Dedicated to the writings of Saint Luke.

Saturday, January 03, 2009

Outside the camp

In my 1999 article, The Cross and Atonement from Luke to Hebrews, I suggested that the unknown author of the Epistle to the Hebrews wrote to Jewish communities who were “stranded from Judaism and they were uncomfortable associating with and engaging in religious services with Gentiles.” I identified this unknown author as Luke. Now ten years later, I return briefly to suggest that Luke wrote to the Jewish Christian communities in Jerusalem.

In Waiting on tables, Part 4, I asked, “Why would two groups not accepted by Judaism be unable to work together and share the resources of the kitchen ministry?” Prior identification of these two groups of Hebrews and Hellenists as Jews and Greek speaking Jews has not solved the puzzle.

The ministry of meals on wheels served two separate communities, neither of which were accepted by Judaism. The seeds of these advances had been planted earlier by the Lucan Jesus and the ministry of the seventy. Josephus provides an additional clue: The Samaritans called themselves Hebrews from the third century BCE [Ant. XI viii 6] but in the first century Jews did not call themselves Hebrews.

This same clue must mean that Luke wrote his Epistle to the Hebrews to Samaritans. There are some additional clues. Luke’s casual usage of the Greek word νηστεα is an indication that Luke and his audience consider the Fast as part of their religious experience because they observed it.[1] This is important in considering the next clue wherein the author of the Epistle to the Hebrews uses the verse, “Let us go forth to him outside the camp and bear the abuse he endured.”[2] The author includes himself in the message by his use of the words, “let us”, and includes himself as a member of the Jewish audience being addressed.

The Greek word παρεμβολ translated in Hebrews as “camp” occurs 10 times in 10 verses in the Greek New Testament, UBS 3rd edition: 6 times in Acts, 3 in Hebrews and once in Revelation. The “camp” is frequently seen by commentators to be Judaism and the summons to go understood as a call to leave Judaism and join the followers of Jesus. Four verses earlier, there is a warning “Do not be carried off by strange teachings” which is a reference to doctrines and practices.

The ministry of meals in Acts 6 served at least two groups not accepted by Judaism but unable to accept each other. The exclusivism that these groups developed with their doctrines and practices was criticized by the author of the Epistle even as he urged them to commit more fully to the followers of Jesus by accepting the abuses of persecution that membership entailed. The author is asking the audience to give up the comforts of their exclusivism and move away from temple Judaism with its corrupt priesthood and accept Jesus as the new High Priest.

These two groups were the Samaritans and the Jews who had adopted Greeks ways.

This is a work in progress.

Copyrighted 2008

[1] Daniel Stökl Ben Ezra has stated in The Impact of Yom Kippur on Early Christianity that “In the late Second Temple period, νηστεα had become the most common Greek name for Yom Kippur.” The author also notes that Yom Kippur appears in Lev. 23:27; 25:9 and Isa. 1:13-14 LXX as “day of atonement.”

[2] Hebrews 13:13.


Blogger Brian Small said...

I have never heard this theory before that the audience of the Book of Hebrews were Samaritans. I am curious; it seems like part of your argument rests on the title "To the Hebrews." You argue that only Samaritans called themselves Hebrews, but not Jews. But it is likely that the title is not original to the work. Isn't it a dubious argument to base your argument on the identification of the audience based on title as you do?

9:58 PM

Blogger LTD said...


It probably doesn't make a great deal of sense to argue for a particular audience on the basis of title alone. However, if Richard is right, that (only?) the Samaritans called themselves "Hebrews" up to this time, or that Jews did not call themselves "Hebrews," isn't it interesting that someone later would entitled the epislte, "To the Hebrews"?


9:09 PM


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