Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Heb. 2:10-11: A Discussion

I am revising my dissertation chapter on Hebrews, and since I am relating it to cosmogonic patterns that interlink creation, rest, sanctuary, and enthronement (beginning with the Enuma Elish, through the Pentateuch, and finally placed in the heavenly realm in the Songs of the Sabbath Sacrifice and Hebrews), today I am collating all of my references to creation (under which I, in fact, include restorative Day of Atonement rituals since they restore the temple--itself representative of the cosmos--to its original state of creation). In case you are interesting, in the broader trajectory, the Sabbath (rest) and the Sanctuary (particularly the Tabernacle) become interlinked in an interesting manner, often becoming equivalent symbols, or equivalent expressions of holiness (Pentateuch and Ezekiel) and, I would argue in Hebrews, they are equivalent symbols expressing God's heavenliness; all throughout the tradition, they equivalently express proximity to God in what I call sacred spacetime. In Hebrews the play on space and time is most marked in Chs. 3-4 (where the author plays with rest traditions) and Ch. 9 (playing with the tabernacle).

Back to creation, though. Most of the references are fairly straightforward and nicely interlink creation, restoration (through purification of sins) and enthronement (within the heavenly sanctuary), but I am a bit baffled by the pronouns in Heb. 2:10-11. I could look to all my commentaries, etc., but I thought it would be more fun to tap all those Hebrews folk I know are online:

ἔπρεπεν γὰρ αὐτῷ, δι' ὃν τὰ πάντα καὶ δι' οὗ τὰ πἀντα, πολλοὺς υἱοὺς δόξαν ἀγαγόντα τὸν ἀρχηγὸν τῆς σωτηρίας αύτῶν διὰ παθημάτων τελειῶσαι. ὅ τε γὰρ ἁγιάζων καὶ οἱ ἁγιάζόμενοι ἐξ ἑνὸς πάντες; δι' ἣν αἰτίαν οὐκ ἐπαισχύνεται ἀδελφοὺς αὐτοὺς καλεῖν

For it was fitting that he, for whom and by whom all things exist, in bringing many sons to glory, should make the pioneer of their salvation perfect through suffering. For he who sanctifies and those who are sanctified have all one origin. That is why he is not ashamed to call them brethren. (RSV)

When coming to verse 10, just previously the pronoun "he" was used for the Son, for Jesus, who is tasting death for everyone (his sacrificial restoration). As it is in 1:2-3, the sacrificial restoration is juxtaposed to creation. There it was the Son "through whom" God created the world. Yet, if one keeps pronominal consistency, then this passage becomes muddled. Because "he" perfects the "pioneer" through suffering. The pioneer who suffers is clearly the Son, so the "he" "by whom" and "for whom" all things exist must be God.

What about the next part? Keeping with references, who is the "he who sanctifies"? Is it God? Or Jesus, the Son? If it is God, we have some consistency in pronouns, but if it is the Son, we have without much notice switched back. In fact, I think it has switched back, since that makes the most sense in the context of being "brethren," with Jesus' followers being identified with Jesus, and with what follows in verse 14, emphasizing that because "the children" shared in flesh and blood, "he" partook of the same nature.

This raises another issue, however. If "he who sanctifies" and "those who are sanctified" have the same origin, or, literally, "are all from one," what does that mean? Does the sanctifier and sanctified have the same origin in creation (i.e., both being created beings, although one, once created now creates)? If one is preexistent, are all the rest somehow preexistent? Are they from the same origin by soul, by body? They partake of the same nature of blood and flesh in v. 14, but is this what v. 11 is referring to?

Perhaps the thrust of the passage pushes toward the natural commonality, since, again, the flesh and blood and issue of sanctification will come to the forefront with the first mention of the "faithful high priest" in 3:17, who makes expiation for sins. Still, I do wonder what the "every respect" entails in 3:17. V. 18 suggests there is even greater identification than flesh and blood, but even ability to be tempted (which gives the Son his compassion).

UPDATE: J.K. Gayle, having commented below, has appended a discussion of this to an earlier post. Gayle's translation nicely plays on the "beginning" and "end" language. Although I still think that the accusative aspect of the noun "beginner" and the verb aspect of "to end/complete/perfect" needs to be accounted for. In Gayle's translation we lose the doubled subjects. While we lose the subjects, Gayle's translation, nevertheless, does help account for the subject shifts with γάρ marking shifts in paragraphs more generally and shifts in subject here.

