Ruth Hoppin is a native of New York City, now residing in Daly City, a
suburb of San Francisco. She and her husband are parents of a daughter and a son.
As an independent researcher, Ruth has written and lectured on scripture
pertaining to the status of women. For many years her focus has been on
Priscilla as author of the epistle to the Hebrews. Her article "The
Book of Hebrews Revisited: Implications of the Theology of Hebrews for Gender
Equality" appeared in Priscilla Papers, the journal of
Christians for Biblical Equality in the Winter 2003 edition. She also writes about
contemplative prayer- both prose and poetry. Poetry is one of her major
interests. She founded and coordinated the Daly City Poetry and Short
Story Contest for seventeen years.
Ruth has taught many Bible classes at church and is an Episcopalian.
She enjoys occasional travel, and has been striving to learn French- not hobbies
exactly, as both endeavors have their serious side!
Priscilla's Letter: Finding the Author of the Epistle to the Hebrews was
originally published in 1997 by International Scholars Publications under the
Christian Universities Press imprint. It was taken out of print after only
a few months of availability. Circumstances suggest deliberate suppression
due to the influence of those who regard the concept of female authorship of the
epistle intolerable. It has been republished by Lost Coast Press.
Priscilla's Letter is written as a fascinating trial where the evidence is laid
out before a jury. The following is the first chapter and a paragraph from
the ending of the book entitled "Charge to the Jury."
Priscilla's Letter may be purchased from Amazon
(click here) or Abe Books (click here). Both are selling new copies as well as used copies that were published in 1997 - the edition that was suppressed.
There has been an important development in the matter of the suspicious
"disappearance" of the 1997 edition of "Priscilla's Letter: Finding
the Author of the Epistle to the Hebrews." Litigation spanning four
years has been successfully concluded. For information click here.
"We are Witnesses to a Mystery."
From Priscilla's Letter by Ruth Hoppin
A Profusion of Authors and Paul in Particular
In Apostolic times, a remarkable letter was written to a group of Christians by
one of their spiritual leaders. A few years later, copies were circulated
to churches in other locations. The first-century church was admonished by
its zeal and discernment and uplifted by its stirring prose. This letter
eventually found its way into the New Testament canon and is know to us as The "Epistle to the Hebrews." In a tangled strand of history, deep mystery
surrounds the name of the author.
A literary and theological masterpiece, the letter was much too good to be
without an author--either real or pseudonymous. Before long, the names of
several leaders of the church became attached to it. Clement of Rome,
Barnabas and Paul were the foremost candidates. Luke, Philip, Silas and
others "also ran." Instead of solving the mystery, such expedients only
multiplied confusion, for not one of these names was universally accepted.
Time has obscured the truth with competing theories of authorship. Each
theory is dogged by evidence that contradicts it--except one that I hope to
demonstrate is true, or totally devoid of any evidence at all and must be
Hebrews is seldom ascribed to Paul nowadays, and belief in the Pauline
authorship of Hebrews should not be considered a test of orthodoxy. If he
didn't write it, what virtue can there be in thinking that he did?
There has not always been agreement that Paul either did or did not write
Hebrews. In first century Alexandria, a theory emerged that the letter to
the Hebrews is a free translation of Paul's words, or a paraphrase of his
thoughts. (1) Along the same line, in 1914 the Pontifical Biblical
"Criteria of language and content prove that Paul was the author.
Yet it is not necessary to assume that Paul gave the Epistle its form." (2)
One must be impressed by the persistence of this theory, but there is little
to substantiate it. Imagine Paul employing a ghostwriter! Consider this
unique document--its artistry, originality, and literary excellence.
Despite affinities with Paul's thought, surely it is the product of the author's
Why might some people still think of Paul as the author of Hebrews?
His name is part of the title of the letter in the King James Bible, and may be
unquestioned for that reason alone. The author's conversion, (3) mediated
by those who saw and heard Jesus, so at variance with the conversion of Paul, is
overlooked. The apologetic tone of the postscript, to be discussed in
detail later, and the absence of Paul's usual signature go unnoticed. This
should not be so. Nor can we attribute the chasm between the style and
vocabulary of Hebrews and the letters of Paul to differences in subject
matter--and these criteria alone should disqualify him.
