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Canon of the Old Testament

books, prophets, writings, kethubim, ezra, book, isaiah, nebiim, daniel and kings

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CANON OF THE OLD TESTAMENT. The Jews divided their canonical writings into three groups: (1) The Torah or Law; (2) The Nebiim or Prophets; (3) The Kethubim or Writings (Hagiographa). The first group, the Torah, comprises the five books of the Pentateuch, called by the Jews " the five fifths of the law " (chanzishshah chumshe ha-torah). The Hebrew name of each of the five books is derived from the initial word or words of the book. The second group, the Nebiim, is sub-divided into two main divisions: (a) The Nebiim Tishman: or Former Prophets comprising Joshua, Judges, I. and II. Samuel, and I. and II. Kings; (b) The Nebiim akharonim or Latter Prophets, comprising Isaiah, Jere miah, Ezekiel, and the twelve Prophets. The Latter Prophets are further sub-divided sometimes into (i.) The Major Prophets (Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel) and (ii.) The Minor Prophets. The Minor Prophets were regarded as forming together a single book, and as such received the title " The Twelve " (Heb. shenem `asar; Aramaic tegesar; Greek to dedekapropheton). The third group, the Kethubim, is subdivided into three divisions : (i.) The Kethubim rishOnim or Former Writings, Psalms, Proverbs, Job; (ii.) The Megilloth (q.v.) or the Five Rolls, Song of Songs, Ruth, Lamentations, Ecclesiastes, and Esther; (iii.) The Kethubim akharbnim or Latter Writings, Daniel, Ezra, Nehemiah, I. and II. Chronicles. It seems strange that Joshua, Judges, I. and II. Samuel, and I. and II. Kings should be regarded as prophetical. But Samuel, of course, was a prophet: and Jewish trad ition regarded him as the author of the Book of Judges as well as of the two Books of Samuel. Tradition also ascribed the Books of Kings to the prophet Jeremiah. As regards the Book of Joshua, Numbers xxvii. 1S speaks of Joshua as " a man in whom is the spirit," and Eccles iasticus xlvi. 1 refers to him as " the successor of Moses in prophecies." As Prof. Sanday says (I., 1903), " the idea was that the history of each successive generation was written by a contemporary prophet; and as the pro phetic literature in the narrower sense does not begin until the reign of Jeroboam II. in Israel and TIzziah in Judah. the narratives of whose reigns fall in the second half of the Second Book of Kings, it was natural that the great bulk of the historical writings (Joshua—II. Kings) should be roughly described as the work of the older prophets " (p. 155). This was only a tradition; but as a matter of fact there was an element of truth in it, insofar as the books in their present form were put into shape by a prophetic school. The order of the Books of the Old Testament given above is that which is com monly followed in printed editions of the Hebrew Bible. In the Talmud (Baba bdthra 14b), however, the order of the Latter Prophets is given as: Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Isaiah, the Twelve. The explanation of this remarkable order is fancifully explained as follows. " Since Isaiah lived before Jeremiah and Ezekiel, ought he not to have been put before them? [No.] Because Kings closes with destruction, Jeremiah is entirely occupied with it, Ezekiel begins with it, but ends with consolation, while Isaiah is all consolation : hence we connect destruction with destruction, and consolation with consolation." The same order is commonly followed in German and French manuscripts. The Massoretic scholars (7th-9th cent.), however, assigned Isaiah the first place, and this is the position of the book in Spanish manuscripts and in our printed Hebrew Bibles. The order of the Kethubim in the Talmud is : Ruth, Psalms, Job, Proverbs, Eccles iastes, Song of Songs, Lamentations, Daniel, Esther, Ezra(—Nehemiah), Chronicles. Here Ruth is placed first as giving the ancestry of David, whose writings, the Psalms, come second. The other books are supposed to be in chronological order. The Massoretic scholars and usually the Spanish manuscripts arrange the books: Chronicles, Psalms, Job, Proverbs, Ruth. Song of Songs, Ecclesiastes, Lamentations, Esther, Daniel, Ezra. Thus

they keep the five rolls or Megilloth together. German manuscripts generally follow the order found in our printed Hebrew Bibles. The three groups of canonical writings correspond to three stages in the growth of the Canon. The books were accepted only gradually. The terms canon " and " canonical " are of course Christ ian. The Jews expressed the idea in a different way. Books which we c-all canonical are said by them to be books " that defile the hands" (metamme'im eth hay yadayim). The meaning of this expression seems un doubtedly to be that contact with the sacred writings involves a ceremonial washing of the hands. " The Pharisees," says Budde " (under protest from the Sad ducees: cp. Yad. iv. 6) attributed to the sacred writings a sanctity of such a sort that whosoever touched them was not allowed to touch aught else, until he had under gone the same ritual ablution as if he had touched some thing unclean " (Encyci. Bibl.). According to a trad ition preserved in Second Esdras Ezra was inspired to dictate ninety-four books, of which seventy were to be delivered only to the wise, while the other twenty-four were to be published. As far as Ezra himself is con cerned, the legendary nature of the tradition is clear: but it seems to be no less evident, as Wildeboer says, "that toward the end of the first century of our era in Jewish circles a Canon of twenty-four books was recognized, and that gradually the part which Ezra had in the canoniza tion of the Old Testament, viz., giving binding force to the Tora, was being extended to the entire Old Testa ment." The New Testament, it has been thought, may supply evidence that even in the New Testament period the Book of Chronicles was the last work in a Canon of twenty-four books. In Matthew xxiii. 35 we read : " that upon you may come all the righteous blood shed on the earth, from the blood of Abel the righteous unto the blood of Zachariah son of Barachiah, whom ye slew between the sanctuary and the altar " (cp. Luke xi. 51). The idea, it is supposed, was to refer to the first (Genesis iv.) and last (II. Chronicles xxiv. 20-22) of the Old Testament. Since, however, it is uncertain which Zachariah is really referred to, it is not safe to attach much importance to the passage. The tradition as to Ezra and his companions was revived by David Kimchi (d. 1240) and Elias Levita (1472-1549), who stated that Ezra and his associates, the Men of the Great Syna gogue, fixed the whole canon (Levita, Massorsth ha-Mas soreth, p. 120, ed. Ginsburg). But the only Talmudic passage in which any support for this statement can be found is in Baba bathra 14b, and there is no satisfactory evidence of the existence of the Great Synagogue (q.v.). Moreover, as a matter of fact, some of the books of the third group (e.g.. Daniel) were clearly later than the time of Ezra. Daniel can hardly have been added to the Kethubim (Hagiographa) before the time of the Mac cabees. And, assuming that the whole Canon was fixed at one time, it would in any case be very strange that Daniel should have been placed among the Kethubim instead of among the Prophets. It is useless to contend that he was not a prophet in the same sense as the others. He is recognized as a prophet in the New Testa ment (Matthew xxiv. 15; Mark xiii.). The Jewish tradi tion cannot be relied upon. Some of the books included among the Kethubim are found there, instead of among the Nebiim, because they were of late origin and were added to the Canon after the Prophetic group had been closed. The process of collection and canonisation was a gradual one. It is clear that an original collection, the Books of the Law, was gradually supplemented and enlarged. The division known as the Torah has a dis tinctive character: but, as Wildeboer says, " no one has succeeded in satisfactorily defining the specific difference between the Nebiim and Kethubim." It is noteworthy too that the Septuagint makes no distinction between the two groups (see ALEXANDRIAN CANON).

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