Thursday, November 20, 2014

Different canons at the time of Christ

I have a hunch that there were varied edges to the Old Testament canon at the time of Christ. Most agreed on the Law and the Prophets (although an argument can be made that the Sadducees really only considered the Pentateuch to be canon... Philo also is majorly focused on the Law and considers the Prophets a kind of second level canon).

The Essenes considered various apocalyptic writings Scripture like 1 Enoch. I've wondered if there was some overlap in the early Jerusalem church with the Essene community, and here it seems notable to me that Jude quotes 1 Enoch. At Qumran I suspect they looked at writings like the Hymns and such as Scripture.

The Protestant OT canon today, as well as the Jewish canon today, seems to me to be the canon of the Pharisees, which became the canon of Rabbinic Judaism. Meanwhile, the OT canon of Roman Catholicism and Orthodox Christianity seems to me to be the Diaspora, Hellenistic Jewish canon, which it seems to me was both the OT canon for the NT Greek writers, as well as the canon of the patristic church.

That is my sense of the lay of the land, certainly open for dispute and discussion. It is something like what seems most likely to me given what I've studied of the topic.


Anonymous said...

My healing gave me the ability to appreciate time, which means for the first time in my life I was able to place historical events into a temporal sequence, and also gain meaning from doing so. For some reason this intertestamental time period is of greatest interest to me, and so far there seems to be no class in it. So my understanding is still mostly coming from self-study, but every now and then I glean a little insight from a professor.

Ok, complete or incomplete, this is my understanding so far. The Roman Empire was a hodgepodge of different languages –Coptic/Syriac type, Latin, Greek, Hebrew- so the early church had to decided how to remedy this for ease in communication. There were no printing presses or internet access with language translations, the Good News was initially and mostly passed on by oral tradition. So to have a Scriptural canon, a common language had to be determined.

Regardless of the language(s) involved, there were also variations of the same book, for instance, Tobit, and these variations proved to be an additional challenge in determining a canon. The Septuagint came about as a Greek translation of the OT, which allowed for the formalization of the OT canon and gave the early Church one language on which to focus. Because the church was in the Roman Empire, Latin, the everyday language, was accepted as the Church language, and Greek the language of OT Scripture (due to the strength of the Hellenists the Good News of what became the NT was already commonly taught in Koine Greek). Because Latin was the everyday language, the Latin Vulgate was written early on as well. St. Paul reportedly communicated mostly in Greek.

The Protestant tradition has, to my knowledge, continued to focus on the Masoretic OT texts, which at times has causes some differences in interpretations or translations from the Septuagint. However, Vatican II placed an emphasis on studying the oldest extant texts that are canonical and still available, (which gave birth to the NAB 1971 that my parents gave me for Christmas when I was 12, and that I read cover to cover). There has also been discovered new texts in caves, etc., which has led to an increase in understanding of the culture of those times, and also a greater knowledge of those languages.

Due to a general increase in interest in that time period, and having more texts available, and in reflection of world turmoil and the need to protect the texts, there has been an effort to take high quality photographs of the texts and digitalize them and place them online. The only difficulty, I have found, is that the texts are coming from people/institutions of varying languages, who are using a variety of computer software programs, so the difficulty still remains in needing to know several languages to study! (For instance, when one opens the online link a text may be found to be in Greek, but to find that text one has to know German because it was a German writing individual who has categorized and filed the digital text. In my mind, for ease of study, the editorial notes will eventually all be in Latin. I took two years of Latin last summer during a nine week course.)

To complete the research tract in Theology at my school, with the aid of a dictionary, one has to prove ability to read ecclesiastical or related writings of one classical language (Hebrew, Greek, or Latin), and one modern language (French or German). Some people think of Latin as a “dead” language, an extinct language, but it is not. Through the history and tradition of the Church, Latin is still very much alive, and seems to me to be an excellent language for narration.

Steven Jones said...

My understanding is that by that time the Samaritan Torah was fairly well settle by that time as well, though I'm sure it had little effect on what the Christian and Diaspora communities did. It's been a while, but I read something once investigating some Samaritan-Torah-like documents at Qumran? It made me wonder about how interested they could have been. But I'm certainly not the expert in these things.

Robert Brenchley said...

The Essenes were - as far as we know - an introverted group which tended to segregate itself; th followers of Jesus were very different. I'd have thought it was more a case of two groups within the same milieu, re-working the same texts and appealing to much the same audience. There's bound to be an overlap.