Friday, January 30, 2009

Milligan on the Recipients of Hebrews

Milligan, G. "The Roman Destination of the Epistle to the Hebrews." The Expositor. Sixth Series, 4 (1901): 437-48.

George Milligan (1860-1934) was Professor of Divinity and Biblical Criticism at the University of Glasgow 1910-1932. He is the author of The Theology of the Epistle to the Hebrews (1899).

George Milligan is responding to earlier essays by Theodor Zahn and Adolf Harnack but does not differ from them significantly. In this essay Milligan deals with the identity of the recipients of Hebrews:

1) It is a small body of believers. There is no evidence of any differing opinions among the recipients in the book of Hebrews. It would also explain the lack of an introduction, since we would expect an introduction if addressed to a larger body of believers.

2) This small group is probably not part of a larger church, since the relation to the larger body of believers would have been indicated in the text. Therefore, the recipients are a small independent community or congregation.

3) The audience is of Jewish descent. The recipients are treated as direct descendants from the people of the Old Covenant. Moreover, his argument is largely based on the comparison between the Old Covenant and the New which would have more forcefulness with a Jewish audience. There is no absolute proof that the audience consisted of Gentiles.

4) 2:3 suggests that the recipients were converted by the those who had heard the apostles. There conversion was whole-hearted as is evidenced by the fact that they have suffered for their faith and have been despoiled of their property.

5) The phrase "latter days" suggests that some time has elapsed since their conversion. They have begun to slacken in their zeal. But there is no trace of a lapse back into Judaism. The warning are of a more general kind.

6) Rome is the most likely destination for Hebrews. There was a strong Jewish element in the church at Rome. 2:3 seems to accord well with what one would expect of the believers in Rome. Some particulars that suggest a Roman audience are: a) the epistle was well-known in Rome before the end of the first century as is indicated by its usage in 1 Clement; b) the liberality of the church (6:10) and the exhortations to continue (13:1, 2, 5) is applicable to inhabitants of a wealthy city like Rome; c) their sufferings accord well with the persecution of Christians in Rome under Claudius or Nero; d) the personal allusions and greetings support a Roman destination: (1) the use of οι ηγουμενοι for the leaders of the church finds parallel usage in 1 Clement and the Shepherd of Hermas; (2) the mention of Timothy in 13:23 is explicable, as he was known by the Roman Christians; (3) The greeting from "those from Italy" is most naturally explained by positing a Roman audience.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Book Review by David Moffitt

David Moffitt offers a brief book review of Hebrews: Contemporary Methods - New Insights, edited by Gabriella Gelardini on Chrisendom.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Ruth Hoppin on Hebrews

Since beginning this blog I have had the unexpected benefits of my learned readers contacting me to express their ideas and to point me to additional resources.

This past week Ruth Hoppin, the author of Priscilla's Letter: Finding the Author of the Epistle to the Hebrews, contacted me in response to some of my previous postings on the authorship of Hebrews. We have had a cordial (but spirited) email conversation over the possibility that Priscilla is the author of Hebrews. Mrs. Hoppin's photo is pictured here (photo by John Swanda).

While I have not been entirely persuaded by Mrs. Hoppin's argument for the authorship of Hebrews, I thought I would allow her to "respond" by way of posting her "Ten-point Summary of the Case for Priscilla's Authorship of the Epistle to the Hebrews." This is essentially a summary of the case she builds for Priscilla's authorship in her book. This is reproduced by her permission. Let me know what you think:


1. Priscilla, as a colleague of Paul, was a colleague of Timothy, with whom the author coordinates travel plans (Heb. 13:23).

2. She was a well-educated Roman aristocrat whose knowledge of literature, philosophy, and rhetoric qualified her for authorship. Her pre-eminence in the church and higher social standing are denoted by the appearance of her name first, four of the six times Priscilla and Aquila are named in the New Testament. Chrysostom (fourth-century Bishop of Constantinople) named her the sole tutor of Apollos.

3. a) Apollos, knowing only the baptism of John (Acts 18:25,26), needed instruction on baptisms- a topic covered by the teacher/catechist author of Hebrews (Heb. 6:1,2).

b) After receiving instruction from Priscilla, Apollos preached on the theme that Jesus was the Messiah foretold in Old Testament scripture- a main theme of Hebrews.

4. The conversion story in Heb. 2:1-3 checks out for Priscilla, but not for Barnabas, Apollos, or Paul.

5. Philo’s influence in Hebrews has been noted; Priscilla knew Philo in Rome and had access to his writings in Roman libraries.

6. The letter was written to Hebrew Christians in Ephesus, the locale of Priscilla’s ministry.

7. Priscilla had strong family and church connections at Rome, the city of origin.

8. The naming of two women as role models of faith in the eleventh chapter- with direct and indirect allusions to many others- was a break with precedent.

9. The early, inexplicable loss of the author’s name, with no consistent pseudonym being provided, is explained if a woman wrote the epistle.

10. No other candidate matches the profile of the author, as outlined.

*Ruth Hoppin, Priscilla’s Letter: Finding the Author of the Epistle to the Hebrews (Fort Bragg, CA: Lost Coast Press), 2000.

And now to point you to some online resources:

A brief biography and photo can be found on God's Word to Women website.

A brief video of Hoppin promoting her book can be found on the Lost Coast Press website.

Two online articles are available:

"Advocates for Priscilla" on the E-Quality website.

"The Book of Hebrews Revisited: Implicationsof the Theology of Hebrews for Gender Equality" on the website.

