Questions of Canon Viewed through the Dead Sea Scrolls -- By: James C. Vanderkam

Journal: Bulletin for Biblical Research
Volume: BBR 11:2 (NA 2001)
Article: Questions of Canon Viewed through the Dead Sea Scrolls
Author: James C. Vanderkam


Questions of Canon Viewed through the Dead Sea Scrolls

James C. Vanderkam

University Of Notre Dame

The formation of the biblical canon was a gradual one. Questions concerning who, what, when, and how are obscure. The Dead Sea Scrolls indicate that clusters of writings were gathered into recognizable groupings, but that these clusters were not fixed during the time of the Dead Sea community. Indeed, the evidence of Qumran suggests that it was believed that revelation and inspiration continued, at least in the time of the Teacher of Righteousness. The Ms evidence of the Scrolls suggests that the text of even the books of Torah was not finally settled. Therefore, it would better fit the ancient evidence from Qumran if we avoided using the words Bible and biblical for this period and this community.

Key Words: canon, Dead Sea Scrolls, text and text types, Reworked Pentateuch, Jubilees

As nearly as we can tell, there was no canon of scripture in Second Temple Judaism. That is, before 70 ce, no authoritative body of which we know drew up a list of books that alone were regarded as supremely authoritative, a list from which none could be subtracted and to which none could be added. There is nothing new or surprising in a statement such as this. It was thought for a time, apparently a long time, that the finishing touches were put on such a canon only two decades or so after the period of the Second Temple ended, when rabbinic scholars who gathered for discussion and study in Yavneh are supposed to have closed the scriptural list by including the Writings and adding them to the already canonized Law and Prophets. That thesis has taken some heavy blows over the last 35 years and it

Author’s note: This paper was read at the 2000 annual meeting of the IBR and bears some resemblance to an essay scheduled to appear in the volume of essays from the Hereford Conference of 2000, sponsored by the Scriptorium. The emphasis in that paper was on text-critical issues; here it has been modified considerably to focus on canonical matters.

richly deserved them. Our evidence for what rabbis at Yavneh did and what authority they possessed is paltry indeed and hardly bears the weight that the theory imposed upon it. Moreover, that the Law and Prophets were canonized at earlier times goes beyond our data.1

In short, we do not know how, when, or by whom the list of books now found in the Hebrew Bible was drawn up. All we have are hints over a considerable historical span suggesting that some books were regarded by certain writers as sufficiently authoritative that th...

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