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The Parallel Apocrypha is in print for now in the UK, or at least Amazon UK has it, as I noted elsewhere.

The notion of the extended canon in normative Judaism is of a growing body, as I think you have noticed; so I have some trouble understanding your comment about the standard Jewish position. Of course, Ben Sira having been specifically declared heretical, it is not a work that can be consulted -- but this is certainly within the prerogative of any religion. (For example, one would hardly expect the Christian scriptures to be viewed as having religious authority within Judaism.)

However, a quick glance at Bar Ilan Collection reveals many works that were written in the last hundred years.

I'm afraid that I don't fully understand your criterion for inclusion in the extended canon. Certainly religions, by means of a formal authority (as in the case in many Christian Churches) or by means of a general consensus (as is the case in Judaism, for example) have the right to accord different status to, on the one hand, Letter from a Birmingham Jail and on the other hand The DaVinci Code.

John Hobbins

Thanks for the correction about the print status of the Parallel Apocrypha. It is only the hardcover edition, to judge from amazon.con, that is out of print.

What I notice among Jewish scholars is an interest in a range of texts that once were little studied for their own sake, and/or considered irrelevant to an understanding of the constantly growing canon of rabbinic tradition. No more.

On the other hand, study of extra-rabbinic Jewish tradition, and inclusion of it in the core curriculum of Jewish studies programs and theological seminaries, something that has begun to become more common (I'm thinking of Jewish institutions of higher learning who use textbooks like that of Schiffman or Shaye Cohen to introduce material as diverse as the DSS, the Apocrypha, Josephus, and Philo), may involve a change in viewpoint about what texts are to be considered authentically Jewish, but not a change in viewpoint about what texts should be considered part of rabbinic tradition. It could not be otherwise of course.

The concept of an extended canon, with gradations or tiers within it, is different again, as Kevin Edgecomb and I conceive it. It is a historical, ecclesiological, and theological concept specific to the situation of Christianity. The underlying rationale is close to that driving the Ecole Biblique project to which I link.

If I'm still not making myself clear, let me know.


Well, I have a bit of trouble with the phrase "Rabbinic tradition", since it denotes something static, rather than the continually unfolding Oral Torah -- and my point concerns the ever expanding nature of the Oral Torah writings (forgive the apparent oxymoron -- it is not really an oxymoron).

Of course, academic scholars (such as Larry Schiffman or Shaye Cohen) need to have access to the full range of texts -- whether traditional or heretical -- and this has been the case for a long time. I think the question is: is it useful to provide this full range of texts to entire body of the faithful?

As an example of non-Torah texts being used by scholars, one can find articles in the Jewish Quarterly Review in the 19th century commenting on the New Testament writings; or Rabbi Shem -Tov's celebrated 14th century commentary on the Gospel of Matthew; or Rabbinic writings on Ben Sira. I do not see contemporary Judaism as a religion in which academics can suffer similar consequences to Father Jon Sobrino's fate at the hands of Rome's Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.

My point, again, is that the list of works of Oral Torah continues to grow in Judaism. The notion of a static written canon is not a Jewish notion.

Regarding the Ecole Biblique project you mention, of course it is highly intriguing. Still, this is not the first time I have seen an attempt to make a Christian (or ecumenical) virtual Mikraos Gedolos out of the Bible; some notable examples of this attempt include the Haydock Bible, Neale's Psalter, IVP's Ancient Christian Commentary series, a number of other notable commentary series, or even electronic Bible study packages. While these are all meritorious efforts that have produced highly useful works (works that have informed me), all of them have fallen short in various ways. (I would say that of all these, electronic databases such as the Bar Ilan Library or Logos or JSTOR or Google come the closest to our desired "hyperBible.") For these reasons, and because of the inherent difficulties of such a project, I think I will wait until we start to see volume appear before making a judgment on the Ecole Biblique project.

Regarding the Parallel Apocrypha, was there an edition printed other than the hardcover edition? (That is the edition I find at Amazon UK.)

Kevin P. Edgecomb

I could not have said it better myself.

Me, too! Oh, wait....

The Ecole Biblique Bible in its Traditions project
certainly looks interesting, but, like Iyov, I have reservations due to the usual shortcomings of these attempts. The problem is both that of finding consistent coverage of Biblical books throughout the OT, Apocrypha, and NT, and avoiding overreliance on only a handful of authors. We do not have a complete set of commentary works from any single author for any of those corpora in the patristic period, which these days is of such interest, and some books have perhaps never been commented upon historically (4 Ezra and 4 Maccabees spring to mind in that regard). But the size of anything close to being both representative and satisfyingly useful is also an issue. I have before me an interesting and enjoyable four-volume set, The Sunday Sermons of the Great Fathers: A Manual of Preaching, Spiritual Reading and Meditation (Ignatius Press, 1996), trans./ed. M. F. Toal. Included are commentary texts on the Gospels by 73 different Patristic and medieval writers, including the first English translation of Aquinas' Catena Aurea, all arranged according to the old Roman ecclesiastical year. The reading's text is presented, then any parallel gospel passages, then the commentaries. It's a presentation that's focused, however, on the commentary rather than the text, which is almost necessary for economy's sake (4 volumes of over 400 pages each), so the continuous text of the Gospels is omitted. Though it's a great read, you'll find the commentary often limited to "the usual suspects": Augustine, Chrysostom, and Origen, or at least their voices to predominate due simply to the preservation of their works. More variety is welcome, but then the size simply explodes. I don't think even the Ecole Biblique is willing to commit to a medievalesque multivolume panpatristic pandect that would be satisfying in that regard. We'll see.

