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CONSTITUTION OF THE CANON OF THE OLD TESTAMENT BY EZRA—THE CANON OF THE OLD TESTAMENT, AS IT NOW EXISTS, SANCTIONED BY CHRIST AND HIS APOSTLES—CATALOGUES OF THE BOOKS BY SOME OF THE EARLY FATHERS—AGREEMENT OF JEWS AND CHRISTIANS ON THIS SUBJECT.
The five books of Moses were, when finished, carefully deposited by the side of the ark of the Covenant, Deut. xxxi. 24-26. “And it came to pass, when Moses had made an end of writing the words of this law in a book, until they were finished, that Moses commanded the Levites which bore the ark of the covenant of the Lord, saying, Take this book of the law, and put it in the side of the ark of the covenant of the Lord your God, that it may be there for a witness against thee.”
No doubt, copies of the sacred volume were made out, before it was deposited in the most holy place; for as it was there inaccessible to any but the priests, the people generally must have remained ignorant, had there been no copies of the law. But we know that copies were written, for it was one of the laws respecting the duty of a king, when such an officer should be appointed, that he should write out a copy of the law with his own hand. Deut. xvii. 18-20, “And it shall be when he sitteth upon the throne of 22his kingdom, that he shall write him a copy of this law in a book, out of that which is before the priests, the Levites. And it shall be with him, and he shall read therein, all the days of his life; that he may learn to fear the Lord his God, to keep all the words of this law and these statutes to do them; that his heart be not lifted up above his brethren, and that he turn not aside from the commandment to the right hand or to the left: to the end that he may prolong his days in his kingdom, he and his children in the midst of Israel.” It is related by Josephus, that by the direction of Moses, a copy of the law was prepared for each of the tribes of Israel.
It seems that the book of Joshua was annexed to the volume of the Pentateuch; for we read that “Joshua wrote these words in the book of the law of God.” See Josh i. 8; xxiv. 26. And the matters contained in this book were of public concern to the nation, as well as those recorded in the law. For, as in the latter were written statutes and ordinances, to direct them in all matters sacred and civil; so in the former was recorded the division of the land among the tribes. The possession of each tribe was here accurately defined, so that this book served as a national deed of conveyance. When other books were added to the Canon, no doubt, the inspired men who were moved by the Holy Spirit to write them, would be careful to deposit copies in the sanctuary, and to have other copies put into circulation. But on this subject we have no precise information. We know not with what degree of care the sacred books were guarded, or to what extent copies were multiplied.23
A single fact shows that the sacred autograph of Moses had well nigh perished, in the idolatrous reigns of Manasseh and Amon, but was found, during the reign of the pious Josiah, among the rubbish of the temple. It cannot, however, be reasonably supposed, that there were no other copies of the law scattered through the nation. It does indeed seem that the young king had never seen the book, and was ignorant of its contents, until it was now read to him; but while the autograph of Moses had been misplaced, and buried among the ruins, many pious men might have possessed private copies.
And although at the destruction of Jerusalem and of the temple by Nebuchadnezzar, this precious volume was, in all probability, destroyed with the ark and all the holy apparatus of the sanctuary; yet we are not to credit the Jewish tradition, too readily received by the Christian Fathers, that, on this occasion, all the copies of the Scriptures were lost, and that Ezra restored the whole by a miracle. This is a mere Jewish fable, depending on no higher authority than a passage in the fourth book of Esdras, and is utterly inconsistent with facts recorded in the sacred volume. We know that Daniel had a copy of the Scriptures, for he quotes them, and makes express mention of the prophecies of Jeremiah. And Ezra is called “a ready scribe in the law;” and it is said, in the sixth chapter of Ezra, that when the temple was finished, the functions of the priests and Levites were regulated, “as it is written in the book of Moses.” And this was many years before Ezra came to Jerusalem. And in the eighth chapter of Nehemiah, it is said that Ezra, at the request of the people, “brought 24the law before the congregation, and he read therein from the morning until mid-day. And Ezra opened the book in the sight of all the people.” It is evident, therefore, that all the copies of the Scriptures were not lost during the captivity. This story, no doubt, originated from two facts: the first, that the autographs in the temple, had been destroyed with that sacred edifice; and the second, that Ezra took great pains to have correct copies of the Scriptures prepared and circulated.
It seems to be agreed by all, that the forming of the present Canon of the Old Testament should be attributed to Ezra. To assist him in this work, the Jewish writers inform us, that there existed in his time a great synagogue, consisting of one hundred and twenty men, including Daniel and his three friends, Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego; the prophets Haggai and Zechariah; and also Simon the Just. But it is very absurd to suppose that all these lived at one time, and formed one synagogue, as they are pleased to represent it: for, from the time of Daniel to that of Simon the Just, no less than two hundred and fifty years intervened.
