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ISSN 0045-0308

BOOK REVIEW  Published in Volume 51, 2003

C. R. Koester, Hebrews. Anchor Bible. (New York: Doubleday, 2001). Pp. Xxiii + 604. $US 47.50.

Craig R. Koester’s commentary on Hebrews fulfils the aims of The Anchor Bible series by maintaining the highest standards of scholarship while serving the needs of the general reader. Koester’s own translation of Hebrews is printed in full at the beginning and repeated in part as each passage is discussed. There is also some repetition between Introduction, Notes and Comment. The Introduction contains a useful history of interpretation. The treatment of the social setting and of the genre of Hebrews makes a distinctive contribution to the Introduction and to the commentary proper. Koester detects three phases in the history of the community to which Hebrews is addressed: conversion of the first members, hostile treatment by outsiders, and reduced but prolonged opposition which sapped the energy and faith of some members. Instead of locating Hebrews in a precise time and place, Koester prudently sets the writing in the general context of a Christian community which has its own definite characteristics and is related to a Jewish subculture and to the dominant Graeco-Roman culture.

Hebrews is regarded as a hortatory speech rather than a letter or a sermon. Koester distinguishes concentric and linear analyses of the structure of Hebrews. He prefers a linear approach “using classical rhetorical patterns” (p. 84): exordium (1:1–2:4), proposition (2:5–9), three series of arguments followed in each case by a transitional digression (2:10–12:27), peroration (12.28-13.21), and an epistolary postscript (13:22–25). The detailed table of Contents helpfully expands this outline. Theological themes important for Hebrews are also discussed in the Introduction. And there is an extensive and up-to-date Bibliography. In the commentary proper each passage of the translated text is followed by Notes on particular points and a general Comment. However: “Readers who want a sense of the whole passage should read the COMMENT sections first” (p. xiii). The format has varied in recent Anchor Bible volumes.

The commentary is well documented with references to Biblical, Patristic and Graeco-Roman sources; sometimes a reference seems remote from the text; and there is no index of the passages cited. Koester frequently reports a range of views on a particular issue; occasionally the commentator’s own preference seems arbitrary. Conversely, where alternative views are possible, Koester sometimes embraces both possibilities. But does the author of Hebrews really intend hypostasis to mean both “essential reality” and “steadfastness” (p. 181)? Grammatical arguments are not always valid (e.g., on the Aspect of Participles, pp. 178, 461). “Might” is repeatedly misused for “may”. There are a few misprints or mis-spellings, especially in transliterated Greek or Latin words. Although epistolary features appear from 13:18 onwards, Koester treats only 13:22–25 as an “epistolary postscript” and is not deterred from his view of the whole writing as a speech. In this case, the separation of the speaker from his audience remains unresolved.

But, despite such criticisms, the overall impression is that Koester has written a sensible, balanced and intelligible commentary on one of the more opaque writings of the New Testament.

Review by
Darryl W. Palmer
Centre for Archaeology & Classics
The University of Melbourne