Monday, December 5, 2016

The Vulgate Canon

I'm still blogging my way through the latest issue on The Bible Translator, which is a themed-issue on the biblical canon. For previous posts in this series, see here. This time I'll be discussing this article:

Daniel Kerber, “The Canon in the Vulgate Translation of the Bible,” The Bible Translator 67.2 (2016): 168–83.

Traces the origins of the Latin Bible, first clear in Cyprian, and then explains the development of Jerome's translations (169–73). Jerome did not translate most of the deuterocanonicals (only Tobit and Judith), nor most of the New Testament.

At the end of this section, there is an odd sentence:
After his death, probably in the middle of the fifth century, the translations he made were complemented by the addition of others’ translations, put together by an editor who used the terminology of Rufinus. (p. 173)

There is no citation, or any explanation about what the “terminology of Rufinus” might mean. I don’t think Rufinus is previously mentioned in the article. Kerber is referring to a colophon following Esther in a manuscript dating to around 800, though the colophon itself might be considerably earlier. The text does mention the categories of biblical books known also from Rufinus, such that some books that are non-canonical are given the label 'ecclesiastical' because they are helpful to Christians even though they cannot establish doctrine. (See a little more in n. 70 here.)
Kerber does represent correctly Jerome’s views on the OT canon, even though he didn’t cite the excellent article at the previous link. 

Kerber's article contains a contradiction regarding the time at which the word ‘vulgate’ came to apply to Jerome’s translation. On p. 171, he says this happened in the seventh century (citing the Aland's), but on p. 175 he says it first happened in the work of Roger Bacon in the thirteenth century.

He supplies an adequate, brief accounting of the history of the Vulgate to modern times.

Then he turns to Trent. I would dispute this sentence: “Influence by Renaissance humanism, the Reformers, in their desire to go back to the original faith because of the many abuses in the church, also wanted to return to the source texts, and so they rejected the biblical books belonging to the Greek tradition (LXX) and went back to the Hebrew canon” (p. 177). I do not doubt that the Reformers were influenced by Renaissance humanism, but so were the Catholics, and in any case this is not the reason that the Reformers clung to the narrow canon. In fact, the church had never taken a firm decision on this matter, and so even in the days of the Reformation, or afterwards, up until Trent, it was a legitimate option for Catholics to affirm the narrow canon. Some of the divines at Trent did so. I do not believe that Luther thought of himself as disputing church tradition when he claimed that 2Maccabees is not a part of the canon. Rather, he thought he was reasserting church tradition. This confusion is exacerbated in the footnote attached to this statement, where Kerber cites approvingly Sundberg’s mischaracterization of the Leipzig Debate, as if Luther’s views on the canon were determined by his need to disprove the doctrine of purgatory, which completely overlooks the fact that some Catholic theologians at the time, in full communion with Rome, also affirmed the narrow canon. What is odd is that Kerber, in the next paragraph, mentions these Catholic doubts about the deuterocanonical books, correctly describing the views of Erasmus and Cajetan, and in the paragraphs following, he mentions the contentious debates on the issue among those gathered at the Council. Note: followers of Luther did not attend the Council. The Catholic theologians debated the matter because the matter had not previously been settled for the Catholic Church. This gives the lie to the idea that Luther overturned church tradition by rejecting the canonicity of 2 Maccabees. For more, see this post.
The rest of the article discusses the meaning of Trent’s approval of the Vulgate text, and whether we should continue to use the term ‘deuterocanonical’.

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

Various Canon Articles

Here's another post on the latest issue of The Bible Translator, which is all about the biblical canon (see here and here and here). Here are some briefer summaries of a couple of articles.

Seppo Sipilä, "The Canonization Process of the Masoretic Text," The Bible Translator 67.2 (2016): 151–67. 

