Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Review of She, The Use of Exodus in Hebrews

King L. She. The Use of Exodus in Hebrews. Studies in Biblical Literature 142. New York: Peter Lang, 2011. xix + 214 pages.

First, I want to thank Christina Blatter and Peter Lang Publishing for a review copy of this book.

King L. She earned his Th.M. and Ph.D. degrees from Dallas Theological Seminary.  He is currently a lecturer of Biblical Studies at Melbourne School of Theology in Australia.  This monograph is a revision of a doctoral dissertation submitted to Dallas Theological Seminary.

Let me begin by stating that when I do a review of a book, I try to be fair in presenting what the author is trying to accomplish in the book.  I will try to do that with this book as well, but I acknowledge up front that I may not have fully grasped what the author is trying to do since I found his prose to be rather turgid and abstruse.  His sentence constructions are often cumbersome and on occasion I have even discovered grammatical errors and incomplete sentences.  Although the author does use a lot of technical jargon, English does not appear to be the author’s primary language.

In chapter 1 She introduces what he believes to be the need and contribution of his study.  She wants to move from what he calls “descriptive analysis” to “prescriptive analysis.”  Now, I would understand “descriptive analysis” as a process of trying to understand the biblical text on its own terms, of allowing the text to speak for itself.  “Prescriptive analysis” suggests to me that one comes with a predetermined set of ideas that one then imposes on the text.  However, here is how She describes descriptive analysis: “The key feature of descriptive analysis is that scholars come to the Scriptures with a specific view of reality (ontology) and then posit the exegetical or apologetical meaning of the biblical texts as well as their understanding of Auctor’s biblical theology in light of the interpreted intertextual connection between the Old and New Testaments” (4).  She illustrates what he deems to be the problem with descriptive analysis by charting differing interpretations on Hebrews 9:22–23.  Certainly this is a difficult passage that has generated a variety of interpretations among scholars.  She deems that these differing interpretations reveal a “crisis of faith” which points to the postmodern notion of the lack of absolute truth (5).  Such a conclusion is not entirely warranted to me, since differing interpretations may only suggest that we cannot have absolute certainty about the true meaning of this passage due to the gap of time, space, and culture that separates us from the original audience and recipients.  She believes that prescriptive analysis is the means by which one can determine the correct interpretation of this passage.  She relies heavily upon the work of Fernando Luis Canale, who did a prescriptive analysis of Exodus in his 1983 dissertation (7).  She believes that Hebrews’ appropriation of certain texts from Exodus is the key to understanding the author’s ontology upon which his exegesis and theology is based.  Why this is so, is not entirely clear to me since the Exodus passages he identifies are not the main focus of the author’s interpretation, whereas other texts (e.g., Psalms 2, 40, 95, 110) are much more central to his argumentation.  She says that prescriptive analysis is a “pedagogy-oriented and ontological study,” which “examines the logic of various theological preconditions critically to identify the correct ontological meaning and significance of the texts” (7).  She is astonished that scholars have not taken up prescriptive analysis since Canale’s dissertation.  Frankly, I have never heard of him or his approach before, and She acknowledges that even later studies on Exodus have not utilized Canale’s study.  Perhaps, She overestimates the value of Canale’s contribution?  She sums up his thesis as follows: “the state of indeterminacy created by descriptive analysis in Hebrews can only be overcome by a prescriptive analysis of Auctor’s pedagogy (reason) and the function of Exodus in the theology of Hebrews” (9).

