Monday, October 16, 2017

New Book: Biblical Canon Lists from Early Christianity

In just a couple weeks, those living in the UK (or those who order books thence) can pick up a copy of The Biblical Canon Lists from Early Christianity: Texts and Analysis, published by Oxford and written by yours truly along with John Meade. It goes on sale in the UK at the beginning of November, whereas we in the USA have to wait until the beginning of next year.

You can see a preview at Google Books, and of course you'll want to check out the Amazon page (US site, or UK site). It's offered for the very reasonable price of $45 or £35. Feel free to pre-order now.

The main attraction of the book--the reason you'll want your own copy--is because John and I have collected all the biblical canon lists from the first four centuries of Christianity, and we present them in the original languages and English translation (in parallel columns) with introductions and extensive notes. So, you've heard so much about the 39th Festal Letter of Athanasius, which listed for the first time in history the exact 27 books of the NT that we now accept, and you'd like to read the letter for yourself--our book has it, or the extant portions in Greek, anyway, with an English translation. Read the letter for yourself. We also print the Muratorian Fragment in Latin and English, and the canon list of Eusebius of Caesarea (Greek and English), and the various lists of Origen (in Greek/Latin and English). And, of course, many more: Jerome, Augustine, Gregory of Nazianzus, Cyril of Jerusalem, Epiphanius, Pope Innocent I, etc.

Most of these lists include the OT and the NT. We print all relevant portions, typically erring on the side of providing more than enough of the context rather than too little.

We recognize that Jewish canon lists are also important for study of the OT canon. Unfortunately, there aren't a whole lot of early Jewish lists, but there are the lists of Josephus (more of a discussion than a list) and the Talmud (Baba Bathra 14b). Despite the name of the book, with its focus on early Christianity, we do have a chapter in which we present these two Jewish lists, Josephus in Greek and English, the Talmudic list in Hebrew and English.

There is one Syriac list included, and a chapter on biblical manuscripts in Greek, Latin, and Syriac from the first millennium of Christianity. An appendix covers basic information about the books "on the fringe" of the canon (e.g., Esther, Tobit, Laodiceans, Gospel of Thomas, etc.). A substantial introduction (56 pages) surveys the development of the biblical canon, providing a context for study of the canon lists that follow.

We think it will be a book that scholars and students will want to refer to often when dealing with the biblical canon.

Thursday, October 12, 2017

Septuagint and Canon: Hengel, part 5

This is the final post in the Hengel series, covering the final chapter of his The Septuagint as Christian Scripture.

Chapter 5: The Origin of the 'Christian Septuagint' and Its Additional Writings (pp. 105–27)

Hengel begins with a survey of Christian terminology for Scripture, showing that usually they were simply called "Scriptures," occasionally "holy Scriptures," less frequently "Law and Prophets" or similar, sometimes just Prophets (referring to all Jewish Scripture) and sometimes just Law. As for texts actually cited, you've got just a few books that predominate, especially Isaiah, Psalms, Deuteronomy, the rest of the Torah (not so much Numbers) and the Twelve. There are some "strange quotations," the source of which is debated, but the source is certainly not the extra books of the LXX codices.
The question of the origin of the larger canon of the early church, which so occupies us today, was apparently not yet in view. On the basis of the New Testament's use of Scripture, one would actually expect a smaller canon. (p. 111)
And here is the answer to the whole question addressed by this book:
The question of why the Old Testament attained in the church precisely the form present--still not completely uniformly--in the great codices of the fourth and fifth centuries is essentially insoluble. (p. 112)
Hengel finds knowledge of the extra writings quite early. "It also seems noteworthy that traces of the documents with which we are concerned occurred primarily in the West, but are scarcely transmitted in the East until Clement of Alexandria" (p. 116). Very helpfully, Hengel takes these documents one-by-one and traces their early reception in the church, focusing on citations and clear allusions. He had previously pointed out that there's not much in the way of explicit quotations in the first two centuries of Christian literature.