I don't really get what Sipilä is doing here. On the one hand, he reviews some very basic things about the MT. Here we learn things like the Biblia Hebraica series has printed the text of the Leningrad Codex since the third edition, but it doesn't always follow the Leningrad Codex in the order of books, since BHS (unlike L) puts Chronicles at the end of the Ketuvim, a tradition going back to the Second Rabbinic Bible (actually earlier). Before the Second Rabbinic Bible, Maimonides had praised the Ben Asher text. The MT has different parts to it, like consonants, vowels, Masorah Parva, Masorah Magna. There is some discussion of the list in Baba Bathra and the rabbinic discussions about particular books, along with the idea of a Synod of Yavneh and its rejection over the past 50 years.

On the other hand, Sipilä makes an argument regarding the nature of the canon. I'm just not sure what the argument is. Here are some hints: Sipilä briefly considers textual traditions before the rabbinic period, such as the use of proto-MT texts, the position of the LXX--he argues that the LXX fell into disuse by the Jews not because it was taken over by Christians but because Jews found it to be inadequate, evidenced by revisions, which in turn "shows that the roots of the rabbinic text and its position lie much more deeply in the text's prehistory than some people like to think" (p. 163). He rejects Tov's idea of the temple text (p. 163). He wonders whether the idea of a Jewish canon could have already been around in the sixth century CE (p. 158). And he thinks the list of Baba Bathra cannot have been accepted by everyone because of the status of Sirach in rabbinic literature (p. 159). He even says that the Cairo Genizah Sirach manuscripts confirm "that people still used Sirach as an authoritative text after the Masoretes had already fixed the MT" (p. 159). It is "hasty and groundless" to conclude that by the time of the Mishnah "much of the Tanakh had already been canonized" (p. 160). The switch from scrolls to a codex may have been significant in terms of canon (p. 156).

I think he might be saying that it's odd to talk about a Masoretic Canon, because the Tanakh and the MT are different concepts. But I'm not at all confident I've correctly understood this.

Jean-Claude Loba Mkole, "Intercultural Construction of the New Testament Canons," The Bible Translator 67.2 (2016): 240–61.

The abstract of this article says that it uses "an intercultural method in dialogue with historical and canonical approaches," and then it talks about about how it's important that the NT comes after the OT, and we shouldn't talk about "deuterocanonical" books--books are either canonical or not.

The article itself spends a while surveying the history of research (240–49) and then talks about the canonical approach to the NT, especially that of Childs and his followers (249–53). The intercultural bit comes at the very end of the article (254–56). He describes the biblical canons operative in the upper eastern part of the Democratic Republic of Congo, and he identifies several different canons used by different groups there: the Roman Catholic Canon, the Protestant Canon, the Ethiopic Canon, etc. "The differences among them pertain to the number, order, and content of the biblical books" (256). Yes, I suppose so. He suggests that the UBS might publish two different Bibles, one with the Catholic canon and one with the Protestant canon.

Saturday, October 1, 2016

Qumran and Canon

I'm still making my way through the latest issue of The Bible Translator, which is all about the biblical canon (previously noted here and here).

Here are some notes about the article on Qumran.

Andy Warren-Rothlin, "The Accretion of Canons in and around Qumran," The Bible Translator 67.2 (2016): 120–36. 

I find this a somewhat idiosyncratic presentation of canon issues arising from the Qumran scrolls, not an altogether helpful presentation of the data or the scholarly interpretations of it. He begins with textual diversity at Qumran, but then he wants to establish that Judaism at the time had a tripartite canon, as shown by 2 Macc 2:13–15 and Luke 24:44.
None of these "canon" statements, nor the use of the term αἱ γραφαί "the writings/Scriptures," can be shown to include any work not included in the Tanakh. This evidence thus forces us to the conclusion that the frequent attestation of other books in this period must be understood as representing, at most, a secondary, or "deutero-" canon. (p. 125)
This is a more confident statement than many scholars would be willing to make. He makes other confident statements where I would want to be more cautious, such as: "It is well known that the use of the codex by Christians contributed much to the concept of a closed canon" (p. 132). I would prefer to say: some scholars have argued that the use of the codex by Christians may have contributed to the concept of a closed canon.

