Friday, May 31, 2013

Review of Kuma, Centrality of Blood in Hebrews

Hermann V. A. Kuma. The Centrality of Αιμα (Blood) in the Theology of the Epistle to the Hebrews: An Exegetical and Philological Study. Lewiston, N.Y. : Edwin Mellen Press, 2012. Pp. x + 422.

First, I would like to thank Edwin Mellen Press for a review copy of this book.

According to the blurb in the back of the book, “Dr. Hermann V. A. Kuma is the Director of Multi-Ethnic Ministries at the Greater New York Conference of Seventh-day Adventists in Manhasset, New York, and is an ordained minister of the Seventh-day Adventist Church.  Dr. Kuma holds a Ph.D. in New Testament Language and Literature from the Seventh-day Adventist Seminary at Andrews University in Berrien Springs, Michigan.”  This book is ostensibly based on his doctoral dissertation submitted to the Seventh-day Adventist Seminary.

Chapter 1 briefly introduces the purpose and methodology of his study (pp. 1–4).  He states that the problem is that despite the centrality of the theme of blood in Hebrews, there never has been a thorough study of this theme.  He seeks to rectify this problem by investigating thoroughly the role and significance of blood in the theological argument in Hebrews using a philological and exegetical approach.  He, however, never states his thesis in the introduction leaving the reader wondering what his argument will be and the particular contribution his study will make.

Chapter 2 contains a review of literature on the topic of blood.  In the first part he surveys literature from the late nineteenth century up until the mid-twentieth century (pp. 6–34).  He discerns three major schools of thought regarding the blood of Christ.  The first views the shedding of Christ’s blood as the releasing of life for the benefit of others.  The second views the shedding of Christ’s blood as referring to the death of Christ in its soteriological or redemptive significance.  The third group sees more ambivalence or ambiguity in the meaning of blood, as it may denote both life and death.  Kuma claims that this third view becomes the prevailing view after the 1950s thus putting an end to this aspect of the blood debate.  The second part surveys general studies on blood in the NT after the 1950s (pp. 35–51), while the third part surveys studies more specific to Hebrews since the 1950s (pp. 51–78).  These studies note the more multifaceted nature of the symbolism of blood terminology (p. 50).  The terminology of blood is linked to various themes in Hebrews, but most seem to further some understanding of the Christology or soteriology of the book (pp. 76–78).  Kuma does not really explain how these earlier studies are inadequate other than that they were limited in scope and thus there is a need for a more comprehensive investigation of the topic (pp. 78–81).  Once again, Kuma leaves the reader wondering what his specific contribution to the discussion will be.

Chapter 3 deals with the significance of blood in ancient near eastern and Old Testament contexts.  Kuma begins by briefly surveying the significance of blood in ancient near eastern contexts (pp. 83–96).  Kuma concludes that sacrifices were intended for food for the sustenance of the anthropomorphic deities (p. 168), but blood itself plays no significant role in sacrificial rituals (p. 94, 168).  Understandably, this section was relatively brief, given the scope of Kuma’s project, but I think a more in-depth exploration of sacrifice in ancient near eastern contexts is warranted if he is going to make a broad claim about the role of blood in these sacrifices.  By contrast, blood plays a significant role in the OT cultus.  Kuma briefly discusses the role of blood in pre-Israelite stories (that is, in the primeval history; pp. 97–100).  Surprisingly, Kuma gives little attention to the prohibition of eating of blood in Gen 9:4.  He then examines, in turn, the role of blood in the ritual impurity of bodily emissions in Lev 15 (pp. 100–106), in the prohibition against eating blood in Lev 17 (pp. 106–18), in the Day of Atonement ritual and the various other blood sacrifices (pp. 118–41), in rites of purification and consecration (pp. 142–46), and in covenantal ceremonies (pp. 147–63).  He also briefly discusses the problem of bloodshed and blood-guiltiness in the OT (pp. 163–66), and the view of blood by the eighth-century prophets (pp. 166–68).  Blood thus plays a multifaceted role within the life of ancient Israel.  Blood was symbolic of both life and death, and it could defile or cleanse (p. 172).  The shedding of blood was the means of atonement and was at the heart of the sacrificial system, consecration rites, and covenant-making ceremonies.

