Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Hebrews within Its First-Century Contexts

Guthrie, George H. "Hebrews in Its First-Century Contexts: Recent Research." Pages 414-443 in The Face of New Testament Studies: A Survey of Recent Research. Edited by Scot McKnight and Grant R. Osborne. Grand Rapids: Baker, 2004.
George Howard Guthrie (1959- ) is professor of Bible at Union University in Jackson, TN (1990-). He has written several monographs, commentaries, and articles on the book of Hebrews.
Guthrie provides a very fine survey of recent research on Hebrews. This essay is much broader, considering the research on Hebrews within its first-century context. Guthrie begins with an overview of overviews! The authors he highlights are McCullough, Feld, Hurst, and Koester. Standard critical commentaries also deal with many important background issues and interact with secondary literature. He highlights the commentaries of Lane, Attridge, and Weiss.
A number of studies have given attention to Hebrews’ use of rhetorical conventions, for example, the use of synkrisis (Seid), exempla (Cosby; Bulley; Eisenbaum), paideia (Croy), honor and shame language (deSilva), as well as a host of stylistic devices (Guthrie). Considerable discussion has centered around identifying the type of rhetoric Hebrews employs, whether it be deliberative or epideictic. Some scholars have attempted to identify the rhetorical structure of Hebrews according to Greco-Roman categories (Übelacker; Nissilä). Others have structured Hebrews by highlighting key literary devices (Vanhoye; Guthrie).
With respect to Hebrews’ relationship to Judaism, attempts to see connections with Merkabah mysticism (Schenke; Williamson; Hofius), Gnosticism (Käsemann; Grässer; Theissen) or Qumran (Yadin; Fensham; P. E. Hughes; Kistemaker; Kosmala) must be seen as largely a failure. Spicq is the most prominent advocate for seeing Platonic or Philonic influence on Hebrews, but Spicq’s thesis has been increasingly dismantled by the works of Barrett, Hanson, Schröger, Williamson, and Hurst. It has been increasingly recognized that Jewish apocalyptic is largely responsible for Hebrews’ thought world. Scholars have also attempted to demonstrate that Hebrews exemplifies characteristics of an early homily (Thyen; Wills; Black). Guthrie also surveys research on Hebrews’ use of the OT and its hermeneutical approach. This part of the survey is a distillation of Guthrie’s earlier survey, which I covered in my previous post. Scholars have also tried to note connections with emergent Christianity, for example, the Stephen tradition (W. Manson), Pauline Christianity (Windisch, Hurst, Koester), and First Peter (Koester, Attridge, Hurst). Very little progress has been made on discerning the specific circumstances (authorship, recipients, date) of the book and a variety of occasions have been proposed by different scholars (e.g., Lane; Isaacs: Lindars; deSilva).
Guthrie concludes his survey by noting some important work done on the theology of Hebrews. In addition to Lindars’ general overview of the theology of Hebrews, Guthrie highlights works devoted to “sacred space” (Isaacs), rest (Laansma), the “cloud of witnesses” (Rose), God’s speech (Wider), faith (Rhee), covenant renewal rites (Dunnill), and repentance and sin (Löhr).

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