He says there are two passages in the DSS that attest a tripartite canon: 4QMMT C 10 and CD 7.15–18. The former is highly debated and most scholars would not use it to establish a tripartite canon. Warren-Rothlin acknowledges part of this debate, but he confidently asserts that 'David' is "metonymous for the Psalms or Writings" in 2 Macc 2 and Luke 24:44, and he further points out (an idea which had not occurred to me before) that all of the Hagiographa are connected to David or Solomon in some way, except for Esther (not found at Qumran), Lamentations (possibly counted with Jeremiah), and Daniel (possibly included in the early period among the Prophets), so 'David' could serve as a reasonable title for this section (p. 128). As for CD 7.15–18, we have a reference to the Torah, Prophets, and an "interpreter of the Torah," which Warren-Rothlin thinks is probably a reference to David (either as Messiah or author of the Psalter) and again is "surely" metonymous for the Writings.

But he admits that the third section might be an open section, based on the Sirach prologue and the Qumran idea that inspired interpretation still occurred. And then he suggests that the reference to Paul's letters as scripture at 2 Pet 3:16 "may indicate a preparedness to accept additions to the third section of the canon" (p. 129). So, Paul's letters would be in the Hagiographa? He also says that Jubilees and Enoch would be in the Hagiographa, but actually since Jubilees seems "so clearly interpretative," it would not have "anything approaching 'canonical' status" (p. 129).

His article ends with a few pages suggesting that the UBS give thought to these issues when considering which canon to use for its Bible projects.

One last note: Warren-Rothlin says that the reason Sirach as omitted from the Protestant canon "has been based largely on its not being in Hebrew (following Jerome and Luther)" (p. 132). Well, I won't speak for Luther, but Jerome did not exclude Sirach based on its unavailability in Hebrew. Indeed, Jerome said that he had seen a Hebrew copy of the book (Preface to the Books of Solomon). [I think he also misunderstands the textual attestation of Jubilees (p. 124).]

On the canon at Qumran, I would recommend the relevant chapters in VanderKam's book and in Lim's book.

Monday, September 26, 2016

Septuagint and Canon (2)

Here is a second post in my occasional series taking note of articles that deal with the issue of the relationship between the Septuagint and the canon of scripture. Today's article:

W. Edward Glenny, "The Septuagint and Biblical Theology," Themelios 41.2 (2016): 263–78.

This is a useful article. It is an introduction to issues surrounding the appropriation of the LXX for Christian theology, and the approach it takes is to survey five perspectives on this question. 

1. LXX Priority and Canon. This is Glenny's longest discussion of any particular perspective. He discusses the work of Hartmut Gese (esp. his contribution to this book), Martin Hengel, Peter Stuhlmacher, Timothy McLay, and Michael Law. Glenny interacts with these works a bit (see n.41 for his rejection of Hengel's interpretation of Luke 16:16), but mostly he summarizes their positions. These scholars see the LXX as part of a continuous stream of tradition within the development of the OT, and they think that the OT canon was still open at the time of the NT, so that the deuterocanonical literature should be included in the Christian Bible. 

2. LXX Priority, Hebrew Canon. Here he includes Mogens Müller and Robert Hanhart (intro to Hengel's book). Müller and Hanhart both believe that the canon was more-or-less settled by the NT era, so there's no question here about including the deuterocanonical literature in the Christian Bible. Rather the text of the LXX (for the books of the Jewish canon) is authoritative for the church because of its use in the NT and because the LXX stands at the end of a long process in the growth of the OT. In Müller's mind, the LXX was translated as the redaction process of the OT was coming to an end, so that that process in a sense is brought to completion in the LXX. 

3. Hebrew Priority and Canon, LXX Bridge. Here we find Jobes and Silva. The LXX was the Bible of the early church, its authority was derivative of the Hebrew, and was so understood by the early church. The LXX certainly influenced the theology of the early church, by its unique readings, but even these unique readings were in harmony with the theology (if not the wording) of the Hebrew scriptures. Glenny points to criticisms by Jobes and Silva in regard to the first two positions listed above. 

