Thursday, June 5, 2014

Dialogue on When God Spoke Greek: Chapter 6

MosisMose Dialogue on When God Spoke Greek links: Intro to Dialogue - Ch. 1 - Ch. 2 Ch. 3 - Ch. 4

Main Reviewer - Aaron White:

This chapter is about the writings that fall under the category of "apocrypha" and "pseudepigrapha."  TML is interested to study these writing as an exploration of a body of writings written between 200 BCE and 200 CE, that for some "early Jews and Christians" were viewed as "scripture" (58, 59), but were ultimately left out of the Hebrew canon.  This chapter will be a reference I go back to as a quick and dirty overview and intro to many important Jewish writings.  As seen in earlier chapters (3, 5), if TML has an agenda, it is to challenge a set "canon" by establishing the appearance of a quite plural "canon."  This chapter works in a similar direction.
Concerning the titles of these writings as "apocrypha" and "pseudepigrapha," TML believes these designations inherently are pejorative in nature.  He supposes that some may have viewed them as no less inspired than other, particularly canonized, writings.  Interestingly, he suggests that the 24 books counted in 2 Esdras do not necessarily need to be in reference to "the exact composition of the Hebrew Bible."  (59)  He supposes other books like the Letter to Jeremiah may have taken the place of Esther, for example.  That is tough to respond to, isn't it?  One could must simply say, "I guess..."  Or, I imagine one could say that Narnia is reported by Tolkien, friend of Lewis, as 7 books, but it could have been that "The Silver Chair" may have been a replacement for "Perelandra" in its original order.  I don't know...  
I do appreciate, however, that he does acknowledge in this point that collections of writings were "intended only for a select readership." (59)  Even though for a moment he eases off the "accidental" language of chapter 3 and 5, and it feels nice.  But then returns to that horrid (sarcasm) "accidental" language at the conclusion of this chapter, saying, "By the end of the period, one of the available Hebrew traditions will have been chosen, perhaps unintentionally, so that almost all of the witnesses after the second century have the appearance of uniformity." (74, emphasis mine)   
For TML, there is a high value on plurality and unintentionality in canon formation.  I have to admit that I too am interested in issues of canon plurality, especially in the 21st century catholic (universal) church.  It can bring helpful, if may at least, interesting conversation across (mus-placed)lines.  I also at times do feel a sense of injustice when I am confronted with the Hebrew (MT) canon bias stemming mainly out of the Enlightenment and Reformation.  I want to say that another look at the LXX MSS must be taken and their ordering and translation must be explored before we "go all in" on the MT.  But I am still attempting to understand what TML's investment is in making this canonization process seem so haphazard.  Even when I am reading his book, how he presents the facts, and working according to the rules of his world, I am still having trouble seeing such pure plurality and accidental-ness.  
I want to say that I think often times a differing view of how canon happens is in play.  I would say that canon is revealed and is recognized by the church, but TML would say it is chosen (it seems).  I wonder aloud, how acceptable it is to say canon is reveal in scholarship? Eta Linnemann asks a similar question in her book on Historical Criticism.  I am willing to accept when I read books like TML's that I will encounter throw-away statements like "Their pseudonymity, however, does not fully explain their exclusion from canonical literature: some books enen within received canons of scripture are pseudonymous -- Daniel, Ecclesiastes, Ephesians, and 2 Peter, to name but a few..." (59).  And, as one of my fellow reviewers has noted, TML does and admirable job at calling a spade a spade.  He assesses the evidence for what it shows.  But part of the evidence is God and is his people across time.  To this point, TML seems to play advocate for more possible writings that some viewed as scripture back this four-hundred year period.  But, in the end, it seems more compelling that if across such a wide-breadth of time and geography God's people have agreed on such a close core of primary Scriptures (not a secondary thing like the Catholic church), this is evidence.  Also, the convenantal faithfulness of God in scripture should be primary evidence.  That is, the motif that moves towards the hope of a kingly-Messiah and LORD, is itself a sure test of canonicity -- which is sure why Luther, and others have challenges books like Esther, but ultimately left them alone.   

I guess, I am both rambling but also asking for another book.  Both bad things... But I think when MSS are looked at, and stats are taken, and conclusions are made upon these in the abstract, maybe I could see where TML is coming from, maybe.  The story of canon is bigger than that, however.  And there is much more intentionality both divinely and ecclesiastically than this book admits, so far, as well as there is not as broad of a plurality that it seems that TML is expressing in these chapters.   


