Society of Biblical Literature
2018 Annual Meeting
November 17–20, 2018
SBL Hebrews Section
1:00 PM–3:30 PM
Convention Center (CC) – 106 (Street Level)
Theme: Key Issues in Commenting on Hebrews
Amy Peeler, Wheaton College (Illinois), Presiding
Sigurd Grindheim, Fjellhaug Internasjonale Høgskole
Hermeneutical Presuppositions and Their Implications Regarding the Audience of Hebrews (30 min)
"The author of Hebrews boldly demonstrates a Christological reading of Israel’s Scriptures. For example, he reads Psalm 40:7-9 as if Christ is the speaking subject (Heb 10:5-7). The way the argument unfolds, it appears that the audience is expected to share this understanding of Scripture, as there is no attempt to justify it. In this paper, I argue that this observation has implications for our identification of the audience of Hebrews. Not only have they come to faith in Jesus as the Messiah; they have also joined a community with its own group identity. It is therefore inadequate to see the author as weighing in on an intra-Jewish debate. He is rather presupposing an audience that has already separated itself, a community that reads the Scriptures together and shares a common understanding of these Scriptures, an understanding that sets them apart from other Jews."
David Moffitt, University of St. Andrews
Hebrews and Cosmology (30 min)
"One of the main questions that must be addressed when interpreting Hebrews concerns the most plausible cosmological assumptions that underlie the author's arguments. I explore the cosmology implicit in Hebrews and highlight some central interpretive issues impacted by those assumptions. I focus particularly on how the author's presumed cosmological assumptions impact on his engagement with the Jewish cult."
Amy-Jill Levine, Vanderbilt University
Yet His Shadow Still Looms: Citations from the “Obsolete Covenant” in the Epistle to the Hebrews (30 min)
"Hebrews both insists that the old covenant is obsolete (8.13) and requires that same covenant to legitimate its typological appropriations; the approximately 35 direct citations and another 50 allusions structure the document. Further, Hebrews taps the old covenant for its list of worthies, since other than Jesus, it locates no post-biblical moral exemplars or, as with Esau, negative examples. Nor, finally, does Hebrews seek to jettison this ancient material, since it recognizes its Spirit-infused origin (cf. 3.7; 10.15). How then is the old covenant obsolete? Using as test cases Hebrews’ appeals to Melchizedek and to Israel’s sacrificial system, this paper argues that Hebrews both incorporates or absorbs the old covenant and, in this repackaging or digesting, renders obsolete only its external markers, not the essence."
Harold Attridge, Yale University, Respondent (15 min)
Alan Mitchell, Georgetown University, Respondent (15 min)
Eric Mason, Judson University (Elgin, Illinois), Respondent (15 min)
Discussion (15 min)
SBL Rhetoric and the New Testament Section
1:00 PM–3:30 PM
Convention Center (CC) – 607 (Street Level)
Theme: Inference, Innuendo, and Other Innovations
Chee-Chiew Lee, Singapore Bible College
The Rhetoric of Empathy in Hebrews (20 min)
"Scholars have long noted that the author of Hebrews frequently attempts to arouse emotions (such as fear, confidence, shame, honor) in his audience in order to steer them towards faithfulness to God. Although empathy is a recurring motif in Hebrews, there is yet a more systematic and comprehensive explication on how the author uses empathy as a form of pathos to achieve his rhetorical goals. This paper takes an interdisciplinary approach by drawing insights from modern social psychology to identify descriptions of empathy in the relevant ancient literature and to enhance our understanding of the rhetorical goal and effects of arousing empathy. We will first examine how emotions comparable to empathy are used in Greco-Roman and Jewish rhetoric contemporaneous to Hebrews, so that we may establish whether empathy is indeed a form of pathos known during that era and compare them with the author’s use of empathy. Thereafter, we will examine the passages in Hebrews that: (1) describe the empathy of Jesus, Moses, and the audience; and (2) seek to arouse the audience’s empathy, in order to understand how the author uses empathy for his rhetorical purposes. This paper demonstrates that, in line with the use of pathos in ancient rhetorical practices and the understanding of the effects of empathy in modern social psychology, the author of Hebrews arouses the affective empathy of his audience as a catalyst to induce them to help fellow believers who are suffering due to their faith in Christ. Also, Jesus and Moses are not only cited as exemplars of empathy for emulation, but Jesus’ ability to empathize is an important motivation for believers to approach him for help. These rhetorical effects are not only key to maintaining the individual’s faithfulness to God, but also to create community support for maintaining each other’s faithfulness to God in the face of pressures and opposition from the outsiders."
