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The history of the canon of the Old Testament is obscure and difficult, through default of reliable documents. In tracing it through its remote antiquity, we shall endeavor to bring forth in their clearest light the certain data, filling up the lacunæ by the best warranted conjectures.

The nucleus of the Old Law was the Pentateuch, or five books of Moses. Around this centre of development were aggregated all the sacred writings of the Jews. It was the תּוֹרָה, the Law, par excellence, the divine book. The subsequent books, even though by them considered divine, were never held equal in dignity to the Law by the hand of Moses. They were but adjuncts, participating in the great fount. As less reverence was entertained for these later works, so less care was taken in their preservation.

The Pentateuch was kept in the temple; it was the warrant of Israels preeminence over all the nations of the earth. It needed no authority to canonize it; the character of its author, and the nature of its contents were all sufficient. No other book in Israel was equal to it.

The other books came into being by degrees. Most of them were first written as detached chronicles, annals, or diaries and subsequently compiled into their respective volumes. The Jews revered them, and acknowledged their divinity, but there was not, at least before Ezras time, any central authority charged with the office of fixing the canon. Neither was there, before his time, any official list of the books of Holy Scripture. This is clearly proven by many proofs. The Samaritan Codex contains only the Pentateuch. Had the other books been placed in a canon with the Pentateuch, the existence here of the isolated Pentateuch would be inexplicable. Cornely, in his Introductio in Libros Veteris Testamenti, maintains that, even before the time of Ezra, there existed a collection of sacred books, conjoined to the books of Moses. His argument to prove this is that there is evidence that the subsequent books were known and revered by the Jews, and that the preceding prophets influenced the later ones. Loisy, in refuting this, rightly says that it is quite another thing to assert that an official collection had been constituted, and to say that divers books existed, were known, and were revered. We hold that these books as they came into being were received by the Jews, but that no list was made of them, and the sole motive of their inspired character was the nature of the writing, and the authority of their authors. There is no convincing data that the prophets were commissioned by God to determine the canon of Scripture. There seems to be sufficient evidence to conclude that, previous to the time of Ezra, the five books of Moses occupied a unique place in the literature of the Jews. It was the written constitution of Israels Yahvistic polity. At times of great defection in religion, even the Thorah fell into disuse and oblivion. Thus the passage in 2 Kings, 22:8: And Hilkiah the high priest said to Shaphan the scribe: I have found the book of the Law in the house of the Lord; and Hilkiah gave the book to Shaphan, and he read it, implies a pre-existing period of neglect and disuse of the Thorah. In those fierce idolatrous upheavals in Israel, a stiff necked people, led by an impious king, soon reduced all to religious anarchy. In the restoration of the divine worship by Josiah, no mention is made of any other book than the Law. Had the other books formed a collection with the Pentateuch, they could hardly be passed over in such complete silence.

The Pentateuch then from the beginning was always the basis and directing principle of the religious and national life of the Jewish people. It suffered some vicissitudes in the various religious defections of that people, but on their return to Yahvehs Law, the Pentateuch was the centre of their reorganization.

The other books came into being by gradual growth. Most of these contained data that by living tradition was well known to the people. The books formed a scattered sacred literature. The writings of the Prophets gradually were collected by their disciples and by the learned in Israel. Thus copies of the books subsequent to the Pentateuch existed in many places through the nation but they were not united with the Thorah, nor considered of equal dignity with it.

We come now to deal with Ezra and his influence on Scripture, The Babylonian Captivity, wrought by Nebuchadnezzar, had overthrown all the institutions of Israel. The temple was destroyed; the priests dispersed and led into captivity; the Holy Books in a state of disorder, and Yahvehs altars demolished. To bring Israel out of her religious disorder, Ezra was sent with full power from Artaxerxes. His fitness for his commission may be inferred from 1 Ezr. 7:6: —and he was a ready scribe in the Law of Moses. Of Ezras work as the restorer of Yahvehs worship and the reorganizer of Israels polity, we have certain data. Concerning, however, the nature and extent of his labors on the divine books, we can only form, at most, probable judgments, and, full oft, but conjectural opinions.