4. Hebrew and Greek Are Sanctified as Scripture by the Spirit. Ross Wagner is the example. Using the work of John Webster, Wagner argues that the Spirit has sanctified the LXX by means of its use within the church and by the apostles. Glenny compares the position of Augustine and Origen; but, whereas Origen perhaps would have shared Wagner's view, Augustine actually thought that the LXX was inspired in its composition, not just sanctified by its use.

5. Hebrew Priority and Canon, LXX Commentary. Glenny interacts with J. Julius Scott Jr., but it is a little obscure as to what position Glenny attributes to Scott, and how it differs from that of Jobes and Silva. And he ends by saying that Scott would probably not agree with the position that Glenny has attributed to him (or something close to that). 

After this survey of approaches, Glenny concludes that "the importance and function of the LXX in Christian biblical theology is at least fourfold": 
  1. "the LXX can function as the source of Christian biblical theology." Glenny's explanation of this point focuses on the possibility that the LXX might attest an original Hebrew text (which is not the direction I thought he would take under that heading). 
  2. "the LXX is valuable for biblical theology in its role as a commentary on the biblical text." Background to the NT (similar to the fifth position surveyed above) and commentary of sorts on the OT. 
  3. "perhaps most important, the LXX is a bridge or link between the Christian OT and NT." It's not that the LXX is part of a continuing tradition (like for Gese), but there is, instead, a "unique literary connection" that "reflects and interprets" the Hebrew scriptures. The LXX influences the NT in the form of text quoted, but also in vocabulary, grammar, syntax, style, and theology. 
  4. "a complement to the Hebrew Scriptures." The NT sometimes quotes the LXX where it diverges from the MT, e.g., Acts 15:16–18 quoting Amos 9:11–12. "I contend that Christian biblical theologians should understand theological statements that are unique to the LXX to complement and extend the understanding of the Hebrew Bible, as far as they reflect and repackage the theology found in the Hebrew Bible or as far as that reflected and repackaged theology of the LXX is picked up and used in the NT." 

Monday, September 19, 2016

The Ethiopian Canon

I mentioned previously that the new issue of The Bible Translator is devoted to the canon of scripture. In this post I want to take a look at the article on the Ethiopian canon:

Bruk A. Asale, "The Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church Canon of the Scriptures: Neither Open nor Closed," The Bible Translator 67.2 (2016): 202–22.

[By the way, he refers to his own published work as 'Bruk 2014', etc., so I take it that the name listed first is his surname. That's why I'll refer to him as Bruk rather than Asale. The journal, however, puts 'Asale' in the running head to the article.]

Bruk's article is part of a growing area of interest in the Ethiopian Bible. At least, it seems to me that I've seen a lot more publications on this subject in the last 4-5 years than I had before that. Which makes sense because study of the biblical canon as a whole is so popular, and usually pursued with a focus strictly on Western attitudes, that of course broadening our view to include other perspectives would help us have a better informed idea of what a biblical canon is. I learned quite a bit about the Ethiopian canon from Mroczek's recent book (pp. 156–61), who provides good recent bibliography.

I found Bruk's article to be quite excellent. I am not expert on the Ethiopian Bible, so I am not competent to critique it anyway. But I found it to be helpful because it is written by an insider [see update below], it surveys the history of the Ethiopian Church, it references opinions held by Ethiopian clergy and laymen, and it was very sane in the implications it drew. The article does not actually get into the different possibilities for the list of books, or which books are definitely in and which books might be either in or out. It rather focuses on the concept of a biblical canon, arguing that the Ethiopian concept is different from the Western concept.

Bruk reveals where he is going at the very beginning of the article, saying that "the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church (EOTC) asserts its own canon of the Scriptures traditionally identified as eighty-one books," but in reality "the concept of a canon as a strict list of books and the requirement to limit oneself to that list is possibly alien to the EOTC's understanding of canon" (203).

