A relevance-theoretical and intertextual study of the wilderness motif in Hebrews, especially in Heb 12:1-17

  • Zoe Hollinger

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy


This study examines the wilderness motif in Hebrews, particularly in Heb 12:1–17, from a relevance-theoretical perspective. Scholars have acknowledged frequent reference to wilderness traditions and texts in Hebrews, but none has so far demonstrated the extent of their influence on Hebrews’ thought: this is our goal. Having reviewed the history and development of intertextuality, and acknowledged its usefulness for biblical studies, I show how difficult the identification or interpretation of intertextual references would have been for audiences – highlighting the need to supplement intertextual methodology with a comprehensive theory of human communication: Relevance Theory. Using it as a control on Hays’ intertextual method, I examine all potential references to OT wilderness texts and traditions in Hebrews, to ascertain how the audience might process and grasp Hebrews’ argument. In its depiction of the tabernacle, sacrifices and priesthood, Hebrews uses the Pentateuchal wilderness narrative extensively, but also new exodus texts from Isaiah, Jeremiah and Haggai. Such a combination of intertexts suggests that Hebrews reflects a tradition that developed in later OT and Second Temple texts where Zion came to be seen as the goal of the exodus and conquest and this, in turn, explains both why Jesus is not only wilderness leader but also Davidic king and also why the audience, whose situation is analogous to Israel in the wilderness, nevertheless arrives not at Canaan but Zion. In conclusion, I commend the benefits of using Relevance Theory in OT-in-the-NT studies and discuss the impact of Hebrews’ wilderness motif on our understanding of the book as a whole.
Date of AwardJul 2019
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • Queen's University Belfast
SponsorsNorthern Ireland Department for the Economy
SupervisorCampbell Campbell (Supervisor) & Janet Unsworth (Supervisor)

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