Up to our days, the belief has been almost general that Ezra revised the sacred books, and fixed the Canon. That he wrought some important effects on the sacred books, we may not reasonably doubt. But to determine the exact nature and extent of his influence is impossible, through defect of documents. In all questions of this nature, the judgments of men will be divergent. And so in this question men have thought differently. The preponderance of Catholic thought has been that Ezra compiled and fixed the Canon. Prominent among those who have held this opinion are Serarius, Bellarmine, Bonfrere, Huet, Frassen; and more recently Welte, Herbst, Glaire, Scholz, Himpel, Ubaldi and Cornely. The most eminent Catholic writers who reject, in whole or part, the old theory of the constitution of the Canon by Ezra are, Richard Simon, Movers, Nickes, Malou, Danko, Kaulen and Loisy.

As rationalistic principles have thoroughly pervaded protestant Scriptural thought it will not aid our investigation to bring forth and classify the protestant opinion concerning the influence of Ezra on the Jewish Canon.

The Talmud furnishes us some curious data on the Canon. The treatise of the Mischna, called פִּרְקיֵ אָבוֹת, (the Chapters of the Fathers) opens with a testimony concerning Holy Scripture: Moses received the Law on Sinai and delivered it to Jehoshua. Jehoshua delivered it to the Elders. The Elders delivered it to the Prophets. The Prophets delivered it to the men of the Great Synagogue. The Talmudic treatise בָּבָא כַּתְראָ, (The Last Gate) of the Babylonic Gemara is more explicit. In folios 14 b and 15 a, it is written: Who wrote the Holy Books? Moses wrote his book, the section concerning Bileam and Job. Jehoshua wrote his book and eight verses in the Law. Samuel wrote his book, the book of Judges and Ruth. David wrote the Book of Psalms by means of ten Ancients, Adam the first, Melchisedech, Abraham, Moses, Heman, Iduthun, Asaph and the three sons of Kore. Jeremiah wrote his books the Book of Kings and the Lamentations. Hezekiah and his colleagues wrote Isaiah, Proverbs, the Canticle of Canticles, and Ecclesiastes. The men of the Great Synagogue wrote Ezechiel, the twelve Prophets, Daniel, and the volume of Esther. Ezra wrote his book, and continued the genealogies of the Chronicles up to his time.

We now join with these testimonies that of the apocryphal fourth book of Ezra, 4 Ezra 14:22–26: For if I have found favor in thee, send in me the Holy Spirit, and I will write all that which was done in time since the beginning, the things that were written in thy law, that men might find the path; and that they who will live in the last days may live. And he made answer to me and said: Go and summon the people, and say to them that they shall not seek thee for forty days, and do thou prepare for thyself many writing tablets, and take with thee Sarea, Dabrea, Salemia, Echan and Asiel, those five, who are able to write quickly, and come hither, and I will enkindle in thy heart the light of intellect, which shall not be extinguished until thou shalt have finished the things thou shalt have begun to write. And then, a part thou shalt openly manifest to the perfect, and a part thou shalt deliver secretly to the wise; on the morrow, at this hour, thou shalt begin to write.

And I was brought to the morrow; and, behold, a voice called me saying: Ezra, open thy mouth and drink that which I will give thee to drink. And I opened my mouth, and behold a full cup was held out to me. This was filled with water, and the color thereof as of fire, and I took and drank; and when I had drunk, my heart was exceedingly filled with knowledge, and in my bosom wisdom grew. For the memory of my spirit was strengthened. And my mouth was opened, and was no more closed. The Most High gave understanding to the five men, and they wrote the visions of the night which were told them, and which they knew not. And at night they ate bread. But I spoke through the day, and through the night I was not silent. And there were written, during forty days, 204 books. And it came to pass, after forty days, the Most High spoke saying: The first things thou hast written make openly manifest, and let the worthy and the unworthy read; but the latter seventy preserve, that thou mayest give them to the wise men of thy people. For in these is the vein of understanding, and the fount of wisdom, and the stream of knowledge. And I did so. (Ibid. 38–47.)

