This post will wrap up my series on the list of OT books given by Melito, bishop of Sardis, and preserved by Eusebius. Here are the previous posts in this series:
Part 1 (introduction, text of the canon list, the order of the Pentateuch)
Part 2 (did Melito include the Wisdom of Solomon?)
Part 3 (the absence of Lamentations, Nehemiah, and Esther)
The Number of Books
Melito does not name a number of
books constituting the OT, as do some later Greek authors. The most
commonly-cited number in Greek sources for the OT books is 22, which
several Greek writers explicitly connect to the number of letters in the
Hebrew alphabet (more here). If you simply count the names of the books as listed by Melito (see the first post
on Melito for a simple list of the names), you'll find 21 titles. This
is so close to 22 that you might be tempted to look for a missing book.
Esther is an obvious candidate, but I haven't found any scholar who wants to include Esther in Melito's list for the sake of counting 22 books. That's good, since last time we found good reasons for thinking that Esther was omitted intentionally and so would not have been counted among the 22 books. (One
might also think that Wisdom of Solomon is a good candidate for the
missing book, but see here.)
However, some scholars do want to count Melito's books as 22. Sundberg (pp. 133-34) thinks that Lamentations was not counted as part of Jeremiah (as I argued in the previous post), but rather was accidentally left off, and so adding it back in with its own number results in a total of 22 books. Difficulties attend this interpretation. Aside from the very great probability that Lamentations should actually be seen as a part of Jeremiah here, this way of counting the books would require putting all 4 books of
'Kingdoms' (= 1-2 Samuel and 1-2 Kings) together
as one book, and I know of no other ancient writer who did this. It
seems doubtful that this is what Melito intended. In fact, Melito simply
says of Kingdoms and Chronicles: "Of Kingdoms, four; of Paralipomena,
(p. 196) has a bit better way of arriving at 22 books in that he separates Melito's one title "Kingdoms"
into two: Samuel and Kings. This finds agreement with many other lists that count Kingdoms as 2 books and Chronicles as 1, so that's a possible way of getting to 22 for Melito. But if so
Melito is far from explicit on the point. He does not say that Kingdoms counts as one (Sundberg) or two (Katz), he says it is four. He does not say that Paralipomena
counts as one (Sundberg and Katz), he says two.
Counting all the 'books'
that Melito mentions (4 for Kingdoms, 2 for Chronicles, 1 for the
Twelve, etc.), you get 25 books (see Beckwith, pp. 184-85). That is not a number otherwise attested
for the HB/OT, as far as I know. In fact, it
does not seem that Melito is really all that concerned with the number of
books, despite his mentioning the 'number' (ἀριθμός) as one aspect of
his researches (Hist. eccl. 4.26.13). The only time he might be concerned about
the way books are counted is for the Twelve, which he reports are in one
book. Katz (p. 196) regarded that as "an unmistakable hint at the sum total." But why then does he say four of Kingdoms and two of Chronicles, parallel to his mentioning five of Moses, which certainly count as five? If he wants to hint at the number 22, it seems to me he has done a poor job.
And why would he want to 'hint' anyway? Why not just tell us, if he cared? I think the mention of "Twelve in One" for the Minor Prophets is simply a reference to the number of scrolls required to contain these 'twelve,' namely, one. At the end of the day, it seems to me that Melito is not concerned with a 'magical' number--as many of the later Fathers are aiming specifically at 22--but simply with relating to Onesimus how many scrolls it would take to have the entire library of the OT = 25.
The Identity of Melito's Source
does not tell us whom he asked for this information. He says he went to
Palestine (or, to the 'east'), but it would be nice to know if he saw
fit to seek out a Jew or was content to ask a Christian.Some scholars
have argued that Melito would not have needed to go to the east to ask
Jews because there was a large Jewish population in Sardis that he could
have asked had he wanted their opinion. One may respond that there was
also a Christian population in Sardis, but of course he didn't ask the
Christians in Sardis because he did not think he could trust them on
this matter. He did regard someone in the 'east'--whether Jew or
Christian--to be more trustworthy on this score, apparently because this
was the homeland of the Bible. (Note that Melito says [apud Eus., Hist. eccl. 4.26.14] that he went "to the place where these things were preached and done.")
I suggested in my book (p. 24) that Melito, being a Christian, probably would have asked Christians rather than Jews. If the argument presented last time regarding the rationale behind Esther's absence from Melito's list holds water, then this suggestion is strengthened. I have gone back and forth on this issue in the past couple of years, and for now I'm leaning toward Christians (and thus against Zahn, p. 196 n. 11, and other sources; cf. my book, p. 23 n. 34).
Why Did Melito Have to Ask?
It seems odd that a bishop (!) would have to go to Palestine to ask which books should be in the OT. What does this mean about the state of the OT in the early church? Scholars have correctly noted that at least it demonstrates that some confusion surrounded this issue in Asia Minor during the second century (McDonald, p. 201).
But I think we can say a little more than that based even on the little snippet preserved by Eusebius. I suggested in my book (p. 23) that the circulation of pseudepigrapha in the early church led to confusion about the proper contents of the OT. When the question comes up, I think it important that we note that Melito thinks he knows how to find the answer, even if the answer itself is not on the tip of his tongue. In other words, even though Melito does not know the list of books before traveling to Palestine, he knows that someone should know the list of books, because he is convinced that there is a list of books. Melito's confusion over the canon issue, and the confusion of Onesimus, does not demonstrate an open canon or no canon. Melito investigates the matter under the assumption that there is a proper list of OT books and that someone in the 'east' will be able to tell him what is on the list.
This is, in fact, not all that different from situations today. I don't know about the people you go to church with, but many of the people I go to church with would not be able to rattle off a full list of OT books. That does not mean that they doubt there is such a list; they just don't have all the titles committed to memory. They would know where to look if pressed, though (i.e., their Bible's table of contents). If you asked them whether the Book of Hezekiah is in the OT, some might have to give it some thought, and some just might not know. I suggest that that is the situation Melito and Onesimus were in. Is Enoch in the OT? Are these genuine OT writings? What about Testaments of the Twelve Patriarchs, or even Tobit, Judith, and the others? Melito might not know the answer to these questions before his trip to Palestine, but he thinks that there is an answer and he knows how to find it.