Finding Adequate Terminology for "Pre-canonical" Literatures


Robert A. Kraft (University of Pennsylvania) [#01]


There is a vast amount of [#30] recent literature on "canon" issues, and any contribution I might make here will be relatively minor. Much of what will be discussed here also applies to materials that are commonly viewed as "non-canonical" but not necessarily "pre-canonical." [#02]  In the past such materials have been called not only "non-canonical," but also "proto-canonical," "extra-canonical,"  "extra biblical," "apocryphal," [in general, in addition to "Apocryphal" or "Deuterocanonical"] "pseudepigraphic," "rewritten bible," "rewritten scripture," and the like. [#03] There have been  various attempts to propose more satisfactory terminology for all aspects of what I most recently have preferred  to called "parascriptural" writings, although without much conviction.[#04] The discussions tend to revolve around two major issues: (1) what is the relationship between such materials and the writings that came to be considered "scriptural" and then "canonical" in mainstream varieties of Judaism and Christianity, [#05] and (2) how is it possible to determine whether at any given time and place a specific text is considered sufficiently "authoritative" to be considered "scriptural,"  then later "canonical"? [#06] And, of course, a variety of sub issues emerge from such questions.


Chronological considerations.--  Historically speaking, the terms "canon" and especially the adjective "canonical" as used as sort of a synonym for Jewish and/or Christian scriptural corpora ("the canonical scriptures") are anachronistic for describing the situation prior to the 4th century and Constantine's support of officially recognized Christianity.[#07] Basically, "canon" as applied to writings indicates a "principle" or "rule" -- as in the "canons" of various councils, or "of the apostles." It is difficult to trace the linguistic transition of "canon" from "rule" or "rules" contained in or based on scriptures to  a reference to that "body of literature" as such. Sometimes the term is used in juxtaposition with "scriptures," as in statements about following the holy scriptures and the canons of the apostles. There are also parallels between "rule (canon) of faith" and "rule (canon) of the scriptures."

Indeed, I have not been able to find the term used in the very concrete sense of a body of writings in Greek literature prior to the 4th century, [#08] in the 59th canon of the Council of Laodicea in 363: "there is no need for private psalms to be spoken in the church nor for any uncanonical books to be read, but only the canonical ones of the Old and New Testament" -- followed in some (mostly later) manuscripts by a list of those books; [#09] Athanasius' Pascal Letter of 367 uses the verbal participial form, "the books that have been canonized and passed along are believed to be divine";  similarly Amphilochios [4th c]
[#10] Iambi ad Seleucum 119, "this undeceptive canon of the inspired scriptures." Even so, these references teeter between the sense of a list or catalog and an actual anthology.


It is no surprise that such language becomes standard from the 4th century onward, when the development of the mega codex format (such as Sinaiticus and Vaticanus) [#11] made it possible to collect these scriptural writings into one large book, perhaps even with imperial sanction. [#12]. Prior to that, there were also collections of works considered sacred, but on a much smaller scale, [#13] with mini-codices that held only a couple of large writings, and with pouches and shelves [#14] to represent physically what the various lists presented conceptually [#15]. In that earlier period, the revered writings were generally called "scriptures" () and each was "a scripture" () -- sometimes a "book of scripture" -- and thus in this sense, "pre-canonical." [#16] Of course the term "scripture" itself has a long history, from meaning simply something written to its special uses in Judaism (e.g. Philo on "the sacred scriptures" [ἱ ἱὶ ὶ])
and Christianity for very special writings.

Unfortunately, awareness of such historical and terminological development cannot erase centuries of familiar use and even abstractification [#17] of the idea of "the canon" or "the bible" or even of "scriptures" and the like. But such awareness might nudge us towards more care in our use of terminology when dealing as academics with what I'm calling the "pre-canonical" period. Even the thoughtful use of such terms as "open canon" [#18] is insufficently deconstructive in that it perpetuates "canon" as the axis around which to explore the evidence. The period of "open canon" is a period of "not yet canon" or "absent canon" -- that is, "canon" has no historical meaning or existence in the later sense of a closed and exclusive anthology of writings considered to be "holy" "scripture." And the further back in history that we go, the more difficult it becomes to determine when and whether it makes sense to speak of smaller collections -- anthologies -- to which special authority is ascribed -- "scriptures." Ultimately, the "pre-scriptural" [#19] problem calls for attention as well -- what should we call (and how did the first recipients view) a text such as Ruth or James before it became special to a person or group whose judgment survives? What are the trajectories -- for they must be multiple -- [#20] from "publication" (however that is understood) to preservation and respectful use (or at least some level of exposure), to special status (for whatever reasons, like a "book of the month" or of the year), to "holy scripture" as a fixed description immune to challenge -- which as a concept takes on its own life in the abstract?


