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May 8, 2010 / vivator

Exploring the Origins of the Bible

The title of this post comes from the title of the book edited by Craig A. Evans and Emanuel Tov, published by Baker Academic in 2008. Craig A. Evans is Payzant Distinguished Professor of New Testament at Acadia Divinity College in Wolfville, Nova Scotia, Canada and Emanuel Tov is J.L. Magnes Professor of Bible at Hebrew University in Jerusalem, Israel and editor-in-chief of the Dead Sea Scrolls Publication Project. The book comprises eight papers written by a number of scholars on biblical studies.  Below is extract from one of the papers: Writings Ostensibly outside the Canon, written by J.H. Charlesworth (George L. Collord Prifessor of New Testament Language and Literature at Princeton Theological Seminary and the director and editor of the Princeton Dead Sea Scrolls Project):

The canon of books in the Hebrew Bible, or Old Testament, was not decided in the first century CE [Common Era = AD] or at Yavneh (Jamnia), as many experts assumed for centuries. The Hebrew and Aramaic scrolls of Scripture found in caves west of the Dead Sea prove that the canonical process moved along diverse and obscure tracts. The canon was not closed even, as some scholars claim, in the second century CE at Yavneh. Debates over some books continued in Judaism until the sixth century CE. Eventually Sirach [Ecclesiasticus], which had been regarded as a canonical book by some Jews, was considered “noncanonical”, and Esther was added to the canon.

The Hebrew Bible is trifurcated into Torah, Prophets, and Writings (Tanak). The Torah was closed first, most likely before the third century BCE [Before Common Era = BC] The books in the Prophets were defined sometime later, most likely before the defeat of Bar Kokhba (135/6 CE). The contents of the books of Samuel and Jeremiah remained unclear until at least 70 CE. Some books in the Writings were debated until the sixth century CE.

Exploring the Origins of the Bible, page 58-59



Leave a Comment
  1. Nathan / May 14 2010 1:10 pm

    Excellent post! History is so often more complex and nuanced than we are led to believe. I only recently discovered the joys of Wisdom and Sirach and the other protestant-rejected OT books, and it’s been eye-opening to begin to learn the real history of canon formation.

  2. modsynth / May 28 2010 10:50 am

    I’ve been meaning to read this book. I’m a fan of Craig Evans. Jesus scholarship has gotten crazy lately, and his book “Fabricating Jesus” does a great job of bringing some clarity to the issue.

  3. Mike / Jun 11 2010 9:01 pm

    From R.T. Beckwith, “The Canon of the Old Testament” in Phillip Comfort, The Origin of the Bible (Wheaton: Tyndale House, 2003) pp. 57-64.
    “What evidently happened in the early centuries of Christianity was this: Christ passed on to his followers, as Holy Scriptures, the Bible which he had received, containing the same books as the Hebrew Bible today.
    The first Christians shared with their Jewish contemporaries a full knowledge of the identity of the canonical books. However, the Bible was not yet between two covers: it was a memorized list of scrolls. The breach with Jewish oral tradition (in some matters a very necessary breach), the alienation between Jew and Christian, and the general ignorance of Semitic languages in the church outside Palestine and Syria, led to increasing doubt concerning the canon among Christians, which was accentuated by the drawing up of new lists of the biblical books, arranged on other principles, and the introduction of new lectionaries. Such doubt about the canon could only be resolved today, in the way it was resolved at the Reformation- by returning to the teaching of the New Testament and the Jewish background against which it is to be understood.”

  4. modsynth / Jun 12 2010 7:53 am

    Thanks, Mike, but I don’t think that hypothesis is “evident” at all. If Jesus did made such a significant statement against many of the books in the Septuagint and passed them down to his apostles, then I think this supposed list would have been publicized during one of their meetings or within at least one of their written statements giving its importance. Instead of rejection, the apostolic churches in Judea used the Septuagint apparently along with the deuterocanonical/apocryphal books in it. If Peter knew they weren’t accepted, why wouldn’t he have told Clement or others who apparently knew him yet quoted these contested books? The further churches in Syria and beyond used many other New Testament texts that the more central church did not accept as canonical, but this does not seem to be the case concerning the Old Testament.

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