Institute for Biblical Research
4:00 PM–6:30 PM
Silverton Ballroom 3 (Second Level) - Embassy Suites Downtown (ES)
Theme: Scripture and Church Seminar
Amy Peeler, Wheaton College (Illinois)
Church of Worshipers of the Present-and-Coming King: The Time and Place of Worship in the Epistle to the Hebrews (25 min)
SBL Islands, Islanders, and Scriptures Section
4:00 PM–6:30 PM
Convention Center (CC) – 302 (Street Level)
Theme: Movement and Dispersion
Althea Spencer Miller, Drew University
The City that Does Not End: On Migration and Immutability in Hebrews (25min)
"In Hebrews 13:8, Jesus Christ is tantalizingly described as being the same in the past, the present, and the future – a trans-temporal existent. Perceived in ontological terms such a claim can be interpreted as representative of a high Christology of Jesus’ divinity. This would be appropriate for Hebrews as the treatise avers Christ’s eternal existence from creation. Yet there are other insinuations throughout the treatise that interplay issues of unbounded temporalities with an existential nomadic consciousness and a multi-faceted Jesus. Jesus morphs as priest, God, and human, assonant with subtle temporal switches dispersed throughout the treatise. A theological chart and an atemporal chronology are borne in Hebrews by theological tropes of Jewish histories and temporal switches. There is an intensification of those switches in chapters 11 and 12 with implications for the averral of Jesus’ trans-temporal immutability. Arguably, Jesus’ trans-temporal constancy can be re-defined by those switches. It would be simple to regard those switches as simple contradictions or confusions in the author’s thought world. This paper argues, to the contrary, that Jesus’ trans-temporality is about complexities of time warps that are mediated in a conceptual frame of a time-bending ancestry conveyed through historical tropes and the litany of way markers in chapters 11 and 12. Ancestry is therefore another conceptual frame for thinking about the work of the past in Hebrews. Time-bending ancestry functions to help ground the communities addressed by Hebrews. It also has implications for understanding Jesus’ immutability. But another concept is the treatise’s sense that this world is a temporary experience. There is a futuristic impulse that calls toward a “heavenly country” from a history of being strangers in an alien land. I prioritize this migrant subjectivity as a point of contact with postcolonial migratory experiences of instability and strategies of relocation and adaptation. These dynamics elucidate, not Jesus’ divine ontological immutability, but the importance of his trans-temporal function in generating cohesiveness and reassurance for a community caught in the crosswinds of migratory temporariness and the heritage of a changing past. In such a case, Jesus’ immutability is less about immutability but points to the migrant ancestral oriented subjectivity of the author’s thought world and methods of community definition and guidance."
SBL Ethiopic Bible and Literature Section
9:00 AM–12:00 PM
Hyatt Regency (HR) – Mineral Hall C (Third Level)
Theme: Ethiopian Interpretation of Biblical Texts
Dominique Rideout, Abilene Christian University
The Ethiopic Version of Hebrews: A New Witness and Its Value for Text Criticism (20 min)
"The discovery of the oldest Ge'ez manuscript of the Pauline Epistles (including Hebrews), Sinai New Finds Ethiopic 2, gives us a second valuable witness to the earliest attested text of the book of Hebrews. In his critical edition of the Ethiopic version of Hebrews, Tedros Abraha presents a diplomatic text of the 14th century Ambrosian manuscript. With the addition of the Sinai manuscript to this critical edition, we can more easily reconstruct the earliest Ethiopic text. In addition to its place as a valuable witness to the Ethiopic, the Sinai manuscript also provides insight to the relationship between the Ethiopic and Greek texts. As a result, for example, Hoskier’s work proclaiming a close correlation between the Ethiopic tradition and p46 no longer stands. This paper will survey the significance of the Sinai manuscript for the study of Hebrews in Ethiopic. First, it will analyze selected variations between the Sinai and Ambrosian manuscripts that are significant for the construction of the earliest text. In this section, it will identify places where the Sinai manuscript preserves an earlier tradition as well as those where comparison between the two manuscripts provides a window into an earlier reading not preserved by either. Second, it will evaluate the relationship of this earliest text to the Greek witnesses. Here, it will compare the earliest Greek texts with the earliest Ethiopic text to determine where a relationship between the two sets of witnesses can be found."
