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Sunday, August 10, 2008

Questions of Canon viewed through Dead Sea Scrolls

I don't agree with everything Vanderkam says, but he does show, that I wasn't alone, in saying what I said.

James C. Vanderkam said:

"As nearly as we can tell, there was no canon of
Scripture in Second Temple Judaism. That is, before 70 C.E., no authoritative
body of which we know drew up a list of books that alone were regarded as
supremely authoritive, a list from which none could be subtracted and to which
none could be added. There is nothing new or surprising in a statement such as
this. It was thought for a time, apparently a long time, that the finishing
touches were put on such a canon only two decades or so after the end of the
Second Temple period, when rabbinic scholars gathered in Yavneh are supposed to
have have closed the scriptural list by including the Writings and adding them
to the already canonized Law and Prophets. That thesis has taken some heavy
blows over the last thrity-five years, and it richly deserved them. Our evidence
for what rabbis at Yavneh did and what authority they possessed is paltry
indeed, and hardly bears the weight the theory imposed upon it. Moerever, that
the Law and Prophets were canonized at earlier times goes beyond our

In short, we do not know how, when, or by whom the list
of books now found in the Hebrew Bible was drawn up. All we have are hints over
a considerable historical span suggesting that some books were regard by certain
writers as sufficiently authority that they could be cited to settle a dispute,
explain a situation, provide an example, or predict what would happen. In that
limited sense there is evidence for a set or sets of authoritative works in
Judaism from an early time. We would like to know more about which scrolls were
involved and what sort of authority was attributed to them , but usually we have
to settle for much less. It is evidence that many of the books which now find a
place in the Hebrew Bible enjoyed lofty status for Jewish writers and did so
from early in the second temple period, but we are not justified in
making such a claim about all of them. There wew other scrolls not in the Hebrew
bible that were deemed authoritative by some individuals and groups. This is
simply another way of saying that what we might call canonical boundaries were
not definately drawn in that time.

The thesis that I would like to defend regarding the
second temple is that while there were authoritative writtings, and these were
at times gathered into recognizable groupings (e.g., Law, Prophets, Others), the
category of revealed litature was not considered a closed and fixed one, at
least not for the type of Judaism for which we now have the most evidence- the
people of the Dead Sea Scrolls (Essenes according to most scholars). This is in
line with their documented belief that revelation ws not confined to the distant
past but continued in their time and fellowship. About the Teacher of
Righteousness it is said that to him "God made known all the mysteries of
the words of His servants the prophets" (1QpHab VII, 4-5). Regardless whether
that gift extended to others, the text is clear that revelation continued at
least in the Teacher's time. Whether others who did not belong to the
Qumran community's persuasion would have agreed that divine disclosures occured
in the present we do not know -with the exception, of course, of the group of
Jews who followed Jesus of Nazareth.


[1] pages 91-92, by James C. VanderKam, in the book "The Canon Debate" edited by McDonald and Sanders, Hendrickson Publishers, 2002


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