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The Date of the Epistle to the Hebrews

The Date of the Epistle to the Hebrews

  • The explicit external attestation of the Epistle to the Hebrews was covered here.
  • While it does not contain any explicit citations, there may be strong evidence of literary dependence in the allusions to Hebrews in 1 Clement (e.g. 1 Clem 36:2-5/Heb 1:3-13 and the discussion in Andrew F. Gregory, “1 Clement and the Writings that later formed the New Testament” in The Reception of the New Testament in the Apostolic Fathers, pp. 152-53). 1 Clement has traditionally been attributed to the bishop Clement of Rome around 96 CE, but various scholars have proposed conflicting dates ranging from the mid-60s to 140 CE.
  • The author and recipients seem to be second-generation Christ followers: they were dependent on the first hearers (apostles?) of Jesus (2:3), instructed to admire their leaders (13:7), suffered persecution and imprisonment for their early enthusiasm for the Christ movement (10:32-34), and were familiar with Paul’s (former) assistant Timothy (13:23). Indeed, the author is frustrated that his audience has not yet moved beyond preliminary instructions in the faith (5:12-14).
  • The sacrificial cult is described in the present tense (5:1-4; 7:20, 23, 27-28; 8:3-5, 13; 9:6-8, 13, 25; 10:1-3, 8, 11; 13:10-11) and does not capitalize on the destruction of the temple in 70 CE as proving the point that the sacrificial system has been rendered obsolete. On the other hand, the author’s knowledge of the sacrifices carried out by the Levitical priests at the tabernacle may be entirely based on Scripture, other Jewish and Christian writers refer to the temple cult in the present tense after 70 CE, and the author may presuppose the absence of the temple in the reflections on how Jesus is the high priest now mediating access to God.
  • The readers had undergone some local forms of ostracism, persecution, and imprisonment (10:32-34), but they apparently had not suffered to the point of martyrdom (12:4). It may be difficult to correlate their suffering with the persecution of the Hebrews and the Hellenists in Jerusalem (Acts 7:1-8:1; 9:1-2; 12:1-2), the expulsion of some Jews (and Jewish Christians) from Rome under the emperor Claudius (Acts 18:2; Seutonius, Claudius 25), Nero’s scapegoating and execution of Christians for the fire in Rome (1 Clement 5:4-6:2; Tacitus, Annals 15.44.4), or other isolated acts of political suppression (cf. the correspondence of Pliny the Younger and Trajan around 112 CE).
  • There are stylistic or theological parallels with 1 Peter (ca. 70 – 110 CE), Luke-Acts (ca. 65 – 130 CE), and the Epistle of Barnabas (ca. 64 – 135 CE). There may be knowledge of oral or written Jesus traditions including his emotional prayers or petitions to God (5:7), his death outside the city gate (13:12), and the way provided through the temple curtain (6:19-20; 10:19-20).
  • There is a developed Christology in Hebrews 1:2-3 (but see 1 Corinthians 8:6; Philippians 2:6-11; Colossians 1:15-18).
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