The author and audience of Hebrews

Please see my previous post on Paul’s 5th missionary trip as it connects well with this one. The purpose of this post is not to delve too much in the arguments, but to present a chronological and contextual frame for the writing of the epistle to the Hebrews. I shall approach the arguments in more debth in another post hopefully.

While the Neronian persecution is taking place (64-68), another major event is happening: the Jewish-Roman war (66-73). The Jewish Christians left Jerusalem and moved temporarly to Pella (according to Eusebius; also Josephus mentions many important Jews leaving Jerusalem once they had the opportunity – Jewish War 6.5.3), on the E side of the Jordan. Some remain in the proximity of their homes, but as time passes, it’s getting obvious that the Romans will win the war and possibly destroy the city. Therefore, most of them decide to move on with their lives. The largest Jewish communities were in Alexandria (Egypt), Babylon, Rome, and Asia Minor. But they weren’t only Jewish, they were Jewish Christians. Therefore, it makes all the sense in the world for them to move where there is a Jewish Christian community. In Asia Minor, the biggest Jewish community was in Ephesus, and that is where the largest Christian community was as well. Therefore, a good size of the group moved to Asia Minor, many of them in Ephesus. It is possible that some Jewish Christians made this move soon after the failed siege of Cestius Gallus in September-October 66. The fact that this was so is indicated by the Church tradition that tells us that apostle John, together with the Lord’s mother, moved to Ephesus. If such an important leader moves, it is very likely that others will follow him. It is probable that John postponed the move as much as possible, and moved to Ephesus only when the distruction of Jerusalem was obvious or it happened. At the end of 66 and in 67, the fall of Jerusalem was far from obvious. On the contrary, the Jews were rejocing over their victories while one of the best legions was being relocated from Britania to the oposite side of the empire. 

Flavius Josephus also tells us in Jewish War 2.14.2 that there were many Jews who left the country during the procuratorship of Gessius Florus (64-66) due to the way he treated the people of Judea. This procurator was the spark that started the war. As more Jewish Christians move to Asia Minor between 64 and 68, they are shocked as they interact with the Christian gentile community. Until then, they had their own Jewish-Christian oasis in Judea, and did not interact too much with the gentiles. Seeing them not respecting their Law was, certainly, a schock.  As a result, the theological friction gets stronger and stronger. 

On top of that, the Jews that fled the war find themselves in the middle of a persecution that spread throughout the whole Roman Empire (1 Pet. 5:9) and is deeply affecting the Christian community of Asia Minor. Without a doubt, this must be dishartening and could have made some ponder giving-up Christianity in order to find some peace after so much struggle. After all, they weren’t persecutated (at least before the end of the war) for being Jews, but for being Christians. As Paul and Peter are martyred, the pastor of the biggest church in Asia Minor is imprisoned in Rome, an authorative second-generation voice (Heb. 2:1-4) that can appeal to both the Jewish community and the gentiles of Asia Minor is greatly needed. Such a man decides to write the epistle to the Hebrews: Silas. He was well-respected by the community in Jerusalem (Acts 15:22), the church in which he became a believer, and he is well-known by the Christians spread throughout Asia Minor since his name is mentioned by Peter at the end of his first epistle (1 Pet. 5:12). It is not clear from Acts whether or not he was with Paul in Ephesus on his third missionary trip. 1 Peter 5:12-14 tells us Silas was in Rome at the time, while Hebrews 13:24 tells us the author is in Italy, which could very well mean he is in Rome or in the proximity for hosting and/or safety reasons. 

The author of Hebrews is not anonymous to the audience because he tells them he will visit them in the near future (Heb. 13:23). It might be that, for protection reasons, he avoids mentioning his name or he simply avoids signing the letter as the courier will let them know who wrote it. He sends the epistle before he will visit them as he still lingers in Italy for a while and the struggles of the audience are pressing. 

The fact that he intends to go with Timothy to the audience  (notice that they are all familiar with Timothy) is one of the strongest arguments to place it in Asia Minor at least, if not Ephesus to be even more specific. Timothy came to Rome only because Paul asked him, but his intention wasn’t to leave Ephesus. Paul expressedly asked him to pastor the church in Ephesus (1 Tim. 1:3), the second largest city of the Roman Empire at that time according to Strabo. It makes the most logic in the world for Timothy to return to the church he was asigned to pastor. Rome and the imprisonment were only a detour from his initial mission. Church tradition tells us Timothy  died in Ephesus. 

Therefore, the audience of Hebrews is the church in Ephesus or the larger community of Christians in Asia Minor (similar to the audience of 1 Peter and 2 Peter). The most likely author is Silas, amanuensis and contributor to 1 Peter, 1 Thessalonians and 2 Thessalonians. He is a skilled theologian who learned a lot from Paul, a Hellenized Jew that, arguably, mastered the pen even better than Paul. While his literary style is less obvious in 1 Thessalonians and 2 Thessalonians since Paul spoke Greek well enough, 1 Peter transpires Silas’ literary signature a lot more as Peter wasn’t a master of Greek. Who knows if Peter didn’t dictate in Aramaic and Silas translated the epistle? In any case, the similarities between 1 Peter and Hebrews are due to the man behind the pen: the not-so-noticed Silas.

We can’t know for certain, but Luke might have been the amanuensis of the epistle to the Hebrews. We do find him in Rome around that time (2 Tim. 4:11) and some scholars have noticed similarities in language. On the other side, Silas should have mentioned him in this case, although it might be that, for security reasons, he does not mention if he had an amanuensis. 

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