Saturday, February 11, 2017

The Riddles of Hebrews

I was honored to be part of a panel at the regional SBL at St. Mary's College in South Bend along with Amy Peeler, Jason Whitlark, Jared Callaway, and Clare Rothschild, with Eric Mason giving an overall response. Brian Small moderated. I felt like we were being invited to indulge a little in the sin of speculation, so I did. My whole 15 minute response is on

Why Hebrews?
The central exhortation of Hebrews, repeated over and over, is that the audience needs to "hold fast" and persist in faith.

What's causing the hesitation?
While there are probably multiple factors, the exhortation to hold fast is most centrally supported by the author's central argument, which is that Christ's atonement is sufficient. So,
  • Something has caused them to doubt that atonement for their sins is secure.
  • They are also fearing impending persecution and hardship for their faith.
What might cause them to doubt atonement and fear impending persecution?
  • destruction of the temple
  • hard to think of what might cause this prior to temple's destruction, since even expulsion from the synagogue would not clearly imply that the temple was not effective for them
  • There is language of place alienation--"we have here no remaining city," "they are strangers and aliens," "they are seeking a homeland," "a city," "go outside the camp." Rome and Jerusalem are the two cities that come to mind, perhaps both. If Jerusalem were in mind, its destruction would fit this language.
When was it written?
  • If written before 70, it is a strong polemic against the temple. But the central argument of Hebrews does not argue not to utilize the "tabernacle."
  • If written soon after 70, it is a strategy to help them not to be troubled by the destruction of the temple.
  • 2:3 seems to imply a second generation, post-Paul Christian author
  • Hebrews seems like a post-Pauline development, one step further
  • Mention of Timothy suggests it can't be too late, as does its quotation by Clement
  • Can't be said definitively, but Rome commands the most support: "those from Italy greet you," reception history in Rome versus east, quotation by Clement of Rome
  • Leaders have died in a previous persecution, property taken--we don't know much of the early church, but this fits Rome.
  • Timothy was in Ephesus recently, perhaps written from Ephesus, although this is really speculation.
  • 6:2-3 doesn't have a list that a Jewish audience would have learned upon coming to Christ. But it would be appropriate for Gentiles.
  • An argument can be made that the Roman church was primarily Gentile and that it was more in continuity with Jerusalem Christianity than Pauline.
  • The unargued incorporation of Gentiles within the seed of Abraham, the universality of Psalm 8, may suggest more a Gentile than Jewish audience. To say such things to Jews would be quite exclusive of Gentiles, but Hebrews does not have that feel.
Type of Literature?
  • A mailed sermon
  • A he (11:32)
  • Greek-speaking, highly educated, probably a Jew
  • Someone well aware of the Pauline school and the Jewish Scriptures
  • A cumulative case of superficial similarities to Philo's writings would fit an Apollos, although we cannot know.

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