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Sunday, August 10, 2008

The myth of the closed canon of 70 - 90 A.D.

I don't agree with everything Lewis said, but he mentioned some interesting things in regards to what happened around 70-90 A.D. Now I am only quoting him (as well as others), to show that I wasn't alone, when I said what I said about the council of Jamnia.

Jack P. Lewis notes on pages 151-152

3. Questioning the Consensus

The mid-twentieth-century consensus seems to have
ignored completely the paper of W. M. Christie who, a quarter of a century
earlier, found scant evidence for it in a survey of all the relevant rabbinic

""Ben Azzai seems to declare that the canonicity of
Canticles and Koheleth was decided in a full Sanhedrin at Jamnia, on the day of
the deposition of Rabbon Gamaliel, and that is frequently accepted as the date
of the formal and authoritive closing of the Old Testament Canon. There is
reason for serious doubt on that point... No question of the canon was involved,
for there would not be time for discussing it that day...The most that could
have reached the ears of Ben Azzai would be some incidental remark. Besides the
question was not settled, for the discussios on Esther, Canticles, and Koheleth
as between R. Akiba and his companions, as given above, clearly point to a later
date, say A.D. 115 and further till the year A.D. 200 the matter was still being
discussed."" 43
(W.M. Christie, "The Jamnia Period in Jewish
History" JTS 26 (July 1925): 356

The present writer, an amateur, unpublished in either
rabbinics or canon study, had assumed that such certainty as that represented by
the critical consensus must rest on solid evidence. To my surprise, I discovered
that the more I examined the relevant sources, the more ephemeral the evidence
for such a gathering and for such action became. A consensus had formed by
repetition of what was at first a tentative suggestion.

My work on the subject dates to a paper presented
before the New Testament section of the Society of Biblical Literature at Union
Theological Seminary in New York on December 28, 1962. This work, an appeal for
clarity, provoked no questions from the audience. Privately, Henry Cadbury
suggested that the paper should have been presented to the Old Testament section
of the Society instead of the New. Krister Stendahl asked if the paper was part
of a dissertation; it was not. Stendahl, as editor of the Harvard Theological
Review. 44(Jack P. Lewis, "What do we mean by Jabneh?" JBR 32 (Apreil 1964):
Between the reading of this paper and its publication, the Jewish
scholar Samuel Sandmel wrote,

""Jamnia and 90 represent a convenience, not an
irrefutable conclusion. Many objections to Jamnia and 90 exist. Two are worth
noting here. First, disputes over some books are known to have continued beyond
90, so that to speak of a settlement in 90 is an exaggeration. Second, to speak
of Jamnia 90 creates the false impression that some convention along modern
lines was held, with delegates debating over the agenda and the coming to a vote
and decision. Canon, however, was a matter of evolution of opinions which
converged over a period of decades, 90 being a likely terminal date, but
far from a definitive one."" 45
Samuel Sandmel, The Hebrew Scriptures (New York:
Knopf, 1963), 14 n.6

Raymond Brown then noted with regard to my paper that
the Jamnia hypothesis "had been subjected to a much-needed criticism." He
insightfully observed that the Jamnia getherings were a school, that no list of
books was drawn up, that specific discussion of books is attested only for
Ecclesiastes and Song of Songs, that arguments persisted decades after the
Jamnia period, and that we have no record of books excluded at Jamnia. 46
Raymond E. Brown, in "Canon of the Old Testament," JBC (1968), 2:521-22.
article appears with only slight modification in The New Jerome Bible Commentary
(1990), 1040.

Ten years after the first appearance of my paper, Sid
Z. Leiman, who had made his own challenge of the hypothesis in a thesis at the
University of Pennsylvania not published until later, 47
Sid Z. Leiman, The
Canonization of the Hebrew Scripture: The Talmudic and Midrashic Evidence
(Hamden, Conn.: Archon Books, 1976), 120-24

reprinted the paper in his book on the canon, 48 Sid Z.
Leiman, The Canon and Masorah of the Hebrew Bible (New York: KTAV publishing
House, 1974), 254-61.

And it began to turn up in footnotes. Bit by bit, the
consensus began to come apart.

Peter Schafer, after a detailed consideration of m. Yad
3:5 (whose narrative he considers historical) found the discussion at Jamnia not
to be a final closing of the canon for Judaism but only a consideration of Song
of Songs and Qoheleth. The discussion was an inner Jewish problem, not a Jewish
-Christian one. 49
Peter Schafer, "Die sogenannte synode von Jabne," Judaism 31
(1975): 110-24.

