Though sometimes attributed to Paul, even the most conservative scholars today realize that Paul is not the author of this book. Whoever wrote it (and we simply do not know, and will most likely never know), he or she wrote one of the most theological and fascinating of all the Biblical texts. Though there are few scholars who would adopt the position I will take, there are ample reasons for assuming the view that I do. That is, traditionally this book has been thought to be addressed to Jewish Christians who were leaving the faith and returning to Judaism. Though this view has much to commend it, I do not think it is correct. Rather, I believe that this book was addressed to the Jews of Samaria, i.e., the Samaritans, as an evangelistic tract delivered in order to convert them to Christianity.
In order to fully appreciate this view, I will briefly discuss the Samaritans at this point. The Samaritans are a group of people who dwell around the region of Samaria and whose religious life is centered at Mt. Gerizim. This sect of Judaism was born during the exilic period and continues to the present day (a fact which cannot be claimed for nearly all the other forms of Judaism). In brief, it is the form of Judaism which has existed the longest!
The Samaritans have always insisted that they are the descendants of the tribes of Ephraim and Manasseh who survived the destruction of the northern kingdom of Israel in 722 BC. According to the annals of Sargon II, Ruler of Assyria, only 27,900 people were deported, so it is very possible that the Samaritans are correct in their insistence. These Samaritans further claim that it was when Eli was priest that the schism took place between them and the other Israelite tribes. They say that when Eli moved the Ark from Shechem to Shiloh that this move was illegitimate and set up an illegitimate priesthood. When the Taheb (messiah) came, they believe, the Sanctuary would be restored to its rightful place.
The Old Testament version of the Samaritans is slightly different, and is told in 2 Kings 17.
We know very little about the relationship between the Jews and the Samaritans until Ezraís reforms were carried out in the mid 4th century BC. Ezra 4 describes these relations. The Samaritans clearly had bad relations with the Jews of Judea, but that is not the case with Jews in other parts of the Near East. In fact, a colon y of Jews at Elephantim the Samaritans in the building of their own temple. Why? Because the Samaritans had built their own Temple on Mt. Gerizim in the year 388 BC. Thus, in Jerusalem there was a Temple built after the Exile and at Gerizim there was a similar Temple to Yahweh built in the same period of time.
Relations between the Samaritans and Judeans worsened in 128 BC when the Temple on Mt. Gerizim was destroyed by the Judeans. In fact, it was the Jewish High Priest who led the battle against the Samaritans, John Hyrcanus.
From that point on, the Samaritans were viewed with disfavor by the Jews, and the Jews were despised by the Samaritans.
In the era of the New Testament, these strained relationships festered between mainline Judaism and Samaritan Judaism. Nevertheless, the Samaritans shared several things in common with the early Church in distinction with other segments of Judaism. First, the described themselves as the "sons of light" Second, both early Christianity and the Samaritans were critical of the Jerusalem Temple (cf. Acts 7:22ff). Third, both groups had a lively expectation that the Messiah (Taheb) would come soon. Interestingly, Acts 8 describes the Samaritans as one of the first mission fields of the gospel. Perhaps the similarities between the two groups led the early Christians to see a fertile field for missionary work.
That the authors of the New Testament felt a special kinship with the Samaritans is demonstrated in the way that they are portrayed in the New Testament. Cf. John 4:9, Luke 10:29-37, and Luke 17:11-19. Perhaps the two groups felt close because both were despised by the Jews of Judea.
The major beliefs of the Samaritans are these:
2- Only the Torah is Scripture
3- Moses is the Mediator of the Covenant
4- Mt. Gerizim (Shechem) is the Only Legitimate Temple (cf. Dt 27:4 in the Samaritan Pentateuch)
5- There will be a Day of Vengeance and a Day of Recompense
6- Festivegments of Judaism
Because the Samaritans had much in common with the early church, it is very possible that the letter to the Hebrews was composed to "draw them into the fold". After all, the entire purpose of the letter is to show the superiority of Jesus to every other form of Judaism, including the Samaritan branch. An outline of the letter will show this quite clearly:
1- Introduction (1:1-3)
2- The Superiority of Jesus, Son of God (1:4-4:13)
3- The Superiority of Jesusí Priesthood (4:14-7:28)
4- The Superiority of Jesusí Sacrifice (8:11-10:18)
5- The Superiority of Jesusí Love (10:19-12:29)
6- Practice Faith (13:1-19)
7- Conclusion (13:20-25)
It is no mistake that the letter falls into 7 clear divisions, as this too is an authorial device intended to demonstrate the superiority of Jesus to other sects of Judaism.
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