Over at Evangelical Textual Criticism I summarize the aims and purpose of the Textual History of the Bible. I have mentioned THB‘s article on the Canon of the Hebrew Bible elsewhere on my blog. I do not review this work. I am only interested in drawing attention to a current tour de force in Hebrew Bible research that has potential (despite its outrageous cost) to update the state of the question of textual research. I hope it’s helpful to that end.
Patristic biblical theory is complex, and reductionism is difficult to avoid. For reasons I do not understand, folks still frame the complex situation in terms of “the church fathers read the Greek Septuagint” or the church “created its own Septuagint Canon” as if the Hebrew canon and text had only minimal impact on the Christian Bible. As I cited in Part 1 of this series (Parts 1, 2.1, 2.2, 3.1, 3.2, 3.3), Albert Sundberg said that Epiphanius “argued that the Greek translation was actually better than the Hebrew text.” But Sundberg has missed the role of the Hebrew in Epiphanius’s description of the matter and what role it has in his overall theory. As long as these comments and thoughts persist, the complexity of the matter of patristic biblical theory will continue to be reduced to rather simplistic forms. We have looked at Epiphanius’s biblical theory over the last several posts, which is only a very small part of the much larger picture of patristic biblical theory. In what follows, I offer a few summary comments. Continue reading
I plan for one or two more posts on Epiphanius’s biblical theory, but today I’m reading and reviewing new and older works on the formation of the canon of the Christian Old Testament for an upcoming presentation in November. While reading Armin Lange’s recent, helpful article “Canonical History of the Hebrew Bible” in the newly published Textual History of the Bible Volume 1A (pp. 35–81), p. 59–8, I came across this comment on Origen’s canon list:
Origen’s canon list clearly regards Maccabees as a book outside of the canon. Nevertheless, Origen included at least Ben Sira, Wisdom of Solomon, and Judith into his Hexapla. Thus Origen himself adhered to a wider canon than that represented by his own canon list. This is confirmed by Origen’s use of various deuterocanonical texts in his oeuvre…The last observation makes it likely that Origen’s canon list does not reflect his own canonical thought but goes back to a source text; however, it is unlikely that this quoted source represents a Jewish canon list…His Hexapla demonstrates that neither his Christian source nor his Jewish canon tradition represent Origen’s own canonical thought. Instead, Origen himself had a more open canon concept and referred (sic preferred) for a closed canon only to the Jewish one (emphasis added).
There are difficulties on which I do not want to focus presently: (1) Were those three books and perhaps others included in Origen’s Hexapla? Lange cites the evidence of the Göttingen Septuaginta for the hexaplaric evidence for those three books. Perhaps they were included. There is evidence of Ben Sira in Hebrew; no Hebrew evidence of Judith, though it is usually supposed; and Wisdom was composed in Greek. We have no evidence that the books were ever revised by Theodotion, Aquila, or Symmachus. So there could be an Origenic revision of those books but in the case of Wisdom, at least, there would be no Hebrew columns or evidence of the Three, hardly a hexaplaric version. (2) There are difficulties with interpreting Origen’s Old Testament list: (1) is it his, i.e., a Christian list or (2) is it a variant Jewish canon list (it doesn’t resemble any known Jewish orderings of books but we have scarcely any of those) or (3) some combination of the two (the letter of Jeremiah, which doesn’t fit a Jewish context, could be Origen’s or a later scribal addition to an existing Jewish list). Lange opts for the first; that is, Origen used a Christian list to which he added the Hebrew titles for the books in Greek transliteration, a conclusion that agrees with mine.
My question, however, does not pertain to these matters, as important as they are. My question is how do we determine an ancient’s canon or exclusive list of books? In this case, Origen actually provides a list of books, clearly detailing the books of the Jews which probably he intended for the church to adopt (Eusebius understood Origen’s intent in this way). This list itself seems like a good place to begin, since it is the ancient’s own clearest expression on the matter. Now, when this same author cites books as scripture that do not appear in his canon list or possibly includes them in his magnum opus, the Hexapla, what should we conclude? I suggest that rather than redefining the ancient’s canon, which he has already given us clearly in his list, perhaps we should reconsider the ancient’s attitude toward Scripture in general. That is, we may need to consider the probability that an ancient’s canon list does not include all the books which he considered to be Scripture and the ancient’s scope of scriptural books is actually wider than his canon list. In his Hexapla, therefore, he could theoretically include books not in his list alongside books that are. He can cite as Scripture from books that are included in his list alongside books which are not. But his exclusive canon is clear from the list that he has left us.
Lange does not appear to consider this latter possibility throughout the course of his article, but I’m going to read it again more carefully and will update this post if I find exceptions. Consequently, he places the canon of Origen’s list in real tension with the putative canon of Origen’s Hexapla, and he must conclude that Origen “had a more open canon concept” than his list would suggest.
I don’t want this point to detract from Lange’s overall article, which is very helpful especially in terms of history of research on the canon. However, a book presenting all of the early Canon Lists with English translations and notes for how to read and interpret them may be useful to help fill in some of the missing pieces of the picture of patristic canon theory.
In the past three posts (Part 1; Part 2.1; Part 2.2) we have been enquiring into the biblical theory of Epiphanius of Salamis; that is, how did Epiphanius conceive of the Bible? In the next posts, we take up the subject of the Greek translation in his biblical theory. In this post, we look at the important details of the legend of Aristeas and how Epiphanius narrated them. In the next post, I plan to describe Epiphanius’s evaluation of the Greek translation vis-à-vis the Hebrew text and the later Jewish revisions. Continue reading
My quick review of an important contribution to a steadily forming debate on the ordering of the books of the Old Testament / Hebrew Bible.