A Different Priest: The Epistle to the Hebrews by Albert Vanhoye (Convivium Press) The first part, which only examines one theme, «the Name of Christ», offers a lo general and contemporary Christology. The next two parts offer a priestly Christology, firstly more general and then more specific. Finally, the last two parts show the result of this for the Christian life, lived out in faith, hope and charity. The author of this work, has worked for many years on the Epistle to the Hebrews, and, notably, has taught it at the Biblical Institute and published a great number of specialist articles and Books on it, and now brings one of the most contemporary authoritative commentaries to a wider audience, contributing with the understanding of the unique Priesthood of Jesus Christ for the first Christian communities.
In this work, a detailed analysis of the text known as the Epistle to the He-brews enables us to conclude without a shadow of a doubt that this is the full text of a splendid Christian preaching which constantly conforms to the rules of Semitic rhetoric, including various genres of parallelism, synonymis, antithesis and complementarity, and obeying a concentrically symmetrical schema.
Several learned societies exist whose objective is the study of rhetoric. The «Society for the Study of Biblical and Semitic Rhetoric» (RBS ) is the only one that is devoted exclusively to the study of Semitic literature, in particular the Bible, but also others texts, for example of Muslim origin; that consequently is dedicated to listing and describing the particular laws of a rhetoric that have governed the composition of texts which are of no less importance than those of the Greek and Latin world, of which modern Western civilization is the heir.
It must not be forgotten that this same Western civilization is also heir to the Judeo-Christian tradition, which has its origin in the Bible, that is to say, in the Semitic world.
More broadly, the texts that we study are the foundational texts of the three great monotheistic religions: Judaism, Christianity and Islam. Such academic study, the primary condition for better mutual knowledge, can contribute to a rapprochement between those who belong to these diverse traditions.
Founded in Rome, where its headquarters are situated, the «Society for the Study of Biblical and Semitic Rhetoric» (RBS) is a not-for-profit organization, under Italian law, that promotes and sustains research and publications especially in the Biblical field, both the New and Old Testaments; but also of other Semitic texts, in particular those of Islam.
The essential objective of the RBS is to promote research projects, exchanges between Universities and publications in the area of Biblical and Semitic Rhetoric, thanks especially to the collection of necessary funds for financing these diverse projects.
The «Society for the Study of Biblical and Semitic Rhetoric» first and foremost welcomes and brings together Scholars and University Professors who, in different Universities and Institutes, both in Italy and abroad, work in the area of Biblical and Semitic Rhetoric. It is open also to those who are interested in research and are intent on supporting it. For more information on the RBS, see: www.retoricabiblicaesemitica.org
Many people think that classical rhetoric, inherited from the Greeks via the Romans, is universal —this is what seems to govern modern culture, which the West has spread through the whole world. But the time has come to abandon this ethnocentrism— classical rhetoric is no longer alone in the world. We cannot judge everything according to the small village where we were born and which we have never left, whether that little «village» is Paris, Rome, Berlin, or even NewYork.
The Hebrew Bible, whose texts were mostly written in Hebrew, but also in Aramaic, uses a very different rhetoric from Greco-Roman rhetoric, so we need to acknowledge that there is another rhetoric, which we refer to as «Hebrew Rhetoric».
Other biblical texts from the Old and New Testaments, which were translated into or written directly in Greek broadly follow the same rules; we can therefore rightly talk not just about Hebrew rhetoric but more broadly about «Biblical Rhetoric».
Furthermore, these same laws were later recognized to be at work in Akkadian, Ugaritic and other texts which were earlier than the Hebrew Bible, and then in Arabic texts from the Muslim tradition and the Qur'an, later than the biblical literature. This rhetoric, then, is not only biblical, and we might even say that all these texts, which come from the same cultural sphere, belong within the same rhetorical style which we refer to as «Semitic Rhetoric».
Contrary to the inevitable impression of western readers, these texts from the Semitic tradition, whether the Prophets, the Gospels, or the Qur'an, are carefully composed, pro-viding that they are analyzed according to the rhetorical laws which govern them. We know that the text's form and arrangement is the main gate which gives access to its meaning; although its composition does not directly and automatically provide the meaning. How-ever, when formal analysis leads to a thoughtful division of the text, defining its context more objectively, emphasizing the way it is organized at its different structural levels, then the conditions which allow the work of interpretation come together on less subjective and fragmentary bases.
Rhetorical analysis is a particularly well-adapted method in the case of the interpretation of the Letter to the Hebrews, because that «letter» is in reality a speech, a magnificent homily, made to be delivered to a Christian assembly in apostolic times. In all probability it was in fact delivered, even in several places, because certain details in his text show that its author was an itinerant preacher. But it was also sent in writing to one or several distant communities. On that occasion some epistolary sentences (13,22-25) were added to it after its solemn conclusion (13.20-21). It is thanks to that circumstance that it was preserved for us. It also caused it to be called an epistle or letter. But is it enough to send a homily by post for it to be transformed into a letter? Quite clearly not. Its literary genre remains the same. From its exordium (1,1-4) until its conclusion (13,20-21) the Letter to the Hebrews has the literary genre of oral discourse and not that of the written letter. There is hardly any recent commentator who does not recognize that fact. Consequently, it is not only useful but indispensable to submit this text to rhetorical analysis if one wishes to interpret it correctly.
To proceed any other way leads to dead-ends. To give an example straight away, the famous passages on «unforgivable sins» (6,4-8; 10,26-31) give rise to inextricable doctrinal difficulties, unless one recognizes in them an oratorical device which has to be analysed as such in order to give it its correct meaning. Only rhetorical analysis makes it possible to follow correctly the development of the thought in its overall movement and in the detail of its expression. It alone can get the zeal of the preacher fully appreciated as well as his skill in drawing his listeners towards the heights of the faith and Christian life.
In one sense the text of the Letter to the Hebrews lends itself well to rhetorical analysis, in another it makes it difficult. It lends itself well to it because the author regularly uses certain compositional procedures easy enough to identify, such as inclusion and symmetrical arrangements. But a full analysis is difficult because the author clearly has a complex, Judaeo-Hellenistic education and so plays on several planes at the same time. To varying extents he associates procedures of biblical rhetoric with those of Greek rhetoric which, in general, are clearly different'. This association takes different forms. Sometimes it is just a matter of simple juxtaposition and sometimes a more or less complex amalgam.