Institute for Biblical Research
9:00 AM–11:30 AM
Sheraton Downtown (SD) – Director’s Row I (Plaza Building–Lobby Level)
Theme: Scripture and Theology: Perspectives from the Majority World, Part 1
Leonard Wee, Trinity Theological College-Singapore
The Abrahamic Narratives and Their Interpretive Background in Hebrews 11:8-19 (17 min)
"Many studies of the use of the Old Testament in the Letter to the Hebrews analysed the Writer’s interpretation of the OT on the basis of the scriptural texts themselves, but few have articulated exactly how the traditional interpretation of these texts would have played a significant role in the Writer’s use of Scripture. This paper proposes that the traditional interpretation of these texts serves as the framework for the Writer’s use of the OT narratives, and that certain departure from the framework at the micro-level can be explained by the rhetorical purpose of the Writer."
SBL Hebrews Section
9:00 AM–11:30 AM
Convention Center (CC) – Mile High Ballroom 4D (Lower Level)
Theme: Interpretation of Hebrews
David Moffitt, University of St. Andrews, Presiding
Scott R. Moore, Regis University
Functions of the Prophets and Writings in Hebrews (30 min)
"One of the great distinctives of the book of Hebrews is the manner in which the Jewish Scriptures are woven in and through its arguments from beginning to end. Prior work concerning Hebrews’ use of scripture has often considered the author’s sources, citation markers, selection of texts that involve direct speech and exegetical technique within the broader context of ancient Judaism, among other topics. This paper examines the various functions of texts from the Prophets and Writings in Hebrews with particular attention to the idea that, in the context of ancient Jewish hermeneutics, the Prophets and Writings were often viewed as texts that interpret or elucidate the Pentateuch. In an effort to create a manageable set of categories with interpretive value from among the dozens of citations in Hebrews (not to mention countless allusions), seven functions of texts from the Prophets and Writings are identified and described. The seven functions are: (1) To fill gaps in the Pentateuch and (2) present gaps to be filled; (3) to make theological connections to Pentateuchal paradigms; (4) to reinterpret or (5) destabilize pentateuchal paradigms; (6) to draw parenetic lessons from Pentateuchal narratives and (7) to offer hope to the audience. Among the citations or allusions referenced are Pss 8, 95, 110; Jer 31:31-34 and Hag 2:6. It becomes apparent that most of these uses relate directly to the Pentateuch in some way, although some of them reinforce traditional interpretations, while others alter or even subvert them. The hope is that these categories will refresh and facilitate dialogue around the interpretation of Hebrews’ use of particular texts."
Katrina Schaafsma, Duke University Divinity School
A Paragon of Faith? The Use of Abraham in Hebrews (30 min)
"This paper considers the manner and rhetorical ends of the portrayal of Abraham in Hebrews. The investigation emerges from two observations regarding how the work’s depiction contrasts with the casting of Abraham in Pauline literature and in examples of rewritten bible. For the New Testament writers, Genesis 15:6 is a natural place to turn when considering Abraham’s faith: “He trusted the LORD, and he reckoned (λογίζομαι/חשׁב) it to him as righteousness.” However, the grammar of the phrase is ambiguous in both Hebrew MT and Greek LXX; it is unclear precisely who is reckoning on whom. Paul is unequivocal when he deploys λογίζομαι in both Romans 4:3 and Galatians 3:6 in pursuit of his argument that, since God reckoned Abraham righteous because of faith, God will also reckon future believers righteous on the basis of faith. Yet when Hebrews 11:19 draws on the same verb, it exploits the grammatical ambiguity in the opposite direction. Here Abraham, not God, does the reckoning. Abraham considers God and comes to the conclusion that God is reliable (as Sarah similarly concludes, v. 11). In a chapter that is often interpreted as an exhortation to pursue faithfulness like Abraham’s, Hebrews counterintuitively places the accent on the trustworthiness of God. Similarly, while it may seem obvious that Hebrews depicts Abraham as a paragon of faith, his eulogization in Hebrews appears rather thin when compared with his portrayal in so-called rewritten bible. Philo and Josephus, for example, develop and enhance Genesis material to present Abraham as a model of virtue. But if Abraham is meant to function similarly in Hebrews, the homilist is most unresourceful, missing key opportunities to lift up Abraham’s virtue and consistently sidelining this lead character in his own stories. Instead of recounting Genesis 22 in heightened, agonizing detail, Hebrews 6:13-20 mobilizes an account others treat as Abraham’s crowning moment to make a point that is not even about him. The eclipsing of Abraham in his own story is even starker in Hebrews 7:1-10, where the minor character Melchizedek becomes the major focus instead of Abraham (the true hero of the story, according to the renderings of Genesis 14, Philo, and Josephus). Hebrews resists the tendency, prominent in other canonical and extra-canonical portrayals, to cast Abraham as a paragon of faith. Instead, it depicts Abraham primarily as the paradigmatic recipient of God’s promises, a designation that the audience of Hebrews now shares. With this established, I show how the Abraham narratives are used to shape realistic expectations regarding the lives of those who, like Abraham, receive the promises. I conclude with the homily’s invitation for its audience to ‘consider’ something greater than the reliability of any model of human faith: the reliability of the God who made the promises."
