Academic journal article Journal of Biblical Literature

A Celebration of the Enthroned Son: The Catena of Hebrews 1

Academic journal article Journal of Biblical Literature

A Celebration of the Enthroned Son: The Catena of Hebrews 1

Article excerpt

(ProQuest Information and Learning: Foreign text omitted)

I. Introduction

The Epistle to the Hebrews is well known for its pervasive contrasts and antitheses. Most of these fit neatly into the author's systematic contrast of the "old" covenant with the new one mediated through Christ. Chapters 9 and 10, for example, contrast the earthly tabernacle and its sacrifices with the decisive 11 sacrifice" of Christ. Chapters 5 and 7 demonstrate the superiority of Christ's priesthood to that of levitical priests, while ch. 3 shows that Christ is greater than Moses, the giver of the law.1 Even in 2:1-4 a qal wahomer argument functions on the basis of a contrast between Christ as the voice of God's most recent revelation and the angels as speakers of a previous "word" (see 1:2).2 This angelic word is of course the law, a fact that demonstrates that the author can also situate angels within his thematic contrast of the two covenants.3

Nevertheless, many scholars do not relate the contrast between Christ and the angels in ch. 1 to this broader contrast of the epistle.4 Loren Stuckenbruck, for example, has noted that there is a certain "logical distance" between the argument of ch. 1, which contrasts Christ with the angels, and the parenesis of 2:1-4, which contrasts the revelations delivered through Christ and the angels.5 Chapter 2 does allude twice to the catena of the preceding chapter (2:5, 16), but these allusions have often seemed superficial at best.6 Beyond ch. 2, angels play no explicit role in the author's contrast of the two covenants.7

Finally, many scholars would argue that the temporal perspective of the catena does not correspond to the author's contrast of the two covenants. The contrast between the two covenants focuses on the transition brought about by the death of Christ and his entrance into the heavenly tabernacle. Hebrews 1:5-14, on the other hand, is often thought to contrast not only the exalted Christ with the angels (1:13)-the temporal perspective of the two-covenant contrast-but also the preexistent (1:10) and earthly Christ (1:6). If this is the case, the timing of the catena does not correspond to that of the subsequent argument regarding the two covenants.

Given the apparent detachment of Heb 1:5-14 from the remainder of the epistle, a number of hypotheses have arisen to account for its presence in ch. 1. Several scholars, for example, have argued that the catena is a traditional testimonium that has been edited and inserted into the epistle.8 Some explain it on the basis of angel worship among the recipients or an angel Christology.9 Perhaps the recipients believe angels to provide atonement in a heavenly tabernacle along the lines of 4QShirShabb(a) 11, 8, 10, 16; T. Levi 3:5; and Philo, Spec. 1.66. All of these proposals would provide a rationale for the catena's existence, but they are suggestions at best. Hebrews makes no explicit arguments along such lines.10

It was G. B. Caird, however, who first suggested that the argument of ch. 1 is best understood when it is read in light of the author's use of Ps 8 in ch. 2.11 Although Christ was made lower than the angels "for a little while," he is now crowned with glory and honor at the right hand of God (2:7, 9). The contrast between Christ and the angels in ch. 1, therefore, should be read in terms of Christ's exaltation, he now having become greater than the angels (1:4).

Lincoln Hurst has attempted to flesh out Caird's suggestion by interpreting each of the OT citations in ch. I from an eschatological perspective.12 Reading each quotation in the light of Christ's exaltation, Hurst attempted to substantiate Caird's basic thesis. Both of these studies are moving in the right direction, although neither exhausts the full significance of the contrast.13 Further, while both correctly read the catena from an eschatological perspective, they do not fully address the rhetorical significance of the passage for the author's overall argument. …

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