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A Social-scientific reading of Hebrews 13:11-14 from a Postcolonial milieu

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A Social-Scientic Reading of Hebrews
13:11–14 from a Postcolonial Milieu1
Batanayi I. Manyika
South African Theological Seminary
Abstract
This essay demonstrates that matters of social disparity, stem-
ming from colonization, within a South African context can be
addressed by a social-scientic reading of Hebrews 13:11–14.
Social-scientic criticism is concerned with laying bare the
cultural and social inuences upon a text in the ancient world.
It is a hermeneutical approach that brings the ancient and the
contemporary into dialogue by providing a pool of shared pre-
suppositions that enhance the apprehension of meaning, while
safeguarding the modern reader from the merely subjective. This
article’s central thesis advances a tension in the understanding of
the Christ who suffered “outside the camp” and the social reen-
gineering that results in the communities born of his crucixion.
Like the movement from Leviticus 16 to Hebrews 13:11–14’ a
movement from Hebrews 13:11–14 to modern South African so-
ciety is qualied, presenting redemptive parallels in a continuum
that ultimately addresses South African social ills when “outside
the camp” is read from a postcolonial vantage point.
1. Introduction
In Hebrews 13:11–14 the preacher2 develops analogies from the Old Testament
Levitical ritual of Yom Kippur (Leviticus 16) as he reinvigorates a faith commun-
ity to continued solidarity with the Christ who suffered “outside the camp.” This
1 This article represents a slightly revised version of a paper presented at the Canadian Evangelical
Theological Association/Northeastern Seminary joint theological conference, “Participating in
God’s Mission,” held at Northeastern Seminary, Rochester, NY, March 19, 2016. My thanks go to
Dr. Kevin G. Smith and Dr. Terence Paige for their constructive feedback on earlier versions of
this article. I am also grateful to Mrs. Lindsey Moyo for honing this essay into its current state.
2 I will be referring to the author/preacher of Hebrews in the masculine based on the evidence of
Heb 11:32, where the masculine sufx in the participle diēgoumenon is employed.
CANADIAN THEOLOGICAL REVIEW | 2015 c Volume 4 • Issue 2
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community’s marginal existence in an imperial society3 will inform my analysis of
the stated text, resulting in a consideration of the postcolonial context. This essay
contends that postcolonialism is a present-day reality, and not a bygone social ill.4
Although postcolonialism has a global reach, this article will restrict itself to South
Africa in matters of application. Methodologically, social-science models based in
a sociology of knowledge will be employed before viable application, pertinent to
South Africa, is extrapolated from the text. Through this approach, this article aims
to safeguard against the pitfalls of anachronistic interpretation by demonstrating
that social-scientic criticism is a cross-cultural exercise that respects the hermen-
eutical distance between the author, the original audience, and the contemporary
South African church participating in the broader mission of God.
2. Theoretical and Methodological Framework
2.1 Social-scientic criticism
Social-scientic criticism is concerned with laying bare the cultural and social
inuences upon a text in the ancient world. It is a hermeneutical approach that
brings the ancient and the contemporary into dialogue by providing a pool of
shared presuppositions that enhance the apprehension of meaning.5 It is precisely
because of this implied intercultural activity, latent within this methodological
approach, that Jonker and Arendse dene social-scientic criticism as a method
that “stresses the indispensable signicance of analyzing the interaction between
the biblical text and the socio-cultural world in which it was rst produced.”6 Like
most approaches in Bible interpretation, social-scientic criticism does not stand
removed from other methodologies. Afnities between social-scientic criticism
and the historical-critical approaches do exist. However, where historical-critic-
al approaches are driven by questions such as “when?,” “what?,” “who?,” and
“where?,” vis-à-vis doctrine and experience, social-scientic models are preoccu-
pied with the “how?” and the “why?”7 Furthermore, social-scientic criticism is
by its very nature multi-faceted, rendering it a worthy candidate for “hybridization”
3 Although the location and dating of the text are inconclusive, the second half of the rst-century
CE seems a plausible range. It is in this broad context that argumentation for an imperial context,
ranging from Nero (pre-64 CE) to the Flavian dynasty (69–96 CE), seems likely, based mainly on
the reference in Heb 13:24.
4 Laura E. Donaldson, “Postcolonialism and Biblical Reading: An Introduction,” Semeia 75 (1996):
5.
5 David A. deSilva, The Letter to the Hebrews in Social Scientic Perspective (Eugene, OR: Wipf
& Stock, 2012); T. Schmeller, “Sociology and New Testament Studies,” in Dictionary of Biblical
Interpretation K-Z, ed. John H. Hayes (Nashville: Abingdon, 1999), 487.
6 Louis J. Jonker and Roger Arendse, “Approaches Focusing on the Production of Texts,” Fishing
for Jonah (anew): Various approaches to Biblical Interpretation, ed. Louis J. Jonker and Douglas
L. Lawrie (Stellenbosch: SunPress, 2005), 49.
7 Ibid., 50.
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in the broader universe of Bible interpretation.8 Arguably, this emerges from the
fact that the approach is informed by multiple factors that shaped biblical texts,
based on their function within the ancient world. Such factors include politics,
economics, language, social systems, and customs; this justies the multiple layers
the approach uses to investigate meaning.
