A great high priest who has passed through the heavens: In quest of the apocalyptic roots of the epistle to the Hebrews

James M Carlson, Marquette University


The nature of the problem addressed is the lack of a thorough discussion of the relationship of the exaltation of Christ in Hebrews to the assortment of ideas and images present in Jewish apocalyptic literature which the epistle seems to echo. This study begins with a historical survey of the way in which the epistle was interpreted and used from the patristic period through to the Renaissance and Reformation. The purpose of this chapter is to set the question of Hebrews' apocalyptic roots in relief from the kinds of questions historically asked of the epistle. Historically the epistle has been interpreted in a manner less interested in its contextual meaning and more interested in its usefulness in supporting an assortment of theological and ecclesiastical propositions throughout various periods. The second chapter outlines some of the most pertinent scholarship of the nineteenth century on the apocalyptic background of Hebrews. A number of nineteenth-century commentaries on Hebrews will be examined with special attention to those passages which most clearly reflect the influence of apocalyptic images and concepts. In their lack of attention to the relationship between Hebrews and other apocalyptic accounts of heavenly ascent, the observers of Hebrews from this period also show the unique nature of the question posed by this study. The third chapter examines the connections made by twentieth-century observers between Jewish apocalyptic writings, Qumran documents and Hebrews as those connections involve heavenly ascent, heavenly priesthood and the concept of a heavenly temple. This chapter will identify issues which are lacking treatment or insufficiently treated in current scholarship. Chapter four explores Jewish literature, both canonical and non-canonical, which describes heavenly visions or ascent by a Jewish figure in order to make connections to the heavenly ascent of Christ in Hebrews. Based on the examination of roots and the connections that will be drawn, this study will demonstrate three stages of development in the literature describing heavenly visions or heavenly ascent. This study will show the way in which Hebrews reflects the unique traits of each stage in its portrayal of the exaltation of Christ. The conclusion of this dissertation raises three passages from Hebrews which merit re-examination through the framework of heavenly ascent as described in the previous two chapters. I present avenues of further study which come to light when the epistle is viewed through this framework.

Recommended Citation

Carlson, James M, "A great high priest who has passed through the heavens: In quest of the apocalyptic roots of the epistle to the Hebrews" (2008). Dissertations (1962 - 2010) Access via Proquest Digital Dissertations. AAI3306503.