Did the author in fact send an anonymous letter? After all, the
identity of the author must have been known to the recipients. How else
can we explain the request for prayer that the author be restored to them
sooner?(4) Westcott, in his monumental work, declares the author did
nothing to hide his identity. (5) This is perfectly true. Did the
author merely fail to sign his name? Or was the name "lost" in some
The crux of the matter is the omission of personal greetings, where the name of
the author usually occurs, at the beginning of Hebrews. Some scholars
conclude it is not a letter at all, but a study paper. This assumption
runs into real trouble in the ending, where personal greetings are present.
Nor does it follow where the message ineluctably leads--to a cluster of churches
in a specific location where the author had a teaching ministry. He knew
the recipients well enough to be dissatisfied with their progress. From
the past, he recounts evidence of their faith. With affection and chiding,
he scores their present apathy. Hebrews is an epistle, and the author was
known to the original recipients.
However, unlike other contemporaneous letters, the letter to the Hebrews has no
prescript, with the author's name. Never was an opening sentence so
conspicuous by its absence. Was it left out intentionally? If
so, by whom and why? Did someone decide to do away with the
prescript? A motive would not be hard to find. By suppressing
the name of the author, the letter could be assigned to Paul--much to the liking
of certain elements in the church. Or did the author or friends of the
author omit the prescript when copies were circulated, in order to secure
acceptance for the letter? In a completely different scenario, could
the loss of the prescript be accidental?
The latter possibility is too remote to be taken seriously. This is the
scholarly consensus. (6) The facts in the case are simple and clear.
We have about 14,000 letters from the ancient world. (7)
Many are originals. Not one lacks the usual greetings. (8) There is
no record of the prescript alone becoming lost from any papyrus roll. (9)
If Hebrews is an exception, it is the only exception we know of.
Technically, the prescript is one sentence containing the name of the sender,
the name of the recipient, and the preliminary greetings. (Paul
customarily used two sentences.) (10) Since the introductory greeting is so
brief, its loss would inevitably include part of the remainder of the writing.
(11) It is more likely that the prescript was left out by the author.
The sentence we know as Hebrews 1:1 is highly alliterative and a perfectly good
beginning. The "mystery of the missing prescript" deepens to "the mystery
of the missing author."
Loss of the Author's Name
The loss of the author's name occurred very early, creating the world's most
provocative "whodunit." Both riddle and clue: the exalted nature of the epistle,
and by inference, the conspicuousness of the writer in the early church.
Although the author was known to the first recipients, we have seen that when
copies were circulated from Rome, at a certain time, the name was omitted.
The prominence of women in the church was falling out of favor, and the name was
omitted either to suppress its female authorship, or to protect the letter
itself from suppression. A telling circumstance is that Clement, Bishop of
Rome, made extensive use of Hebrews in his Epistle to Corinthians, 95-96 A.D.,
but never said who he was quoting. By contrast, Clement did mention Paul
when quoting him.
Harnack, citing Zahn, argued that since the letter was attributed at one time to
Barnabas, and also to Paul, there must have been a time when it circulated
anonymously. He reasoned that most likely, the identity of the author was
Gilbert Bilezikian, a teacher of biblical studies at Wheaton College, remarks on
"the conspiracy of anonymity in the ancient church," and reasons:
"The lack of any firm data concerning the identity of the author in the
extant writings of the church suggests a deliberate blackout more than a
case of collective loss of memory." (12)
But why? The riddle is solved, of course, if Priscilla were the
Five years after Harnack's article was published, Friedrich Schiele forcefully
supported his hypothesis. Writing in "The American Journal of Theology",
he countered the claim that the authorship of Hebrews could not be known.
He then proceeded to defend the likelihood of Priscilla's authorship.
Schiele declared that the anonymity of Hebrews was unique in the New Testament
and related literature. In the case of letters, the author's name was of
prime importance and easiest to preserve, but should it be lost a pseudonym
would customarily be provided. He wrote:
The anonymity of the Epistle to the Hebrews appears so peculiar
and abnormal that it urgently demands an explanation...Why has just this
epistle lost its author's name without the substitution of a better one?...
Harnack's Prisca hypothesis furnishes a complete and satisfying solution.