Social description, social history, the sociology of knowledge, and social-sci-
ence models constitute overlapping pillars in the methodological tool box that the
social-scientic interpreter draws from.9 These pillars do not stand in isolation but
are made to interact.10 Perhaps the reason behind such crossover could be ascribed
to the fact that ancient societies are not unitary, nor even binary, in constitution.
They are neither homogenous nor uniform in ideology, language, or composition.
Rhoads alludes to this reality by suggesting:
The New Testament is a profoundly social document. Each writing
in the New Testament emerged from a community. Each writing
addressed specic people with a unique message for a given time,
place, and circumstance . . . . The writings of the New Testament
were social acts.
Our reading of the New Testament is also a social act.11
With the above in mind, how can social-scientic criticism be employed in a
reading of Heb 13:11–14? What element of this broad methodology is most suited
to the interpretation of the text and why?
2.2 Hebrews 13 and social-scientic criticism
The peroration (or conclusion)12 of the letter to the Hebrews (13:1–21)13 is com-
posed of admonitions strung together in an exhortatory style. These admonitions
collectively describe the communal implications of life under the new covenant,
8 Thomas Schmeller, “Sociology and New Testament Studies,” Dictionary of Biblical Interpretation
K–Z, 487.
9 On this, see Jonker and Arendse, “Production of Texts,” 48; and Naomi Steinberg, “Social-
Scientic Criticism,” in Dictionary of Biblical Interpretation K–Z, ed. John H. Hayes (Nashville:
Abingdon, 1999), 478–79.
10 Schmeller, “Sociology and New Testament Studies,” 490.
11 David Rhoads, “Social Criticism: Crossing Boundaries,” in Mark and Method: New Approaches
to Biblical Studies, ed. Janice C. Anderson and Stephen D. Moore (Minneapolis: Fortress, 1994),
135.
12 Koester states that “‘Peroration’ is the term for the conclusion of a speech, according to the canons
of classical rhetoric . . . . the peroration gave the speaker a nal opportunity to inuence the
listeners by reviewing key arguments and appealing to the emotions.” Craig R. Koester, Hebrews:
A New Translation with Introduction and Commentary, AB 36 (New Haven and London: Yale
University Press, 2001), 554. I delimit the peroration in Hebrews as running from 13:1–21. Koester,
however, sees it running from 12:28–13:21.
13 This work advocates harmony between 13:1–12 and 13:13 based on the thematic and stylistic
continuity between the two sections.
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made ever more vivid by the hortatory subjunctive14 (13:13), which encourages
identication with Jesus’s suffering “outside the camp” (13:11–13). In Hebrews,
the Son’s superiority to angels (1:1–5), to Moses (3:1–6), to the Levitical cultus
(chaps. 7–10), along with the encomium of faith (11:1–40), course the length of
an oration culminating in practical injunctions for the community born of his
crucixion (13:13).
From the Patristic era until the late eighteenth century,15 Hebrews was regarded
as a somewhat “enigmatic epistle” because of its typical epistolary ending (13:18–
25), which stands at sharp odds with the preamble (1:1–4).16 Those who regarded
Hebrews as an unusual epistle relied on its placement within the Pauline corpus
to support their position. Nevertheless, evidence from 13:22, specically the
phrase “word of exhortation,” demonstrates that this text is not an epistle on the
order of Paul’s works, but a homily laden with rhetorical prowess.17 In an attempt
to undermine this, some scholars called into question the integrity of chapter 13.18
In response, Attridge states that “suspicions about the integrity of Hebrews, and
especially of chap. 13, are unfounded.”19 Thiselton is even more direct: “the vo-
cabulary and especially the key themes which relate closely to issues which
would face a pilgrim orientation argue for the integrity of the entire epistle.”20 In
light of the unitary nature of Hebrews, this article divides chapter 13 as follows:21
1. PERORATION: 13:1–21
1.1 Ethical injunctions: 13:1–6
1.2 Examples to follow: 13:7–8
1.3 The true Christian sacrices: 13:9–16
1.4 Submission to guides: 13:17
1.5 Request for prayer: 13:18
1.6 Benediction: 13:20–21
2. FINAL GREETINGS: 13:22–25
14 Heb 4:11, 16; 10:22, 23, 24; 12:1, 22 demonstrate the preacher’s widespread use of this rhetorical
device, suggesting a deliberate and learned employment of the tool.
15 In 1797 J. Berger introduced a view that diverged with the traditional assumption. This view
regarded Hebrews to be a sermon. See Koester, Hebrews, 80.
16 See Koester, Hebrews, 80; and Harold W. Attridge, “Epistle to the Hebrews,” in The Anchor Bible
Dictionary HJ, ed. David N. Freedman (New York: Doubleday, 1992), 98.
17 See Gareth L. Cockerill, The Epistle to the Hebrews, NICNT (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2012), 15;
and Thomas G. Long, Hebrews (Louisville: John Knox, 1997), 2.
18 Buchanan (1967, p.267) cited in Anthony C. Thiselton, “Hebrews,” in Eerdmans Commentary on
the Bible, ed. James D. G. Dunn and John W. Rogerson (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2003), 1453,
claims that “Ch. 13 is an addition prepared for a different group. . . . The benediction [13:20–21]
and ‘Pauline’ postscript [vv. 22–25] may have been added.” See, Harold W. Attridge, The Epistle
to the Hebrews, Hermeneia (Minneapolis: Fortress, 1989), 384–85, for a more developed layout
of the matter.
