Sunday, February 08, 2015

Priscilla, Chicks and Anonymity

An interesting discussion this morning in Church prompts me to do further work on my idea that Hebrews was written by a woman, probably Priscilla.  Although I developed this idea independently I was not the first, but the atrocious Von Harnack - which may explain why it is almost unknown even in highly educated biblical circles and even by people doing PhDs in feminist theology!

I don’t of course claim that the attribution to Priscilla is certain - Origen is clearly right to say “But as to who wrote the epistle, only God knows the truth”. But what I think we can say is that Hebrews was written by:
  1. A very wise and learned early Christian teacher
  2. Who was very close to Paul but not Paul himself
  3. Who had strong connections with the Jewish community in Rome
  4. Who was confident to reason from the scriptures but never appeals to personal authority
  5. Who for some reason the Church found it wise not to attribute authorship to widely - despite the fact that it must have been known to the first recipients.
Of the people we know about only Priscilla and Aqullia fit (1-4) Luther suggested Apollos but he was from Alexandria not Rome. Tertullian suggested Barnabas but he was from Cyprus. Others have suggested Timothy but he was from Lystra. Only Priscilla fits (5). It has been suggested that Apollos, Barnabas or Timothy might have had their names suppressed because they were not apostles, but nor were Mark and Luke. Furthermore there is a very early extra-canonical Epistle of Barnabas so there was certainly no reluctance to attribute works to such figures.

We get some idea of how highly Priscilla was regarded by Luke from the fact that whenever he mentions "Priscilla and Aquilla" it in that order, as does Paul when he is sending greetings to them - interestingly when he is sending greetings from them he uses the conventional order of Aquilla and Priscilla (c/f “Andronicus and Junia” in Romans 16) and several scribes "corrected" the order on the occasions when Luke refers to them. Of course when Luke refers to Paul meeting them he says Paul first met Aquilla and then Priscilla but that is chronological.

There is also the very interesting detail that Luke refers to Priscilla and Aquilla taking Apollos aside and expounding the ways of God more accurately he uses the word ἐξέθεντο (exethento) which comes from ἐκτίθημι (extithEmi) which means expose of explain/expound. This occurs only 4 times in the NT and always in Acts:
  • (7:21) when it refers to Moses being exposed
  • (11:4) when Peter is explaining
  • (18:26) when Priscilla and Aquilla are instructing Apollos
  • (28:23) when Paul is expounding the scriptures to the Jews in Rome.
On a completely different note there are two fascinating papers in Science:
From Brugger 2015 commenting on Rugani et al
  •  In "Number-space mapping in the newborn chick resembles humans’ mental number line" (Science 30 January 2015: 534-536)  Rosa Rugani and her colleagues show that 3-day old chicks (!) trained to find food behind a panel representing an abstract number (dots differed in color and shape but were matched for area and circumference) expect food behind the left of two panels representing a smaller number, but behind the right for a larger number (!!).
  • In "Unique in the shopping mall: On the reidentifiability of credit card metadata"  (Science 30 January 2015: 536-539) Sandy Pentland and some of his colleagues show that "anonymised" information about credit card use uniquely identifies a user with about 4 transactions. This is in a special section gloomily entitled "The end of privacy". 

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