Saturday, September 08, 2018

Reading Religion’s Review of The Biblical Canon Lists

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James E. Walters tweeted at me that his review of The Biblical Canon Lists from Early Christianity: Texts and Analysis (OUP, 2018) has been posted at Reading Religion. You can read his review here. He thinks the book is generally good and useful:
This volume provides an accessible collection of “lists” of biblical books from early Christian and Jewish sources. The lists are provided in original texts (primarily Greek and Latin, though also one Syriac and one Rabbinic Aramaic) and also translation. Each list is also accompanied by a brief introduction as well as thorough notes on issues of translation and interpretation. As such, the editors have compiled a very useful collection of texts that will be of intrinsic interest and value to anyone who works on questions of canon formation in early Christianity (and to a lesser extent in early Judaism).
His concluding paragraph is also positive, though he notes some concerns:
With these concerns in mind, this book is a valuable compendium of sources and summaries of scholarship pertaining to the history of the formation of the biblical canons. In addition to texts and translations (most of which are taken from previous publications), the entries include convenient references to previous studies of each canon list included, so this book can serve as a valuable reference to students and researchers at all levels.
Walters expressed concern over how Ed Gallagher and I (1) treated the dating of the Muratorian Fragment in ch. 1 (“the careful reader will note that in the first chapter the Muratorian Fragment is generally supplied as evidence for ‘early’ canonical status for various books”), even though he said our treatment of the problem of date in the section on MF in ch. 4 of the book was “even-handed and diplomatic”; (2) our definition of “canon list” (but more precisely, “The editors then immediately claim that this definition fits ‘most of the lists’ in the volume, an admission that already clues the reader into the fact that some of the included lists may not necessarily meet these criteria.”); (3) our inclusion of Josephus’s statement on the 22 books in his Against Apion; (4) the inclusion of chapter six on whole bible MSS left Walters puzzled, “Thus, it remains unclear exactly how this chapter contributes to the volume.”

Walters’s review was generally positive, and there is no need to respond to each of his concerns here, except only to note that in the book we did mention many of them ourselves. For example, regarding Josephus on p. xiii, we said:
Our description of a canon list as the list of books that an author or council considered canonical should be nuanced when considering certain lists. We have included a passage from Josephus often labelled the first Jewish canon list, but anyone reading the passage will be disappointed to find that Josephus fails to list the books, and his account—while it affords us a great deal of certainty on the majority of writings that made up his collection of twenty-two sacred books—is not so precise that we can have complete assurance that we know the contents of his canon.
And on p. 63, we said:
Since Josephus does not list the exact contents of the books in his canon list, we only list his headings and brief descriptions of the types of works within the twenty-two books. Scholars have attempted to reconstruct Josephus’s list, and these conjectures are presented below...
Apparently, our cautions won’t satisfy everyone, but thank you, James, for writing a thoughtful and fair review of our book!

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