19 Attridge, “Hebrews,” 98.
20 Thiselton, “Hebrews,” 1453.
21 These headings are borrowed from F. F. Bruce, The Epistle to the Hebrews (Grand Rapids:
Eerdmans, 1990), 367–92; and Attridge, The Epistle to the Hebrews, 384–410.
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Having established the structure of Hebrews 13, and how it relates to what
precedes it, it becomes imperative to substantiate the relevance of the social-sci-
entic methodology for this study. First, an emphasis on ancient Israel and the
Levitical cultus (vis-à-vis Lev 16) is underscored, as part of a contrast between
the antiquated and the new covenant community (13:11–12). Second, the preach-
er is primarily addressing the new covenant community that was negotiating the
realities of exclusion in the context of rst-century imperial society (13:12–13).
Third, the eschatological motif of the city to come is advanced by the homily
(13:14), thus signalling a new symbolic universe. This theme also encourages al-
legiance from adherents (13:15). The implied communal motif, underscored by
the movement of symbols from Leviticus 16 to the new covenant community and
the eschatological city, warrants social hermeneutical inquiry, specically, an in-
vestigation via a sociology of knowledge, which is a sub-category of social-scien-
tic criticism.22
Unlike other branches of social-scientic criticism, a sociology of knowledge
goes beyond describing the social order, and involves the reconstruction of the
worldview of a given group as it functioned in the world and the symbols that
were employed to police its continuity. Rhoads puts it as follows: “Whereas social
description focuses on the material realities of a society, sociology of knowledge
deals with how that society organizes and interprets those realities.”23
2.3 Honour and shame, challenge-riposte, and patron-broker-client relations
2.3.1 Honour and shame
In the ancient world, honour was a limited and highly-prized commodity. What
honour one possessed was always taken from another, either through “challenge-ri-
poste,” or inheritance/birth.24 Malina calls these “acquired” honour and “ascribed”
honour, respectively.25 It was of grave importance to retain honour, since gaining
honour (through challenge-riposte) to move up the rungs of social standing was a
reality that preoccupied nearly every rst-century Mediterranean citizen. Evident-
ly, this rendered the undertones of social interaction somewhat competitive. The
antonym reality of “shame” also held true, and on this matter Cockerill comments:
It was crucial to have a sense of what was shameful since a person’s
identity and reputation were closely identied with the honor and
recognition given one for appropriately fullling his or her place
22 See Rhoads, “Social Criticism,” 139.
23 Ibid.
24 Bruce J. Malina and Richard L. Rohrbaugh, Social-Science Commentary on the Synoptic Gospels
(Minneapolis: Fortress, 2003), 370.
25 Bruce J. Malina, The New Testament World: Insights from Cultural Anthropology (Louisville:
Westminster John Knox, 1993), 32–33.
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in society. Furthermore, one shared the honor—or shame—of one’s
social group. Thus it was honorable to act in such a way that one
protected the honor and public approval of those groups to which
one belonged.26
Worth noting here is Crook’s evaluation of the individualistic focus and descrip-
tion of honour and shame, as advanced by Malina (and Cockerill).27 Crook dem-
onstrates that Malina’s description, while accurate in underscoring honour and
shame as pivotal values in social interactions within the ancient Mediterranean
world, was neither dened nor regulated by the individual. Arguably, such an in-
dividualistic approach is anachronistic, deviating from the collective nature of the
ancient Mediterranean milieu. It is precisely because of this that Crook remarks:
“In dening honour, we should not start with focus on the individual. We should,
rather, start with the focus on the collectivistic PCR [Public Court of Reputation].
When this is accomplished, the PCR becomes the rst, last, and only arbiter of
honourable and shameful behaviour.”28
This is not the only aspect of Malina’s description of honour and shame that
has been negatively critiqued. The view that women in the ancient world were
inherently shameful compared to men, and that their honour was linked to their
chastity and modesty, has also been challenged. Among those antagonistic to this
claim is Wikan, who states:
Would anyone seriously maintain that a woman cannot gain value
in her own and other’s eyes, and that this is a male prerogative?
Moreover, does it seem plausible that men should regard a woman’s
value as wholly dependent upon her sexual conduct, so that if she
misbehaves, she has no value at all and that women’s ideas on this
point should be identical with those of men? Such extraordinary
assertions could only arise from the anthropologist’s failure to ob-
serve the range of contexts and processes within which persons are
granted honour, in different circles and sectors of a society (includ-
ing its 50 per cent. of female members!).29
In light of such distinctions in critique of the traditional view, this paper aligns
itself with Crook and Wikan in their respective use and description of the ancient
couplet of “honour and shame.” It is the community that ascribes and regulates
26 Cockerill, Hebrews, 18.
27 Zeba A. Crook, “Honor, Shame, and Social Status Revisited,” Journal of Biblical Literature 125.3
(2009): 598–99.
28 Ibid., 599.
29 Unni Wikan, “Shame and Honour: A Contestable Pair,” Man 19 (1984): 639.
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honour, and this honour is broader, and more nuanced and complex, than a mere
linear, reductionistic, and chauvinistic ascription.
