On McDonald’s The Biblical Canon

Back in January I wrote about Lee Martin McDonald’s book The Biblical Canon: Its Origin, Transmission, and Authority (Hendrickson, 2007), detailing a number of errors that I’d noticed that finally put me off reading the book. As you can see there, Dr McDonald has left a very illuminating comment, in addition to sending me a private email covering the same points, showing that several of these errors were actually caused by the editor, rather than being allowed to slip past the editor, as I had so ungenerously assumed. As I explained in my apology to Dr McDonald, it simply had not entered my mind that a professional editor could be so inept. The lesson here is quite obviously caveat scriptor! I reproduce his comment in full here:

Dear Readers:

Thank you for these comments. I looked at the manuscript that I sent to Hendricksons to see what I actually had sent to them because the sentence about Sirach translating the Septuagint on p. 80 was just as surprising to me as to you. My original manuscript to them said: “These “writings” circulated in Palestine and were later translated from Hebrew into Greek— probably by the time of Sirach’s translation—not only for the Jews in Egypt, but also for the other Jews in the Diaspora.” The editor dropped out “the time” and it came out absolutely wrong. As you can see on pages 83-84, I only claim that the grandson of Sirach translated his grandfather’s work. I would not consciously claim that any one individual translated the LXX –no one says that. Thank you for catching this.

Also, the word “theraputae” (a plural form) should, of course, be “Therapeutae.” It is listed as Theraputai in some volumes, but here it is clearly wrong in my volume.

I was just as disappointed as you when I saw how the editor butchered the Neusner dictum on p. 170. changning “not” to “know” destroyed the whole point of the saying.

By the reference to three-dimensional stelae on pp. 39-40 I mean to focus on height, breadth, and depth. I am sorry for the confusion.

I do accept the other comments also as quite helpful. I was told by one of the readers that Hendrickson has issued a new printing in March and they were supposed to have caught several of these mistakes. I called them about several of them in January, but I do not know if they were caught. I have not yet seen the new printing, but several of the mistakes were, of course, embarrassing and I apologize that they appeared. The pressure to get the volume out after many editorial delays allowed for a quick read and not a good one. Ultimately the errors are my responsibility and I accept that. I assure you that I will be much more careful in my next volume.

Thank you again for your help. If you find any other errors, I will be most happy to receive them and I will ask that they be corrected in the next printing. I am on sabbatical leave at the moment, but I may be still be contacted this year at lee.mcdonald<at>acadiau.ca

Thank you again.

Lee Martin McDonald

I intend to recommence reading the book, making a detailed list of everything that seems odd. If any other readers were so inclined, it would be good to forward those lists to Dr McDonald for the sake of corrections made in a future printing, or perhaps a second edition. The book itself, corrected, would be a great resource, I think, and an excellent summary of the status quaestionis about the Biblical canon. It would certainly make a fine textbook for any classes on the subject.

At this point I also want to recommend to those readers who may not know it, a volume co-edited by Lee Martin McDonald and James Sanders, The Canon Debate (Hendrickson, 2002). Each chapter is by a different scholar covering various subjects related to the development of both the Old Testament and New Testament canons. Several of the chapters in that book were starkly illuminating, and altered my thought on several issues regarding canon formation, particularly the Mason, Lewis, and Lightstone chapters. Keeping in mind that the work is multi-authored, with some overlap of coverage and even some minor instances of contradiction between chapters inevitable, the work as a whole flows well and coherently. I cannot recommend it more highly, and trust that I shall soon be able to recommend McDonald’s The Biblical Canon with equal enthusiasm!

Caveat scriptor!

At the beginning of the year, I wrote a short review of Lee Martin McDonald’s new book The Biblical Canon: Its Origin, Transmission, and Authority (Hendrickson, 2007). He has just left a comment indicating he’s been working on a list of corrections to be incorporated in the second printing, thankfully. Take a look at his comments there. Also, for those of you who publish, it would apparently be quite a good thing for you to remember never to assume your editor knows anything more than where to put commas.