Exploring the Pre-canonical.-- But we don't have time for all that history of terminological development now, even if we have the energy. Let's stick with the simpler complex problem of "pre-canonical" and see if some progress is possible. How shall we refer  to works such as Jubilees, or the Enochic Book of the Watchers, which were clearly special to the point of seeming scriptural (i.e. extra special or perhaps "sacred") for some ancient groups? Specification is important when possible. While it seems to me reasonable to speak of these texts as "scriptures" of whoever is represented by the Qumran discoveries, that is not the language of those materials, [#21] and thus perhaps even a discussion of "pre-scriptural" would be applicable. It is difficult to argue with the judgment that these were "respected" writings in that context. But perhaps that is not enough? Do we imagine that those ancient copyists made neat distinctions in the direction of "sacred" or "more ordinary" in copying Habakkuk on the one hand and the commentary on Habakkuk on the other? It is possible that for them, "specialness" was associated equally with all the writings they preserved. Should we refer to these materials, in the historical context in which they were discovered, simply as the "special" writings of some early Jewish users, without further distinction?


At the same time, degrees of criteria for specialness [#22] seem to be implied by Philo, in his use of his Moses-centered sources, and perhaps also by his later Jewish contemporaries Paul and Josephus. All three of these witnesses are chronologically "pre-canonical," but all reflect a special use of the term "sacred/holy scripture(s)" (Philo and Paul --
) or "sacred books/scrolls" (Josephus -- normally ).  The extensive study of Philo's  terminology by Ryle [#23] over a century ago remains quite valuable but difficult to use because it was published the year before the new Cohn & Wendland major edition of Philo appeared (1896), with its different system of text divisions.  Paul's citations have received some attention [#24], although perhaps not with as much care as we might like with reference to textual variants. Josephus is even one of our earliest listers, with his attempt to argue that Judaism has more archaic sources than the Greeks, and that these sources reflect a certain continuity in their production (the succession of "prophets" and/or "prophecy"). [#25] What he presents is certainly a "scriptures" type of list, although we have no way of knowing whether he had even seen copies of all the books/scrolls he mentions. In his own writing, he does not limit himself to that list and seldom cites from it explicitly, while also quietly incorporating into his own work material also found in the books listed as well as elsewhere.


Justin introduces an interesting twist to the discussion by placing the "gospels" into the well-known literary genre of "memoirs" [#26], which might at the same time be our earliest evidence for Christian use of the codex format, perhaps imitating the notebooks used by record keepers and schoolboys. The designation "scripture(s)" applied to specifically Christian writings is rare in the early period.


A useful, if perhaps unique, example of developments in attitude to scriptural specialness is the way the words of Moses are treated [#27] in various literatures at various times. By the time we get to Jewish Rabbinic literature, we almost never hear the formula "Moses said" followed by a quotation from the Pentateuch. Presumably that would compromise the divine origin of the scriptures in their estimation. The Qumran materials, however, use both the direct attribution ("Moses said") and the indirect ("God said by the hand of Moses" or the like). Philo is not bothered by the direct claim, although one branch of the subsequent textual tradition apparently was, nor are Josephus and the early Christian authors in general. In Justin's Dialogue with Trypho, we do find the indirect formula frequently [on whose lips?], and also in Clement of Alexandria
more than a few times.