Monday, January 19, 2009

J. Rendel Harris on the Authorship of Hebrews

Harris, J. Rendel. “Side-Lights on the Authorship of the Epistle to the Hebrews.” Pages 148-76 in Side-Lights on New Testament Research: Seven Lectures Delivered in 1908, at Regent’s Park College, London. London: Kingsgate, 1909.

James Rendel Harris (1852-1941) was a British biblical and patristics scholar and a collector and curator of ancient manuscripts. He taught at Cambridge, Johns Hopkins, Haverford College, and Leiden University, before becoming director of studies at the Society of Friend’s Woodbrooke College near Birmingham. He also served as the curator of manuscripts of the John Rylands Library in Manchester.

In this lecture Harris seeks to build upon Harnack’s argument that Priscilla is the author of Hebrews by focusing primarily on chapter 11. The author of Hebrews wants to include women among the witnesses of faith. Harris finds the three references to women in this catalogue of faith astonishing examples.

Harris claims that Hebrews reads like it was written by someone who is in exile. The author attempts to instill in his readers the “Christian grace of detachment, which results from a right estimate of things transitory and of things eternal” (156). The author emphasizes that there remains a rest for the people of God. Abraham, Isaac and Jacob were sojourners in a foreign land seeking for a heavenly dwelling (cf. 11:8-10, 13-16). Joseph spoke of the exodus and the return of his bones to the promised land (11:22). Moses too fled Egypt “not fearing the wrath of the king.” Harris finds in this last example a parallel to the edict of Claudius which expelled the Jews from Rome. This would accord well with what we know about Priscilla and Aquila. Moreover, 13:13-14 also echoes the sentiments of an exile.

Harris tries to address two major objections to the argument of Harnack. The first objection is that the “feminization” of chapter 11 is insufficient to support a female authorship. Harris begins by asking what is the extent of the author of Hebrews’ Bible. He argues that his Bible extended from Genesis through 4 Maccabees. The wording of Heb 12:2, 4 seems to echo the language of 4 Macc 17:10 (which praises a women and her seven sons who were martyred for their resistance to the policies of Antiochus). This enables Harris to appeal to the Praise of Famous Men found in Sirach chapter 44 and following. During the entire course of Sirach’s rehearsal of Israelite history he never mentions any women (Of course Sirach evinces misogynistic tendencies throughout his whole work, so this is not surprising). This is the way a man would write Israelite history, Harris argues, so this reinforces Harnack’s argument that the author of Hebrews has feminized Israelite history: “It is either a woman, or a man under the influence of woman” (166).

Harris proceeds to note that the roll call of Hebrews 11 changes from an enumeration of names to a enumeration of their deeds. Nevertheless, the heroes of Israelite history can still be detected behind the allusions. Daniel and the three Hebrews can clearly be detected among the allusions. In addition, allusions to the martyrdoms of Isaiah (sawn in two) and Jeremiah (stoning) appear to be in view. Harris attempts to identify further allusions by turning to 1 Clement. Chapter 17 elicits allusions to Elijah, Elisha and Ezekiel. Harris believes that chapter 55, in its discussion of Judith and Esther, also alludes to Hebrews 11. Here is where Harris’ argument gets really dubious. Based on the similarities of two words in 1 Clement and Hebrews Harris avers that 11:34 alludes to the story of Judith. Harris wants to amend the text to read thus: “[women] from weakness were made strong, became mighty in war, put foreign armies to flight.” The masculine adjective ισχυροι presents no problem for Harris, since Clement says that “women, made strong by Divine Grace performed manly deeds” (171). Harris also believes that Esther may be alluded to among the exemplars of faith, but he fails to identify an adequate allusion. So, Harris thinks he has added Judith and Esther to the three other female exemplars of faith. Harris reiterates his contention that the author of Hebrews recounts Israelite history through the Maccabees. Heb 11:38 appears to be an allusion to 2 Macc 10:6.

Harris turns to the second fatal objection to Harnack’s argument: the use of the masculine singular participle in 11:32. Here he raises the possibility that “as it is a case of variation of a single letter, the text may have undergone correction” (175). However, Harris confesses that he has not found a single manuscript to support this supposed reading. So Harris’ argument founders at this point. Harris delivered this lecture in 1908, but to date–as far as I can tell–no manuscript has surfaced to support this theory.

In an earlier post I have already expressed my reasons for rejecting Priscilla as the possible author of Hebrews. I think that the grammar of 11:32 eliminates her as a candidate, especially in view of the fact that the author was known by his audience. The supposed “feminization” of Israelite history in Hebrews 11 does not make her candidacy any more likely. However, I see no major objection to Aquila as a possible author. Aquila would have shared the same experience of exile as Priscilla, and if they were co-equal partners in ministry together, Aquila would have had a higher view of women than perhaps many of his contemporaries. So perhaps the “feminization” of Hebrews 11 could be explained on these grounds.