On the Confusion of “Canon”

The following post is extracted from a small notebook of mine that I used to carry around in my bookbag precisely in order to capture such thoughts that were stimulated by my reading or conversations. This entry, germane to John Hobbins’ Thinking About Canon conversation, was written 21 August 1999, beginning at 3:25 pm, at home. I have edited the original slightly, expanding abbreviations and such, and bringing the whole more in line with my current thoughts on the subject, deleting some extraneous, distracting passages along the way.

On the Confusion of “Canon”
There are two approaches:
1.) The canon is that of my church tradition only.
2.) The canon is that of all the churches: it includes every work that every tradition holds in its canon.

The second is purely my own ideal, but one that I think is valid philosophically, ecumenically, and kindly. To reject a book held sacred by another church is to reject that church. Whether one accepts that all of these are the Body of Christ or not, one cannot ignore them or their practices, traditions, arts and their canon. The result of learning the canons of the churches has been, for me, often surprising, and always enlightening. And that’s simply at the current stage of history! Seeing in older writings various other books being accepted in various traditions and in various ways adds yet another dimension (or layer of confusion!) to the understanding.

I can see several approaches, all of which require a certain amount of dilgence:
1.) Extreme familiarity with ALL the books is required.
2.) Doctrinal arguments, in seeking scriptural referents, should seek them only in that group of books which is common to all (basically the Protestant canon of 39 OT/27 NT books).
3.) Books which we still possess (sadly, so many have been lost) and which at one time were held to be canonical, should be included in some way. Also, some books were approved for reading (church or private), though not canonized, and these too should be included in some fashion. Then, too, various manuscripts of the Bible include various books not usually canonical, and yet there they are! These, too, must play a role.
4.) I think that three levels are called for:
1.} Canonical—which refers to that canon with which one is most familiar in the church to which one belongs.
2.} Deutero-canonical, which is—all the various writings that are currently held canonical in other churches than one’s own.
3.} Trito-canonical—all the various writings which we still possess that were once canonical, or that were “recommended reading,” or that appear in biblical manuscripts.
To simplify:
1.) (Primary) Canon
2.) Secondary Canon
3.) Esteemed Books
(“Secondary Canon” is perhaps preferable to “deutero-canon” as the latter is already in use with a specific meaning already in place.)
or:
1.) My Canon
2.) Our Canon
3.) Their Canon

Now, all this leads to a very large number of books! 39 + 12 + 27 = 78, and this is simply the number of Old Testament + Apocrypha + New Testament books in the Ecumenical NRSV (not counting additions: Esther, Psalm 151, Letter of Jeremiah [included as chapter 6 of Baruch], Daniel [Prayer/Song, Susanna, Bel & Dragon]). All those are just to begin with! Some others to add are Jubilees and First Enoch (Ethiopian Church, and for Enoch, Jude), Psalms 152 through 155 (some Syrian manuscripts, the Dead Sea Scrolls), First and Second Clement and the Apostolic Constitutions (Coptic Church), Odes of Solomon (some Syrian manuscripts, some Greek manuscripts), either the whole of Second Baruch or the Letter of Baruch (2Bar 78.1–86.1 or 87.1) [not sure about this one—definitely the Letter of Baruch, though], Apocalypse of Peter (formerly popular in the West), The Didache, the Shepherd of Hermas, the Epistle of Barnabas, and probably others.

