Problems of Text and Canon – Part 1

This is a two part essay based on a larger paper by The Yellow Dart. We’ll be posting both parts as well as a link to the full paper.
The New Testament writers and early Church Fathers used the Septuagint (LXX) for proof texts and for personal and communal worship. The LXX is based on the Old Greek translations of the Hebrew and Aramaic Scriptures (indeed, it is the oldest of the Versions) begun probably in the mid-3rd century B.C.E. with the Torah (i.e., the Pentateuch, the first five books of the Hebrew Bible), but eventually culminating over the next couple centuries with all the books now present in the Christian Old Testament, as well as a number of other important Jewish religious texts (some with originally Semitic originals, some with Greek ones), such as Ecclesiasticus, the books of Maccabees, and Tobit, that were not accepted as scriptural later in the Rabbinic tradition that would eventually culminate in the Masoretic Text (these other texts are commonly known as the Apocrypha).1 Moreover, in the late Second Temple Period (i.e., 250 B.C.E.-70 C.E.) there were many other Jewish religious texts, commonly referred to as the Pseudepigrapha, that carried claims to revelatory authority and were regarded as sacred and religiously authoritative by many Jewish and Christian groups in the same manner that later biblical texts came to be, but which were not included by the Rabbinic tradition or in the LXX.2 For instance, 1 Enoch is alluded to or quoted over a dozen times in the New Testament and the book of Jude (vv. 14-15, quoting 1 Enoch 1:9) cites it as prophetical, utilizing the same type(s) of formula(e) that introduce biblical proof texts. Moreover, this book was popular and sacred generally among Second Temple Judaisms, as can be seen from Qumran. Jubilees too should probably be regarded as scriptural, and no doubt there are other such texts as well. Indeed, the existence of numerous Jewish texts from antiquity which are based on biblical characters and texts but which also expand the biblical texts and traditions demonstrate that many at the time felt it was legitimate to expand upon the biblical stories and to use them for religious purposes. Finally, it is also apparent that certain groups also held religiously authoritative and sacred the words of their founder(s) or certain of their spiritual teachers. Thus the words of the Teacher of Righteousness, revered at Qumran, held special significance for the sectarian group, he being believed to have held the key to the correct (eschatological) interpretation(s) of all the mysteries of the prophets. The earliest Christians, on the other hand, highly esteemed the words of Jesus and his earliest disciples. The example of these groups illustrate that the canon was far from firmly fixed in the eyes of many early Jews in the late Second Temple Period; indeed, there was no such idea as yet.

The Dead Sea Scrolls have opened up a new world in the scholarly study of the history of the biblical text and the textual criticism of the Hebrew Bible. It is now clear that there were not only meaningful differences in individual words (that is, individual variants; e.g., Deut. 32:8-9) and orthography, but even variant literary editions of entire biblical (as well as non-biblical) books or passages throughout the Second Temple Period.3 Thus, for instance, the book of Jeremiah in the LXX is noticeably shorter than that of the MT and has a different order, and this different length and order is confirmed by 4QJerb and 4QJerd. The difference between the LXX and MT is almost certainly due to the fact that the MT of Jeremiah is a later, revised, expanded edition of the book.

Of further significance is that many of the secondary editions and expansions were produced for the same reasons and by the same methods that scholars have argued produced the earlier stages of literary composition for the biblical books.4 These principles include systematic harmonization (SP, 4QpaleoExodm), composite splicing of sources (1 Samuel 17-18 in the MT verses the shorter edition in the LXX), exegetical expansions and rearrangement of material (e.g., the MT revision of Jeremiah), and for ideological purposes (as probably is the case in the LXX revision of 1 Samuel 1-2). Moreover, the book of Daniel, probably written sometime in the third and/or second century B.C.E., even though it is perhaps the latest of the biblical texts, was itself substantially revised and expanded in the Hebrew Vorlage to the LXX (as well as in the MT in chapter 5, as noted above). These scribal practices are akin in nature (though usually on a somewhat smaller scale) to those of earlier editors and authors who composed the books of the Bible.5 For instance, scholars see the splicing of sources throughout the Pentateuch and Deuteronomistic History (i.e., Joshua-Kings) (a good parallel for 1 Samuel 17-18 would be the Flood narrative in Gen. 6-9 especially), secondary exegetical expansions and accretions of material throughout the prophetic books, Psalms and Proverbs, etc., and the transplanting of text and harmonization (e.g., 2 Kings 18 and Is. 36; Is. 2:3-4 and Mic. 4:1-4; Obad. 1-10 and Jer. 49:7-22, etc.). Moreover, the type of large-scale redaction and expansion for the book of Daniel represented by the LXX is seen throughout the Hebrew Bible. Finally, the book of Chronicles furnishes a terrific example of the creation of a novel work with its own unique theological Tendenz composed from prior biblical (e.g., the Deuteronomistic History) and non-biblical sources. The Chronicler edits, expands, supplements, changes, and ignores a number of features from his sources (including biblical sources) for his own purposes (cf. the Synoptic problem).

1 On the LXX, see Emanuel Tov, Textual Criticism of the Hebrew Bible (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1992), 134-148; Eugene Ulrich, The Dead Sea Scrolls and the Origins of the Bible. Studies in the Dead Sea scrolls and related literature (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1999), 205-214.

2 For the following discussion of canon see James C. Vanderkam, The Dead Sea Scrolls Today, 2nd Edition (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1994), 178-195, 63 (concerning the role of the Teacher of Righteousness); Ulrich, The Dead Sea Scrolls, 17-33, 51-78.

3 For the following discussion of variant literary editions see Ulrich, The Dead Sea Scrolls, 3-120.

4 Again, for this discussion see Ulrich, The Dead Sea Scrolls, 3-120.

5 Bible” as a general term throughout this paper means primarily the Jewish Bible, i.e., the Hebrew Bible, what Christians typically refer to as the Old Testament, and does not usually include the New Testament unless otherwise indicated through the immediate context or explicit mention.


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