Thursday, March 18, 2010

Authorship of Hebrews

The authorship of Hebrews is a funny question. The eastern church attributed it to Paul, Origen was ambivalent about it, suggestions have included Barnabas and Apollos, but a small cohort of scholars have suggested Luke's authorship of Hebrews or else Pauline authorship via Luke. There has been interesting proposals on this topic of late. One contribution is David Allen, Lukan Authorship of Hebrews (Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman, forthcoming 2010) - which I have not read yet. The other contribution to the subject is an essay by Andrew W. Pitts and Joshua F. Walker entitled "The Authorship of Hebrews: A Further Development in the Luke-Paul Relationship" which is forthcoming in S.E. Porter (ed.), Paul's Social Relations (Pauline Studies 7; Leiden: Brill, 2010). I spoke to Andrew Pitts about their essay and he answers my questions below:

1. What started your thinking about the Pauline "source" of Hebrews?

We began working on this project during the 2008 annual meeting of the ETS-SBL meetings in Providence and Boston. At the meetings, we talked about the different features of Hebrews that point to authorship—style, vocabulary, its apparent oral qualities, theological viewpoints and manuscript tradition, among others. We had always thought that a Luke-Paul collaboration was possible and so we set out to examine various strands of evidence to see what direction they might point in. The somewhat recent trend toward understanding Hebrews in an oral context seemed to have some significant implications for authorship. If Hebrews is a speech, then it may have had stenographer (speech recorder). The content and manuscript (external) evidence pointed to Paul while the linguistic and literary (internal) evidence seemed to us to indicate Lukan involvement. This theory seemed to handle the bulk of the evidence presented on this matter, evidence which was often dichotomized into Luke only and Paul only data. But both sets of data, to our mind, seemed significant and neither could be easily side-stepped. We found, then, that a Pauline origin best explained the main content of Hebrews, accounting for elevated style of the document via Luke’s involvement.

2. What is the basic thesis of your chapter on the authorship of Hebrews?

The evidence we examine suggests that Hebrews likely represents a Pauline speech, probably originally delivered in a Diaspora synagogue, that Luke documented in some way during their travels together and which Luke later published as an independent speech to be circulated among house churches in the Jewish-Christian Diaspora. From Acts, there already exists a historical context for Luke’s recording or in some way attaining and publishing Paul’s speeches in a narrative context. Luke remains the only person in the early Church whom we know to have published Paul’s teaching (beyond supposed Paulinists) and particularly his speeches. And certainly by the first century we have a well established tradition within Greco-Roman rhetorical and historiographic stenography (speech recording through the use of a system of shorthand) of narrative (speeches incorporated into a running narrative), compilation (multiple speeches collected and edited in a single publication) and independent (the publication of a single speech) speech circulation by stenographers. Since it can be shown (1) that early Christians pursued parallel practices, particularly Luke and Mark, (2) that Hebrews and Luke-Acts share substantial linguistic affinities and (3) that significant theological-literary affinities exist between Hebrews and Paul, we argue that a solid case for Luke’s independent publication of Hebrews as a Pauline speech can be sustained. We don’t claim to have “solved” the problem of authorship in terms of absolutes or certainties, but we do think that this is the direction that the evidence points most clearly.

3. Could you summarize what it is about Hebrews that indicates that it is Pauline and what suggests that there is a Lucan hand involved?

To begin with, the oral literary setting for the letter, assumed by most these days, in tandem with evidence for Luke documenting Paul’s speeches in Acts is suggestive of a Luke-Paul collaboration in speech publication. Paul clearly delivered speeches on a number of occasions, some of which are documented by none other than Luke. This establishes a firm historical context for a Luke-Paul collaboration, in which Luke would record and publish Paul’s speeches, already existed in the early Church. There are speeches of others in the apostolic circle (esp. Peter) and beyond (e.g. Stephen), but Luke shows a clear preference in his history for documenting Pauline speech material. And we have further precedent for the early Christian documentation of apostolic speeches later converted in the style of the recorder in the Mark-Peter collaboration—at least, if we take Papias’s account seriously, who informs us that Peter functioned as something of a stenographer in the production of Mark’s Gospel. This is significant in light of the fact that Hebrews is the only document in the New Testament thought by many to be a single independently published speech (i.e. sermon, synagogue homily, etc.). If we begin with the contemporary assumption that Hebrews is a speech or sermon of some kind, this opens up new avenues of exploration for the authorship question that seem to us to point toward a Pauline origin with Lukan involvement.

