Rabbinic Judaism recognizes the twenty-four books of the Masoretic Text, commonly called the Tanakh or Hebrew Bible. Evidence suggests that the process of canonization occurred between 200 BC and AD 200. A popular position is that the Torah was canonized circa 400 BC, the Prophets circa 200 BC, and the Writings circa AD 100  perhaps at a hypothetical Council of Jamnia—this position, however, is increasingly criticised by modern scholars. The book of Deuteronomy includes a prohibition against adding or subtracting, which might apply to the book itself (i.e. a "closed book," a prohibition against future scribal editing) or to the instruction received by Moses on Mt. Sinai. The book of 2 Maccabees, itself not a part of the Jewish canon, describes Nehemiah (around 400 BC) as having "founded a library and collected books about the kings and prophets, and the writings of David, and letters of kings about votive offerings" (2:13-15). The Book of Nehemiah suggests that the priest-scribe Ezra brought the Torah back from Babylon to Jerusalem and the Second Temple (8-9) around the same time period. Both I and II Maccabees suggest that Judas Maccabeus (around 167 BC) likewise collected sacred books (3:42-50, 2:13-15, 15:6-9), indeed some scholars argue that the "Jewish biblical canon" was fixed by the Hasmonean dynasty. However, these primary sources do not suggest that the canon was at that time closed; moreover, it is not clear that these particular books were identical in content to those that later became part of the Masoretic text. Today, there is no scholarly consensus as to when the Jewish canon was set.
Primary sources for the "Hebrew Bible Canon" are listed in McDonald and Sanders's The Canon Debate, 2002, Appendix A.
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One of the main influential scholars covering the issue of the canon of the Jewish Scriptures was Dr Otto Eissfeldt (1887-1973) who published "The Old Testament, An Introduction" subtitled "The History of the Formation of the Old Testament". It was translated from the German by Peter R Ackroyd a Professor of Old Testament Studies, King's College, London in 1965, and covered 861 pages. In his book Eissfeldt had drawn together much of the previous work in this field. Some of the conclusions are dated such as the reliance upon the hypothesis of a Council of Jamnia (see infra), which requires only a slight adjustment in reading. Such authors as Michael Barber provide an adequate correction to the dated material. Never-the-less, Eissfeldt's work remains a useful tool in understanding how the canon emerged.
The theory that the Jewish Canon was closed at a Synod of Jamnia (see Council of Jamnia) about 90 A.D. was first proposed by Heinrich Graetz in 1871 and became a consensus. W. M. Christie was the first to dispute this popular theory in the July 1925 edition of the Journal of Theological Studies in an article entitled The Jamnia Period in Jewish History. Next, Jack P. Lewis wrote a critique of the popular consensus in the April 1964 edition of the Journal of Bible and Religion entitled What Do We Mean by Jabneh? Raymond E. Brown largely supported Lewis in his review published in Jerome Bible Commentary (JBC) 1968 which also appears in the New Jerome Bible Commentary of 1990. Sid Z. Leiman made an independent challenge for his University of Pennsylvania thesis published later as a book in 1976. Other scholars have since joined in such that today the theory is largely discredited.
- Torah תורה meaning "Instruction." It is also called the Chumash חומש, meaning "the five" or "the five books of Moses." The Torah is often referred to as the Mosaic Law whereas the related "Jewish Law" generally refers to the Halacha.
- Nevi'im נביאים, meaning "Prophets." This term is associated with anything to do with the prophets.
- Ketuvim כתובים, meaning "Writings." The writings are then separated into sections, for example; there are a group of history books namely, Ezra, Chronicles, and Nehemiah. Others include the wisdom books which are Job, Ecclesiastes, and Proverbs. Poetry books; Psalms, Lamentation and Song of Solomon. Lastly there are other books, Ruth, Esther and the book of Daniel.
The Tanakh is also called מקרא, Mikra or Miqra, meaning "that which is read", referring to the Jewish practice of public reading from the Scripture while in Synagogue.
