Deuteronomy and Exhortation in Hebrews: A Study in Narrative Re-presentation (A Review)

David M. Allen, Deuteronomy and Exhortation in Hebrews: A Study in Narrative Re-presentation. Wissenschaftliche Untersuchungen zum Neuen Testament 2. Reihe: 238. Mohr Siebeck, 2008

Hebrews, therefore, does not just use Deuteronomy; it becomes a new Deuteronomy.

With these words, David Allen concludes his marvelous study on the use of Deuteronomy Auctor’s letter to the Hebrews. Prof Allen’s monograph offers a detailed study of language, background, and narrative of Deuteronomy, especially the Song of Moses and its contribution to the composition and argument of the letter to the Hebrews. Allen’s book was a delight to read as it was informative.

The follow review will highlight a few points points of the book, offering praise and critique along the way. Not too often does one read a book and find his views about a given topic confirmed 0n almost every point. This is precisely what I found myself doing. Before I began reading–before I had even known about Prof Allen’s monograph–I was coming to some of the same conclusions that are argued for in Deuteronomy and Exhortation in Hebrews: A Study in Narrative Re-presentation.

In chapter one Allen summarizes the scholarship of Hebrews and Deuteronomy, particularly the use of the OT in Hebrews. Early on, Allen begins to build a case that Hebrews shares many affinities with Deuteronomy, specifically with Deut 32. There is also a lengthy section of the text of Deuteronomy as well as a section on Intertextuality and and Methodology. Allen acknowledges George Guthrie’s seminal work on the structure of Hebrews. Allen agrees with Guthrie’s analysis of two distinct thoughts in Hebrews: doctrinal and hortatory (p.12). While I agree with a lot of what Guthrie argues for in his work, I am not convinced that he–and Allen–are correct in treating them as distinct.

Chapter three focuses on the use of Deuteronomy in Hebrews. Allen analyzes the OT in Hebrews at four different levels: (direct) quotations, string allusions, echoes, and narrative affiliations. Each of these levels presents more of a challenge as Allen progresses through Hebrews. While I do think Allen makes a strong case for his argument, presenting much in favor of his view, I am nevertheless not as convinced at points. This is not because of a weakness in his argument, but rather because I am always uneasy when it comes to echoes and allusions of the OT in the NT. Even Allen admits this is a tricky practice: “Defining echoes is more complex and some element of subjectivity is inevitable in their identification” (p.17). In all, his treatment of the intertextuality is one of the best on Hebrews I have yet to read.

Because a textual link to Deuteronomy is not as strong in Hebrews, Allen’s thesis is based heavily on themes, motifs, and other OT pictures. It is here that I find his argument fascinating and very convincing. One of the strong points of Allen’s work is his insistence that just like Israel stood at the doorstep to the promised land, so too the New Covenant community (i.e. the Church) stands at the doorstep of the promised land. Allen argues that for Israel it was an exodus, but for the Church is a an eisodous: a entering in.

I wish I had more time to go more in-depth in my review of David Allen’s fabulous book. I would highly recommend this work to anyone who wants to understand Hebrews at the discourse level. Hebrews can be a difficult and confusing book, but David Allen paints a narrative masterpiece that weaves through the epistle, allowing the reader to see the big picture of Hebrews. Allen closes his work with the following:

By undertaking this intertextual engagement with Deuteronomy, the epistle’s writer transfers his audience away from their allegiance to an outdated, redundant Sinai existence, dons Mosaic garments and addresses them afresh on the plains of Moab. Within Hebrews’ new covenant situation, the exhortation to “Choose Life” remains as pressing as ever.

NB: If you want to read this work for yourself, here is a link to David Allen’s dissertation online.

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