2.3.2 Patrons, brokers, and clients
This paper upholds the view that a culture of honour and shame was widely preva-
lent in the rst-century Greco-Roman world, albeit nuanced depending on locale.
Generally, for those seeking honour beyond their station, honour independent of
“challenge-riposte,” the auspices of a broker were sought after.30 Malina and Rohr-
baugh point out:
Patron-client systems are socially xed relations of generalized
reciprocity between social unequals in which a lower-status person
(called a client) has his needs met by having recourse for favors to
a higher-status, well situated person (called a patron).31
Malina and Rohrbaugh go on to explain that brokers usually mediated between
patrons and clients, beneting the latter with patronage and the former with praise
that further enhanced their honour status.32 However, the manner in which a patron
responded to a request for patronage could render them honourable or shameful.
Similarly, laxness in displaying loyalty or public orations of praise towards a pa-
tron could render a client shameful.33
Sweeping across the New Testament is the presentation of God as ultimate
Patron from whom all grace proceeds,34 a point deSilva develops regarding Heb-
rews. He explains: “The author presents what the audience has received as a result
of joining the Christian community, what they’ve experienced as part of this com-
munity, and what they’ve been told they’ve received (but of which they have no
rst-hand experience) all as gifts and privileges bestowed upon them by God,
their divine patron.”35
Linked to God’s patronage is the role of Christ as the ultimate mediator or
broker (2:17–18 and 4:14–5:10) of grace.36 When Hebrews is read through this
lens, we learn that the preacher sought to revitalize his audience’s condence
(10:35–36) by appealing to their shame, a shame imposed by wider society (10:33;
cf. 12:1–3), which he reverses and reinterprets as honour in the eyes of God, their
Patron (cf. 2:17b). Concerning the public’s role in imposing shame, deSilva states:
“The public imposition of disgrace constituted a principal strategy for the exercise
30 See Cockerill, Hebrews, 18.
31 Malina and Rohrbaugh, Social-Science Commentary, 388.
32 Ibid, 389.
33 Cockerill, Hebrews, 18.
34 Cf. Heb 3:5–6 and 4:16.
35 deSilva, Hebrews, 96; emphasis original.
36 Heb 4:14–16, 6:19–20, 7:26–28, 8:6, 9:15, and 12:24. Cf. Mark 1:40–45, 2:5, 2:10, 3:13–19, 5:6–7,
10:35–45, 10:47, and 11:9–10.
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of social control. The members of the larger society were attempting to ‘correct’
what they perceived as deviant knowledge and deviant behaviour in their midst,
and to dissuade others from being attracted to this group.”37
This grave reality is also observed by Thompson, who sees the alienation of
the house church from the wider Greco-Roman world, motivated by the public’s
disgruntlement with their contrasting value system, among other things.38 To com-
bat the disillusionment that ensued from the host society’s critique, the preacher
revisits the benets received by the new covenant community, while reminding
them of God’s patronage. This patronage, unlike any other, secured for them eter-
nal graces mediated by the suffering and shame of God’s eternal broker, Christ,
“outside the camp” (13:13).
The preacher to the Hebrews is, however, not motivated by individual acquisi-
tions of honour, but by the communal, as evidenced by the use of multiple horta-
tory subjunctives,39 and the development of broader motifs ranging from Israel to
the new covenant community. It is therefore worthwhile underscoring that both
divine patronage and diving brokerage are used as socio-rhetorical strategies, ad-
dressing the community rather than the individual per se.
It can be seen then, that “honour” and “shame,” “patron-client” relations, and
“challenge-riposte” were pivotal in the interactions between the homily’s audience
and their host society. Ironically, it is these universal social values that brought
them suffering and shame,40 thus motivating the preacher to deliver a homily that
functioned as an apologetic to reawaken condence in the Christ, whose shame
“outside the camp” serves as a gateway to eternal glory, which is true honour.
3. A Social-Scientic Analysis of Hebrews 13:11–14
3.1 Hebrews 13:11: The Christ and the high priest
Hebrews 2:17 is the homily’s rst association of Christ with the high priestly role,
a theme that recurs in 3:1, 4:14–15, 5:1–10, 6:20, 7:1, 7:26–8:3, 9:7, 11, 25, and
13:11. Cockerill asserts that “the pastor never compares Christ with contemporary
Judaism but with the institutions of the Old Covenant and priestly system as de-
scribed in the Pentateuch.”41 However, complex as this may be, the ofce of high
priest is one that undergirds the development of various Christological motifs
spanning the length of the ancient sermon.42 One of these is explicated in chapter 5,
37 deSilva, Hebrews, 48–49.
38 James W. Thompson, “Insider Ethics for Outsiders: Ethics for Aliens in Hebrews,” Restoration
Quarterly 53.4 (2011), 209.
39 Heb 4:11, 16; 10:22, 23, 24; 12:1, 22.
40 See Heb 10:32–34.
41 Cockerill, Hebrews, 21.
42 David A. deSilva, “Letter to the Hebrews,” The New Interpreters Dictionary of the Bible DH, ed.
Katharine D. Sakenfeld (Nashville: Abingdon, 2007), 783.
