The Canon of the Bible & the Septuagint

In this interesting short exchange, Sippo reminds a misled Protestant not to rely on shoddy scholarship. Art’s comments are in blue. The Protestant’s comments are in purple.

It is obvious that you are totally unfamiliar with the Septuagint and its history among both Jews and Christians. Your comments derive from an apologetic style that predates the 1950’s. The idea that the Jews had fixed the Canon in the period of the Persian empire was demolished in the 19th Century! You need to read some more modern books. I suggest that you look at the following books written by modern Protestants:

“The Septuagint and Christian Scripture” by Martin Hengel “

Invitation to the Septuagint” by Karen H. Jobes, Moises Silva “

The Old Testament of the Early Church by Albert C. Sundberg, Jr. And the on line sequel to the above:

Biblical Theology of the Old and New Testaments : Theological Reflection on the Christian Bible” by Brevard S. Childs – {The chapter on the OT Canons is the most unique and innovative thing I have read on the subject in the last 10 years.}”

The Formation of the Christian Biblical Canon” By: Lee Martin McDonald”

Early Christianity and Its Sacred Literature” By: Lee Martin McDonald & Stanley Porter”

THE CANON DEBATE” {To be published in July 2002} Edited by Lee M. McDonald & James Sanders”

How the Bible Came to Be” By: John Barton”

Holy Writings: Sacred Text” by John Barton

This is just the tip of the iceberg. I am afraid that you have a lot to learn before you can talk intelligently on this subject. The bottom line is that there was no Jewish Bible canon (i.e., closed list) until the end of the 1st Century AD which is well into the Christian era. Had there been, then any attempt at composing a New Testament would have been virtually impossible. The Church alone discerned and formed its own Canon independently of the Jews. There was some overlap, but the Christian Old Testament and the Jewish bible were never identical either in content or in structure. Anti-historical delusions (such as the stuff you put out) can no longer be supported by the evidence.

The most “up-to-date” and exhaustive book on the OT canon is Roger Beckwith’s volume “The OT Canon of the NT Church,” Eerdmans, ca. 1985.

A 17 year old piece of fundamentalist propaganda. I read that book in the 80’s and it was nonsense then. It has been totally refuted today. The books I listed for you were primarily written in the 1990’s many of which respond directly (and negatively) to Beckwith’s thesis. John Barton’s books in particular were written with the refutation of Beckwith in mind. Barton’s book “Oracles of God” was written circa Beckwith’s and shows the consensus opinion of REAL biblical scholars. Martin Hengel’s book is the most recent work on the Septuagint and it shows how silly Beckwith’s views really were. I might also recommend James Vanderkam’s “From Revelation to Canon: Studies in the Hebrew Bible & Second Temple Literature.” Dr. Vanderkam is THE American expert on Qumran. He makes mince meat out of Beckwith’s thesis.

Roger Beckwith is well known as a narrow-minded fundamentalist and his work is not taken seriously by real academics. I think that his book is an excellent compilation of data from Jewish sources, but his analyses are strongly biased by his rigid Deformation allegiances. The only thing his book is good for is as a resource for quotations on this subject. Beckwith also makes a number of ludicrous claims which contradict the scholarly consensus on this period all in the service of prot wishful thinking. There is no evidence for Beckwith’s claim that even the Saduccees submitted to the Tanach at any time and both the NT and the Talmud contradict him. Beckwith claims that the Samaritan community was founded in the 200s BC and that their holding to the Pentateuch only is not a preservation of the pre-exilic situation, but a modern innovation. The experts on the Samaritans find that their community goes back at least to the 400s if not later. Hence their tradition of holding only to the Torah is not traceable to the period that Beckwith’s thesis requires. Finally, there is no evidence of any official Jewish pronouncement on the Biblical canon dating from the 2nd Century BC when Beckwith claims the Canon was “closed”.

All of his evidence for this is circumstantial. In the end, Beckwith himself admits that he cannot tell us who closed the canon, when, where, why, or by what authority. I agree with Beckwith that the Tanach was being formed in the period he specifies. I think it was in reaction to the Selucid attempt to destroy all of the Jewish Holy books prior to the Maccabeean revolt. A collection approximating the Tanach was circulating during this time, but here were several other forms as well such as we see in the Qumran collections and the LXX which were held in high esteem among Jews. There is no evidence of any “preferred” version or collection among the Jews. It is also worth noting that the Tanach order of the biblical books was only one of many extant in Jewish history. The 12th Century text of the Leningrad Codex does not use the usual order of the Tanach and places Chronicles at the beginning of the Ketubim. Earlier Tanach collections also varied the order. The LXX apparently never followed the Tanach order, though some later Greek Jewish Bibles did. Since the LXX was compiled earlier than the 2nd Century BC, it is not surprising that the order of the collection is not the same as in the later Tanach.

I direct your attention to Dougherty–of Yale–who as long ago as 1928….I have read closely and carefully Swete’s “Intro. to the OT in Greek,” the intros…, etc.

Like I said, your knowledge is all pre-1950’s. You are quoting all of the outdated protestant propaganda from the period before Qumran while ignoring the explosion of research in the 60’s, 70’s, and 80’s. I am sorry, but an educated man has to read more modern material. Your views on a “persian” source for the OT Canon are passé and have been so for over 100 years. The history of the Septuagint in the Church is best studied using Hengel’s book which I highly recommend to you. It has only just been published in English. Moises Silva’s book on the Septuagint will also be very helpful in updating you. It came out last year.

I can read Hebrew, Greek, Aramaic, Syriac, and Latin, and studied at one time or another every Semitic language except Ethiopic and Eblaic.

Then you can read English too, I assume? So read the books I recommended. Throw in something by Emmanuel Tov for the Jewish perspective on LXX. I am sorry if you think I was condescending to you, but quoting outdated nonsense as if it were valid scholarship is inexcusable. The Jewish Canon of the Bible was in flux at the time of Christ and remained so into the mid 4th Century. The earliest moves to canonize the Tanach were post 70AD and were specifically designed to exclude the New Testament and other Christian material. Meanwhile, the Hebrew copy of Sirach from the Cairo Genizah uses all of the scribal conventions reserved by the Jews for a biblical text yet it dates form the 2nd Century AD. So much for Beckwith’s thesis.The long OT canon used by the Catholic Church can be documented to the late 1st and early 2nd Centuries. Sundberg documented this at Harvard in the late 1950’s. His recent paper to which I referred is on the web and in it he reinforces his earlier conclusions. All of my sources are up to date and EVERY ONE OF THEM is from Protestants. And, as I said, this is the tip of the iceberg. You need to start reading a little more widely.

Art Sippo
The Catholic Legate

June 14, 2001

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