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Month 12:17, Week 3:2 (Shanee/Matzah), Year:Day 5937:342 AM
Gregorian Calendar: Monday 17 March 2014
Origin of the Canon
1. The Tanakh (Old Testament)


    This has been a difficult article to write. First, because the subject matter is critical when it comes to the Emunah (Faith); second, because it has required taking risks - daring to step into areas usually regarded as taboo that have caused me more than once to rapidly step back in fear much as one might withdraw ones hand after immersing in water a tad too hot for comfort. There is the sense of treading on the sacred and not being humble enough. Accordingly, it has taken me a long time to complete this work. I have had to step back and leave it several times, to return later having cleared my mind for another attempt. Because of my deep reverence for Scripture and what it means to mankind, I have chosen to give the benefit of the doubt to Scripture rather than to my own understanding of history.

    Paragraphs have been numbered for quick referencing purposes


    1. A great mystique surrounds the Bible Canon. We open our Bible at its page of contents to find the page number of a book we cannot easily locate (you know, ones like Philemon or Nahum), we don't usually pause to wonder why there are those particular 66 books (if you have a Protestant Bible) or 73 (if you have a Catholic Bible with its Apocryphal additions). And if you opened an Eastern Orthodox Bible you might be bewildered to find even more, including some you have never heard of like the Paralipomena of Jeremiah, Jubilees, Enoch, the three books of Meqabyan, 1 and 2 Clement, and many others. Which of these three Canons (or the many others that may be found) is the correct compilation of the Inspired Davar Elohim (Word of God)? How can we know what is and isn't inspired?

    Where Did the Canon Come From?

    2. This fundamentally important question is rarely asked by believers. The printed Bibles that are placed in our hands we usually assume to be the 'Word of God'. Many don't even know that the Bible isn't one book but many books (or scrolls), and that the Greek word Biblos, from which we get the English word 'Bible' means 'books'. Indeed, most Christians and Messianics have little or no inkling as to where their Canon came from, or how. Ask many what they think of the Canon and they'll probably think you're talking about some weapon used defending mediaeval castles or wooden sailing vessels or 'men-o'-war'. So we had better start with the word 'Canon' and find out a little more about it.

    The meaning of the Word 'Canon'?

    3. It's actually a Greek word, kann, but is of semitic origin. You'll find it in your Tanakh (Old Testament) as the Hebrew qneh:

      "He took me there, and behold, there was a man whose appearance was like the appearance of bronze. He had a line of flax and a measuring rod (qneh = canon) in his hand, and he stood in the gateway..." (Ezek.40:3, NKJV).

    Canon as a Rule of Action, Doctrine or List

    4. A qneh or 'canon' is a measuring-instrument which later came to be used in the metaphorical sense of a RULE OF ACTION. It was used early on to denote a formulated creed (like the Apostles' Creed) or to the Messianic Community's (Church's) DOCTRINE in general. It was used to denote ecclesiastical regulations of a varied nature (like our own Constitution), but could also be used in the general sense to refer to a 'list' or a 'series'. So a 'shopping list' might conceivably have been called a 'shopping canon' too.

    The Bible as Canon

    5. But it is not until the 4th century AD that it is applied to the Bible. In the Greek-speaking world it would have referred to a list of Scriptures (such as the Bible Contents Page I mentioned earlier) but later in Latin it came to also refer to the Scriptures as a whole too where it indicated that the Scripture is the rule of action vested with divine authority. So when we use the term 'Canon of the Bible' what we mean is that the Bible is a closed collection of writings inspired by the Ruach Elohim (Spirit of God) with normative authority that constitutes our rule for our faith and life.

    The Bible Itself Knows of No 'Canon'

    6. It is not generally known by believers that the Bible (whichever collection of books or Canon - Protestant, Catholic or Orthodox - you use) nowhere speaks of itself as a single entity or an 'authentic collection' at any time of its development, not even the oft quoted passage at the end of the Book of Revelation (or Apocalypse in Catholic Bibles) frequently referred by Protestants as evidence of a complete, closed collection of divine scriptures:

      "For I testify to everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this book (scroll) (Book/Scroll of Revelation): If anyone adds to these things, Elohim (God) will add to him the plagues that are written in this book (scroll); and if anyone takes away from the words of the book (scroll) of this prophecy, Elohim (God) shall take away his part from the Book/Scroll of Life, from the holy city, and from the things which are written in this book (scroll)" (Rev.22:18-19, NKJV).