Thus it is that one of the most important procedures in Greek rhetoric, the prothesis, is used by the author of Hebrews in a way that is not Greek but biblical. The prothesis, in Latin propositio, consists in announcing the subject one is about to treat. In the interests of clarity we shall usually call it «announcement of the subject». When the announcement contains several themes which will be developed later one after the other, classical rhetoric requires that they be developed in the order in which they were announced. According to Quintilian's rhetoric, which offers us the quintessence of Graeco-Latin rhetoric, not to follow in the development the order adopted in the propositio is a very serious fault: «Turpissimum vero non eodem ordine exsequi, quo quidque proposueris» ( Orat. Inst., book 4, end of chapter 5). The author of Hebrews, as we shall discover, never conforms to this prescription but, on the contrary, he always first of all develops the theme that he announced at the end. Why? Because biblical rhetoric urges him in that direction with its very strong tendency in favour of chiastic constructions (AB CDCBA) in which to the last element in a series there corresponds immediately the first element of the next series.
Another example of disagreement: classical rhetoric recommends avoiding verbal repetitions, especially when ending a paragraph. The end of a paragraph must certainly correspond with its beginning but it is suitable, they say, not to express oneself in identical terms in it because that would manifest a lack of mental ability or laziness and would be likely to bore the hearers. Clever variation, on the contrary, arouses admiration and renews interest. Biblical rhetoric knows nothing of this concern and calls much more for the regular use of verbal repetitions to mark out dearly the limits of literary units, great or small. This is what is called the process of inclusion; it consists of repeating at the end of each passage a more or less long expression that was used at the beginning of the same passage; on recognizing that expression, the listeners understand that the passage is finished. The author of Hebrews shows himself particularly faithful to this biblical way of writing. On this point, as on others, his turn of mind is more Semitic than Hellenistic.
To appreciate fully the details of the text, it helps to have first taken an overall view of its composition, because each detail is determined by its function in the whole document. We shall therefore start with a quick reading which will be interested only in indications of structure and the main divisions of the text.
The methodical examination of the text of the Letter to the Hebrews leads to the conclusion, without a shadow of doubt, that here we have —a unique case in the New Testament— the complete text of a Christian sermon, followed by a very short dispatch note. Being a Christian sermon, this work does not fit into any of the three categories recognized by Graeco-Latin rhetoric. It is neither a lawyer's plea before a tribunal, nor a politician's speech seeking to convince an assembly, nor a set speech on some solemn occasion. Christian preaching corresponds to none of these three kinds. It has its own originality. It proclaims faith in Christ and commits the listeners to conform their life to this faith.
The Letter to the Hebrews is above all a thorough investigation into faith in Christ. It is a serious mistake to see mainly an exhortation in it. Of course, it is also an exhortation, but in dependence on the expose on the faith. The author has made a discovery that no one, it seems, had made before him. He discovered that the second oracle in Psalm109 (110) applies, like the first, to the glorification of Christ and adds something very important to the first. The first oracle, applied to Christ right from the beginning of Christian preaching (Acts 2,34), shows him seated at God's right hand. The second, more solemn than the first because it is guaranteed by an oath from God, states that this glorification is a priestly glorification. Jesus, who could not be a priest according to the Law of Moses, became a priest through his paschal mystery and was proclaimed by God «priest for ever», and even «high priest», because he was «priest according to the order of Melchisedek», a person who was priest and king.
Having made that discovery, the author was not content to publish it by pro-claiming, according to Scripture, Christ became «high priest for ever»; he did much more: in the light of the priestly oracle, he went into the whole mystery of Christ and grasped all the new aspects of his priesthood and of his sacrifice, new aspects which are the perfect accomplishment of the Old Testament, that is to say that they have a threefold relation with the Old Testament:1) a fundamental relation of continuity; 2) as well as a relation of difference on the points that left certain things to be desired; and 3) a relation of definite improvement.
The author then proceeded with order and method. First he began, in an early part, by helping his listeners to pass from a traditional Christology to a priestly Christology. Traditional Christology proclaims that Christ was glorified as son I of God, after suffering his Passion in solidarity with mankind. The author shows that Christ thus reached a position of mediator between God and mankind, in 1 other words: a position of «high priest» (2,17)
Having said that, the author exposes his priestly Christology at length. He expounds it in two clearly distinct, but complementary stages. Many commentators do not see these two stages; they see just a great expose of priestly Christology, which goes, according to them, from the end of chapter 4 until the middle of chapter to. That is a serious mistake; it prevents one from understanding the author's doctrine properly. It cuts off, in fact, the priesthood of Christ from its relation to the proclamation of the word of God, which is an essential dimension to it, expressed in 3,1-6.
Moreover, these commentators do not see that the author, at an early stage, expresses the relation of continuity with the Old Testament. Christ the high priest «is trustworthy like Moses» (3,1-2); he was named high priest by God «like Aaron» (5,4-5). He fully possesses the two priestly qualities: «trustworthy for relations with God» (2,17) and «merciful» (247) for relations with mankind. Overlooking this continuity stage seriously upsets the balance in the author's theology.
The second stage stresses, on the other hand, the differences and demonstrates the superiority of the priesthood of Christ, which is not «according to the order of Aaron» (7,11), and that of his sacrifice, for which he did not use «the blood of goats and of calves but his own blood» (9,12) and thanks to which he did not enter «into a work-of-hands sanctuary, but into heaven itself» (9,24).
In his homily, the author does not place a watertight barrier between a doctrinal part and a moral part, but, as an excellent preacher, he is concerned always to insert doctrine into life. As from the middle of the first part, he takes care to summon people not to «neglect salvation» (2,3). In the second part, after a short expose on Christ the «trustworthy high priest» (3,1-6), he has a long exhortation against «incredulity» (3,12.19) and «indocility» (4,6.11). The central part is enclosed in two important exhortations, which are parallel (5,11-6,20 and 10,19-39). The second, especially, is important because it provides the liaison between the great doctrinal expose (7,1-10,18) and all the rest of the homily, which is predominantly exhortation.
