Harold Attridge on the Tabernacle of the "Epistle to the Hebrews"
In preparing for Sunday's Bible study on the "Epistle to the Hebrews" and considering the possible date of composition, I was thinking about the fact that the verb tense used to describe the practice of the Jewish priests offering sacrifices is often the present tense, a fact that has often been used to support an early date for the letter's composition, for why use the present tense to describe sacrifices being carried out unless the Jewish temple itself is still standing, which would date the epistle sometime between around 30 AD and 70 AD, the death of Jesus and the destruction of temple, respectively?
This seemed somewhat plausible to me until I perceived something that had previously escaped my notice. In the entire epistle, the term "tabernacle" occurs twice, in Hebrews 8:2 and 9:11, whereas the term "temple" does not occur at all. All the sacrificial descriptions presuppose the mobile desert tabernacle used when the Israelites were wandering in the wilderness, not the immobile Jerusalem temple built by King Herod, which rather undermines the argument relying on the Greek present tense to describe sacrifices as dating the epistle prior to 70 AD, when the temple was destroyed.
I realized that I couldn't have been the first to notice this fact, and I in fact wasn't, for upon checking with Harold W. Attridge, The Epistle to the Hebrews, I found this remark:
Hebrews is not explicitly interested in the Herodian temple and contemporary high priests, but in the Torah and the cultic system of the desert tabernacle that it portrays. (Attridge, Hebrews, Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1989, page 8)This explicit interest in the tabernacle might even imply the temple's destruction, and thus date the writing of Hebrews to post-70 AD, for the tabernacle as a movable site of the sacred could better fit the time after the temple's destruction, when holiness was dispersed and peripatetic, moving to wherever Christians moved in setting up churches.
But I would need to think about this some more, for the point of Hebrews is that the true tabernacle exists in heaven . . .