Hebrews (Anchor Bible Commentaries) (The Anchor Yale Bible Commentaries) Paperback – 3 Dec 2007
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From the Inside Flap
One of early Christianity's most carefully crafted sermons, Epistle to the Hebrews" addresses listeners who have experienced the elation of conversion and the heat of hostility, but who now must confront the formidable task of remaining faithful in a society that rejects their commitments. The letter probes into the one of most profound questions of faith: If it is God's will that believers be crowned with glory and honor, why are the faithful subject to suffering and shame? Through the stories of Abraham and Sarah, Moses, and Rahab, whose faith enabled them to overcome severe trials and conflicts, and through the story of Jesus himself, whose sufferings opened the way to God's presence for all, the sermon confirms the foundations of the Christian faith.
In a magisterial introduction, Koester presents a compelling portrait of the early Christian community and examines the debates that have surrounded Epistle to the Hebrews for two millennia. Drawing on his knowledge of classical rhetoric, he clarifies the book's arguments and discusses the use of evocative language and imagery to appeal to its audience's minds, emotions, and will. Providing an authoritative, accessible discussion of the book's high priestly Christology, this landmark commentary charts new directions for the interpretation of Epistle to the Hebrews and its influence on Christian theology and worship.
About the Author
Craig R. Koester is Professor of New Testament at Luther Seminary in St. Paul, Minnesota. He is the author of Symbolism in the Fourth Gospel, The Dwelling of God, and Revelation and the End of All Things, as well as numerous articles for scholarly and professional journals.
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With that, I warn you to be careful in buying this if you are not familiar with the Anchor Yale Bible style. It is written exclusively for the scholar. If you come looking for a casual look at Hebrews, look elsewhere, such as The New Interpreter's Bible Chapter written by Fred Craddock.
Koester has provided the best overview of the history of church use on Hebrews that I have found anywhere. Just reading the beginning 100 pages of this commentary is worth the purchase price.
He has a view on Hebrews that is slightly different than many of the authors I have read, but it is an interesting and compelling approach. He demonstrates this view by simply providing an outline of his own translation along with his own section titles. I am not sure that I'm convinced by his view, but he makes a strong case in the least.
For scholars, this work has a lot of meat. His cross references to extra biblical material are extensive as are his theological links. For the pastor/bible teacher, this author provides a wealth of information. It tilts towards the technical side of things rather than the inspirational, so may be best used in the early and middle stages of exegesis.
For those who are interested in the background influences of a book like Hebrews, Koester's dealing with Platonic influence is (in my view) a relatively mature perspective. For example, on pg 98 he has a theological summary of Hebrews with a series of topics in mind. One of them is the 'Cosmos' and it's influence in Hebrews. There he gives a quick summary of two broad views of Hebrews, and a short list of significant authors who hold to each of the two views (but his list reaches back to the second century in church history). He then suggests that both approaches have an appeal, but also miss the mark a tad, and that an adjusted view incorporating both perspectives is probably the order of the day.
Let me give you a bit of his stuff right out of the book.
"The outcome of Christ's work and the realization of God's designs are described in terms of rest 4:10, entering a sanctuary 10:19-22, and arriving in the heavenly Jerusalem 12:22-24. Some interpreters have construed this goal in SPATIAL categories, as arrival in a higher realm like that envisioned by Platonic philosophy. See Clement of Alexandria and Origin. Eusebius. Spicq, Laub, Grasser, Dunn.
Others think of it in TEMPORAL categories, as arrival in the age to come that is mentioned in apocalyptic sources. Barrett, Goppelt, Williamson, Philo, Lane.
Koester says that the problem is that Hebrews operates with both categories (spatial and temporal), yet it fits neatly into neither category. He has more that supports this on pgs 59-63.
Koester says, rather than focusing on traditions that might lie behind the text, we can compare Hebrews to Platonic and apocalyptic patterns in order to sharpen the way we perceive the constellations of ideas within the text. (He has a commentary on Revelation that I would like to read now-and I have a wide range of Revelation commentaries, some of them are very good).
See his diagrammatic boxes on pg 98 for more information. He compares conscience with mind and these two are oppposed to 'sarx' (flesh) in Hebrews and in Platonism. He deals with the negative view of 'faith' in Plato and how that doesn't fit well with Hebrews.
Without rambling too much here let me say that he identifies matching concepts from Plato, which scholars/authors agree with that position...and then shows in a few quick points why that probably needs to be rethought.
I'm not a scholar, and I don't know much about all of these things, but I thought his work was very helpful for me personally to capture the gist of what a broad group of scholars and historical works teach on something within two pages was very helpful. I am not studied well enough to know if he is correct, but he cites sources and it is not that difficult to check out his claims on a crucial point. So I really like Koester's work.
On the elevation of the concept of faith in Hebrews juxtaposed to the mind in Platonic thought, he cites Kasemann. I don't always agree with Kasemann, but he is worth studying and is never boring nor irrelevant (see Kasemann primarily on Pauline works).
Kasemann citation "there is no other way from changeableness to unchangeableness other than through faith, bound to the Word, which marks the only bridge between the two worlds!" So Koester does bring in some great thoughts from others and seems faithful to cite the author.
I have to say that I am very, very pleased with this commentary. If you are teaching a course on Hebrews, or preaching through Hebrews, I think you ought to consult this ocmmentary repeatedly.
The finest contribution in my view is the overview of the use of Hebrews in various ancient church controversies...even into the reformation era. His grasp of historical uses of Hebrews is refreshing. I find myself getting blessed over and over as I refer to this book.
I do have one concern about the quality of the binding. On my first reading through, one of the pages nearly fell out of the book. (one corner holds it in place with a 1/4" of glue). I've had this copy too long now to take advantage of Amazon's return policy. I don't know if I will get a replacement or now, it's just one page. It's a paperback with a glued binding, and I've found those tend to be less durable.
I think I would recommend the hardback version of this commentary rather than the paperback.
The strength of the book lies in the fact that Koester sees three stages of growth in church that are the recipients of this letter. The first stage being the one that started in the power and and demonstration of the Spirit. The second stage was one in which they had to resist compromising and apostasizing with the persecution that had come their way. The third stage was one in which they lost property and some were tempted to give up and so the writer of Hebrews according to Koester is writing to remind them where they had come from and to encourage them not to give up.
Perhaps the weakness, in my opinion, is that Koester sees too much Greco-Roman influence on the writer and his community and not enough Jewish i.e. Temple influence upon the writer and his community. In this regard I think that Koester has misread and misses on some of his conclustions.
I highly recommend this book to the scholar and the serious student of the Bible. Koester does present a wide variety of thought on the book and this is definately worth the read.
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