With regard to the external evidence, we should probably expect a fairly high level of the reception history to document a Pauline origin since the scribes, stenographers and historians that circulated such speeches were rarely credited with authorship or if they were, it was merely as a co-author, as we see in many of Paul’s letters. And this is exactly what we find. We immediately think of P46 (200 A.D.), for example, the earliest Pauline canon, which situates Hebrews in the middle of the Pauline corpus. But P46 is only one part of a much wider body of external evidence. A number of further manuscripts favor locating Hebrews immediately after the Pauline letters to the churches and before those written by Paul to individuals, as we find in אB C H I P 0150 0151, a Syrian canon from c. 400 (Mt. Sinain Cod. Syr. 10) and six minuscules from the eleventh century (103). Perhaps such an organization represents the shift in register: from (1) letters to churches to (2) a speech to a church(es) to (3) letters to individuals. The early Eastern fathers also consistently identify Hebrews with Paul. Eusebius records the views of both Clement of Alexandria (Eccl. hist. 6.14.2-3) and Origen (Eccl. hist. 6.25.13) to this effect. When we turn to the primary sources for Origen, the view remains the same. Origen constantly attributes Hebrews to Paul when he cites the document (Princ. 1; 2.3.5; 2.7.7; 3.1.10; 3.2.4; 4.1.13; 4.1.24; Cels. 3.52; 7.29; Ep. Afr. 9). Origen even proposes something like a collaborative hypothesis when he says: “If I gave my opinion, I should say that the thoughts are those of the apostle, but the diction and phraseology are those of some one who remembered the apostolic teachings, and wrote down at his leisure what had been said by his teacher” (Eusebius, Eccel. hist. 6.25.11-14, NPNF2).

We also find it difficult to imagine another person in early Christianity with the background necessary to produce such a composition. We don’t have enough information to make solid judgments regarding the abilities of many proposed authors (Barnabas, Pricilla, Apollos, etc.). A number of Pauline theological features seem evident to us in the Hebrews as well, which many seem to grant. In our chapter, we shore this point up in great detail. One striking feature we observe, for example, is that parallel citation strategies are employed in Hebrews and Paul’s speeches in Acts—for example, the use and exegesis of Pslam 2. A number of other parallel theological features both in Paul’s letters and his speeches in Acts find a direct correlate in Hebrews. In our chapter, we examine these in detail.

In addition to historical considerations, it is the language and style of Hebrews that we find most indicative of Luke’s involvement. Allen goes as far as to suggest that no volume in the New Testament is more similar in its language to Luke-Acts than Hebrews. We lean heavily upon much of his evidence and a collection of additional evidence that we bring to the discussion from our own research in establishing this point.

4. How does a stenographer differ from an amanuensis?

The proposal that perhaps most closely resembles ours is suggested in a footnote by Black when, in attempting to account for the linguistic evidence in Allen’s dissertation on the Lukan authorship of Hebrews, he suggests Luke was perhaps Paul’s amanuensis. The problem with this proposal is that it assumes, contrary to the dominant perspective in scholarship that Hebrews is a letter. Even if this is not the assumption, Black’s idea remains underdeveloped and is not robust enough to in his explanation to make a compelling case. In distinction from Black, we argue that Hebrews is a Pauline speech, independently documented and circulated by Luke, probably based upon his work as a stenographer—a more precise secretarial function related to speech recording rather than the broader domain of amanuensis that Black argues for. J.V. Brown, almost a century ago, advanced a theory similar our proposal when he argued that Paul authored the text but Luke edited and published its final form. Again, we believe a more convincing case can be made through establishing a historical framework in Greco-Roman and early Christian practice in which Luke, as he was accustomed to doing, somehow attained or documented first hand Pauline speech material and published it as an independent speech to be circulated in early Christian communities within the Diaspora. Such a practice is referred to in Greco-Roman historiography and rhetoric as stenography.