Up to the eighteenth century, the Latin of the Vulgate was the only text preserved to us of IV. Ezra. Since then there have been discovered the Arabic, Æthiopian, Syriac, and Armenian versions. In these the whole number of books is placed at ninety-four instead of 204; whence, if we subtract the seventy which were to remain hidden for the sole use of the wise men, we shall have the traditional number twenty-four of the Jewish Canon.

Cornely makes much of this testimony as being built upon the true basis of Jewish tradition. We confess, though admitting some basis of truth, we can not find anything in it that would convince the intellect that Ezra fixed the Canon. The role of Ezra as a second promulgator of the Law would be sufficient basis for the rabbinical fable.

We have not adduced these testimonies as peremptory proofs of anything. They are all more or less imbued with rabbinic fable. But perhaps, there may be some slight truth in these which has been distorted by the vagaries of the Rabbis, till it is hard to glean it from the composite mass.

We believe that the tradition of the Christian Fathers will give us small help in this investigation. As it was merely a critical question, and in nowise connected with faith, the authority of the Fathers could only be considered in its critical character. Now it is evident to the tyro of patrology that the Fathers are least valuable as critics. As simple witnesses of the faith, they are beacon lights; but when we turn to their critical character, we find little of value. Most of those who have delivered to us that Ezra fixed the canon, based their assertions on the Fourth Book of Ezra, a book filled with rabbinic fable, impossible superstition, and erroneous dogma. St. Irenæus, St. Clement of Alexandria, Tertullian, St. Basil, Theodoret, St. Optatus, and others have relied implicitly on the testimony of the Fourth Book of Ezra. Some, as St. Chrysostom, St. Isidore of Seville, St. Bede, have tried to make the passage of the Fourth Book of Ezra credible by restricting the character of Ezra within somewhat narrower bounds. (See Loisy, Hist. du Canon de lAncient Testament.)

Having brought forth these preliminary testimonies, we now proceed to more closely examine the question of Ezras influence on the Scripture. Ezra restored the Yahvistic worship, and promulgated the Law. This rests on the clear testimony of an inspired book. The 8th and 9th Chapters of the II. Book of Ezra firmly establish the character of Ezra as reorganizer of Israel and promulgator of the Law; but when we would extend his influence on the Scripture further than this, we are unsustained by certain data. In view of these facts, it is well to first set forth what Ezra did not do, and, secondly, proceed to establish the most reasonable probable judgments concerning what he did. We place, therefore, as a thesis, that there are no adequate data to establish that Ezra promulgated an official list of the holy books of the Jews; but, on the contrary, probable data seem to warrant that no such official list was ever promulgated among the Jews by any authority.

To prove this thesis, we find one convincing proof in the fact that there is not a testimony in the patrimony of Scriptural science which asserts any such fact. Men, it is true, have asserted such fact; but they lacked one requisite element of a faithful witness, knowledge of the fact. The Fathers followed the pseudo Ezra; hence their authority is no greater than his, which is nothing. The Babba Bathra of the Talmud, quoted above, speaks of the Scripture as though reduced to definite list, but its authority, even though believed implicitly, would prove nothing for the supposed character of Ezra. The Baba Bathra does not antedate the second century of the Christian era, and, at that time, the list of the Jewish Canon was complete, not by definite authority, but by the common consent of the Jewish people and its teachers. The Baba Bathra does not attribute the fixing of the Canon to Ezra, and no other document worthy of faith does so. We think that a fact of such importance would not be passed over in silence, while so many others of much less importance are detailed to us in the books of Ezra, Nehemiah, and the Maccabees.