    The 'Scriptures' are Always the Tanakh

    7. Useful though the Protestant dogma of Sola Scriptura ('Scripture Alone') has been in combatting heresy over the centuries it isn't strictly-speaking 'Scriptural' and the "book" or scroll mentioned in the Book of Revelation isn't either the Protestant New Testament or Bible as whole which didn't exist for another two centuries until John wrote these words. Indeed, not only was the Book of Revelation not chronologically the last book of the Messianic Scriptures (New Testament) as we now call them (the three epistles of John were written afterwards) but all 52 references to the "scripture" or "the scriptures" in that collection we now use always referred to the Tanakh (Old Testament) without exception because that's all the Scripture there was then.

    The Protestant Bible Canon

    Which (if Any) Canon is the Correct One?

    8. What, then, was the 'canon' of this collection of Tanakh (Old Testament) books referred to by the writers of the Messianic Scriptures (New Testament) and how did it come to be? How can we know whether these "Scriptures" were those to be found in the Protestant, Catholic or Orthodox canons? And how can we know which (if any) of the Messianic Scriptures (New Testament) 'canons' used by these three branches of Christianity is the correct one? In this study we shall confine ourselves to the Tanakh (Old Testament).

    'Scripture' in the Tanakh

    9. Bear carefully in mind that the idea of a 'Canon' is a 4th century AD idea and that if you had asked an Israelite before the time of Messiah or the Apostles what the 'canon' was he probably would not have known what you were talking about. Indeed, the word 'Scripture' (kathav) is only used once in the Tanakh (Old Testament) and refers only to two parts of our present Tanakh (Old Testament), the Torah (Law) and Nevi'im (Prophets):

      "But I will tell you what is noted in the Scripture (kathav) of Emet (Truth)" (Dan.10:21, NKJV).

    'The Book of the Torah' and Other Tanakh 'Books'

    10. There is a "book" (scroll) that is mentioned in the Tanakh (Old Testament) but it is not the "Scriptures" that we use to refer to either the Tanakh (Old Testament) or to the Bible as a whole. It either referred to what scholars call the 'Pentateuch' - the Five Books of Moses (Genesis to Deuteronomy), that is, the "book (scroll) of the Torah (Law, Teaching)" (e.g. Dt.29:21) or to other separate books, some of which are in the Tanakh (Old Testament), like the "the book of the chronicles of the kings of Israel" (1 Kings 14:19, NKJV) which we have since divided into two books (1 & 2 Chronicles), and some of which are lost, like "the book of the acts of Solomon" (1 Kings 11:41, NKJV). Others, like "the Book of Jasher" (2 Sam.1:18, NKJV), turn out not to be a missing book, or the fraudelent once circulated (and sometimes unwisely canonised) by some messianic groups (actually a Pharisee pseudepigraph), but is in actual fact the Pentateuch or Torah itself - see The Book of Jasher: and the Sabbath Controversy for a detailed study.

    The Illusive 'Council of Jamnia' Part 1

    11. Now we know nothing of what Scriptures existed before the Flood so that is beyond the scope of this study. Tradition has it that a Council of Jewish Elders assembled in the 1st century AD at Jamnia (~70-90, about the time the last New Testament books, the Johannine Epistles, were being written) to decide what was, and what was not, authentic Scripture. This is sometimes referred to as the 'Council of Jamnia'. What is little known is that this 'council' was invented by Heinrich Graetz in 1871 as a theory to 'explain' the origin of the Tanakh (Old Testament) canon. All we have is the witness of the Talmud which claims that some time before the destruction of the Second Temple in 70 AD, Rabbi Yohanan ben Zakkai relocated to the city of Jamnia (Yavne) where he received permission from the Romans to found a school of Halakha or Jewish law. Jamnia was also the town where the Sanhedrin relocated after the destruction of the Temple. Zakkai's school became a major source for the later Mishna, which records the work of the Tannaim, and a wellspring of Rabbinic Judaism [1].

    The Mishnaic Debate Over the Status of Two Tanakh Books

    12. About all we know for sure is that there was a debate, recorded in the Mishnah, over the divine status of two of the Kethuvim or 'Writings'. These were Chronicles (now two books) and the Song of Solomon. Also, the Megillat Ta'anit, in a discussion of days when fasting is prohibited but that are not noted in the Bible, mentions the holiday of Purim - see The Babylonian Carnival: Origins of the Purim Festival in which I demonstrate that the Book of Esther was not regarded as Scripture around the time the alleged 'Council of Jamnia' convened but was a later pseudepigraphical work of the Pharisees like the fraudulent Book of Jasher.

