Josephus And The Twenty-Two-Book Canon Of Sacred Scripture -- By: Duane L. Christensen

Journal: Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society
Volume: JETS 29:1 (Mar 1986)
Article: Josephus And The Twenty-Two-Book Canon Of Sacred Scripture
Author: Duane L. Christensen

Josephus And The Twenty-Two-Book Canon
Of Sacred Scripture

Duane L. Christensen*

In rabbinic tradition the canon of the Hebrew Bible is generally presented as consisting of twenty-four books divided into three categories: the Torah (five books), the Former and Latter Prophets (eight books), and the Writings (eleven books). But this particular tradition was still not established unequivocally among the Jews in the time of Jerome (c. A.D. 380), who mentions that “certain of the Rabbins of that day” place Ruth and Lamentations among the Writings rather than uniting them with Judges and Jeremiah, as he does, to have a canon of twenty-two books.1 The implication is clear: Among the rabbis there were some who agreed with Jerome’s canonical arrangement of the Hebrew Scriptures.

The tradition of a canon of twenty-two books was clearly present in both Jewish and Christian circles during the first four centuries of the common era. The earliest, and by far the most important, description of this twenty-two-book canon is that of the Jewish historian Josephus (b. A.D. 37), which has been rendered by Moses Stuart as follows:

We have not a countless number of books, discordant and arrayed against each other; but only two and twenty books … and of these, five belong to Moses, which contain both the laws and the history of the generations of men until his death … From the death of Moses, moreover, until the reign of Artaxerxes king of the Persians after Xerxes, the prophets who followed Moses have described the things which were done during the age of each one respectively, in thirteen books. The remaining four contain hymns to God, and rules of life for men.2

After Josephus, the earliest witness to this twenty-two-book canon is apparently Audet’s Hebrew-Aramaic list (c. A.D. 150), at least according to the interpretation of Peter Katz.3 Later prominent witnesses to the twenty-two-book canon include Origen (c. 250), Hilary of Poitiers (c. 254), Eusebius (c. 320),

*Duane Christensen is professor of Old Testament languages and literature at American Baptist Seminary of the West in Berkeley, California.

Cyril of Jerusalem (c. 350), Athanasius (c. 360), the Council of Laodicea (360–364), Epiphanius (c. 368), Gregory of Nazianzus (c. 370), Jerome (c. 380) and Rufinus (c. 390).4 From the time of Origen the number twenty-two has been explained in terms of the number of letters in the Hebrew alphabet. Epiphanius also called attention to ...

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