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.


  1. As much as I sympathize with those who want to see some influence of female leaders in early Christian literature, I can't agree with Ms. Hoppin's arguments (thank you, brian, for your summary of her arguments). First, Hebrews exhibits such an extensive familiarity with the septuagint hard to believe from a Roman aristocrat convert (unless she was a god-fearer, I suppose). Secondly, while Priscilla does fit many of the points outlined above, so do other candidates. Thirdly, many of the characteristics above make assumptions about the text. For instance, Heb. 2:1-3 may not in fact constitute a conversion story on the individual but rather the corporate or metaphoric level. An early, inexplicable loss of the author's name can be explained in other ways than simply "a woman wrote it." After all, all four gospels are anonymous, with pseudonym being provided only in later superscripts. That Rome was the place of origin and Ephesus its destination are certainly not givens. The naming of two women as role models in ch. 11 might indicate Luke (my personal favorite for authorship) just as much as any woman. The influence of Philo on Hebrews has been much inflated in Hebrews scholarship, and even if it hadn't, simple awareness of Philo does not necessitate direct acquaintance.

    The Priscilla hypothesis suffers from the difficulties of most other authorship candidates: while she fits the profile for the author of Hebrews, the profile does not, unfortunately, point exclusively to her.

  2. Thank you for your comments. You make some good points, but of course you will have to read Hoppin's book to see how she fleshes out some of her arguments.

    One could argue that the gospels are different from Hebrews because early on only one name became attached to the gospels, whereas multiple names became associated with Hebrews even in our earliest documents. Of course the number of candidates proposed for authorship of Hebrews has only proliferated in the ensuing centuries. But your point is well-taken; just because the name of the author of a document has been "lost" does not mean that it was suppressed because it was written by a woman. Other reasonable explanations for the loss of the name can be produced.

    See my earlier post on Harnack about the naming of the women in Hebrews 11. Must one suppose that a sympathetic portrayal of women favors female authorship? If so, then Luke-Acts was written by a woman by this reasoning.

    I have argued that the participle diegoumeon in Heb 11:32 is masculine thus disqualifying Priscilla as a candidate for authorship. But Hoppin argues that the rule cited in BDF par. 131 applies to this verse and that the participle is neuter. However, the construction is not analagous. BDF is dealing with predicate adjectives, but in Heb 11:32 the participle is modifying the personal pronoun which is a direct object of the verb. She also argues that a "pat construction" such as found in v. 32 may have become fossilized in the masculine gender and would have been used by a man or a woman (if one argument doesn't work, then try another). This may be, but I believe that actual examples from Greek literature need to adduced to demonstrate that this is the case. Otherwise, it only remains a theoretical possibility.

  3. Hello,

    I would like to reply to just a couple of comments by Brian and Jondh.

    (1) Concerning Luke

    We should keep in mind that Luke was an historian of the early church, not a teacher/evangelist like the author of Hebrews.
    Harnack placed Hebrews along the Rome/Ephesus axis, and I agree, except that I reversed the direction.
    In any event, there is little evidence for a Lukan ministry in either city, or for that matter, in any particular city.

    Yes, I agree that Luke had good "feminist credentials," but remember that he was recording events, and was bound by the sources.
    If he gave importance to women, it was because women were prominent in the sources. By contrast, the author of Hebrews was free to choose to highlight the role of women, or not.

    (2) Heb. 11:32

    I think it is fair to offer alternate reasonable interpretations of the use of diegoumenon, in hope that one or more will seem reasonable to the reader. Prof. Samuel Terrien's statement that "Greek syntax...commonly employs such a participle not in the masculine but in the neuter (here indistinguishable from the masculine)" should make us stop and think, and not categorically dismiss the possibility of female authorship.

    Thank you for your interest and time in sharing your thoughts.


  4. Thank you, Ms. Hoppin, for responding. Please let me address some of your assertions:

    "We should keep in mind that Luke was an historian of the early church, not a teacher/evangelist like the author of Hebrews."

    I disagree. Given that much ancient history was programmatic, Luke was as much an evangelist as a historian. The teaching voice comes through in the speeches of Luke-Acts, since they were almost certainly not composed by their purported speakers, but rather by Luke. Thus, Luke's preaching can be seen in the Magnificat, Zacharias' speech, Simeon's and Anna's speeches, Peter's Pentecost sermon, Stephen's speech in Acts 7, and Paul on the Aereopagus. Furthermore, if we trust the historicity of Luke's account, his teaching/evangelizing credentials were at least as good as Priscilla's.

