Messianic Passages in Heb 7

The seventh chapter of Hebrews is clearly a messianic reading of Gen 14 in light of Ps 110. The moves within the the author’s understanding of these passages are a delight to consider. Yet I am interested in why the author appeals to Judah in Heb 7.14. An easy enough answer may be that the author knew that Jesus himself was of the tribe of Judah, either from early Christian tradition or from genealogies like those found in Matt 1 or Luke 3. Certainly the author appeals to Judah because Jesus descended from this tribe and, as the author tells us, Moses does not say anything about a priesthood from Judah.

However, in a discussion that incorporates the levitical priesthood in a comparison with messianic priesthood of Melchizedek, it seems Gen 49 may also lie in the background. As in Heb 7, both Levi and Judah are in view in Jacob’s blessing of his sons, and Judah comes out looking much better than Levi. Gen 49 was also a text that was read messianically by both early Jews and early Christians (4Q 252; Rev. 5.5 cf. Targum Neofiti and Gen.Rab., ad. loc.).

While I could be wrong in thinking that Gen 49 is in the background of a discussion of Ps 110 and Gen 14, these quick observations about Gen 49 raise at least two questions. First, to what degree did Jewish messianic texts form the messianic vocabulary of early Christians? Second, if Gen 49 is in view to some degree within Heb 7 (even if it has only formed the author’s vocabulary and is not an intended allusion), how should this affect our interpretations of Heb 7?

Nothing well formulated follows in response to these two questions. I am only raising them for discussion. However, I hope to take a preliminary crack at an answer to these questions in a future post.


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