I try to sort through the journal section of the library about once a quarter in order to keep up with steady flow of articles in my areas of interest. Last week I made my regular visit and I warmed up the photocopier and came home with a load of good articles. So, I thought I’d blog about some of these over the next few days.
First up: Karel van der Toorn, “From Catalogue to Canon? An Assessment of the Library Hypothesis as a Contribution to the Debate about the Biblical Canon,” in Bibliotheca Orientalis 63.1-2 (Jan-Apr 2006): 5-15.
In this article van der Toorn surveys some of the popular theories that attempt to explain the mechanism behind the canonization of the Hebrew Bible. He provides a corrective remark that on one hand should be obvious, but is often overlooked:
It is important to acknowledge that the canon is originally a list and not a volume. We think of the Bible as a book but the physical shape of a book goes back to the codex, and the earliest codex of the Hebrew Bible that we have is the Aleppo codex from the 9th century C.E. Earlier evidence of the Bible in the form of a codex concerns the Greek version only. The Hebrew Bible was a list before it was a book (6).
Van der Toorn then critiques the common “three-stage theory” which outlines subsequent stages to the canonization process: first the Torah, then the Prophets, and then the Writings. The typical view is that the process was brought to a close around 100 C.E. by a Rabbinical meeting in Jamnia, however, most scholars conclude that there never was a Council of Jamnia. Therefore, others put forward a “library hypothesis” inspired by Jerome’s statement that the Bible is a “sacred library” (sacra bibliotheca in Epistula 5 and bibliotheca divina in De viribus illustribus 75).
Exactly which library are we talking about though? Usually, scholars put forward the library housed within the Second Temple. However, it is doubtful whether the books in the canon of the Hebrew Bible are an exhaustive list of the Second Temple library. While this library was probably relatively small, likely it contained more works than are included in the Bible as did the collection at Qumran.
So, how did the list of books get pared down from the entire universe of the Second Temple collection to the canon that we now have? Van der Toorn hypothesizes that the precursor to the canon was a catalog. There are many lists or catalogues of texts throughout the ancient Near East. Some lists comprised educational curricula, recent library aquisitions (from Assurbanipal’s library), texts grouped by genre, and inventory lists.
However, van der Toorn thinks that the list that was the precursor to the canon of the Hebrew Bible resembled the pinakes within the Hellenistic world that provided lists of works selected as the best representatives of literary genres and writers. He extends this to Hebrew Bible thusly:
The canon resembles the pinakes in that it can be viewed as a list of works ideally present in every synagogue library. If the library hypothesis fails to account for the formation of the Hebrew canon, then, the selective catalogues for a model library may illuminate the way in which the canon functioned in the centuries before the printing press (15).
What do you think about van der Toorn’s proposal?