In connection with the very interesting sounding articles in The Parallel Apocrypha mentioned above, I recommend The Apocrypha in Ecumenical Perspective, ed. Sigfried Meurer, UBS Monograph Series 6 (United Bible Societies, 1991). See the list of articles and authors here. It's similar, though restricted to Christian traditions.

Iyov, my scrawl on the extended levels of canons between Christian traditions is primarily usage-based. That is, there is the primary core of universally agreed caninical works, a secondary body of texts that are currently included by any tradition in addition to that first set (which would also included alternate versions of books, with expansions, deletions, reordering, etc), and a third category covering works that have historically been accorded canonical status, whether in theoretical lists, actual manuscript evidence (various "non-canonical" books included in Biblical pandects), or mentioned as such in other writings. The three levels together would thus present us with a kind of diachronic ecumenical Christian canon. I hope that clarifies it a bit.

John Hobbins

I see the point about the Ecole Biblique project. They expect to finish in 15 years, which seems terribly optimistic.

As far as the OUP Parallel Apocrypha is concerned, I rechecked the facts and revised the comment and links accordingly.

Peter Kirk

Subsets of this literature ... rule faith and practice today in the Catholic, Anglican, and Orthodox traditions.

Not in the Anglican tradition. The Deuterocanonical books "(as Hierome [Jerome] saith) the Church doth read for example of life and instruction of manners; but yet doth it not apply them to establish any doctrine", from Article VI of the Thirty Nine.

Peter Kirk

I don't accept that my position is any different from the standard Protestant position. My position is that these books are to be valued no more than any other of the many religious books outside the Bible written over the millennia, that is, there are probably good things in them which can be read profitably, but also probably bad things.

As for my "appeals to the Anabaptist tradition", it would be fairer to say that I am reacting very positively to what I am reading coming from this tradition. But I attribute no more authority to this tradition than I do to that of the Catholic church. And I by no means reject the Creeds and Councils as you seem to suggest, in so far as these do not go against the Bible. I also deny that it is only the patristic tradition which keeps the church from going into the heresies of the Jehovah's Witnesses, which are clearly condemned in the Bible if properly understood.

(By the way, sorry to be slow responding to this, I have had a lot of blog posts to catch up on after a weekend away.)

John Hobbins

Thanks for your remarks, Peter.

You are right that the deuterocanicals do not rule faith and practice in the Anglican tradition. My bad. I'll fix that.

On the other hand, the number of passages from the deutercanonicals included in the Prayer Book Lectionary is now very large, especially since 1979. From your point of view, that is without justification. Or am I misreading you?

(The essay by Mary Chilton Callaway expressing "An Anglican/Episcopal View" in the Parallel Apocrypha is helpful on the history of attitudes towards the deuterocanonicals).

You tend to express yourself in terms of formal, abstract principles without giving examples. I find it difficult to figure out where you are heading now and then on this account. When you say something like, "I accept the creeds and the councils, but only insofar as they do not go against the Bible," you leave me wondering where you think they do go against the Bible.

If I understand you, the authority of the extra-biblical tradition is in direct proportion to its consonance with the contents of scripture properly so-called. As a formal principle, this is impeccable. I would argue that tradition before and after the New Testament is largely consonant with it, that in fact we continue to discover new ways in which both are consonant with it. I appeal to those who disagree to demonstrate the opposite.

Peter Kirk

I think you are now understanding where I come from. I agree with you that large parts of the tradition before and after the New Testament are consonant with it, but not all. For example, there are passages about women in the book of Ben Sira which are consonant neither with the New Testament nor with the revealed character of God, but which reflect the prejudices of a patriarchal age.

As far as I can judge this same principle applies to the Creeds, and to those Councils which are accepted by both the Eastern and Western churches. But I accept the authority of these only as derivative; they are not inerrant in principle, it is just that I don't think they did err, by God's grace. But I do think that large parts of the post-New Testament tradition have erred in other ways, not least in the way the church compromised itself by becoming closely identified with secular government.

I would personally prefer the church not to read from the Deuterocanonical scriptures. My own congregation never does so - we don't follow any Lectionary at all closely.

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