This is NOT an April Fool’s joke, rather a serious conversation I had with my New Testament students yesterday. I was surprised to learn that most had never pondered the notion of female authorship for the unpenned book of Hebrews that is neither written by Paul nor meant for the Hebrews. Instead, what we have in Hebrews is homily like material presented in such a way that Hebrew narrative is offered up in the tradition of Greek philosophy such that our best guess is we have a Hellenized author who was also part of the Pauline circle writing somewhere around 100 C.E.
Students were assigned Ruth Hoppin’s article “The Epistle to the Hebrews is Prisca’s Letter” and I draw from her here as well as my own research across the years consulting fragments, archaeological evidence, and epigraphy to reconstruct a portrait of Prisca, the early church holy woman. The individual who wrote this work was educated, literate and close to Paul, as we study what can be known of her, Prisca fits all the above requisites.
Mentioned six times in the New Testament canon, Paul describes Prisca and her husband Aquilla as persons who “work with me in Christ Jesus, who risked their necks for my sake, to whom not only I but the whole Gentile church gives thanks” (Rom.16.3,4). Because of their status in the canon, we know they are close companions and co-laborers in the Gospel with Paul. Scholars have noted that of these six instances, in four of them, Prisca’s name is listed first which seems to indicate her prominence in the work according to Paul.
Because of archaeological evidence, we are able to discern a highly probable link between Prisca and the wealthy patrician family the Acilli Glabriones of ancient Rome. If she is a daughter of this famous house, then it stands to reason she would have been both literate and educated and well versed in philosophy. It is also possible that she fell in love with a Jewish Barbarian slave or freedman from her house who took on the family name, Acilli which morphed into Aquilla, that she later left Rome with him during the Claudian exile and together they encountered Paul in Corinth (Acts 18.2-3).
As we read through Hebrews, we are aware of Greek, even Platonic undertones even as the author is working to convey the story of Israel. The first four verses of the epistle read as from an ancient hymn drawn from early liturgical practices that pre-date Paul’s own letters. While much has been written about possible authorship, some have wondered if it’s original author was Apollos; I want to ask, maybe the author of Hebrews was our girl, the one who took Apollos aside and taught him the ways of Jesus (Acts 18. 26-27).
Of course, we can not come to any definitive solution here, time and space and sometimes agenda have prevented us from certainty. But if we know Prisca was an early Pauline circle leader, if its likely that she hailed from the Acillia Glabriones and was educated and nurtured in both Philosophy and the Paul’s Gospel of Jesus then is it too far to ponder her possible role as author? May God help us hear the voices of our mothers, chosen and called and vibrant in the texts we hold as sacred.