Prospects.-- So as students of the history of Judaism and Christianity attempting to describe things as accurately as possible and to avoid misleading anachronism, what terms shall we use to speak about those early attitudes and documents? To the extent that it is possible, we can try to use the terms of the ancient witnesses, on the one hand, and to avoid terms such as "canon" and "bible" that bring with them a host of later associations and beg the question regarding the earlier periods. There does not seem to be complete agreement in our sources, nor a clear unilinear development in the use of terms, so we need to be able to accommodate some variety of expression. Even after the 4th century developments attested at least in northern Egypt, not everyone saw or spoke of these things in the same manner. Even today, groups such as Ethiopic Christianity [#28] are somewhat fuzzy on matters of "canon."


While there are no simple solutions and it may not be practical to eliminate the word "canon" from our scholarly language, [#29] perhaps it is appropriate to ask for a more reflective use of "canon" terminology in the study of the pre-4th century period -- even a moratorium on its use -- while we struggle towards more adequate and accurate modes of expression.


--//end//--

--[notes]--

[[-- see Eusebius HE 6.25.3 (Origen affirms the "ecclesiastical rule" that there are but 4 gospels) John Chrysostom in Genesis PG53.108, 113 ( ῆ ἁ ῆ ) with the idea of a "rule" or "rules" to be followed. Often juxtaposed with "scriptures" -- e.g. we follow the divine scriptures and canons of the apostles. Reified in relation to results of councils -- canons of Nicea, Council of Constantinople in 680-81 (ῦ ὸ ῶ ἁ ῶ and of synods, etc.). etc. By the time of Gennadius Scholarius [15th century!] Quaest theol the term is quite frozen into its adjectival form relating to Christian scriptures, and he cites various earlier authors with similar usages (e.g. ῦ ῶ ῶ and ῶ ῶ ῶ, passage citing Augustine to Jerome, ἐ ῖ ῖ ῖ, etc. ), ]]

The term "parabiblical" itself is of recent coinage, and is itself problematic. It is used to designate at least two distinguishable aspects of authoritative literature, (1) material that is selfconsciously derivitive from existing authoritative "biblical/scriptural" models, and (2) material that itself existed alongside of or even prior to what became "biblical/scriptural" and may itself have influenced the latter developments. [PSCO  40 (2002-3)]



Examples of Terminological Choices for Bible-like Materials

NOTE: as of 20 September 2002, "parabiblical" does not occur in the OED

[Tallies from google.com searches on 19 September 2002:
"Rewritten Bible" yielded 225 hits;
"Expanded Bible" gave 285 (many of them irrelevant, I suspect);
"Paraphrased Bible" had 240 (again, probably mostly irrelevant);
"Parabiblical literature" had 17; "parabiblical texts" had 223; "parabiblical writings" only one]

H. L. Ginsberg, Review of Joseph A. Fitzmyer's The Genesis Apocryphon of Qumran Cave 1: A Commentary, Theological Studies 28 (1967) 574: "I ... approve of his rejection of such labels as 'targum' and 'midrash' .... To the question of literary genre, I should like to contribute a proposal for a term to cover works, like GA, Pseudo-Philo, and the Book of Jubilees, which paraphrase and/or supplement the canonical Scriptures: parabiblical literature. The motivation of such literature -- like that of midrash -- may be more doctrinal, as in the case of the Book of Jubilees, or more artistic, as in at least the preserved parts of GA, but it differs from midrashic literature by not directly quoting and (with more or less arbitrariness) interpreting canonical Scripture" [highlighting is mine: RAK; thanks to Steven Fraade for calling attention to this reference].

Nickelsburg, George W. E.: "The Bible Rewritten and Expanded," in: Stone, Michael Edward (ed.): Jewish Writings of the Second Temple Period: Apocrypha, Pseudepigrapha, Qumran Sectarian Writings, Philo, Josephus, Assen / Philadelphia 1984 (CRI 2/2), 89-156.