5. What do you think of Claire Rothchilds thesis that Hebrews is "Pauline Pseudepigraphy"?

Rothchilds’s thesis (Hebrews as Pseudepigraphon: The History and Significance of the Pauline Attribution of Hebrews [Tubingen: Mohr/Siebeck, 2008 ) remains unconvincing for at least two reasons. First, if someone was attempting to pass Hebrews off as a Pauline letter, then why leave out many of the standard components of Paul’s other letters, such as basic epistolary structure and formulas? It seems to us to be too unique of a document to be an attempted Pauline forgery. If it was a forgery of a Pauline letter, this Paulinist sure did a bad job. But such a situation seems highly unlikely given the composer’s skill and education in literary production. Second, from a very early date the Christian community accepted this letter as an authentic Pauline letter—substantiated by the external evidenced provided above. To overturn this evidence, a significant case would need to be made, a case which Rothchilds fails to deliver on.

6. What are the implications of your thesis for the study of the formation of the NT Canon?

Good question! It seems that the inclusion of the document in a number of primitive canons implies the reception of the document at a very early stage as part of Christianity’s sacred literature. Our theory also helps ground the document’s status in the authorship criterion, which remained a decisive issue in these discussions. We could, then, imagine a reception history similar to Mark’s Gospel under Peter’s authorship or of Luke’s Gospel in light of his connection to Paul.

7. What is Veritas Evangelical Seminary where you teach?

Veritas was recently started here in Temecula, Southern California (just south of Los Angeles and just north of San Diego), where my wife (Amber) and I (Andrew) are from. When Amber and I returned to Temecula from doing Ph.D. studies (New Testament) in the Toronto area at McMaster Divinity College, the president of Veritas, Joe Holden, contacted me to discuss the Dean and Associate Professor of Biblical Studies position there, which was at that time available. He desired to bring more strength and rigor to the biblical studies department at Veritas. I was eventually offered the job and serve in this position now. It certainly is in a great location!


Ken Schenck said...

This is in some ways ingenious, in fact a somewhat depressing reminder that there are more exegetical possibilities in heaven and earth than are dreamt of in the philosophy of biblical scholars.

I myself would dismiss any straightforward Lucan authorship of Hebrews fairly quickly, since he has Paul offering a sacrifice at the temple in Acts 21 without blinking an eye. Indeed, if anything, Acts 7, which is similar to Hebrews, seems somewhat distinct in temple theology in contrast to Luke's default temple theology.

Hebrews is also distinct from Paul's theology as well, for example on what the term "Law" primarily refers to. In Paul Law primarily has to do with those elements that most separate Jew from Gentile. In Hebrews it relates overwhelmingly to the sacrificial system.

In short, these hypotheses are ingenious but ultimately very sloppy when it comes to paying attention to the details of the theology of Acts, Paul, and Hebrews respectively, IMHO.

Andrew said...
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slaveoftheking said...


I have a couple questions of clarification, if you don't mind.

1. What do you mean by "independently documented and circulated"? It would seem hard to reconcile a Pualine, not-Lukan, view of authorship with a view that Luke's issuing of the letter in its final form was not done under Paul's direction (or tacit permission, even) in some way (especially if, perhaps, you are saying Paul was dead by the time Luke did this). Are you saying Paul is responsible for Hebrews in its final form (even if Luke is also responsible), or are you saying Luke redacted some speeches of Paul and issued them as a letter without Paul's knowledge? There seems to be a significant difference here.

2. Forgive my ignorance, but related to the previous question, could you define a stenographer?


Andrew said...

Very good questions. I would continue to highlight too that our claim is not that the situation suggested definitely took place. Our position is more modest. We simply argue that the evidence points most strongly in this direction.

In response to your questions:

1. Stenographers would record speeches while they were delivered, sometimes using shorthand that they would later convert into a publishable document in their own style and diction, then circulating the final product. We are agnostic on the question of whether Hebrews may have been a collection of Pauline speech material or a single speech, recorded using shorthand, and brought to its final form by Luke--but I think the latter possibility seems more likely, although either situation could have obtained. So I suppose we would want to insist, in response to your question, that Paul is responsible for the raw material of the document (we don't think it's a letter as you suggest though) and, yes, Luke is responsible for the final form--whether it is a redacted collection of speech material or a converted set of stenographic notes is hard to tell, however.

