Monday, November 25, 2013

How Hebrews and Philo connected Scriptures

My thanks to the Intertextuality and the New Testament unit at SBL for letting me present a paper yesterday. My goal was to catalog some of the similarities between the way Hebrews and Philo connected Scriptures together. Here was my outline:

1. Similar Quote Splicing
In addition to the fact that both functioned out of the Greek rather than Hebrew Bible, they both share some specific word splices. For example, Hebrews 13:5 combines Joshua 1:5, Deuteronomy 31:8 and arguably Genesis 28:15 in the same exact way as Philo. They are the only two in all extant literature of the time. This must surely be more than coincidence, although we lack enough evidence to say what the lines of dependence were.

2. Use of Secondary Texts
Philo used secondary texts to explicate primary ones. Hebrews also does so perhaps more than most have noticed. The obvious example is how Hebrews uses Genesis 2:2 to clarify Psalm 95. But I also argued that Hebrews uses Genesis 14 to explicate Psalm 110:4 and various passages on the wilderness tabernacle to clarify Jeremiah 31.

3. Use of Exempla
Hebrews 11 is the most famous example list, a collection of biblical characters strung together to reinforce a certain theme. There are closer examples than Philo but Philo does this as well. Almost all my Philonic examples for this paper were taken from Allegorical Interpretation book 3. Strikingly, this little swath of Philo had numerous superficial parallels.

In the case of exempla, Philo's characters all come from Genesis and a little in Exodus, like the majority of Hebrews' examples. They overlap a little--Noah, Melchizedek, Abraham, Jacob. Philo spends significant time on Melchizedek and Bezalel, the artificer who made the tabernacle. However, Philo uses allegory to string them together.

4. Use of Gezera Shawa
Both Hebrews and Philo use catchwords to link from a primary passage to a secondary one. So the Philonic example I used was based on the word "cursing." Hebrews does this too. The author connects from Psalm 95 to Genesis 2 on the concept of God resting. The disobedience will not enter into "God's rest." So what is God's rest? Well, "God rested" on the seventh day. So someone who enters God's rest stops working in some way.

5. Use of Allegory
Philo of course is replete with allegorical connections. Hebrews is more grounded to a literal reading of the text (remembering that by "literal," we do not mean the original meaning but a surface reading that does not think it is taking the words in a figural way. The original meaning was culturally embedded in a way the paradigm of the biblical interpreters did not understand--or most contemporary biblical interpreters, including many scholars).

But Hebrews does allegory too, and uses allegory in its Scriptural connections. So Psalm 110:4 is a primary text that tells us that the Messiah will be a "priest after the order of Melchizedek." What is such a priest? This leads the author to the secondary text of Genesis 14.

The author's interpretation of Genesis 14 involves allegorical interpretation. What is a priest like Melchizedek? Using almost exactly the same etymological argument as Philo, it is a "king of peace" and a "king of righteousness." In the Genesis text, Melchizedek has no father, mother, priestly genealogy, time of taking or leaving office. Therefore, allegorically, this must be what a priest after the order of Melchizedek is like. Ironically, the historical Melchizedek himself didn't qualify! The author is not arguing about the historical Melch. but the allegorical one!

P.S. I have published many of these individual interpretations elsewhere if you are writing something and would like a reference to cite.

I also discussed the allegory of the tabernacle in Hebrews 9, which the author mixes with his understanding of Jeremiah 31 to give us a two part tabernacle that corresponds to the two covenants.

6. Connecting Shadows
The "shadows" from the old covenant do not match to Christ in a one-to-one way. Comparisons were made between Hebrews, Colossians 2:17, and Philo on the literal interpretation being a shadow of the deeper meaning of the Scriptural text. As usual, I dissed the prevalent translation of hypodeigma in Hebrews 8:5 as "copy."

For the paper's purpose, the key element here is that Hebrews connects all the sacrificial types of the Jewish Bible and amalgamates them into one shadow over and against the one sacrifice of Christ.

7. Final Thoughts
I made a little fun of the category of typology in the paper, a category invented by Protestant scholars so that books like Hebrews could be said to do something different from allegory--and thus medieval Catholic exegesis. But there is allegory in the NT, plain and simple. Hebrews is far more "grounded" to the literal than Philo, but it still does allegory.

Once again, I am struck by the number of superficial parallels. They are very superficial, but they are significant. It would be like reading a book you really disagreed with, but then taking half of the elements and redoing them. Or it would be like someone who grew up in Alexandria, heard Philo speak in the Great Synagogue, or perhaps was forced to go through Questions and Answers on Genesis as a child, but then went on to believe something different. But some of the forms stuck...

Basically, Apollos wrote Hebrews. :-)

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