Mary Ann BEAVIS & HyeRan KIM-CRAGG. Hebrews: Wisdom Commentary, Volume 54, Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press (Michael Glazier Book), 2015. Pp 141, $31.766 pb. ISBN 978-0-8146-8204-3 - 978-0-8146-6 (ebook). Reviewed by James ZEITZ, Our Lady of the Lake University, San Antonio, Texas 48207.
This commentary on Hebrews is part of the new “Wisdom Commentaries” series on all 54 books of the Bible. In Mary Ann Beavis’ long introduction—then her critical comments—as part of the overall Wisdom Commentary attention to feminist and postcolonial interpretive issues, she gives traditional information about Hebrews: not a letter of Paul (despite the epistolary greetings at the end), but in fact a homily addressed “to the Hebrews.” The audience is perhaps Jewish Christians in danger of rejecting Christ, or a community of Jewish and Gentile Christians after the Roman siege of Jerusalem. From a feminist standpoint, the community was undergoing social alienation…struggling to establish boundaries. Hebrews literarily aligns with Alexandrian Hellenistic Judaism, especially the book of Wisdom and the works of Philo. Its major theme is especially faith (see definition of faith in 11:1 “Now faith is the assurance of things hope for…”). She divides faith into three subthemes beginning with p: pilgrimage, persistence, and perfecter of faith. The overall structure of the homily is a series of expositions and paraenesis. For the Hebrews homilist, the lengthy exhortations of the paraenesis applied the doctrines to everyday life. Among the important doctrines in Hebrews is its high Christology (influenced by Platonist thought of the day), but juxtaposed with Jesus as earthly and material like the priest Melchizedek and kings. The other important doctrine is the priestly language of sacrifice, atonement and liturgy. Citing Jeremy Punt on Yom Kippur, she defends the Jewish sacrificial system that seeks harmony with creation. The meaning of atonement is not Jesus’ sacrificial death, but the celebration of his living proclamation of the reign of God.
An important aspect of the Wisdom series and this commentary is the inclusion of “Diverse Voices.” This commentary will be a “Multiauthored, Multicultural, Multidisciplinary Approach.” Thus the coauthor of this Hebrews commentary is HyeRan Kim-Cragg, a Korean practical/pastoral theologian who teaches at St. Andrew’s College, Saskatoon, Canada. Another important perspective—especially for Hebrews—is the Jewish voice of Justin Jaron Lewis (University of Manitoba). Textboxes include his “Jewish Perspective” or commentaries on Jewish institutions such as priesthood and sacrifice.
Beavis’ main contribution in this commentary are, first, the clarification of themes important to contemporary feminists (viewing suffering as salvific and ‘necessary’, authority as power, hierarchy); secondly the role of liturgical theology for understanding Hebrews’ descriptions of priesthood and community; finally postcolonial theology’s re-assessment of the role of the bible.
The authors’ expositions of the text are supplemented by two “Translation Matters” boxes: for Hebrews 2:6-7 that extols “man” as caretaker of the earth (quoting Ps. 8) and Hebrews 11:11 on Abraham’s faith—by which he received the power of procreation (in relation to Sara’s faith that enabled her to have children. Other supplements are “Interpretive Essays” that provide a conversation between modern feminist, postcolonial, or ecological concerns and Hebrews’ moral or doctrinal aspects such as the role of blood, sacrifice and ritual…women and suffering (an insight from Korean Feminist theology). Also, in connection with the role of blood, the interpretive essay includes a long poem: The Blood of a Woman by coauthor HyeRan Kim-Cragg. Finally: the Wisdom “project” will eventually include online material (there are currently four commented books available in: wisdomcommentary.org)
Beavis subtitles her Authors’ Introduction: Searching for Sophia. Sophia is important in feminist biblical interpretation since the feminine Hebrew word, Hochmah, is feminine and Wisdom is personified in Wisdom literature. In addition, she shows, Hebrews has many affinities with the Book of Wisdom (cites ten resemblances from Silvia Scroer “Book of Sophia”). Because of the parallels with Wisdom, a feminist commentary on Hebrews is important (Beavis notes the few published feminist commentaries on Hebrews).A final interesting contribution is the clarification of Hebrews’ Supersessionism—not acceptable as a later development using texts from Hebrews. A first clarification is that the homilist’s intent in arguing for a new covenant mediated by an intercessor better than Moses and a “high priest” superior to the Jewish priesthood was in terms of worship. The homilist interprets the community’s experience of salvation history, not to argue the superiority of Christianity over Judaism (p.lxiv), but to emphasize a renewal of religious cult and worship: faith is not abstract but a reality. The central text, Hebrews 7, on Jesus “according to the order of Melchizedek” – a main focus of the whole letter – contrasts with Jewish worship (based on priestly hierarchy) which the homilist sees as resistant to change and openness.