Reviews of

Son, Sacrifice, and Great Shepherd

In David M. Moffitt, Eric F. MASON, Hebrews, Madison N. Pierce, Mohr Siebeck, New Testament on February 5, 2021 at 3:00 pm

2021.2.5 | David M. Moffitt and Eric F. Mason, eds. Son, Sacrifice, and Great Shepherd: Studies on the Epistle to the Hebrews.WUNT II 510. Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2020. ISBN 978-3-16-159190-7.

Review by Madison N. Pierce, Trinity Evangelical Divinity School.

Reviews of edited collections are often marred by the cliché that “the quality of the essays varies.” This is of course a truism, but usually, it is a subtle way for a reviewer to signal that some essays are rather poor—detracting from an otherwise reasonably good collection. Son, Sacrifice, and Great Shepherd is an excellent collection with only very good and great essays. Moffitt and Mason have assembled an impressive team of contributors—chosen from among presenters at the International Meeting for SBL from 2011–2013—and each has made a useful contribution to the study of Hebrews.

As noted in the brief, though useful, introduction, the essays in this collection address three different sections of Hebrews. These sections each contribute one of the designations listed in the title of the volume. The author presents Jesus as “Son” in Hebrews 1–2, “Sacrifice” in Hebrews 8–10, and “Great Shepherd” in Hebrews 13. The first four essays address themes in Hebrews 1–2. Amy L. B. Peeler begins the section with an essay that compares the angels with Jesus in light of the fact that they are both among the “sons of God.” Her work challenges the common presentation among Hebrews scholars that one of the contrasts between the Son and the angels is his relationship to the Father. This offers a helpful complement to the next essay by David M. Moffitt. In his essay, Moffitt shows how the author of Hebrews contrasts the angels and Jesus in order to show his similarity with his human brothers and sisters—the others presented as “sons [and daughters] of God” in Hebrews—since he is one who “shares blood and flesh” (Heb. 2:14). This argument builds upon his demonstration that the cosmology of Hebrews is not Platonic. In the third essay, Felix H. Cortez also draws upon the familial imagery, but rather than focusing on the Son’s paternity, he expands the author’s concept of “fraternity.” Cortez shows how Jesus is more than a brother to humans. He also serves as their representative—as promised in the covenant with David in 2 Samuel 7. The final essay in this section, contributed by Scott D. Mackie, shows how the author’s use of Scripture—especially in the quotations spoken by Jesus in Hebrews 2:12–13—portrays a “participatory vision” that invites the audience into the exaltation of Jesus (p. 77).

The next set of essays begins with a contribution by Grant Macaskill. Macaskill is one of only two contributors who has not produced a full-length study on Hebrews. (Dodson is the other.) Still, he offers something valuable for the study of Hebrews as well as the areas that he contributes to more consistently. Macaskill shows how Hebrews bends and perhaps even breaks the typical portrayals of “apocalypticism” within those areas (i.e., Pauline studies and studies on early Jewish literature). For those who stumbled upon this review without an interest in Hebrews, this is the essay that you must procure (though all the essays have a broader application to New Testament studies). 

The next two essays address common notions assumed regarding the relationship between the author of Hebrews and the Jewish cult. The first, an essay by Benjamin J. Ribbens on “Positive Functions of Levitical Sacrifices in Hebrews,” shows that the author of Hebrews simply cannot be critiquing the sacrificial system wholesale and instead builds upon various points of continuity—including the Levitical system’s offer of forgiveness—in order to highlight the difference in efficacy and extent for the sacrifice of Christ. Then, an essay by Nicholas J. Moore demonstrates how the repetition of the Levitical offerings is not the reason that the author presents them to be inferior, especially given the author’s allusions to the daily offerings as parallels to Christ’s sacrifice. Moore and Ribbens also contribute to the dismantling of a supposed (harmful) supersessionism within Hebrews and should be taken seriously. Though not addressing this quite so directly, the same might be said of the next essay by Georg Gäbel as well. Gäbel argues that the author’s presentation of the furniture in the tabernacle is not incidental. Drawing upon other early Jewish sources, he shows that the author of Hebrews follows a pattern of selecting items that serve his broader rhetorical purpose. As such, Gäbel shows how important even subtle nuances of the Levitical cult are to the argument of Hebrews. The final essay in this section on Hebrews 8–10 is on the phrase “through the eternal spirit” in Hebrews 9:14. In it, Eric F. Mason argues that this is a reference to the Holy Spirit. While this is the present consensus, Mason’s essay provides a thorough discussion of how the verse fits with the pneumatology of Hebrews, as well as a helpful discussion of the Spirit’s role in the sacrifice of Jesus.

 This brings us to the third part of this collection, which contains four essays exploring aspects of Hebrews 13. Each essay, to varying degrees, also reflects a general concern among scholars to demonstrate how this chapter—often described as an “epistolary ending”—fits with the rest of Hebrews. Though in previous eras of scholarship, many asserted that it was a later addition, the tide has turned, and anyone with lingering doubts must read these four essays. The first by David M. Allen addresses this matter most directly, offering a history of interpretation for the chapter that leads into a presentation of various connections between Hebrews 1–12 and Hebrews 13. Next, Susan Docherty zooms in a bit to show how the use of Scripture in Hebrews 13 parallels the use of Scripture elsewhere in Hebrews. Given the way the author’s argument builds upon quotations and allusions in the earlier chapters, this is an important contribution to the discussion and a compelling mark of coherence for the composition. The penultimate essay, “Hellenistic Ethics in Hebrews 13:1–6,” written by James W. Thompson, is less directly concerned with coherence. Like Dodson’s essay to follow, it presents an argument that seeks first to explain Hebrews 13 in light of Greco-Roman culture and then second to comment briefly on how this aligns with the earlier chapters of Hebrews. Many commentators note how abrupt the ethical exhortations are in Hebrews 13. After elaborate prose that develops some themes for several chapters, suddenly, and seemingly without warning, the author begins an “asyndetic” series of exhortations (p. 220). Many consider this form to be the influence of Paul, but as Thompson shows, the format seen in Hebrews extends well beyond the Apostle. The final essay in the collection is one by Joseph R. Dodson, and it flows well from Thompson’s. Building upon the valuable work of Clayton Croy on Hebrews 12, Dodson offers a comparison between the final chapter of Hebrews and the teachings of the Stoic philosopher Seneca, showing how the two authors often reflect similar values, though with subtle differences in their proposed application.

As I noted at the outset, this collection and the essays therein make a valuable contribution to the study of Hebrews. The essays do not rehearse the status quo, but often press common misconceptions within our subfield. The editors, in limiting the essays to three distinct sections of Hebrews, also offer a more unified collection than usual—though why these particular sections were selected is an unanswered question for me. Nevertheless, tremendous thanks are due to Moffitt and Mason, as well as the contributors, for this work.

Madison N. Pierce
Trinity Evangelical Divinity School
mpierce [at] tiu.edu

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