Situating the Letter to the Hebrews in Early Christian History

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The religious text at the center of this argument is an anonymous early Christian text that has come to be known as 'the Letter to the Hebrews'. For some New Testament scholars and historians of Early Christianity, Hebrews presents something of a riddle. As such, it provides a particularly useful case study of the contemporary methods used for situating ancient religious texts in their original setting.


“Isaak clarifies a basic methodological problem in the use of early Christian literature as evidence for the history of early Christianity. For what can the historian assume these texts to be evidence? ,What, if anything do they represent beyond the views of the author? Can these texts give the historian access to the beliefs and practices of early Christian communities? …. Scholars have long puzzled over why the peculiar views of the Letter to the Hebrews do not fit the ideology of any known community or group in early Christianity. Isaak rightly argues that if the expectation of ‘community fit’ for an early Christian text is unwarranted, or at best exceptional and bearing the burden of proof, then the perceived riddle of Hebrews dissolves. He makes his case by showing that there are no good reasons to place early Christian texts in a special category of writings that reflect the peculiar beliefs of a community.” – Frederik Wisse, McGill University

“… well researched, well argued and well written. It has been a particular delight to read because it takes seriously the history of exegesis, going back at least to John Chrysostom. It deals with an important subject in the study of early Christian literature, apart from its focus on the Epistle to the Hebrews. Al too often the scholarly world takes for granted that early Christian texts are little more than a reflection of the beliefs and practices of particular communities of believers. It takes courage to swim against the tide of scholarly consensus…. Deserves a deep discussion from the biblical community. This volume is well worth reading and shall leave a lasting impression on all who study it.” – Seán P. Kealy, Duquesne University

Table of Contents

Preface; Foreword
1. Surveying the History of Hebrews’ Genre Assessment
Canonization History
Pre-19th-Century NT Scholarship – Chrysostom, Luther, Calvin, Michaelis
Scholarly Views since the 19th Century: Spicq, Takin, Kasemann; Manson, Koester, Grasser, Hurst; Attridge; Moule, Lindars, Isaacs; Anderson, Jewett
2. Tracing the Development of Early Christian Literature’s Assumed Nonliterary Nature – Baur, Overbeck, Dibelius, Bultmann, Bauer, Loester, Kelber, Robbins
3. Testing the Expected Community-Fit of Early Christian Literature – The Overbeckian Legacy – Anachronism, Romanticism, Determinism, Negative Literary Bias
4. Using Early Patristic Literature to Reset Expectations – Irenaeus of Lyons, Clement of Alexandria, Tertullian of Carthage;
Contemporary Scholarly Expectations of Patristic Texts – Buell, van den Hoek, Barnes, Wisse, Burrows, Roberts
Conclusion: Default Expectations for Early Christian Literature
Works Cited; Index

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