Canonical Topography: Center and Periphery
As previously noted, the history of reception of the books that came to form Judaism’s most ancient canon is not exhausted by a description of the selective deployment of their contents in the textual streams of tradition and interpretation which achieved authoritative status in the life and practice of successive eras. As soon as the function of the canon is placed in the multi-dimensional context of a “real-life” synagogue, ancient or modern, it is seen that the authority it is supposed to carry must compete with other loci of authority. That is the case quite apart from the well-known non-coincidence of text, authorized interpreter, and responding “reader.” Interpreter and “reader” willy-nilly constitute loci of authority as well.
The canon comparable to that of Judaism in Christianity is more complex, with an “Old” and a “New” Testament. But the Jewish and Christian canons both have a canon within the canon. That of Christianity, like that of Judaism, is a mix of narrative, promissory vision, and precept – the four Gospels. The model and equivalent in Judaism: the five books of Moses.
The fundamental things apply in both traditions. The hierarchy of a canon’s parts, the traditional way the canon impacts reality outside itself, is subject to change without notice. The primacy of a core canon gives way, historically speaking, more often than might seem upon first consideration, to the authority of another component of the canon, or to a system of thought or ideology beyond the canon altogether.
An example or two may illustrate. A Jewish general and poet, Shmuel haNagid (993-1056), known in Arabic as Ismail ibn Naghrela (a loan from Latin niger=‘dark’), held two portfolios simultaneously: that of prime minister of the Muslim state of Granada in wider Al-Andalus, and that of nagid, or governor, of Granada’s Jewish community. He led the king of Granada’s forces into battle in one annual campaign after another. Three books comprise the diwan (collection) of his poems assembled by his sons after him. The poetry of Ben Tehillim (on the model of the Psalms) is imbued with the “martial-lyric spirit,” to use Peter Cole’s phrase, of 2 Samuel and the Davidic psalms. Ben Tehillim also contains lyric as sensual as Song of Songs, satire as biting as that of the prophets, elegy as moving as that of David for Saul and Jonathan. Ben Mishle (on the model of Proverbs) collects a body of witty aphorisms. Ben Qohelet (on the model of Qohelet) contains, in Cole’s words, “piercing epigrams, stunning descriptions of natural phenomena, and powerful mortality poems of various lengths.” Shmuel drew from the periphery of the canon rather than its center in staking out a full-blooded form of Judaism of extraordinary originality.
As Gerhard Ebeling famously stated in his inaugural lecture at the University of Tübingen in 1947, church history is the history of the exposition of Holy Scripture. In the course of history, the entire contents of the canon have been utilized. Waldensian history may illustrate. When the movement begins in France in the 12th century, it is firmly rooted in the synoptic gospel tradition, with an emphasis on itinerant preaching, a life of poverty, and obedience to the lex Christi as reported in the Sermon on the Mount. The movement was censured and persecuted for its refusal to submit to the authority of local bishops who for political reasons did not always wish to authorize the anti-heretical preaching the Waldensians excelled in. In the 16th century, the Waldensians were introduced to the Pauline principle of justification by faith by the Swiss Reformer Guillaume Farel. An internal crisis ensued, with the majority of the movement adhering to the Reformation. In the 17th century, in the wake of attempts by Catholic powers to exterminate and eradicate them from their ancestral valleys along what is now a stretch of the Italian side of the Alps and Piedmont on the border with France, a band of expelled men, led by Josué Janavel and buoyed by apocalyptic fervor derived from an actualizing interpretation of biblical prophecy, stage a return to the valleys from their exile in Switzerland. They retake the valleys with tactics and a reliance on God’s help drawn from the book of Joshua. Never dislodged from their valleys thereafter, they reconstituted themselves as a polity. The two principal foci of the New Testament, the Gospels and the letters of Paul, became the mainstay of Waldensian life and practice. At more than one juncture in their history, however, they would not have survived without relying on elements on the canon’s periphery like the books of Joshua, Daniel, and Revelation.
A Dual Dynamic
Rabbinic Judaism and various branches of early Christianity eventually achieved a high degree of uniformity within their respective spheres of influence with respect to the books and the content of the books with a canonical function as defined above. But there is no advantage gained by downplaying the extent to which Jews among themselves and Christians among themselves prior to those achievements did not agree about which books were suitable to appeal to and comment upon in teaching and preaching. To one degree or another, the situation was fluid for a long time. In certain respects it remained fluid despite all efforts at uniformization.
