The Formation of the Jewish Canon

The Formation of the Jewish Canon

Copyright Date: 2013
Published by: Yale University Press
Pages: 224
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    The Formation of the Jewish Canon
    Book Description:

    The discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls provides unprecedented insight into the nature of the Hebrew Bible or Old Testament before its fixation. Timothy Lim here presents a complete account of the formation of the canon in Ancient Judaism from the emergence of the Torah in the Persian period to the final acceptance of the list of twenty-two/twenty-four books in the Rabbinic period.

    Using the Hebrew Bible, the Scrolls, the Apocrypha, the Letter of Aristeas, the writings of Philo, Josephus, the New Testament, and Rabbinic literature as primary evidence he argues that throughout the post-exilic period up to around 100 CE there was not one official "canon" accepted by all Jews; rather, there existed a plurality of collections of scriptures that were authoritative for different communities. Examining the literary sources and historical circumstances that led to the emergence of authoritative scriptures in ancient Judaism, Lim proposes a theory of the majority canon that posits that the Pharisaic canon became the canon of Rabbinic Judaism in the centuries after the destruction of the Jerusalem Temple.

    eISBN: 978-0-300-16495-4
    Subjects: Religion, History

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Preface
    (pp. ix-xii)
  4. List of Abbreviations
    (pp. xiii-xiv)
  5. 1 Modern and Ancient Views of the Canon
    (pp. 1-16)

    The concept of canon is a contentious topic, and not just in Biblical and Jewish Studies. The view that there is a canon that represents the highest literary merits and core values of Western society has been championed by some and denounced by others. The “Great Books” debate in American universities is a curricular manifestation of this philosophical and cultural clash. Supporters argue that it is possible to identify a set of works of heroic stature from the time of Homer to the present day that represents the touchstones of Western civilization. Critics counter by pointing to the imperial, ideological,...

  6. 2 The Emergence of the Canon Reconsidered
    (pp. 17-34)

    Today, scholarly opinion is deeply divided between those who believe that the canon was closed in the Persian or Maccabean period and those who hold that the canon remained open well into the centuries after the turning of the era. Fundamental disagreements exist not only about the interpretation of such passages as the Prologue to the Wisdom of Ben Sira, 2 Maccabees 2:13–15, 4QMMT C 10–11, Matthew 23:34–36, Luke 24:44, Mishnah Yadayim 3.5, Josephus’Contra Apionem1.38–42, and Bavli Baba Bathra 14b–15a and what they may or may not say about the formation of the...

  7. 3 The Earliest Canonical Lists and Notices
    (pp. 35-53)

    It is widely agreed that the earliest list of the canon in rabbinic literature is to be found in the Babylonian Talmud. The passage in Baba Bathra is important evidence for the closing of the Jewish canon, but the nature of the list and its dating are not as straightforward as is sometimes assumed. It is only one of several early Jewish lists of biblical books.

    In the following I will discuss the earliest canonical lists and notices. The distinction between the two is in the explicit or implicit expression of the biblical books. Thus, for instance, while Baba Bathra...

  8. 4 The Torah in the Persian and Early Hellenistic Periods
    (pp. 54-73)

    There is no ancient source that describes the process by which certain books became the holy scriptures of Judaism. How did Jews come to regard some books but not others as authoritative? While a full answer to the origins of the Jewish canon remains elusive, it has been recognized that the period subsequent to the return from exile is critical for understanding the emergence of authoritative scriptures. Was the rise of “the torah” supported by imperial edict?

    In particular, the account of the commission of Ezra has taken center stage in recent scholarly debates. Is the rescript of Artaxerxes in...

  9. 5 The Letter of Aristeas and Its Early Interpreters
    (pp. 74-93)

    It is often said that the Septuagint was the Bible of the Jewish diaspora in the period after the return of the Jews from exile to the emergence of Rabbinic Judaism. The simplicity of this assertion belies the complexity of the subject. Martin Hengel, in his discussion of the Christian reception of the Septuagint, entitles his opening chapter “A Difficult Subject.”¹ Hengel points out that the topic belongs to one of the most exclusive of specialities, septuagintal studies, and is thereforeterra incognitato most scholars.

