Reviews of

Hebrews’ Cosmogonic Presuppositions

In Benjamin Rojas Yauri, cosmology, Hebrews, Jewish Backgrounds, Judson D. Greene, Wipf and Stock on January 23, 2023 at 6:03 pm
cover of book being reviewed

2023.01.02 | Benjamin Rojas Yauri. Hebrews’ Cosmogonic Presuppositions: Its First-Century Philosophical Context. Eugene, OR: Wipf & Stock, 2022.

Review by Judson D. Greene, Cambridge University.

In this revised version of his PhD dissertation at Stellenbosch University under the supervision of Jeremy Punt, Benjamin Rojas Yauri endeavors to answer the question, “What are the relationships between Hebrews’ cosmogonic presuppositions and its first-century philosophical context?” (7). “Cosmogonic” means related to the origin of the universe (p. 1, n. 4) and a “presupposition” is “a thought tacitly assumed beforehand at the beginning of a line of argument,” which he states means the same thing as “beliefs” (p. 234, n. 2). In answer to his question, Rojas Yauri advances the thesis, “there is no relationship of dependence in presuppositions but only in the usage of some general vocabulary” (p. 266).

To make this case, after Chapter 1’s introduction, Chapter 2 discusses Hebrews’ genre, authorship, audience, background, date, provenance, and destination to see what bearing these may have on the book’s cosmogony. Chapter 3 turns for comparanda to other first-century cosmogonic presuppositions, concluding with a chart grouping Jewish and Greco-Roman schools of thought with their theories and presuppositions as well as a list of verbs, nouns, and adjectives that are the “[m]ain cosmogonic vocabulary present in the first-century” (p. 72).[1] Chapter 4 identifies “the specific literary component of Hebrews’ cosmogony” (p. 73)—what parts of Hebrews are relevant to cosmogony. To accomplish this task, Rojas Yauri proposes a four-step methodology: Identification, Exclusion, Simplification, and Organization. Identification finds texts in Hebrews that share vocabulary with the list on p. 72 and then reads Hebrews “in seven different versions in English and four versions in Spanish, along with the NA28,” looking for relevant passages (p. 79). Exclusion deletes verses that don’t relate to Hebrews’ cosmogony and then deletes unnecessary words from the remaining clauses. Once twelve “key-sections” (1:1–4, 10–12; 2:10; 3:3–4; 4:3–5, 10; 8:1–2; 9:6–12, 24–26; 11:3, 9–10; 12:25–27) have been identified and trimmed down, Simplification presents the Greek text without redacted material aside a translation. For example, Heb 4:3–5 becomes, “Although his works were finished from the foundation of the world, God rested on the seventh day from all his works” (p. 92). Organization sorts the 174 words of the 12 key-sections into 9 morphological categories (chart on p. 95). The chapter then investigates how the 12 key-sections fit into Hebrews’ structure, their genre and figures of speech, what texts they depend on, and their textual criticism. Chapter 5 performs a syntactical and grammatical analysis of each key-section, including a translation, sentence diagram (of the entire sentence, not Chapter 4’s redacted version), and discussion of each of the 174 words (including function, sense, etymology, verbal aspect, Aktionsart, and statistics of occurrences in LXX, Philo, and NT). Chapter 6, “Cosmogonic Presuppositions in Hebrews,” exegetes Hebrews for its beliefs on features of the creator, the creative act, and creation itself, as well as a discussion of the fate of creation. He labels the “four main presuppositions” for Hebrews’ cosmogony as (1) “Delegation of functions,” (2) “Development of a logical process,” (3) “Powerful personal intervention,” and (4) “Utterance of goodwill” (p. 232). He also argues that while creation lacks inherent eternity, it will endure forever by God’s will, and that “Hebrews presupposes that there are not different statuses among God’s creation—angels, humans, Earth, or heavenly cities—only different functions, conditions, and beginnings” (p. 233). Chapter 7 compares Hebrews’ cosmogonic presuppositions to the beliefs of other first-century cosmogonies, concluding that, “on the basis of adjective-, noun- and verb-usage in Hebrews and in first-century literature about cosmogony, it can be affirmed that Hebrews proposes, to a great degree, a different cosmogony to those present in first-century CE” (p. 244). Indeed, “Hebrews holds a new cosmogonic perspective in its time, built on coherent presuppositions mostly developed in its reading of Jewish literature, among which the Old Testament and particularly Genesis 1–3 takes a predominant place” (p. 260). Chapter 8 summarizes the findings and offers further research questions, followed by a bibliography and source index.

While I am sympathetic to seeing Hebrews’ cosmogonic thought relying significantly on Jewish sources and the LXX, Rojas Yauri’s work generally is unconvincing and faces significant problems. First, the methodology is often unnecessary or ineffectual. Chapter 2 explores introductory issues for 18 pages only to conclude that arguments should be built on Hebrews’ text instead of prolegomena (p. 34, cf. p. 264), calling the existence of the chapter into question. Chapter 4 spends over 20 pages identifying the text to be analyzed, which could have been demonstrated along with the arguments of Chapter 6 on the basis of exegetical yield. And it seems pointless to create and translate trimmed-down sentences that do not actually appear in Hebrews. Most of the grammatical analysis in Chapter 5, the longest chapter (pp. 115–82), does not further the book’s cause. And despite the lengthy analysis, key questions for the topic such as what μή modifies in 11:3 are hardly discussed (see p. 167, p. 171, he only notes other options in p. 209, n. 77).

