The following papers dealing with Hebrews in some manner will be presented at the International SBL meeting in Helsinki, Finland, July 30 to August 3:
Embarrasing Inclusion: Samson and Jephthah in the Epistle to the Hebrews
Program Unit: Epistle to the Hebrews
David Allen, Queen's Foundation for Ecumenical Theological Education
"The Beispielreihen of scriptural figures in Hebrews 11 famously includes a number of ambiguous characters, those whose commendable achievements are often equally matched by their apparent frailties and misjudgements. The list is a proverbial ‘mixed bag’. However, there are two individuals named within the discourse – Samson, and more notably, Jephthah – whose prior scriptural achievements seem particularly problematic, and whose presence within the cloud of witnesses seems questionable at least. This paper probes their inclusion within the Hebrews 11 retinue. It begins by engaging with the intra-Hebrews effect of such inclusion and the consequences for interpreting the text. The second part of the paper then turns to the ensuing reception of Hebrews, to explore how subsequent interpreters have engaged with the implied praise of such figures, and the ramifications of this for the text’s function."
Philemon: A Conclusion to Paul’s Letters?
Program Unit: Canonical Approaches to the Bible (EABS)
Stefan M. Attard, University of Malta
"Within the context of the gradual formation of the New Testament canon, this paper seeks to highlight the import of the Letter to Philemon in terms of a synchronic analysis that takes the whole Pauline corpus into consideration. Because the Letter to the Hebrews is very generic and lacks a one-on-one style, Philemon can be considered the last significantly personal letter of Paul. The position of Philemon before Hebrews and the other non-Pauline letters hence lends credence to the maximalist view that all the epistles from Romans to Philemon were penned by the Apostle of the Gentiles, since it seems to function as a conclusion to the whole collection of both undisputed and disputed Pauline writings. Though Hebrews may have been considered of Pauline origin at the time the canon was put together, its different positions in various extant documents is a curious phenomenon. For this reason, the placing of Philemon and Hebrews in various codices and manuscripts is examined and the relation of Philemon to the preceding writings (all the way back to the Gospel of Luke and the Acts of the Apostles) are analysed, both with regards to structural and theological considerations. As for Philemon’s theological outlook, it is legitimate to ask whether this letter echoes some of the main teachings laid down in the previous letters and to what extent, if any, can it be said to fittingly bring to a close basic tenets of this entire corpus of writings. It will be argued that the reasons for its present position in the canon are not to be found primarily in its relative shortness, or in its being addressed to a somewhat unknown individual, but to more relevant concerns that make it a powerful conclusion to Paul’s thoughts."
Deuteronomy's Motif of Life in Hebrews Program
Unit: Epistle to the Hebrews
Albert Coetsee, North-West University (South Africa)
"The influence and effect of the book of Deuteronomy in the New Testament writings is widely accepted. One of the New Testament books that contains the most quotations, references and allusions to Deuteronomy, is the book of Hebrews. Several ground-breaking studies on the influence and effect of Deuteronomy in Hebrews have been done, including the following: Allen (2008), in his very informative PhD thesis (Deuteronomy and Exhortation in Hebrews: An Exercise in Narrative Re-Presentation), investigates the way in which the book of Deuteronomy operates within the paraenetic sections of Hebrews, and argues that Hebrews becomes a “new” Deuteronomy that challenges its predecessor’s contemporary hegemony. Steyn (2007:152-168; Deuteronomy in Hebrews) gives a synopsis of quotations, references and allusions attributed to Deuteronomy, as well as a brief discussion of certain motifs from Deuteronomy in Hebrews, namely covenant, Moses and priesthood. This paper endeavours to contribute to the study of the influence and effect of Deuteronomy in Hebrews by investigating the influence of another possible Deuteronomic motif in Hebrews, namely the motif of “life”. References to “life” are found throughout Deuteronomy. Markl (2014:71; This Word is your life: the theology of ‘life’ in Deuteronomy), who outlines “life” (חיה ) in Deuteronomy (the only study done on this subject in recent literature), calls it “one of the key theological concepts in the book”. With this paper I argue that traces of this motif are present in Hebrews, and I demonstrate how these traces function within the book. The paper first defines the (multifaceted) concept of “life” in Deuteronomy. This is followed up by combing through the text of Hebrews to identify traces of this motif in the words and concepts that the writer employs, as well as the overall theme of the book. In conclusion, the findings are synthesized to give a panorama of this motif in Hebrews."