The Talmud records many disputes concerning the canonicity of some of the books of the Old Testament. Behold an example: Rabbi Juda has said that the Canticle of Canticles defiles the hands; but Ecclesiastes is contested. Rabbi Joseph said: Ecclesiastes does not defile the hands. Rabbi Simon said: The disciples of Schammai judged more unfavorably of Ecclesiastes than the disciples of Hillel. Rabbi Simeon, son of Azai, said: I have learned from every one of the mouths of the seventy ancients that this question was settled when Rabbi Eleazar, son of Azarias, was installed in office. Rabbi Akiba said: May it please God, no Israelite has ever doubted that the Canticle of Canticles defiles the hands. The world has nothing more precious than the day on which the Canticle of Canticles was given to Israel. All the Hagiographa are holy, but the Canticle of Canticles is most holy. If discussion has existed, it was concerning Ecclesiastes. Rabbi Jochanan, son of Joshua, son of the father-in-law of Rabbi Akiba, said: It was discussed and decided as has said the son of Azai. (Tr. Jadaim III. 5.) Again: The doctors wished to place in obscurity the Book of Ecclesiastes, for the reason that its discourses were contrary to the Law. Why did they not place it apart? Because it begins and ends with the words of the Law. (Tr. Sabbath 30.)

These contentions among the Talmudists give evidence of doubts concerning various books of Scripture. If the Canon had been made out and promulgated by Ezra, would not his authority have been cited here to decide concerning these books? If, as our opponents assert, the fixing of the Canon by Ezra rests on Talmudic tradition, we ought certainly to hear some word of him in these disputes. On the contrary, he is only mentioned as the author of his book and the continuator of Chronicles.

The Book of Ecclesiasticus, written very probably about the year 180, B. C., in Chapters 44 to 49 speaks of Israels heroes and sages, and, although it exhorts that Nehemiah be a long time remembered, it has no word of Ezra. This would seem incomprehensible had Ezra collected and authoritatively promulgated the Canon. Moreover, Daniel and Esther are not mentioned among the illustrious ones of Israel, and there seems to be no other credible reason than that these books had not, at that date, entered the Jewish Canon, and, consequently, were unknown to the author of Ecclesiasticus.

The Jews of Palestine, in their second letter to their confreres of Alexandria, make offer to send them the books that Nehemiah and Judas had collected: And these same things were set down in the memoirs and commentaries of Nehemiah, and how he made a library, and gathered the writings concerning the kings, and the Prophets and the (writings) of David, τὰ τοῦ Δαυίδ, and the letters of the kings treating of the oblations. And in like manner Judas also gathered together all such things as were lost by the war we had, and they are in our possession. We see in this testimony a description of a collection of books of national importance to Israel, partly sacred and partly profane. It is quite probable that the sacred books therein included were the first and later Prophets, according to the Jewish mode of enumeration, and the Psalms of David. The other works were, doubtless, epistles of the Persian kings, of importance in the government of a country now a vassalage of Persia. It is plainly evident that Nehemiah did not collect the Canon of Scripture but a collection of important books sacred and profane, which, joined to the later collection of Judas Maccabæus, formed a sort of national library, to a participation of which the Jews of Palestine invited their brothers of Alexandria. This testimony also is a factor to refute the generally received opinion that Ezra closed the Canon. Most probably, he co-operated with Nehemiah in this enterprise; but the very fact of a collection of certain sacred books into the national library presupposes that no complete authentic list of the Scriptures was in possession of Israel. Had it been made subsequently, some trace of it would have been left in the records of the Jews. We believe, therefore, that the opinion which attributes to Ezra the collection and closing of the Canon to be devoid of historical basis and untenable.

We now pass to consider what influence Ezra did exert upon the Holy Books. The selection of him, a scribe able in the Law, implies that there was some reconstruction of Holy Scripture for him to do. We have before said that he promulgated the Law to the returned exiles. What revision he wrought on the Thorah, it is impossible to say, but we are ready to believe that he revised in some respects Israels great code. He also evidently explained this law to the people, and put into execution its enactments. This is Ezras distinguishing function in history. As reorganizer of Israels polity, we are ready to believe that he did collect and revise Israels sacred literature, and that many books came under his influence. How many, we can not say. We must here simply rely on conjecture. But, from the fact of the collection by Nehemiah, one may see that the reconstructive spirit of Nehemiah and Ezra tended to bring together Israels sacred deposit of writings. They did this without any ex professo declaration of promulgating a canon; and it is highly probable that not all the Holy Books of the first Canon were collected into a body of writings at their epoch. Gradually the sacred collection was made up, and, at the time of Christ, the Jews considered the list of Holy Books as complete and fixed. The nucleus of the collection was the Thorah. Around this centre, the Holy Books formed themselves into a recognized collection by the concurrence of various causes, and their warranty for entrance into the sacred collection was not any decree or order of canonization by any authority but the fact that their contents were comformable to the living traditions of the people, and reflected the things which a tenacious Eastern memory had learned from law and prophet.