Additional evidence of a collection of sacred scripture similar to portions of the Hebrew Bible comes from the book of Sirach (dating from 180 BC and also not included in the Jewish canon), which includes a list of names of great men (44-49) in the same order as is found in the Torah and the Nevi'im (Prophets), and which includes the names of some men mentioned in the Ketuvim (Writings). Based on this list of names, some scholars have conjectured that the author, Yeshua ben Sira (Joshua son of Sirach) had access to, and considered authoritative, the books of Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy, Joshua, Judges, Samuel, Kings, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and the twelve minor prophets. His list excludes names from Ruth, Song of Songs, Esther, Daniel, and Job, suggesting that he either did not have access to these books, or did not consider them authoritative. In the prologue to the Greek translation of Ben Sira's work, his grandson, dated at 132 BC, mentions both the Law (Torah) and the Prophets (Nevi'im), as well as a third group of books which is not yet named as Ketuvim (the prologue simply identifies "the rest of the books") Based on this evidence, some scholars have suggested that by the 2nd century BC the books of the Torah and Nevi'im were considered canonical, but that the books of the Ketuvim were not.
The Septuagint, or simply "LXX", is the name commonly given in the West to the Koine Greek translation of the Jewish Scriptures, translated in stages between the 3rd to 1st century BC in Alexandria.
According to Michael Barber, "there is solid evidence that the Hebrew Bible had begun to be translated into Greek. There is a popular legend that seventy (or seventy-two) elders translated the Hebrew Bible into Koine Greek but the historical evidence for this story is rather sketchy. Whoever the actual scribes may have been, it seems likely that the Torah was the first to be translated." Beyond that, according to Barber, it is virtually impossible to determine when each of the other various books was incorporated into the Septuagint. The primary source for the legend of the translation of the Septuagint appears to be the Letter of Aristeas.
In the Septuagint, the Torah and Nevi'im are established as canonical, but, the Ketuvim appear not to have been definitively canonized yet (some editions of the Septuagint include, for instance I–IV Maccabees or the 151st Psalm, while others do not include them, also there are the Septuagint additions to Esther, Jeremiah, and Daniel and 1 Esdras).
The authority of the larger group of writings, out of which the Kethuvim were selected, had not yet been determined, although some sort of selective process must have been employed because the Septuagint did not include other well-known Jewish documents such as Enoch or Jubilees or other writings that are now part of the Pseudepigrapha. It is not known what principles were used to determine the contents of the Septuagint beyond the Law and the Prophets.
The Septuagint was held with great respect in ancient times; Philo and Josephus (both associated with Hellenistic Judaism) ascribed divine inspiration to its translators. It formed the basis of the Old Latin versions and is still used intact within Eastern Orthodoxy. Besides the Old Latin versions, the Septuagint is also the basis for Gothic, Slavonic, old Syriac (but not the Peshitta), old Armenian, and Coptic versions of the Old Testament. Of significance for all Christians and for bible scholars, the Septuagint is quoted by the New Testament and by the Apostolic Fathers. While Jews have not used the Septuagint in worship or religious study since the second century AD, recent scholarship has brought renewed interest in it in Judaic Studies. Some of the Dead Sea scrolls attest to Hebrew texts other than those on which the Masoretic Text was based; in some cases, these newly found texts accord with the Septuagint version.
Dead Sea scrolls
According to Michael Barber, the theory that there was a closed Hebrew canon of second Temple Judaism was further challenged by the textual variants found in the Dead Sea Scrolls. He writes that "Up until recently it was assumed that “apocryphal” additions found in the books of the LXX represented later augmentations in the Greek to the Hebrew texts. In connection with this, the Masoretic text (MT) established by the rabbis in the medieval period has been accepted as the faithful witness to the Hebrew Bible of the first century. Yet, this presupposition is now being challenged in light of the Dead Sea Scrolls.".
Evidence that supports these challenges include the fact that "copies of some Biblical books found at Qumran reveal sharp divergences from the MT." As an example of such evidence, Barber asserts that "scholars were amazed to find that the Hebrew copies of 1 and 2 Samuel found in Cave 4 agree with the LXX against the MT. One of these fragments is dated into the third century B. C. E. and is believed to be the very oldest copy of a biblical text found to date. Clearly the Masoretic version of 1-2 Samuel is significantly inferior here to the LXX exemplar.".