“The Oil of Gladness” and Priestly Investiture in the Epistle to the Hebrews Program
Unit: Epistle to the Hebrews
Justin Harrison Duff, University of St. Andrews
"The anointment of Jesus with the “oil of gladness” (Heb 1:9) is broadly regarded as a royal investiture. Jesus’s anointment is associated with enthronement, the scepter, and the kingdom (Heb 1:8). The citation in Heb 1:8–9 is also drawn from Psalm 44 LXX, a hymn celebrating Israel’s king. The pronounced relationship between Jesus’s anointment and his kingship, however, may overshadow another function of the oil: high priestly consecration. Like Israel’s kings, Levitical priests were anointed with “holy oil” at their installment (Exodus 29–30, Leviticus 8, 11QT 15:3–16:4) and the high priest was called the “anointed priest” (Lev 4:3, 16:32). Moreover, Hebrews’ “main point” (8:1–2) is that Jesus became a high priest after Melchizedek’s order, a royal ruler and holy minister in the heavenly sanctuary. Although some scholars have briefly considered a priestly anointment in Heb 1:9, the possibility has not been explored in depth and is rarely brought into conversation with the greater Septuagint and second temple tradition. In this paper, I engage these traditions and propose that the anointment in Hebrews appears to consecrate Jesus for two offices: high priest and king. When read against Jewish apocalyptic and early Christian texts in particular, divine anointment may further signal a bodily transformation that safeguards new priests for heavenly space. I therefore suggest that Jesus’s anointment may be connected to his inheritance of the “indestructible life” required by priests after Melchizedek’s order (7:16–17), a quality of life devoid of physical weakness that endures forever in the heavens (7:28)."
Moses the Martyr: A Martyrological Reading of Hebrews 11
Program Unit: Epistle to the Hebrews
Paul Middleton, University of Chester
"While the roll call of the heroes of faith in Hebrews 11 contains explicit references to martyrs (11.34–38), they are usually interpreted as comprising a subset of exemplars of Faith alongside other significant Hebrew Bible figures who demonstrated that Faith in different ways. This paper, instead, argues there are strong martyrological elements planted throughout chapter 11, such that those mentioned at the end become the climax of a list of heroes who have in some way undergone (albeit metaphorical) martyrdom. While I will illustrate this claim using a number of figures from the chapter, the paper will focus on the way in which the character of Moses has been refracted through a martyrological lens (11.23–29), such that he proleptically conforms to the model of Christ’s suffering (11.26). Moreover, chapter 11 is situated between two sections of the letter which, I will argue, deal with potential martyrdom (10.26–39; 12.3–7). Therefore, the rhetorical force of the chapter highlights not merely examples of faith, but faith potentially leading to martyrdom. Among these examples is Moses, who imitated the same sufferings of Christ which the Hebrews are in turn called to emulate (13.13)."
The Son of God in Psalm 110 in the Light of the New Testament
Program Unit: Biblical Characters in Three Traditions (Judaism, Christianity, Islam)
Richard K. Min, The University of Texas at Dallas
"As warned by the author of Hebrews, two passages in Psalm 110 generate the enormous controversies and difficulties in New Testament study and exegesis. The first controversy and paradox about the Son of God is the problem of the lordship of Christ. He is the son of David. Yet he is being addressed by David as "my lord" (Psalm 110:1). The paradox deals with the extended human "father-son" relationship in the law, with the divine-human relationship (of lord-servant). This divine lordship of the Son of God is professed by David who is the very author of this psalm and the father of the son of David. All synoptic gospels deal with the passage (Psalm 110:1) as having great significance (Matthew 22:41–46; Mark 12:35–37; Luke 20:41–44). The second controversy and paradox of the Son of God in Psalm 110:4 is the problem of the priesthood of the Son of God who is from the tribe of Judah (Hebrews 7:14–15). According to the law, to have a priest outside of the tribe of Levi and according to the order of Aaronic lineage is impossible. The legal question is how it could be possible for Christ, the son of David, to be a priest of God. This controversy has never been dealt with or resolved in any part of the New Testament except in Hebrews. The paper presents and extends this new perspective and paradigm of circular rhetoric and paradox in the Bible."
