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SermonIndex.net : Christian Books : CHAPTER III. THE SAMARITAN AND ALEXANDRIAN CANONS.

The Canon Of The Bible by Samuel Davidson

CHAPTER III. THE SAMARITAN AND ALEXANDRIAN CANONS.

The Samaritan canon consists of the Pentateuch alone. This restricted collection is owing to the fact, that when the Samaritans separated from the Jews and began their worship on Gerizim, no more than the Mosaic writings had been invested by Ezra with canonical dignity. The hostile feeling between the rivals hindered the reception of books subsequently canonized. The idea of their having the oldest and most sacred part in its entirety satisfied their spiritual wants. Some have thought that the Sadducees, who already existed as a party before the Maccabean period, agreed with the Samaritans in rejecting all but the Pentateuch; yet this is doubtful. It is true that the Samaritans themselves say so;(79) and that some of the church fathers, Origen, Jerome, and others agree; but little reliance can be put on the statement. The latter, perhaps, confounded the Samaritans and Sadducces. It is also noteworthy that Christ in refuting the Sadducees appeals to the Pentateuch alone; yet the conclusion, that he did so because of their admitting no more than that portion does not follow.

The Alexandrian canon differed from the Palestinian. The Greek translation commonly called the Septuagint contains some later productions which the Palestinian Jews did not adopt, not only from their aversion to Greek literature generally, but also from the recent origin of the books, perhaps also their want of prophetic sanction. The closing line of the third part in the Alexandrian canon was more or less fluctuating -- capable of admitting recent writings appearing under the garb of old names and histories, of embracing religious subjects; while the Palestinian collection was pretty well determined, and all but finally settled. The judgment of the Alexandrians was freer than that of their brethren in the mother country. They had even separated in a measure from the latter, by erecting a temple at Leontopolis; and their enlargement of the canon was another step of divergence. Nor had they the criterion of language for the separation of canonical and uncanonical; both classes were before them in the same tongue. The enlarged canon was not formally sanctioned; it had not the approval of the Sanhedrim; yet it was to the Alexandrians what the Palestinian one was to the Palestinians. If Jews who were not well acquainted with Hebrew, used the apocryphal and canonical books alike, it was a matter of feeling and custom; and if those who knew the old language better, adhered to the canonical more closely, it was a matter of tradition and language. The former set little value on the prevalent consciousness of the race that the spirit of prophecy was extinct; their view of the Spirit's operation was larger. The latter clung to the past with all the more tenacity that the old life of the nation had degenerated.

The Alexandrian Jews opened their minds to Greek culture and philosophy, appropriating new ideas, and explaining their Scriptures in accordance with wider conceptions of the divine presence; though such adaptation turned aside the original sense. Consciously or unconsciously they were preparing Judaism in some degree to be the religion of humanity. But the Rabbins shut out those enlarging influences, confining their religion within the narrow traditions of one people. The process by which they conserved the old belief helped to quench its spirit, so that it became an antique skeleton, powerless beside the new civilization which had followed the wake of Alexander's conquests. Rabbinical Judaism proved its incapacity for regenerating the world; having no affinity for the philosophy of second causes, or for the exercise of reason beneath the love of a Father who sees with equal eye as God of all. Its isolation nourished a sectarian tendency. Tradition, having no creative power like revelation, had taken the place of it; and it could not ward off the senility of Judaism; for its creations are but feeble echoes of prophetic utterances, weak imitations of poetic inspiration or of fresh wisdom. They are of the understanding rather than the reason. The tradition which Geiger describes as the life-giving soul of Judaism -- the daughter of revelation, enjoying the same rights with her mother -- a spiritual power that continues ever to work -- an emanation from the divine Spirit -- is not, indeed, the thing which has stiffened Judaism into Rabbinism; but neither is it tradition proper; it is reason working upon revelation, and moulding it into a new system. Such tradition serves but to show the inability of genuine Judaism to assimilate philosophic thought. Rationalizing should not be styled the operation of tradition.