Bruk conducted interviews with "high-level scholars, theologians, clergy, and lay members of the EOTC," asking them the following questions:
  • How do you define the canon of Scripture?
  • What constitutes Scripture or the canon of Scripture in the EOTC?
  • Is the canon of the EOTC closed or open?
Before getting to the results of these interviews, Bruk tutors us in the basic history of the EOTC (204–11). He identifies five major periods. 
  1. Before and at the birth of Christianity. The EOTC teaches that Judaism was introduced to Ethiopia from the time of the visit of the Queen of Sheba to Solomon, and that some of the Hebrew Scriptures were translated at this time. Recent discoveries of manuscripts dating to the fourth–sixth centuries suggests the presence of Christianity before the fourth century, along with the possibility of Ge'ez translations. 
  2. Fourth century, Christian had become the state religion, during the reign of King Ezana (first half of fourth century), with St. Frumentius as bishop. Probably at this time a formal translation was made, without distinction between canonical and non-canonical books. Ge'ez itself changed, with the introduction of vowels and the reversal of the direction writing from right-to-left to left-to-right. Frumentius was consecrated by Athanasius, and the EOTC was under the authority of the Coptic Church (until the twentieth century). 
  3. fifth–sixth centuries, the time of the arrival of "the Nine Saints" from Syria, who not only helped to consolidate the church but also produced a translation from the LXX with some reference to Syriac. "[T]he evidence indicates the Saints translated 'canonical' and 'pseudepigraphical' books without making any distinction" (208). 
  4. fourteenth–fifteenth centuries, major reform. This period followed the Ethiopian 'Dark Age' (7th–13th centuries), characterized by a weakened central state, isolation of the EOTC from the Coptic Church, oppression at the time of Queen Judith's invasion (208n16). During the reform period the Ge'ez version was revised according to an Arabic version, itself based on the Hebrew, producing a Ge'ez text with both a LXX-base and an MT-base. It is at this time that the number 81 became important for the EOTC canon. This number is found in the Fetḥa Nagast, the Law of the Kings, a legal code compiled around 1240 in Arabic and translated into Ge'ez, which says, in part, that there are 81 "divine books which must be accepted by the holy church," and then it lists 73 or 74 books. According to Bruk, "The problem is that it is not known which council recognized this list as such and which books make up these eighty-one. There was no debate as to the extent and the concept of the canon in this period either, with the most prominent theological controversy of this period being Mariology, among others" (209). 
  5. twentieth century, formal autonomy and language shift from Ge'ez to Amharic. Bruk mentions several challenges faced by the EOTC at this time (e.g., invasion by Jesuits, invasion by Muslim sultanate of Adal, etc.). But the EOTC came through it, and finally gained autonomy from the Coptic Church. 
Then Bruk presents the findings from his interviews of 15 people "deliberately chosen because of their capacity and expertise in Scripture and canon" (213).

But first he talks for a couple of pages (213–15) about this Amharic book by Dibekulu Zewde called in English The 81 Holy books and the Scripture-Canons in the Ethiopian Orthodox Church (1995), which is apparently the best book on the subject. Apparently this is the book, not that that entry helps a lot. Anyway, Bruk provides a substantive summary of the book, and draws the implication that "the canon of the EOTC has never been closed in a strict sense with a binding list of books, on the one hand, and on the other hand, that there is nonetheless a limited set of books that are up for consideration as part of the canon" (215). But whereas Dibekulu recommends that the EOTC officially close the canon--whether it ends up with 81 books, or 84, or 73--Bruk does not share this view. He rather believes that the EOTC canon "is not an open canon so long as the option to include whatever books one may want to include is closed and it is not a closed canon so long as there is still the possibility of including or excluding certain books" (215).

Now to the interviews. There were five basic responses that Bruk discusses (215–18).