It is, however, not improbable that Ezra was assisted in this great work, by many learned and pious men, who were cotemporary with him; and as prophets had always been the superintendents, as well as writers of the sacred volume, it is likely that the inspired men who lived at the same time as Ezra, would give attention to this work. But in regard to this great synagogue, the only thing probable is, that the men who are said to have belonged to it, did not live in one age, but successively, until the time of Simon 25the Just, who was made high priest about twenty-five years after the death of Alexander the Great. This opinion has its probability increased, by the consideration that the Canon of the Old Testament appears not to have been fully completed, until about the time of Simon the Just. Malachi seems to have lived after the time of Ezra, and therefore his prophecy could not have been added to the Canon by this eminent scribe; unless we adopt the opinion of the Jews, who will have Malachi to be no other than Ezra himself; maintaining, that while Ezra was his proper name, he received that of Malachi, from the circumstance of his having been sent to superintend the religious concerns of the Jews; for the import of that name is, a messenger, or one sent.
But this is not all—in the book of Nehemiah,1010Nehemiah xii. 22. mention is made of the high priest Jaddua, and of Darius Codomannus, king of Persia, both of whom lived at least a hundred years after the time of Ezra. In the third chapter of the first book of Chronicles, the genealogy of the sons of Zerubbabel is carried down, at least to the time of Alexander the Great. This book, therefore, could not have been put into the Canon by Ezra; nor much earlier than the time of Simon the Just. The book of Esther, also, was probably added during this interval.
The probable conclusion, therefore, is that Ezra began this work, and collected and arranged all the sacred books which belonged to the Canon before his time, and that a succession of pious and learned men continued to pay attention to the Canon, until the whole was completed, about the time of Simon the 26Just. After which, nothing was added to the Canon of the Old Testament.
Most, however, are of opinion that nothing was added after the book of Malachi was written, except a few names and notes; and that all the books belonging to the Canon of the Old Testament, were collected and inserted in the sacred volume by Ezra himself. And this opinion seems to be the safest, and is not incredible in itself. It accords also with the uniform tradition of the Jews, that Ezra completed the Canon of the Old Testament; and that after Malachi there arose no prophet who added anything to the sacred volume.1111The Jews are accustomed to call Malachi the “seal of the Prophets.” Jerome says: “Post Haggæum et Zachariam nullos alios Prophetas usque ad Johannem Baptistam videram.” That is, “After Haggai and Zacharias, even to the time of John the Baptist, I have found no other prophets.” In Esaiam xlix. 2.
Whether the books were now collected into a single volume, or were bound up in several codices, is a question of no importance. If we can ascertain what books were received as canonical, it matters not in what form they were preserved. It seems probable, however, that the sacred books were at this time distributed into three volumes, the Law; the Prophets, and the Hagiographa. This division, we know to be as ancient as the time of our Saviour, for he says, “These are the words which I spake unto you while I was yet with you, that all things must be fulfilled which are written in the law, and in the prophets, and in the psalms, concerning me.” Luke xxiv. 44. Josephus also makes mention of this division, and it is 27by the Jews, with one consent, referred to Ezra, as its author.
In establishing the Canon of the Old Testament, we might labour under considerable uncertainty and embarrassment, in regard to several books were it not that the whole of what were called “the Scriptures,” and which were included in the threefold division mentioned above, received the explicit sanction of our Lord. He was not backward to reprove the Jews for disobeying, misinterpreting, and adding their traditions to the Scriptures, but he never drops a hint that they had been unfaithful or careless in the preservation of the sacred books. This argument for the integrity of the books of the Old Testament was used by Origen, as we are informed by Jerome, who says: “Si aliquis dixerit Hebræos libros, a Judæis esse falsatos, audiat Origenem: Quod nunquam Dominus et Apostoli, qui cætera crimina in Scribis, de hoc crimine quod est maximum, reticuissent.” In Esai. cvi, tom. iii. p. 63. So far from this, he refers to the Scriptures as an infallible rule, which “must be fulfilled,” Mark xiv. 49, and “could not be broken.” John x. 35. “Search the Scriptures,” John v. 39, said he, “for in them ye think ye have eternal life, and they are they which testify of me.” The errors of the Sadducees are attributed to an ignorance of the Scriptures: and they are never mentioned but with the highest respect, and as the unerring word of God. The apostle Paul, also, referring principally, if not wholly, to the Scriptures of the Old Testament, says, “And that from a child thou hast known the holy Scriptures, which are able to make thee wise unto salvation. All Scripture is given by 28inspiration of God.” 2 Tim. iii. 15, 16. They are also called by this apostle, “the oracles of God;” “the lively oracles,” “the word of God;” and when quotations are made from David, it is represented as “the Holy Ghost speaking by the mouth of David.” Acts i. 16; iv. 25. The testimony of Peter is not less explicit, for he says, “The prophecy came not in old time by the will of man, but holy men of God spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost.” 2 Pet. i. 21. And the apostle James speaks of the Scriptures with equal confidence and respect: “And receive with meekness,” says he, “the ingrafted word which is able to save your souls.” James i. 21-23. “And the Scripture was fulfilled which saith,” &c. “Do ye think that the Scripture saith in vain?” James iv. 5, &c.