All this takes us very far from Graeco-Latin rhetoric. Let us remember, in particular, that the latter prescribed placing the most important elements in a speech at the beginning and at the end and the less important ones in the centre . Our author did exactly the contrary: he put the most important points of his doctrine in the middle, underlining their importance with a very vigorous call for attention (5,11-12).
This way of composing corresponds to Semitic rhetoric, which attracts attention to the central part of the development. The whole of the Letter to the Hebrews is a magnificent concentric composition, the central part of which is also concentric, with, at its centre, a section arranged according to the plan A B A - A' B' B'. In the centre, the name of «Christ» (9,11) shines out over all.
This way of composing is related to mental habits quite different from our western habits, which lead us to compose mainly in a linear and not circular fashion. The biblical authors are less concerned with establishing a logical connection between one sentence and the next than they are with bringing out a multiplicity of relations between the various elements in the text. They thus stir up a different mental activity, which can be thought more productive because to understand properly it is important to know how to compare.
What has just been said about the composition as a whole is also true for the details of the text. The latter continually uses biblical parallelism, in its most diverse forms, the principal ones of which are synonymous parallelisms and antithetic parallelisms; their arrangement can go in the same direction, A B A's', or in reverse direction A B B' A', in chiastic form. Here again, mental activity is stimulated to make continual comparisons which reveal nuances that a linear text is unable to express.
It seems to me highly desirable that exegetes let themselves be educated more and more by the biblical texts themselves, instead of trying, as often happens, to impose inadequate categories coming from elsewhere on them.
Essays on John and Hebrews by Harold W. Attridge (Wissenschaftliche Untersuchungen Zum Neuen Testament: Mohr Siebeck) Harold W. Attridge has engaged in the interpretation of two of the most intriguing literary products of early Christianity, the Gospel according to John and the Epistle to the Hebrews. His essays explore the literary and cultural traditions at work in the text and its imaginative rhetoric aiming to deepen faith in Christ by giving new meaning to his death and exaltation. His essays on John focus on the literary artistry of the final version of the gospel, its playful approach to literary genres, its engaging rhetoric, its delight in visual imagery. He situates that literary analysis of both works within the context of the history of religion and culture in the first century, with careful attention to both Jewish and Greco-Roman worlds. Several essays, focusing on the phenomena connected with "Gnosticism", extend that reiligio-historical horizon into to the life of the early Church and contribute to the understanding of the reception of these two early Christian masterpieces. More
Allegory Transformed: The Appropriation of Philonic
Hermeneutics in the Letters to the Hebrews by
Stefan Nordgaard Svendsen (Wissenschaftliche
Untersuchungen Zum Neuen Testament / Scientific
Research on the New Testament: Mohr Siebeck) Was Christianity influenced by ancient philosophy
right from the beginning? Stefan Nordgaard Svendsen
that one of the most fascinating and elusive documents of the New Testament canon, the Letter to the Hebrews, was deeply steeped in Hellenistic philosophy and that careful consideration of this intellectual background sheds new light on the thought world and purpose of the letter.
Tradition has it, so Eusebius informs us, that Philo once visited Rome during the reign of Claudius (41-54 CE) to speak with the apostle Peter. The bishop does not inform us of the topic or the purpose of the conversation, but he considers the tradition credible given that Philo later composed a treatise (the De vita contemplativa) on the lifestyle and hermeneutics of an ascetic Christian community (HE 2.17.1). The treatise reveals, he adds, not only that Philo was familiar with Christianity, but also that he "welcomed, admired and honoured the apostolic men of his day" (2.17.2).
Obviously, this is all legend. Philo never met with Peter, and he probably never visited Rome after his failed mission to Gaius Caligula in 39/40 CE. And whatever he was doing in the Contempl., he certainly was not describing a Christian monastic community. Even so, the tradition (and the fact that Eusebius so willingly accepts it) is enlightening since it reveals that Christian writers of the patristic era were eager to embrace Philo, to domesticate him and to make him 'one of their own'. For several of the church fathers the writings of Philo were a major source of inspiration, and the tradition that he was also personally known by figures of the early church is indicative of their welcoming attitude towards his works. Some authors even went further than Eusebius. Jerome not only claimed that Philo met with Peter, but also that he enjoyed his friendship (... apostolo Petro eiusque habuisse amicitias) (Vir. inl. 11). And according to one fifth century account (the Acta Johannis), Philo even converted to Christianity before his death.
Philo' s influence on later Christian authors such as Clement, Origen and Augustine is widely recognized among scholars. In this study, I shall argue that Philo, or at least the tradition of which he was a part, also played a formative role for a much earlier Christian thinker, the anonymous writer of the letter to the Hebrews. This has been argued before, but whereas previous studies have detected lines of influence only in the realms of language, cosmology and theology, I shall argue that they also exist in the ;aim of scriptural exegesis. Indeed, I shall claim that these lines of influence are the most significant ones.
The suspicion that Philo looms somewhere in the background of Herews, though not as old as the Philo Christianus tradition, is still fairly Id. It arose with Hugo Grotius who as early as 1644 suggested that the niter might have been acquainted with the Alexandrian philosopher.6 ince then scholars have been forced to consider the legitimacy of his proposal. Its most significant and sizeable defence emerged in 1952 and 1953 with Ceslas Spicq's massive two volume commentary, in which he devoted more than fifty pages to the accumulation of parallels between Philo and Hebrews in terms of vocabulary, rhetorical figures, literary style, types of argument and patterns of thought. The overwhelming amount of material led Spicq to conclude that the writer had to have been a disciple of Philo before converting to Christianity. And even though Christian doctrine had reshaped the writer in important ways, Philo' s continuing impact remained obvious.