  1. The EOTC canon is closed. Here he lists four respondents, who, nevertheless, seem to take slightly different positions, according to whether the important thing is the number 81 and it doesn't matter so much which books are included, or whether the important thing is the books included and the number is not so important. Or maybe I'm just misreading this paragraph. Anyway, included here are (1) a university theologian and (2) "the vice-chairperson of the scholars' committee of the EOTC, second to the patriarch," who seem to hold the view that the books are important even if the way they are counted is variable; and (3) a seminary instructor and (4) an accountant who is active in the church, both of whom mention the 81 books, and seem to recognize that there are different ways to get to 81, which I take to mean that the actual books (within a limited range) don't matter so much. 
  2. The EOTC canon is open. Two respondents: (1) a leading scholar of the EOTC and a Bible translation consultant, and (2) a university theologian. While there is no difference between canonical, non-canonical, deuterocanonical, and pseudepigrapha, for any book to be considered Scripture it must conform to "the overall teaching of the Scriptures." 
  3. Not strictly closed or open. One respondent, a university theologian, who sees the number 81 as a non-binding tradition since the actual number of books in the canon are fewer than 81. 
  4. Not comfortable with the question. Five respondents (with n. 42): (1) the General Secretary of the Bible Society of Ethiopia, (2) a translation consultant for the Bible Society, (3) a PhD student and seminary instructor, (4) head of a mission organization for the EOTC, and (5) a lay member. Since the church has not said whether it has an open or closed canon, it is difficult to say which is right. 
  5. Both closed and open. One respondent, a prominent church leader and scholar. "He argues that so long as there is a clear principle that permits a book to be among Scriptures, it is a closed canon. However, that does not mean that there is a rigid number of books counted as part of a canon; this would make it an open canon." 
[I guess there are two interviewees that he did not mention in his results. Or I messed up somewhere.]

Bruk does not like it when scholars describe the EOTC canon as "fluid," calling this description "meaningless and misleading if it does not consider the EOTC's deeper understanding of the concept of canon" (218–19). On the one hand, the issue simply has not come up within the EOTC until very recently, probably due to external influences. On the other hand, the EOTC concept of the canon of scripture is more in line with the ancient teaching regarding the 'canon' of faith rather than the later definition of the biblical canon as a list of books.

UPDATE (2 Nov 2016): when I wrote this post, I mistakenly assumed that Bruk was an adherent of the EOTC, so I called him an 'insider'. However, another of his articles clarifies his position: he is an Ethiopian, but not an adherent of the EOTC. He calls himself an "insider-outsider" (p. 360).

Friday, September 16, 2016

Septuagint and Canon (1)

This post starts an occasional series on the subject of the relationship of the LXX to the canon. I will be posting notes from and responses to articles (and books?) on this theme. There are several such articles in a pile on my desk, and the speed with which I go through them will be the speed at which I post on them. Don't expect frequent posts.

Today I'm posting on an article that just came out in The Bible Translator. The whole recent issue of The Bible Translator is on the biblical canon, so I may try to go through each article and post some thoughts. But I had a similar thought earlier this year when the same journal devoted an entire issue to Erasmus' New Testament, but I never got around to it.

The article in this issue that is on the Septuagint is:

Simon Crisp, "The Septuagint as Canon," The Bible Translator 67.2 (2016): 137–50.

Crisp (see here, scroll down) presents a survey of the issues, really a basic introduction to the topic, arguing that the LXX played a crucial role in the expansion of the Christian canon over the Jewish one. The article contains one blunder that I saw, where it claims that scholars generally date the Letter of Aristeas to the late first century BCE (p. 139); surely he means late second century BCE. He does talk about the Letter of Aristeas, and the Christian reception of the translation legend, which really doesn't involve the canon so much as the text of the OT. He is equivocal on the idea of an Alexandrian Jewish canon, saying that it cannot be proven but that "there can be little doubt about the authoritative status of the LXX for Greek-speaking Jews" (p. 143, citing approvingly Rajak). Of course, this statement is true, but what he doesn't tell you is what Greek-speaking Jews thought the LXX was, or at least he doesn't tell you here. Earlier, he had said: "Historically, we should really apply the term 'Septuagint' only to the Greek translation of the five books of the Torah made in Alexandria in the third century B.C.E." (p. 138).

Next, he discusses Christians: " is clear that the Greek Old Testament did acquire authoritative status in the Christian community. It is equally the case, however, that it took some time for this corpus to attain a fixed shape" (p. 143). He brings up the three Great Codices (Vaticanus, Sinaiticus, Alexandrinus) and mentions their inclusion of books not in the Jewish canon and the order of the OT books (distinct from the Tanak structure). He thinks this different order has some big theological implications for the meaning of the OT (p. 144). I have my doubts.