On the one hand, the existence of an agreed upon nucleus of authoritative literature in various times and places is undeniable; on the other, the supplementation of existing authoritative writings via interpolations and independent compositions with authoritative pretensions is equally well-attested. The dual dynamic describes a fundamental dimension of the history of Jewish, Jewish-Christian, and Christian literature throughout antiquity. It gave us the Tanakh + the Talmud according to two rival configurations in rabbinic Judaism, and the Old Testament in a variety of configurations + the New Testament in Christianity. Penultimately, subsets and additions to what eventually became the Tanakh and the New Testament carried the day.
What literature was accepted as authoritative, and in what translation (if any), varied according to time and place. For example, in the Yerushalmi (Meg. 10b), Aquila’s translation of the Pentateuch into Greek is described as supervised and approved by rabbis Eliezer (ben Hurqanos) and Yehoshua (ben Ḥananyah) (תירגם עקילס הגר התורה לפני רבי אליעזר ולפני רבי יהושע); in the Bavli (Meg. 3a), the Aramaic translation of the Pentateuch by the same person and supervised by the same people is mentioned (תרגום של תורה אונקלוס הגר אמרו מפי ר' אליעזר ור' יהושע). Tradition garbled the historical details, but that is beside the point. The Yerushalmi and the Bavli attest to the felt need for an authorized translation of the Torah in the vernacular.
A Pluriform Tradition
The facts are clear. Among manuscripts of traditional literature found at Qumran and in the manuscript tradition of transmitted translations of the same literature, variety abounds. Across the Hebrew, Greek, and Aramaic witnesses, the following phenomena are apparent: a plurality of transmitted text forms of Genesis, Exodus, Numbers, Deuteronomy, Joshua, 1-2 Samuel, and 1-2 Kings; the accordion-like shape of the corpus attributed to Jeremiah (a shorter and a longer version of the primary text; supplementation in the form of Baruch and Letter of Jeremiah; attribution of Lamentations to Jeremiah); a shorter and a longer version of Ezekiel; a plurality of text forms and supplements (Susannah, Bel and the Dragon, Song of the Three Youth) to Daniel and Esther; a plurality of transmitted arrangements and contents of the Psalter; a plurality of text forms of Job and Proverbs; a plurality of shapes and editions of the Chronicles-Ezra-Nehemiah materials, with rival editions appearing side by side in Greek tradition; a plurality of text forms of Tobit (one Hebrew and multiple Aramaic copies are attested at Qumran; Tobit in Greek is attested in three text forms), alongside a decision in rabbinic tradition not to transmit it; a plurality of text forms of Ben Sira, and a plurality of points of view regarding its role; a plurality of text forms of Enoch and the attestation of an apocalypse known as Jubilees, alongside a decision in rabbinic and many Christian traditions to suppress or sideline Enoch literature and Jubilees.
In particular, a variety of text forms of a swath of traditional literature are attested among the Dead Sea Scrolls on the one hand and in Old Greek translations of said literature on the other. The latter are based on parent texts in Hebrew and Aramaic as old or older than the DSS. Like the latter, they are inassimilable in a host of instances to the text-type reflected in later MT.
Textual variety is typical of the period in question (3rd cent. bce -1st cent. ce). Even if proto-MT mss. outnumber other attested types at Qumran, and affine manuscripts found at Qumran are few, the text types reflected in the Old Greek translations cannot be dismissed for that reason. As Emanuel Tov puts it, “Both the Hebrew parent text of G and certain of the Qumran texts reflect excellent texts, often better than that of M” (my italics).
The larger point is another. An example: proto-MT, proto-Samaritan, and non-aligned text types in the case of the Pentateuch are known from Qumran, to which one must add the Vorlage of the LXX as an additional text type. Highly significant differences large and small distinguish one text-type from another. To the extent that the differences exhibit patterns by intent, it is proper to speak of recensional differences. The question then is, which recension is to be preferred over the others? The obvious answer has always been: the text-type transmitted in my religious tradition.
The traditional goal of text criticism, on the other hand, involves the rejection of all extant witnesses in favor of the reconstructed archetype of said witnesses. Said archetype was no doubt traditional in its own right at a certain time and a certain place.