The cue from Spicq was picked up in 1965 by Sidney Sowers, who likewise concluded that "the writer of Heb. [came] from the Alexandrian school which historically runs from the LXX through Wisdom of Solomon, Aristobulus, and The Letter of Aristeas to Philo". Similar judgments were reached in 1975 and 1982 by Lala Kalyan Kumar Dey and James W. Thompson. All of these scholars agreed that, in spite of notable differences, Philo and the author of Hebrews essentially shared the same Platonically inspired dualistic worldview. For both, the world was divided into a realm of sense-perception and a realm of transcendence, and for both the former was a shadowy replica of the latter.
Interestingly, the issue of the letter's metaphysical orientation led a different group of scholars to dismiss the theory of Philonic influence. In 1956 C. K. Barrett published an article whose main objection to Spicq was later accepted and developed by R. P. C. Hanson, Ronald Williamson and Lincoln D. Hurst. These interpreters all argued that Hebrews is characteristically un-Platonic and does not share Philo' s metaphysical outlook. Hebrews focuses on Heilsgeschichte, not on timeless philosophical truths, and the letter betrays a distinctively Christian perspective, whose roots are to be found, not in Philo of Alexandria, but in the traditions of Jewish apocalypticism. The worldviews of Hebrews and Philo are completely incompatible because Philo as a Platonic philosopher operated with a 'vertical' distinction between the worlds of immanence and transcendence, whereas the author of Hebrews operated with a 'horizontal' distinction between the present world and the world to come.
The presupposition that Hebrews must be governed either by a vertical or by a horizontal perspective has dominated the Hebrews-Philo debate for decades. In the course of this study, I shall argue that it is unhelpful and misleading. Hebrews is governed both by a vertical and by a horizontal orientation. A few scholars have pointed this out in the past. In 1978 George MacRae argued that the writer's outlook was Platonic, but that apocalyptic (eschatological) perspectives entered his discourse because they were held by members of his audience. As a result, Hebrews contains different, and indeed mutually contradictory, metaphysical conceptions. Gregory Sterling picked up on that theory in 2001, but reversed it. In his view, the Platonizing traditions "were already held by the community", whereas the notion of eschatology was "the primary concern of the author".
These contributions are valuable because they take seriously the letter's combined vertical and horizontal orientation. In this study, however, I shall try to develop the understanding of this orientation in a slightly different direction. Unlike Sterling and MacRae, I will not seek to explain the presence of both vertical and horizontal perspectives by isolating different strands within the letter and assigning these to different people's beliefs. Rather, I will argue that they are part of the same metaphysical outlook, viz., that of Jewish apocalypticism. Despite common assumption, Jewish apocalyptic thought was not characterized only by a temporal orientation, but also by a spatial one. However, I will also argue that the particular way in which apocalyptic metaphysics are deployed in Hebrews is significantly coloured by Platonic and Philonic thought. The answer to the question of a Platonic or an apocalyptic background to Hebrews is therefore both simpler and more complex that what has usually been assumed.
Once this has been realized, we can turn to the real focus of this study, viz. the question of whether or not Hebrews was also hermeneutically influenced by Philo. Did the writer in any way appropriate Philo's allegorical method? For decades, if not for centuries, scholarship has spoken almost in unison on this issue. Practically all interpreters — even those who advocate very close connections between Philo and Hebrews — have agreed that he did not. The writer occasionally interpreted the Old Testament in non-literal ways, but he always applied typology, not allegory. Spicq, for instance, writes: "jamais on ne trouve chez notre auteur la moindre trace de cette exégèse allégorique". Instead, he suggests, he chose "une lecture profondément religieuse et singulièrement pénetrante", viz., typology. Sowers agrees: "the writer has excluded Alexandrian hermeneutics par excellence". Williamson similarly states that "Where is no allegorical exegesis of the O.T. in Hebrews, except for the brief allegorical etymology of the name Melchizedek" in 7:2.20 Hanson reaches the same conclusion, while adding that even this one instance of allegory is "so simple and obvious that even though Philo reproduces it also we cannot call it characteristically Alexandrian, much less characteristically Philonic".
It is this opinio recepta that I wish to challenge. I will argue that both Philo and the author of Hebrews read the Old Testament allegorically and furthermore that the author of Hebrews was drawing specifically on the hermeneutical tradition that Philo represents. Thus, I shall claim that he appropriated Philo's allegorical method and even developed his argument around certain of Philo's exegetical results. It will be clear, however, that the two writers did not read the Old Testament in exactly the same way. There are significant differences, but it is crucial that they are understood, not as reflecting a dichotomy between allegory and typology (as has so often been understood), but as modifications within the allegorical method itself. As mentioned above, a fuller understanding of Hebrews' worldview will enable us to clarify and explain these modifications.
The study is divided into three parts. Part I (chapters 1-3) will provide a survey of different allegorical readers in the Graeco-Roman world. Chapter 1 will focus on the Stoics, whose readings of Homer and Hesiod have often been perceived as a source of inspiration for Philo's readings of scripture. Drawing on recent research, I shall try to clarify the flaws in this understanding. Even though Philo was influenced by the Stoics on a number of points, the roots of his allegorical hermeneutics should be sought elsewhere. Chapter 2 will examine the works of Pseudo-Aristeas and Aristobulus. These Jewish authors deciphered the Torah in ways that clearly anticipated the works of Philo. However, as we shall see, they never reached the same level of elegance and sophistication. In chapter 3 we will turn to Philo himself and examine his metaphysical beliefs, his allegorical proceedings and the ways in which he used allegory as a means to defend Judaism and Jewish identity over against non-Jewish detractors.
Part II (chapters 4-5) will discuss a number of preliminary issues and clarify the presuppositions for the readings of Hebrews in part III. Chapter 4 will treat the pivotal question of how to construe the non-literal hermeneutics of Hebrews. The question will be answered along the lines sketched above. Chapter 5 will examine the historical setting of the letter and focus on the traditional questions of author, date, addressees and purpose. I shall suggest that Hebrews was written at some point between 50 and 70 by an unknown (male) author to a group of gentile Christians, who considered following the Torah in order to avoid any further harassment from the Roman authorities.
Part III (chapters 6-8) will provide a commentary on Hebrews from beginning to end. The analysis will mainly seek to substantiate the claims made in part II, but will also address some of the classical problems raised by the text. At appropriate places, excursuses on Philo's allegorical readings of selected Jewish identity markers will be included.