Apparently based on these three manuscripts, Crisp feels he can assert: "The LXX canon, then, as a Christian collection of books, includes all the books of the Hebrew Bible together with a number of books which do not form a part of that corpus" (p. 144). He immediately follows this sentence with: "These books appear with varying degrees of consistency in the early Christian canon lists, which are themselves in the main based more or less firmly on the books of the Hebrew Bible."

Actually, the early Greek canon lists hardly ever include these extra books (see this post). Maybe Melito included Wisdom of Solomon, but maybe not. 1Esdras was often included in addition to Ezra-Nehemiah. Jeremiah often contained some additional books like Baruch. But Tobit, Judith, Maccabees? Those books that Crisp has told us appear in the biblical codices? They don't appear in the Greek canon lists of the first four centuries. They do appear in some Latin lists from the second half of the fourth century. What Crisp should have said is that these books "appear with varying degrees of consistency in the early Christian" codices (rather than canon lists), because he has already shown us that Alexandrinus, Sinaiticus, and Vaticanus do not actually contain the same 'extra' books. One wonders, then, how they could form a canon in Ulrich's terms (as Crisp seems to claim; see p. 138 for a reference to Ulrich).

Crisp claims that these 'extra' books (books from outside the Hebrew Bible canon, p. 145) "were included among the wide range of sources quoted or alluded to by NT authors and early Christian apologists" (citing Hengel, 107–8; deSilva 34; Sundberg here, 82). I need to check those citations, but at this point I would accept this statement as true only if we nixed "quoted" and just went with "alluded to," since I am persuaded by Skarsaune (here) that none of these 'extra' books was actually formally quoted by a Christian author in the first two centuries (except for Jude's citation of Enoch, but some would even object there that it wasn't a 'formal' quotation--without a formula).

It is hard to understand why Crisp (p. 145) allows for the possibility that the 'extra' books were not canonical for Jews but only edifying, whereas he doesn't allow for this possibility for Christians, though this is precisely the way Athanasius described these books.

After all this, he concludes: "it might seem inappropriate to speak of a 'canon' at all with regard to the LXX" (p. 146). He again allows that for Jews these 'extra' books "possessed varying degrees of religious or spiritual authority ... but they did not constitute a formal or institutional canon." And finally: "What we can affirm with certainty is that specific forms of the LXX tradition subsequently became canonical for individual Christian churches--but that is the subject of another discussion" (p. 147). I guess I can live with that final statement. But the previous discussion confuses the issues.

He ends with some practical implications for the United Bible Societies in regard to their production of Bible translations for various faith communities.

Friday, August 12, 2016

Alexandrian Canon

The Alexandrian Canon hypothesis is the idea that Jews in Alexandria maintained a different, wider canon than Palestinian Jews. Whereas Palestinian Jews in the first century basically adhered to what would become the rabbinic canon of 24 books--attested, more-or-less, by Josephus at the end of the first century--Alexandrian Jews accepted all of these books and then some, especially the deuterocanonical books that are found in LXX manuscripts. The idea is often associated with Semler.

The main monograph that is always cited about the Alexandrian Canon is Albert Sundberg's dissertation (at Harvard) published as The Old Testament of the Early Church (1964), which attempted to undermine the theory. Sundberg's main arguments were that Alexandrian Jewish writers (e.g. Philo) show no signs of maintaining a canon wider than the Palestinian Jewish canon, and the Palestinian Jewish canon was not settled in the first century anyway, and the Dead Sea Scrolls show us that a large body of literature was considered sacred. This last point makes the Alexandrian Canon theory useless, because the theory is supposed to explain why Christians ended up with a wider canon than Jews, and it does so by saying Jews adopt the Palestinian Jewish canon whereas Christians inherited the Alexandrian Jewish canon (via the LXX). Sundberg said this scenario was not the reason Jews and Christians ended up with different canons, but rather there was no Jewish canon in the first century--neither in Palestine nor in Alexandria--there was just a bunch of religious literature. It was only after Judaism and Christianity split off from each other that each formed its own canon.