Out of curiosity I though I would check Ben Witherington’s new commentary on Hebrews in his Letters and Homilies for Jewish Christians. Witherington has been a big proponent for women in ministry, and has written (to my recollection) three or four books on the role of women in the ministry of Jesus and in the early church. In a footnote on page 22 he says this:

For the original suggestion that Priscilla was the author of this document, see Harnack, “Probabilia.” For a popular treatment of this thesis, see Hoppin’s Priscilla and Priscilla’s Letter. One of the problems with Hoppin’s work is that she assumes that the name of the author is lost, whereas (since this is a homily and not a letter) one should assume that the author’s name was well known to the audience and did not need to be mentioned. Hoppin does not consider the similarities with the case of 1 John, another homily. Additionally, if the document was by Priscilla we would expect Aquila to be involved, but clues in the text suggest a single author. I do not rule out this thesis entirely, but much stands against it, including the grammar of Heb 11:32. The author of this document is both very literate and well educated, which was a rarity for Jewish women of this era, who when they had education were not expected to do advanced studies in the Septuagint or rhetoric! Perhaps most tellingly, our author has some sort of authority over Jewish Christians in Rome. How many ancient Christian women fit this formidable profile in the mid-first century? Very few indeed.
With this assessment I agree.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

A. B. Bruce on Hebrews

Bruce, A. B. “Hebrews, Epistle to.” Pages 327-38 in A Dictionary of the Bible Dealing with Its Language, Literature, and Contents Including the Biblical Theology. Edited by James Hastings et al. Vol. 2. Edinburgh: T & T Clark, 1899.

Alexander Balmain Bruce was a Scottish Free Church parish minister for 16 years before becoming Professor of Apologetics and New Testament Exegesis at the Free Church Divinity Hall, Glasgow (Trinity College) in 1875 until his death in 1899. In addition to this encyclopedia entry, Bruce also wrote The Epistle to the Hebrews: The First Apology (1899).

The strength of this piece is not Bruce’s contribution to the obligatory introductory matters of Hebrews, but his insights into the theological message of Hebrews. Bruce focuses on the theological message first before dealing with introductory matters, stating that the introductory matters have little bearing for understanding the book.

For Bruce, the central aim of Hebrews is to demonstrate that Christianity is the supreme and final religion because it is the religion of “free, unrestricted access to God.” Christianity is the “religion of the better hope through which we draw nigh unto God.”

The method of Hebrews is to show the radical contrast between Christianity and “Leviticalism.” The author accomplishes this through the use of four comparisons, pitting Christ against two agents of revelation (prophets and angels), and two agents of redemption (Moses and Aaron). While the revelations of the prophets were fragmentary (having many parts) and tropical (having many modes), the revelation of Christ is free from both deficiencies, being both complete and real. Jesus is contrasted with the angels in three ways: as a Son to servants; as King to subjects; and as Creator to creatures. Moses was faithful as a servant, but Christ was faithful as a son. While Aaron and his kin were engaged in empty rituals which were unable to take away sin, Christ offered Himself as the final, efficacious sacrifice.

Bruce insightfully points out that in all four comparisons, the superiority of Jesus rests on the foundation of his Sonship to God. As Son, he guarantees a perfect, final revelation, because Sonship involves likeness and intimacy with God. As Son, Jesus is begotten, while the angels are created. The Son as heir is destined to sit on the throne and become an object of homage, even by the angels. Thus his word of revelation claims more attention than that spoken by angels. Christ’s faithfulness is greater than Moses’s because Jesus is faithful as a Son. Our high priest is Jesus the Son of God (4:14) who learned obedience through suffering (5:8) and voluntarily offered up Himself (7:28).

In the prescript Jesus is the heir of all things, an attribute that naturally arises out of his relation of Sonship. Moreover, he is the agent of creation, implying preexistence, divinity, and eternality. The eternal being of the Son is further implied in 1:3 where he is called the απαυγασμα of God’s glory and the χαρακτηρ of God’s nature. (Bruce remarks that this statement does not absolutely exclude Sabellianism or Arianism. Sabellians stressed απαυγασμα, suggesting the idea of a modal manifestation rather than a distinct personality. Arians emphasized χαρακτηρ, implying a position of subordination and dependence of the Son on the Father. The orthodox claimed that the combination of the two excluded both errors: the former implying identity of nature, the latter implying independent personality.) Jesus’ exaltation takes place after his voluntary service for humanity. [This final line in 1:3 thus suggests both Jesus’ humanity and divinity; his priestly and royal roles–all rolled up into one compact sentence]

Bruce points to a number of passages that allude to Jesus’ incarnation (2:9, 14; 5:7) and earthly life (2:3, 18; 4:15; 5:2, 7; 12:2-3). The author of Hebrews, however, never states how the Son entered into humanity, although the implication that Jesus “likewise” took on flesh and blood suggests the normal course of birth, childhood, and adulthood. Bruce believes that Jesus’ humiliation was a stumbling block for the recipients of Hebrews. Nevertheless, the author states that it was in his humiliation, in the very act of tasting death, that the Son was crowned with glory and honor (2:9).

Jesus’ priesthood cannot be understood apart from its relation to the priesthood of Melchizedek. This type of priesthood, according to 7:1-3, is marked by five characteristics: 1) It is a royal priesthood; 2) It is a righteous priesthood; 3) It is a priesthood promotive of peace; 4) It is a personal, not an inherited priesthood; and 5) It is an eternal priesthood. These are the characteristics of an ideal priesthood. Although sacrifice is not mentioned in relation to Melchizedek, the ideal priest also makes a sacrifice of himself. The ideal priest is holy in relation to God, benevolent towards humanity, and free from faults that would disqualify him from the office of priest (7:26). Christ is superior to Aaron in a threefold way (8:1-9:28): he offers a superior sacrifice (himself), serves in a superior tabernacle (a heavenly one, not made with hands, invisible), and performs a superior ceremony (performed once for all, not to be repeated).