Faithfulness and the Purpose of Hebrews: A Social
Identity Approach by Matthew J. Marohl (Princeton Theological Monograph
Series: Pickwick Publications) Why was Hebrews written? What was the purpose
of the text? The discussion of the purpose of Hebrews is traditionally
connected to the discussion of the identity and social context of the
addressees. In other words, it is often assumed that to answer why Hebrews
was written, it must first be established to whom Hebrews was written.
Herein lies a problem for modern readers of the text. There is little, if
any, consensus regarding the identity of the addressees. And there is
little, if any, consensus regarding the purpose of Hebrews. While most
still hold to the ‘traditional view,’ that the addressees were ‘Jewish
Christians’ in danger of falling back into ‘Judaism,’ a growing number of
interpreters have concluded that nothing can be known regarding the identity
of the addressees.
The aim of Faithfulness and the Purpose of Hebrews is to provide answers to these questions by employing that branch of social psychology known as social identity theory.
Matthew J. Marohl, teacher of New Testament at Augustana College, Rock Island, Illinois, begins Faithfulness and the Purpose of Hebrews with a description of the social categorization process, created by Henri Tajfel, to categorize the identity of the addressees of Hebrews. Who were the addressees, were they ‘Jewish’ or ‘Gentile Christians?’ Perhaps they were former Essenes, Samaritans, or Ebionites? What were the various groups of the first-century Mediterranean world? What were the unique characteristics of these groups? Does the text point to any of these unique characteristics? While both the question and the method of inquiry may appear simple, the multiplicity of answers and a commonly voiced frustration point to a deeper, problematic level to this question. Why has it been so difficult to answer the question: Who were the addressees?
Indeed, it has become almost commonplace to refer to the ‘mystery’ of Hebrews, to speak of Hebrews as an ‘enigma.’ It is not only the question of the identity of the addressees that has proven problematic for historical critics, the identity of the author, the date of the text, its literary genre, its place of writing, its destination, the social context in which it was written, its structure, and its very purpose have all been widely debated and difficult to discern. For many, these problems may all be traced to the text's lack of specific historical data. Therefore, while some continue to attempt to answer the question, "Who where the addressees of Hebrews?," others voice frustration at the impossibility of the task.
According to Marohl, frustration is justified. There is an incompatibility of the historical-critical method to the data available in Hebrews. However, this may only be a symptom of a much more significant problem associated with a traditional historical-critical investigation. The larger issue concerns the categories commonly used by historical critics. The inadequacies of such modern categories include both the use of problematic terminology and problematic conceptions of the nature of the various first-century groups. For example, a modern reader might envision the first-century addressees as having been ‘Jewish.’ Further, ‘Judaism’ might be understood to be a ‘religion.’ For some, the ‘religion’ of ‘Judaism’ is understood to have been in direct conflict or competition with the ‘religion’ of ‘Christianity.’ Attempting to place the addressees into one of the categories with which we are familiar, is, after all, a natural part of our social categorization process. But what categories did the addressees use to simplify and systematize their environment? Faithfulness and the Purpose of Hebrews utilizes social identity theory to identify and interpret the social categories employed by the author and the addressees of Hebrews and to identify and interpret the purpose of the text itself.
In chapter 1, Marohl outlines the historical critical process for examining identity. He presents a description of each of the eight common proposals concerning the identity of the addressees of Hebrews. Finally, he engages in a critical examination of the categorization process of historical criticism. At the end of the chapter, he proposes the problem of understanding the identity of the addressees is not rooted in a lack of information within the text but with an inadequate conceptual framework for understanding identity.
The discussion of the identity of the addressees is inherently connected with the discussion of the purpose of the text. Chapter 2 follows the basic structure of chapter 1. Marohl outlines the historical critical process for analyzing the purpose of a text. He provides a description of each of the four common proposals concerning the purpose of Hebrews. Finally, he engages in an examination of the historical-critical process for analyzing the purpose of Hebrews. At the end of the second chapter, he proposes that the multiplicity of proposals regarding the purpose of the text reflects the multiplicity of proposals regarding the identity of the addressees.
Since an appropriate conceptual framework for understanding identity is needed in order to move forward in the discussion of the addressees of Hebrews, Marohl offers an overview of social identity theory, the theoretical framework with which he comes at the problem in a new way. Social identity theory not only offers insight into the social categorization process, but more importantly, helps to describe how social groups form and maintain identity. Chapter 3 in Faithfulness and the Purpose of Hebrews describes not only the social categorization process, but also defines social identity, the role of social comparison in identity formation and maintenance, and the function of time within social identity. In addition, and of particular importance to the study of Hebrews, Marohl discusses the nature of outgroups according to social identity theory. He considers, for example, whether an outgroup must be a real group, and whether an ingroup might compare itself to a symbolic outgroup.
In chapter 4, Marohl considers the cultural context of the first-century Mediterranean world, including in the discussion the dynamic of temporal orientation. The chapter's main thesis is that unlike the future temporal orientation of most twenty-first century North Atlantic interpreters, the addressees of Hebrews were likely to have had a present temporal orientation. He proposes that social identity theory integrated with a working model of present temporal orientation serves as an appropriate conceptual framework within which to examine the identity of the addressees of Hebrews.
The first step in reading Hebrews within the framework of social identity theory involves the consideration of whether the addressees understand themselves to be a distinct group, an ‘us’? Rather than rely upon the categories of ‘Jewish Christian’ or ‘Gentile Christian,’ chapter 5 argues that the addressees of Hebrews understood their own identity in terms of faithfulness.
The addressees of Hebrews understood themselves to be ‘the faithful.’ Repeatedly, the faithfulness of Jesus is understood through comparison. The faithfulness of Jesus is compared to that of Moses (Heb 3:1-6). Likewise, his faithfulness is compared to that of the ‘great cloud of witnesses’ (Heb 12:1-2). In chapter 6, Marohl employs two relevant areas of social identity theory – the theory of shared life stories and the theory of prototypicality – in order to understand the author's use of comparison and his emphasis on the faithfulness of Jesus.