I.H. Eybers questioned the consensus, projecting
instead a de facto Old Testament canon prior to Jamnia. 50
I.H. Eybers,
"The Canonization of the Song of Solomon, Ecclesiastes ans Esther," in aspects
of the Exegetical Process (OTWSA 20; ed. W.C. van Wyk; Pretoria, South Africa:
Dept. of Semitic Languages, University of Pretoria, 1977) 33-52.

Lewis later wrote on the topic for the Anchor
Bible Dictionary. 51

Gunter Stemberger, remarking that a "Synode von Jamnia"
is not supported in rabbinic sources and that an exact dating is impossible,
pointed out that the Jamnia gathering did not terminate discussion of Qoheleth,
Song of Songs, and Easther (t. Yad. 2:14). He saw Jamnia as only a step in
the process of Canonization. 52 J. Blenkinsopp declared the Jamnia
hypothesis "a myth of Christian scholarship without documentation foundation."
J. Blenkinsopp, Prophecy and Canon (Notre Dame, Ind./London: University of
Notre Dame Press, 1977), 3 156 n3.

Robert Newman surveyed assertions about the Council of
Jamnia in Scholarly works. 54 He summarized the various ancient traditions
on different questions connected with Jamnia, including the canon question, and
attempted to date the various persons in rabbinic texts who made statements
about biblical books. About M. Yadayim 3:5 he concluded, "yet the disagreement
among these men on just what was disputed and what was decided in these previous
discussion seems to belie any widely-publicized decisions...Thus Jamnia saw at
least one discussion of canon in the Beth Din and, later, another in the Beth
ha-Midrash." 55 Newman then summarized later discussion of Ecclesiastes, and
also pointed to a discussion of Easther in the fourth century C.E. 56 He
recognized that the texts affirm that books were discussed at Jamnia, but they
were also discussed at least once a generation before and several times long
after the Jamnia period. He saw the Jamnia rabbis testing a status quo which had
existed beyond memory. "But no text of any specific decision has come down to us
(nor, apparently, even to Akiba and his students). 57

Jack N. Lightstone further criticized the "Council of
Jamnia theory," suggesting that the sources likely reflect views of the
third-and fourth-century Amoraim rather than the actual historical situation of
persons cited in the texts. 58

Roger Beckwith observed that "the theory of the Synod
of Jamnia has been throught fully sifted by J. P. Lewis, who questioned whether
it was a synod of Jamnia has been thoughtfully sifted by J.P. Lewis, who
questions whether it was a synod at all, or merely an academic discussion, and
demonstrates that it had only limited influence on later rabbinical opinion." 59
He further declared, "though others have lately expressed hesitations about the
theory, its complete refutation has been the work of J.P. Lewis and S.Z.
Leiman."60 Beckwith noted the question of terminology, the problem of date, the
limitation of books discussed, and the fact that discussion went on later."

Jack P. Lewis said on page 161-162

“Frank M. Cross designates the council of Jammia “a common
and somewhat misleading designation of a particular session of the rabbinic
academy (or court ) at Yabneh.” He adds, “Recent sifting of the rabbinic
evidence makes clear that in the proceddings at the academy of Yabneh the Rabbis
did not fix the cannon, but at most discussed marginal books, notably
Ecclesiastes (qohelet) and the Song of Songs. . .Moreover, it must be insisted
that the proceeding at Yabneh were not a ‘council,’ certainly not in the late
ecclesiastical sense.” Cross sees Josephus independent of any Jamnia
proceedings, reflecting “a clear and coherent theological doctrine of canon that
must stem, we believe, from canonical doctrine of Hillel and his school.
Albert Sundberg recognizes that the “council of Jamnia” hypothesis is dead,
At the same time, still contending that the Hebrew tripartite canon was probably
fixed between 70 and 135 C.E., he suggests that my own view of the hypothesis
may have been too quickly accepted. He askes, “What alternatives are there to
Jamnia as the venuw? Lee McDonals summarizes the case, “There is evidence that a
discussion was held at Jamnia on the canonical status of Ecclesiastes and the
Song of Songs, but this is not enough to suggest that any binding or official
decisions were made regarding the scope of biblical canon Jamnia.”
pages 161-162 Jack P. Lewis

Related Links:

When did the Jews(nonbelieving) "officially" reject the Deuterocanon?

Lesson 10: The Canon part 2


[1] pages 151-153, [2] pages 161- 162 by Jack P. Lewis, in the book "The Canon Debate" edited by McDonald and Sanders, Hendrickson Publishers, 2002


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