"Nature" from v. 14 probably is an overtranslation (by RSV) of παραπλησίως μετέσχεν which is something like "partook of common resemblance/equality." The language in Hebrews, I would agree, should be more broadly construed. Nonetheless, I am not sure the author would distinguish between "natural" and "supernatural" in the same way we do today. What we call "supernatural" would be perfectly "natural." This division strikes me as an Enlightenment distinction, although it may have had predecessors (perhaps in Aristotles distinction between "physics" and "metaphysics"). I think the underlying distinction here may be between created and uncreated, or, perhaps following Ken Schenck, between "shakable" and "unshakable" (Heb. 12:26-28). Even so, there is strong identification between sanctifier and sanctified, perfecter and perfected, having a common "origin," which instills mercy and compassion in the heavenly high priest.

FURTHER UPDATE: Ken Schenk has offered a helpful, clear reading of this passage in the comments below.


J. K. Gayle said...

I do hope others join in your discussion here. You are on to something, I think, as you watch the pronoun focus shift. I think a clue is the author's (or is she a translator?) use of paragraph markers, such as δέ. (Seems the writer and / or Greek translator is wanting to introduce this Ἰησοῦν fairly deliberately. And in the context of all humans, and in the context of mortals and angels. But, rather than his being a freakily unique person, what he accomplishes in his passion is generalized to everyone, everyone human that is.)

There's lots of wordplay. I've tried to show some by translating. Put that in an UPDATE at the bottom of this old post:


Obviously, I was doing something else with my translating, but I do hope you like it some. More than that, I hope more discussion here is prompted.

Jared said...

Thanks for the note and your translation. I have added comments about it in my post. I tried to comment on your post, but I am not sure if I succeeded because I lost my internet connection just as I was trying to publish it.

Ken Schenck said...

I suppose we all have our readings of these things. I have argued that this passage is very brilliantly worded to make "Jesus" the climax in 2:9. Humanity didn't attain glory and honor. Jesus partakes and does. Then he tastes of death so that humanity can, a kind of problem-solution sequence.

2:10 is a key passage for me, since it distinguishes God as the one through whom everything [came] from Jesus. This allows me to take 1:3 as a metonymic reference to Jesus as creator--he is the telos of creation even though not literal agent of creation.

Just some of my thoughts...

Jared said...

Thanks Ken. I was hoping you would jump in here, since you have published on chapters 1 and 2, and clearly have thought about this verse more than I have.

I do not think I differ from your reading of 2:5-9. That is how I read the shift from the quotation of "man" and "son of man" from Ps. 8:4-6 (in Heb. 2:5-9). That the "man" who was a little while lower than the angels and then crowned with glory and honor is subtly shifted to refer to Jesus. I had no problems, in fact, until I hit v. 10, where the pronouns get a bit messy. I ultimately think the text does distinguish between Jesus and God here (as it does in other ways as well), but it is almost like the author got a little sloppy at this point stylistically.

On Jesus as creator, there might be some slippage; nonetheless, whether "agent" or not, I see Jesus' role as sustainer and restorer of creation. I guess I would have to show you my chapter on the pentateuch to fully demonstrate this, but the Day of Atonement rituals of Lev. 16 restore the temple (and therefore creation). Jesus restores and sustains (and perfects) through the cosmic day of atonement ritual (and most significantly, purifies sins) and as 1:3 notes, he "upholds the universe by his powerful word." Later, of course, he destroys it with his voice. I see the telos language as intertwined with this action: the whole perfecter issue.

I am always struck in Hebrews by all of the language of becoming vis-a-vis Jesus, the Son: having become, obtaining, being appointed, learning obedience, being perfected, etc.

I guess the part that always stops me in my tracks is 2:11, the "same origin" verse. How do you handle that? Is it that the common origin is the partaking of flesh and blood so that humanity can, like Jesus, partake of glory and honor? The identification of Jesus and his followers here is quite striking, I think.

Btw, is this in your JBL "catena" article?

J. K. Gayle said...

Thanks for posting comments from Ken, who helps us see the rhetorical brilliance of the writer (and / or) translator of Hebrews. Yes, there's a climaxing to the introduction of Jesus (in 2.9) and a reading back from 2.10 to 1.3 playing with the idea of this Joshua as an agent in creation from beginning to end.

You successfully left that comment at my blog (thanks!), and thank you also for the update above.

I take your point about the accusative Greek being lost in my English (and give more detail about my decisions at my blog now) - so I'd revise with something as follows:

"... the beginner of the Beginning whose salvation is to the End."

And, Jared, I love that you point out: "Aristotles distinction between 'physics' and 'metaphysics'" (which is more what I intended than "supernatural" v "natural."). Homer and the writer of Hebrews (who seems to follow the opener of the Odyssey with the opener of this epistle) seem to defy sharp distinctions and to play with rhetorical inclusions.