Bruce sees two passages as the key to understanding the author of Hebrews’ theory of redemption. The principle of redemption is found in 2:11: both the sanctifier and the sanctified are one, suggesting solidarity between the two. The “infinite efficacy” of redemption is indicated in 9:14: Christ offered himself “through the eternal Spirit.” Spirit expresses, for Bruce, the ethical characteristics of the sacrifice: Jesus’s sacrifice was free, loving and holy. “Eternal” indicates that Jesus’ death was not merely a historical event; the sacrifice of Christ is elevated above the limits of time and space.

Bruce raises a conundrum: On the one hand, the priesthood of Christ takes place in heaven. On the other hand, the sacrifice of Christ took place on the earth. The key is understanding that heaven is the locus of realities, while earth is the locus of shadows. For the writer of Hebrews, that which is “true” and that which is “heavenly” are synonymous. Thus, if Christ’s sacrifice was the “true” sacrifice, then it belongs to the heavenly realm, no matter where or when it takes place. Through the eternal spirit Christ’s sacrifice is lifted above time and space.

Bruce sees a threefold dimension to salvation in Hebrews: 1) Humanity will achieve lordship in the world to come, 2:5-8; 2) Humanity will be delivered from the power of death exercised by the devil, 2:14-15; and 3) Humanity will experience the full, final realization of the promise of rest. Bruce says “Taken together, the three conceptions suggest the thought of Paradise restored, the divine ideal of man and the world and their mutual relations realized in perpetuity, man made veritably the lord of creation, delivered form the fear of death, no longer subject to servile tasks, but occupied only in work compatible with perfect repose.” All this belongs to the future, in the world to come. But salvation is also a present good. Christians are sanctified and even perfected. Sanctification for the author of Hebrews is putting one in right relationship with God; it is the equivalent of Paul’s “justified.”

When the author of Hebrews speaks of the “Fatherhood” of God it is often in relation to the Sonship of Christ. But God’s Fatherhood also is in the background with regard to humanity. Bruce notes that “a religion of unrestricted access is a religion of sonship.” Christians are called “comrades” of Christ in 3:14. Because the sanctifier and the sanctified are one, believers are unified with Christ, sharing complete equality in privilege. In 2:10 Christ is not ashamed to call them “brethren” in their unsanctified state (2:11). How much more will Christ identify with believers after they are sanctified?!

Turning briefly to introductory matters, Bruce notes affinities of thought and style between Hebrews and Philo, but declines to make any connection between the two. Hebrews was clearly not written by Paul. The vocabulary, style and religious temperament of the author is radically different from Paul. While Paul used Hebraisms and simplicity of language, Hebrews uses polished Greek and stately phrases. While Paul evinces “moral intensity,” Hebrews has the “air of philosophic repose.” Nor is the author of Hebrews a disciple of Paul. An acquaintance with Paul cannot be clearly shown. Hebrews does share an affinity with some of the leading positions of Paulinism such as the universality of the gospel, Christianity as spiritual religion (i.e., the utter worthlessness of rites and ceremonies), and Christianity as a religion of free grace.

The ethnicity of the author cannot be determined, whether he is a Jew or Gentile. His writing style supports the latter, but his familiarity with Jewish institutions supports the former. The audience is most likely Jewish. As the audience speaks Greek and appears to have heard the gospel second-hand, a destination such as Antioch is more likely than Jerusalem. The book seems to be dealing with the crisis that erupted during the outbreak of the Jewish War. Moreover, 3:9 suggests that the people of God have seen God’s work for 40 years, so a date near 70 A.D. appears likely. Bruce declines to identify an author, but declares that the author had to be someone like Apollos who was a Hellenistic Jew of Alexandrian culture, acquainted with the Jewish scriptures and with contemporary philosophy. It is also plausible, due to the similarity of style, that Luke had something to do with the production of Hebrews.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Vos on Hebrews

Geerhardus Vos was professor of biblical theology at Princeton Theological Seminary, 1892-1932. Finding the PDF files for Vos' writings on Hebrews is not easy, but they are there if you hunt for them. I have decided to put all of the links to his writings on Hebrews here together in one posting:

The Priesthood of Christ in the Epistle to the Hebrews, Part 1

The Priesthood of Christ in the Epistle to the Hebrews, Part 2

Hebrews, the Epistle of the Diatheke, Part 1

Hebrews, the Epistle of the Diateke, Part 2

A couple of his sermons can also be found on Hebrews:

A Sermon on Hebrews 12:1-3

A Sermon on Hebrews 13:8

He also wrote a monograph which was published posthumously as The Teaching of the Epistle to the Hebrews.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Computer Analyses of the Authorship of Hebrews

Apparently a group at the Centre for Biomedical Engineering and School of Electrical and Electronic Engineering at the University of Adelaide in Australia has attempted to use a variety of methods of computer analysis for detecting authorship of literary writings. At least three of these studies have used Hebrews as a test case. The essays are available as PDF files:

Statistical Techniques for Text Classification Based on Word Recurrence Intervals

Who Wrote the Letter to the Hebrews? - Date Mining for Detection of Text Authorship

Advanced Text Authorship Detection Methods and Their Application to Biblical Texts

The first two essays conclude that Hebrews shows great similarity to Paul's writings. The last essay concludes that it is extremely unlikely that Paul wrote Hebrews. Hebrews, instead shows greater similarity to the Epistle of Barnabas, which they believe was written by Barnabas. The widely divergent results of these methods makes me question the effectiveness of such analyses.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

David M. Allen's Dissertation

David Mark Allen's Dissertation, "Deuteronomic Re-presentation in a Word of Exhortation: An Assessment of the Paraenetic Function of Deuteronomy in the Letter to the Hebrews" is available on the University of Edinburgh website.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Is the Book of Hebrews Addressed to Samaritans?