Matthew Easter, Missouri Baptist University
“Unholy Like Esau”: Exploring Esau’s Sexual Immorality as a Community-Abandoning Act (30 min)
"The author of Hebrews warns that no “root of bitterness” spring up, causing trouble, defiling many (Heb 12:15). “Sexually immoral” Esau serves as a negative example (12:16-17). It is not immediately clear how Esau is “sexually immoral,” but I argue this sexual immorality is Esau’s abandoning the community of faith. The essay proceeds in three stages. First, I address the nature of Esau’s sexual immorality, wherein I connect his sexual immorality to his marriage outside of the community. The author of Hebrews stands in his Hellenistic Jewish tradition by connecting Esau’s sexual immorality to his marriage to foreign women (cf. Jubilees 25). However, Esau’s exogamous marriage is not, in itself, the concern of the author of Hebrews. Instead, Esau’s mixed marriage sowed seeds of bitterness in the family, and led ultimately to Esau’s abandoning the family. The author of Hebrews quotes Deut 29, which warns any “root growing up with gall and bitterness” (29:18) will be “singled out for evil from all the sons of Israel,” and “God will not want to pardon him” (29:20). Esau’s Hittite wives, however, “brought grief” (Gen 26:35) and “embittered” (Jub. 25:1) Isaac and Rebecca. As the author of Hebrews expected, the “root of bitterness” introduced by sexually immoral Esau “defiled many” (Heb 12:15). After failing to please his father by marrying within the family (Gen 28:6-8), Esau abandons the family. Second, I show how this understanding of sexual immorality as a community-abandoning act extends also to another key narrative for Hebrews: the Israelite wilderness generation’s failure to enter the Promised Land (“the rest” in Hebrews). Num 14 (an important passage for Hebrews) depicts the wilderness generation’s failure to enter the Promised Land as a “fornication” (14:33) resulting in loss of “inheritance” (14:24, 31). Similarly, by selling his birthright, sexually immoral Esau forfeited his inheritance. Alternatively, the author of Hebrews hopes his hearers will receive an inheritance (1:14; 6:12; 9:15) and be numbered among the “assembly of the firstborn” (12:23). Esau’s sin, therefore, amounts to abandoning the people of God for fleeting pleasure (“a single meal,” 12:16). Just as the wilderness generation failed to persevere in faith and so enter the “rest” together, so also Esau failed to persevere in faith with the people of God. Finally, I offer some thoughts about the nature of apostasy in light of these findings, where I conclude that apostasy for the author of Hebrews is abandoning the community of faith. This account of apostasy coheres with contemporary sociologists’ conclusions, who have shown conversion as an act of joining a community of faith. In short, Esau’s sexual immorality is a community-abandoning act, wherein he married outside the family and introduced bitterness into the community, thereby defiling the people of God. Like the wilderness generation, he failed to persevere with the people of God. This act resulted in being cut off from future participation in the community."
Debra Bucher, Vassar College
Hebrews as Exile Literature (30 min)
"In its construction of a new priesthood and a new sacrificial system, Hebrews makes extensive use of Jewish scripture. The Hebrews author uses the language and the sacrificial framework of Leviticus and uses Psalm 110 to assign Jesus to the priesthood according to the order of Melchizedek, and at the same time use Genesis 14 to assign priority to that priesthood over that of the Levitical priesthood. And after constructing a new priesthood, and a new kind of sacrifice (once, for all, Hebrews 7:27), the argument culminates in Hebrews 8 with the use of Jeremiah 31:31-34 as the call for a new covenant. While numerous scholars have noted the heavy use of “old” sacrificial language to describe the new, they also are quick to suggest a complete break with the past. Language in Hebrews 8:13 that describes the “old” (covenant) as obsolete certainly gives scholars ample reason to make those conclusions. What happens, though, if we focus on Jeremiah 31 as the key text, not just for the obvious “new covenant” language that it provides, but also as a possible shared experience that it may represent to the author and audience of Hebrews? Jeremiah’s oracle, itself dates from a traumatic period: the start of the Babylonian Exile. More than one scholar has situated Hebrews in a context of suffering or persecution as a result of a Christ-centered belief. Other scholars, most notably Pamela Eisenbaum, have argued that Hebrews was “a desperate attempt to construct anew a religious heritage that seems to have all but disappeared” (2008) as a result of the decimation of the Jerusalem Temple and the end of the sacrificial cult (assuming, along with Eisenbaum a post-70CE date). Jews around the Mediterranean were scattered into a new exile as a result of multiple aggressions against them. Instead of religious controversy as the incentive for the author of Hebrews, it was, instead, religious survival. Interestingly, another Jewish group, the Essenes, who could be interpreted as living in a self-imposed exile, also used Jeremiah in their expressions of a “new covenant.” I maintain that the use of Jeremiah 31 helps us see Hebrews in a different light. Exile, whether it’s spiritual, geographic, or metaphorical, requires transformation of thought and practice. Interestingly, another Jewish group, the Essenes, who could be interpreted as living in a self-imposed exile, also used Jeremiah in their expressions of a “new covenant.” Using the Essenes as a comparator, Hebrews could represent another, later, Jewish approach to exile. Reading Hebrews as a form of exile literature allows us to understand the unique aspects of the text, what it uses from the past, and how modern readers may move forward in reading the supersessionism of the text in a way that does not pit one living religion over another."
