[ Hebrews Group ]


SBL23-71 Hebrews
1:00 PM to 3:30 PM; 11/23/2008
Meeting Room 313

Reading Hebrews in its Greco-Roman Context
Harold Attridge, Yale University, Presiding

Jörg Rüpke, Universität Erfurt
Hebrews and Contemporary Roman Religion (Handout) (20 min)

Abstract: The paper accepts the thesis of a Roman origin of Hebrews at the end of the first century AD. This implies an educated audience raised in late Neronian or Flavian times and informed by Roman culture as expressed in public buildings, images and—even if we think about a Jewish family background—rituals. Without disregarding the intertextual relationship to Scripture, the text is thus analyzed in terms of contemporary Roman religion. Special attention is given to the priestly roles discussed. These are compared to the prominent role of pontifex maximus of the Roman emperors and to the developments of major public priesthoods during the second half of the first century AD. Such a look promises a deepened understanding of the cultural setting of the text and the interaction of its audience with the institutional setting of Rome, of which any audience would be part in institutional and in cultural terms.

Harry O. Maier, Vancouver School of Theology
Roman Imperial Sacrificial Iconography and the Epistle to the Hebrews (20 min)

Abstract: Drawing from Tonio Hoelscher's theory of Roman imperial iconography as an idealised system of communication, this paper investigates the communication code of imperial imagery of the emperor as faithful priest and officient of right sacrifice as a means toward understanding the imperial location of the Epistle to the Hebrews' representation of Jesus as offering perfect sacrifice. Hebrews' language of sacrifice is at home amidst Flavian political propaganda of a revived Augustan era manifested in iconography of the emperor conducting right sacrifice and promoting and rehabilitating traditional rites. The Epistle's use of imperial language to celebrate Jesus who "appeared" once for all to end sacrifice by the offering of himself (9:26), and to found "the city of the living God" (12:22), "the city that is to come" (13:14) is fully at home in Flavian political iconography and propaganda. Recognition of this invites a reconsideration of Hebrews in its imperial context and recovers a political reading of the text too neglected by more parochial treatments.

Ellen Aitken, McGill University, Respondent (15 min)
Discussion (15 min)
Break (10 min)

David A. deSilva, Ashland Theological Seminary
How Greek Is the Author of the Letter to the Hebrews? (20 min)

Abstract: This paper seeks to position Hebrews within its Greco-Roman context by inquiring into the paideia of the author as reflected in the author's product. The paper will examine the signs that the author has at least participated in education at the Progymnastic level. Striking in this regard is his use of significant elements of a formal elaboration pattern in 12:5-11, ending with an amplified recitation of a well-known maxim that appears itself as the model thesis in a number of similar exercises in a number of different Progymnasmata. Equally striking is his repositioning of this Greek maxim to the level of concluding maxim in support of a "chreia" derived from a Hebrew sage. The author's use of argicultural imagery to speak of responses to benefaction, of human developmental imagery to talk about progress in Christian discipleship (i.e., in a "philosophy"), and of liberation from slavery to the fear of death as a topos praising a philosophical teacher, also speak to the question of his relationship to Greco-Roman philosophical culture, making possible some observations concerning realms of Greco-Roman discourse from which he drew comfortably, and realms from which he notably avoids drawing (e.g., Greco-Roman cult).

Ben Witherington, Asbury Theological Seminary
No Turning Back: The Epideictic Rhetoric of Hebrews (20 min)

Abstract: Though scholars have long recognized that Hebrews was a rhetorically sophisticated document, there has been debate about the species of rhetoric exhibited in this book. In this paper I will be arguing that epideictic rhetoric is found from beginning to end in this document, and this explains numerous of its special and sometimes peculiar features. I will argue that Hebrews is basically a sermon, rather than a letter, indeed no one hearing this document from the outset would have ever thought it was a letter since it has no epistolary features in its first 12 chapters. The rhetorical aim of this discourse is to head off defection of Jewish Christians under pressure in Rome to return to their Jewish roots, abandoning Christ.

Craig Koester, Luther Seminary, Respondent (15 min)
Discussion (15 min)

SBL22-115 Hebrews
4:00 PM to 6:30 PM; 11/22/2008
Clarendon Room

Emerging Studies in the Book of Hebrews
Gabriella Gelardini, University of Basel, Presiding

David M. Moffitt, Duke University
But We See … Jesus?: Hebrews 2:9 in Light of Jewish Traditions about the Ascension of Moses (22 min)

Abstract: B. Shabbat 88b–89a contains R. Joshua b. Levi's account of Moses" ascension into heaven. In this story Moses is confronted by the ministering angels who challenge his presence in their realm. When God defends Moses, the angels reply with the words of Ps 8:5. Eventually they relent and begin to tell Moses their secrets. Of particular note, the angel of death tells Moses his secret, thereby giving Moses power over death. The collocation here of “ministering” angels, an ascent into heaven, a citation of Ps 8:5 and the power of the angel of death being surrendered is remarkable when compared with the similar combination of these same elements in Heb 1–2. Moreover, after discussing Ps 8:5–6 and Jesus" victory over the one who holds the power of death, the author of Hebrews immediately proceeds to draw an intriguing contrast between Jesus and Moses (Heb 3:1–6). In this paper I will argue that these and other factors suggest the possibility that both Hebrews and b. Shabbat attest an older tradition about Moses" ascension into heaven. This hypothesis sheds fresh light on two important issues. First, the influence of such a tradition provides new insight into the long debated question regarding the author's concern in Heb 1 to address the relationship between the Son and the angels. Second, this hypothesis offers an explanation for the puzzling way in which Jesus is finally identified with the Son in Heb 2:9. The rhetorical panache of 2:9"s statement “but the one who was for a little while made lower than the angels we see—Jesus” has long been recognized. The force and presence of this stylized flourish, however, may be more clearly understood if the audience could justifiably have expected to hear another name—Moses.