Responder #1: Chris Fresch
Like Aaron, I appreciate the Law's summaries of the deuterocanonical books.  It is very helpful to have on hand, and I am sure that for the reader who has never engaged with these books, the summaries and contexts Law provides help concretize what is being discussed as well as show how an ancient community could have regarded these as authoritative works.
I do find Aaron's critique regarding the 2 Esdras quote a little on the unfair side.  If I may push back on his example:
It would make no sense for Tolkien to refer to Narnia as a seven book collection that includes Perelandra but not The Silver Chair.
1) Perelandra is a work of science fiction whereas The Silver Chair is a work of fantasy just like the other six books of Narnia.
2) There are consistent characters, worlds, and themes between the other six books in Narnia and The Silver Chair but not Perelandra.
I am not trying to be pedantic; the situation of what books the Hebrew Canon comprises is quite a bit different.  Most of the books in the Protestant Hebrew Bible share one or both of the common features of theme (YHWH and his relation to Israel) and attribution to an authority (whether Moses, Isaiah, Solomon, etc.).  Most, if not all, of the deuterocanonical books can reasonably be fit under this umbrella (some may argue that they fit better than books like Song of Songs and Ecclesiastes).  Thus, this is a much less clear-cut situation than what books the Narnia or Space Trilogy collections comprise.

And just to add to the difficulty here, consider that a twenty-two book canon is posited in Josephus' Against Apion 1.37-43 and seemingly in Jubilees 2:23-24 [especially when one looks at the (expanded?) quotation of it in ch. 22 of Epiphanius' On Weights and Measures].  What's being left out?  What books are included?
So, I agree with Law that there is no way to prove the 24 books mentioned in 2 Esdras are the same 24 books we have today, especially as Law notes, since some books like Ecclesiastes and Esther were being debated for centuries.  It would not be at all surprising for Baruch or 1 Maccabees to have been included for some communities (or Bel and the Dragon — I mean, come on, who doesn't want that story as a part of their Scripture?!).  However, at the same time, I do think Aaron is right to counter from the other side of the coin: There is no way to prove that they are not the same 24 books we have today.  In my mind, then, we are left at a standstill.  24 books are mentioned.  We can confidently say that many of them are the same as what we have today, but we certainly cannot argue from this that the 24 books mentioned and the 24 books we have today are completely coextensive.  It's not a very exciting conclusion, I suppose, but I think it is a fair one.

Regarding the issue of an unintended canon formation, when Law writes "unintentional" or "accidental," I do not get the same "haphazard" feeling that Aaron gets.  I think Law's purpose with such language is just to point out that one textual tradition might have prevailed over another not because it was better or more original or theologically more accurate but rather just because of time, place, and who was using what tradition as Jewish culture shifted from a mostly oral dominant culture in the direction of being a text-dominant culture (see Walton and Sandy's The Lost World of Scripture for a good introduction to the topic of the shift from oral dominance to textual dominance).

Lastly, Aaron writes, "But, in the end, it seems more compelling that if across such a wide-breadth of time and geography God's people have agreed on such a close core of primary Scriptures (not a secondary thing like the Catholic church), this is evidence."  I must push back on this.  I do agree with Aaron that the movement of God's Spirit in his people should be a piece of evidence that we consider in this discussion (though, this is not what Law is doing nor do I criticize him for it given that his book is not intended to be a theological reflection on these issues), however, I feel that he is only looking at this from a Western Protestant perspective.  What about the Catholic deuterocanon and the canons of the Orthodox Churches (Armenian, Syriac, Coptic, Georgian, Slavonic, Ethiopian, and Greek) (See WGSG, 60)?  Why is it that the Western Protestant tradition (which, granted, goes farther back in time than the term "Protestant") is elevated while we ignore the Bibles that our brothers and sisters from other traditions read all around the world?  If we want to consider as evidence how God's people have been guided through time, I'm on board, but only if we are equally considering all streams of the Church.

[P.S. After I wrote this response, I listened to TML's recent entry to his podcast The Septuagint Sessions titled "A problem with the Apocrypha."  Excellent discussion from him and very relevant!  -  Aaron:  Thanks Chris for such a lively response.  I will also listen to this podcast to gain more clarity on your last point.]