When all is said and done, a plurality of traditional texts is attested or reconstructible. In the case of the Pentateuch, one text-type was adopted and adapted by a specific religious formation (the Samaritans), another became the parent text of an authorized translation (the LXX), and a third came to be preferred in the transmission of the text in Hebrew as time passed (proto-MT). The archetype of the three is, in a large number of details, reconstructible. All four text-types must be understood as final and canonical for a particular swath of time, space, and socioreligious context.
A strong tendency to supplement and resignify a base text in a variety of ways is generally in evidence. The translation technique and expansions characteristic of the Targumim are parade examples. A concurrent and countervailing tendency is also in evidence, both in Greek and Aramaic, whereby translations were purged of elements without an equivalent in the original, however “original” was defined at the time. Examples include the translations of proto-Theodotion, Symmachus, and Aquila.
As part of a larger project known as the Hexapla, Origen (185-c.284 ce) one-upped all previous efforts by creating a text that comprised the original Greek translations of the Old Testament in the form he received them, with lines in the Hebrew, but not in the Greek, added in via insertion of Theodotion’s translation of said lines. Origen marked the added lines with an asterisk (※). At the same time, he marked passages in the received Greek but not in the Hebrew with an obelus (÷) at the beginning and a metobelus (:) at the end. In the subsequent transmission of the Old Testament, the practical and unintended effect of Origen’s efforts can only be described as chaos.
If the situation sounds irreducibly plural, that’s because it was. One might summarize as follows. Jews of ancient times, even when they agreed that a particular book was binding in matters of faith and practice, read the book in textual forms at considerable odds with one another. The proto-MT in the original or calqued in translation (Aquila) was read by some, the received Greek translation (often referred to as the Septuagint) of a text sometimes quite different from proto-MT, by others. Others read the Bible in a revised version of the original Greek translation (Theodotion) or a new version (Symmachus). Still others, though they heard the text recited in Hebrew, assimilated it in an Aramaic translation designed to resignify the whole in terms of a metanarrative at some remove from that implied in the original.
A variety of text forms of “the Law, the Prophets, and the Psalms” (Luke 24:44) circulated among early Christians, as quotations in the New Testament prove. Variety in terms of content and arrangement of individual books and in terms of what books were treated as part of the Old Testament is evident throughout antiquity among the Christian churches. Anyone with knowledge of the manuscript tradition of the Septuagint and its daughter translations is aware of a wealth of variation those who make use of Rahlfs’ Septuaginta might never guess at.
Evidence for different sets of New Testament texts among the various churches is also extensive. The diversity that existed leading up to the achievement of uniformity over a considerable area is attested in the writings of Eusebius (c.260-c.340) (Eccles. Hist. 3.25.1-7 and 3.3.5-7). According to him, some churches deemed the following writings canonical in the sense explained above, and some did not: the Gospel of the Hebrews, the Epistle to the Hebrews, James, 2 Peter, 2-3 John, Jude, and the Apocalypse of John. Acts of Paul, Shepherd of Hermas, the Apocalypse of Peter, the Epistle of Barnabas, and the Didache he lists as spurious, but the appearance of all but the last in the list found in Codex Claromontanus suggests that Eusebius so labels them in order to counter the practice of churches in which they were treated as genuine. The unsettled nature of the situation up into the third century is also reflected in the views of Origen (c.184-c.254). He questioned James, 2 Peter, and 2-3 John. On the other hand, he regarded Shepherd of Hermas, a very popular piece of early Christian literature, to be “very useful, and, as I believe, divinely inspired” (Comm. in Rom. 10.31).
The situation among Syriac-speaking eastern churches was different again. For centuries, the standard gospel text was a gospel harmony Tatian produced around 170 CE. Referred to as the Diatessaron (Eusebius, Eccles. Hist. 4.29.6), its author nonetheless employed more than the gospels Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John as known to him in the construction of a single gospel narrative. Readings attributable to gospel tradition beyond the four were included by Tatian. The church fathers Ephrem and Aphrahat quote from Tatian’s gospel and Ephrem wrote a commentary on it. On the other hand, the canon of Ephrem and Aphrahat did not include 2 Peter, 2-3 John, Jude, and Revelation. Nor do said books appear in the New Testament of the Peshitta, the authorized Syriac translation of the Bible from the 5th century forward. The Peshitta also lacks Matt 27:35b (also missing from the best Greek mss.); Luke 22:17-18 (six divergent forms of Luke 22:17-20 are attested in ancient witnesses; there is no agreement among scholars as to which form is the more original); John 7:53-8:11 (a pericope non-original to its context); and Acts 8:37, 15:34, and 28:29 (each of which is also missing from the best Greek mss.).