So, why did these writings prevail in the church, "immediately in the West, more slowly and half-heartedly in the East?" (p. 122). Because, as Luther said, they were useful and good to read. That's exactly why Athanasius prescribed some of this literature to catechumens. Hengel makes the interesting suggestion that these books may have "already had an analogous function in the instruction of proselytes in a number of synagogues of the Diaspora. This remains mere speculation, however; it is mentioned by neither Philo nor Josephus" (p. 123).

Hengel proposes that it was the library at Rome that served as the gateway for this literature to enter the wider Christian community.

He concludes with some reflections on the suitability of the OT canon, wondering whether a Christian needs a strictly delimited OT canon, since it finds its fulfillment in the NT.

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Septuagint and Canon: Hengel, part 4

Continuing the current series.

Chapter 4: The Origin of the Jewish LXX (pp. 75–103)

Hengel first stresses the predominance of the Greek Pentateuch in our Jewish sources about the LXX and our Alexandrian Jewish sources generally (pp. 75–80). Then he argues that the translation of the books comprising the LXX always had a close relationship with Palestine, and some were even accomplished in Palestine (pp. 80–83). But it is difficult to know when and where they were translated.
It is fundamental that the documents in their Greek form comprise no unity whatsoever; rather, each must be investigated individually, although they all naturally draw on the great linguistic reservoir of the Greek Pentateuch and are, to a significant degree, linguistically shaped by it. (p. 84)
This comment from Hengel is interesting in light of Joosten's more recent argument for a coherent literary corpus comprising the LXX.
This series of new translations, which created an entirely new literary corpus, was an intellectual accomplishment of the first order. (p. 85)
The main point of this section seems to be that the Greek translation of the documents now in the Hebrew Bible were often quite different from the Hebrew original.

As for the deuterocanonical writings--thewritings not received in the Hebrew canon--Hengel identifies these common elements.

  1. They are all late. Of course, some writings in the Hebrew canon might be late, but they were assumed to be earlier, whereas these deuterocanonical writings were not. "The rejection of the ten or eleven [deuterocanonical] documents, the later 'Christian apocrypha', by the Pharisees and later rabbis, is thus less a question of content than of chronology" (p. 92). 
  2. The intention of these documents is "to edify, educate or entertain" (p. 93). 
  3. They are largely non-apocalyptic, whereas the abundant apocalyptic literature from the same time period is mostly rejected. Hengel discusses the book of Daniel as an exception. 
Hengel again mentions that "the Christian church of the second century held to them [= the deuterocanonical books] so that they were finally accepted in the Christian canon, although with a certain persistent second-class character" (p. 94). I can't think of what evidence Hengel has provided to suggest that the second-century church held to these documents. He has cited Melito's canon list, which does not contain them, and he has mentioned how Justin and other writers of the second century (aside from Clement of Alexandria) ignored them. In a previous post I complained about a similar statement from ch. 2 of Hengel's book.

Finally, Hengel explores the "Diaspora Jewish canon" by looking at three texts: Sirach's prologue, Philo's On Contemplation 25, and Josephus' Against Apion 1.37–43. About Sirach's prologue, Hengel thinks it witnesses a fairly well determined Scriptural collection in Palestine, but suggests only that Alexandrian Judaism needed instruction about the canon. Philo's report tells us nothing definite. Josephus tells us something definite, but probably about Palestinian Judaism more than Diaspora Judaism. At any rate, he clearly does not consider the "extra" writings to be as high valuable as are the writings from Moses to Artaxerxes. It seems that Hengel's main point in this section on the "Diaspora Jewish canon" is to say that we don't know much about the Diaspora Jewish canon. 

Monday, October 9, 2017

Septuagint and Canon: Hengel, part 3

This post is a part of a series on Martin Hengel's book The Septuagint as Christian Scripture (see previously here).

Chapter 3: The Later Consolidation of the Christian 'Septuagint Canon' (pp. 57–74)

This chapter focuses more on the canon than does ch. 2. Hengel does a good job here showing the rather scarce nature of explicit use of the deuterocanonical books in Christianity of the first two centuries. I'm not sure he does a very good job trying to explain the ultimate acceptance of this literature within Christianity, but he does offer a discussion of some of the crucial factors to be considered.

Here's a summary of his chapter.