We have, therefore, an important point established with the utmost certainty, that the volume of Scripture which existed in the time of Christ and his apostles was uncorrupted, and was esteemed by them an infallible rule. Now, if we can ascertain what books were then included in the Sacred Volume, we shall be able to settle the Canon of the Old Testament without uncertainty.
But here lies the difficulty. Neither Christ nor any of his apostles has given us a catalogue of the books which composed the Scriptures of the Old Testament. They have distinctly quoted a number of these books, and, so far, the evidence is complete. We know that the law, and the Prophets, and the Psalms were included in their Canon. But this does not ascertain, particularly, whether the very same books which we now find in the Old Testament were then found in it 29and no others. It is necessary then, to resort to other sources of information. And, happily, the Jewish historian Josephus furnishes us with the very information which we want; not, indeed, as explicitly as we could wish, but sufficiently so to lead us to a very satisfactory conclusion. He does not name the books of the Old Testament, but he numbers them, and so describes them that there is scarcely room for any mistake. The important passage to which we refer is in his first book against Apion. “We have,” says he, “only two-and-twenty books, which are justly believed to be of divine authority—of which five are the books of Moses. From the death of Moses to the reign of Artaxerxes, the son of Xerxes, king of Persia, the Prophets, who were the successors of Moses, have written in thirteen books. The remaining four books contain hymns to God, and precepts for the regulation of human life.” Now, the five books of Moses are universally agreed to be Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy. The thirteen books written by the prophets will include Joshua, Judges, with Ruth, Samuel, Kings, Isaiah, Jeremiah with Lamentations, Ezekiel, Daniel, the twelve minor Prophets, Job, Ezra, Esther, and Chronicles. The four remaining books will be, Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, and the Song of Solomon, which make the whole number twenty-two. The Canon then existing is proved to be the same as that which we now possess. It would appear, indeed, that these books might more conveniently be reckoned twenty-four; and this is the present method of numbering them by the modern Jews; but formerly the number was regulated by that of the Hebrew alphabet, which consists of twenty-two 30letters: therefore they annexed the small book of Ruth to Judges; and probably it is a continuation of this book by the same author. They added, also, the Lamentations of Jeremiah to his prophecy, and this was natural enough. As to the minor prophets, which form twelve separate books in our Bibles, they were, anciently, always reckoned one book, so they are considered in every ancient catalogue, and in all quotations from them. Josephus adds, to what is cited above, the following: “But as to the books which have been written since the time of Artaxerxes until our times, they are not considered worthy of the same credit as the former, because they do not contain accurate doctrine sanctioned by the prophets.”1212Contra Apionem; Euseb. iii. 10.
It will not be supposed that any change could have occurred in the Canon from the time of our Saviour and his apostles, to that in which Josephus wrote. Indeed, he may be considered the contemporary of the apostles, as he was born about the time of Paul’s conversion to Christianity, and was therefore grown up to man’s age long before the death of this apostle; and the apostle John probably survived him. And it must be remembered that Josephus is here giving his testimony to a public fact: he is declaring what books were received as divine by his nation; and he does it without hesitation or inconsistency. “We have,” says he, “only twenty-two books which are justly believed to be of divine authority.”
We are able also to adduce other testimony to prove the same thing. Some of the early Christian Fathers, who had been brought up in Paganism, when they embraced 31Christianity, were curious in their inquiries into the Canon of the Old Testament; and the result of the researches of some of them still remains. Melito, bishop of Sardis, travelled into Judea, for the very purpose of satisfying himself, on this point. And although his own writings are lost, Eusebius has preserved his catalogue of the books of the Old Testament; from which it appears, that the very same books were, in his day, received into the Canon, as are now found in our Hebrew Bibles. In the catalogue of Melito, presented by Eusebius, after Proverbs, the word Wisdom occurs, which nearly all commentators have been of opinion is only another name for the same book, and not the name of the book now called “The Wisdom of Solomon.” There is, however, an omission of Esther and Nehemiah. As to the latter, it creates no difficulty, for Ezra and Nehemiah are commonly counted as one book; and some learned men are of opinion that Ezra being the author of Esther, this book also is included under the name Esdras. The interval between Melito and Josephus is not a hundred years, so that no alteration in the Canon can be reasonably supposed to have taken place in this period.
