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I consider the most significant contribution I have made to the understanding of Scripture to be the interpretation of Chapter 13 of the Epistle to the Hebrews (see entries §200 and §201: §200 is a brief version of §201, but is of particular value because the outline of Chapter 13 which it contains is much clearer than the outline in the second, longer presentation). The analysis of Chapter 13 is based on a preliminary outline arrived at by a study of surface criteria. In order to facilitate comments this outline is repeated here:
1) Vv. 1-5a: a series of admonitions concerning conduct.
2) Vv. 5b-6: two citations from Scripture.
3) Vv. 7-17: a series of statements framed by mention of the community’s
“leaders”; it stands at the heart of the chapter by reason
of its length and position.
4) Vv. 18-19: a personal appeal for prayer by the author of the epistle.
5) Vv. 20-21: a blessing
Since the section comprising vv. 7-17 seems to be central to what the
author of Hebrews has in mind, a detailed outline is appropriate:
v. 7: Remember your LEADERS, who spoke to you the word of God; in
reflecting on the outcome of their conduct imitate their faith. v. 8: Jesus Christ
yesterday and today the same, and forever.
v. 9: Do not be led astray by a variety of strange teachings; for it is good that the heart be sustained by grace, not by foods in which those who live by them are not helped.
v. 10: We have an altar from which those serving the tent have no right to eat.
v. 11: For while the blood of the animals is brought as a sin-offering into the Holy of Holies by the high priest, their bodies are burned OUTSIDE THE CAMP.
v. 12: For this reason Jesus also, so that he might sanctify the people through his own blood, suffered OUTSIDE THE GATE.
v. 13: For that very reason, then, let us go to him OUTSIDE THE CAMP, taking on his shame.
v. 14: For we have not here a city which remains but one which is to come.
v. 15: Through him, then, let us offer up a sacrifice of praise regularly to God, that is, fruit of lips which confess his name.
v. 16: The doing of good and fellowship do not forget. Now with such sacrifices as these is God pleased.
v. 17: Obey your LEADERS and be subject to them, for they are vigilant over your souls as ones having to give an account, that they may do this with joy and not sighing, for this would not be of any help to you.
In v. 15 the expression “sacrifice of praise” occurs, apparently with reference to the material being discussed in the chapter. On the strength of this occurrence the central section vv. 7-17 is interpreted according to the hdwt jbz] as understood by the German exegete Hartmuth Gese. According to this understanding there are three main aspects of this Jewish liturgical practice: 1) a bloody sacrifice in the temple; 2) the public ritual consumption of bread; 3) public prayers and hymns in accompaniment. The last two aspects are normally separated from the bloody sacrifice. My article understands vv. 7-17 as a presentation of a Christian adaptation of this Jewish liturgical practice. In this Christian adaptation, known as the Eucharist, the bloody sacrifice in the temple is replaced by the unique bloody sacrifice of Christ (v. 12). The ritual consumption of bread (vv. 9-10) and the accompanying prayers and hymn (vv. 15-16) are the ceremonies which are known as the visible Mass which, for those who believe, is always intrinsically inseparable from the sacrifice of Christ on the cross. Thus the Christian qusiva aijnevsew”) or “tôdâ” (a shortened transcription of the Hebrew expression “zebach tôdâ” [hdwt jbz]) stands at the concluding position in the Epistle to the Hebrews, suggesting that the author of Hebrews may have alluded to the Eucharist in the previous chapters. In the outline above, vv. 9-10 refer to the consumption of bread, v. 13 refers to the bloody sacrifice of Christ, and vv. 15-16 refer to the prayers accompanying the ritual consumption of bread, with v. 15 containing the actual mention of the word “sacrifice of praise”.
A further step analyzes the entire passage vv. 1-21 according to the outline of the Mass of the Latin Rite, with the justification for this move coming from the occurrence of “sacrificium laudis” (one of the translations for qusiva aijnevsew” in the Old Latin versions of the Bible) in the Remembrance of the Living in the Mass):
1) Vv. 1-5a: a series of admonitions concerning conduct: Acknowledgement of sins at the beginning of each Latin Rite Mass.
2) Vv. 5b-6: two citations from Scripture: The Scripture readings found in each Mass.
3) Vv. 7-17: a series of statements framed by mention of the community’s “leaders” (hJgouvmenoi); it stands at the heart of the chapter by reason of its length and position: The sacramental part found in each Mass.
4) Vv. 18-19: a personal appeal for prayer by the author of the epistle: An explicit mention of an intention for which a Latin Rite Mass can be offered.
5) Vv. 20-21: a blessing: The solemn ending of each Mass.