In chapter 2 She engages in a “Descriptive Analysis of Significant Exodus Citations and Cultic Vocabulary in Hebrews” (11).  She assumes the author’s use of the Septuagint as the source for his knowledge about the ontology of God (12).  She accepts Hebrews as a Jewish-Hellenistic synagogue homily (12).  She believes that it is critical to determine the audience for understanding the message of Hebrews.  He believes that the recipients were Jewish based on the author’s use of the OT, the reference to “Abraham’s descendants” (2:16), the argument that Jesus is superior to Moses (3:1–19), and the emphasis on “Sabbath rest” (4:1–11).  She’s position that the audience was Jewish is argued rather superficially; he does not engage the arguments that the recipients were Gentiles or a mixture of both Jews and Gentiles.  Regarding the warning passages, She adopts the “test-of-genuineness” view argued by Adrian Thomas in his dissertation (15).  This view states that the warning passages describe persons who were part of a Christian assembly and made a profession of faith but eventually rejected Christ; hence they were not genuine believers (15–16).  Under this view, Hebrews is addressed to a group consisting of believers and unbelievers.  In my opinion this view is untenable since 6:4–5 is best construed as describing genuine believers.  She takes an audience-oriented approach and argues for theological, rhetorical, and covenantal reasons that the shared confession between the author and his audience was “Christ as Yahweh” and that this confession “should be utilized as the universal premise whereby Autor and his audience attempt to construct their Christology” (19).  The authorial reading of “Christ as Yahweh” becomes the prescriptive lens by which She wants to interpret Hebrews.  This appears problematic to me.  While I believe that the NT writers and Hebrews in particular ascribe divinity to Jesus, it seems to me that they are cautious in their language about equating Jesus with Yahweh; that is, they are careful to make a distinction between God the Father and his Son Jesus.  This distinction can certainly be seen in the exordium of Hebrews as well as in the remainder of chapter 1 in which God addresses the Son through a series of OT quotations, or when the Son addresses God in the quotations of chapters 2 and 10.

Turning to Exodus, She argues that the golden calf incident of Exod 31:18–34:35 is the “controlling text to reveal [the author’s] understanding of apostasy and covenant” (27–28).  She strings together an amalgamation of secondary quotes arguing for the centrality of the golden calf incident to the OT, and even the NT, but he never demonstrates exegetically how it has a central role in Hebrews.  At one place he says, “Gelardini has demonstrated the presence of an intertextual link between Exod 31:18–34:35 and Hebrews” (28), but he does not elaborate on this statement.  Shall we take Gelardini’s word for this?  Is she right?  How is she right?  He never explains.  In fact, Gelardini’s identification of a connection to this passage is not widely accepted; the connection of Hebrews 3–4 to Exod 31 is in fact rather tenuous (see, for example, Attridge’s critique of her argument in Reading the Epistle to the Hebrews).  Next, She discusses the quotation of Exod 25:40 in Heb 8:5, which he argues is one of the significant hermeneutical markers in Hebrews as it calls the community “to center their hopes on the true tabernacle and the true High Priest in heaven” (34).  Next, She discusses the author’s use of Exod 3:14 in Heb 11:6.  She finds the verbal connection “conspicuous” (35), but in fact the verbal correspondence only consists of the mention of God (θεος) and the use of the copula.  At best, we might find a “faint echo” (Ellingworth, 577) of Exod 3:14 in this passage.  This verse becomes the other significant hermeneutical marker for the ontology of Hebrews.  She concludes the chapter by discussing the author’s use of cultic vocabulary from Exodus (37–48).  Hebrews shares with Exodus such cultic vocabulary as Sanctuary, Tabernacle, Priest, and Sacrifice and uses them in the same way.  There is no question that Hebrews shares the same vocabulary as Exodus, particularly with respect to the tabernacle, but I would note that this cultic vocabulary is not exclusive to Exodus, but is found in other books of the Torah and OT in general.

The remaining seven chapters belong to part 2 of his presentation on the “Prescriptive Use of Exodus in Hebrews.”  Chapter 3 examines the “Presuppositions of a Prescriptive Analysis of Hebrews.”  All intellectual endeavors are grounded on theological, philosophical, and methodological presuppositions.  She identifies his presuppositions as “theo-onto-logia” (53–54), which he distinguishes from “onto-theo-logia.”  According to She, “Both terms describe one’s view of reality (ontos) in relation to his view of god (theos) and his methodology (logia)” (55).  She contends that the latter approach has natural theology as its starting point, while the former begins with the priority of the concept of God as found in Scripture (55–56).  She further contends that “onto-theo-logia” is derived from Greek ontology (beginning with Parmenides) and is the foundation of all classical theology (58–59).  She relies upon the work of Martin Heidegger in making this sweeping generalization about all Christian theologizing.  She believes that beginning with theo-onto-logical presuppositions resolves the “crisis of faith” that is generated by the vagaries of the onto-theo-logia approach (59–60). 