Concerning Daniel the Abbé Glaire declares thus: It seems to me, admitting, as I also do, the perfect canonicity of Daniel, that the book being collected at Babylon, possibly after the death of its author, it was later brought to Jerusalem, and found place only at the end of the works already in the Canon. (Introduction I. 1868.)

Ezra may have revised many of the holy books; he may have collected all those attainable at that time; we are ready to admit his influence upon Scripture to have extended even to the correcting of the Pentateuch, but we deny him an official promulgation of an incomplete canon of Scripture, at the very time when other books of divine origin were in actual existence, although not in his possession. In the Talmudic testimonies adduced above, mention is made of a great synagogue, כְנֶםֶת הַגְּרוֹלָה, organized by Ezra. Much that is fabulous has been written concerning this great synagogue. Many reject it in toto as a rabbinic fable. Here again historical data are wanting. Besides the Talmudic authority already quoted, the Jews of the middle age, Abarbanel, Abraham ben David, and Maimonides recount that the Great Synagogue was composed of 120 members. Ezra was president, and the Prophets Haggai, Zachary and Malachi were among its members. It endured from the year 444, B.C., down to the time of Simon the Just, about the year 200 of the Christian era. The writings of the middle age are characterized by the same spirit of extravagant fable which robs the Talmud of all historic worth, hence we can not treat these assertions as historic data. At most, there may be in them a basic thread of true tradition, which is well nigh lost amid a web of fable. Even those who have credulously accepted the legend of Ezras Canon have rejected the story of the Great Synagogue. No convincing data are at hand to establish the existence of such a body organized by Ezra, and yet such an organization, though not of such proportions as the Rabbis assert, may have been created by him. That a body of men called the Synedrion or Sanhedrim existed at the opening of the Christian era is not doubted. It is quite certain that Christ referred to this body in Math. 5:22: But I say to you, that whosoever is angry with his brother, shall be in danger of the judgment, and whosoever shall say to his brother, רָקָא, (cerebro vacuus), shall be in danger of the council. It is impossible to fix the date of origin of this assembly. Many Jews refer it back to the origin of their polity under Moses. Of course this is a vagary. Christian writers diverge widely in their opinions concerning it. Nothing certain is available. Without admitting the fables of the Rabbis, might it not be the evolution of a legislative body organized by Ezra to aid in administering the civil and religious affairs of re-organized Israel? The question, like many others of a like nature, only admits of a conjectural answer.

It is certain that the Providence of God entered as chief factor in preserving the Holy Books through so many vicissitudes. He, as ever, did this suaviter et fortiter. As he was back of the collection, they were safe, and there is no need of bringing the unsubstantial legend of Ezras Canon to protect a collection of books which the Providence of God protected in his own way. But in the accessions to the central nucleus of the Jewish Canon, after the fourth century, a distinction was made, whence has sprung a leading question in the history of the Canon. Malachi closes the series of the Hebrew prophets. Nothing certain is known of the identity of this prophet. Some have believed the Hebrew name מַלְאָכִי (angelus meus) to be an appellative of Ezra, or of another Jew of that period, designating the particular function of the last of the Prophets. Cornely sustains by probable arguments, that Malachi is the proper name of an individual. The Jews recognized in him the last of the Prophets, and termed him הַנְבִאִים חוֹתָם (sigillum Prophetarum). Whatever view we adopt, Malachis period must have been about four hundred years B.C. The accessions to the Palestinian Canon subsequent to Malachi were accorded a secondary rank. They were by no means considered as mere profane creations, but from the fact that the series of the Prophets was closed, the effusion of the Holy Ghost was not believed to be so directly reflected in these books as in the others. This secondary influence of the Holy Ghost they denominated the כַּת קוֹל (filia vocis). We find in no place an explicit enumeration of the several books whose writers were supposed to be actuated by the bath kol, but all indications seem to evince that they were the deuterocanonical works of the Old Testament.

