Monday, March 7, 2022

Dorival on the History of Canon Research

I've been writing about Gilles Dorival's new book on the LXX (here), particularly about his first chapter on the development of the Jewish canon (here). Dorival spends a few pages (pp. 7–11) of his first chapter surveying "Theories of the Formation of the Biblical Canon." In this post I note merely some corrections and confusions (on my part, or Dorival's). 

Several times in this book (pp. 7, 35–36, 171), Dorival attributes the first formulation of the Alexandrian canon theory to Grabe in the preface to his 1715 translation the Letter of Aristeas. But, as I've noted before, Grabe did not write that preface, and the preface has nothing whatever to do with the Alexandrian canon theory. Instead, the first formulation of the theory should be attributed to Francis Lee in 1719 (see here). 

In this section Dorival also describes the three-stage theory of canon formation (p. 8). In favor of the view that the Torah was canonized first, Dorival comments on Ezra's reading of the Law in Nehemiah 8 during the course of a morning. "Since half a day is time enough for the reading of the Law, but not the Law and the Prophets, the implication is that the Prophets were not yet part of the canon." This argument makes no sense. Now, I acknowledge that Dorival goes on to argue against this three-stage theory, so he would presumably respond to my previous sentence by saying, "yeah, I know." But I'm wondering whether anyone can ever have really brought forward this line of argument about Nehemiah 8. I've never heard it in those terms, before, and for good reason: Nehemiah 8 says nothing about Ezra reading the Prophets, so why would anyone think it would be a good argument to say that he didn't have time to read the Prophets? And another thing: what about Dorival's assertion that half a day is plenty of time to read the Pentateuch? I guess, but you'd have to read quickly. On the next page Dorival acknowledges that the half-day reading "suggested that the Biblical corpus was limited to the Torah or even to one book of it" (p. 9). 

The overturning of the Alexandrian canon theory occupies the next couple paragraphs, in the midst of which he makes an interesting statement about the discovery of Ben Sira in the Cairo Genizah: "For the first time, it was proved that a book hitherto considered as specific to the Alexandrian Bible had a prior existence in Hebrew" (p. 10). Did scholars in the nineteenth century really think that Sirach might have been written in Greek? Even though the translator's preface precedes the book in Greek? And even though Jerome had said (in his preface to the books of Solomon according to the Hebrew) that he had seen a copy of Sirach in Hebrew? And even though the book is quoted in rabbinic literature, a fact surely known to those nineteenth century scholars? A statement similar to Dorival's is made in an article by Natalio Fern├índez Marcos (in his essay in this book), when he claims that the Alexandrian Canon hypothesis was based in part on "the idea that most of the deuterocanonical/apocryphal books had been composed in Greek and on Egyptian soil" (p. 76), an idea refuted, he says, by the discovery of Hebrew Ben Sira in the Cairo Genizah and the discovery of Hebrew Ben Sira and Hebrew/Aramaic Tobit at Qumran. 

Look, maybe Fern├índez Marcos and Dorival are right about this—that scholars used to think these writings were composed in Greek—but I have my doubts. First, Jerome (problematically) claimed he had translated Tobit from a semitic text, so I don't see why western scholars would ever imagine that Tobit had been composed in Greek. I've already mentioned the evidence for Ben Sira. I don't feel like digging through nineteenth-century writings on the canon right now to see whether they thought the deuterocanonicals were written in Greek, but these two books (Tobit and Ben Sira) are the worst examples, because there was definite evidence for a semitic origin long before the discoveries in modern times. Furthermore, the heyday of the Alexandrian Canon hypothesis was the first half of the twentieth century (see here), and started to be widely accepted right around the time of the discovery of the Cairo Genizah. How could the Alexandrian Canon hypothesis be based on the idea that the deuterocanonicals originated in Greek if the strongest supporters of the hypothesis lived after the discoveries in the Cairo Genizah? 

Dorival's conclusion to this section: 

Because of these discoveries [= Cairo Genizah and Dead Sea Scrolls], one may conclude that, in the Judaism prior to Jabneh, a collection of holy books larger than the Jewish canon of twenty-two/twenty-four books existed. This collection appears to vary from group to group, with a stable of books common to them all. There is no direct connection between Alexandria and the deuterocanonical books. The Christian Old Testament is larger than the Rabbinic Bible because it comes from the larger collection of books that was understood as 'inspired' by one or several Jewish groups at the beginning of the Christian Era. (p. 11)

This view has similarities to the "majority canon" position of Timothy Lim, though Dorival does not cite Lim here. I myself think that this conclusion should be stated less confidently. (See my review of Lim.) It is, in fact, not clear that "a collection of holy books larger than the Jewish canon of twenty-two/twenty-four books existed," although I suppose that Dorival is correct that "one may [or may not] conclude" so. 

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