Hengel first surveys the major codices, and finds a few books constituting a core accepted in these codices though not included in the Hebrew Bible: Tobit, Judith, 1 Esdras, Wisdom, Sirach. But (next), the early canon lists stick pretty closely to the Jewish canon. Hengel then finds indications of a "second class" status for the "extra" books: they are cited relatively infrequently, and no one in the Greek church wrote a commentary on them until the late Middle Ages. "The Apostolic Fathers--except for Clement of Rome (see below, pp. 121–2)--and the Apologists, from Justin to Theophilus of Antioch, ignored these documents almost entirely" (p. 66). The same for Irenaeus and Tertullian, but Clement of Alexandria made use of Tobit, Wisdom, and Sirach (pp. 115–17). "In view of the grand scope of the totality of his work, even Origen made rather limited use of writings such as Esther, Tobit, Judith, and the books of Maccabees" (p. 67).
It remains to ask why, beginning with the third century, 'Apocryphal books' (as they were later called) such as Esther, Judith, Tobit, Baruch, Wisdom, Sirach and the books of Maccabees were accepted at all--even though rather grudgingly--while other somewhat theologically interesting documents [i.e., 1 Enoch and other pseudepigrapha] were finally completely rejected. (pp. 70–71) 
Hengel partially answers this question--the part about why they rejected the pseudepigrapha--by mentioning the reliance of Gnostics on secret writings attributed to the patriarchs preceding Moses. A way of rejecting such heretical writings would be to insist that Moses was the earliest author of Scripture. The deuterocanonical literature (Tobit, Judith, Wisdom, Sirach--the latter two attributed to Solomon) derived, according to their assumed date, from the "biblical period" as defined by Josephus (i.e., Moses to Artaxerxes, C. Ap. 1.37–43). Not so the Maccabees, excluded by Vaticanus and Athanasius. But they formed the "historical bridge" between the testaments, perhaps leading to their final inclusion. Also important was the martyr theology of the Maccabean books.

Friday, October 6, 2017

Septuagint and Canon: Hengel, part 2

Continuing the series.

Chapter 2: The LXX as a Collection of Writings Claimed by Christians (pp. 25–56)

This is a chapter that is not so much about the canon as about the text of the LXX. It surveys how the LXX became entrenched in the church as the OT text of choice, and how the legend about the LXX grew over time. But Hengel does address the canon in some places. Importantly, he does not think that there was a final closing of the Jewish canon until the late first century, and he believes this was (at least, partially) an anti-Christian action on the part of the Rabbis.

Hengel begins by tracing the development of the LXX translation legend, looking especially for evidence about which writings were included within the translation. For Jews, it was just the Pentateuch. For Justin (pp. 26–35), it was the entire Hebrew canon (pp. 26–29). Hengel summarizes other early Christian authors, all apparently to establish the point that Jewish-Christian polemics contributed to the insistence by Christians that the LXX was the correct Bible in terms of its text (see summary, pp. 40–41). Hengel has not yet addressed how the canon was expanded beyond the narrow Hebrew Bible canon.

The next (brief) section of the chapter mentions the Christian use of the codex and nomina sacra, thus distinguishing their copies from others.

How did Jews react? Some Jews had already been revising the Greek text of some biblical books to stand more in line with the Hebrew text (Hebraizing revisions). Then there were Aquila, Symmachus, and Theodotion. And some rabbinic traditions that seem quite negative toward the LXX.

Hengel begins addressing the canon again on p. 44, first in regard to the Pharisaic canon, the closing of which he believes to have been an anti-Christian action, since the Rabbis excluded books that were considered valuable especially by Christians. (See again p. 105.)

It's a little unclear to me, but I think Hengel next argues that the emphasis on the LXX text in Christianity led to some ambiguity on the canon, and the charge that Jews falsified the text of their Bible spilled over into a uncertainty among Christians as to whether the Jewish Bible should determine the scope of the Christian OT (pp. 47–50). Mostly, Hengel discusses in this section the exchange of letters between Julius Africanus and Origen, and the position articulated by Jerome. But the next section (pp. 51–54), on Augustine, concentrates on the City of God and its defense of the LXX. This has nothing to do with canon, as far as I can tell, only the text of the LXX, which Augustine says is inspired even when it diverges from the (equally inspired) Hebrew text.