    'Defiling the Hands'

    13. Albert C. Sundberg Jr. summarises the important conclusions of Jack P. Lewis as follows:

      "Jewish sources contain echoes of debate about biblical books but canonicity was not the issue and debate was not connected with Jabneh (Jamnia)... Moreover, specific canonical discussion at Jabneh is attested only for Chronicles and Song of Songs. Both circulated prior to Jabneh. There was vigorous debate between Beth Shammai and Beth Hillel over Chronicles and Song; Beth Hillel affirmed that both 'defile the hands.' One text does speak of official action at Jabneh. It gives a blanket statement that 'all Holy Scripture defile the hands,' and adds 'on the day they made R. Eleazar b. Azariah head of the college, the Song of Songs and Koheleth (Ecclesiastes) both render the hands unclean' (M. Yadayim 3.5). Of the apocryphal books, only Ben Sira (Wisdom of Solomon) is mentioned by name in rabbinic sources and it continued to be circulated, copied and cited. No book is ever mentioned in the sources as being excluded from the canon at Jabneh." [2]

    The Council of Jamnia Hypothesis Doubtful

    14. Lewis himself concluded:

      "The concept of the Council of Jamnia is an hypothesis to explain the canonization of the Writings (the third division of the Hebrew Bible) resulting in the closing of the Hebrew canon. ... These ongoing debates suggest the paucity of evidence on which the hypothesis of the Council of Jamnia rests and raise the question whether it has not served its usefulness and should be relegated to the limbo of unestablished hypotheses. It should not be allowed to be considered a consensus established by mere repetition of assertion." [3]

    Evidence of an Early Canon

    15. Accordingly we are not going to get anywhere near understanding what a Tanakh (Old Testament) 'Canon' is by referring to the 'Council of Jamnia'. All we can be certain of, from the discussions of the Rabbis, is that there was one and that two or three of the Tanakh (Old Testament) books were questioned but were apparently retained [4]. In trying to understand how the Tanakh (Old Testament) 'came about' we face a challenging, though not impossible, task provided we do not think like Westerners.

    Basic Assumptions

    16. So how do we know that the minimalist Protestant Canon of the Tanakh (Old Testament) is Divinely Inspired Scripture? Were we to leave the decision to individual believers we would end up with a potentially infinite number of canons based on the existentialist preferences of each believer. In the same way as Protestant denominations are forming at the alarming rate of several hundred new ones a year based on the whims of individuals, so potentially we could end up with as many canons. Common sense alone tells us that if there is such a thing as Inspiration (which those of us who have met the living Elohim (God) know is real), then ipso facto there must be records of inspired encounters with Him. Common sense also tells you that Elohim (God) would want authentic, reliable error-free accounts of such encounters to make sure that He may be found and met as He really is.

    Multiple Witnesses, the Test of Time and Divine Providence

    17. We therefore are forced to work on the assumption that not only are there inspired and error-free records of man's encounters with Yahweh (along with the inevitablely more numerous uninspired and error-riddled accounts claiming to be Scripture which are not) but that the Ruach haQodesh (Holy Spirit) would work through such authentically inspired people who, in large numbers and over the course of time, would not only be able to existentially authenticate these records but be willing to submit their lives to their claimed divine authority. This historical process is what we call Yahweh's Divine Providence, meaning that Elohim (God) has ensured that enough witnesses over time would be in agreement as to these Writings' divine status. And as far as the final imprimatur (official seal) on the Tanakh (Old Testament) is concerned, we have the most important testimony of all: the testimony of Yah'shua the Messiah (Jesus Christ) who, as Son of Elohim (God), affirmed that the Tanakh (Old Testament) writings in use in His day were the very Devarim (Words) of His Father. From that perspective, all we need to know, then, is what the canon existed in His day.

    The Ultimate Testimony

    18. In other words, the only way you can know if the Tanakh (Old Testament) is ultimately authentic is by accepting the witness of Messiah. And the only way you can know the Messiah is authentic is by meeting Him personally. Though this is not an infallible method (because of the human capacity to fantasise and make things up), it is adequate. Ultimately, aside from your own personal experience, you have to take as sound the word of other people who have had similar (or greater) experiences to yourself.

