Koester, Craig R. “The Epistle to the Hebrews in Recent Study.” Currents in Research: Biblical Studies 2 (1994): 123-45.
Craig Koester (1953- ) has been Professor of New Testament at Luther Seminary in St. Paul, Minnesota since 1986. He has published a commentary on Hebrews for the Anchor Bible Commentary, as well as several articles on Hebrews.
This review of research on Hebrews nicely compliments J. C. McCullough’s two articles of the same year. While McCullough focuses on introductory issues such as authorship, recipients, genre, structure, style, and date, Koester concentrates on the following topics: 1) Commentaries, 2) Literary and Rhetorical Aspects, 3) Historical, Social, and Religious Context, 4) Theological Themes and Major Passages, and 5) History of Interpretation and Influence. Koester’s article concludes with an eight-page bibliography. Koester’s article covers the previous ten years since the publication of Helmut Feld’s survey.
Commentaries: Koester provides brief overviews of English commentaries by Attridge, Lane, and Ellingworth (NIGTC). Passing references are made to Wilson, Ellingworth, Bruce, Kistemaker, and Evans. Koester then makes brief comments on the German commentaries by Weiss, Grässer, Hegermann, and Braun, and the French commentary by Bénétreau. Passing references are made to Laub and März. Basically, Koester enumerates the contents of the introductory sections and excurses and the general layout of each commentary.
Literary and Rhetorical Aspects: Numerous scholars have paid attention to the various literary and rhetorical devices employed by Hebrews (Attridge; Lane; Jobes; Cosby; Lindars; Mitchell). Wills attempts to identify the features of Hebrews’ self-designation as a “word of exhortation,” while Black attempts to relate this form to classical rhetoric. Scholars differ on the type of rhetoric employed in Hebrews: some argue that Hebrews is a kind of deliberative rhetoric (Übelacker; Lindars), while others consider it epideictic (Attridge). Koester remarks that Hebrews does not fall neatly into either category. Scholars have tried to relate the different sections of Hebrews to the parts of ancient speeches.
Regarding structure, Vanhoye proposed a five-part concentric structure of the book, while others hold to a tripartite structure (Michel; Weiss). Various proponents have sided with both proposals. Alternative structures have also been presented by Übelacker and Brawley. Dunnill investigated the relationship between the “forward, linear movement of Hebrews” and its “repetitive or circular quality” (127).
Historical, Social, and Religious Contexts: Scholars agree that the author is unknown (e.g., Attridge; Ellingworth; Grässer; Lane; Weiss). Scholars either date the work before 70 AD (e.g., Bénétreau; Lane; Lindars; Ellingworth) or after it (e.g., Hegermann; Grässer; Isaacs; Weiss). Many situate the recipients of Hebrews in Rome (e.g., Attridge; Bruce; Ellingworth; Lane; Weiss), while Dunnill locates them in Western Asia Minor.
Concerning the social situation of the recipients, scholars have noted that Hebrews is addressed to a specific group within a wider Christian community (Weiss; Lindars) and that they are probably members of a house church (Lane). Scholars have determined that the ethnicity of the recipients were either Jewish (Bruce; Rissei; Feld; Lindars; Isaacs), Gentile (Braun; Weiss; Delville), or mixed (Ellingworth; Grässer). Scholars have surmised various scenarios for the occasion of the writing: crisis of faith triggered by Neronian persecution (Lane); a relapse into Judaism as a means of dealing with their need for atonement (Lindars); moral lethargy (Schmidt); a weariness of the faith of second-generation Christians (Grässer); a “preoccupation with sacred space . . . connected with the loss of Jerusalem and its temple” (129). Attridge argues that the author constructed a complex response to an equally complex situation in which no one problem is the key to understanding the situation.
Regarding Hebrews’ relationship to other early Christian groups, affinities with 1 Peter suggest a common Christian tradition, possibly in Rome (Hurst; Weiss; Attridge; Witherington; Backus). Manson’s proposal of a connection with Hellenistic Christians as exemplified by Stephen in Acts 7 was adopted with modifications by some scholars (Hurst; Lane; Lindars). Many scholars have also tried to locate Hebrews within the larger religious and intellectual context such as Hellenism (including Philo), Gnosticism, and apocalyptic Judaism. Scholars recognize that Hebrews utilizes extra-biblical Jewish sources, but mystic traditions and Samaritan sources are of little help in interpreting Hebrews. Much attention has been given to similarities between Hebrews and the Dead Sea Scrolls, but it is likely that neither the author nor the audience were related to the Qumran community in any way (Lehne; Scholer et al). Greco-Roman sources have also been used to help in the interpretation of Hebrews (Aune; Neyrey; van der Horst).
Theological Themes and Major Passages: Dunnill examined the concepts of sacrifice and covenant from an anthropological perspective. Isaacs investigated the notion of sacred space as a way of drawing together all the themes of Hebrews. Rissi claimed that the problems arising for the recipients of Hebrews originated from their idea of realized eschatology. Lindars contended that Hebrews addresses the audience’s problems of atonement for sin and guilt. Numerous studies have been done on the various aspects of the Christology of Hebrews (Meier; Dunn; Caird; Hurst; Savey), and in particular the author’s high-priestly Christology (Vanhoye; Estrada; Casalini; Laub; Bénétreau; Levoratti; Pursiful). Other studies have focused on the subject of the sanctuary (Lindars; Gordon; Löhr; Koester), the relationship between the high-priestly work of Christ and the priestly understanding of Christian life and community (Vanhoye; Fernάndez; Scholer; Nardoni; Swetnam), or the concept of faith (Hamm; Söding; Attridge; Weiss).
History of Interpretation and Influence: Commentators have examined the canonization process of Hebrews (Weiss; Lane; Ellingworth) and its role within the debates of the early church and the Reformation (Feld). Scholars have also begun to examine the history of Hebrews’ influence “by noting how the text is used in theological, devotional and polemical writings, liturgy and art, as well as in commentaries” (137). Grässer and Feld have engaged in special studies on the history of influence.