Review of Jared Calaway’s The Sabbath and the Sanctuary

Calaway, Jared. The Sabbath and the Sanctuary: Access to God in the Letter to the Hebrews and Its Priestly Context. WUNT 2/349. Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2013.

The basis thesis of this book (a published version of Calaway’s dissertation, completed in 2010 at Columbia University) is that the author of Hebrews has combined sacred space Calaway(tabernacle) and sacred time (Sabbath) into a “singular heavenly reality denoting proximity to God’s presence” (1–2). Such a combination of sacred time and space locates Hebrews within a trajectory that begins with P(riestly) and H(oliness) portions of the Pentateuch, moves through Ezekiel and Third Isaiah, and finds particular expression in the Second Temple period in the Songs of the Sabbath Sacrifice.

First, Calaway notes close connections between Sabbath and sanctuary in the P(riestly) portions of Genesis and Exodus. In Genesis 1–2, noting the cosmological-sanctuary theme, he states: “The tabernacle became where God rested and the Sabbath when God rested from the work of creation” (37). This connection continues, moreover, as the instructions for the tabernacle are given on a seventh day (Exod 24:15ff.) and conclude with further exhortations concerning the Sabbath (Exod 31:17ff.) (39).

Second, Calaway identifies a “triad of God’s holiness: God’s self (name) in space (sanctuary) and time (Sabbath)” insofar as the profanation of these three things uniquely lead, according to H and Ezekiel, to Israel’s exile from the land (51). He also points to such statements as that of Lev 26:2, “You shall keep my Sabbaths and venerate my sanctuary,” to further substantiate the connection between sacred time and sacred space in this portion of the Hebrew Bible (47).

Moving ahead to Hebrews, Calaway begins with the fact that Sabbath is, in Heb 3:7–4:11, the means by which one gains access to sacred realities (59). And to make the connection to the earlier Priestly material clear, the author argues that the “rest” into which God’s people are to enter is not the land of Canaan, but rather the rest in which God himself has dwelt since creation (75). Calaway then makes two crucial (in my opinion) observations. First, the Day of Atonement is, according to H, a σάββατα σαββάτων—Sabbath of Sabbaths (84, esp. 163–67). On the weekly Sabbath the individual is consecrated and restored, and on Yom Kippur the temple (sacred space) itself is consecrated and restored (89). Thus Hebrews’ argument that Jesus’ entrance into God’s rest (Hebrews 3–4) took place on the Day of Atonement (Hebrews 5–10) reunites sacred time and space in much the same way envisioned by P and H (89). Second, Sabbath and sanctuary are the two things into which one may “enter” (είσέρχομαι) in Hebrews (159).

Calaway helpfully summarizes his reading of Hebrews as follows: “it is access to heavenly realities that is depicted as an ongoing Sabbath, which also has a spatial dimension as the heavenly homeland; this access is also depicted as the holy of holies of the tabernacle, which has a temporal dimension of the age to come” (177). In other words, sacred time (Sabbath) now has geographical coordinates (the heavenly city built by God; cf. Heb 11:10, 12:22), and sacred space (the tabernacle) now has temporal coordinates (the eschatological age; cf. Heb 2:5; 6:5).

While a variety of Second Temple texts other than Hebrews assume some integration of sacred time and sacred space, none does so along the trajectory described above quite like the Songs of the Sabbath Sacrifice. Calaway notes in particular its description of humanity and angels in joint worship (cf. Heb 12:23) on a Sabbath in the heavenly sanctuary (92). Both texts also mention the “pattern” of that sanctuary seen by Moses on Sinai, a theme picked up from priestly material in 1 Chronicles and Ezekiel (121–31). Both also (though all the instances in the Songs are all hypothetical reconstructions) emphasize Melchizedek as a heavenly priest (152). Both, furthermore, speak of bloody sacrifice in heaven (184). But these parallels also reveal an important distinction: “Both the Songs and Hebrews . . . offer a communal experience of heavenly realities, but in inverse manners: Those reciting the Songs liturgically experience heavenly realities in order to catalyze the heavenly sacrifice; for Hebrews, the sacrifice is the means by which the community can enter heavenly realities” (176–77; italics original).

