October 26, 2010

Did Priscilla write Hebrews?

That could explain a lot more than just the anonymity. Priscilla was a Hellenized (Italian*) woman with a Jewish husband, Aquila. She'd lived in Rome, Corinth and Ephesus. She'd become soaked in Paul's thought in all three of those cities, and probably became acquainted with Johannine thought before Nero exiled the writer to Patmos. She'd either lived through the horrors of Nero's persecution or lived to hear about friends dying in horrible ways.

Luke says Priscilla knew how to lay out the way of God - not 'teach', not 'proclaim', but to expound. Luke says 'laid out', like the baby moses was laid out. It's the same word Luke uses when Peter recounts his experience at Caesarea, and when Paul expounded his way through the scriptures with Rome's Jews.  That kind of instructive exposition fits the style of the Hebrews writer, who laid out her/his arguments more like relating a saga than imitating a sage.

And who among early Christian leaders, more than Priscilla, had known the wandering life of an exile?  When the Emperor Claudius kicked her husband out of Rome, they moved to Corinth.  P&A left Corinth to help prepare Ephesus for Paul, they left Ephesus for Rome after Claudius died, and they left Rome for Ephesus again some time before Paul's execution - most likely soon after Nero's persecutions began.  That's a lot of personal transition for the ancient world, and it must have brought some personal sensitivity towards the themes found in Hebrews.

I now+ see this suggestion - that Priscilla wrote Hebrews - has been made before, and I'm not surprised.  By whom, and for what reasons, I've not yet ascertained.  Intriguing, though.  Don't you think?

*Most Greeks were never Romanized, but all Italians had become somewhat hellenized after the 2nd century BC.
+Post originally written for 9/17/10


Charles Savelle said...


I Believe A. Harnack was the first to suggest Priscilla. The most extensive defense of this view I believe is Ruth Hoppin's book which I think has been revised since I looked at it.

AS for me, I think that the view is unlikely if for no other reason that a masculine participle is used in 11:32.

Greg said...

By this logic, wouldn't Aquila be just as likely to have been the author as Priscilla? Luther suggested Apollos. Luke tells us he was mighty in the Scriptures which, at that time, would have been the OT. Clearly, the writer of Hebrews fits this description. P&A taught him more accurately so if he is the writer, they would have still had their hands in it, so to speak. All speculation, of course, but kind of fun to think about.

Josh L said...

It is interesting. Too bad there's just no way (at present) to be sure.

Bill Heroman said...

Thanks, Charles. Maybe someone who googles this page will follow up on those references (before I get a chance to). For the record, I think I was in L.D.Hurst's chapter about Stephen & Hebrews when this occurred to me.

Greg, the idea in my head was that a (selfless) female writer would have extra reason for remaining anonymous (in those days).

I don't give Apollos enough credit to have written so well, and I think Hebrews as a whole has more sympathy for Judaism and its traditions than I'd suspect of Apollos (since he caused so much trouble in Corinth).

Josh - "I know, right!"

Brian Small said...

I agree with Charles. It is unlikely that a woman wrote Hebrews.

Greg is also right that Aquila would by the same logic be a viable candidate and perhaps a more viable candidate than Priscilla, though she could have been a "co-author".

I think Apollos is still a viable candidate. I don't think there is enough evidence to suggest that Apollos was the direct cause of the problems in Corinth.

Although the author is anonymous to us, it appears that the author is known to the recipients of the letter. The author hopes to be restored to them soon (13:19). So, it doesn't make sense to me that the author is intentionally disguising his (or her) identity.

Bill Heroman said...

Tough points, Brian. Intriguing thoughts all around, though. If "co-author" is more plausible than sole author, that could fit just as well for me. Not that I'm worried about this one.

On Apollos, oh yes he caused trouble, although in NO way was he "the" cause of [all] "the problems". For instance, Peter helped a lot also.

Not to start down a rabbit trail on this post. ;-)

Stephen C. Carlson said...

Charles sums up my objections to Priscilla quite concisely.

Personally, I favor Apollos as the author, and I may have a go at it in a couple of years.

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