Friday, March 4, 2022

Dorival on Canon Terminology

As I mentioned last time, I've got some thing's to say about Dorival's first chapter, the one on the development of the Jewish canon. As it turns out, I'm going to split my thoughts on this chapter into at least two posts. 

Dorival's first major section in the chapter is called "Words and Concepts" (pp. 3–7). He runs through the well-known history of the word κανών and related terminology. Let me mention first something that I appreciated. Dorival acknowledges that a canon can exist even in the absence of the word "canon," and he thinks such was the case for some ancient Jews. 

First, even if the word 'canon' is lacking, the reality of the canon did exist in these ancient Jewish milieus: that is, a list of books understood as being in some sense normative. Greek-speaking Jews probably used the expression 'testamentary books' (ἐνδιάθηκοι) for this list. (p. 5)

For the term ἐνδιάθηκος, see Origen's Selecta in Psalmos 1 as quoted by Eusebius (Hist. eccl. 6.25), where the list of of "testamentary books" is attributed to "the Hebrews," from whom Origen may also have derived the terminology of "testamentary books."  

Moreover, Dorival argues that the Rabbis used the word seder for what Christians called a κανών, and he cites Jerome's Prologus Galeatus (where the term is ordo) in favor (pp. 5–6). 

In Jerome's text, the word ordo first refers to the succession of the books among the three categories of biblical books, but then also to each category of books. The word ordo has the meaning of category of books in Gelasius' Decretum ... and in Rufinus, Commentarius in symbolum Apostolorum 36. (pp. 5–6)

He connects ordo in these Latin sources to seder at b. B. Bathra 14b. "The suggestion is that the Sages called seder what the Church fathers referred to as canon" (p. 6). I think this is a good possibility. I feel like I may have made this suggestion in print, but I can't remember where. I'm glad to see it here in Dorival. (Or, maybe I just read it in the previous French version of this essay.)  

I do have a couple of critiques on small points about termionology. Dorival discusses the Hellenistic-era Alexandrian canons of classical authors, seemingly implying that the word κανών was used for these lists (p. 4). It was not. Later he says:

English historians assert that the first modern occurrence of the word 'canon' meaning 'the canon of the Scriptures' is David Rhunken [sic] in 1768. In fact, this word with this meaning is found in French writings of the late seventeenth century: in 1685, in the work of Richard Simon ('Canon juif') ... (p. 6, providing further examples)

These statements from Dorival are confused. What can he mean by telling us that the word "canon" in the sense of "canon of Scripture" is already so used in seventeenth-century French literature? He seems to mean that Simon's use of the word "canon" in this sense is an early example of this meaning, but hasn't Dorival already told us that this word is used in this sense in fourth-century Greek literature? In that case, Richard Simon was not innovating, even if the word "canon" was rarely used in this sense in the intervening years (about which I am not certain). Actually, now that I look back at Dorival's first few pages, I'm not sure whether he acknowledges that Athanasius used κανών and related terms to designate the canon of Scripture. He simply notes on p. 3 that Eusebius and Athanasius did use these terms, but he doesn't say what sense the words bore in those contexts (and Eusebius himself did not use κανών for "canon of Scripture"). As for the assertion about English historians and David Ruhnken, I believe Dorival has again misunderstood. In a previous post, I noted that Ruhnken is credited as the first person to use the word "canon"—not in the sense of "canon of Scripture," a usage that goes back to Athanasius, but—for the lists of classical authors drawn up by the Hellenistic-era Alexandrian scholars. Those Alexandrian scholars did not use the term "canon" to talk about "the canon of Greek orators" or whatever; that was the innovation of Ruhnken.   

Another thing: Dorival says, "The existence of the acronym Tanak (b. Sanhedrin 101a, b. Qiddushin 49a, b. Mo'ed Qatan 21a) seems to imply they did not have a word for canon" (p. 5). The French version (p. 12) makes it even more clear that Dorival means that the Talmud uses the acronym Tanak. But the Talmud does not use the acronym. In the three passages listed by Dorival, the Talmud uses the spelled-out names Torah, Neviim, Ketuvim (in Hebrew, or—in the case of Quddushin—Aramaic), not the acronym. I checked in the Soncino edition of the Vilna Shas, but you can also check it at Sefaria: it's §3 of Sanhedrin 101a§12 of Qiddushin 49a; and §7 of Mo'ed Qatan 21a. Maybe I'm misunderstanding something?  

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