Very soon after Melito, Origen furnishes us with a catalogue of the books of the Old Testament, which perfectly accords with our Canon, except that he omits the Minor Prophets; which omission must have been a mere slip of the pen, in him or his copyist, as it is certain that he received this as a book of Holy Scripture: and the number of the books of the Old Testament, given by him in this very place, cannot be 32completed without reckoning the twelve Minor Prophets as one.
After Origen, we have catalogues in succession, not only by men of the first authority in the church, but by councils, consisting of numerous bishops, all which are perfectly the same as our own. It will be sufficient merely to refer to these sources of information. Catalogues of the books of the Old Testament have been given by Athanasius; by Cyril; by Augustine; by Jerome; by Rufin; by the council of Laodicea, in their LX. Canon; and by the council of Carthage. And when it is considered, that all these catalogues exactly correspond with our present Canon of the. Hebrew Bible, the evidence, I think, must appear complete to every impartial mind, that the Canon of the Old Testament is settled upon the clearest historical grounds. There seems to be nothing to be wished for further in the confirmation of this point.
But if all this testimony had been wanting, there is still a source of evidence to which we might refer with the utmost confidence, as perfectly conclusive on this point; I mean the fact that these books have been ever since the time of Christ and his apostles in the keeping of both Jews and Christians, who have been constantly arrayed in opposition to each other; so that it was impossible that any change should have been made in the Canon, by either party, without being immediately detected by the other. And the conclusive evidence that no alteration in the Canon has occurred is the perfect agreement of these hostile parties in regard to the books of the Old Testament at this time. On this point, the Jew and Christian are harmonious. There is no complaint of addition to, or 33diminution of, the sacred books on either side. The Hebrew Bible of the Jew is the Bible of the Christian There is here no difference. A learned Jew and a Christian have even been united in publishing an excellent edition of the Hebrew Bible.1313See the Biblia Hebraica, edited by Leusden and Athias. Now, if any alteration in the Canon has occurred, it must have been by the concert or collusion of both parties; but how absurd this idea is must be manifest to all.
I acknowledge what is here said of the agreement of Christians and Jews can only be said in relation to Protestant Christians. For as to those of the Romish and Greek communions they have admitted other books into the Canon, which Jews and Protestants hold to be apocryphal; but these books will form the subject of a particular discussion, in the sequel of this work.
The fact is important, that a short time after the Canon of the Old Testament was closed, a translation was made of the whole of the books into the Greek language. This translation was made at Alexandria, in Egypt, at the request, it is said, of Ptolemy Philadelphus, king of Egypt, that he might have a copy of these sacred books in the famous library which he was engaged in collecting. It is called the Septuagint, from its being made, according to the accounts which have been handed down, by seventy, or rather seventy-two men; six from each of the tribes of Israel. So many fabulous things have been reported concerning this version, that it is very difficult to ascertain the precise truth. But it is manifest from internal evidence, that it was not the work of one hand, nor probably of one set of translators: for, while some books are rendered with great accuracy, and in a very literal manner, 34others are translated with little care, and the meaning of the original is very imperfectly given. The probability is that the Pentateuch was first translated, and the other books were added from time to time by different hands; but when the work was once begun, it is not likely that it would be long before the whole was completed. Now this Greek version contains all the books which are found in our common Hebrew Bibles. It is a good witness therefore to prove that all these books were in the Canon when this version was made. The apocryphal books, which have long been connected with this version, will furnish a subject for consideration hereafter.
There is, moreover, a distinct and remarkable testimony to the antiquity of the five books of Moses in the Samaritan Pentateuch, which has existed in a form entirely separate from the Jewish copies, and in a character totally different from that in which the Hebrew Bible has been for many ages written. It has also been preserved and handed down to us by a people who have ever been hostile to the Jews. This Pentateuch has, without doubt, been transmitted through a separate channel ever since the ten tribes of Israel were carried captive. It furnishes authentic testimony to the great antiquity of the books of Moses, and shows how little they have been corrupted during the lapse of nearly three thousand years. The Samaritans were the people transplanted from other countries into the places vacated by the captivity of the ten tribes of Israel. At first, they were all idolaters; but being annoyed by wild beasts, they supposed it was because they knew not how to worship the God of the country. They, therefore, requested that a priest should be sent 35to them of the Israelitish nation to instruct them. Their request was granted; and this priest, no doubt, brought with him a copy of the law. At one time it was doubted whether a Samaritan Pentateuch was in existence, but a learned man going into Palestine, obtained several copies. And they have also a translation of the whole into the Samaritan language. The Pentateuch, though Hebrew, is written in Samaritan characters, which many learned men think was the original Hebrew character.36
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