Throughout Hebrews, the author thoroughly integrates issues of identity, faithfulness, and time. Therefore, to more fully understand social identity in Hebrews, it is necessary to consider the role of time within the text. Specifically, chapter 7 of Faithfulness and the Purpose of Hebrews addresses four questions regarding temporality. First, what was the role of the antecedent in Hebrews? Second, what was the role of the forthcoming? Third, what was the role of foresight? Fourth, is there evidence of imaginary time in Hebrews? In addition, this chapter includes a description of the meaning of the promised ‘rest.’ We find that the addressees are encouraged to "look forward by looking back."
In chapter 8, Marohl broadens the discussion from the identity of the addressees of Hebrews to the purpose of the text. The discussion of the purpose of Hebrews has traditionally been connected to the discussion of the identity and social context of the addressees of Hebrews. If we take seriously the conclusions made in chapters 5-7 regarding the identity of the addressees, it is possible to present a new proposal regarding the purpose of the text. The proposal of chapter 8, based upon the culturally appropriate conceptual framework of social identity theory and present temporal orientation, can serve as a helpful tool for the interpretation of Hebrews.
Marohl's welcome study represents an accomplished application of social identity theory to the text of Hebrews. His methodological attentiveness is mature and responsible, resulting in an articulate analysis that recognises the faithfulness of Jesus to be the theological centre that informs the socio-religious program advocated by the author of Hebrews. – Bruce Longenecker, University of St. Andrews
Henri Tajfel could have had no concept of the far-reaching influence of social identity theory he first developed in the 1970s. In Faithfulness and the Purpose of Hebrews, that theory and a model of present temporal orientation provide the conceptual framework within which to understand the identity of the addressees of Hebrews and the purpose of the text. But projects such as this can be informative beyond the boundaries and limitations of both New Testament interpretation and social identity theory.Faithfulness and the Purpose of Hebrews offers fresh answers to several unresolved questions. The study concludes that the author of Hebrews provides internal constraints that are meant to prevent social mobility. Marohl utilizes social creativity (an aspect of social change) to provide a positive social identity for the addressees.
Godly Fear: The Epistle to the Hebrews
and Greco-Roman Critiques of Superstition
by Patrick Gray (Academia Biblica No.
16: Brill Academic Publishers) To what extent was
early Christianity viewed as superstition by its contemporaries?
Superstition was the standard category in Greco-Roman antiquity
for defaming “debased” religion, and to situate early Christianity in its
Mediterranean milieu it is necessary to understand what this label meant to
those who used it. Fear is the defining element of superstition
according to writers like Plutarch, who regard the emotion as a fundamental
human problem. Fear is likewise a recurring motif in the Epistle to the
Hebrews, whose author holds up “confidence” as a Christian ideal yet also
employs language which evokes fear in the
starkest of terms. This work examines the articulation of Christian faith in
Hebrews in the context of ancient debates about the propriety of fear.
Contents: Acknowledgements, Note on Texts and Translations
Chapter One: Introduction, The Question: “Superstition” or “Godly Fear”? Self-Definition in the Early Church: Christianity as Superstition; Plutarch and the Epistle to the Hebrews: A Common Milieu; New Testament Studies and the History-of-Religions School; Contextualization, Comparison, and “Parallelomania”
Plutarch and the New Testament; The Greco-Roman Background of Hebrews: The State of the Question
Chapter Two: Plutarch and Superstition, Introduction, Terminology, Latin, Greek, Plutarch on Superstition in the Moralia and the Lives: Typical or Atypical? The Role of Fear in Plutarch’s Religious Thought, Hellenistic Analyses of the Emotions, Platonic Antecedents, Aristotle, Stoicism, Epicureanism, Summary; Plutarch on Superstition as Inappropriate Fear, The Question of Authenticity, Plutarch’s Argument: Summary and Analysis, Superstition and the Emotions, Positive and Negative Fear, Fear of Death, Atheism and Superstition Compared: Theological and Practical Aspects, Piety as a Mean, Conclusion
Chapter Three: Freedom from Fear as a Christian Ideal in Hebrews, Introduction, Fear of Death (Heb 2:15), Sources of Fear of Death, Subjective Quality of Fear of Death, Scope: Whom Does Fear of Death Affect? Assessment: Is Fear of Death Morally Culpable? Prescription: How to Be Free From Fear of Death, “Help in Time of Need”: Jesus the Great High Priest, Priesthood as Fraternity: Brotherly Love and “The Order of Melchizedek”, “Confidence” before God: ΠΑΡΡΗΣΙΑ in Hebrews, Confidence as Members of God’s Household (Heb 3:6, Confidence Before the Throne of Grace (Heb 4:16,) Confidence in the Heavenly Sanctuary (Heb 10:19–31), The Clean Conscience (Heb 10:19–25), Apostasy and the Forfeiture of Confidence (Heb 10:26–31), The Reward of Confidence (Heb 10:35), Fearlessness in the Face of Earthly Dangers, Withstanding Persecution, Heb 10:32–39, Heb 11:32–38, Heb 13:6, Defiance of Human Authorities: Moses’ Fearlessness (Heb 11:23–28), Reinterpreting Adversity as God’s Education (Heb 12:5–11), Conclusion
Chapter Four: Reverence and Awe: Fear as an Appropriate Response to God in Hebrews, Introduction, Jesus’ “Godly Fear” (Heb 5:7,) What Does Jesus Pray For and How Is He “Heard”? The Exemplary Function of Jesus’ Submission, Fear as a Concomitant of Revelation and Worship (Heb 12:18–29), Moses’ “Fear and Trembling” at Sinai (Heb 12:21), Worship in the Last Days: “Reverence and Awe” (Heb 12:28–29), Conclusion Chapter Five: Conclusions; Bibliography, Index of Modern Authors, Index of Ancient Authors, Index of Biblical Texts.
Patrick Gray, Ph.D. (2002), Emory University, is Assistant Professor of Religious Studies at Rhodes College in Memphis, Tennessee, USA.