Second, Rojas Yauri’s arguments based on vocabulary statistics are unlikely to persuade many and are applied inconsistently. For example, he argues that Hebrews particularly depends on Genesis 1–3 in part because “Hebrews has 1031 Greek lemmas and 139 of them can be found in Genesis 1–3” (p. 105). If consistent with this method, he should give a more privileged place to Philo since the raw statistics seem to point to a connection between Hebrews and Philo.[2] This he does not do, going so far as to argue, “Since Hebrews, in almost all its cosmogonic presuppositions, is contrary to Philo, and since Philo has no literal reading of Genesis 1–2, it is possible that Hebrews interprets these chapters literally” (p. 255, n. 73).

Third, many of Rojas Yauri’s exegetical conclusions will leave scholars unconvinced. Often arguments move from grammatical accidence to significant interpretations: The gnomic Aktionsart of εἰσῆλθεν (4:10) “implies the creator’s motion in temporal freedom” (p. 197); because of the imperfective aspect of κατασκευάζω, γίνομαι, φέρω, σαλεύω, and σείω, “Hebrews states that it is possible for every human being to experience or to see the Creator building, giving birth to new existences, upholding his creation, and shaking and stirring it” (p. 202); “due to the morphological accidences [of 11:3’s verbs], the universe came into existence before it was created” (p. 210), but this “apparent contradiction could be indicating—and therefore allows the assertion—that both actions happened in the same moment . . . . Therefore, it seems that Hebrews affirms that there was not a time when the creation was without order” (p. 211). Rojas Yauri also appeals to the meaning of Hebrew words to interpret the Greek text (e.g., pp. 129, n. 42, 132, 162), and argues that because θεός in 1:1 is articular the author must have

already spoken to his/her audience about this ὁ θεός—or s/he is referring to the plural Hebrew well-known noun, אֱלֹהִים of the Old Testament. The latter is almost certain, thus in Hebrews and especially in its cosmogony, the singular ὁ θεός really carries on the plural sense of אֱלֹהִים (p. 122). 

Thus in 11:3, μὴ … φαινομένων refers to God, and “this plural fits perfectly with ὁ θεός” (p. 209, n. 77). The book also contains factual errors, such as listing 2 Baruch and 2 Enoch as in the LXX (p. 236, n. 9). 

Ultimately, his main conclusion that Hebrews has no relationship of dependence with its philosophical context is underdetermined. Other philosophical works articulate presuppositions similar to those Rojas Yauri argues are present in Hebrews (e.g., Plato’s Timaeus, on a literal reading, agrees with three of the “four main presuppositions” on the method of creation, p. 232). Arguing that Hebrews’ cosmogonic presuppositions can be derived from the LXX (and not all he identifies can be) does not completely rule out other influences, as Rojas Yauri seems to assume.

In addition, in the course of reviewing, I discovered significant plagiarism. Over 300 words were quoted without quotation marks (Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy; Expositor’s Greek Testament; David L. Allen’s commentary on Hebrews), some with their sources not cited (Wikipedia; Sefaria.org; an online Jewish Encyclopedia). One instance was 77 words from the online dictionary sensagent.com summarizing the significance of Hillel the Elder quoted without modification and no citation (p. 57, n. 116). At times the opposite problem occurs, such as a quotation of George Guthrie that is in quotation marks but modified slightly, and here the entire quote is actually Guthrie’s quotation of William Lane (p. 227, n. 122). Wipf & Stock was made aware of the plagiarism (September 2022). In lieu of a public announcement, Wipf & Stock said they would contact purchasers of the book individually and publish a version that Rojas Yauri had corrected. However, the librarian who purchased the book at the library where I research was never notified of any recall (confirmed January 2023). The original version, plagiarism included, is sitting on my desk months after Wipf & Stock has been notified. A new version with improved citation is now available from Wipf & Stock, though 56, n. 111 includes a quotation of 14 words exactly matching a description of Sefer Yetzirah on Sefaria.org with no quotation marks or that source (though this quote appears on several online encyclopedias).[3] Stellenbosch University also needs to consider how they will handle this situation. (The unpublished dissertation version also contains plagiarism.) 

Rojas Yauri’s contribution to the important question of Hebrews’ views on creation and its philosophical influences is unlikely to satisfy many, and so the search goes on.

Judson D. Greene
Cambridge University

jdg54 [at] cam.ac.uk


[1] How this vocabulary list was assembled is explained on 236, n. 9.

[2] See Kåre Fuglseth, “Common Words in the New Testament and Philo: Some Results from a Complete Vocabulary Comparison,” in Neotestamentica et Philonica: Studies in Honor of Peder Borgen, NovTSupp 106 (Leiden: Brill, 2003), 393–414.

[3] The new version makes no mention of any previous version. If you are unsure which copy of the book you have, p. 57, n. 116 cites The Eerdmans Bible Dictionary in the corrected version.

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