The Dead Sea scrolls refer to the Torah and Nevi'im and suggest that these portions of the Bible had already been canonized before AD 68. A scroll that contains all or parts of 41 biblical psalms, although not in the same order as in the current Book of Psalms, and which includes eight texts not found in the Book of Psalms, suggests that the Book of Psalms had not yet been canonized. The book of Psalms was not a book, but a list of common Prayer, like modern day Art Scrole. See also Psalms 152–155.
In the first century, Philo Judaeus of Alexandria discussed sacred books, but made no mention of a tripartite division of the Bible; though his De vita contemplativa  (sometimes suggested in the 19th century to be of later, Christian, authorship) does state at III(25) that: "studying… the laws and the sacred oracles of God enunciated by the holy prophets, and hymns, and psalms, and all kinds of other things by reason of which knowledge and piety are increased and brought to perfection." Philo quotes almost exclusively from the Torah, but occasionally from Ben Sira and Wisdom of Solomon.
According to Michael Barber, the earliest and most explicit testimony of a Hebrew canonical list comes from Josephus: “For we have not an innumerable multitude of books among us, disagreeing from and contradicting one another [as the Greeks have], but only twenty-two books, which contain all the records of all the past times; which are justly believed to be divine; and of them five belong to Moses, which contain his laws and the traditions of the origin of mankind till his death… the prophets, who were after Moses, wrote down what was done in their times in thirteen books. The remaining four books contain hymns to God, and precepts for the conduct of human life.”
Josephus refers to sacred scriptures divided into three parts: the five books of the Torah; thirteen books of the Nevi'im, and four other books of hymns and wisdom. Since there are 24 books in the current Jewish canon instead of the 22 mentioned by Josephus, some scholars have suggested that he considered Ruth part of Judges, and Lamentations part of Jeremiah. Other scholars suggest that at the time Josephus wrote, such books as Esther and Ecclesiastes were not yet considered canonical.
According to Gerald Larue, Josephus' listing represents what came to be the Jewish canon, although scholars were still wrestling with problems of the authority of certain writings at the time that he was writing. Significantly, Josephus characterizes the 22 books as canonical because they were divinely inspired; he mentions other historical books that were not divinely inspired and that he therefore did not believe belonged in the canon.
Michael Barber agrees that although "scholars have reconstructed Josephus’ list differently, it seems clear that we have in his testimony a list of books very close to the Hebrew canon as it stands today." However, Barber avers that Josephus' canon is "not identical to that of the modern Hebrew Bible". He points out that it is debatable whether or not Josephus' canon had a tripartite structure. And thus, Barber warns that "one should be careful not to overstate the importance of Josephus." In support of this caveat, Barber points out that "Josephus was clearly a member of the Pharisaic party and, although he might not have liked to think so, his was not the universally accepted Jewish Bible—other Jewish communities included more than twenty-two books."
Make public the twenty-four books that you wrote first, and let the worthy and the unworthy read them; but keep the seventy that were written last, in order to give them to the wise among your people.—RSV
The Mishnah, compiled by the second century, describes some of the debate over the status of some books of Ketuvim, and in particular whether or not they render the hands "impure". Yadaim 3:5 calls attention to the debate over Song of Songs and Ecclesiastes. The Megillat Ta'anit, in a discussion of days when fasting is prohibited but that are not noted in the Bible, mentions the holiday of Purim. Based on these, and a few similar references, Heinrich Graetz concluded in 1871 that there had been a Council of Jamnia (or Yavne in Hebrew) which had decided Jewish canon sometime in the late 1st century (c. 70–90). This became the prevailing scholarly consensus for much of the 20th century. However, from the 1960s onwards, based on the work of J.P. Lewis, S.Z. Leiman, and others, this view increasingly came into question. In particular, later scholars noted that none of the sources actually mentioned books that had been withdrawn from a canon, and questioned the whole premise that the discussions were about canonicity at all, asserting that they were actually dealing with other concerns entirely.
Council of Jamnia
For a long time it was believed that the Hebrew Bible was closed at the end of the first century C. E. It was believed that a group of Rabbis made an official binding decision at a gathering known as “the Council of Jamnia.”
Jacob Neusner published books in 1987 and 1988 that argued that the notion of a biblical canon was not prominent in second-century Rabbinic Judaism or even later and instead that a notion of Torah was expanded to include the Mishnah, Tosefta, Jerusalem Talmud, Babylonian Talmud and midrashim.
