Priscilla and Plausibility: Responding to Questions about Priscilla as Author of Hebrews -- By: Ruth Hoppin

Journal: Priscilla Papers
Volume: PP 25:2 (Spring 2011)
Article: Priscilla and Plausibility: Responding to Questions about Priscilla as Author of Hebrews
Author: Ruth Hoppin

Priscilla and Plausibility:
Responding to Questions about Priscilla as Author of Hebrews

Ruth Hoppin

Ruth Hoppin is author of Priscilla’s Letter: Finding the Author of the Epistle to the Hebrews, also available in Spanish (La Carta de Priscila: Encontrando el Autor de la Epístola a los Hebreos). She is a contributor to the IVP Women’s Bible Commentary and A Feminist Companion to the Catholic Epistles and Hebrews.


My field of research is Adolf von Harnack’s hypothesis that Priscilla is the author of the Epistle to the Hebrews.1 I argue for the theory. There are two main objections to the Priscilla theory that I want to state and refute in order to assure its plausibility.

First, I will acknowledge a couple of minor objections—minor in the sense that they will not compromise my case. I often encounter the question of why the author, who named and alluded to women in the roll call of heroes of faith in the eleventh chapter, failed to mention Deborah and certain other women of the Old Testament. There had to be a process of selection, and the women named were exemplars of faith who coincided with the author’s intention. J. Rendel Harris has replied elegantly, noting the many references to women in chapter 11, that “what we have found is positive evidence, which silence on certain points hardly affects any further.”2

Another objection, this time minor in the sense of being unworthy, is that women in the apostolic church did not exercise spiritual leadership such as that evinced in the letter. This is circular reasoning that begins with a conclusion. It is reminiscent of Junia being demoted from apostle to one “of note among the apostles,” or being given a whole new male identity because, allegedly, women could not be apostles. My response is that we must work our way through the evidence in order to reach a sustainable conclusion.

The first major objection to which I will respond, stated briefly, is that the use of a masculine participle in Hebrews 11:32 eliminates Priscilla as a possible contender for authorship of the letter. I will review the reason why dismissal of Priscilla on the basis of 11:32 cannot be justified on grammatical and other grounds and then reply to challenges to my explanation.

The second major objection is that Hebrews is not a letter, but an essay or sermon addressed “to whom it may concern.” Uprooted from its moorings in the history of the mid-first-century apostolic church, Hebrews is set adrift in uncharted seas of the late first century. There, a multitude of pot...

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