The Invention and Argumentative Function of Priestly Discourse in the Epistle to the Hebrews -- By: David A. deSilva

Journal: Bulletin for Biblical Research
Volume: BBR 16:2 (NA 2006)
Article: The Invention and Argumentative Function of Priestly Discourse in the Epistle to the Hebrews
Author: David A. deSilva


The Invention and Argumentative Function of Priestly Discourse in the Epistle to the Hebrews

David A. DeSilva

Ashland Theological Seminary

This article examines the rhetorical contribution of intertexture, particularly from the First Testament, to the development of “priestly discourse” in Hebrews. The rhetorical analysis of each instance of intertexture within sections evocative of priestly discourse is followed by the construction of an intertextual “map” of the Hebrew Scriptures, Jesus traditions, and Pauline traditions contributing to priestly discourse in Hebrews. The foregoing analysis and intertextual map provide the data for an analysis of the strategic selection from and re-presentation of the larger “story line” of priestly discourse and become the basis for concluding suggestions concerning the inner “logic” of priestly discourse. Hebrews nurtures the premises that initiative remains with the Deity to establish the space, name the priestly agents, determine what sacrifices are acceptable, and decide what benefits will be offered, making priestly discourse inherently “traditional” as it goes about legitimating sacerdotal arrangements in the authoritative expressions of the divine will. The retention of more ancient rites as archetypes for the newer also evidences this inherent conservatism, seen most baldly in the use of the topic of the “necessary” in Heb 9-10. Finally, argumentation in priestly discourse evinces the logic of social codes of reciprocity and of approaching social superiors for needed benefits.

Key Words: Hebrews, intertexture, priestly story, Aaron, Melchizedek, Levi, Levitical priesthood, Jesus, rhetorical strategy, Psalms, perfection, Torah, new covenant, tabernacle, heavenly tabernacle, animal sacrifices, sin offerings, covenant inauguration rite, 11QMelch

Sociorhetorical interpretation, as it has developed since Vernon Robbins’s initial programmatic volumes,1 invites detailed analysis of how early Christians created distinctive modes of discourse within the Greco-Roman world by means of their blending of rhetorical “dialects.” These rhetorical “dialects,” called “rhetorolects,” represent distinctive collections of stories and systems of reasoning linked historically with particular sociohistorical

settings. Each rhetorolect is rooted in particular social experiences where participants learn by observing the “logic” of each realm of experience at work, often as part of their primary socialization at a very young age.2 “Wisdom discourse...

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