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where Psalms 2:7 and 110:4 are amalgamated to advance both abasement through
suffering and Christ’s subsequent exaltation.43 Although this advances the very
abasement of the Christ to serve the purposes of the homily’s argument, it does so
in reversal to the trajectory of Psalm 110:4, which is not abased, but transcendent.
Another theme closely related to the mention of the high priest in Hebrews is
that of Melchizedek,44 an enigmatic Old Testament gure, who, apart from Heb-
rews, is only mentioned in Genesis 14:17–20 and Psalm 110:4. Unlike priests in
the Levitical order, established and regulated by the Torah, the author presents
Melchizedek as one appointed to ofce by divine edict in Hebrews 7:16–17. Add-
ed to this, Melchizedek is presented in Hebrews 7:17 as one with no successor, a
sharp contrast to the Aaronic order (of which the Levitical priests were a part).
The uniqueness of this gure in relation to the Levitical order is summarised by
Cortez, who states that “the transition from the old to the new covenant implies a
transition from many to one priest . . . . This transition from many to one priest
implies a transition from many sacrices to one.”45
Leviticus 16:27 reads, “The bull and the goat for the sin offerings, whose
blood was brought into the Most Holy Place to make atonement, must be taken
outside the camp; their hides esh and intestines are to be burned.” When Levit-
icus 16:27 is read with Hebrews 13:11 it is evident that the latter loosely employs
the former to explain the ritual of Yom Kippur.46 However, a striking difference
between the two is that the priest is not mentioned in Leviticus 16:27, but is men-
tioned as the one responsible for bringing the blood of animal sacrices into the
holy places in Hebrews 13:11. In Leviticus 16:27 the one responsible for taking
these animals outside the camp is an unnamed man who stands distinct to the
Levitical priest. By noting this loose association with the facts of the Levitical
text, one may conclude that the preacher is reinterpreting Yom Kippur in light of
Christ’s death and priesthood, and is more concerned with implications of the
latter than the former.
3.2 Hebrews 13:12–13: The Christ and “outside the camp”
Hebrews 13:12 completes a comparative parallel between “outside the camp”/
“outside the gate” and “animals”/ “Jesus” that begins in 13:11. Regarding the for-
mer pairing, Koester comments: “The Israelite camp was arranged in concentric
rings of holiness. . . . Unclean things were taken outside its boundaries (Exod
43 Attridge, “Hebrews,” 101.
44 Heb 5:6, 5:10, 6:20, 7:1, 7:10, 11, 7:15, and 7:17.
45 Felix H. Cortez, “From the Holy to the Most Holy Place: The Period of Hebrews 9:6–10 and the
Day of Atonement as a Metaphor of Transition,” Journal of Biblical Literature 125.3 (2006), 543.
46 Attridge, Hebrews, 397.
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29:14, Lev 9:11, and 16:27).”47 This point is elucidated by the later (third Century
CE) Mishnah (Kelim 1:6–9), which claims:
1) The land of Israel is holier than any other land
2) The walled cities of Israel are still more holy
3) Within the walls of Jerusalem is still more holy
4) The Temple Mount is the more holy
5) The rampart is still more holy
6) The Court of Women is still more holy
7) The Court of the Israelites is still more holy
8) The Court of Priests is still more holy
9) Between the porch and altar is still more holy
10) The Holy of Holies is still more holy
Notable here are the concentric circles of holiness, together with the increased
sense of holiness, in a movement towards the inner chamber of the tabernacle/
temple.48 These concentric circles not only function as determinants of “geograph-
ical holiness” but also serve to underscore the rungs of honour held by different
citizens. In contrast to the above, Cockerill reinterprets these circles in relation to
“outside the camp”: Inside and outside the gate are both conditions of life in this
world. The rst is the place for worldly security and acceptance for those who
reject Christ. The second is the place of Christ’s crucixion and thus the place of
rejection by the unbelieving world that despised him.49
It is clear that the phrase “outside the camp” evokes the imagery of Leviticus
16 while at the same time alluding to a point of signicance in its employment,
that is, the impurity associated with all the happenings that occur outside the bor-
ders of holiness, as dened by the establishment. From Hebrews 13:11, we note
that “outside” invites the believing community to “enter” it as they “follow the
path pioneered by the Son through suffering to glory.”50
When Christ’s suffering “outside the camp,” a suffering that leads to his death,
is juxtaposed with that of the new covenant community, clear continuity between
the head of the sectarian movement and his followers is established. Hebfews
13:13 says, “and bear the reproach he endured,” indicating a communal identity
wrought of Christ’s shame (see 12:2). Here, a sociology of knowledge would
bring into focus the social dynamics surrounding crucixion, by demonstrating
how it was viewed in the ancient world. Malina and Rohrbaugh say that “New
47 Koester, Hebrews, 570.
48 Ibid., 120. Although these gradations of holiness do not quite match the structure of the tabernacle
or the temple in ancient Israel (which, for example, had no Court of Women), the general idea of
a gradation of holiness is found across different interpretive epochs.
49 Cockerill, Hebrews, 700.
50 deSilva, “Hebrews,” 783.