Appeal to the Latin Rite Mass would be somewhat far-fetched as part of a document, the Epistle to the Hebrews, dating probably from before 70A.D. (as many commentators now think), were it not for the explicit mention of the “sacrifice of praise” in v. 15. What the precise relation could be between some antecedent of the current Latin Rite Mass and the Epistle to the Hebrews is left explicitly unexplained in the articles mentioned.
The interpretation given above is not meant to be a detailed exegesis of the text of Chapter 13, but is designed to serve as a possible basis for such an exegesis. If the Eucharistic relevance of the tôdâ can be sustained, it would obviously have a significant effect on the traditional discussions about a possible Eucharistic relevance of such passages as vv. 9-10 and 15. Further, the “speaking of the word” by the leaders of the group takes on a radically different meaning when viewed in a Eucharistic context, with “Jesus Christ yesterday” referring to what the leaders “spoke” in v. 7, “Jesus Christ today” referring to what the
leaders “speak” in v. 17, and “Jesus Christ the same, forever” referring to the lasting “real presence” of Christ in the Eucharist. But a considerable amount of work needs to be done on tracing the “sacrifice of praise” in the liturgy and texts of Israel and in early Christian times. I have made a preliminary study (Bibliography, §188), but very much remains to be done to build adequately on the pioneering work of Jukka Thuren, Das Lobopfer der Hebräer. Studien zum Aufbau und Anliegen von Hebräerbrief 13 (Åbo 1975). Given the state of exegesis of Chapter 13 of Hebrews at present, the above analysis could well seem too daring, for it is radically different from current views. But the confusion in current views about Chapter 13 of Hebrews would seem to indicate that any solution, if such there be,
would have to be a radical solution. The above theory is certainly radical, for it introduces several entirely new considerations into the exegesis of the chapter (e.g., the hdwt jbz of the Hebrew Old Testament, the qusiva aijnevsew” of the Septuagint and of the New Testament, the sacrificium laudis of the Old Latin of Hebrews and of the canon of the Latin Rite Mass, the outline of the Latin Rite Mass). But it does yield a coherent meaning in a coherent structure, and, considering the puzzlement of contemporary exegesis in the face of Chapter 13, this is a warrant of self-justification worth considering.
(22 March 2009)
After viewing some reactions to the above suggestions, particularly reactions as regards the possible relevance of the Mass of the Latin Rite of the Roman Catholic Church, perhaps some clarifications are in order. In the presentation above I tried to be as brief as possible and not indulge in explanatory over-kill. But such explanatory over-kill is apparently in order. On the basis of a superficial reading of the text I divided Chapter 13, verses 1-21, into two brief preliminary sections (1- 5a and 5b-6), a longer central section (7-17), and two brief concluding sections (18-19 and 20-21). I thought that the symmetry of the resulting arrangement was a sort of self-commendation. Symmetry of itself is no guarantee of plausibility, but when symmetry is joined with something more substantive then it contributes a force of its own. In terms of the
Latin Rite Mass the central section is the most important because it is presents the bloody sacrifice of Christ, the central element of the Mass, together with the aspects of consumption of food and outward prayers which appropriately flank the presentation of Christ’s sacrifice. This importance is mirrored in the length of the central section. The other four sections, two introductory and two concluding, important as they are in their own right, are not of the same importance as the three elements of the central section, and this is reflected in their shorter length. For anyone familiar with the Latin Rite Mass, the initial call to penance and the readings from Scripture present easily identifiable elements which make plausible and obvious introductions to the Christian “sacrifice of praise” in the center. When it comes to the concluding elements, however, there are no two obvious choices. The final blessing is one obvious element, yes. But no other element is obviously on the same level as it and the other two. This was my problem when I tried to identify the four elements. I chose the element of the intention of the ritual sacrifice because as anyone familiar with the way the Latin Rite Mass is actually celebrated the intention of the celebrant and of the participants is considered to be of considerable importance. I identified it with the prayer for the living inside the Roman canon because that embodies an intention. But of course the author of Hebrews may have indicated by vv. 18-19 that the practice of an “intention” for each Mass was in use even before 70 A.D., and used it to supply the missing fourth element to balance the two introductory elements. True, according to either of these interpretations (reference to the remembrance of the living within the canon, or reference to the practice of having an intention for each Mass) the intention is not strictly speaking a part of the Mass following the central “sacramental” (to use contemporary language) section. There was no obvious choice, so the author picked an element which for him was of considerable importance in its own right to balance symmetrically the two elements which are before the sacramental section and thus to end the central section with two parts so as to balance symmetrically the two introductory elements. (Clearer than this I cannot be.)
(September 24 2009)