Along with all these, there is the acknowledged necessity to familiarize oneself with the “literary context” of the Old Testament and New Testament, and thus, one takes up the Old Testament Pseudepigrapha (Charlesworth) and the New Testament Apocrypha (Schneemelcher) and the Apostolic Fathers (Lightfoot, in a handy edition edited by Harmer, then Holmes). All of the above-mentioned works will be found in one or more of those (except the Apostolic Constitutions, which can be found in the Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, translated by William Whiston, edited by Donaldson; I may, or rather, I intend to produce a new, modern English translation of the Apostolic Constitutions, the lack of which is perplexing). Though such a wealth of reading is a daunting task, think of the rewards one finds upon gaining a deeper understanding and appreciation not only for this body of various writings, but also, and perhaps especially more importantly, for one’s fellow Christian in addition to oneself, for one will find beliefs held dear in these writings. Though one may also shy away from reading “apocryphal” books, and may not accept, say, a Syrian Orthodox or Ethiopian Tawahedo Christian as a brother, that does not mean that such an attitude is correct. This whole “I am, they’re not” attitude is not a pearl before swine, but rather something falling immediately behind the swine (let the reader understand!).

I think I like: Canon, Secondary Canon, Esteemed Books. Nice order, and quite clear.

It’s all canonical fun!

John Hobbins of Ancient Hebrew Poetry has made an initial post in a long series on the Biblical Canon, an initial full text version of which he’s sent to various bloggers. In it he brings up something that I always try to bring forward whenever we start to talk about “the Biblical canon”: there’s not just one Christian canon now, there has never been just one Christian one, and there didn’t used to be just one Jewish one. And while I think the de facto result of the history of the canon has led to the evidently universal recognition of the 27 books of the New Testament being agreed, the differences between the Hebrew Bible and Christian Old Testaments (yes, plural) defies reduction. It’s a great subject, and I think John has taken it in a good direction, one which it seldom goes, recognizing canonical multiplicity as a fact, and not necessarily a bad one, while also recognizing a core of texts that are implicitly recognized by all the traditions as perhaps the canonical core, based upon preserved ancient quotation, allusion, and homilies. It’s fascinating stuff.

Codex Hierosolymitanus Canon List

I recently picked up a copy of Huub van de Sandt’s and David Flusser’s The Didache: Its Jewish Sources and its Place in Early Judaism and Christianity (volume 5 of Section III, Jewish Traditions in Early Christian Literature, in the series Compendia Rerum Iudaicarum ad Novum Testamentum, published by Royal Van Gorcum and Fortress Press, 2002). Part of the Introduction (pp 16-21) provides details on the manuscript in which the only known (nearly) complete copy of the Greek Didache appears, Codex Hierosolymitanus. This codex also contains the sole complete Greek copy of 2 Clement. The codex, completed 11 June 1056 by “Leon, the scribe and sinner” contains the following works:
a.) Pseudo-Chrysostom’s Synopsis Veteris et Novi Testamenti: fol. 1r—38v
b.) Epistle of Barnabas: fol. 39r—51v
c.) First Epistle of Clement: fol. 51v—70r
d.) Second Epistle of Clement: fol. 70r—76r
e.) A list of the “names of (biblical) books used by the Hebrews,” with the titles transliterated from the Hebrew and the Greek titles both written in red ink: fol 76r
f.) Didache: fol. 76r—80v
g.) The letter by Maria Cassoboloi to Ignatius of Antioch: fol. 81r—82r
h.) The Twelve Letters of Ignatius of Antioch (the longer edition): fol. 82r—120r
i.) The colophon is followed by a short treatise on the genealogy of Jesus: fol. 120r—120v

Flusser and van de Sandt reasonably suggest that the central works (b through f, above), as they follow immediately upon one another, were copied from an earlier manuscript containing the same works, an early edition of what we now call The Apostolic Fathers collection, perhaps related to widespread antiquarian interest at this point in Byzantine history. Thus the space at the end of the Didache does not have anything to do with the scribe Leon leaving an assumed space for the completion of the book. Rather, his copy ended there, so he ended there, continuing with copying the next manuscript on the following full page. This is entirely plausible. It also makes item “e,” the list of Biblical books in use among the Hebrews, potentially more important than has formerly been realized, as it thereby certainly dates to an earlier period than the date of H. Indeed, in comparison with other such lists presented by Melito, Origen (pace Eusebius), and Epiphanius, they suggest that this list and the Epiphanian list are dependent upon a common source dated to the first half of the second century AD.

