iSBL – Hebrews Paper

I am looking forward to heading to Vienna this weekend for next week’s International SBL. I will be presenting in the Hebrews section. I posted a summary of my paper already, “Hebrews 11 is a Midrash of 1 Macc. 2.” To save you the trouble of clicking the link, I will cite my own summary below. The article itself should be published later this fall.

Summary of the Argument

Mattathias and the ApostateMost commentators do note that 1 Macc 2, like Hebrews 11, has a list of biblical heroes and presents them in chronological order. They then dismiss 1 Maccabees as not being similar enough to have been a literary influence on Hebrews. That may be so, but I contend that theologicaly there is a rather direct influence. The passages function in much the same way (so in that sense we might say there is a literary influence) as it encourages the audience to remain faithful in times of persecution, but the vital difference is their choice of emphasis. The author of 1 Maccabees emphasizes the “deeds of our ancestors” whereas Hebrews, of course, extols faith as the key to survival and salvation.

There is, of course, a long and deep history of debate surrounding faith and the law in the New Testament and I will not enter into that debate now. Yet the contrasting approaches of Heb. 11 and 1 Macc 2:49ff. must be acknowledged, particularly because they share such similarities. An audience who knew 1 Maccabees would hear the words of Hebrews as building upon that earlier argument and getting behind it. The author of Hebrews is arguing that what motivates one to do deeds in keeping the law is vitally important and, in turn, should alter one’s expectations of reward.

So that is it, in a nutshell. The author of Hebrews is, in a very real sense, offering a derash upon 1 Macc. 12. It is offering a reading of that earlier author’s contention that God’s people should considered the positive examples of those who went before and to emulate them. The difference is that the author of Hebrews asserts that just their deeds are not enough and, unlike Mattathias, his concern for his audience is not that they should have “honor and a great name,” but that they should be faithful in this life and so be saved before the throne of God. Obviously the meaning of Hebrews 11 stands on its own. Yet when considered against the backdrop of Mattathias’ speech it stands in sharp relief.

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