To determine the extent to which the form of Christianity one finds in Hebrews would qualify as superstition in Plutarch’s eyes, one must begin by setting out Plutarch’s construal of what it means to be superstitious. This is the task taken up in chapter two after the scholarly frame of reference within which the topic is to be pursued has been established. A survey of the lexical data in Latin will show the areas of confluence with and divergence from the Greek vocabulary employed by Plutarch to describe superstition. A brief but comprehensive review of the use of cognates of superstition in Greek will reveal the range of traits and dispositions covered by this term used by Plutarch in his treatise. His usage fits relatively comfortably within the tradition of philosophical critique of religion and touches on all the recurring indicators of superstition current in the Hellenistic period. By far the most pervasive in this depiction of the superstitious shared by Plutarch and his contemporaries is the element of fear. Because Plutarch locates the core of superstition in the emotions, his work will be examined in the context of the analyses of the emotions in the philosophical traditions with which he is in dialogue. After this erns on the main schools of thought, attention will turn back to Plutarch and De superstitione. This final section of the chapter summarizes and provides detailed commentary on the essay, with special attention to the way he views ft (especially fear of the gods), how these views cohere with those found elsewhere in his immense corpus, and what basic assumptions compel him to pass such harsh judgment on superstition.
Because fear is the core component of superstition according to Plutarch and other Hellenistic authors, who regard the emotion as a fundamental human problem arising in both sacred and secular contexts, chapters three and four look in detail at the various occurrences of this motif in Hebrews. Chapter three examines passages in Hebrews which advocate freedom from fear as a desirable and attainable ideal for the Christian. Of particular concern to the author is fear of death, a theme of recurring interest to the moral philosophers whose ideas inform Plutarch’s characterization of superstitious fear. The causes of and remedy for fear of death according to Hebrews will be interpreted as an integral component of the author’s christological presentation, as will the way in which he puts forward “confidence” as the obverse of fear in the believer’s approach to God. Once the nature of this “vertical” relationship between God and the individual is established, those passages will be examined which seek to inculcate a posture of fearlessness on the horizontal plane, that is, in circumstances where earthly circumstances and other humans appear to pose a threat to the well-being and emotional equilibrium of the believer. The nexus of belief, feeling, and action, familiar from Hellenistic analyses of the emotions, also underlies the author’s mode of argument and helps to clarify his views on the place of fear in the life of faith.
Chapter four concentrates primarily on two passages (Heb 5:7; 12:18–29) where apparent manifestations of fear signify a disposition the author regards in a quite positive light, and by that token may make him and his readers susceptible to a charge of superstition. One passage celebrates the “godly fear” of the human Jesus, while the other speaks approvingly of this same quality of “reverent awe” as a fitting accompaniment of thanksgiving and worship offered to God under the new covenant inaugurated by Jesus’ sacrifice.
A final chapter draws together the key insights of the preceding chapters, returns to the question posed at the outset of the study, and reflects briefly on the complexities involved in formulating an answer.
To sum up, while the various schools of thought informing Plutarch’s critique of superstition argue over points of theory and practice, they agree on a basic level on a number of core issues. On the structure of occurrent emotions, Aristotle and especially the Stoics, who carry on a vigorous intramural debate, go to great lengths to understand what constitutes an emotional response. Virtually every Greek writer, Epicurus included, recognizes the physical component of emotions but locates their root cause in cognitive or mental operations and the substantive beliefs, judgments, and opinions into which these processes crystallize, in stark contrast to reductionistic analyses in the fields of neuropsychology, biochemistry, and psychopharmacology. The shape of a person’s beliefs plays a far greater role in determining emotional disposition than does body temperature or the balance of humors.
Aristotle is the most optimistic about the role of the in the good life, though he is also wary of their irruption at the wrong time and in the wrong form, and tries accordingly to distinguish, for example, true from counterfeit courage. The Epicureans heartily affirm the pleasant passions, seeking them as the highest good. But because these are usually fleeting and cause pain upon withdrawal, true pleasure consists in knowing one’s human limitations and living calmly within them. Coping with emotions, because they develop out of one’s beliefs about the world, involves education, or re-education in many cases since traditional beliefs are so often mistaken and hence responsible for unhealthy emotions. These must be stripped and replaced with a right view of the world and of the nature of the good, which in turn vary according to the school. For most of these thinkers, their appraisals of fear fit within this general framework. Plato and Aristotle reserve a place in their systems for appropriate forms of fear. They regard fear of shame in a positive light because it promotes civic responsibility. Aristotle also accommodates feelings of fear within his account of virtue. Brave men experience rational fear, though only on momentous occasions. Only when the end is a truly good one does reason demand fearlessness in the face of extraordinary pain or impending doom. The Stoics concur on this point but are more discriminating when it comes to circumstances in which fear is permissible. Virtue is the highest good, therefore vice alone is to be feared with the caveat, and never simple ( is rational “cautiousness.” Their qualifying remarks make plain the fact that, here again, belief as to the good distinguishes disapproved fear from its corresponding approved eupathic disposition.
While each school promulgates a theory of the emotions on the basis of core beliefs about ultimate reality, it is evident that, with the exception of Plato, the emphasis in their accounts is on the practical, ethical aspect. To varying degrees, the emotions are inconvenient because they disrupt the smooth flow of a happy life and are suspicious because they are at odds with a normative conception of virtue. Rational or not, the type of fear these philosophers discuss is an unpleasant feeling that usually signals some deficiency in the cardinal virtue of courage. It may or may not have death or the gods as its object. Little or no specifically religious element attaches to it except in a negative sense. Plutarch takes over this philosophical estimation of fear, makes certain modifications, and applies it to popular religious beliefs and observances in his essay on superstition.
The motif of fear pervades the argument in Hebrews at almost every turn, even when the explicit language is missing. Its place among the author’s chief concerns is further suggested by his coordinated discussions of Christian “confidence” and his editorial decisions in such passages as the retelling of the Moses story in 11:23-28. Sources of fear fall into two broad categories: “natural” fear, which includes the ordinary human desire to avoid physical pain, economic deprivation, humiliation, and the like; and “supernatural” fear, the primary manifestation of which is fear of divine judgment after death. Between these two heuristic categories there is, not surprisingly, some degree of overlap. Fear of death, though primarily concerned with what comes after death in Hebrews, naturally participates in both types. In one form or another, thanatophobia and its effects drive the arguments the author tailors to his audience, who have “not yet” had to withstand persecution to the point of bloodshed (12:4). Fear in Hebrews is itself an undesirable state and usually serves as an indicator either of potential peril or of disordered priorities.