Here is the list, as presented p. 19, n. 31, with the transliteration of the Hebrew on the left, and the Greek title on the right, separated by a dot:
1. βρισιθ • γενεσις
2. ελσιμοθ • εξοδος
3. οδοικρα • λευιτικον
4. διιησου • ιησου υιου ναυη
5. ελεδεββαρι • δευτερονομιον
6. ουιδαβιρ • αριθμοι
7. δαρουθ • της ρουθ
8. διωβ • του ιωβ
9. δασοφτιμ • των κριτων
10. σφερτελιμ • ψαλτηριον
11. διεμμουηλ • βασιλειων α
12. διαδδουδεμουηλ • βασιλεων β
13. δαμαλαχημ • βασιλεων γ
14. αμαλαχημ • βασιλεων δ
15. δεβριιαμιν • παραλειπομενων α
16. δεριιαμιν • παραλειπομενων β
17. δαμαλεωθ • παροιμιων
18. δακοελεθ • εκκλησιαστης
19. σιρα σιριμ • ασμα ασματων
20. διερεμ • ιερεμιας
21. δααθαρσιαρ • δωδεκαπροφητον
22. δησαιου • ησαιου
23. διεεζεκιηλ • ιεζεκιηλ
24. δαδανιηλ • δανιηλ
25. δεσδρα • εσδρα α
26. δαδεσδρα • εσδρα β
27. δεσθης • εσθηρ

The somewhat garbled, but still recognizable Hebrew (the list is not Aramaic, contra alia, except for the name for the Twelve Prophets, תרי עשרא, as it is still traditionally so in Jewish circles) is prefixed with the Aramaic genitive particle d- , “of”, throughout nearly all the titles but for those of the five Pentateuchal books. One curious aspect of the list, unnoted by van de Sandt and Flusser, is the apparent elision of sibilants in the transliterations of numbers 11, 12, and 17, the two books of Samuel and Proverbs, respectively. For the latter (p. 19, n. 35) they suggest an original מתלות and the loss of a theta during transmission, whereas I would suggest an original משלות and the loss of a sigma, as is clearly the case in numbers 11 and 12, in regard to the name Samuel. I’m not sure what to make of the second of a pair of books bearing a second -d-; perhaps it represents שני or תני even though the placement there is odd. The order of the books is also extremely irregular, with several transpositions in comparison with the Epiphanian list: Numbers and Joshua are transposed, Ruth is moved from after Judges to before Job, Chronicles is moved from before Samuel to after Kings, and Jeremiah is moved from after the Twelve to before.

For comparison with the Codex H list, here is the transliterated Hebrew and Aramaic list from Epiphanius, De mensuris et ponderibus, lines 680—691, from the TLG text:
βιρσηθ
ελησιμωθ
ουαιεκρα
ουαιδαβηρ
ελλεδεβαρειμ
διησου
διωβ
δεσωφτειμ
δερουθ
σφερτελειμ
δεβριιαμειν
δεβριιαμειν
δεσαμουηλ
δαδουδεσαμουηλ
δμαλαχειμ
δμαλαχειμ
δμεθαλωθ
δεκωελεθ
σιραθσιρειν
δαθαριασαρα
δησαιου
διερεμιου
διεζεκιηλ
δεδανιηλ
δεσδρα
δεσδρα
δεσθηρ