Michael Barber writes that "today, it is largely recognized that there is virtually no evidence that such a “council” ever occurred. While some Rabbis may have gathered in Jamnia at the end of the first century C. E. to discuss the status of some disputed books such as Ecclesiastes or Song of Songs, they most certainly did not make any binding decisions about the canon. This is apparent in the fact that rabbinic debate over the canon continued to rage on until 200 C. E.!".
Thus, there is no scholarly consensus as to when the Jewish canon was set. Nevertheless, the outcomes attributed to the Council of Jamnia did occur whether gradually or as the ruling of a definitive, authoritative council. Several concerns of the remaining Jewish communities in Israel would have been the loss of the national language, the growing problem of conversions to Christianity, based in part on Christian promises of life after death. What emerged from this era was twofold:
- A rejection of the Septuagint or Koine Greek Old Testament widely then in use among the Hellenized diaspora along with its additional books not part of the Hebrew language Masoretic Text.
- The inclusion of a curse on the "Minim" which probably included Jewish Christians. According to the Jewish Encyclopedia article on Minim: "In passages referring to the Christian period, "minim" usually indicates the Judæo-Christians, the Gnostics, and the Nazarenes, who often conversed with the Rabbis on the unity of God, creation, resurrection, and similar subjects (comp. Sanh. 39b). In some passages, indeed, it is used even for "Christian"; but it is possible that in such cases it is a substitution for the word "Noẓeri," which was the usual term for 'Christian'... On the invitation of Gamaliel II., Samuel ha-Ḳaṭan composed a prayer against the minim which was inserted in the "Eighteen Benedictions"; it is called "Birkat ha-Minim" and forms the twelfth benediction; but instead of the original "Noẓerim" ... the present text has "wela-malshinim" (="and to the informers"). The cause of this change in the text was probably, the accusation brought by the Church Fathers against the Jews of cursing all the Christians under the name of the Nazarenes."
Sociologically, these developments achieved two important ends, namely, the preservation of the Hebrew language at least for religious use (even among the diaspora) and the final separation and distinction between the Jewish and Christian communities, see also List of events in early Christianity. (Through nearly the end of the first century, Christians of Jewish descent continued to pray in synagogues.) But see also John Chrysostom#Sermons on Jews and Judaizing Christians.
Some of the books not admitted into the Hebrew canon, such as Wisdom and 2 Maccabees, gave the only textual support for the common first century Jewish belief in the after-life. The martyrs' prayers for the dead and the living praying and offering sacrifices for the dead motivated Martin Luther to reject these books as apocryphal because they supported Catholic doctrine and practice.
Criteria for inclusion in the Jewish canon
According to Gerald Larue, the criteria used in the selection of sacred books to be included in the Jewish canon have not been set forth in any "clear-cut delineation" but appear to have included the following:
- The writing had to be composed in Hebrew. The only exceptions, which were written in Aramaic, were Daniel 2-7, writings attributed to Ezra (Ezra 4:8-6:18; 7:12-26), who was recognized as the founding father of post-Exilic Judaism, and Jer. 10:11. Hebrew was the language of Sacred Scripture, Aramaic the language of common speech.
- The writing had to be sanctioned by usage in the Jewish community. The use of Esther at Purim made it possible for it to be included in the canon. Judith, without such support, was not acceptable.
- The writings had to contain one of the great religious themes of Judaism, such as election, or the covenant. By reclassifying the Song of Songs as an allegory, it was possible to see in this book an expression of covenantal love.
- The writing had to be composed before the time of Ezra, for it was popularly believed that inspiration had ceased then. Jonah was accepted because it used the name of an early prophet and dealt with events before the destruction of Nineveh, which occurred in 612 BC. Daniel, a pseudonymous writing, had its setting in the Exile and therefore was accepted as an Exilic document.
Michael Barber suggests that "the canonical status of the books were decided, at least in part, on the grounds of the date of their composition—no books believed to be written later than the period of Ezra were included. This was based in large part on the Pharisaic thesis that prophetic inspiration ended after Ezra and Nehemiah." Barber points out that this thesis is a "problematic criterion for Christians who affirm that the Spirit inspired the books of the New Testament". He also points out that it is also "problematic for some scholars who believe that several canonical books—e. g., Daniel, Esther, Song of Songs, Proverbs, the books of Chronicles—date to a much later period. According to some, Daniel is even later than some of the “apocrypha.”".