The author’s approach to fear is not like that of the school philosophers who assert that it is a ready indicator of superstitiousness and that the emotion has no rational or legitimate basis. He is closer to the more balanced approach one finds in Aristotle in his analysis of the conditions giving rise to fear and his proposed solutions to the problem it presents. The contours of the letter’s Christology fit especially well within a theological and paraenetic program designed to achieve an ideal of fearlessness. Because of the specific claims about the nature of the Christ event, the theological aspect has profound “practical” implications. No longer does “natural” fear excuse one from moral responsibility for capitulation to human forces seeking to dishonor God. This kind of fear bears an inverse relationship to faith, “without which it is impossible to please God” (11:6).
So in one respect, that is, in its insistence that fear is no longer an appropriate component of human engagement with the divine, Hebrews is in agreement with Plutarch. But the qualifier “no longer” would likely be the stumbling block for a contemporary Greek because it points to what has become known as “the scandal of particularity.” Fearlessness is an achievable goal only because of what has transpired with Christ and not because it was a mistake ever to believe that fear once had any objective grounding. In an imaginary debate, then, one can see Plutarch complaining that Hebrews hasn’t gone far enough in expunging fear and has in fact compounded the problem by granting legitimacy to those beliefs underlying the gravest fears in the first place. And to this Hebrews might respond that fear cannot be so easily explained away, and that Plutarch wants the brand of Protestantism whose credo, in the critical summary of H. Richard Niebuhr, can be reduced to this: “A God without wrath brought men without sin into a kingdom without judgment through the ministrations of a Christ without a cross.” In spite of attempts to dispel his readers’ fears, then, it is hard to imagine his sermon earning the approval of the author of De superstitione.
D. H. Lawrence quotes Heb 10:31 (RSV) verbatim in the opening line of his poem, “The Hands of God,” only to follow it with a second line suggestive of the sometimes ambivalent reactions to the prospect of becoming a child of God in the Letter to the Hebrews: “It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God/But it is a much more fearful thing to fall out of them.” The poem closes with a cry for salvation from “ungodly knowledge”: “Let me never know myself apart from the living God!” The primary aim of the author of Hebrews is to assist his readers in experiencing “boldness” by showing them how their brother and high priest has neutralized the most pervasive causes of fear—namely, judgment by God and abuse at the hands of humans. But in order to help them learn who they really are in God’s eyes, he must draw on a register of language in some respects expressive, even evocative, of a form of fear. Analyses of this language in Hebrews, however, frequently exaggerate the degree to which it connotes craven terror. The author generally avoids such vocabulary, preferring to use terms which accentuate the individual’s recognition of and submissiveness to the will of God. Jesus models this disposition for his siblings, learning the full meaning of obedience to God from the fearful things he suffered. Some measure of trepidation is not only permissible, it is entirely appropriate when confronted with the auspicious events connected with the new covenant, so long as it does not lead one to seek consolation anywhere other than in the living God.
Despite the author’s insistence upon the once-for-all character of Christ’s sacrifice and the way in which it renders superfluous all apotropaic rites aimed at deflecting God’s wrath, in the final analysis Hebrews leaves intact the basic premise that the divine can in any fashion be a legitimate source of fear. In fact, God alone—not persecution, not material deprivation or physical abuse, not even death—is truly fearful. The idea appears in a more straightforward fashion throughout the OT, as when Isaiah writes, “Do not fear what this people fears, nor be in terror. But the Lord of Hosts, him you shall regard as holy; let him be your fear, and let him be your terror” (Isa 8:12-13).26 According to Hebrews, the believer has to travel through fear, not around it, to come out on the other side. This notion, far from allaying any suspicion on other grounds that Christianity is an example of superstition, effectively confirms it for pagan observers after Plutarch who come into direct contact with Christian thought: it is a decidedly good thing that there is no longer any need to be afraid, but the Christian solution comes at the expense of creating a problem where there should not have been one in the first place.
While Plutarch recognizes the possibility that the deity may feel “that he must no longer help us in the same way, but in a different way,” and rebukes those who “yearn for the riddles, allegories, and metaphors” as preferable to the simpler, more direct oracles of first-century Delphi (Pyth. orac. 407F, 409C-D), there is of course no sure way of knowing how he would have reacted to God’s novel way of speaking and acting through a son (Heb 1:1-2).27 It is one thing to acknowledge a theological principle and quite another to agree upon a specific instance of that principle at work. It is of the essential nature of special revelation that its content or significance is inaccessible to or unanticipated by unaided reason. Accordingly, it is not possible to tell how a person might have responded to the novel claim that only Jesus—his life, death, resurrection, and priestly office in heaven—relativizes the fearfulness of any earthly danger and does away with all need to be afraid of God’s wrath. Like most thinkers in antiquity, the author of Hebrews finds the old to be trustworthy and is cautious about anything new, yet in common with the rest of the NT authors, he cannot bring himself to deny that something new has happened and that it is the work of God. He bends over backwards to show how Jesus, while representing God’s new way of dealing with humanity, nonetheless fits perfectly with the divine plan related under the old covenant. But rather than downplaying it for apologetic purposes, the distinctive solution to the problem of fear in Hebrews actually underscores the scandal of particularity that the Christian message has caused since its very beginning.
Faith in Hebrews: Analysis within the Context of Christology, Eschatology, and Ethics by Victor Rhee (Lang) argues that faith in Hebrews is both Christologically and eschatologically oriented. In response to the assertion that faith in Hebrews is removed from Christ, he contends that the author of Hebrews portrays Jesus as both the model and object of faith. Rhee also maintains that the eschatological outlook in Hebrews is not the Hellenistic concept of visible and invisible reality, but the temporal orientation of present and future. The ethical aspects of faith must be interpreted within the context of Christology and eschatology to have a proper understanding of faith in Hebrews.
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