Felix H. Cortez, Andrews University
“Receiving a Kingdom that Cannot Be Shaken”: Daniel 7 and the Eschatology of Hebrews (30 min)
"The 28th edition of the Nestle-Aland of the Novum Testamentum Graece as well as most major commentaries have noted significant verbal parallels between the expression "since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken" in Heb 12:28 and Daniel 7:18. Nevertheless, the relationship between this passage and Dan 7 has not been explored adequately. The purpose of this paper is to explore the likelihood of an allusion to Dan 7:18 in Heb 12:28 and its possible relationship to the argument of Heb 12:18-29 and the eschatology of the letter in general. Daniel was an influential book in the New Testament (over 150 allusions) and well-known in Second Temple Literature and the Apostolic Fathers. The majority of allusions to Daniel in the NT focus on the prophecies of Dan 7, in some cases together with allusions to Hagg 2:6-7, which is also quoted in Heb 12:26-27. The paper will show that an exploration of Dan 7 as an intertextual background to Heb 12:18-29 provides helpful perspectives to understand the nature of the judgment/panegyric scene at the heavenly Mount Zion in Heb 12:22-24, the enthronement scene and the following exhortation in Heb 1:5-2:5, the Son of Man in Heb 2:6-13, and the "last days" in 1:2."
SBL Rhetoric of Religious Antiquity Seminar
4:00 PM–6:30 PM
Convention Center (CC) – 710 (Street Level)
Theme: The Sublime in Religious Rhetoric (Rhetoric of Religious Antiquity Track 1: New Horizons in Sociorhetorical Interpretation)
Christopher Holmes, McAfee School of Theology
Divine Speech, Hebrews, and the Rhetoric of the Sublime (20 min)
"The treatise, On the Sublime, describes the nature and intended effects of the rhetoric of the sublime or what I have called sublime rhetoric. Sublime rhetoric is a short-hand reference to discourse that moves beyond persuasion, the topic and assumed goal of much of ancient rhetorical theory. As the author explains in the first chapter of the treatise, sublime rhetoric is characterized by its non-or super-rational effects. Couched in language drawn from religious experience, magic, and military conquest, the author says that sublime rhetoric has the capacity to lead the audience into ecstasy, to cast a spell upon them, and to assert an “irresistible power of mastery” over them (Subl. 1.4). In the eighth chapter of On the Sublime, the author identifies the five sources of sublime rhetoric, and the rest of the treatise elaborates on those sources with examples drawn from a variety of Greek authors. One of the surprising details in On the Sublime is its allusion to the creation story in the book of Genesis as an example of sublime rhetoric (Subl. 9.9). This paper takes as its point of departure the author’s reflection on this allusion and how it relates to sublime rhetoric. It considers the reasons why the author identifies this as an example of sublime rhetoric and how it relates to the intended effects of sublime rhetoric as they are described elsewhere in the treatise. With this example in mind, the paper then evaluates the theme of God’s speech as an avenue for considering sublime rhetoric in Hebrews. The paper will highlight how the references to God’s speech in Hebrews tap into what Yun Lee Too (The Idea of Ancient Literary Criticism) has called the “spatialized and moved language” of sublime rhetoric. Sublime rhetoric displaces the audience by uplifting, transporting, and re-situating them. One of the important aspects of sublime rhetoric in Hebrews is that it moves the audience out of their empirical life situation through dislocation so that they might perceive that life situation in a new way."