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Testament authors reect the general perception of crucixion in the Greco-
Roman world as shame . . . the crucixion process was marked by a progressive
public humiliation and deprivation of honor.”51 The stripping away of honour can
be correlated to the journey outside the city gates, which as seen in Kelim 1:6–9,
is a place of pollution and abundant shame. Malina and Rohrbaugh expand on this
by giving a subjective view in relation to the PCR:
The real test of the victim, in the Mediterranean context, was not
in the brutal pain itself, but rather in the endurance of pain and
suffering, as a mark of andreia, manly courage. Silence of the vic-
tim during torture proved his honor. And yet the loss of honor evi-
denced by the whole process and inability to defend one’s honor
were deemed far worse than the physical pain involved.52
The recurrent theme of “enduring suffering” hinges on Christ’s suffering (see
Heb 2:9, 2:10, 2:18, 5:8; 10:32, and 11:36). Through this suffering, the believing
community stands at odds with its host society, because of its resocialization at the
primary level. It is from a place of shame and abasement that the new covenant
community is born. And it is from this abased virtue that it launches into the missio
Dei, as underscored in Hebrews 13:12.
3.3 Hebrews 13:14: The Christ and the lasting city
Hebrews 13:14 reads: “For here we do not have an enduring city, but we are look-
ing for the city that is to come.” Koester suggests that the “city” they “do not have”
here is Rome,53 a point corroborated by Whitlark.54 If this is the case then the en-
couragement given by the author functions as quasi-subversive propaganda within
an imperial setting, undermining what is regarded as eternal via the introduction of
an eschatological motif reminiscent of the motivation in Hebrews 12:22. Whitlark
gives greater insight on the comparison of the cities alluded to by suggesting:
Hebrews 13:13–14 then appears to argue against the temptation for
people to assimilate back into the imperial culture and the relief
and prosperity such identication offered. . . . The draw to identify
with Rome and its claims seems to stem from the fear of imperial
reprisals for the community’s Christian confession. Thus, the
movement of the exhortation in vv. 13–14 is a movement from
51 Malina and Rohrbaugh, Social-Science Commentary, 346.
52 Ibid., 347.
53 Koester, Hebrews, 571.
54 Jason A. Whitlark, “Here We Do Not Have a City That Remains: A Figured Critique of Roman
Imperial Propaganda in Hebrews 13:14,” Journal of Biblical Literature 131.1 (2012): 172.
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identication with Rome and its claims to identication with Jesus,
his present shame, and the glory of God’s future promise.55
Here, the oppressive power of the empire, also alluded to in 10:32–39, cannot be
ignored, especially when juxtaposed with Hebrews 13:14. Thompson stresses that
“[t]he marginalization of the community is analogous to the experience of others
who lived outside the dominant culture.”56 Of importance here is the encourage-
ment given by the author to “maintain communal solidarity as it experiences abuse
from the outside world.”57 In light of postcolonial discourse, and a sociology of
knowledge, the solidarity encouraged could be regarded as intra-textual oppos-
ition to the empire as the community endures shame and pain while inhabiting an
alternate symbolic reality.
4. Appropriating Hebrews 13:11–14 in a Postcolonial Milieu
4.1 Postcolonial discourse
Dube Shomanah says the term postcolonial “is used to cover all the culture af-
fected by imperial process from the moment of colonization to the present day.”58
Commenting on Orientalism, Donaldson alerts students of postcolonial theory to
the dissemination into the discursive of what was historically a political enter-
prise. This is seen in the manner in which this ideology engages in “resistance
to . . . colonialist ideologies, and their contemporary forms and subjecticatory
legacies.”59 This exposes the need to freshly dene the term postcolonial, since its
effects continue to exist in a new paradigm. Segovia provides a worthy nuance
to the term as follows: “[postcolonialism] is a eld of studies that is by no means
monolithic but rather highly diverse and conicted, so that even the denition of
the term ‘postcolonial’ emerges as not at all unproblematic.”60 This amplies the
obligation to provide a working description of postcolonial reading. According to
Dube’s characterization, a postcolonial reading is:
not a discourse of historical accusations, but a committed search
and struggle for decolonization and liberation of the oppressed. In
terms of classication, it refers to a complex collection of texts that
are brought, born, and used in imperial settings, to legitimate, resist,
or collaborate with imperialism. While this denition is an umbrel-
55 Ibid., 176.
56 Thompson, “Insider Ethics,” 210.
57 Ibid., 219.
58 Musa W. Dube Shomanah, “Postcolonial Bible Interpretations,” in Dictionary of Biblical
Interpretation KZ, ed. John H. Hayes (Nashville: Abingdon, 1999), 299.
