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.

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