Canons On The Right And Canons On The Left: Finding A Resolution In The Canon Debate -- By: Stephen Dempster

Journal: Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society
Volume: JETS 52:1 (Mar 2009)
Article: Canons On The Right And Canons On The Left: Finding A Resolution In The Canon Debate
Author: Stephen Dempster


Canons On The Right And Canons On The Left:
Finding A Resolution In The Canon Debate1

Stephen Dempster*

* Stephen Dempster, professor of Religious Studies at Atlantic Baptist University, 333 Gorge Road, Moncton, New Brunswick, Canada E1C 9L7, delivered this plenary address at the 60th annual meeting of the ETS in Providence, RI on November 19, 2008.

About a decade ago Ian Provan wrote an insightful essay evaluating Brevard Childs’s influence on biblical studies and OT theology.2 The title of the essay—“Canons to the left of him”—alluded to Tennyson’s “Charge of the Light Brigade,” and suggested that the OT scholar had been involved in a battle for his views, particularly from the theological left. This metaphor of war is an apt description for describing the current controversy regarding the OT canon, and Tennyson’s poem is particularly fitting to describe the difficulty ahead for anyone venturing into the area of determining the shape and content of the OT. There are canons both blazing on the right and left and a veritable minefield of difficulties in front and behind including those of terminology, theology, history, and text. Nevertheless, let us begin our charge.

The field of OT canonical studies can be confusing. A recent book on the Septuagint has a lengthy introduction by a renowned text critic who presents a fundamentally different account of canonization than that of the author, another noted scholar.3 There the two views lie in tension without explanation. In a recent book on the canon debate, it seems as if the debate recorded there is largely an internal one among members of one side.4 And in different articles and papers, one sometimes gets wrong impressions about which

perspective has become dominant in the field.5 Moreover, recent comparative studies in ancient literacy and education are leading to revisions of some scholars’ views.6

It is clear that older conceptions of canon have become outmoded and new ones are vying for legitimacy. As of yet there is no consensus but there is largely a minority view—a small canon on the right, that of maximalism,7 and a majority view—a large canon on the left, that of minimalism.8 The maximalist position essentially argues th...

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