Evangelical Textual Criticism

Monday, August 06, 2007

Two OT canon things

Another early testimony to the number of OT books.
I've been looking at the various early testimonia to the number of books in the OT. 22 (as in Josephus) and 24 (as in 4 Ezra and G. Thom.) are well-known. But Num. Rabbah (apparently - non vidi) lists 35, counting the Twelve as 12, not as 1. I recently came across a passage (well a series of passages, really) in Shepherd of Hermas which talk about 'the 35 prophets of God and his servants' (Herm. 92.4; cf. 81.3; 82.4). It seems pretty likely to me that this is also a number of OT books, given the early-ness of the count of 24, and given how easy it would be to count the Twelve as 12. I haven't seen an interpretation along these lines in any of the Hermas commentaries, though. Any thoughts?

First-century Esther Wirkungsgeschichte?
I've also come across a pretty early (possible/probable) reference to the name Esther. In JIWE I, #26, there's a first-century inscription about a "Claudia Aster", who was captured as a slave-girl from Jerusalem, presumably during the war or shortly after. Noy considers the name "Aster" to be a Latinisation of Esther. If he's right, this would be the earliest attestation of a person of this name (apart, of course, from the biblical lady herself). It might also be an example of the influence of the biblical book, and be an extra piece in the jigsaw of Esther's earliest impact.

Any thoughts?


  1. Can you rule out the possibility that the name came from ἀστήρ? Slaves had much worse in the way of names. Aster has not just one, but two, phonetic infelicities, if derived from אֶסְתֵּר.

  2. Do you have a specific reference for the list in Numbers Rabbah?

  3. Eric, the ref. is Numbers Rabbah 18:21. I saw it in the Anchor Bible Dictionary (sub "canon") I think. As I say, though, I haven't checked it.

    I'm not convinced that the Gk etymology is likely for Aster - aster in Greek is a masculine noun.

  4. Do names have to fit the gender of their referent (e.g., Aquila)?

  5. Sure - good point. They don't have to fit the gender. But a mismatch is a rarity, I'd say - the exception rather than the rule.

    This may be a stupid question - but what are the two phonetic infelicities you mention above?

  6. I still haven't been able to check the Numbers Rabbah text, but I found a reference to the same passage in an article by Louis Feldman that I managed to access on JSTOR via a Google search of the citation. There he doesn't quote the passage from Rabbah, but I would infer from what he says that the quote doesn't actually refer to a 35 book canon, but only to the book of Jonah as separate from the 12--which might imply the 35 book canon only rather indirectly.

    In the case of the Shepherd, I have to admit, equating the 35 prophets with 35 books of the canon of Jewish Scriptures is attractive. The two commentators (Joly and Snyder) I checked on that passage both noted the numbers 10 and 25 for the first sets of stones with 10 and 25 generations in Luke's genealogy; and both noted that the next number from that set should be 42, not 35.

    However, even granting that Hermas' 35 is a delimitation of the Jewish canon, it's a separate leap to get from that to the separation of the 12 into 12 separate books, and a canon that is identical with the MT. Another possibility is that his 35 books (if that's the right interpretation) include the 22 or 24 indicated in our other older sources plus 11 other works that aren't in the MT canon. In Vision 2.3.4, he cites the book of Eldad and Modat with a citation formula. He also wouldn't be without precedent in including in his Scriptures books outside that group. The Epistle of Barnabas clearly does, and I think Clement of Alexandria does too. It would seem somewhat odd for him to have enough consciousness of a clearly delimited canon to give a specific number of books and still to include so many extra books. But even that wouldn't be unthinkable. That's essentially what 4 Ezra does with its 24 +70 (4 Ezra 14:45-48).

    Seeing what that Numbers Rabbah passage really says (late though it may be) would make a difference to me on how much significance could likely be given to the number 35. At this point, your hypothesis is attractive to me, but too iffy to hang anything on. Actually your idea reminds me of Taylor's view of Vision 3.13 that the 4 elements and 4 legs of the chair represent the necessity of a 4 -Gospel canon, which I hold in a similar position of attractiveness with too little certainty.

  7. I would expect:
    אֶסְתֵּר => 'Esther

    I am by no means an expert on Hebrew phonetics, so I may be absolutely wrong on both counts -- especially the vowel which is of course a later Masoretic reading. Aleph is prone to take a-vowels...

    As for the "th", it seems that Romans did distinguish these things (e.g. Josephus) when importing from other languages. They regularly did so with Greek, at least.

    The phonetic problems are definitely not so severe as to eliminate the possibility for this being a rendering of Esther. Could it be possible that the individual's name was אֶסְתֵּר, but, when she was acquired, she was called by the closest equivalent, ἀστήρ?

  8. (Posted by Simon: I've just somehow messed up my google account.)

    Eric: Just looked up the Num. Rabbah reference in the Soncino translation at least. It's explaining a reference to "captain of 50" in Isaiah, and explains the 50 as: 24 books of Scripture + 11 minor prophets (excluding Jonah which is a book in itself) + 6 seders in the Mishnah + 9 chapters of the Sifra Leviticus! It seems that Jonah is included in the 24, though the Soncino edition has a note along different lines. Strange stuff, but seems likely to mean 35 books in the OT.

    Christian: I see what you mean. The A/E difference is right, of course. But the t/th difference is only an issue if you see Greek getting involved, which is unnecessary in this case, I think.

    NEWSFLASH: I've just skimmed around in the JIWE volume where the Greek version is discusssed, and Noy (JIWE I,pp. 66-67) refers to various Greek spellings of the name occurring at Bet Shearim (can't do Gk font, I'm afraid): Asther (+ 3 other cases outside Bet Sh., inc. JIWE I,#47), Aster (+ one other outside Bet Sh.), Eisther and Isther! So there's lots of material for some eager wissenschaftler(in) to look at - most of the other examples are 3rd-4th century, and even later, though: it's the first-century date that makes JIWE I #26 interesting. There are a good few cases in JIWE II; I haven't checked JIGRE.

  9. It sounds like the newsflash info nails this. Well done!

  10. (Simon again)

    Christian, thanks for pressing me on these points - very helpful! Simon

  11. Simon,
    In case you're still checking these comments so long after the original post...
    Something has been bothering me about your hypothesis of the Shepherd passage.

    In order to make the 35 prophets correspond to the OT canon, not only must the 12 be counted as 12 prophets, but the pentateuch must be counted as 5, and samuel, kings, chronicles, and ezra-nehemiah as 2 each. So part of the total comes by counting the same prophetic author of those books (or so Hermas would presume) multiple times corresponding to the number of scrolls, but another part of the total counts multiple prophets in a single scroll. I would be comfortable seeing a given author do either of these things, but not both at the same time.
    Add to this the fact that Hermas quotes as Scripture certain works that aren't in our canon, and I am becoming more skeptical that any weight can be put on his number 35 as equaling the OT we know.
    What say you?