Monday, November 08, 2010

Harold Attridge on the Tabernacle of the "Epistle to the Hebrews"

Tabernacle and the Sacred Vessels
(Exodus 40:17-19)
Figures de la Bible
Illustrated by Gerard Hoet (1648–1733)
(Image from Wikipedia)

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 . . .

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At 3:49 PM, Anonymous dhr said...

the point of Hebrews is that the true tabernacle exists in heaven

That never prevented the Christian Churches from building temples, creating their own priesthood etc. I often wondered which were the intentions of the author of the Epistle (some say, the early disciple Apollos). Was he freely inventing the pattern he liked best? Was he talking seriously, but unable to foresee the developments of his own religion? Was he a revolutionary thinker, or the spokesman of the ecclesiastical hierarchy from the beginning?

At 4:09 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Building 'temples'? Do you mean churches? I suppose these were necessary if Christians were to meet somewhere in numbers larger than could gather in a home.

As for the author, Apollos is as good a guess as any, though if it were really him, I'd think that the early church would have ascribed it to him since he's so positively mentioned in Acts. At any rate, the author is someone very like Apollos, probably influenced by Alexandrian philosophy. Thus the appeal of this epistle for Clement.

I think that his motive was not so much ecclesiastical as christological. He set out to ascribe a very high role for the earthly Jesus as a high priest after the order of Melchizedek so as to justify why the divine Son became human, i.e., lower than the angels, which might seem to be undignified for a spiritual being of higher status than angels.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 7:57 PM, Anonymous dhr said...

So, nobody else commenting...

Are you leaving Jeff alone to defend the Holy Scriptures from an armed madman? (I got two arms, and I know how to use 'em)

No Apollos' oracle?

At 8:07 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Perhaps Odysseus will post soon . . . if nobody else.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 10:16 PM, Anonymous dhr said...

Washington, post!

At 3:57 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

You implying that Washington was a nobody, despite his military post?

Jeffery Hodges

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At 5:07 AM, Anonymous dhr said...

I did not absolutely mean to blame GW: he was an independent thinker, after all.

the fact is, nobody (and no soul) is taking part in this "less silly than it may look" theological discussion.

maybe we could ask a
for an effective reply to my heretic "implyings".

At 5:20 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Heretical? Surely not! Rather mainstream musings . . .

Jeffery Hodges

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At 5:25 AM, Anonymous dhr said...

sort of think "mainstream" has a different meaning in Italy, U.S. and Korea.

anyway, will try something more axe-ttable next time.


At 7:19 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Using an ax to split hairs?

Jeffery Hodges

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At 7:30 AM, Anonymous dhr said...

A giant's hair is bigger than a fly's leg.

At 7:42 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

We might need a chainsaw.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 3:18 PM, Anonymous dhr said...

The Text Chainsaw Massacre

At 3:39 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

All the world's a text . . . including Texas.

Jeffery Hodges

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