    Not Ready-Made in Heaven

    19. This might appear, at first sight, to be both an awfully subjective approach to Scripture as well as a highly risky one. I agree. It is because the human heart is very deceptive and man's wisdom and understanding is notoriously lacking that we have to tread carefully. Though everyone of us would prefer to have Yahweh reach down and hand us a ready-made book of Scripture out of Heaven (as is falsely claimed of the Koran) which we can then be assured is word-for work the Divine Mind and Heart, Yahweh has not chosen to work this way...with one exception.

    The Uniqueness of the Ten Commandments

    20. He did personally write the Ten Mitzvot, Devarim, Words or Commandments with his own finger. So if you want some Scripture direct from Elohim's (God's) own Hand, you have it in the Ten Commandments:

      "He gave Moses two tablets of the Testimony, tablets of stone, written with the finger of Elohim (God)" (Ex.31:18, NKJV).

    The Groundrock of Canon

    21. Everything else that is of a theological, moral and ethical nature in Scripture is basically an expansion and extension of these Ten Devarim (Words). And a person who only uses the Ten Commandments in life will go far indeed, even if after a while He will crave for deeper explanations and meanings. Using the Ten Commandments as the basic template of Divine Revelation, and by following its Divine Tavnith or Pattern, it is possible, ultimately, to extrapolate pretty much everything else that is essential to the spiritual and practical life. It's the kernel or core of all Scripture and therefore may be said to be 'the groundrock of canon'. Next would follow the dictated "thus saith the Lord" words of Yahweh Himself to His nevi'im or prophets (and in the New Covenant, the 'red-letter' spoken words of His Son, Yah'shua/Jesus).

    Patterns and Relationships

    22. Clearly, though, we can go further in establishing Canon by means of scientific analysis of what is presented to us. There must be a recognisable divine tavnith (pattern) in them. The Divine Scriptures must, if I may borrow a Socratic concept, be copies of Divine Forms which exist in the Heavens - there must be a clear relationship between copy and original tavnith (pattern), as well as 'participation'...the relationship of the parts to the whole.

    Questioning the Human Element in Canonisation

    23. If Yahweh used men to bring the Canon into being, as common sense tells us He must have done (since the authors are mostly named), then we can utilise men by means of a process of 'reverse engineering'. If Yahweh used human actions and human reflections as part of the process of establishing a Canon, He can use the same in us to analyse what is offered as 'Canon' to detemine the historical process. We can ask questions like: what is known to us of these human acts and considerations? When was the Canon, or parts of it, acknowledged as canonical? How was the collection of the qodesh (holy, set-apart) writings effected? Who exercised an influence on the varied stages of its growth? Clearly the latter are of the utmost importance.

    The Bible as Self-Authenticating Autopistos

    24. It is my thesis, as far as the formation of the Tanakh (Old Testament) Canon is concerned, that the claims of three men stand out prominently whom we must examine carefully: Moses, Josiah and Ezra. From these three alone (though there are others playing a lesser rle) we will learn a tremendous amount about the early Tanakh (Old Testament) Canon as it developped, as well as from later historians like Josephus with a reliable track record for historical accuracy. At the back of our minds throughout this study must be the thought that in spite of the involvement of man in the canonisation process historically, whether it be the statements of ecclesiastics or other humans claiming any kind of authority, that the Bible derives its ultimate authority in the supernatural realm. For the Bible shows itself to be of such unique design, in spite of it being penned by multiple authors in different ages, that it may be said to be autopistos or self-authenticating. And by the inward testimony of the Ruach haQodesh (Holy Spirit), man has received, and may yet receive, an eye which enables him to catch this light of emet (truth).

    Josephus' Testimony of the Canon

    25. A famous passage in Josephus provides both a descriptive terminology and a definition of the nature of the Canon as it was understood in his time, 37-100 AD, i.e. the time of the first apostles (C.Ap. I.38-42) and directly after Yah'shua's (Jesus') resurrection and ascension. He underlines two important facts about the books (scrolls) of the Canon, namely, that:

    • 1. They are not unduly numerous; and
    • 2. They are not mutually contradictory but circumscribed and self-consistent.