In chapter 4 Kuma examines the use of blood language in the context of the NT world (pp. 175–242).  He broadly surveys blood language in the Jewish Apocrypha, OT Pseudepigrapha, Qumran literature, Philo, Josephus, Rabbinic literature, the Greco-Roman context, and in the NT itself.  In the conclusion, he oddly restricts the use of blood language to five major categories, even though he had identified other usages (p. 243):
            1) Blood is used in the sense of life/death/murder.
            2) Blood is used in the context of cult.
            3) Blood is used to designate humanity.
            4) Blood is used in the symbolic context.
            5) Blood is used purely in the physiological sense.
In his survey, he also identified blood as referring to family relationships, but perhaps he is subsuming this category under “humanity.”  Likewise, Kuma identifies blood language in contexts of ritual defilement or pollution, but perhaps he has subsumed this category under “cult.”  The general pattern of usage is also found in the NT, but derives its origin in the OT (pp. 243–44).  Kuma asserts that the author of Hebrews found the multivalency of blood language a convenient “medium for expressing and encapsulating the work of Christ in the epistle” (p. 244).  Since Kuma covers so much ground in such a few pages, his analysis of blood language strikes one as a bit superficial, and surely some of the passages he cites could fall under more than one category.  For example, the murder of another human being certainly brings defilement, and the use of blood in cultic context surely has in view a more literal physiological sense as well.

Kuma’s study culminates in chapter 5 where he investigates the use of blood terminology in Hebrews.  After giving a brief overview of the argument of Hebrews (pp. 245–52), Kuma proceeds to the heart of his project: giving a detailed analysis of every passage that is pertinent to the study of blood terminology in Hebrews (2:14; 9:7; 9:12; 9:13–14; 9:18–22; 9:23; 9:24–28; 10:4; 10:19–25; 10:29; 11:28; 12:4; 12:24; 13:11–12; 13:20–21).  For each passage Kuma provides the Greek text with his own original English translation.  He then discusses exegetical considerations for each passage before concluding with a discussion on the significance of “blood” in the text.  In his summation, Kuma says that blood “constitutes the medium of power” (p. 346).  It gives access to God, sanctifies/consecrates, cleanses/purifies, inaugurates the new covenant, effects perfection and brings about “decisive purgation” (αφεσις; 9:22).  The author also demonstrates the superiority of Christ’s blood to the blood of animals, and he makes a strong connection between blood and life (pp. 346–47).  According to Kuma, “the death of Christ is not the focus of the author of Hebrews.  His chief interest is life, which is the result of Christ’s death” (p. 347). 

Chapter 9 concludes with a summary of his results and some implications for future study (pp. 351–62).  End matter includes a bibliography and an authors’ index.  One particular weakness of Kuma’s study is his heavy dependence on English-language works.  For example, Kuma does not utilize any of the major German commentaries and he uses only a handful of German and French articles.  An index of biblical and extra-biblical passages would also be helpful.  Edwin Mellen press only sent me a “review” copy, so I am not sure if the various typos throughout the text are corrected in a more final edition.  One prominent error is that in the introduction and conclusion, Kuma claims that are 31 verses containing the word “blood” in Hebrews, whereas in the main body of the book, he states there are 21 verses.

Although Kuma is not the best stylist, his book is still very readable and the presentation of his argument is very clear.  He provides summaries throughout the book to help the reader draw together the results from his longer, more detailed discussions.  Kuma’s book appears to be the most comprehensive treatment of blood language in Hebrews.  He provides a literature review of the major discussions of blood in the NT and Hebrews and he has gathered together numerous passages from comparative literature.  I found his distinction between ancient near eastern and Old Testament attitudes towards blood very helpful.  His highlighting the multivalent meanings of blood in Hebrews and comparative literature is also useful.  While one may not agree with all of Kuma’s exegetical decisions, since sometimes he adopts a minority opinion on certain passages, readers should derive some benefit from perusing his monograph.

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