Discussion (6 min)

Ronald Cox, Pepperdine University
Hebrews 5:11–6:12 as “Frank Criticism” (Parresia) (22 min)

Abstract: In this paper I focus on the function of harsh language in Hebrews,esp. 5:11-6:12, arguing that such language is best understood as conforming to the philosophical topos of parresia (frank speech or criticism). I draw from the discussions of that topos by Plutarch ("How to Tell A Flatterer From A Friend") and Philodemus ("On Frank Criticism") to describe how and why such speech was employed as well as what was done to offset its more negative aspects. My paper demonstrates that the harsh language used in this Hebrews passage is a rhetorical move meant to stir the addressees to action rather than a pressing warning.

Discussion (6 min)

Bert Jan Lietaert Peerbolte, Protestant Theological University, The Netherlands
Melchizedek: An Allegorical Reading in Hebrews 7 (22 min)

Abstract: Hebrews' characterisation of Melchizedek is based on an exegetical combination of Gen. 14:18 and Ps. 110:4. These texts speak of the Melchizedek's encounter with Abraham and of his priestly status. The same combination is found in Philo (esp.: Leg.All. 3,79-82). Next to this, Hebrews assumes a heavenly status for Melchisedek, thereby reflecting traditions also found in Dead Sea Scrolls (cf. 11QMelch; 4QAmram; 4Q280) and 2 Enoch 71-72. The reference to Melchizedek in Hebrews 7 is thus part of an exegetical tradition based on the combination of Gen. 14:18 and Ps. 110:4. This paper will explore the way in which the author of Hebrews adapts this tradition to prove his christological point by allegorizing the figure of Melchizedek. It pays special attention to the closeness of Hebrews" discourse on this priestly figure to that of Philo of Alexandria, arguing in favour of an Alexandrian provenance of the Epistle to the Hebrews.

Discussion (6 min)
Break (10 min)

Mark A. Jennings, Marquette University
The Priestly Robes of the Incarnation: The Meaning of dia tou katapetasmatos, tout estin tes sarkos autou and the Inauguration of the Eschatological Temple in Hebrews 10:19–20 (22 min)

Abstract: This paper focuses on Heb 10:19-22. Contrary to the traditional viewpoint that the Day of Atonement is the primary image behind this fleeting, yet alluring statement, this essay will argue that it is the inauguration of the eschatological Temple that the author has in view. It is within this background that the appositional relationship between Jesus" flesh and the veil should be seen as a reference to his Incarnation, when as the eschatological high priest, he passed through the veil that separated the heavens and the cosmos in order to inaugurate the eschatological Temple. In so doing, he took upon the priestly robes that, like the veil of the Temple, symbolized the material universe. These robes of the material universe are his very flesh. By presenting Christ's flesh as the priestly robes which he wore while ministering on earth, the author of Hebrews stand in the same tradition as Philo's discussion on what occurred when the Logos left heaven in order to serve as the ultimate high priest. According to Philo, as the Logos moved from heaven to earth, he took upon himself the material of the cosmos when he passed through the cosmic veil that separated the two realms. This process is also played out in the garments of the high priests in the Temple economy. Therefore, when the author places Christ"s flesh in apposition to the veil, it is this great moment of the Incarnation that he has in mind, when the great eschatological high priest became flesh in order to open the way for the people of God to enter the eschatological Temple.

Discussion (6 min)

Ira Jolivet Jr., Pepperdine University
Faith (Pistis) in Hebrews in Light of the Stoic Concept of the Acquisition of Scientific Knowledge (Episteme) (22 min)

Abstract: The scholarly consensus since the publication of James W. Thompson's seminal dissertation in 1982 seems to be that faith in Hebrews is basically equivalent to knowledge of the unseen realm in Platonic dualism. For example, in his highly influential commentary on Hebrews Attridge attributes the author's conception of faith as perception of "a reality not apparent to the senses" to the influence of Middle Platonism. Ronald Cox has further strengthened this position by arguing effectively in his recently published dissertation that faith in Hebrews, as a way of accessing knowledge of the intelligible realm, involves an "immaterial intermediary figure," the conceptualization of which had been developed by the Middle Platonists. In this paper I propose that faith in Hebrews more nearly equates to the Stoic view that the knowledge, which leads to the acquisition of virtue as the telos for humans as rational creatures, is scientific knowledge (episteme) which is attained, not through memory or intuition as in Platonism, but rather through a teleological process involving sensory perception and a “reciprocity of giving” (Philo) between the object of sense perception and the soul which is its receptor. Analyzing Hebrews in light of insights about this process from Philo and other Stoic sources, sheds light on the general nature of faith in the author's argument and also on difficult exegetical issues such as the interpretation of the participial form of sugkerannumi in Heb 4:2 and of hupostasis in 11:1.

Discussion (6 min)

Dr. theol. Gabriella Gelardini

Wissenschaftliche Oberassistentin Neues Testament

Theologische Fakultät der Universität Basel
Nadelberg 10, CH-4051 Basel, Switzerland
Tel. ++41 (0)61 267 27 95
Fax. ++41 (0)61 267 29 02

Theologische Fakultät der Universität Basel