From the first, these books existed in the Alexandrian Canon, which was totally derived from the sacred books of the Jews of Palestine, and the celebrated testimony of Flavius Josephus, now to be adduced, clearly asserts the existence and preservation of certain semi-divine books, which had been collected after the close of prophecy in the reign of Artaxerxes. Now these books can be naught else than the deuterocanonical books of the Old Testament. The testimony of Josephus exists in his Defense Against Apion, Bk. I., Parag. 8: For we have not an innumerable multitude of books disagreeing from and contradicting one another, as the Greeks have, but only twenty-two books, which contain the records of all the past times, which are justly believed to be divine. And of them, five belong to Moses, which contain his laws and the traditions of the origin of mankind till his death. This interval of time embraces nearly three thousand years. From the death of Moses to the reign of Artaxerxes, who reigned after Xerxes, the Prophets who were after Moses wrote down what was done in their times in thirteen books. The remaining four books contain hymns to God and precepts for the conduct of human life. It is true, our history hath been writtten since Artaxerxes very particularly, but hath not been esteemed of the like authority with the former by our forefathers, because there hath not been an exact succession of Prophets since that time: and how firmly we have given credit to these books of our own nation, is evident by what we do; for during so many ages as have already passed, no one hath been so bold as either to add anything to them, or take anything from them, or make any change in them; but it is become natural to all Jews, immediately and from their very birth, to esteem these books to contain divine doctrines, and to persist in them and, if occasion be, willingly to die for them.

Although some of the deuterocanonical books contain history that must have antedated Artaxerxes, nevertheless, as the date of their accession to the Hebrew Canon was subsequent to Artaxerxes, Josephus confounds the date of their accession with the date of their origin. These books, then, existed in the Palestinian collection as secondarily divine books. The Talmuds of Jerusalem and Babylon contain quotations from Ecclesiasticus. Josephus, who was an apt expounder of Pharisaic traditions, makes use of the deuterocanonical fragments of Esther and the second book of Maccabees.

Eusebius (Eccl. Hist. VI. 25) gives us the Canon of Scriptures according to Origen. After enumerating the protocanonical works, he says: There are also the Maccabees which are inscribed Sarbeth Sarbaneel. St. Hilary in Prol. in Psalter. testifies that Tobias was read among the Hagiographa of the Jews. St. Epiphanius, Haer. VIII. No. 6, testifies that Wisdom and Ecclesiasticus were in honor among the Jews, and distinguished from the apocryphal works. St. Isidore says of Wisdom: As a certain one of those who know has recorded, the Hebrews received this work (Wisdom) among the Canonical Scriptures. But after they had seized and killed the Christ, remembering the most evident testimonies concerning Christ in that same book, in which it is written: The impious said among themselves, let us seize the just, etc., taking counsel, lest we might lay upon them such an evident sacrilege, they cut it off from the prophetic volumes, and prohibited its reading to their people. The Apostolical Constitutions testify that Baruch was read in the Jewish synagogues. St. Jerome testifies in his preface to the book of Judith that among the Hebrews Judith is read among the Hagiographa. Its authority, he continues, is considered less apt to decide things about which there is dispute. It is written in Chaldaic, and reckoned among the historical books. We think it to be a position admitting of no reasonable doubt that the deuterocanonical works of the Old Testament primarily existed in the collection of the Jews of Palestine. The narrow, nugatory, reactionary spirit of the latter day Jews, exemplified in the Pharisees, denied to these books canonicity, as we understand the term; but we can find no evidence that they denied them a divine origin. They are not found in the Hebrew collection of books to-day, but this can be readily explained. The same spirit which moved the Jews of Palestine to deny these books equal rank with the others, impelled them later to entirely exclude them. It would be hard to fix the date of this exclusion. It is probable that they gradually died out of the different codices, till, at last, all trace of them disappeared in the Palestinian Canon.








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