Richard Anderson who wrote the article "The Cross and the Atonement from Luke to Hebrews" (Evangelical Quarterly 71 [1999]: 127-49) has a posting on his blog site about the recipients of the Book of Hebrews. He argues that the recipients were Samaritans, in part, it seems, on the title itself, "The Epistle to the Hebrews." He says that the Samaritans called themselves Hebrews, while the Jews did not. Since the the title is not original to the book, it would seem to me to be a dubious argument to identify the recipients of the book on this basis.

Thien on the Structure of Hebrews

F. Thien. “Analyse de l’Épître aux Hébruex.” Revue biblique internationale 11 (1902): 74-86.

Good summaries of this article can be found in George H. Guthrie, The Structure of Hebrews, 11 and William L. Lane, Hebrews 1-8, lxxxvi. According to them, Thien’s article was very influential on later analyses of the structure of Hebrews, particularly Vaganay and Vanhoye, who in turn would become influential on later interpreters. The structure of Hebrews continues to be a contested subject as is evidenced by the fact that a whole session at SBL in 2006 was dedicated to the subject (cf. Gelardini’s article mentioned in a previous post).

Thien takes issue with how the majority of previous interpreters divided the Book of Hebrews. The general consensus was that 1:1-10:18 comprised the doctrinal section, while 10:19-13:25 contained the hortatory section. Thien points out, however, that exhortation can also be found in the first ten chapters. Moreover, interpreters had difficulty explaining the presence of certain passages, such as 5:11-6:19 which was viewed as a digression.

Thien begins by noting that the author calls his work a “word of exhortation” (13:22). Exhortation is then the author’s primary goal for his work. He wants to prevent his audience from lapsing into Judaism. The author uses both fear and hope/confidence to motivate his audience. These two motifs can be traced throughout the whole document. Moreover, Thien says that all of the examples employed by Hebrews have primarily a hortatory purpose, not a didactic purpose. All this leads Thien to propose a new structure for Hebrews.

Chapters 1-2 form the introduction to Hebrews, while chapter 13 comprises the conclusion. The rest of the work can be divided into three main divisions, each of which deals with two main themes. Thien believes that the themes of all three divisions are anticipated in chapter 2 and then are dealt with in inverse order. Moreover, the themes for each section are introduced prior to that section and then are also treated in inverse order. The motifs of fear and hope/confidence can be found in all three major divisions. The Book can be outlined as follows:

1-2: Introduction
3:1-5:10: Christ is a merciful and faithful high priest
2:17: Introductory verse
3:1-4:13: Christ is a faithful high priest (motif of fear)
4:14-5:10: Christ is a merciful high priest (motif of confidence)
5:11-10:39: Christ is the source of eternal salvation and the High Priest according to order of Melchizedek.
5:9-10: Introductory verses
5:11-6:20: Hortatory introduction (hence is not a digression)
5:11-6:8 (motif of fear)
6:9-20 (motif of confidence)
7:1-28: Christ is a High Priest according to the order of Melchizedek
8:1-10:18: Christ is the source of eternal salvation
10:19-39: Practical conclusion (hence does not begin a new paraenetic section)
11-12: Endurance and Faith
10:36-39: Introductory verses
11: Exemplars of faith
12: Endurance/Perseverance
13: Conclusion

While I can perhaps take issue with some of the specifics of Thien’s analysis (e.g., are all the themes of the book really anticipated in chapter 2?), overall I found the article to be useful and insightful.

Is Priscilla the Author of Hebrews?

Adolf Harnack. “The Authorship of the Epistle to the Hebrews.” Lutheran Church Review 19 (1900): 448-471. (Translated by Luther D. Lazarus)

Adolf Harnack. “Probability about the Address and Author of the Epistle to the Hebrews.” Pages 392-415 in The Bible Status of Woman. Edited by Lee Anna Starr. New York: Revell, 1926. (Translated by Emma Runge Peter)

The two articles listed above are actually two different translations of the same German article written by Harnack for ZNW in 1900. Harnack was a prominent German theologian and church historian producing over 1500 works during his lifetime. He taught at Leipzig (1874), Giessen (1879), Marburg (1886), and Berlin (1889-1921).

In this article Harnack argues that Hebrews was likely written by Priscilla. He appears to be the first person to make this argument (at least he believes he is the first).

Harnack first deals with the question of the addressees. He agrees with Theodor Zahn’s argument that the recipients were not likely a larger congregation, but that they were a small group of older Christians. These recipients were not the leaders of their local congregation, since the writer of Hebrews tells them to obey their leaders (13:17), but at the same time they had been Christians long enough that they themselves should be teachers (5:12). They were likely second-generation Christians (2:3). With Zahn Harnack believes the recipients were Roman. Harnack gives several reasons for placing them at Rome, but none are particularly decisive. The strongest evidence is the ambiguous statement “Those from Italy greet you” (13:24). This could equally mean that Hebrews was written from Rome. First Clement, which is written from Rome, seems to be well aware of Hebrews, alluding to it frequently, but Clement is also aware of other early Christian writings, not all of which were addressed to Romans.

