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


  1. Kevin,

    You should write to Hendrickson and let them know about the problems with the book. I once read a book with tens of typos. I wrote to the publishers and they came out with a new edition of the book. If you don’t say anything, the book will continue to be in print and many people will never notice these problems.

    Claude Mariottini

  2. I don’t think it’s typos. Those are just scattered mistakes, and isn’t what actually bothers me. These are deeper issues, I think, and things that the editor should have taken up with the author in the process of writing, or at least someone should have along the line. There were many more things along the line, at which an eyebrow would lift, but when it came to point of being a consistent trend, my “giving the benefit of the doubt” muscles gave out. The Biblical canon is a very particularly tricky subject, in which proper treatment of the evidence is paramount if we’re ever to be able to track the process of the canons’ (plural, as there are certainly several) development. His claim to be guided by Neusner’s axiom “What you cannot show, you cannot know” isn’t held up by his writing. It’s dismaying.

  3. I’d never heard it either! How on earth can that be a typo, though? A typo is a simple lapse, an occasional misspelling or somesuch. This is a fully expressed oddity couched in a fairly complex sentence, none of which is misspelled or ungrammatical. It’s just a VERY strange proposition. And if it is somehow a mistake, then the editor should definitely have caught it. The stelae thing is also telling. There were other examples of peculiarities earlier in the book, but these were the two I found most easily, as I’d just read them the day before. Not fun.

  4. Indeed.

    Incidentally, I just caught a typo of my own in the first sentence of my post, where I had said, “…I’ve yanked a 500+ day book…,” by which of course I intended to say, as I’ve corrected it to, “…I’ve yanked a 500+ page book….” As a typo, that’s clearly a mistake of an entirely different quality than those I mention above in McDonald’s book.

  5. Thank you for finding these problems. I ahve found even more and I am not pleased withthe volume either. While I was displeased with the editorial assistance in a variety of places, I know that I am responsible for the final outcome and I accept that. I have been collecting a list of examples of the bloopers and I am grateful for showing these. I already caught a few of them since I used the book in a course this Spring. I have spoken to the publisher about correcting mistakes on a second printing and they have assured me that they will.

    Thank you again.

    Lee Martin McDonald, July 2, 2007

  6. And thank you very much for writing! I’m very happy to hear that you’re working on corrections, and hope your second printing will come about promptly. The book’s breadth and depth of coverage makes it an ideal resource for those interested in a quick introduction to the issues involving the canon, and it will be much better corrected.

    Thank you for sharing that information with all of us and keep up the good work!

  7. 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

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