The situation remained unsettled long after the process of uniformization began in earnest. As Sozomen informs us (Hist. Eccl. 7.9), the Apocalypse of Peter was read on Holy Friday in Palestine as late as the 5th cent. ce. The liturgy of the church of Jerusalem (5th–8th cent.) preserved in Georgian tradition for the eve of Theophany starts off with a reading from 4 Ezra ([2 Esdras] 5:22-30). One might argue that neither the Apocalypse of Peter nor 4 Ezra was ever canonical anywhere in the full sense. Commentaries on them appear never to have been written. But they were obviously thought to contain passages more suitable for a liturgical purpose than comparable passages from more widely accepted traditional literature. The de facto authority attributed to them is of a high order.
Uniformity across the spectrum of historic Christian churches was never achieved vis-à-vis the contents of either the Old or New Testaments. In the same quarter-century in which an African synod met in Hippo (393) and defined the Old Testament to include Tobit, Judith, Wisdom of Solomon, Ben Sira, Baruch, Letter of Jeremiah, and 1-2 Maccabees, and the New Testament to include 2 Peter and Apocalypse of John, Gregory of Nazianzus in Asia Minor (d. 389) composed a poem on the books of the Bible in which none of the deuterocanonicals are listed, nor Esther, nor Revelation (Carm. 1,12,5), and Didymus the Blind (313-398) in Alexandria noted that 2 Peter is a forgery, and criticized its eschatology. While acknowledging that it might be read in church, he explicitly excluded it from the canon (Non igitur ignorandum, praesentum Epistolam esse falsatum, quae licet publicetur, non tamen in canone est).
In rabbinic tradition, a high degree of uniformity with respect to the contents of what came to be called the Tanakh was achieved over the course of a millennium. Paradoxically, the fine details of its text were fixed by a Karaite, Aharon ben Asher. Practically speaking, the achieved uniformity was nevertheless ineffective, given the variety of Aramaic translations through which the Pentateuch in particular was understood, as evidenced by the following traditions: Targums Onkelos, Neofiti, and Pseudo-Jonathan; the Cairo Geniza fragments, the Fragmentary Targum, and the targumic toseftot. In pre- and extra-rabbinic Judaism, differences among traditional texts, not identity, were no less widespread.
TO BE CONTINUED
 Peter Cole, The Dream of the Poem: Hebrew Poetry from Muslim and Christian Spain 950-1492 (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2007) 37-38.
 Gerhard Ebeling, Kirchengeschichte als Geschichte der Auslegung der Heiligen Schrift (Sammlung gemeinverständlicher Vorträge und Schriften aus dem Gebiet der Theologie und Religionsgeschichte 189; Tübingen: Mohr, 1947).
 For a readable overview of Waldensian history, see Issue 22 (1989) of Christian History & Biography.
 The Greek translation of the Pentateuch and other books that came to be included in the Tanakh associated with the name of Aquila is of a wholly different nature than the Aramaic translation of the Pentateuch associated with the same name (Onqelos). That both translations go back to the same person is quite improbable.
 Introductions to the pluriformity of the textual tradition are provided by Martin Abegg, Jr., Peter Flint, and Eugene Ulrich in The Dead Sea Scrolls Bible (New York: HarperCollins, 1999). The essays of Natalio Fernández Marcos, Adrian Schenker, Dieter Böhler, Pierre-Maurice Bogaert, Johan Lust, Olivier Munnich, and Emanuel Tov in The Earliest Text of the Hebrew Bible (ed. Adrian Schenker; SBLSCS 52; Atlanta: SBL, 2003) are also instructive.
 Textual Criticism of the Hebrew Bible (Minneapolis: Fortress, 22001 ) 24.
 William L. Peterson, “Diatessaron,” ABD (1992) 2:189-190.