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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 dismissed.

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 Commission stated:

"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 own mind.

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 other way?

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 suppressed intentionally.

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 author.

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. (13)

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 or Priscilla.

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 Priscilla.

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 today.

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.

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