The Characterization of Jesus in the Book of Hebrews
This dissertation accomplishes three things. First, it identifies the literary and rhetorical devices that the author of Hebrews uses to construct his characterization of Jesus. Second, it reconstructs the portrait that emerges from the author’s characterization of Jesus. Third, it indicates how the author’s characterization of Jesus is important for his overall argument.
This dissertation lays the methodological groundwork through an examination of characterization in both modern literary and ancient rhetorical theory and practice. The analysis reveals that characterization in ancient rhetoric demonstrates many affinities with modern literary theory and practice.
The author of Hebrews employs a variety of techniques to construct his characterization of Jesus. First, the author uses encomiastic topics, which are categories by which the attributes of persons were conceived in the ancient world. Second, the author utilizes a variety of devices such as amplification, synkrisis, vivid description, attributed speech, and literary tropes to develop his portrait of Jesus. Finally, the author appeals to divine testimony to give authoritative support to his portrayal of Jesus’ character. The author depicts Jesus as a person of exemplary character who exhibits the highest of human virtues but also divine attributes as well. These traits reveal both Jesus’ greatness and moral excellence.
The author’s characterization of Jesus is significant for his overall argument. First, Jesus’ character produces many benefits for his followers. Believers in some sense share in the same status and privileges that Jesus possesses. Jesus’ exemplary character also produces many soteriological benefits for his followers. Second, his character entails certain obligations from his followers. Jesus’ exemplary character is a model of imitation for his followers. The author frequently urges his audience to exemplify virtues that are also characteristic of Jesus. Jesus’ character also serves as a warning for his followers to avoid disobedience and unbelief. Finally, Jesus’ character serves as encouragement for his followers to persevere and mature in their faith, and to approach God boldly in worship.