2. I explain the stenographer a bit in response to questions 2 and 4. Is there something more you want me to comment on there? The notion is derived from Greco-Roman rhetoric and historiography in which speeches were recorded and circulated by what are known as stenographers. We have evidence for this practice in a range of Greco-Roman authors, e.g. Cicero, Seneca, Dio Chrysostom, etc.

Andrew said...

To begin with, there really aren't that many options suggested by external and internal evidence. Many ideas are proposed, but our model is solidly based in external and internal considerations--unlike, for example, Apollos, etc. But I am glad Schenck thinks that the notion is ingenious! I also appreciate his thinking on issues in Hebrews for the last several years and respect his opinion expressed here.

That said: I question whether Schenck has really grasped the proposal in that we don't suggest a Lukan authorship for Hebrews. We argue for a Pauline origin (i.e. authorship) with Luke functioning as a stenographer--that much I think is quite clear. His argument, then, turns out to be something of a strawman, criticizing the wrong theory. Luke is involved but it is hardly a "straightforward" Lukan theory and is immune, I think, to the objections he raises to such readings of the data. This significant weakness in his basic understanding of the proposal then weakens his further comments based upon this wrong assumption. That point can be noted by fact that we clearly state that we would not expect Luke's theology in Hebrews because he is merely involved as a stenographer. It is Lukan style with Pauline theology. I say that in the post. So it seems odd to me that the theory is then criticized for not taking into account Luke's "temple theology." On our theory, one would not expect to find a thoroughly Lukan theology.

Further, in my view, Schenck's assumptions about Pauline theology do not take into account the constraint on theological expression imposed by rhetorical exigency, which seems to me to over impose a theological rather than an occasional agenda upon both Paul and Hebrews. This is a significant methodological flaw--one I have developed in my (Andrew Pitts) "Unity and Diversity in Pauline Eschatology," in Paul's World (Brill, 2008). We deal with this question in the chapter at length (which I note in response) and I hardly think there is enough information in this post, at least on this point, to call the thesis "very sloppy." One wonders whether this description might be more appropriate for the analysis of the hypothesis given here rather than the hypothesis itself.

slaveoftheking said...


Thanks for the clarification. One further question, if I might: I assume you have some sort of technical understanding of "letter" or "epistle" in mind when you say Hebrews isn't a letter, right? Because 13:22 and 24 seem to indicate Hebrews in its current form is a written communication that is being sent from one location to another, which is what I would understand the basic definition of a "letter" to be.

Andrew said...

That's a fair question about the letter vs. sermon debate. I suppose the closing greeting would be the argument for it being a letter. But that objection cuts both ways since the document has no "other" (if indeed the closing is a letter formula) epistolary framing. It is lacking a letter opening and it contains no distinct letter body-opening, -middle or -closing. The standard epistolary formulas are also lacking, making an epistolary literary setting highly unlikely. This evidence is then typically combined with positive evidence of the document's oral features in favor of some type of oral setting. It is no surprise, therefore, that the vast majority of scholars working with Hebrews today have not found the postscript to be a significant or weighty enough consideration in itself to overturn this much broader body of evidence. A few have opted for a hybird interpretation (e.g. Thielman), but there really isn't much basis for comparison in the ancient world for this kind of a document. In our paper, we argue that the postscript likely represents the kind of publication formula we often find appended by stenographers in the ancient world to alert their readers to any necessary contextual information surrounding the publication of a speech or set of speeches. Notice that the author's use of ἐπιστέλλω in Heb 13:22 can signify not only writing a letter but also sending and circulating a document (e.g. P.Oxy. II 276; P.Amh. II 33) (BDAG, 381; M-M, 245-46; LSJ, 660). There is much more too this--it occupies a section of the paper--but that is what we suggest, in any case.

Ken Schenck said...

No offense intended. I look forward to reading your work.

Andrew said...

No worries Ken. No offense taken. And thanks again for your several significant contributions to important issues related to Hebrews. I hope our proposal can at least introduce some new evidence into the discussion, that's all.