The H list and the list from Epiphanius are so similar that it is hard to deny relation either through dependence upon a common source, as suggested by van de Sandt and Flusser, or through chronological proximity in origin. If following van de Sandt and Flusser with the former option, a date for the original source in the first half of the second century AD is possible. If, however, the lists are similar because they date to approximately the same time, then a date in the second half of the fourth century is likely, as Epiphanius’ De mensuris et ponderibus is dated to 392. I think the latter is more likely than the former, primarily because the two lists are very similar, including the Aramaic d- prefixes, but are very different from the lists of Origen and Melito as preserved in Eusebius, and which we know to be late second century lists. A further indication, which I haven’t seen noted elsewhere, involved the vocalization involved in the transliterated Hebrew, which appears to postdate the beginning of segholization in Palestinian Hebrew and the shortening of vowels represented in the Masoretic Text, though this is by no means certain with the transliteration being so sloppy.

Still, it’s an interesting list, and one that should be added to discussions of the Biblical canon, whether one dates it to the second or fourth centuries.

McDonald’s Biblical Canon

Consider this an explanation of the reason that I’ve yanked a 500+ page book out of my “Currently Reading” slot on the blog, after having read not even 100 pages. The book is Lee Martin McDonald’s The Biblical Canon: Its Origin, Transmission, and Authority (Hendrickson, 2007). I’m just not enjoying this book. In fact I’m finding it hard to read. I blame the editor. Its argumentation is diffuse and meandering. The writing is peppered with infelicities of expression, quizzical solecisms, and astounding propositions.

An example of a quizzical solecism: “These stelae, from around 600 B.C.E. to roughly 300 B.C.E., are quite uniform in style, progressing from one-dimensional to two-dimensional and finally three-dimensional stelae” [pp 39-40]. Now, I suppose he means the artistic depictions on the stelae go from painted (?) to bas relief (?) to sculpture in round (?), but that’s not what he says. A one- or two-dimensional stele is a physical impossibility.

As an example of an astounding proposition:

Along with the Prophets, a body of literature, some of which was written well before 200 B.C.E. and some perhaps even later (e.g., Daniel), circulated widely among the Jews. These writings circulated in Palestine and were later translated from Hebrew into Greek

On the Biblical Canon

What Books do you call Sacred Scripture?

Following the rule of the Catholic Church, we call Sacred Scripture all those which Cyril [Lucar] collected from the Synod of Laodicea, and enumerated, adding thereto those which he foolishly, and ignorantly, or rather maliciously called Apocrypha; to wit, “The Wisdom of Solomon,” “Judith,” “Tobit,” “The History of the Dragon,” “The History of Susanna,” “The Maccabees,” and “The Wisdom of Sirach.” For we judge these also to be with the other genuine Books of Divine Scripture genuine parts of Scripture. For ancient custom, or rather the Catholic Church, which hath delivered to us as genuine the Sacred Gospels and the other Books of Scripture, hath undoubtedly delivered these also as parts of Scripture, and the denial of these is the rejection of those. And if, perhaps, it seemeth that not always have all been by all reckoned with the others, yet nevertheless these also have been counted and reckoned with the rest of Scripture, as well by Synods, as by how many of the most ancient and eminent Theologians of the Catholic Church; all of which we also judge to be Canonical Books, and confess them to be Sacred Scripture.

From The Confession of Dositheus, available in full here

Patriarch Dositheus of Jerusalem wrote the Confession in 1672 as part of a local Synod of Jerusalem. It is a point by point response to the Confession attributed to Cyril Lucaris, erstwhile Patriarch of Constantinople, which appeared in Latin in Geneva in 1629, but which the Synod of Jerusalem, in comparing Cyril’s other writings, determined was a forgery. One of Pseudo-Cyril’s questions was on the canon. Here, Patriarch Dositheus gives a short but pithy answer. He does not apportion the “extra” books to a separate, second-class body of Scripture, whether “deuterocanonical” or “apocrypha” (which is even still a rather nasty word in Greek Orthodox circles, actually, used solely for blatantly heretical books), but maintains the ancient, conciliar, patristic definition and recognition of these books as Canonical.

Continue reading “On the Biblical Canon”