The remainder of the chapter delineates his methodological approaches which he identifies as “audience-oriented criticism, the general method of inquiry, the hermeneutical and theological approach, and the intertextual approach” (60).  On page 62 he declares that his hermeneutical and theological approach will be from a premillennial, dispensational perspective.  He says this must be applied after the author’s “theology of revelation between the Old and New Covenant is uncovered as the ontological ground for understanding the relationship between Israel and Church” (63).  While She acknowledges that one should not allow one’s presuppositions to “determine or control the outcome of the exegesis” (54), I fail to see how She’s approach avoids this pitfall.  Does not his adoption of a particular theological construct stack the deck in favor of a particular interpretation?  When discussing intertextuality, She argues that the author of Hebrews uses a “autopistic” (that is, a “self-attested”) approach, which he describes as an approach in which the subject “is authenticated from the Scriptures only” (64).  The contrasting approach, “axiopistic,” makes “use of the Scriptures and extra-biblical sources including natural (general) revelation to derive the knowledge of the subject” (64).  She rejects the use of any extra-biblical sources for the understanding of the Scriptures and for constructing theology (he rejects Richard Hays’ intertextual approach, for example, accusing it of being onto-theo-logical).  However, there is some evidence that the author of Hebrews has used extra-biblical sources.  In Heb 11:37, the phrase “they were sawn in two” suggests that the author was familiar with the extra-biblical tradition that Isaiah was placed in a hollow log and sawn into two.  The complete rejection of the use of extra-biblical sources for understanding the biblical text seems quite short-sighted to me.

In chapter 4, “Prelude to Prescriptive Analysis in Hebrews,” She outlines the basics of prescriptive analysis.  His central thesis is that “Autor uses the Book of Exodus to develop the ontological grounds for his systematic construction of the doctrinal system” (69).  She asserts that the author of Hebrews derives his ontology from two categories of epistemological sources: “(1) theophanies, dreams, visions, and principles of interpretation; (2) history, nature, interpreted events, data, and information” (70).  The first group has more “cognitive specificity” than the second one, which plays a subordinate role to the first group which is the “grounding source” for his ontology.  The subordinate sources include the author’s attitude toward the OT in light of the Christ event: his philosophy of history, theology of revelation, and Christocentric exegesis of the OT (this is covered in chapter 5); and his reception of the history of the interpretive influence of Exod 3:14 (covered in in chapter 6).  The grounding sources include the author’s ground for the analogy of being (Yahweh’s theophany in Exod 3:14), his ground for typology (Moses vision of the heavenly sanctuary in Exod 25:40), and his principles of interpretation, i.e. his pedagogical and typological use of Exodus by the analogy of being (covered in chapter 7; see his chart on page 71).  As She frames the project he is about to undertake, I sense a fundamental problem. Nowhere in Hebrews do we get the impression that the author has developed his ontology from grounding sources.  The author never tells us that he personally had experienced a theophany, nor has he personally had a vision of the heavenly sanctuary.  Instead, the author is quoting or alluding to OT passages.

She states that everyone who engages in biblical interpretation or theological reflection begins with certain ontological presuppositions.  Axiopistic systems (descriptive analyses) before Immanuel Kant get their starting point for theological reflection from Greek philosophical ontology.  By contrast, the autopistic system (prescriptive analysis) introduced by Fernando Canale begins with biblical ontology (see chart on page 73).  A major paradigm shift in epistemology for modern readers began with Kant.  The classical model (or pedagogy) states that the body knows the material world through sense perception, but this knowledge is illusory since the material world is impermanent.  The soul, however, can know the essence of things through reason, hence this knowledge is timeless and non-historical.  But Kant says that it is impossible for human reason to understand timeless reality because reason is bound spatiotemporally; knowledge can only be temporal and historical (74–75).  The two models have implication for our knowledge of God.  In the classical pedagogy human beings are able to derive knowledge about the timeless God through the analogy of being.  By contrast, in the modern pedagogy it “is impossible to formulate natural theology by the doctrine of the analogy of being because there is an absolute and unbridgeable gap . . . between nature and supernature” (76–77).  Modern pedagogy is based on the onto-logical structure of reason; it has no place for God in its epistemology.  Classical pedagogy is based on the onto-theo-logical structure of reason, and hence superior to the modern model, but is still inadequate since it is not based on the “Mosaic-biblical metanarrative” (78–79).  The biblical pedagogy is superior since it is based on the “Mosaic-biblical metanarrative” and derives knowledge from the theo-onto-logical structure of reason (80).  Knowledge of God is possible through the incarnation and the revelation of Scripture (79).

