The basic thesis is that the Megilloth (Ruth, Song of Songs, Ecclesiastes, Lamentations, Esther, in that sequence) in the order of the earliest Masoretic codices (Aleppo and Leningrad, 10th-11th centuries) were intentionally arranged very early, perhaps before the turn of the era. Others have argued that the Tanakh structure of the Hebrew Bible goes back to pre-rabbinic times, and some have argued that the specific order for the Hagiographa found in Baba Bathra dates to the second century BCE (or earlier). Stone's thesis is innovative in that he favors what he calls the "MT sequence" (with grouped Megilloth) over the sequence found in Baba Bathra (without grouped Megilloth), and he spends half of his book arguing from internal clues within the Megilloth for their intentional grouping.
I appreciate his argument for the priority of the sequence in the Aleppo and Leningrad codices over the order found in Baba Bathra; it's interesting, though I wouldn't say I'm sold on it. At least he has a good point that the grouping of these five books perhaps led to their all being linked to a festival rather than the reverse, that their each being linked to a festival led to their being grouped in manuscripts, which is the usual scholarly assumption. And I'm glad to see that Stone gives some consideration to why Chronicles moved from first position in the Writings to last (or vice versa; pp. 114-16), though he does admit: "There does not appear to be a way to adjudicate the direction of Chronicles' migration in the Writings" (115).
I do have some trouble accepting the basic premises of the thesis, though. This is nothing new; I've written about these things before.
Briefly (well, sort of):
- There is no positive evidence against the Tripartite arrangement of the canon in pre-rabbinic times (as Stone says), but there is hardly any positive evidence for it, either.
- Stone too easily dismisses the evidence of the Greek canon lists as possible sources for Jewish views (pp. 93-102), without considering any recent patristics scholarship (not exactly a fair criticism since Stone is not a patristics scholar). I especially missed any interaction with the work of Gilles Dorival.
- He does not pay any attention at all to Jerome, who is the only Church Father to talk about the tripartite structure of the Jewish canon.
- Stone uses the Twelve Minor Prophets and the Psalter as analogies for the idea of linking books together via catchwords and other similar devices. He then tries to find similar phenomena for the Megilloth. But the Twelve and the Psalter do not seem to me to be the most effective examples, because they were written on single scrolls in antiquity, and we have explicit ancient comments about how they were considered single books (the Twelve, on the one hand, and the Psalter, on the other).
- He seems to admit that there are no catchwords binding together the Major Prophets (Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and he admits that the order here does not matter, p. 91) nor for the books of the Writings (p. 91). So the only books that we can say are bound together by catchwords are the Primary History (= Enneatuch = Torah & Former Prophets = Genesis - 2Kings) and the Twelve. But for both of these collections, we already knew that the had to follow a certain sequence: the Twelve Prophets are all written on the same scroll, and therefore in a particular order, and the Primary History necessarily follows the sequence of history.
- Stone is arguing that "the order of the books contributed to how they were understood long before the invention of the codex" (p. 93). But what ancient evidence, nay, what evidence before about twenty years ago, can be cited to suggest that anyone paid any attention whatsoever to the order of books when it came to interpretation? I don't remember Stone ever establishing that the ancients thought order was important. There are some ancient comments regarding order (Jerome, Baba Bathra, Melito), but no exegetical practice that I can remember is tied to order. This further leads me to wonder whether one sequence (e.g., Baba Bathra) developed out of another sequence (e.g., the MT), or whether they were just different meaningful ways of arranging things.
- Stone has a confusing (to me, anyway) discussion of the possibility that the Psalter at one time headed the Ketuvim (p. 93), whereas Chronicles stands first in the Ketuvim in the MT and Ruth stands first in Baba Bathra. I'm not sure how this would work historically. When would there have been a tripartite canon with Psalter in first position in the third section? I thought Stone wanted to argue that the MT order (with Chronicles first) was already pre-rabbinic, or even before the turn of the era. But he also suggests: "[the Psalter] may have held first position in the collection [of Writings] for a long time." So he must push the tripartite canon way back in history, if the Psalter stood first in the Writings for a long time but was displaced by Chronicles before the turn of the era. Indeed, he continues: "If this were the case, then, in all Jewish orders, it [= the Psalter] would have directly followed the Twelve. As the corpus of the Twelve grew and came to include Malachi, the Psalter's beginning and Malachi's end were shaped or positioned to bind the two sub-collections (Twelve and Psalter) at their seams. This joint may have also served to bind a nascent collection of Writings forming after the Psalter to the Prophets as both collections grew. Over time, either Ruth or Chronicles displaced it from first position." So, I think we are to imagine that the Psalter headed the Writings (he later calls it a "nascent collection of Writings") before Malachi was added to the Twelve, but there was enough of a Twelve-collection for the Psalter to follow it. Then Malachi was added to the Twelve, then Malachi and the Psalter were redacted so that they would be bound together at the seams, then the Psalter was displaced by Chronicles or Ruth as the first book of Writings, all before the turn of the era. So just when did the tripartite structure of the canon originate? Long before we have any evidence for it.
- Stone's assertion that only two Jewish orders before the twelfth century are known (pp. 4, 111) is:
- based on a complete lack of evidence, as only two Jewish sources on order are known before the twelfth century (MT and Baba Bathra). This is especially stark in contrast to the diverse Greek arrangements (93-102), of which Stone makes a big deal in contrasting it with the supposed unity of the Hebrew arrangement: "In contrast to the Greek, the Hebrew canon's stability in scope, text and arrangement is remarkable" (p. 102). Stone also asserts: "From the end of the ninth century C.E., the Masoretic order alone is well attested for at least the next two hundred years. [Exactly what evidence is available for those two centuries? I count seven mss in Brandt, pp. 159 and 165.] Following the decline of the Masoretes in the eleventh century C.E., the Writings' stability eventually gave way to a variety of orders" (p. 111; cf. 105 n. 126). Why not rather say that the manuscripts are indicative of the multiple orders of the period they were copied, only to be stabilized with the printing press?
- completely wrong, as Josephus definitely gives us a divergent Jewish order (which Stone "excepts" on p. 102), and most scholars would say the same for both Origen and Jerome. Certainly Jerome is familiar with some of the details of the Jewish arrangement, as he describes the tripartite structure, and it is unclear why he would alter his Jewish source in reporting on the order of the Hagiographa.