    Moreover, the subject itself is difficult. “We cannot prove,” explains Hengel, “the existence of...

  10. 6 The Wisdom of Jesus ben Sira and 2 Maccabees
    (pp. 94-118)

    The second century is an important period for our understanding of the formation of the Jewish canon. Scholars have appealed to the Wisdom of Jesus ben Sira and 2 Maccabees to bolster the view that the canon was determined, if not already closed. In the following, the texts will be examined to see just how far the evidence can take us.

    It will be argued that the Prologue of Sir does not have in view the closed canon. In its conception, the collection of authoritative scriptures consisted of the law, the prophets, and the other ancestral books, but this is...

  11. 7 The Dead Sea Scrolls and Authoritative Scriptures
    (pp. 119-147)

    The Qumran-Essene theory holds that manuscripts discovered by Bedouin goatherds in caves by the Dead Sea in 1947 belong to the community of the Essenes. These scrolls were found in eleven caves close to the archaeological site of Khirbet Qumran and comprised “the library” of a monastic-like group of sectarians known from the classical sources as the Essenes.

    From the early days of research, scholars have advanced various views about the archaeology of Khirbet Qumran, its relationship to the scrolls found in the nearby caves, the origins of the community, the identification of key figures in the scrolls like “the...

  12. 8 The Holy Books of the Essenes and Therapeutae
    (pp. 148-155)

    It is difficult to know with certainty what the Essenes and Therapeutae understood by way of one or more collections of authoritative scriptures since what we know about both Jewish groups is derivative. The description of the Essenes is to be found in a few classical and patristic sources, not wholly independent of each other, and the Therapeutae are recounted only in the writings of Philo.¹ Because of this narrow evidential base, it is essential to situate the sources in their literary context. How did Philo and Josephus characterize the scriptures of the Essenes and Therapeutae?

    Philo describes the Essenes...

  13. 9 Canon in the Gospels and Pauline Letters
    (pp. 156-177)

    It is a truism to say that the Christian gospel was seen to complement the authoritative scriptures of ancient Judaism. The notion of fulfillment permeates the New Testament writers’ way of relating the significance of Jesus’ life and death to the words of Jewish scriptures (e.g., Mark 14:49; Matt 26:56; Luke 4:21; Acts 1:16; John 19:36; James 2:23). This fulfillment was expressed variously as the foretelling of ancient prophecy (e.g., Matt 2:15; Acts 3:18); the accomplishment of something that had been predicted (e.g., Matt 8:17; John 12:38; Rom 1:2); or the reader’s discovery of the true meaning of an ancient...

  14. 10 The Formation of the Jewish Canon
    (pp. 178-188)

    The process that led to the formation of the Jewish canon is complex and not easily summarized. In the foregoing discussion I selected important texts and issues to discuss with no attempt at a comprehensive survey, for the scope of such a review would have had to include the whole of ancient Jewish and early Christian literature. Instead, I opted for a narrower textual and scholarly engagement that traded breadth for depth. It seems to me that there are three broad areas that could benefit from a synthetic and reflective final discussion: the emergence of the canon; the various conceptions...

  15. Appendix 1: Some Modern Canons
    (pp. 189-190)
  16. Appendix 2: Early Canonical Lists
    (pp. 191-192)
  17. Appendix 3: Bryennios’ and Epiphanius’ Lists
    (pp. 193-194)
  18. Appendix 4: Extra-Canonical Jewish Writings and the Pauline Letters
    (pp. 195-207)
  19. Appendix 5: Scriptural References in Sirach 44–50
    (pp. 208-212)
  20. Notes
    (pp. 213-242)
  21. Select Bibliography
    (pp. 243-276)
  22. Index of Subjects
    (pp. 277-278)
  23. Index of Modern Authors
    (pp. 279-280)
  24. Index of Scripture and Other Ancient Sources
    (pp. 281-288)