Responder #2 —Ed Glenny
Thanks once again to TML for giving us WGSG. It is a great pleasure to read a book written by an expert who has a broad grasp of a subject (as is evident from the content and footnotes in his book) and yet has digested and summarized the material so that it is easy to understand, interesting, and enjoyable to read. Thank you TML. Thanks also to Aaron and Chris for their helpful comments on chapter six. I would like to offer two comments.
First, I think the title of this chapter is very apt, and it argues against one of TML’s main points in the chapter. There are stories about “Bird Droppings, Stoned Elephants, and Exploding Dragons” in the narrative or historical sections of the Apocrypha. (I will only discuss the Apocrypha and not the Pseudepigrapha, because that is the focus of this chapter and that is the discussion most relevant to the LXX.) Such stories are entertaining; however, to me many of these stories do not have the ring of credibility, authenticity, or weightiness I sense in the stories in the books in the Jewish canon. Thus, I am a little surprised when TML says in the first paragraph of chapter six, “There is nothing intrinsic to the books that would hint they should have been separated from the others [the books in the Jewish canon].” When I read the Apocrypha I find many things that do not seem to be intrinsically or inherently on the level of the books in the Jewish canon, and my students seem to agree when we read the Apocrypha together. Furthermore, the secondary nature of the books in the Apocrypha is implied from the fact that some of these books “intend to resolve perceived difficulties in the Hebrew version” of the books to which they are related (61) and some additions to books were “added where it was felt the Hebrew version was deficient” (63). In Law’s words describing the book of Judith, “the historical claims of the story are incredulous.” Perhaps when Law writes “there is nothing intrinsic to the books that would hint they should have been separated from the others” he is referring to their genres and other literary features, but how does one not include the general content in what is intrinsic to books? To me there are things in many of the books of the Apocrypha, like mistakes, aberrant theology, and a general lack of creditability and gravity that hint at why they would have been separated from the other books.
Second, although “during the centuries of the Septuagint’s formation there was nothing like the Apocrypha, as we know it today” (59) that does not mean it is a term scholars should not use today to describe a collection of books called the Apocrypha. Nor does it mean that it is wrong to consider these books as a unit or to separate them on the basis of their essential character from the rest of the LXX, which was translated from the Hebrew Bible. TML seems to be arguing that they should not be so distinguished. However, the evidence does not support the idea that Christians made no distinction between the books today called the Apocrypha and the books translated from the Hebrew Bible by the Seventy-two. David deSilva writes, “The ‘Septuagint’ codices…cannot be used as evidence for an Alexandrian Jewish canon that included the Apocrypha. These manuscripts are fourth- and fifth-century Christian works, fail to agree on the extent of the extra books, and seem to have been compiled more with convenience of reference in mind than as the standards of canonical versus noncanonical books….As ‘church books,’ they may have sought to contain what was useful rather than what was strictly canonical.” Thus, the inclusion of books from what we call the Apocrypha in Christian codices does not prove they were considered to be on the same level as the other books of the Septuagint. Furthermore, Jews limited their canon to the 39 books later included in the Protestant canon, although Jews count them as 24 (or 22) books, rather than 39. And Christians believed the “oracles of God” had been committed to the Jews (Rom 3:2; 9:4) and believed Jesus was the fulfillment of those same 39 books, making those books the authoritative basis of their faith. When Christians quoted Jewish writings as Scripture in the books of the New Testament their quotations did not go beyond those same 39 books. And the few suggested textual references to the Apocryphal books in the New Testament are not strong connections. Thus, there is good evidence that for both Jews and early Christians the Jewish Scriptures were understood to be limited to the same 39 books. Christians valued and used other books, including some of those we today include in the Apocrypha and Pseudepigrapha. But the arguments used to support the expansion of the Christian Old Testament beyond the Jewish Scriptures to include apocryphal books is not convincing. The evidence suggests Christians accepted as Scripture the same 39 books that make up the Jewish Scriptures, and that inclusion of other books in Septuagint codices did not indicate those books were Scripture or canonical. Septuagint codices do not appear to have been intended to define the canon of Scripture.
The apocryphal books have devotional and historical value, and are useful for our understanding of the LXX. Also various apocryphal books were included in many of the Christian codices. But there is strong evidence they were distinguished from the Jewish Scriptures by Jews and Christians (and also at Qumran, which I cannot develop here; see deSilva, 32). The advice of Cyril, “you are to read the Old Testament books of the Septuagint that have been translated by the Seventy-two….Stay away from the Apocrypha” (Catechetical Lectures 4.33, 35; ca. A.D. 350), clearly differentiates between the translations of the books in the Hebrew canon and the apocryphal books and is representative of the feelings of many of the fathers. Apocrypha is not a perfect term, but it does give us a category to make the distinction between books that Cyril advised. And such a distinction seems to be required by the character of the books called apocryphal and by the separation the Jews and early Christians made between canonical and non canonical books.