In the final section, Hengel returns (abruptly, as it seems to me) to the topic of the OT canon, discussing the position of 1 Enoch, particularly Tertullian's inclusion of 1 Enoch within his collection of Scripture because of Jude's citation of it. Within this discussion, Hengel writes:
The uncertainty with respect to the delineation of the 'Scriptures of the Old Covenant' (Melito, see below, pp. 60–1) which is perceptible throughout the second century may be related to the fact that Christian theologians (including the Gnostics) in this period attempted for the first time to work carefully through the rich Jewish literature which was originally Greek or had been translated into Greek and to investigate its usefulness for church doctrine and practice and theological speculation. (p. 55)
But I don't think Hengel has shown that there was widespread uncertainty in the second century on this point.

Thursday, October 5, 2017

Septuagint and Canon: Hengel, part 1

I've now re-read (again) Martin Hengel's book The Septuagint as Christian Scripture: Its Prehistory and the Problem of Its Canon from 2002. The translation of Hengel's book is already 15 years old, so there are plenty of reactions to this book available: here's a review by Kristin De Troyer, here's one by James Sanders, and here's a reference to one by Alison Salvesen.

The whole book is available here.

So, at the risk of seeming out-dated in devoting so much time to a 15-year old (or older) book, I'm going to blog my way through each chapter. Maybe it will help some readers. It will help me, anyway, as I take stock of this brief but dense book. This post continues my occasional series on the Septuagint and canon mentioned here.

Chapter 1: A Difficult Subject (pp. 19–23)

Hengel defines his subject as "the Alexandrian canon of the Septuagint" (p. 19), but he admits both his own lack of expertise in the area and the ambiguity of the subject itself, since "We cannot prove the existence of a genuine Jewish, pre-Christian collection of canonical value, unambiguously and clearly delimited, distinguishable through its greater scope from the canon of the Hebrew Bible in the realm of the historical books and wisdom writings and written in Greek" (p. 19; see the similar comment on p. 22). That is, we cannot prove the existence of the Alexandrian Jewish biblical canon as it has usually been conceived.

What evidence we do have for Alexandrian Judaism (most prominently, Philo) would rather indicate a more limited canon than Palestinian Judaism, consisting especially of the Greek Pentateuch, instead of an expanded canon with the entire Hebrew Bible plus the deuterocanonical books. After Philo, we have very little information on Alexandrian Judaism, which was largely wiped out after the rebellion of 115–17.

The citations of Scripture within the New Testament do not indicate adherence to a wider Alexandrian canon.

The research question:
On the basis of this complicated situation, the question presents itself: how did it come about that the collection of Jewish writings in the Greek language, significantly larger than the scope of the Hebrew Bible, become, under the designation 'the Seventy', the authoritative 'Holy Scriptures' of the Old Testament in the Christian church? (p. 22)
I would only ask at this point whether the premise is true: is the OT canon, as defined here by Hengel, really the OT canon attested by early Christian sources? What he means by that, apparently, is that these are the books found in the LXX codices of the fourth and fifth centuries.

Monday, October 2, 2017

Septuagint and Canon (3): Joosten

This is a third post in my occasional series on issues relating to the canon of Scripture and the Septuagint. See previously here. (Wow, has it really been a year since the last time I did this?)

Some time ago I mentioned the Alexandrian Canon hypothesis, noting that it is making a partial comeback in some circles, and I pointed to Jan Joosten's recent article as a part of this comeback.

Joosten signals his main point a few pages into the article: "To my mind, the hypothesis of an 'Alexandrian canon' ... has been abandoned over-hastily" (p. 690). (Joosten says that Alexandria does not matter to the theory, but Egypt is important.) He says this despite having just admitted that "the hypothesis of an Alexandrian canon lacks proof" in the way of external evidence: Philo does not cite the deuterocanonical books, other Egyptian Jews don't, and the NT does not either. This post will survey Joosten's argument.