(Actually, Sundberg advocated the three-stage theory of canon development, whereby the Torah was canonized sometime in the fifth century BCE, and the Prophets were canonized maybe around 200, and the Hagiographa were canonized at the Council of Yavneh at the end of the first century CE. So, in the first century, Christians inherited from Jews a closed section of Torah and a closed section of Prophets and an open third section consisting of a wide array of religious literature. It was this third section that the two groups 'closed' in different fashions after their split. The Jews closed it at Yavneh, the Christians later on.)

Sundberg (pp. 18–19) says the theory of an Alexandrian canon was first formulated by John Ernest Grabe at the beginning of the eighteenth century in an edition of the LXX based on Alexandrinus. But Sundberg (p. 18 n. 47) reports that Grabe's work was not available to him (which is strange, considering Sundberg did his dissertation at Harvard--I would have thought Harvard had almost everything). So Sundberg didn't realize that the theory was actually not formulated by Grabe but by another fellow named Francis Lee, who wrote the Prolegomena to the second volume of Grabe's edition of Alexandrinus in 1719. Later scholars (post Sundberg) have been more precise in making this distinction. The second volume of Grabe's edition is available here; it doesn't have page numbers, but I think the relevant section is chap. 1 of the Prolegomena, Proposition 24, §§ 75–77.

The Alexandrian Canon idea was well accepted at the time of Sundberg's dissertation, and his work has proved to be a powerful influence against the hypothesis. A representative of the idea before Sundberg is Robert Henry Pfeiffer, one of Sundberg's teachers at Harvard whom Sundberg critiques throughout the monograph, especially at the beginning. (See Pfeiffer's Introduction to the OT, pp. 65–70.) Sundberg wanted to make the idea look like it had been around and widely accepted for a couple of centuries; apparently he exaggerated a bit. In a recent article (in this reference work, 2013) by Stephen Chapman we read in a note:
On the basis of the present study, it would seem that Sundberg, Canon (1964), misreads the history of scholarship when he characterizes the Alexandrian canon hypothesis as an unquestioned assumption prior to his own work in abolishing it. In fact, the hypothesis appears to have been widely known but largely unpersuasive throughout the nineteenth century. (685n118)
One final note about the Alexandrian Canon: it seems that the theory is making a comeback. While scholars largely abandoned the idea in the wake of Sundberg's monograph, several recent studies have sought to affirm it in some modified form. In a recent article (in this collection, 2014), Armin Lange, while arguing against the Alexandrian Canon idea, cites several recent scholars as favoring it (661–62): Hanhart (in the introduction to Hengel), Guillaume (pp. 26–31), Fabry (his contributions here and here). Most recently, Jan Joosten has come out in favor of it (article here, published here). 

I might comment on these recent defenses of the idea sometime in the future. 

Incidentally, the opposite position is also known in scholarship, such that the Alexandrian Jews did not have a bigger canon than the Palestinian Jews but rather a smaller canon, the Torah alone; see Carr (here, p. 35), Aejmelaeus (here). 

UPDATE: I see now that Chapman's characterization of Sundberg is unfair, since Sundberg does in fact recognize that throughout the nineteenth century the idea of an Alexandrian Jewish canon was not widely accepted in scholarship. See especially ch. 3 of his monograph, pp. 25–40. Sundberg shows that the Alexandrian Canon hypothesis could not prove persuasive as long as it was still generally believed that the Men of the Great Synagogue had settled the canon during the days of Ezra, a theory first formulated by Elias Levita in 1538 (e.g., p. 120; and see Ryle, excursus A). This idea was mortally wounded only in 1876 by Abraham Kuenen (see here for the reference). "The way was now open for the general acceptance of Semler's hypothesis of an Alexandrian canon that included the books of the Apocrypha as the Old Testament canon adopted by the Christian church" (Sundberg, p. 39). So, I think even in Sundberg's telling, the Alexandrian Canon hypothesis was popular for only about 60-70 years.