Chapter 5 deals with the “Auctor’s Attitude toward the Old Testament in Light of the Christ Event.”  First She argues that the author’s “philosophy of history is consistent with the theo-onto-logical constitution of metaphysics” (91).  God acts historically in human time and space (93).  In the same way, She contends that the author’s “theology of revelation reflects the ontological framework of the theo-onto-logical model” (94).  She believes that one must deconstruct prior scholarship on Hebrews’ theology of revelation in order to make way for a reconstruction according to Hebrews’ theo-onto-logical philosophy of history (94).  She continues to assert throughout that “Current scholarship remains indeterminate concerning Autor’s theology” (98).  This impasse, She claims, can only be resolved when one recognizes the “prescriptive power of Exodus in the theology of Hebrews” (98).  According to She, there are two basic models by which scholars recognize the relationship between the old and new covenants: continuity and discontinuity (99).  She charts the analyses of six scholars who have tried to relate the old and new covenants and notes that none of them have recognized the prescriptive and descriptive significance of Exod 3:14, while some have recognized the descriptive, but not the prescriptive significance of Exod 25:40 (100).  She finds all of these studies inadequate because they have failed to recognize the prescriptive use of the two Exodus passages in question (103).  She then discusses the author’s Christocentric exegesis of the OT.  The link between the two covenants is the fact that the God of the OT became incarnated in the Christ of the NT.  She briefly gives three reasons why he believes the author’s exegesis of the OT is Christocentric (104–105) and two reasons why he believes the author believed in Christophanies in the OT (106–108).  I found this chapter to be very frustrating.  Apart from the tortuous writing style and reasoning process, She continually makes assertions philosophically, but fails to back up his assertions with any kind of exegesis of the book of Hebrews.  A. T. Hanson was noted for his claims that the author of Hebrews believed in Christophanies in the OT.  While one may not accept Hanson’s conclusions, at least Hanson backed up his claims with credible exegesis of the biblical text.

In chapter 6 She discusses the “History of the Interpretive Influence of Exodus in Hebrews.” She argues that the author of Hebrews was not influenced by his reception of the history of interpretation of Exodus 3:14, but solely by his exegesis of the passage.  She again asserts that the author’s ontology is consistent with the theo-onto-logical model, “reality is spatiotemporal,” rather than the onto-theo-logical model of Greek ontology, “reality is timeless” (112–113).  She tries to demonstrate that scholars through the ages have understood God’s ontology from either a theo-onto-logical (Mosaic-biblical) model, or a onto-theo-logical (Parmendiean) model, or from a combination of both models, i.e. they understand God and ultimate reality from both timeless/spiritual and spatiotemporal perspectives (115–117).  A mixed understanding of God and ultimate reality was already in existence (e.g., Philo) by the time of Hebrews, hence the author could be susceptible to a mixed ontology (118–119).  Nevertheless, She maintains, the author of Hebrews retains a pure Mosaic-biblical ontology.  She does not demonstrate this exegetically; he merely asserts this contention.  She then takes the “prescriptive power” of Exod 3:14 to resolve the “crisis of belief” over the differing scholarly interpretations of the use of Exod 24:40 in Heb 8:5.  He rejects any positions that argue for the influence of Greek ontology on Hebrews (120–123).