Ritualized Actions Stirring Eschatological Hope
Program Unit: Early Christianity (EABS)
Bernhard Oestreich, Theologische Hochschule Friedensau
"Earliest Christian documents witness the expectation of Christ’s imminent glorious parousia (1Thess 4:15; 1Cor 15:51). It is commonly held that this expectation declined as decades elapsed and church members passed away. The emphasis shifted from future to realized eschatology or Christian hope was re-interpreted in an individualistic sense. However, as Erlemann (1993) has shown, there is no clear development towards disappointment and abandoning the expectation. Late documents like Revelation, 2Peter, or Didache do not give up this early conviction of the soon coming parousia despite permanent disappointment. How was this possible? The paper explores the possibility that some ritualized actions of early Christians did not only express eschatological hope but also continuously stirred this hope. One of the features of ritualized actions is the recourse to tradition—especially by actions that seem to stick to traditional forms—that lets historical event and present time fall together in the participants’ experience. Performing rituals of Christian hope would thus make the first generation of Jesus’ followers and later Christians contemporaneous and help the latter ones to be filled with the expectations of earlier generations. The study investigates eschatological elements in Christian rituals, especially the Lord’s supper, in New Testament texts and the Didache. It also entertains the idea that the letter to the Hebrews with its interpretation of Israel’s cult and its contested eschatology could be a theoretical reflection of Christian hope as an afterthought based on the ritual performance of hope."
Elijah, Elisha, and Other "Prophets" in Hebrews 11:33–38
Program Unit: Epistle to the Hebrews
Lotta Valve, Abo Akademi
"The list of exemplary biblical figures of faith in Hebrews 11 turns, in the end of the chapter, into a list of actions of unnamed figures, who in v. 32 are called “prophets.” The rapid listing of their sufferings but also righteous deeds of faith in a stylistically persuasive way is an interesting example of the rhetoric of the author/s. However, it is quite remarkable that the author nevertheless lets these persons go unnamed. Why this procedure? In my paper, I analyze which figures of biblical and intertestamental literature are referred to in this list, and whether there are other than rhetorical reasons for leaving out their names. According to my hypothesis, the relative importance of especially Elijah and Elisha as types for Christ in early Christianity has made it possible for the author to refer to them only vaguely, while simultaneously acknowledging their significance."
Critical Spatial Theory and the Place of the Atonement in Hebrews
Program Unit: Epistle to the Hebrews
Cynthia Long Westfall, McMaster Divinity College
"David Moffitt’s observation in Atonement and the Logic of Resurrection in the Epistle to the Hebrews that heaven is the place in which the author of Hebrews depicts the atonement leads him to deduce that the culmination of the atonement was after the resurrection and ascension. Negative responses to Moffitt’s work have reflected an overriding theological concern with the time in which he concludes the final act of the atonement took place. Place and time are linked without question. As Hermann Minkowski who was Einstein’s teacher said, “Nobody ever noticed a place except at a time or a time except at a place.” However, interpreters of Hebrews often ascribe metaphorical, symbolic or otherwise abstract significance to the references to place, treating them as if they were references to time (e.g. most often in eschatological/apocalyptic future) or assigning them to a theological category or idea (e.g. exaltation). Studies on the role of place say that the preference for mapping reality on time is an anachronistic bias of the characteristically modern domination of space by time, and speak of recovering a sense of place on which meaning is mapped which was characteristic of ancient thought. Critical spatial theory provides definitions and categories for place and space that are helpful, and allow us to explore the meaning of place as its own category in the Book of Hebrews. My thesis is that the interpretation of the Hebrews author of the heavenly tabernacle and its use (priesthood and sacrifices) in the LXX is based on the meaning of place in the continuity and contrast between the past Mosaic tabernacle and what is true in the present of the heavenly tabernacle in the light of Jesus’s sacrificial death."