Harnack does take issue with Zahn’s insistence that the addressees had to be Jewish Christians. Gentiles, when they converted to Christianity, would have adopted the OT as their book as well and could have been well-acquainted with it. For Harnack the distinction between Jewish and Gentile Christians is overdrawn.

Although Harnack does not attempt to date the book, He believes that the addressees had experienced the Neronian persecution and that the author of Hebrews alludes to the martyrdom of their leaders, i.e., Peter and Paul (10:32; 13:7). Thus it would appear Harnack would date the book sometime in the 70s.

Harnack makes a brilliant case for Priscilla’s authorship. He proposes that Priscilla is the author of Hebrews for a number of reasons:

1) the author was highly educated and seems to have held a prominent teaching position. In Acts 18 Priscilla along with Aquila were able to instruct Apollos who was himself an eloquent and learned man (Acts 18:24-26).

2) Both Priscilla and Aquila were among the Pauline circle of friends and were associates with Timothy (13:23).

3) Assuming the Roman audience, the author would then have been a part of the Roman church and been familiar with the circumstances of the Christians in Rome. Moreover the author seems to have been a respected leader among the Roman Christians and hoped to be restored to them someday (13:19). We know from Acts 18:1 that Priscilla and Aquila were expelled from Rome due to the Edict of Claudius in 49 A.D.

4) It is clear that Hebrews was written by one individual since the first-person singular is used (11:32; 13:19, 22). But at other times the author uses the first-person plural that suggests that the author was speaking for more than him or herself. The most decisive example for me that Harnack gives is 13:18 in which the author says “pray for us.” Harnack also believes that 13:22 and 6:1-3, 9, 11 are other examples in which the author speaks for others. Since Priscilla and Aquila were partners, it would be logical to assume that the author was also speaking for his or her partner. (However, could not the author have been speaking just as well for his fellow Christians “from Italy” or other Christian associates?)

Why then Priscilla, and not Aquila? In a few instances in Acts and the Pauline letters Priscilla’s name is mentioned before Aquila’s. This suggests to him that Priscilla was the more prominent of the two. This, I believe may be overreaching the evidence. Priscilla and Aquila are mentioned six times by name (Acts 18:2, 18, 26; Rom 16:3; 1 Cor 16:19; 2 Tim 4:19). Twice Aquila is mentioned first, four times Priscilla is mentioned first. This is just not a large enough sampling to make any kind of decisive statement. Perhaps Priscilla’s name is mentioned first because it was more euphonious to the Greek ear, much like “ladies and gentlemen” is more euphonious to the English ear than “gentlemen and ladies.” What is clear to me is that Priscilla and Aquila were co-equal partners in ministry. One is never mentioned without the other.

Harnack speculates–and it is speculation–that Priscilla was a Roman from a noble family, while Aquila may have been a freedman. This would explain Priscilla’s more prominent status. Of course, there is nothing in the biblical texts to suggest this. Samuel Terrien in his book Till the Heart Sings adduces some archaeological evidence to suggest that Priscilla was related to the Pudens family of Rome, but Terrien has to connect the dots for us, because the evidence is not decisive in this matter. We know that Aquila was a Jew from Pontus. It is entirely possible that Priscilla was also from there. Terrien argues that Priscilla is a Roman name and so she must have been from Rome. But Aquila is a Roman name too (it means “eagle” in Latin), and he was from Pontus! The Roman empire extended over a wide territory; it would not be surprising to find Roman names in other parts of the empire besides Italy.

5) Among the parade of heroes some women are mentioned. This suggests that the author was a woman in sympathy with these heroes from the OT. Terrien absurdly says “Would it not at least be unexpected for a man to praise ‘Rahab, the prostitute,’ who ‘by faith did not perish with rebels, for she peacefully welcomed the spies’ (11:31)?” By the same reasoning then we must assume that the authors of the epistles of James and First Clement were also women since they praise Rahab. By the same reasoning the author of Luke-Acts must be a woman for the sympathetic portrayals of women found in these works.

6) Harnack suggests that the reason why the name of the author of Hebrews was lost is because the author was a woman. If the author was Paul, Luke, Apollos, or Barnabas, there would be no good reason why the author’s name would have been lost. Harnack believes that the disappearance of the author’s name is due to the fact that women teachers fell into disrepute in the early church. He adduces evidence from Codex Bezae on Acts to show how the copyist suppressed Priscilla’s role.

Harnack believes that of all the candidates for the authorship of Hebrews, Priscilla is the best one. He closes confidently saying “as far as I can see, not a single contrary observation exists.” But Harnack overlooks the masculine participle diegoumenon in 11:32 which modifies the personal pronoun me. This suggests that the author of Hebrews was a male. Terrien says that this is a “faulty or biased knowledge of Greek syntax,” that one would use a neuter participle in this instance, which is indistinguishable from the masculine. But would a Greek writer use a neuter participle to modify a personal pronoun in this way? An authority no less than Harold Attridge in his monumental commentary writes in a footnote on page 347: “The masculine gender tells against the hypothesis of a female author.” Likewise William Lane in his commentary says in his notes on his translation “the masc ending of the ptcp is adverse to the proposal that Hebrews was composed by Priscilla or by some other woman” (p. 381). It is not that I don’t think that Priscilla could not have written Hebrews, it is just that the grammar of 11:32 doesn’t support that contention.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

New Article by Gelardini

I have just discovered that the newest issue of Harvard Theological Review has just come out. Gabriella Gelardini has an article on Hebrews in this latest issue:

From “Linguistic Turn” and Hebrews Scholarship to Anadiplosis Iterata: The Enigma of a Structure

An online version can be found here.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Does James and Clement protest Hebrews' Doctrine of Faith?