59 Donaldson, “Postcolonialism,” 3; emphasis original.
60 Fernado F. Segovia, “Mapping the Postcolonial Optic in Biblical Criticism: Meaning and Scope,”
Postcolonial Biblical Criticism: Interdisciplinary Intersections, ed. Stephen D. Moore and Fernado
F. Segovia (London and New York: T&T Clark, 2005), 25.
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la term that includes the texts of the colonizer and the colonized,
the phrase “colonial discourse” is also used to distinguish the for-
mer from the latter. . . . As an umbrella term, a post-colonial ap-
proach is best understood as a complex myriad of methods and
theories which study a wide range of texts and their participation
in the making or subversion of imperialism.61
Sugirtharajah corroborates Dube’s understanding by asserting that “postcoloni-
alism is about . . . confronting the after-effects of imperial and the new effect of
neo-imperial control.”62 From Dube, we note the subversive nature of postcolonial
ideology and the inherent drive to grant liberty to the “shackled” other,63 all within
historic, text-bound, or contemporary imperial paradigms.64 Dube comments else-
where that the postcolonial is about “challenging all readers and writers to examine
their practices for imperial and colonial currents of domination and suppression.”65
Concerning the historic and text-bound, Brett observes that this decolonization is
embracing of all literary elds, including the biblical. He says that “there is no
reason to exclude the study of ancient colonial relationships within which the bulk
of biblical material was produced. . . . We should all confess that much biblical
interpretation, ancient and modern, has been enabled or constrained by imperialist
social systems,”66 which is a view shared by Berquist.67
Unlike the statements of the commentators above, this article’s motivation is
concerned not primarily with the history behind the text, but with what is in front
of the text, namely, the postcolonial South African experience. Arguably, this ap-
proach retains the uniqueness of the Christian message and ethos, and encourages
the church to continue participating in the mission of God in a contextually atten-
tive manner. This it does by avoiding conation or continuity with extra-Christian
creeds, which, coincidentally, mirrors the very thrust of the hortatory injunction
in Hebrews13:11–14. Like the rst-century sectarian Christian community, which
was shamed by its host society but honoured by God, the church in South Africa
is invited to exist in a social tension. This tension involves the church concertedly
identifying with shame in order to be honoured by God, while advocating God as
the ultimate Patron of grace.
61 Musa Dube, “Toward a Post-Colonial Feminist Interpretation of the Bible,” Semeia 78 (1997): 15.
62 R. S. Sugirtharajah, Exploring Postcolonial Biblical Criticism (Malden and Oxford: Wiley-
Blackwell, 2012), 14.
63 Sharon H. Ringe, “When Women Interpret the Bible,” in Women’s Bible Commentary, ed. Carol
A. Newson and Sharon H. Ringe (Louisville: John Knox, 1998), 4.
64 Sugirtharajah, Postcolonial Biblical Criticism, 14.
65 Dube Shomanah, “Postcolonial Bible Interpretations,” 299.
66 Mark G. Brett, “The Ethics of Postcolonial Criticism,” Semeia 75 (1996): 219.
67 Jon L. Berquist, “Postcolonialism and Imperial Motives for Canonization,” Semeia 75 (1996): 26.
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4.2 Hebrews 13:11–14 and the South African postcolonial reality
South Africa is awash with vestiges of the colonial reality, ranging from chron-
ic socio-economic disparity68 to socio-political volatility.69 In an article titled,
“Pan-Africanism is More Important than Ever,” Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, the
chairperson to the African Union Commission, says, “We should look at [African
Renaissance] as a process not as an event. It has to start with liberation because
you can’t have a renaissance of a people who are repressed.”70 This comment
indicates that economic independence is the next phase of liberation within the
postcolonial African discourse. Furthermore, with Christianity’s locus migrating
from the West to the Global South, questions arise in an analysis of texts such as
Hebrews 13:11–14. These questions include: What is the author-intended meaning
of these verses? What does a Christocentric meaning of the text look like for the
church participating in the missio Dei in a society grossly affected by socio-eco-
nomic disparity?
With South Africa labelled one of the most socially unequal countries in the
world, holding a Gini coefcient of between 0.63 and 0.7,71 it is a major conten-
tion of this essay that a reading of Hebrews 13:11–14 must not only speak to sal-
vation received, but also to salvation expressed, bringing about the transformation
of social strata, even in the socio-economic. By its very nature, socio-economic
disparity contributes to the stratication of society, a synchronic parallel to the
organisation of the rst-century Jewish world, as described earlier in this article.
According to Oxfam, this stratication is the bedrock of social incoherence,72 a
point Pope Francis corroborates by saying, “Inequality is the root of social evil.”73
For the church in South Africa, when participating in the missio Dei in light of
such social reality and commentary, it becomes imperative to answer the pragmat-
ic question of how we appropriate Hebrews 13:11–14 in our context.
First, the solidarity Hebrews 13:11–14 prompts the question of how this soli-
darity can establish an authentic alternative community around the person of
Christ in South Africa. Here Volf provides insightful commentary:
As the Gospel has been preached to many nations, the church has
taken root in many cultures, changing them as well as being pro-
foundly shaped by them. Yet the many churches in diverse cultures
are one, just as the triune God is one. No church in a given culture
68 Oxfam, An Economy for the 1% (Oxford: Oxfam International, 2016).
69 Mamphela Ramphele, Conversations with My Sons and Daughters (Johannesburg: Penguin, 2012),
117.
70 Elissa Jobson and Parselelo Kantai, “Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma: Pan-Africanism is More Important
than Ever,” The Africa Report 50 (2013): 27.