Schiele gave a second reason why we should not abandon the search for the
author's identity: "the circle of Paul's friends is so well known that it would
be surprising if from among its many names, that of the author... did not...
appear." In other words, we virtually have a list of names in which it appears.
A more recent writer who noted the issue of "anonymity" is A. Victor Murray (14)
who conceded that the epistle may have been written by Priscilla "and this would
account for the name of the author being omitted." Yet, others have agonized
over the loss of the author's name without giving a clue that Harnack and his
supporters find a reasonable explanation in feminine authorship of the epistle.
D. A. Hayes (15) realizes that the author was well known to the original
recipients. So well known, in fact, that his style was immediately
recognizable. It seemed unnecessary to "chronicle his name," Hayes
explains, "so today he is. ..The Great Unknown." Hayes goes on to say that
uncertainty over the author's name, going far back into antiquity, is "one of
the strangest facts in all literature," and the chance that the author was not
commemorated in scripture is simply incredible. Still no mention of Hamack
Hayes remarked that Hebrews entered the New Testament canon on a cloud of
mystery. How fortunate this document was not lost to us along with the
author! What a sad commentary on human nature and sober warning to us that its
authenticity was tied to the question: Did Paul write it? What a
loss to the Christian world if its inclusion in the New Testament canon,
touch-and-go for three hundred years, had been prevented by hero-worship and
prejudice. The Western church was more at fault, omitting it from the
Muratorian Canon of the late second century and depreciating its value. (16)
About this time, the Eastern church, theorizing but never proving the letter was
Paul's, accepted it anyway. (17) Finally, it was attributed to Paul and
arranged with his letters.
In the third century, Chester Beatty Papyrus II, Hebrews appears after Romans.
(18) Proximity to the letters of Paul was beginning to overcome its
troublesome anonymity. In the fourth century manuscripts Vaticanus and
Sinaiticus, it appears before the Pastorals, (19) Paul becoming the author
by implication. Also, apostolic origin was imputed to the letter. At
Alexandria, optimism triumphed over doubt in the year 367 A.D. when the Easter
letter of Athanasius stated Paul wrote fourteen epistles including Hebrews. (20)
Further authorization was given by councils at Hippo in 393 A.D. and Carthage in
197 and 419 A.D. (21) The letter to the Hebrews was "in"!
Acceptance of Hebrews into the canon of the New Testament has given the world a
compelling mystery and piqued the curiosity of scholars. The long struggle
to realize the spiritual equality conferred by God adds relevance and impetus to
the question: "Did a woman write Holy Scripture?"
James Hope Moulton, New Testament scholar and Greek lexicographer, writing in
1909, referred to the "man-or woman" who wrote Hebrews. (22) Years later,
in his Greek Testament lexicon, Priscilla is referred to primarily in terms of
Harnack's carefully reasoned hypothesis. (23)
However, according to another expositor, the Epistle to the Hebrews is
the product of a masculine mind. (24) This noteworthy assumption stands
all alone. It is not preceded by a line of reasoning, nor is it followed
by one word of explanation. In the absence of further elucidation, we can
only say that his conclusion may be the product of a closed mind!
We shall discover in the course of our investigation that quite the contrary,
Hebrews appears to be the product of a feminine mind.
Compelling evidence has been presented; ponder it well.
Together, we have delved into scripture, archaeology, and a wide variety of
documents to glean the truth about an ancient mystery. Concomitant to
knowledge is a mind that is open to truth.
Charge to the Jury
Weigh the evidence, which is cumulative, and consider the line of reasoning in
its entirety. Point by point the scale is tipped; Priscilla outbalancing
the other candidates.
The scale tells us that the Epistle to the Hebrews should be ascribed to
Follow where the evidence leads, further along the path. This is about the
apostolic church, and an eminent woman leader in that church. Therefore
the path may lead to reconsideration of the apostolic age as a standard for
In those formative years, men and women pioneered a new faith. Gifts of
the Holy Spirit, conferred without partiality, operating without hindrance,
empowered the entire community.
That vision of our common humanity, transformed by grace, was the glory of the
early church. May we descry the star that shone so brightly for them, as
they stood on the threshold of a new spiritual era.