A Book Review from Books At a Glance
By Abeneazer Urga
In this monograph, Mayjee Philip attempts to demonstrate that the author of Hebrews relies heavily on the Old Testament, specifically on the book of Leviticus, in the discussion of the tabernacle theme. The reason for the appropriation of Leviticus in the epistle is “to re-present the appropriation of the Levitical sacrificial system in light of the crucifixion, death and resurrection of Jesus” (2).
In her introductory chapter, Philip overviews previous scholarship on Hebrews in two major categories: methodological and theoretical approaches pertaining to the purpose and background of Hebrews, and the relationship between Judaism and Christianity (2–13). Her conclusion on the previous scholarship is, first, that there is no consensus regarding the purpose and background of Hebrews, and second, that scholars appear to acknowledge the fact that early Christianity should be understood in light of Judaism.
In order to find the relationship between Leviticus and Hebrews, Philip employs Gérard Genette’s transtextuality instead of the postmodern intertextuality approach as proposed by Julia Kristeva. The reason is that Genette’s approach respects the author’s intent and authority, whereas Kristeva’s approach relies on the reader to determine the meaning. Genette’s transtextuality is divided into five types, which Philip utilizes in her analysis of the tabernacle motif: intertextuality, paratextuality, metatextuality, architextuality and hypertextuality (18–20). Philip also employs transposition—the deliberate transformation of meaning from context A in context B—in examining Hebrews 5; 7–10 and Leviticus 1–7, 16 and 23.
Chapter two delineates the tabernacle in Leviticus. The tabernacle (the tent of meeting) is portrayed as God’s dwelling place. The people are consecrated to be God’s people. As God’s people they are to live in accordance with the standard set by God: “be holy, for I am holy.” Philip states that holiness is at the heart of Leviticus. Holiness, Philip notes, should be understood with three additional themes interspersed in Leviticus: covenant, sacrifice and priesthood. Doing so will shed light on “the meaning of Leviticus” (24).
Holiness, though a transcendental concept, is “tangible and real” in Leviticus. As such, Philip understands holiness “as a theological concept” (25). Covenant, sacrifice and priesthood express the notion of holiness. The concept of covenant in Leviticus reveals that the book is part of the Sinai Covenant, which resembles the suzerain-vassal covenant. Philip, however, postulates that the Sinai covenant is not strictly congruent with the ANE suzerain-vassal treaty. The purpose of this Sinaic covenantal relationship is to “[transform] Israel into a holy nation and sacred people” by directing the people how to live on a day-to-day basis (30).
Sacrifice and offerings exist because the tabernacle exists and they also presuppose the presence of covenantal relationships. Leviticus reveals there are five kinds of sacrifices/offerings: the burnt offering, the cereal/grain offering, the well-being/fellowship offering, the sin/purification offering and the guilt offering. All these sacrifices/offerings are to be carried out at the tabernacle.
Chapter three presents the motif of the tabernacle in Hebrews. Philip argues that the intention of the author of the epistle is to explicate “the relation between the OT and Jesus to individuals” (47). She identifies priesthood covenant and sacrifice as the center of the epistle’s message as in Leviticus. When comparing the motif of the tabernacle in Leviticus and Hebrews, Philip observes the author of Hebrews does not say much about it but instead highlights Jesus’ sacrifice since the levitical tabernacle mirrors the heavenly one. There exists similarity between Leviticus and Hebrews; however, they lack a strict correspondence which indicates that Leviticus provides the framework for Hebrews, yet the author of Hebrews contextualizes and transcends the motifs provided by Leviticus.
Chapter four deals with transtextuality between Hebrews and the Old Testament. The relationship between Hebrews and the OT is established “through allusions and quotations, commentaries and summary statements” (63). The OT quotations are employed mainly for two reasons: to confirm the identity of Jesus and to indicate the audiences’ solidarity with the saints of the past. Philip points to the fact that the author of Hebrews uses Leviticus allusively more than any other OT books. The major allusion Hebrews frequently uses is to the Day of Atonement in Leviticus 16. The reason for employing allusion is that it “[allows] the author the latitude to transfer the sacrificial metaphors of Leviticus onto Jesus’ sacrifice” (78).
Chapter five continues the discussion of Hebrews’ use of the OT, but here the manner in which Hebrews employs the OT is analyzed in light of the entire NT. Philip notes that each NT author uses the OT according to the needs of their respective contexts. Hebrews’ use of the OT is unique, as it portrays Jesus as the perfect high priest, which is not emphasized in the rest of the NT. The epistle also uniquely highlights the motifs of Sabbath rest, the tabernacle, and the believers’ shared heritage with the OT people of God.
Philip stresses that the author of Hebrews is not influenced by Platonic or Philonic ideas but instead by the Jewish Scriptures, especially when it comes to the earthly and heavenly tabernacle. The author’s heavy reliance on the OT texts signifies that the author considers the Scriptures to be authoritative but also relevant to the context at hand by contextualizing the meaning of the OT “in light of the cross of Christ” (91). Philip concludes that the Christological reading of the OT is a major contribution by the anonymous author of the epistle.
The strength of the book lies in Philip’s repeated assertion that the OT—as opposed to Platonic/Philonic ideas—is the natural background to the epistle to the Hebrews. She ably demonstrates that Leviticus has lent a thematic and theological framework to the book of Hebrews, specifically in the areas of holiness, covenant, priesthood, sacrifices and offerings. Her insistence against the boundless postmodern reader-centered approach of some literary critics such as Julia Kristeva that meaning is author-centered is noteworthy. Philip’s work is a welcome contribution to the discussion of the use of the OT in Hebrews as there is not another full-orbed treatment of the use of Leviticus in Hebrews.
However, Philip’s transtextual and transposition approach breaks down. Although her investigation is understandably concerned with the textual relationship of Leviticus and Hebrews, her methodology limits her from seeing beyond the bounds of Leviticus; thus, any theme or idea that is not found in the hypotext (Leviticus) but that exists in the hypertext (Hebrews) is considered to be an addition, alteration, or transformation of the previous priestly function. This approach underplays the fact that Hebrews’ priestly concept and function is informed not only by the book of Leviticus but also by the rest of the OT.
Yet, Philip’s treatment of Leviticus in Hebrews, along with her extensive four appendices, are still helpful in continuing the conversation on how the author of Hebrews employs the OT in exhorting his audience by portraying Christ as the superior priest in the order of Melchizedek.
Abeneazer G. Urga is a Ph.D. candidate in Biblical Studies/New Testament at Columbia International University in Columbia, South Carolina.
Buy the books
LEVITICUS IN HEBREWS: A TRANSTEXTUAL ANALYSIS OF THE TABERNACLE THEME IN THE LETTER TO THE HEBREWS, by Mayjee Philip