In chapter 7 She discusses the “Auctor’s Typological Use of Exodus in Light of the Christ Event.”  She begins with the author’s “Christocentric-typological” use of Exod 25:40.  His thesis is that “Exod 25:40 has the analogical and the prophetic power to reveal the spatiotemporal relationships between the heavenly and earthly tabernacle or sanctuary in Hebrews” (127).  First, based upon the work of William Shea, She concludes that των αγιων in 8:2 should be construed as a true plural referring to both the holy place and the Holy of Holies.  Hence, καταπετασματος throughout Hebrews refers to the first veil in front of the holy place and hence is the entrance to both spaces within the tabernacle (128–130).  She then argues that the author’s sanctuary typology derived from Exod 25:40 is analogical and prophetic, that his typology reflects his metanarrative, and that it reveals the spatial and temporal dimensions of his metanarrative (130).  The remainder of the chapter tries to use the author’s metanarrative prescriptively to support the continuity-renewal model of the relationship of the old and new covenants (138).  According to She, the author’s “metanarrative indicates that the Old Covenant is continuous with the New Covenant except that the latter is endowed with a unique and better promise to secure a continual-renewal relationship between God and His people” (142).

Chapter 8 investigates the “Hermeneutical Methodology Employed in the Use of Exodus by Auctor.”  She summarizes his results thus far as follows: “The text-oriented exegesis indicates that: (1) his hermeneutic . . . reflects the use of Exod 32–34 as the controlling revelation to understand the work and person of Yahweh as Christ; (2) Exodus 3:14 and 25:40 serve as the significant ontological and hermeneutical markers for Autor’s hermeneutics . . . The pedagogy-oriented analysis indicates that Auctor’s hermeneutics is Christocentric-typological biblical pedagogy whereas his hermeneutic is theo-onto-logical” (149–150).  In this chapter She tries to argue that the author’s use of Exodus “enables him to construct his doctrinal center autopistically (instead of axiopistically), functionally (economically), and ontologically (immanently)” (150).  She follows the work of Henry Walter Clary, who structures Hebrews according to a covenant document (151–152).  This enables She to explain why the author has not introduced his doctrinal and ontological grounds until 8:1–5 (following the preamble and historical prologue).  Of course, one would have to accept the cogency of Clary’s outline, if She’s argument would have any weight.  She then argues that it is only by the Christological-typical use of Exod 25:40 that the author can construct his Christology both ontologically and functionally (that is, a high and low Christology).

In chapter 9, the conclusion, She summarizes descriptive and prescriptive analyses.  He then provides the correct interpretation of Heb 9:22–23 in light of the hermeneutical system he has developed in this monograph.  One should construe the heavenly sanctuary in spatiotemporal terms (171).  He concludes with some brief suggestions for future study.

In my opinion the problems with this study are manifold.  Let me highlight a few.  Apart from the cumbersome writing style, the reasoning process in many places appears to be quite forced.  He frequently engages in circular reasoning or jumping to conclusions.  For example, it is critical for his project that the audience be Jewish.  Yet, his arguments for a Jewish audience are very superficial and he does not deal adequately with the proposals of other scholars regarding the audience of Hebrews.  He assumes that his audience is Jewish and then proceeds to build his methodology upon this supposition.  Second, he is heavily dependent upon secondary literature and upon his the philosophical construction of his methodology but, in my estimation, he rarely engages exegetically with the primary texts.  He cherry-picks studies that are useful for his argument, assumes that their conclusions are correct, without offering sound exegetical reasons why we should accept these studies.  Third, he exaggerates the significance of Exodus for the book of Hebrews.  It is my no means clear that the golden calf incident is critical for understanding apostasy in Hebrews.  More likely, the episode at Kadesh-Barnea in Numbers 13–14 is more significant for understanding Hebrews.  He asserts that the cultic language of Exodus has influenced Hebrews, but as already indicated, this cultic language is not unique to Exodus, but is found throughout the Torah and elsewhere.  Finally, he puts great weight upon the usage of Exod 3:14 and 25:40.  Exod 25:40 is quoted only once and in a passage that is not necessarily pivotal for understanding the whole of the book.  We have longer quotations from Ps 95 and Jer 31, and Ps 110 is quoted or alluded to numerous times throughout Hebrews.  One would think that these scriptures are far more critical for understanding Hebrews.  She builds his whole ontological methodology upon the usage of Exod 3:14 in Heb 11:6.  Yet, we have here, at best, only a passing allusion to this passage.  This seems to me to be a very weak foundation for the edifice that She wants to put upon this passage.

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