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!


  1. The following are the titles of the chapters (and their authors) in The Canon Debate, as listed on WorldCat.

    Introduction / Lee Martin McDonald and James A. Sanders
    The notion and definition of canon / Eugene Ulrich
    The Jewish scriptural canon in cultural perspective / Philip R. Davies
    The formation of the Hebrew Bible canon : Isaiah as a test case / Joseph Blenkinsopp
    The Septuagint : the Bible of Hellenistic Judaism / Albert C. Sundberg Jr.
    Questions of canon viewed through the Dead Sea Scrolls / James C. VanderKam
    Josephus and his twenty-two book canon / Steve Mason
    Origins of a tripartite Old Testament canon / Julio C. Trebolle Barrera
    Jamnia revisited / Jack P. Lewis
    The rabbis’ Bible : the canon of the Hebrew Bible and the early rabbinic guild / Jack N. Lightstone
    The Scriptures of Jesus and his earliest followers / Craig A. Evans
    The Old Testament apocrypha in the early church and today / Daniel J. Harrington
    The pseudepigrapha in the early church / William Adler
    The codex and canon consciousness / Robert A. Kraft
    The status of the masoretic text in modern text editions of the Hebrew Bible : the relevance of canon / Emanuel Tov
    The issue of closure in the canonical process / James A. Sanders
    The New Testament canon : recent research and the status quaestionis / Harry Y. Gamble
    Factors leading to the selection and closure of the New Testament canon : a survey of some recent studies / Everett Ferguson
    Reflections on Jesus and the New Testament canon / William R. Farmer
    Marcion revisited / John Barton
    Gnosticism and the Christian Bible / Pheme Perkins
    Evidence for an early Christian canon (second and third century) / Peter Balla
    The New Testament canon of Eusebius / Everett R. Kalin
    The muratorian fragment and the origins of the New Testament canon / Geoffrey Mark Hahneman
    Identifying Scripture and canon in the early church : the criteria question / Lee Martin McDonald
    The problem of pseudonymity in biblical literature and its implications for canon formation / Kent D. Clarke
    The Greek New Testament as a codex / Daryl D. Schmidt
    Issues in the interrelation of New Testament textual criticism and canon / Eldon Jay Epp
    The canonical structure of Gospel and apostle / Franeois Bovon
    The significance of a canonical perspective of the church’s scripture / Robert W. Wall
    The once and future New Testament / Robert W. Funk
    Has the canon a continuing function? / James D.G. Dunn
    A: Primary sources for the study of the Old Testament and Hebrew Bible / Lee M. McDonald
    B: Primary sources for the study of the New Testament canon / Lee M. McDonald
    C: Lists and catalogues of ancient Scripture collections / Lee M. McDonald
    D: Current canons of the Hebrew Bible/Old Testament / Lee M. McDonald.

  2. The Canon Debate is excellent. I found it a very informative book. I think I’ll write a review of it soon (if I get a chance — b’li neder.)

  3. It certainly is! It certainly was an eye-opener. Another for me was Andrew Steinmann, The Oracles of God: The Old Testament Canon (Concordia Academic Press, 1999). One of the things I gained from Steinmann is caution. Seeing a reference of “Law, Prophets, and Psalms” shouldn’t be taken as a reference to the commonly understood tripartite canon of Judaism, but that last term is literally only referring to the Book of Psalms, for instance. Much in the manner of Mason’s chapter in The Canon Debate, involving a rethinking of the supposed tripartite division of Josephus, this book helped me to clarify my recognition of unquestioned assumptions in canon studies. The Canon Debate really takes the cake in that department, though. I’m sure the corrected edition of LMM’s The Biblical Canon will be excellent, too. Do write a review of The Canon Debate, whenever you have time. I’d love to read it. Your posts are always a pleasure.

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