Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Kenneth L. Schenck on Hebrews 9:23

Image from Wesley Seminary

Several days ago, I questioned Harold Attridge's view that the cleansing of the heavenly tabernacle signified the cleansing of the believer's conscience, but I now see that Attridge is not the only scholar to propose this interpretation, for Kenneth L. Schenck, of Wesley Seminary, has published an article, "Philo and the Epistle to the Hebrews: Ronald Williamson's Study after Thirty Years," in The Studio Philonica Annual (volume 14, 2002, pages 112-135 [1-29, this copy]). Like Attridge, Schenck uses Philo to unlock Hebrews:
Hebrews' distinction between body and spirit is also reminiscent of traditions found in the Philonic corpus. On the one hand, we should not confuse Plato's body-soul dichotomy with the Cartesian dualism of material/immaterial.[42] We would more accurately distinguish between corporeal/incorporeal, assuming that all heavenly realities are made of 'stuff' of one density or another.[43] Philo thus passes on a Stoic interpretation of Gen 2:7 in which the spirit God breathes into Adam is a fragment of the divine (e.g. Leg. 1.39-40).[44] Similarly, in Gig. 60 Philo speaks of the human mind as the heavenly component in us.[45]

In Hebrews, God prepares a body for Jesus on earth (Heb 10:5, 10), but Christ offers himself to God through 'eternal spirit' in heaven (9:14).[46] The blood of bulls and goats might clean flesh, but Christ's heavenly offering cleanses conscience (9:13-14). Angels in Hebrews are ministering spirits (1:7, 14), and Hebrews speaks of the human spirit as the part of us that pertains to the heavenly Jerusalem (12:23). God is the father of our spirits (12:9),[47] but Christ's time on earth was the 'days of his flesh' (5:7) when he partook of 'blood and flesh' (Heb 2:14). We might even read the author's sole reference to Christ's resurrection more as a passage upward from the realm of the dead rather than a corporeal reconstitution of some sort (13:20).[48]

Along with Hebrews' clearly drawn distinction between body and spirit is a latent emphasis on the rational. The author encourages the audience to exercise their senses (Heb 5:14; αἰσθητήριον [aisthētērion]), a Stoic technical term found a number of times in Philo.[49] Throughout Hebrews 9 and 10 he contrasts flesh with conscience (9:9, 14; 10:2, 22), where conscience is understood as a faculty of memory.[50] Indeed, we can best explain the need of the heavenly tabernacle for cleansing in Heb 9:23 by supposing that at this point of the argument the author is basically thinking of Christ's offering in the tabernacle as a metaphor for the cleansing of the conscience -- that rational/spiritual element of a human being that potentially pertains to the heavenly realm.[51] Perhaps it is no mistake that Hebrews seems to distinguish between 'sins committed in ignorance' (e.g. 9:7) and sins committed 'willfully' (10:26).

Hebrews thus draws clear lines between the human spirit/conscience and the body/flesh in the same way it draws distinctions between the created and the heavenly realms. The associations are more obvious and consistent than any apocalyptic writing. Rather, they bear a closer resemblance to the cosmology and psychology of the book of Wisdom (e.g. Wis 9:15) and Philo (e.g. Gig. 12, 31). On the other hand, there is nothing specifically Philonic about Hebrews' use of this distinction. The similarities point more to a common milieu than to specific dependence. (Schenck, "Philo and the Epistle to the Hebrews," pages 12-14)

[42] Cf. D. Martin, The Corinthian Body (New Haven 1995) 3-15.

[43] Cf. J. Dillon, 'Asômatos: Nuances of Incorporeality in Philo', in C. Lévy (ed.), Philon d'Alexandrie et le langage de la philosophie, Monothéismes et Philosophie (Turnhout 1998) 99-110.

[44] Cf. Tobin, Creation 21.

[45] Philo's understanding of the soul is generally tripartite, sometimes involving the mind (νοῦς, the rational part of the soul; cf. Leg. 1.39), sense perception (αἴσθησις), and the passions (τὰ πάθη, these two form the irrational parts to the soul; cf. Leg. 2.6). Cf. also Her. 55, where Philo calls the human spirit the 'soul of the soul'. Philo can also speak of the soul in terms of 1) reason, 2) high spirit and 3) appetite (Leg. 1.70; 3.115), and in another instance he speaks of a seven-part soul (Opif. 117).

[46] Most translations interpret 'holy spirit' in Heb 9:14 as a reference to the Holy Spirit. An allusion to the Holy Spirit is not impossible, but πνεῦμα is anarthrous, highlighting the character of the offering -- spiritual -- rather than the Holy Spirit as the specific spirit in question. Even more than the blood of Christ, it is the spiritual and thus heavenly nature of the offering that really contrasts with the earthly, fleshly blood of bulls and goats.

[47] While this comment is an allusion to Num 16:22, Hebrews' use of the phrase places it within its overall body/spirit dualism.

[48] Heb 13:20 uses ἀνάγω, which can mean 'brought up' as well as 'brought again'. However, Heb 6:2 uses traditional Christian corporeal language: 'resurrection of dead [=corpses]'.

[49] Philo himself uses the word eight times: Leg. 1.104; 3.183, 235; Det. 15; Post. 112; Ebr. 155, 201; Conf. 20. In my opinion, Williamson's attempt to distinguish between an emphasis on the organs of sense in Philo and a more metaphorical reference to the senses in Hebrews is not only questionable but also makes a distinction without a difference (Philo 114-16). Heb 5:14 reminds us of 4 Macc 2:22, where the mind is enthroned above the senses. Interestingly, Williamson claimed that Hebrews has a significant overlap in vocabulary (22 words that are hapax legomena in Hebrews) with 1-4 Maccabees (Philo 14-15).

