The fourteen essays in this book originated as papers delivered at the fifth annual meeting of the ProPsalms (Project Psalms) seminar, an interdisciplinary effort comprising European and African scholars. Whatever else is gained by the book’s international flavor, one helpful result is that the South African scholars give the rest of us access to some Afrikaans/Dutch literature that would otherwise remain inaccessible. Unlike much literature in this genre, the collection is fairly coherent, thanks to a clearly defined and sufficiently narrow subject: the reception of the psalms in Hebrews. Added to this, several of the essays tackle the same psalm: there are four essays on Ps 8, three on Ps 95, and two on Ps 110. Of the five other essays, one covers Ps 40, three cover larger hermeneutical and/or theological issues (one of these also focuses on Ps 8), and one covers the contemporary reception of the psalms in Africa, with Hebrews providing a point of comparison. All of the essays are conveniently summarized by the editors in a seven-page preface, which makes a similar summary here redundant. What follows is, instead, a few brief (and, in one case, critical) notes on three of the book’s more interesting proposals. (I will pass over the reference to the “authors” of Hebrews in the book’s first essay!)
First, in his article entitled “The Son, the Angels and the Odd: Psalm 8 in Hebrews 1 and 2,” Sebastian Fuhrmann suggests that the devil, not Jesus, is the subject of ἐπιλαμβάνεται (2x) in Heb 2:16 because the verb, with a genitive object, more often means something like “attack” not “help” (contra, e.g., NIV, ESV, NRSV). Fuhrmann thinks the syntax of 2:14–17a also supports this reading. He suggests that 2:16’s δήπου (“surely” or “it is clear”) refers to previous knowledge the audience had and assumes the reference is to the known fact that the devil attacks only humans, not angels. Further, since Jesus’ actions in 2:14–17a are described in the aorist tense (sic; ὤφειλεν in 2:17 is imperfect), ἐπιλαμβάνεται, a present tense verb, must have a different subject. Otherwise, the consistent presentation of Jesus’ actions as “related to an exact point of time” would be disrupted by an action that is apparently “commonplace or ongoing.” Finally, Fuhrmann suggests that this reading better explains the mention of angels in 2:16 than the traditional view does: “The question pending from the psalm quotation was not, ‘is Jesus taking care of the angels or on [sic; of?] anybody else?,’ but rather ‘why was the Son required to be humiliated?’”
Fuhrmann’s proposal is interesting. It has, however, also overcooked the data. The lexical evidence he relies on is ambiguous at best; most often ἐπιλαμβάνομαι denotes simply taking hold of something (check the references he lists on p. 92nn.34–35). That someone could take hold of something or someone for violent ends is not disputed; it just is not the case that such ends imply that the verb itself denotes violent seizure. And even if it did have this meaning, could it not denote Jesus’ violent seizure of Abraham’s seed from the devil’s clutches (cf. ἐπιλαβομένου in 8:9)? Furthermore, it is true that δήπου implies a given fact. However, whether the given fact is what Fuhrmann assumes or is what the traditional view suggests (i.e., Jesus helps humans not angels) is the issue under discussion. It cannot be settled, as Fuhrmann appears to do, by simple assertion. Much the same could be said of Fuhrmann’s final argument. I do not see why the question “is Jesus taking care of angels or . . . [humans]?” could not also imply the additional question Fuhrmann sees underlying 2:5–18: “why was the Son required to be humiliated?” Finally, the fact that Jesus is the subject of four aorist verbs in 2:14–17a does not make it any less likely for him to be the subject of a verb of another tense—something already proven by ὤφειλεν in v. 17. Perhaps the author of Hebrews wants to portray Jesus as continuously helping Abraham’s descendants based on other actions the author portrays as completed. In any case, Jesus is the subject of a present participle and two present tense verbs in 2:11 (cf. δύναται in 2:18). Could he not be the subject of ἐπιλαμβάνεται as well?
Second, in an essay entitled “LXX Psalm 39:7–10 in Hebrews 10:5–7,” Martin Karrer suggests that σῶμα (“body”) was the original wording of the Old Greek translation of Ps 39:7 (ET 40:6) and was introduced, along with κατηρτίσω (“prepared”) to help Greek readers understand a difficult Hebrew idiom (“You dug ears for me”). He thinks this reading is original because the variants ὦτα and ὠτία (“ears”) are not found in any LXX manuscript earlier than Hebrews. They are, rather, found only in later Greek translations (which show a tendency toward more formal equivalence) and citations in the Church fathers (some of whom had a low regard for Hebrews, e.g., Irenaeus). Moreover, following Christian-B. Amphoux and Gilles Dorival’s study, Karrer says that ὠτία, which is preferred by Rahlfs (the standard, semi-critical Greek text of the Psalter), represents a younger or more recent way of making οὖς (“ear”) plural. As such, it does not reflect the sort of Greek that would have been written when the Psalter was originally translated or, for that matter, early revised. Further, Karrer notes that σῶμα occurs in all Greek manuscripts of the LXX. These, he insists, were not all influenced by Hebrews as Rahlfs suggests, since there are not additional instances where Hebrews has similarly influenced the entire LXX manuscript tradition. Thus, he concludes that Rahlfs’s text is wrong in preferring ὠτία to σῶμα and should be changed in future editions.
Third, in an essay entitled “From Priest-King to King-Priest: Psalm 110 and the Basic Structure of Hebrews,” Gert J. C. Jordaan and Pieter Nel revive George W. Buchanan’s theory that Hebrews is a homiletical midrash on Ps 110. After showing the numerous places in Hebrews where Ps 110 is cited or alluded to, they demonstrate how the structure of Hebrews corresponds to the structure of the psalm. For example, both Ps 110 and Hebrews begin and end with declarations of the king’s conquest (cf. Ps 110:1, 7 and Heb 1:1–14; 12:1–29). Also the center of both texts highlights the king’s priestly-appointment (cf. Ps 110:4 and Heb 5:1–7:28). They conclude, therefore, that both observations—i.e., Hebrews’ frequent use of the psalm and correspondence to the psalm’s structure—suggest Hebrews meets two essential criteria of midrashic literature (Jewish commentary on Scripture) as noted, e.g., in James L. Bailey and Lyle D. Vander Broek, Literary Forms in the New Testament: A Handbook (Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 1992).
Besides these essays, there are one or two other illuminating pieces (e.g., de Villiers’ essay entitled “Reflections on Creation and Humankind in Psalm 8, the Septuagint and Hebrews”) and a few less illuminating pieces. As such, this expensive book is best borrowed, not purchased.