71 Oxfam, Even It Up: Time to End Extreme Inequality (Oxford: Oxfam International, 2014), 38.
72 Ibid., 49.
73 Pope Francis, cited in Oxfam, Even It Up, 49.
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49
may isolate itself from other churches in other cultures declaring
itself sufcient to itself and to its own culture.74
Volfs comments implicitly point to the diversity latent in genuine catholicity. This
diversity is not limited to matters of ethnicity and culture, but extends to socio-eco-
nomic realities as well. Evidently, a South African church that harnesses these
virtues in ethos and practice is going “outside the camp” as described by Hebrews
13:11–14 and Ephesians 2:11–22. In going “outside the camp,” a counter-current
motion, obedient to the injunction of the preacher to the Hebrews, is continued in
a postcolonial context, transcending (yet informed by) overt cultural distinctions.
Second, Hebrews 13:11–14 calls for focus towards the enduring city. However,
in focusing on the enduring city, the social injunctions of Hebrews 13 portray the
tension all Christ-centred communities experience. This eschatological tension
can function as an instrument of hope for communities at the bitter end of the
poles of disparity, by alleviating present ills with a healthy proclamation of future
grace. Added to hope, this motif can also function as an instrument of warning for
the privileged members of the new covenant community, anticipating as it does
the return of the Christ and the coming new heavens and new earth (Rev 21–22).
It does this by drawing attention to the eschatological reward implied in the warn-
ing passages in Hebrews (2:1–4; 3:6–4:13; 5:11–6:12; 10:19–39). The responsib-
ility of the rich to aid the poor, especially within the new covenant community, is
boldly underscored in the wider New Testament corpus (see Jas 5:7–12), and can
be qualied by a social-scientic reading. Furthermore, the dual motif of “hope
and judgment,” within an eschatological paradigm, is not foreign to Hebrews as
seen in the warning passages.
Third, the ethics of dening who is “in” and who is “out” based on shared
principles is fundamental to the participation and success of the enterprise. Such
an approach, though necessary to the identity of any contemporary Christian
group, does not mean that the group remains insulated from the world without.
Exclusion, for the church in South Africa, should function not as a defender of
polarity, but a gateway to diversity and social-reengineering through the Gospel.
Evidence of this can be seen in Hebrews 13:11–14, where the Christ inaugurates
a new order through a reversal of the antiquated ethics of the Levitical, by his
death outside the borders of the status quo. Here the contemporary church in
South Africa is conditioned to the fact that socio-economic disparities are a reality
that should not be limited to a historical consciousness, but should rather motivate
a missional outworking, through practical engagement and collaborations across
elds.
74 Miroslav Volf, Exclusion and Embrace: A Theological Exploration of Identity, Otherness, and
Reconciliation (Nashville: Abingdon, 1996), 51.
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50
5. Conclusion
This article has aimed to read Hebrews 13:11–14 using social-science approach-
es, for a postcolonial milieu. Matters of Christology, moving from the Levitical
order to the Christ, may be drawn out from this text, to motivate the South Af-
rican church to be ministers of the new creation in areas ravaged by legacies of
colonialism. Furthermore, the understanding of holiness, as it functions in the
Greco-Roman paradigms of honour and shame, demonstrates that the revision
brought about by the Christ’s suffering outside the camp are counter-cultural
across interpretive epochs. With this understanding, the church in South Africa
may be motivated to address matters of social disparity, latent in the postcolonial
experience, by outworking Christ-centred solidarity with those in the margins in
a way that does not patronise, but “goes outside the camp,” for the sake of eternal
glory, a glory that is true honour.
ResearchGate has not been able to resolve any citations for this publication.
Chapter
Continuing Colonial IntentionsFuture Tense: Moving between the Vernacular and the Cosmopolitan
The Epistle to the Hebrews
  • See Gareth
  • L Cockerill
See Gareth L. Cockerill, The Epistle to the Hebrews, NICNT (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2012), 15; and Thomas G. Long, Hebrews (Louisville: John Knox, 1997), 2.
1453, claims that "Ch. 13 is an addition prepared for a different group
  • Anthony C Buchanan
  • Thiselton
Buchanan (1967, p.267) cited in Anthony C. Thiselton, "Hebrews," in Eerdmans Commentary on the Bible, ed. James D. G. Dunn and John W. Rogerson (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2003), 1453, claims that "Ch. 13 is an addition prepared for a different group.... The benediction [13:20-21] and 'Pauline' postscript [vv. 22-25] may have been added." See, Harold W. Attridge, The Epistle to the Hebrews, Hermeneia (Minneapolis: Fortress, 1989), 384-85, for a more developed layout of the matter.
Toward a Post-Colonial Feminist Interpretation of the Bible
  • Musa Dube
Musa Dube, "Toward a Post-Colonial Feminist Interpretation of the Bible," Semeia 78 (1997): 15.
When Women Interpret the Bible
  • Sharon H Ringe
Sharon H. Ringe, "When Women Interpret the Bible," in Women's Bible Commentary, ed. Carol A. Newson and Sharon H. Ringe (Louisville: John Knox, 1998), 4.
The Ethics of Postcolonial Criticism
  • G Mark
  • Brett
Mark G. Brett, "The Ethics of Postcolonial Criticism," Semeia 75 (1996): 219.
Postcolonialism and Imperial Motives for Canonization
  • Jon L Berquist
Jon L. Berquist, "Postcolonialism and Imperial Motives for Canonization," Semeia 75 (1996): 26.
An Economy for the 1%
  • Oxfam
Oxfam, An Economy for the 1% (Oxford: Oxfam International, 2016).