    "Harnack placed Hebrews along the Rome/Ephesus axis, and I agree, except that I reversed the direction. In any event, there is little evidence for a Lukan ministry in either city, or for that matter, in any particular city."

    You have a good point here.

    "he was recording events, and was bound by the sources.
    If he gave importance to women, it was because women were prominent in the sources. By contrast, the author of Hebrews was free to choose to highlight the role of women, or not."

    No historian is bound by his or her sources. Matthew and Mark, for instance, utilized much of the same material as Luke, yet choose not to highlight women's roles in the same way Luke (or John) does. Are we to assume that Luke and John had access to sources about women that Mark and Matthew did not? Even so, this only argues that Mark and Matthew were bound by their sources, but that Luke and John were free to suppress references to women in theirs.

  5. Hi Ruth:

    One of the insights from redactional criticism is that the gospel writers were authors in themselves. Luke would not have uncritically used his sources; he would have selected from among his sources just like any good historian would do. So Luke was as much selecting from his sources as the writer of Hebrews was from his (i.e., the OT). Women have prominence in his writings because he chose to.

    Regarding Terrien: he is primarily an OT scholar, so I wonder how much expertise he has in Greek. But more seriously, the problem I have with Terrien's statement is that he merely asserts this without citing any evidence (granted Terrien was writing a more popular book, so he doesn't delve into this question). Where is Terrien's proof that Greek would normally use the neuter in this instance?

  6. Hello Jondh,

    I attribute Priscilla's knowledge of the Septuagint largely to Aquila and Paul. During the time Paul lodged with the couple, there was ample opportunity for instruction and discussion.

    Hi Sundaypage,

    I agree that Luke's goal as historian was to encourage faith. Luke the author of the speeches in Acts? For a good statement of the opposing viewpoint see Simon Kistemaker, "The Speeches in Acts" (Criswell Theological Review 5.1 (1990) 31-41.


  7. Whoever wrote Hebrews had to have an appreciation for the priesthood and the sacrificial system, as well as the rhetoric of an analogical interpretation of these. If it was Prisca, then where does she get her cultic and rhetorical knowledge? Not from a Roman background. I suggest the author was a priest or the child of a priest. Have we any evidence that Prisca came from somewhere closer to the Temple? (Besides conjecture which we can all make to spin a story.)

  8. Hello Bob,

    The priesthood and the sacrificial system were of interest to the recipients to whom the author of Hebrews stood in a pastoral relationship. This was ample reason to address such concerns.

    Despite knowledge gained from such dialogue, and from study of the scriptures, certain misconceptions about the cultic system are evident. For example the High Priest did not offer daily sacrifices as in Heb. 7:27 but
    only on the Day of Atonement.

    Please see my book for discussion about the relation of the author to the Temple.


  9. Thanks for the interesting discussion, everyone. The problem that I have with the theory of a female author is that women did not tend to travel. See my new blog post here.

  10. Hi Richard, thanks for your comments. I think your contention that women didn't travel reduces the likelihood that the author was a woman, but doesn't entirely rule it out since Priscilla could have been an exception. There appears to be some evidence that she did travel with her husband, if only for the fact that they were expelled from Rome. It could also be argued that women generally did not have the same educational advantages as men. Hebrews is the most sophisticated Greek of all the NT writings and evinces a person of high literary and rhetorical skill. It seems highly unlikely to me that a woman in the ancient world could have written better Greek than any of the male authors of the NT, but again Priscilla could have been an exception. To me the strongest argument against female authorship is the masculine, self-referential participle in 11:32. The author was clearly known to his audience so there is no reason to think that a female author was intentionally hiding her identity. And there is no evidence of any textual variants on 11:32 to suggest that it could have been changed by an ancient redactor to hide female authorship.

  11. Thanks for your comments, Brian. As I mentioned on my blog post, I agree that women were able to travel with their husbands. It is no coincidence that the only female who is called an apostle (Junia) travelled with her husband (Andronicus). The problem with the Priscilla theory is that it requires that she expected to travel without her husband.

    Your points about education and 11:32 are well made.

    By the way, I do think that Prisca was an important teacher. Her name is mentioned first when a teaching role is in view, whereas Aquila is mentioned first when a benefactor role is in view.

  12. OK, I get your point. Yes, it makes it extremely unlikely that Priscilla is the author.