In my review of works on Hebrews, I am beginning with some older works and progressing my way forward to the more recent works. I begin with this article from Benjamin W. Bacon:

Benjamin W. Bacon. “The Doctrine of Faith in Hebrews, James, and Clement of Rome.” Journal of Biblical Literature 19 (1900): 12-21.

Bacon was a professor of NT at Yale, 1896-1928. In this article Bacon attempts to solve the thorny problem of dating the Epistle of James. His solution is to trace the development of the doctrine of faith in Hebrews 11:8-19, 31; James 2:21-26; and 1 Clement 10-12. These passages all reflect on Abraham and Rahab as exemplars of faith. Hebrews’ concept of faith differs widely from that of Paul. For Paul, faith is self-surrender and a reliance on Christ for righteousness and a participation in his death and resurrection. For Hebrews, faith is more like enlightenment or insight into the “ideal”; it is able to perceive spiritual realities or the future. This insight enables one to persevere in the race of life. Hence, faith for Hebrews takes a more intellectual slant. Bacon believes that James is not directly addressing Paul, but is protesting against Hebrews’ intellectualizing of faith as reflected in chapter 11. It is not a coincidence that James picks up on the same exemplars of faith as Hebrews does. For James, faith is not merely intellectual assent; it also includes obedience which is marked by works of mercy and moral purity. Similarly, Bacon avers, Clement also protests against the same intellectualism of Hebrews. To the virtue of obedience, however, Clement adds hospitality and humility. Bacon finds echoes of both Hebrews and James in 1 Clement. He believes that Clement sides with James in his protest against Hebrews. Clement, being even more removed from Paul, is even more unaware than James that he is contradicting Paul’s doctrine of justification by faith alone. Since James is aware of Hebrews, and Clement is aware of both, Bacon concludes that James’ epistle was written around 90 A.D.

Bacon certainly provides an interesting thesis, but I do not find myself fully persuaded. His thesis stands in part on the supposition that Hebrews was written shortly before or after 70 A.D.–a matter that is still under considerable debate. If Hebrews is dated much later, naturally Bacon’s thesis would be called into question. Moreover, if James is reacting to Hebrews, his allusions are rather oblique, his references to Abraham and Rahab notwithstanding. Other than the names of Abraham, Isaac and Rahab there are no verbal similarities between the two works at all. Hebrews, for example, doesn’t seem to be concerned with the theme of justification at all–a topic that is certainly in the mind of James. Bacon does not believe that James’ illustration of Abraham and James are coincidental. But why doesn’t James counter Hebrews’ other illustrations? Perhaps Abraham and Rahab had become stock illustrations of faith among Christian circles by the end of the first century.

A similar thing could be said for Clement’s alleged protest against Hebrews. Bacon says that Clement follows the exemplars of faith seriatim in chapters 9-13 (and again in 17). But does he really? Clement mentions Lot, whereas Hebrews does not. At the same time Clement ignores the examples of Isaac, Jacob, Joseph and Moses in his treatment. Clement and Hebrews simply are drawing on the same source material, i.e., the OT. It would be no surprise that they would use many of the same exemplars of faith. Now, I do acknowledge that Clement seems to be aware of the Book of Hebrews. Bacon claims that there are 47 allusions to Hebrews in his letter. Nevertheless, Clement never seems to interact much with the ideas found in Hebrews; he goes his own way. For example, in chapter 36 he calls Jesus a high priest, an idea that he may have gotten from Hebrews, but other than the use of the appellation Clement doesn’t elaborate on this concept in his letter. In fact he adds some additional appellations not found in Hebrews: “guardian and helper of our weaknesses.”

At any rate, neither James nor Clement appear to me to be protesting against Hebrews’ conception of faith. This is my initial reaction to Bacon’s article, but I will think on these things further . . .

Monday, January 5, 2009

Bible Briefs on Hebrews

The Bible Briefs on Hebrews, produced by Virginia Theological Seminary, can be downloaded here. The pamphlet gives a brief overview of Hebrews, but doesn't seem to break any new ground. It is geared more towards the average layperson, than for the seasoned scholar.

Is Paul the Author of Hebrews?

There is some interesting discussion on Nick Norelli's blog regarding the authorship of Hebrews. If there is one thing I am convinced of, it's that Paul did not write the Book of Hebrews. The style and content of the book is too radically different from Paul's writings.

Sunday, January 4, 2009

Is Luke the Author of Hebrews?

The blog Bible X directed my attention to David Allen's lecture/sermon on the Lukan authorship of Hebrews. His talk was quite engaging and so he models the kind of expository preaching that I am sure he teaches his students to practice. Let me give some of my thoughts on his talk.

Allen elicited a number of new, intriguing ideas (at least to me). First, he argues that Luke was a Hellenistic Jew (not a Gentile, as is generally supposed) and that he was possibly a priest. Second, he argues that Luke was writing his two-volume work Luke-Acts to Theophilus, a former high priest (ca. 37-41) who was deposed by Herod Agrippa (hence Luke's discussion on Agrippa's death in Acts 12 would have been of great interest to his reader). Allen believes that Hebrews was similarly written (from Rome in ca. 67-69) to a group of former Jerusalem temple priests who had embraced Christianity and had migrated to Syrian Antioch.

