sacrifice. Yadin and Kosmala claim that Hebrews “interpreted Jesus’ function as a high priest as a direct challenge to the two-messiah doctrine of the Dead Sea sect” (322). Buchanan remarks that both of these scholars overlooked the role of Jewish messianic expectation related to the Hasmoneans, who embodied both priestly and royal functions, just as Jesus does in Hebrews. Both the Hasmoneans and Hebrews utilizes scripture (Genesis 14:18; Psalm 110) to support their positions (324-325).
While most scholars insist that the “rest” mentioned in Hebrews 3-4 refers to a heavenly rest, rather than a nationalistic-political entity, Buchanan seems to favor the latter interpretation. Whenever Hebrews refers to a heavenly land (11:16) or city (12:22), it does not mean that Hebrews envisions a location in heaven, but that it expresses the divine origin of the land; it is the promised land that is in view (327-328).
Buchanan provides a selective overview of Hebrews scholarship for the middle part of the twentieth century. At times his discussion seems to be idiosyncratic (such as his discussion of the Son of man question). While I do not buy into Buchanan’s contention that chapter 13 is not original to Hebrews, he may be right that it should not be included in a structural analysis of the book. I personally view chapters 1-12 as the sermon with chapter 13 being an epistolary postscript by the same author. Buchanan’s contention that the rest and the heavenly land and city envisioned in Hebrews do not refer to a heavenly reality is not persuasive to me. Hebrews elsewhere talks about the heavenly tabernacle and that Jesus has entered into the heavenly realm. The writer of Hebrews seems to believe that the heavenly reality is greater than the heavenly reality and I believe this conception also applies to his view of the promised rest and the land.