Review of Priscillas Letter
Finding the Author of the Epistle to the Hebrews, Ruth Hoppin
California 1997; ISBN 1-800-773-7782; Lost Coast Press, 155 Cypress Street, Fort Bragg, CA 95437, USA.
Review by John Wijngaards
This is an interesting book, indeed!
The author re-examines, at great depth, the suggestion originally voiced by the German scholar Adolph von Harnack in 1900, that the Letter to the Hebrews had been written by Pauls friend and companion, Priscilla.
From an internal analysis of the Letter and from confirming data of apostolic times, Hoppins comes to the conclusion that von Harnack must be right. It is impossible to summarise all her reasons here. The author of "Hebrews" was famous - i.e. known in the early church. Priscilla would fit the bill. The author had to be a companion to Timothy and belong to Paul's circle. Priscilla certainly did. Readers are addressed by someone with authority in many local churches, someone who has widely taught. So did Priscilla. Early Christian literature, no less than the Acts of the Apostles, give such an account of Priscilla. So she could easily have been the author.
The problem is, of course, that such argumentation is based on suppositions and presumptions, to a great extent. Moreover, one could easily adduce reasonings that favour a male author. The whole theme of the Letter revolves around the Jewish priesthood, which was extremely masculine in theory and practice. And if Priscilla was a Roman aristocrat, as Hoppin contends, why would she be so preoccupied with ancient Jewish customs and ideas, even if many of her Christian audience were of Jewish origin?
The truth of the matter is that, by lack of evidence, we can never be sure who the author was. However, this does not make Hoppins book a waste of time. For one thing, if the author of Hebrews was a woman, it would, indeed, explain why her identity was suppressed. There are interesting parallels in other New Testament texts. When Paul sent greetings to Nympha "and the church that meets at her house" (Col 4.15), commentators assumed he must mean Nymphas and his house. The Junia whom Paul calls "of note among the apostles" (Rom 16,7) was recognised to be a woman by the Fathers of the Church, such as John Chrysostom, Origen and Jerome, was assumed to be a man named Junias by later authors.
Hoppin's discussion of Priscilla's role in apostolic times gives food for thought. Paul knew Priscilla and Aquila from his time in Corinth. They had instructed Apollos (Acts 18,2.27 etc.) who was a theologian and speaker. Chrysostom rightly ascribes the main work to Priscilla: "She took charge of Apollos, an eloquent man, taught him the way of God and turned him into a perfect teacher." In Romans 16,3-4, Paul says: "Greet Prisca and Aquilla, my fellow workers in Christ Jesus, who risked their necks for my life, to whom not only I but also all the churches of the Gentiles give thanks; greet also the church in their house." Priscilla therefore unmistakably exercised a Christian ministry, and part of this ministry was teaching.
Although one may not be able to identify with all of Hoppin's conclusions, the book opens a whole new perspective on how we read and interpret the New Testament scriptures.
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