Hughes, Philip Edgcumbe. “The Epistle to the Hebrews.” Pages 351-70 in The New Testament and Its Modern Interpreters. Edited by Eldon J. Epp and George W. MacRae. Philadelphia: Fortress; Atlanta: Scholars Press, 1989.
Philip Edgcumbe Hughes (1915-1990) was an Anglican clergyman and New Testament scholar whose life and career spanned four continent including Australia where he was born, South Africa, England where he was ordained, and the USA where he died. He has degrees from the University of Cape Town, University of London, and Australian College of Theology. He taught at Tyndale Hall, Bristol (1947-1953), was editor of the Churchman (1959-1967), and from 1964 on he taught in American Seminaries, including Columbia Theological Seminary (Decatur, GA), Westminster Theological Seminary and Trinity Episcopal School for Ministry (both in PA). He has authored a commentary on Hebrews, as well as several articles.
In this essay Hughes gives a brief overview of recent scholarship on Hebrews under four headings: Hebrews and Qumran, Destination, Author, and Structure. He concludes with a considerable bibliography which includes works in several languages (including, French, German, Dutch, Spanish, Italian, Latin).
Hebrews and Qumran: Yadin argued that Hebrews was written to counter Qumran teachings. He determined that the recipients were converts to Christianity from the Dead Sea sect. Publication of 11QMelchizedek prompted numerous studies on Melchizedek and his relationship to Hebrews. Several scholars theorized that the recipients were priests prior to the martyrdom of Stephen and many tried to demonstrate some sort of Essene connection (Spicq; Cullmann; Braun; Daniélou; Kosmala; Flusser; Fensham). Others, however, rejected any close connection; the background to Hebrews can be connected to the wider Jewish milieu (Coppens; Bruce). Williamson suggested that Merkabah mysticism provided the background to Hebrews’ thought.
Destination: Scholars have proposed numerous locations for the recipients of the book, ranging across the entire Mediterranean. Those adhering to an Essene connection advocate for Palestine. The greeting at 13:24 has prompted many scholars to posit Rome as the destination. T. W. Manson favored the Lycus Valley as the destination, while others have opted for Ephesus (Clarkson; Howard). Lo Bue, by contrast, advocated for an Ephesian origin and a Corinthian destination. Montefiore and Davies also supported a Corinthian destination. Spicq concluded that the book was sent to someplace in Syria or Palestine; Buchanan determined that Palestine was the location.
Author: Since many scholars see a strong Philonic influence on Hebrews, many scholars surmise that Apollos is the author (Spicq; Lenski; T. W. Manson; Ketter; Howard; Lo Bue). Another strong candidate is Barnabas because he was a Levite and this tradition has ancient support in Tertullian. Scholars who support the Barnabas theory include Javet, Badcock, Mulder, and J. A. T. Robinson. Williamson severely criticized Spicq’s contention for Philonic influence, while Sowers believed that the author came from the same school of Alexandrian Judaism as Philo. Several scholars have noted connections with Paul’s letters, while some have detected affinities with the Johannine writings. W. Manson observed similarities with Stephen’s perspective in Acts 7 which may form the backdrop to Hebrews’ theological ideas. Several other candidates have been proposed with little success: Silvanus, Timothy, Epaphras, Priscilla, and even Mary the mother of Jesus!
Structure: Several scholars have contributed to the understanding of the literary structure of Hebrews (Thien; Vaganay; Descamps; Gyllenberg; Nauck; Bligh), but the most elaborate analysis has been set forth by Vanhoye, who highlights various literary devices that reveal a concentric symmetry. Swetnam judged that Vanhoye’s structure did not take into consideration the content of the book.
Obviously, Hughes’ essay is very brief by necessity and more suggestive than anything else, but his extensive bibliography allows one to track down the various scholars mentioned. Space limitations prohibited Hughes from considering other critical issues in the interpretation of Hebrews such as its use of the OT and theological matters.