The epistle to the hebrews

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The earliest direct notice of the Epistle, quoted by Eusebius (H. E. 6.14) from Clement of Alexandria, states that it ‘was written (by Paul) to Hebrews in the Hebrew language (i.e. the Aramaic dialect current in Palestine at the time, Acts 22:2) and translated (into Greek) by Luke.’ (See § XI.) This statement was repeated from Eusebius (and Jerome who depended on him), as it appears, and not from Clement himself, by a series of later writers both in the East and West (Theodoret, Euthalius, John of Damascus, OEcumenius, Theophylact, Primasius, Rabanus Maurus, Thomas Aquinas: see Bleek, 8 f.; Credner, Einl. 533), but there is not the least trace of any independent evidence in favour of the tradition, nor is it said that any one had ever seen

the original Hebrew document. The unsupported statement of Clement, which Origen discredits by his silence, is thus the whole historical foundation for the belief that the Epistle was written in Hebrew. The opinion however was incorporated in the Glossa Ordinaria, and became the traditional opinion of the mediaeval Western Church. When Widmanstadt first published the Syriac text of the New Testament, he even argued that the text of the Epistle to the Hebrews was the original of St Paul. The belief in a Hebrew original was maintained by one or two scholars in the last century (J. Hallet, J. D. Michaelis); and lately it has found a vigorous advocate in J. H. R. Biesenthal (Das Trostschreiben d. Ap. Paulus an d. , 1878; comp. Panek, Comm. in Ep. Prolegg. § 2; 1882), who thinks that the Epistle was written in ‘the dialect of the Mishna, the language of the schools’ in the apostolic age, into which he has again rendered the Greek.

The words of Widmanstadt are: Ex quibus omnibus coniecturam non  capi posse arbitror, et   , et  ad Hebraeos Epistolam sermone Syro, Hebraici populi vulgari usu trito, ut a Iudeis passim omnibus intelligerentur, scripsisse, eaq; in Syrorum Ecclesiis iam usq; a temporibus Apostolorum  fuisse (Nov. Test. Syr. Praef. a xxxxxx. 3, 1555). There is a small commentary based on the Syriac, published not many years afterwards, in which it is argued that: in Syro Paulo multa sunt quae non tantum lucem adferunt obscurioribus sed etiam interpretum discussiones bellissime componunt, ex graecanicarum vocum ambiguitate prognatas (Enarratio Ep. ad Heb. B. Pauli Apost. a Syro sermone in Latinum conversae, ex M. Galeni Vestcappellii praelectionibus concinnata opera ac studio Fr. Andreae Crocquetii...Duaci, 1578).

The words of the Glossa Ordinaria are instructive as shewing how a statement grows precise by lapse of time: Hanc...epistolam ad Hebraeos conscriptam Hebraica lingua fertur apostolus misisse; cujus sensum et ordinem retinens Lucas evangelista post excessum beati apostoli Pauli Graeco sermone composuit (Migne, P. L. cxiv. p. 643).

Card. Caietan, writing in 1529, says that one of the two preliminary points which he must discuss is: ‘an haec epistola fuerit condita Hebraico sermone ut communiter supponitur.’ He decides without hesitation against the common opinion.
Not to dwell on the insufficiency of the statement of Clement, in the absence of all collateral external testimony, to justify the belief that the Epistle was written in Hebrew, internal evidence appears to establish absolutely beyond question that the Greek text is original and not a translation from any form of Aramaic. The vocabulary, the style, the rhetorical characteristics of the work all lead to the same conclusion. It is (for example) impossible to imagine any Aramaic phrase which could have suggested to a translator the opening clause of the Epistle, polumerw'" kai; polutrovpw"; and similar difficulties offer themselves throughout the book in the free and masterly use of compound words which have no Aramaic equivalents (e.g., metriopaqei'n Heb. 5:2; eujperivstato" 12:1). The structure of the periods is bold and complicated, and the arrangement of the words is often singularly expressive (e.g., 2:9). Paronomasias (e.g., 1:1; 2:10; 5:8; 7:23 f.; 9:28; 10:34, 38 f.) are at least more likely to have been due to the writer than to have been introduced or imitated by a translator. But on the other hand stress must not be laid on a (falsely) assumed change in the meaning of diaqhvkh in 9:15 ff., or the obviously fortuitous hexameter in the common text of 12:13.

A still more decisive proof that the Greek text is original lies in the fact that the quotations from the O. T. are all (except 10:30 || Deut. 32:35) taken from the LXX, even when the LXX differs from the Hebrew (e.g., Heb. 2:7 parj ajggevlou"; 10:38 kai; eja;n uJposteivlhtai; 12:5 f. mastigoi'). And arguments are based on peculiarities of the LXX, so that the quotations cannot have been first introduced in the translation from Aramaic to Greek (e.g., 10:5 ff. sw'ma kathrtivsw; 12:26 f. a{pax).

It may also be added that the passages in which difficulties in the Greek text are supposed to be removed by the hypothesis of a false rendering of the original offer no solid support to the theory. Scholars who allege them shew little agreement as to the difficulties or as to the solutions of them. Thus in the two lists given by Michaelis and Biesenthal, of eighteen and nineteen passages respectively, only four are identical (1:2; 6:19; 9:17; 10:1), and in these four the solutions are different.

The passages alleged by Michaelis (Bleek, i. p. 23 anm.) are 1:2; 2:1, 9; 3:3 f.; 5:13; 6:14, 19; 7:14; 9:2-4, 14-17; 10:1; 11:11, 35; 12:15, 18, 25; 13:9, 15. Those alleged by Biesenthal are: 1:2; 2:3; 3:13; 4:12, 13; 6:19; 7:4, 5, 15, 27; 8:2; 9:16 f.; 10:1, 11; 11:26, 27; 12:18.

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