Joosten begins by mentioning the 'extra' books in the LXX codices, describing "an irreducible core" consisting of Sirach, Wisdom, Tobit, and Judith. In a note he mentions also the books of the Maccabees as sometimes included, and that Baruch and the Epistle of Jeremiah would form part of the core, though they are not counted separately but as a part of Jeremiah. As for 1 Esdras, it was perhaps considered the Greek equivalent to Ezra-Nehemiah rather than an additional book.

I'm not sure what to make of the statement that "The outlines of a distinct Septuagint canon are recognized also in Patristic and synodic lists of the early Christian centuries" (p. 688). Joosten does not cite anything, except for a discussion by Bogaert (here) and another by Sweet. I guess Joosten is thinking of the canon lists that contain 'extra' books, but those lists are not in Greek, at least not early on, only in Latin, as a perusal of Swete 203–14 makes clear. Bogaert's article referenced by Joosten concentrates on the Latin evidence. To be clear, the early (first four centuries) Greek lists do contain some of these books, like Baruch and 1 Esdras, but Joosten has already told us (quite rightly) that these are special cases. The Greek lists do not contain the "irreducible core" of Tobit, Judith, Wisdom, and Sirach. I find a similar problem in Joosten's comment, at note 5, that in a different article (this one) "Bogaert has convincingly argued that the distinction of two categories within the larger canon--books that are also in the Hebrew canon and books that are not--is secondary and reflects an attempt to reconcile the two canons." Bogaert made this argument primarily in respect to the Latin evidence, not the Greek, though, to be sure, Bogaert does think that the evidence indicates that Christianity in general received from Jews a wide range of religious literature (I don't think he cites Sundberg's famous phrase in this regard) and only subsequently attempted to define the borders in relation to the rabbinic definition of the canon.

Joosten again: "The more extensive list is hardly of Christian origin" (p. 689). The note says that "this statement is true only in regard to the historical origins of the Septuagint canon, not to its explicit definition as a rule of the faith" (n. 6)--meaning, I think, that all of the books were written and valued by Jews, but they never actually developed a list of books (= explicit definition as a rule of faith?); this was done only by Christians. But the note continues: "But the collection as such can hardly have been drawn up first in the Christian church." I find this phrasing somewhat confusing, because if Jews "drew up" a collection, that seems pretty close to defining a list, which I think is what Joosten has already denied.

Joosten sees the problem thus: these books were Jewish writings, not quoted in the NT, but accepted within the wider canon of Christianity. Why? "It is hard to see why Christian groups would have selected them and added them to an existing canon" (p. 689). Joosten says most scholars believe "Christianity inherited the Septuagint canon from some form of Judaism." The common view (argued by Swete) had been the Alexandrian canon hypothesis, but this idea was attacked by Sundberg, which led scholars to turn away from it. (We saw in that previous post that the Alexandrian canon hypothesis was not widely accepted until the very end of the nineteenth century, only about 7 decades before Sundberg's attack.)

Here Joosten turns to his positive evidence for the Alexandrian canon hypothesis. "The hypothesis is favored by internal data ... The Septuagint canon is a Greek canon that could not possibly have existed in a Semitic version. It possesses a degree of coherence that characterizes it as a corpus" (p. 691).

What does Joosten mean by canon? "A canon implies a limited list of writings, but also a definite status, or function, within a given community. ... the list is usually clearly circumscribed ... In the present paper, the term 'canon' will be used in reference to the collection as such, while wider religious or theological implications will play a subordinate role only" (p. 691). I think what he's saying is that he can't (at least, not here) say exactly what status this collection held for Egyptian Jews, but his argument does depend on the idea that it was a clearly circumscribed collection of books, not a wide religious literature without definite bounds, as Sundberg argued. Joosten also insists that "a canon involves not only the number of books belonging to it, but also other features such as the sequence of the books, the inner organization of the corpus, and the names of the single writings" (pp. 691–92).