The truth of these remarks is evident from a comparison of two books, exemplifying Alexandrian and Palestinian Judaism respectively. The Wisdom of Solomon shows the enlarging effect of Greek philosophy. Overpassing Jewish particularism, it often approaches Christianity in doctrine and spirit, so that some(80) have even assumed a Christian origin for it. The Wisdom of Jesus, son of Sirach has not the doctrine of immortality. Death is there an eternal sleep, and retribution takes place in this life. The Jewish theocracy is the centre of history; Israel the elect people; and all wisdom is embodied in the law. The writer is shut up within the old national ideas, and leans upon the writings in which they are expressed. Thus the Hagiographical canon of Judea, conservative as it is, and purer in a sense, presents a narrower type than the best specimens of the Alexandrian one. The genial breath of Aryan culture had not expanded its Semitism.

The identity of the Palestinian and Alexandrian canons must be abandoned, notwithstanding the contrary arguments of Eichhorn and Movers. It is said, indeed, that Philo neither mentions nor quotes the Greek additions; but neither does he quote several canonical books. According to Eichhorn, no fewer than eight of the latter are unnoticed by him.(81) Besides, he had peculiar views of inspiration, and quoted loosely from memory. Believing as he did in the inspiration of the Greek version as a whole, it is difficult to think that he made a distinction between the different parts of it. In one passage he refers to the sacred books of the Therapeutae, a fanatical sect of Jews in Egypt, as |laws, oracles of prophets, hymns and other books by which knowledge and piety are increased and perfected,|(82) but this presents little information as to the canon of the Egyptian Jews generally; for it is precarious argumentation to say with Herbst that they prove a twofold canon. Even if the Alexandrian and Palestinian canons be identical, we cannot be sure that the other books which the Therapeutae read as holy besides the law, the prophets and hymns, differed from the hagiographa, and so constituted another canon than the general Egyptian one. It is quite possible that the hymns mean the Psalms; and the other books, the rest of the hagiographa. The argument for the identity of the two canons deduced from 4 Esdras xiv.44, &c., as if the twenty-four open books were distinguished from the other writings dictated to Ezra, is of no force, because verisimilitude required that an Egyptian Jew himself must make Ezra conform to the old Palestinian canon. It is also alleged that the grandson of Jesus Sirach, who translated his grandfather's work during his abode in Egypt, knew no difference between the Hebrew and Greek canon, though he speaks of the Greek version; but he speaks as a Palestinian, without having occasion to allude to the difference between the canonical books of the Palestinian and Egyptian Jews. The latter may have reckoned the apocryphal writings in the third division; and therefore the translator of Jesus Sirach could recognize them in the ordinary classification. The mention of three classes is not opposed to their presence in the third. The general use of an enlarged canon in Egypt cannot be denied, though it was somewhat loose, not regarded as a completed collection, and without express rabbinical sanction. If they did not formally recognize a canon of their own, as De Wette says of them, they had and used one larger than the Palestinian, without troubling themselves about a formal sanction for it by a body of Rabbis at Jerusalem or elsewhere. Their canon was not identical with that of the Palestinians, and all the argumentation founded upon Philo's non-quotation of the apocryphal books, fails to prove the contrary. The very way in which apocryphal are inserted among canonical books in the Alexandrian canon, shows the equal rank assigned to both. Esdras first and second succeed the Chronicles; Tobit and Judith are between Nehemiah and Esther; the Wisdom of Solomon and Sirach follow Canticles; Baruch succeeds Jeremiah; Daniel is followed by Susanna and other productions of the same class; and the whole closes with the three books of Maccabees. Such is the order in the Vatican MS.

The threefold division of the canon, indicating three stages in its formation, has continued. Josephus, indeed, gives another, based on the nature of the separate books, not on MSS. We learn nothing from him of its history, which is somewhat remarkable, considering that he did not live two centuries after the last work had been added. The account of the canon's final arrangement was evidently unknown to him.

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