H. W. Attridge, T. Elgvin, J. Milik, S. Olyan, J. Strugnell, E. Tov, J. VanderKam and S. White, in consultation with J. C. VanderKam. Qumran Cave 4.8. Parabiblical Texts, Part 1 (DJD 13; Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1994). x + 470 pp. + xliii plates."Within these volumes the parabiblical texts hold a special place since some of the literary genres represented by Qumran are becoming known only now, with the publication of the volumes. The volumes of the parabiblical texts contain various compositions which have in common that they are closely related to texts or themes of the Hebrew Bible. Some of these compositions present a reworking, rewriting, or paraphrase of biblical books. Some of these compositions were very extensive, such as 4QRP (4Q364-367) which, together with the already published 4Q158, covered the entire Pentateuch. Others probably covered merely a limited number of chapters; thus 4Q422 dealt with only a few chapters of Genesis and Exodus. The various compositions which present a reworking of biblical books display various gradations of such reworking. Of these texts, 4QRP is probably closest to the biblical books, followed by cols. LI-LXI of 11QT\a/. Of the compositions which are somewhat more removed from the text of the Hebrew Bible, the present volume contains 4Q216-228 (Jubilees and pseudo-Jubilees). Furthest removed from the biblical text in this volume are 4Q369 (Prayer of Enosh), and 4Q382 (pap ParaKings et al.)" [emphasis mine; RAK].

Florentino Garcia Martinez, The Dead Sea Scrolls Translated (Brill 1994) 218: [It is] "literature that begins with the Bible, which retells the biblical text in its own way, intermingling it and expanding it with other, quite different traditions. Every one of these compositions has its starting point in specific texts of the Torah or of the Prophets but, unlike the exegetical literature, rather than interpreting the biblical text, they elaborate on it, augmenting it with other material." [Then he distinguishes three types: (1) relatively close to the biblical text (e.g. Paraphrases of the Pentateuch, Genesis Apocryphon, Jubilees); (2)] "Other compositions seem, rather, to be self-contained developments around certain biblical characters. The starting point continues to be the biblical text, but the development results in independent compositions. [(3)] In the last texts to be included, such as those with the title 'proto-Esther,' the connection is even more tenuous and remote. It is really literature which is parallel to, earlier than, or simultaneous with, the biblical text, but with no direct connection to it" [emphasis mine].

M. Broshi, E. Eshel, J. Fitzmyer, E. Larson, C. Newsom, L. Schiffman, M. Smith, M. Stone, J. Strugnell
and A. Yardeni, in consultation with J. C. VanderKam. Qumran Cave 4.14. Parabiblical Texts, Part 2
(DJD 19; Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1995).

G. J. Brooke, J. J. Collins, P. Flint, J. Greenfield, E. Larson, C. Newsom, É. Puech, L. H. Schiffman, M.
Stone, and J. Trebolle Barrera, in consultation with J. Vanderkam, partially based on earlier transcriptions
by J. T. Milik and J. Strugnell. Qumran Cave 4.17: Parabiblical Texts, Part 3 (DJD 22; Oxford:
Clarendon Press, 1996). xi + 352 pp. + xxix plates.

Michael Wise, Martin Abegg jr, Edward Cook, The Dead Sea Scrolls: A New Translation (Harper 1996) 12: "The discovery of the scrolls has uncovered the existence in this period of anthologies of biblical excerpts, of 'rewritten Bibles,' and of lost sources used, perhaps, by the writers of the biblical books [e.g. The Healing of King Nabonidus]. The first two of these categories were apparently methods of interpreting the Bible.... Whether people understood these types of texts as less authoritative than the Bible itself is a legitimate question, given that the final contours of the Bible were not fixed."

Geza Vermes, The Complete Dead Sea Scrolls in English (Penguin 1997) 505: [Section title, without additional general comment] "Biblically Based Apocryphal Works."

S. Talmon, Textual Criticism: The Ancient Versions, pp. 141-170 in Text in Context: Essays by Members of the Society for Old Testament Study (ed. A.D.H. Mayes; Oxford University Press, 2000) 157: " it is my thesis that the presumably re-told, re-read, re-written, etc. Bible-related works should mostly be viewed as crystallizations of living literary traditions, which parallel presentations of these same traditions in the books of the Hebrew Bible, but do not necessarily spring from them."