Another intriguing idea is that Allen argues that the Greek word machaira in Hebrews 4:12, which is normally translated "sword," may be translated as "scalpel," and that this translation is more in line with the traditional belief that Luke was a physician.

Now, Allen lays out his argument for Lukan authorship in at least three articles that I know of, and a fuller discussion of his argument will be set forth in his upcoming monograph entitled The Authorship of Hebrews: The Case for Luke, which will be published by Broadman & Holman sometime in the Fall of this year. He probably also lays out his argument in his commentary, also by Broadman & Holman, but I have yet to see a copy of this commentary as it was not available at the SBL Conference this past November. So, I will look forward to reading his argument and the evidence he adduces, when these works become available. Allen may be right about the authorship of Hebrews, but I will suspend my judgment until I can read his works in full.

There is, however, one dimension of his argument that I take issue with, and that is his linguistic argument. Allen states that there are 53 terms which are unique to Luke-Acts and Hebrews in the NT. Moreover, there are a number of syntactical features that are unique to both of these works in the NT. The problem I have is his restricting his analysis to NT Greek. Most of the writers of the NT were not especially skilled in the Greek language. It is likely that Greek was a secondary language for many of the writers of the NT. The most skilled writers of the NT are the authors of Luke-Acts and of Hebrews. Could it be that the terminology and syntactical features that are so unique among the writings of the NT, are not so unique when compared to the writings of the larger Hellenistic world? Allen's argument would become far more convincing if he could demonstrate that these grammatical features were unique to Luke-Acts and Hebrews in light of the larger body of Hellenistic literature.

By the way, this is a problem I have with a large number of linguistic arguments that are often made by NT scholars who only restrict their analyses to the Greek of the NT (Wallace's Greek Grammar, for instance). The NT was not "holy Greek" or some specialized form of Greek that differed substantially from the rest of the Hellenistic world. The NT is a relatively small body of literature from which to base one's linguistic arguments. Scholars would do well to base their linguistic arguments on the larger database of Greek documents that are extant from that time.

The second part of Allen's talk focused on Hebrews as creative expository preaching. I essentially have no qualms with this part of his talk. I agree that Hebrews is primarily a sermon. It alternates between exposition and exhortation throughout the work and it evinces a high level of rhetorical skill employing alliteration, rhythm, paronomasia, inclusio, chiasms, and anaphora. The question I have is: how does this demonstrate Lukan authorship? After going to great lengths to demonstrate Lukan authorship in the first part of his talk, he completely ignores the issue in the second part of his talk. His talk seems to be making two completely different points unrelated to one another.

Despite these points, Dr. Allen seems like he would be a great teacher to take a class from. He is teaching a class on Preaching from Hebrews in the Spring at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. It would be a class I would very much be interested in taking, but for me to drive two hours each way to Fort Worth and back is quite prohibitive for me at this time in my life. Perhaps I will invite Dr. Allen to respond to my post here.

Update: Dr. Allen did respond to my post via email and basically acknowledged that I was correct in my point that he fails to interact with literature outside the NT. He hopes to remedy this before his book on the authorship of Luke comes out, which he informs me is scheduled for the Spring of 2010.

Friday, January 2, 2009

Internet Resources on Hebrews

I want to draw your attention to some internet resources on Hebrews which will be included in the sidebar of this blog.

First, the website for the Hebrews Group at SBL (formerly the Hebrews Consultation) is hosted by Gabriella Gelardini, professor at the University of Basel. The links on the left provide access to papers previously presented at SBL, as well as providing information for upcoming meetings.

Second, In July 2006 I attended the Hebrews & Theology Conference at St. Andrews in Scotland. Some of the papers presented at this conference are still available on the website and can be accessed by the link on the left. Two books have spun out of this conference. Apparently these books will also be announced on this website. The first book is A Cloud of Witnesses: The Theology of Hebrews in Its Ancient Contexts published by T & T Clark. The second book is The Epistle to the Hebrews and Christian Theology which will be published by Eerdmans.

Third, I want to draw your attention to my friend, Kenneth Schenck's blog, Quadrilateral Thoughts. Ken has written a couple of books, several articles, and presented several papers on Hebrews. His blog is the only one I know of that writes substantively on Hebrews.

Finally, I have included links to three sites that provide links to online resources on Hebrews: Mark Goodacre's NT Gateway, Robert Bradshaw's, and Rodney Decker's Resources for New Testament Studies.

If you know of any other resources that should be added to this blog, I would welcome your input.

And so it begins . . .

For some time now I have been contemplating starting a biblioblog on the Book of Hebrews. There appears to be a lack of substantive discussion on the Book of Hebrews in the blogosphere. So I have now decided to take the plunge to remedy this omission.

This blog will be dedicated strictly to the study of Hebrews. So don't expect to find postings on various and sundry items such as politics, sports, or popular culture. Neither will you find any postings on my personal life, except as it touches upon my study of Hebrews. I am not a person inclined to bear his soul before the anonymous multitudes of the world of the internet.

What I hope to accomplish on this blog is to provide a forum for discussion on the "many and various ways" in which the Book of Hebrews has been interpreted throughout the centuries. I hope to provide reviews and summaries on articles and books pertinent to the study of Hebrews. I will also draw attention to news and websites that are important for the study of Hebrews.

I welcome any feedback, news, or information that will help to make this blog more useful for the academic community. So now let the adventure begin . . .