Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Review of Lim, Exodus Theology in Hebrews

Bonggyeong Lim. Horror and Hope: Exodus Theology in the Book of Hebrews. Saarbrücken: LAP Lambert Academic Publishing, 2012. Pp. 60.

First, I would like to thank Anne Blank for a PDF copy of this book.

This short booklet attempts to argue that the Exodus motif is the central unifying theme of the book of Hebrews.  It must be stated from the outset that the achievement of the stated goal of the book turns out to be a dismal failure. In the introduction, Lim makes the astonishing claim that “since the 1960’s, interest in the Book of Hebrews has waned” (p. 2).  Apparently, he is dependent upon a 1978 article by William Johnsson to support this claim.  However, in my experience interest in Hebrews has been booming in recent years as evidenced by the spate of commentaries and monographs that have appeared in the last twenty years.  A perusal of the bibliography betrays the reason for this uninformed claim.  I counted only two (!) secondary sources that postdate 1992.  It makes me wonder whether this study was stuck in a drawer for twenty years and then taken out, dusted off, and lightly tweaked for publication.  He then makes the claim that several recent studies have tended to have a detrimental effect on discerning the theological unity of Hebrews as a whole (p. 2).  He makes little attempt to support this claim other than citing in a footnote the studies of four German scholars (Erich Grässer, Otfried Hofius, Bertold Klappert, and Gerd Theissen) who focused on particular chapters of Hebrews.  It is clear that he never consulted these scholars (their works do not appear in the bibliography), but that he is once again dependent upon the same article by Johnsson mentioned above.  The poor introduction, hence, did not bode well for the rest of the book.

Lim’s book contains three parts.  In the first part, Lim detects four “Exodus” motifs in the book of Hebrews (pp. 4–29).  He briefly attempts to trace these motifs through the OT, the NT, and in Hebrews.  The motifs he identifies are: the revelation of God, salvation, Moses, and covenant.  Lim’s argumentation is rather simplistic.  Revelation, salvation, and covenant are broad themes that are found throughout the OT and even in the NT, and Moses was a prominent figure in the last four books of the Pentateuch and not just Exodus alone.  It appears that Lim wants to argue that the Exodus event underlies these themes throughout the OT and NT, but he does not provide sufficient evidence to back up this claim.  Lim is heavily dependent on secondary sources and rarely cites primary sources (i.e., the Bible) to back up the assertions he makes throughout this section.  It is also not entirely clear to me whether Lim has the Exodus event proper in mind, or whether he is subsuming the wider Pentateuch into the Exodus event.  Is the giving of the Law at Sinai and the wilderness wanderings part of the “Exodus” event?  He describes the salvation wrought by Christ as the “new Exodus,” but he fails to demonstrate how this language is reflected in Hebrews.

Part two focuses on the Exodus background in the literary structure of Hebrews (pp. 30–38).  Lim denounces three approaches to the structure of Hebrews: the traditional approach (which divided Hebrews simply into a doctrinal section and a practical section) that ignored the “objective criteria” for discerning structure; the literary approach of Albert Vanhoye who overemphasized the “objective criteria”; and the “patch-work” approach of F. F. Bruce and Leon Morris (p. 31).  He accuses all three approaches as being “prejudiced,” but one wonders how Lim’s approach is thereby unbiased.  It is clear that Lim is not aware of the recent work on the structure of Hebrews by George Guthrie, Cynthia Westfall, or the numerous proposals for the rhetorical structure of Hebrews.  Lim does not offer his own structure but puts forth the structure proposed by J. C. Fenton (p. 32).  Fenton’s structure neatly alternates exposition and exhortation, but may be overly simplistic.  For example, can chapter 11 properly be classified as “doctrinal exposition”?  Lim attempts to show how the Exodus event underlies each of the hortatory sections of his proposed structure (pp. 34–38).  Lim, however, appeals to the wider Pentateuch and not just to the Exodus event proper.  For example, the second hortatory section more likely alludes to the rebellion and wilderness wanderings of Numbers than it does to the Exodus event.  The fifth hortatory section alludes to the establishment of the covenant at Mount Sinai.  The Exodus connection he makes to the third and fourth hortatory sections, however, is very tenuous.

In the third and final section, Lim discusses the central theology of Hebrews in terms of the Exodus theme (pp. 39–46).  Lim asserts that scholars who see Christology as the central theme of Hebrews overemphasize the doctrinal sections while ignoring the hortatory sections.  By contrast, those who view eschatology as the heart of Hebrews emphasize the hortatory sections over the doctrinal sections (pp. 39–40).  He further asserts that other attempts to investigate the overarching themes in Hebrews, such as faith or perfection, have failed to offer a unified view of Hebrews.  Lim claims that it is the Exodus motif that unifies the doctrinal and hortatory sections (p. 41).  Completely following Lim’s train of thought here turns out to be an elusive task.  He briefly traces the Exodus and wilderness wandering themes in Paul’s writings.  He then discusses the heavenly sanctuary motif and avers that “Christ as the New Moses, through his death, opened the ‘new and living way’ to the heavenly sanctuary as a new destination of the new Exodus” (p. 44).  Lim then claims that the Exodus motif is clearly found in Heb 13:9–14, but then he discusses the allusion to the Day of Atonement in Lev 16:28.  It appears, then, that Lim has the larger Pentateuchal narratives in mind, rather than, the Exodus event proper.  Lim does not really demonstrate a unified reading of Hebrews in terms of the Exodus theme.  He offers broad generalizations without providing detailed exegesis to undergird the claims that he makes.

The whole book is in need of a thorough edit by a native English speaker.  The book is poorly written and is filled with grammatical errors and misuse of words.  The poor writing style frequently obfuscates the author’s argumentation.  Many sentences are so poorly constructed that it is hard to discern exactly what the author is trying to communicate.  The flow of his argument is not always easy to follow as he seems to make various jumps in logic.  Quite frankly, I felt like I was reading a freshman student essay.  Furthermore, the book is replete with errors.  For example, he misquotes a quotation by F. B. Meyer on page 10.  He frequently misspells the names of scholars (e.g., Vanhoye, Kümmel, Toussaint) and book titles.  On page 43 he calls one scholar McNicol and then two sentences later calls him McNeil!  He has all kinds of formatting errors in the bibliography and footnotes, and errors in the Greek words that he uses.

Exodus theology may be an important theme underlying the theology of Hebrews, but a better case must be made than the one presented in this book.  Unfortunately, the important topic of the use of Exodus in Hebrews has not been well served by the two most recent treatments of this theme (this one and the one by King L. She).

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