Barber asserts that "one thing that is clear about the canonical process used by the rabbis is that it was motivated in part by an anti-Christian bias."
- “Even the final closing of the Hebrew canon by the Pharisaic teachers, constituting themselves as rabbinate toward the end of the first century – a process that lasted into the middle of the second century with respect to individual books and that presupposes a long period of preparation reaching back into pre-Christian times – must be categorized as ‘anti-heretical’, indeed anti-Christian.”
According to Barber, the various discussions in the Mishnah regarding the exclusion of Sirach and the latter apocrypha indicate that these texts were rejected because they were being read among the Christians. He asserts that it is well-known that the stabilization of the Masoretic Text and canon was shaped by an anti-Christian polemic.
- McDonald & Sanders, page 4
- McDonald & Sanders, ed., The Canon Debate, page 60, chapter 4: The Formation of the Hebrew Canon: Isaiah as a Test Case by Joseph Blenkinsopp.
- Philip R. Davies in The Canon Debate, page 50: "With many other scholars, I conclude that the fixing of a canonical list was almost certainly the achievement of the Hasmonean dynasty."
- Prologue to Sirach, , , Qumran 4QMMT, Letter of Aristeas 308-311, Philo's Contemplativa 3.25-28 and Mosis 2:37-40, and 24:44, Epiphanius' De Mensuribus et ponderibus 22, Josephus' Against Apion 1.37-43, 4 Ezra 14.22-48, Mishnah Yadayim 3.2-5 and 4.6, Babylonian Talmud Baba Batra 14b-15a, Justin's Dialogue 100.1ff and 1 Apology 28.1 and 67.3 and Cohort.Graec.13, Eusebius' Church History 4.26.12-14 and 5.8.1, Irenaeus' Heresy 2.27.2, 3.3.3, 3.11.8, 3.12.15, 3.14.1=15.1, 3.21.3-4, 3.17.4, Clement's Strom. 7.20 and Eusebius Church History 6.13.4-8 and 6.14.5-7, Origen Ep. Afr. 13 and Eusebius Church History 6.25.3-14, Tertullian's Marcion 4.2.2,5 and Prax. 15 and Prescription 32,36, Eusebius' Church History 3.3.1-5, 3.25.1-7, 5.8.1, 6.14, 6.24-25, 7.25.22-27, Jerome's Prologus in Jeremiam, In libros Salomonis (Chromatio et Heliodoro), In Danielem prophetam, In Ezram, In librum Tobiae, In librum Judith, Commentaria in Isaiae prophetiam 3.6, Athanasius' Ep.fest.39, Cyril Catech.4.33-36, Rufinus Symb.38, Epiphanius Pond.22-23, Pan.8.6.1ff, Hilary of Poitiers Prologus in libros Psalmorum 15, Augustine's Doct.chr.2.13, 4th-5th century lists found in Bruce, Hahneman, Metzger, Sundberg; Cairo Geniza, glue texts to tie books together such as , , , . , , ,
- McDonald & Sanders, editors, The Canon Debate, 2002, chapter 9: Jamnia Revisited by Jack P. Lewis.
