Saturday, February 15, 2014

Hebrews was almost certainly written by a woman, probably Priscilla

An Icon of Aqulla and Priscilla
(from here but I don't know the original source)
I'm increasingly convinced of the hypothesis that Hebrews was written by a woman, probably Priscilla*. I can see no other plausible explanation of why it - alone of all the books in the New Testament - is not attributed to anyone.

Elder Daughter asked the very pertinent question of whether there is any evidence of female authorship of other books in the 1st Century.  It turns out that there was someone called Pamphila of Epidaurus who was a 1st Century author of a 33-volume history of Greece as well as an Epitome of Ctesias in 3 books; a number of epitomes of histories and other books: On Disputes; On Sex; and many other works. She was apparently a very loyal and devoted wife and based her books on conversations she had with her husband and their many guests. Epidaurus is less than 55km from Corinth which was where Priscilla and Aquilla lived.  There was also an attested female poet of the 1st Century AD called Suplicia and two such poets of the 1st Century BC, one also called Suplicia and the other called Elephantis.

It is widely thought that Hebrews is written to Jewish Christians in Rome and we know that Aquilla and Priscilla were Jews from Rome who had been expelled and settled in Corinth. In Acts 18 Paul goes to Syria "accompanied by Priscilla and Aquilla" and that Apollos "began to speak boldly in the synagogue; but when Priscilla and Aquila heard him, they took him aside and explained the Way of God to him more accurately." Note that in both cases Luke mentions Priscilla/Prisca first and when Paul sends greetings to them as "fellow-workers" he also mentions her first (in 1 Cor and 2 Tim).

I'm delighted to see that there is a whole book on this called Priscilla's Letter: Finding the Author of the Epistle to the Hebrews  (an extract is here) and that the author, Ruth Hoppin, seems to be still around. I'd love to email her but don't have her email address. There is also a nice article by her here.

* I developed this hypothesis independently but it goes back to the atrocious Adolf von Harnack who proposed in it 1900. The fact that he was wrong about so many things may have been one factor which had caused this idea to be suppressed.

PS I've added more discussion of this here.

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