[50] Note the parallelism between συνείδησις and ἀνάμνησις in Heb 10:2-3. An 'evil conscience' in 10:22, therefore, probably refers to an awareness of unatoned sins.

[51] Cf. W. R. G. Loader, Sohn und Hohepriester: Eine traditionsgeschichtliche Untersuchungen zur Christologie des Hebräerbreifes, WMANT 53 (Neukirchen 1981) 169-70. (Schenck, "Philo and the Epistle to the Hebrews," pages 12-14)
The central statement is this: "Indeed, we can best explain the need of the heavenly tabernacle for cleansing in Heb 9:23 by supposing that at this point of the argument the author is basically thinking of Christ's offering in the tabernacle as a metaphor for the cleansing of the conscience -- that rational/spiritual element of a human being that potentially pertains to the heavenly realm." By "the need of the heavenly tabernacle for cleansing," Schenck means its need to be cleansed, just in case there should be any misunderstanding. But I have the same objection as with Attridge. Look again at Hebrews 9:18-23:
[18] Wherefore, not even the first covenant was inaugurated apart from blood. [19] For when every command had, according to the Law, been read to the whole people by Moses, he took the blood of the calves, with water and scarlet wool and hyssop, and sprinkled the book itself and the whole people, [20] saying, "This is the blood of the covenant which God made with you." [21] And, similarly, he sprinkled the tabernacle and all the implements of the service with the blood. [22] Indeed, almost everything is cleansed with blood according to the Law, and apart from the effusion of blood there is no remission. [23] It is necessary therefore, that the copies of what is in the heavens be cleansed with these things, but that the heavenly things themselves be cleansed with sacrifices better than these. (Harold W. Attridge, Commentary on Hebrews, pages 253a and 260a)

[18] ὅθεν οὐδὲ ἡ πρώτη χωρὶς αἵματος ἐγκεκαίνισται [19] λαληθείσης γὰρ πάσης ἐντολῆς κατὰ τὸν νόμον ὑπὸ Μωϋσέως παντὶ τῷ λαῷ λαβὼν τὸ αἷμα τῶν μόσχων καὶ τῶν τράγων μετὰ ὕδατος καὶ ἐρίου κοκκίνου καὶ ὑσσώπου αὐτό τε τὸ βιβλίον καὶ πάντα τὸν λαὸν ἐράντισεν [20] λέγων τοῦτο τὸ αἷμα τῆς διαθήκης ἧς ἐνετείλατο πρὸς ὑμᾶς ὁ θεός [21] καὶ τὴν σκηνὴν δὲ καὶ πάντα τὰ σκεύη τῆς λειτουργίας τῷ αἵματι ὁμοίως ἐράντισεν [22] καὶ σχεδὸν ἐν αἵματι πάντα καθαρίζεται κατὰ τὸν νόμον καὶ χωρὶς αἱματεκχυσίας οὐ γίνεται ἄφεσις [23] ἀνάγκη οὖν τὰ μὲν ὑποδείγματα τῶν ἐν τοῖς οὐρανοῖς τούτοις καθαρίζεσθαι αὐτὰ δὲ τὰ ἐπουράνια κρείττοσιν θυσίαις παρὰ ταύτας (Morphological Greek New Testament [mGNT])
There are two cleansings in the old covenant, according to Hebrews -- of the people and of the earthly tabernacle. In the new covenant, there would likewise be two cleansings -- of believers and of the heavenly tabernacle. Verse 23 refers to the cleansing of the heavenly tabernacle, whereas other verses refer to the cleansing of the believers, and I think that the author of Hebrews treats the purification of flesh and spirit in the new covenant as effected together -- foreshadowed by the old covenant cleansing of the people in verses 19-20.

But I'll need to think more about this.

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At 5:34 AM, Blogger dhr said...

Nobody asking Milton?

"Yet not for thy advice or threats I fly
These wicked TENTS devoted, lest the wrath
Impendent, raging into sudden FLAME
So spake the Seraph Abdiel faithful found

PL 5.889 ff

At 7:05 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Abdiel seems to have lacked a bit of faith here . . .

Jeffery Hodges

* * *

At 3:28 PM, Blogger dhr said...

... but, maybe, "after" reading that verse in Hebrews.

At 3:56 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Perhaps he feared 'contamination' by impurity?

Jeffery Hodges

* * *

At 5:39 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

That's what I suspected.

At 5:40 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

(signed) dhr (off home)

At 5:47 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

As you see, I retrieved your last two comments from the Spam File. I don't know why they were consigned to that limbo . . .

Jeffery Hodges

* * *

At 6:27 PM, Blogger dhr said...

It happens each time I use an outdated computer in the office (not now).
Blogger is like God: cleansing without distinguishing :-D

At 7:34 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

But not all powerful, and so can be trumped by the Hand of GS!

Jeffery Hodges

* * *

At 10:11 PM, Blogger dhr said...

In fact, Abdiel 'gypsied' himself, too.

At 3:38 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

"Live a little, be a gypsy, get around, get around,
Get your feet up off the ground, live a little, get around!"

Jeffery Hodges

* * *

At 7:08 AM, Blogger Ken Schenck said...

I started to give a more precise sense of what I think it means to cleanse the heavenly sanctuary, but it started to get too involved for a comment. I think I'll post it as an entry on my blog tomorrow and post the link here.

If I remember correctly, I say something like the cleansing of the conscience comes the closest to expressing it. I don't think it's a completely adequate expression of what it is for the author, though.

Thanks for the conversation...

At 7:18 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Thanks, Prof. Schenck for the promised "Geschenk." I'm not beyond convincing on this point, so I look forward to the explanation.

Jeffery Hodges

* * *


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