Calaway concludes with some reflections on the historical situation behind Hebrews, particularly as it concerns the Jewish Wars and the Jerusalem temple. He argues that too much focus on 70 C.E. and the destruction of the temple has blinded us to the fact that the temple’s legitimacy was under fire long before its destruction (189), and particularly the fact that literature such as the Songs of the Sabbath Sacrifice highlighted a debate over access to sacred realities within Second Temple Judaism (196ff.). But he then suggests that the Christian movement offered little opposition to the religious establishment pre-70 C.E., and thus Hebrews’ voices arises more comfortably in the later part of the first century (202).

Most recent literature on Hebrews deals with either narrative portions (e.g., Hebrews 3–4) or cultic portions (Hebrews 5–10); it is to Calaway’s credit that he deals extensively with both and identifies some key threads that combine the two. [His recognition of the Sabbath-esque nature of Yom Kippur is particularly intriguing in this regard.] I also find convincing his basic thesis, that Hebrews has intertwined spatial and temporal dimensions to depict the eschatological hope of those who seek (through Jesus) to enter the presence of God.

I have several criticisms of the book, though each is relatively minor. First, it is overwhelmingly repetitive. For example, Calaway’s claim that the Day of Atonement is a “Sabbath of Sabbaths” in Leviticus 16:29–31 appears six times on pp. 162–67, and entire sections are simply restatements of what has been dicussed in earlier portions of the book (see, e.g., pp. 98–99, 181–82). I struggled at times, to be blunt, to accept that there was sufficient unique material in the book to justify a full-length monograph.

Second, inasmuch as the book traces the theme of Sabbath/sanctuary from its earlier (P) to later (Hebrews, Songs of the Sabbath Sacrifices) forms, some crucial pieces in the development of that theme are missing almost entirely. To state the obvious, the author of Hebrews did not read “P.” He did not, as far as we know, have any idea that such a document or oral tradition ever existed. Thus (for example) while I appreciated Calaway’s attention to Exodus in Hebrews (a neglected topic), he didn’t actually deal with Exodus at all, but rather certain portions of Exodus that modern scholars call P. By skipping from P to Hebrews, Calaway ignores not merely “Exodus,” but more precisely the form of Exodus available to the author of Hebrews: that of the Septuagint. If the particular trends identified in P and H had been shown in the Greek texts of Genesis–Leviticus, the argument would have been much more convincing.

Third, like some other recent studies of Hebrews’ cultic elements (e.g., David Moffitt’s Atonement and the Logic of the Resurrection in Hebrews and Daniel Stökl Ben Ezra’s The Impact of Yom Kippur on Early Christianity), Calaway focuses entirely on Hebrews’ use of the Day of Atonement (Yom Kippur) and ignores its claim that other kinds of Levitical sacrifices are likewise caught up in the one offering of Christ (see, e.g., Heb 9:12–13). Hebrews presents the work of Christ as the fulfillment of the whole Levitical system, not merely as a new Yom Kippur. As Ben Ribbens puts it in his recent dissertation, “Christ’s sacrifice encapsulates and, in so doing, fulfills every aspect of the levitical system all in one blow, all at once” (“Levitical Sacrifice and Heavenly Cult,” 190). Any thorough discussion of cultic language in Hebrews must take this fact into account, and Calaway fails to do so.

*Thanks to Mohr Siebeck for providing a review copy of this book.

About Mike Kibbe

I am a recent graduate of the PhD (NT) program at Wheaton College, having completed my dissertation on the Sinai theophanies in relation to their use in Hebrews 12. I have been married to Annie (Kerns) for 7 years, and we have one son, Sean, who was born February 2012. I currently teach undergraduate New Testament courses at Wheaton.
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One Response to Review of Jared Calaway’s The Sabbath and the Sanctuary

  1. Hank Voss says:

    Thanks Mike. Nice review.

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