- "Jewish Encyclopedia: Bible Canon". http://www.jewishencyclopedia.com/view.jsp?artid=1025&letter=B&search=Bible%20canon. ""Sirach… knew the Law and Prophets in their present form and sequence; for he glorifies (ch. xliv.-xlix.) the great men of antiquity in the order in which they successively follow in Holy Writ. He not only knew the name [Hebrew omitted] ("The Twelve Prophets"), but cites Malachi iii. 23, and is acquainted with by far the greatest part of the Hagiographa, as is certain from the Hebrew original of his writings recently discovered. He knew the Psalms, which he ascribes to David (Ecclus. [Sirach] xlvii. 8, 9), and the Proverbs: "There were those who found out musical harmonies, and set forth proverbs [A. V., "poetical compositions"] in writing" (xliv. 5). An allusion to Proverbs and probably to the Song of Solomon is contained in his words on King Solomon: "The countries marveled at thee for thy songs, and proverbs, and parables [or "dark sayings"], and interpretations" (xlvii. 17); the last three words being taken from Prov. i. 6, while the Song of Solomon is alluded to in "songs." He would have had no authority to speak of "songs" at all from I Kings v. 12; he must have known them. While he had no knowledge of Ecclesiastes, his didactic style proves that he used Job, as is also indicated by the words [Hebrew omitted] (xliv. 4, and afterward, [Hebrew omitted]). Ecclesiastes, Esther, and Daniel are not included in his canon (see Halévy, "Etude sur la Partie du Texte Hébreux de l'Ecclésiastique," pp. 67 et seq., Paris, 1897); he considers Chronicles and Ezra-Nehemiah as Holy Scripture (xlix. 12 = Ezra iii. 2; xlix. 13 = Neh. iii. and vi.; compare Neh. vi. 12); he mentions distinctly "the laws and prophets" (xxxix. 1); in the following sentences there are allusions to other writings; and verse 6 of the same chapter leads to the supposition that in his time only wisdom-writings and prayers were being written.""
- "Wisdom of Jesus Son of Sirach". http://www.hti.umich.edu/cgi/r/rsv/rsv-idx?type=DIV2&byte=3978863.
- The Canon Debate, McDonald & Sanders editors, chapter by Sundberg, page 72, adds further detail: "However, it was not until the time of Augustine of Hippo (354-430 AD) that the Greek translation of the Jewish scriptures came to be called by the Latin term septuaginta. [70 rather than 72] In his City of God 18.42, while repeating the story of Aristeas with typical embellishments, Augustine adds the remark, "It is their translation that it has now become traditional to call the Septuagint" ...[Latin omitted]... Augustine thus indicates that this name for the Greek translation of the scriptures was a recent development. But he offers no clue as to which of the possible antecedents led to this development: , Josephus [Antiquities 12.57, 12.86], or an elision. ...this name Septuagint appears to have been a fourth- to fifth-century development."
- "Loose Canons: The Development of the Old Testament (Part 1)". 2006-03-04. http://singinginthereign.blogspot.com/2006/03/loose-canons-development-of-old.html. Retrieved 2007-08-01.
- The Canon Debate, McDonald & Sanders editors, 2002, chapter 6: Questions of Canon through the Dead Sea Scrolls by James C. VanderKam, page 94, citing private communication with Emanuel Tov on biblical manuscripts: Qumran scribe type c.25%, proto-Masoretic Text c. 40%, pre-Samaritan texts c.5%, texts close to the Hebrew model for the Septuagint c.5% and nonaligned c.25%.
- Jewish Encyclopedia: Bible Canon: "It is true, Lucius ("Die Therapeuten," Strasburg, 1880) doubts the genuineness of this work; but Leopold Cohn, an authority on Philo ("Einleitung und Chronologie der Schriften Philo's," p. 37, Leipsic, 1899; "Philologus," vii., suppl. volume, p. 421), maintains that there is no reason to do so. Consequently, Siegfried's opinion ("Philo," p. 61, Jena, 1875) that Philo's canon was essentially the same as that of to-day, is probably correct (H. E. Ryle, "Philo and Holy Scripture," London, 1895)."
- The Canon Debate, McDonald & Sanders editors, page 132; page 140 states 97% (2260 instances) of quotations from the Torah.
- Against Apion Book 1.8: "For we have not an innumerable multitude of books among us, disagreeing from and contradicting one another, [as the Greeks have,] but only twenty-two books, which contain the records of all the past times; which are justly believed to be divine; and of them five belong to Moses, which contain his laws and the traditions of the origin of mankind till his death. This interval of time was little short of three thousand years; but as to the time from the death of Moses till the reign of Artaxerxes king of Persia, who reigned after Xerxes, the prophets, who were after Moses, wrote down what was done in their times in thirteen books. The remaining four books contain hymns to God, and precepts for the conduct of human life."
- Larue, Gerald A. (1968). Old Testament Life and Literature. Allyn and Bacon. pp. Ch. 31.
- McDonald & Sanders, The Canon Debate, 2002, page 5, cited are Neusner's Judaism and Christianity in the Age of Constantine, pages 128-145, and Midrash in Context: Exegesis in Formative Judaism, pages 1-22.
- Birkat ha-Minim