I recently read and reviewed David Allen’s book Lukan Authorship of Hebrews. In it David has a chart which lists all of the primary candidates for Hebrew authorship along with the scholar who proposed them. Priscilla was last on the list, being the most recent to step forward, and Ruth Hoppin is Priscillian Authorships strongest defender. While I was still reading Lukan Authorship of Hebrews Ruth Hoppin contacted me asking if I would be interested in considering Priscillian Authorship. She sent me a copy of her book (Priscilla’s Letter: Finding the Author of the Epistle to the Hebrews), and after having read it we exchanged a few email’s with some Q&A. The following interview is the result of that exchange.
Derek: Priscilla’s Letter was first published in 1997, but only remained in print for a few months before it was republished in 2009. Can you tell us a little bit about the “suspicious circumstances” (p.x) revolving around its early and untimely removal from publication?
Ruth: Priscilla’s Letter was indeed removed from general circulation soon after publication, despite promising initial sales and an obligatory two-year contract. Surreal happenings took place, for example a woman who wanted to review the book in area churches was reprimanded by the publisher for calling repeatedly in order to obtain books in quantity. The melodrama unfolding in 1997 intensified when I sued for breach of contract and suppression. Thanks to the perseverance of attorneys in California and Maryland, I collected a settlement of $70,000 in 2003. I never envisioned these events when I innocently signed a publishing contract!
Meanwhile I had to find another publisher. Priscilla’s Letter was re-issued by Lost Coast Press in 2000 and recently reprinted. I think it is relevant to add that the Spanish language edition, translated by a minister in Arizona, was also issued by Lost Coast Press last year.
Derek: Luke is not in the line-up of possible candidates of Hebrew authorship you address for rebuttal. Given Dr. David Allen’s recent book, Lukan Authorship of Hebrews (which came out after Priscilla’s Letter) it would seem that Luke is now as much a candidate as anyone. What reasons would you have for rejecting Lukan authorship of Hebrews?
Ruth: Yes, I learned about David Allen’s research too late to give Luke the extra attention he apparently deserved. Luke really seemed like a minor candidate. I had some friendly dialogue with David Allen when I learned about his work. We have a lot in common, that is, we have both spent many years pondering the authorship of Hebrews. Well, I can think of two main arguments against Luke. One is that he did not have a teaching and pastoral ministry in the destination city, as far as we know, or for that matter a teaching and pastoral ministry in any one location. Luke did know what was going on in Ephesus, but there is no evidence for his ministry there. Second, I can’t imagine why or how his name would have been lost.
Derek: Without the archeological evidence which is brought to light in Priscilla’s Letter, is it still possible to posit Priscilla’s authorship of Hebrews?
Ruth: Could we posit her authorship without that entire chapter? Yes, because I tried to develop several lines of reasoning to make the case. The archeological evidence for Priscilla is valuable, and fills in many parts of my argument, her Roman background being related to her likely association with Peter, an “eye-witness” who preached about Jesus (Heb. 2:1-3). Her family background is also very relevant, in establishing her educational advantages.
Derek: In Priscilla’s Letter you set forth to make the case, appealing to her social status and literacy, and with the help of a “testimonia” book, that Priscilla would have been capable of writing an epistle such as the Epistle to the Hebrews whether or not she was a Jew by birth. What qualifications did she have to write an Epistle addressed to an Essene community with the specific theology of that community in mind?
Ruth: Let’s see. Long conversations with Paul, with Aquila, study of scripture, and use of a testimonia book, and her own incisive mind made it possible for her to explicate the High Priesthood of Jesus in the context of the beliefs and concerns of her readers. Sometimes people ask me why Priscilla was so interested in the priesthood. I believe that she wrote about the priesthood of Jesus (despite his lack of priestly lineage) because her people, that is, the recipients of the epistle were interested in the topic.
It seems ironic, doesn’t it, that Christ as High Priest should be a major theme of Hebrews. Jesus, in his earthly ministry, had so much trouble with high priests.
Derek: Your thesis makes for the argument that Priscilla was recognized in the early church as a great teacher in spite of the fact that she was a woman. The recipients to her Epistle were aware of who its author was and so presumable was the church in Rome. What do you think caused the shift from acceptance of a woman author of Hebrews to a suppression by Clement and others shortly afterwards?
Ruth: I do think there was a certain “backlash” against the gender egalitarianism that is so well documented in the early church. This was undoubtedly fueled by cultural factors outside the church as well as the attitude of some within the church.
Derek: Given that Priscilla and Paul were close friends, and assuming Paul wrote both first and second Timothy, how do you think Priscilla would have understood Paul’s statement in 1 Timothy 2:12?
Ruth: I think Priscilla would have been very cross with him indeed.
That is, if he really wrote it, which is disputed by many if not most scholars. Certainly, he could have strayed from his right thinking about gender equality, in accommodation to cultural factors outside and inside the church. We really need to weigh restrictive verses about women against the tenor of scripture which testifies to an extraordinary acceptance of women in all kinds of leadership roles.
Derek: Do you believe the world is ready to accept that a woman wrote scripture?
Ruth: I don’t know if the entire world will ever be ready to welcome a woman author of scripture, but circumstances are favorable. At this time in history we have a tradition of scholarly investigations into the Bible that is not inextricably bound to faith and piety. In the United States we have seen the emergence of one human rights movement after another, with feminism closely following the black civil rights movement. This has created a certain climate of opinion that affects everyone. Evangelicals, as well as moderate and liberal persons of faith have come to look upon knowledge not as a threat, but rather as “faith seeking understanding.”
Derek: What is at stake in the Hebrews authorship debate and what would be gained if Priscilla’s authorship were confirmed?
Ruth: First of all, knowledge would be gained, knowledge about our Holy Writings, and the impetus behind them.
There is no denying the impact of a female author writing at the highest level of inspiration, teaching and guiding people throughout the ages. Yes, I believe the spiritual and social status of women would be elevated, that is to say, the way they are perceived and perceive themselves. Even in countries where women enjoy the benefits of freedom, there are women who accept domestic abuse as a consequence of religious attitudes. And in countries where women have no freedom, acceptance of Priscilla’s claim would surely resonate.
Would a woman author of scripture improve the status of women in the Christian community?