George W. E. Nickelsburg, 1Enoch 1: A Commentary on the Book of 1 Enoch, Chapters 1-36; 81-108 (Fortress 2001) 29: heading 3.3.1.1 Rewritten Biblical Narrative: "The story of the watchers and the women (chaps. 6-11) is the mythic core for the rest of the corpus except the astronomical material. It is also significant because it is one of the oldest preserved examples of a form of biblical ixposition that interprets a narrative by retelling it in an elaborated form. ... Its purpose is to expound sacred tradition so that it speaks to contemporary times and issues. In its present form, the elaboration of Gen 6:1-4 in 1 Enoch 6-11 reflects several moves. First, the Hebrew story is retold in Aramaic. ...Thus the rewritten form of the biblical text has two dimensions. It has become an eschatologically colored myth; a story about the origins of evil in primordial times is, in reality, an explanation of the author's time, which is situated at the threshold of the end time, its judgment, and the new age. [new paragraph] Later examples of rewritten biblical narrative, composed variously in Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek, include: the Book of Jubilees, the Genesis Apocryphon, the Testament of Moses, some of the narratives in the Testaments of the Twelve Patriarchs, the Testament of Abraham, the Testament of Job, the Book of Biblical Antiquities (Pseudo-Philo), Josephus's Antiquities, and the Books of Adam and Eve."

John C. Reeves, "Toward a Rapprochement of Bible and Quran," abridged as "The Flowing Stream: Quranic Interpretations and the Bible," Religious Studies News: SBL Edition 2.9 (Dec 2001): "The conceptual problem for modern researchers is further aggravated by a largely unreflective use of popular classificatory terminology like that of rewritten Bible for works like Jubilees or 1 Enoch. One must first have Bible before one can rewrite it: the category presupposes and subtly endorses both a chronological sequence and an intertextual relationship. ... Our descriptive language should be altered in order to express this revisioning; instead of biblical expansions or rewritings, we should perhaps speak of biblically allied, biblically affiliated, or biblically related literatures. Moreover, our accustomed way of perceiving and categorizing how Bible interacted with parallel literary corpora will require a serious overhaul. Instead of measuring all biblically allied or affiliated literatures against the Bible and then assigning labels like expanded Bible, rewritten Bible, paraphrased Bible, distorted Bible, and the like to those exemplars which depart textually and/or thematically from the Bible of the Masoretes, we should rather consider the bulk of this material, both biblical and non-biblical, as one culturally variegated literary continuum which juxtaposes a number of alternative or parallel ways of recounting a particular story or tradition."

Devorah Dimant, Partially based on earlier texts by John Strugnell. Qumran Cave 4.26. Parabiblical Texts, Part 4; Pseudo-Prophetic Texts (DJD 30; Oxford: Clarendon Press, 2001).

John P. Meier, "The Historical Jesus and the Historical Law: Some Problems within the Problem," Catholic Biblical Quarterly 65 (2003) 57 n.10: The phrase "rewritten Bible" has become common in discussions about the intertestamental writings that, in one way or another, reworked, paraphrased, or added to books that later formed the canon of Scripture. However, the phrase is, technically speaking, inaccurate since no "Bible" with an agreed-upon list of all the books accepted as inspired and normative existed in the last centuries B.C.; hence, there was no Bible to "rewrite." On the problem of evaluating the intent of authors of the "Rewritten Bible" during the intertestamental period, see Gary A. Anderson, "Law and Lawgiving," Encyclopedia of the Dead Sea Scrolls (Oxford University Press 2000) 1.475-77; and Florentino Garcia Martinez, "Temple Scroll," ibid., 2.927-33. Especially problematic are the fragments from Cave 4 of Qumran that are given telling labels like Reworked Pentateuch (4Q158, 4Q364, 365, 366, 367), Apocryphon Pentateuch A (4Q368), Apocryphon Pentateuch B (4Q377), and the Apocryphon of Moses (4Q375, 376). To what extent these texts should be considered variant textual traditions of the Pentateuch, early targums of the Pentateuch, or attempts to replace the traditional version(s) of the Pentateuch with a new version remains unclear; the fragmentary nature of the evidence makes a final decision very difficult. On the questionable propriety of using phrases like "para-biblical," "apocryphal," "expanded biblical text," or "rewritten Bible" for these works, see Bruno Chiesa, "Biblical Texts from Qumran," Henoch 20 (1998) 131-51.