Joosten makes his case under several headings:
  • "The Septuagint canon and the Greek language." He says "the question of language is in fact crucial" (p. 692). The different types of Greek literature in this corpus include both translations and original Greek compositions, and so this corpus could not have existed in a Semitic language. 
  • "The Septuagint canon as a coherent corpus." Here Joosten explores "the way linguistic and intertextual links tie together its various parts" (p. 693). Examples: translations of isolated words--not the obvious translations for the Hebrew words--used throughout the Greek Pentateuch. Joosten admits exceptions, with some translation equivalents varying among the books. The Pentateuchal vocabulary then influences other translations. Moreover, the books translated later attest "the creation of intertextual references to the Pentateuch (occasionally also to other Septuagint books), sometimes against the Hebrew text" (p. 694; citing his earlier article and this book by Myrto Theocharous). Joosten's example is Sir 7:31, the Greek translation of which (against the Hebrew Ben Sira) creates a link with the Pentateuch (he points for more detail to this article, available here). The 'extra' books of the LXX also adopt the LXX Pentateuch vocabulary, but more than this, "the Prayer of Azariah in Dan 3 is made up of a dense web of allusions and references to earlier texts: Exodus, Deuteronomy, 2 Samuel, Ezekiel, Micah, Psalms" (p. 695, pointing to an article of his). Since the allusions rely on the Greek text of these previously translated books, Joosten argues that "the prayer was composed from the start in 'Septuagint Greek'" (more here). The books written originally in Greek exhibit the same reliance on the LXX; examples: Wisdom, Judith. Thus the conclusion: 
...the entire Septuagint canon, including the extra books, stems from a milieu where biblical books were studied intensely in their Greek translation. ... The literary coherence makes it unlikely that the Septuagint canon came about by random selection. It seems, rather, that the books making up the canon of the Greek Bible always belonged together. ... a process of conscious amplification. Perhaps it is even possible to speak of a form of canonical awareness: the post-Pentateuchal translators, supplementers and authors may have used the vocabulary and style of the earlier books in order to lend their writings an aura of "scripturality". (p. 695, italics original).
  • "The Egyptian background of the Septuagint." The Pentateuch was probably translated in Egypt (see Joosten's article here), and the other books probably were too (see Tov's article), except for probably those books whose original translation is close to Theodotion or Aquila (Song of Songs, Ecclesiastes, Lamentations, Ruth, Second Esdras [= Ezra-Nehemeiah]). Some of the extra books can also be associated with Egypt: Sirach, Wisdom, Judith. 
  • "A wider perspective." Although it is true that all Jews, no matter the geography, were hellenized to a greater or lesser extent, Qumran has also shown us the great diversity within Judaism at the time. The point is: Egyptian Jews could have had a Bible distinct from Palestinian Jews. 
He seems to think that this expanded canon has "by-passed" Philo, and it was transferred to Christians after the NT, which "reveals no trace of acquaintance with" it, so probably in "the early second century, when Egyptian Judaism was wiped out by the Romans and its intellectual heritage appropriated by Christian groups" (p. 698). The LXX canon has a distinct sequence and inner organization, as well as unique names for the individual books. Joosten says that future research is needed on exactly which books belong to it. The LXX canon might have lacked some books received in the Tanak, perhaps explaining the absence of an OG translation for Song of Songs, Ecclesiastes, Lamentations, and Ruth.

It seems to me that the major points here are *literary influence and *entrance into the Christian biblical codices. Joseph and Aseneth evinces all the features of Joosten's first three points above--composition in Greek, in Egypt, attesting interextual linkage with LXX ... but "it never became part of the Septuagint canon" (p. 699), meaning it does not appear in Vaticanus and Sinaiticus. The fact of literary influence in the direction of the Greek Pentateuch on later Greek Jewish writings I take as proven. But it seems that Joosten is using this fact to try to explain the existence of  Jewish Greek canon that I think remains unproven. He seems to think its existence can be assumed because of the "irreducible core" of "extra" books in the Christian codices, which makes the patristic evidence rather important in this theory. And it is the patristic evidence that I think is susceptible of different, and better, explanations. As one point: it is curious that patristic authors seem universally to think that Jews do not accept these "extra" books as Scripture. At least, we have all sorts of patristic comments to this effect, and none that I remember claiming that Jews do accept these books.