    The Three Divisions of the Tanakh

    26. He describes the Tanakh of his day as consisting of a three-fold division containing:

    • 1. The Five Books of Moses (Pentateuch, Torah),
    • 2. The Thirteen Prophetic Books (Nevi'im or Prophets); and
    • 3. The Four other books containing Hymns to Elohim (God) and Moral precepts (Kethuvim or Writings).

    The Integrity of the Protestant Tanakh Confirmed...Minus Esther

    27. The Tanakh in Josephus' day therefore consisted of 22 books. We must reconcile these figures with the 39 books of the Protestant Old Testament. Part of this discrepancy is resolved by the fact that some of the original Hebrew books have since been divided into pairs (like Kings and Chronicles...or else Chronicles was not originally canonical) and we know from the Dead Sea Scrolls (DSS) that Ezra and Nehemiah were combined together as a single volume or scroll. Further, the Hebrews labelled their books somewhat differently than we do in the West and combined all the so-called 'Minor Prophets' into a single book:

    The Old Testament in the Apostles' Day + Two Imposters

    The Discrepancy Resolved

    28. This leaves a discrepancy of two books which in my opinion is resolved by either combining Kings and Chronicles together (or by omitting Chronicles altogether, since it was disputed [5]), or by eliminating the Song of Solomon (which was also disputed), and by eliminating the Book of Esther, the latter (as we have seen) not being present in the DSS collection. Knowing, therefore, how the Hebrews organised their Tanakh and knowing that the Book of Esther was a later addition, Josephus' arithmetic is seen to be correct. There were 22 books in the Hebrew Old Testament and not the 39 we have today, without 'loss' of any book except the spurious Book of Esther.

    Josephus Was Right

    29. What is important for us to note at this stage, though, is that Josephus indicates that there are chronological as well as arithmetic limits to the Sacred Collection. As my preliminary analysis shows, these seem to be in almost total accord with the Tanakh we have today. How the Pharisees got their Book of Esther inserted remains to be seen. Also, it is doubtful that there is any mystical significance to the apparent 'symmetry' of the Protestant Old Testament book divisions, such as has been claimed by the author (now turned atheist) of the Bible Wheel (see diagram below), bearing in mind the different way the ancient Hebrews organised their Tanakh with their 22 books.

    A Dubious Search for Pattern Based on Later Assumptions

    30. If there is any mystical significance at all, it is more likely that the 22 books of the Tanakh correspond to the 22 letters of the Hebrew alphabet. So we need to be cautious in looking for patterns based on later arrangements of the Bible books rather than the original. Accordingly we must be rigorous and consider Hebrew-roots rather than later Catholic-roots in making such examinations.

    Three Three Tiers of the Tanakh Canon

    31. The Hebrew Canon of the Tanakh (Old Testament) is essentially three canons-in-one and with a hierarchy of authority that is more-or-less chronological:

    32. This means that the Torah (Law) is Primary Tanakh Canon (taking precedence over all other parts), the Nevi'im are Secondary Tanakh Canon and the Kethuvim (Writings) are Tertiary Tanakh Canon. This means that in terms of overall authority the primary takes precedence over the secondary which takes precedence over the tertiary, the secondary and tertiary being, theologically-speaking, conceptual expansions and clarifications of the primary.


    The Earliest Canon: The Book of the Covenant

    33. As early as the Mosaic age, collections of laws were put into writing over a period of time. As appears in Exodus 24, Moses created "the Book of the Covenant" and the people acknowledged its divine toqef (authority):

      "So Moses came and told the people all the devarim (words) of Yahweh and all the mishpatim (judgments, right-rulings). And all the people answered with one voice and said, 'All the devarim (words) which Yahweh has said we will do.' And Moses wrote all the devarim (words) of Yahweh. And he rose early in the morning, and built an altar at the foot of the mountain, and twelve pillars according to the twelve tribes of Israel ... Then he took the Book (Scroll) of the Covenant and read in the hearing of the people. And they said, 'All that Yahweh has said we will do, and be obedient'" (Ex.24:3-4,7-8, NKJV)

    The First Canon Was Made by Moses

    34. The interneal evidence of the Pentateuch suggests both that it was not written all at the same time but that more than the hand of Moses is evident. Nevertheless, it is very clear that the position of Moses as lawgiver and as recorder of patriarchal tradition (no doubt received by him orally) not only makes his lifetime the origin of the first Scriptural Canon but that this sacred collection excluded those apocalyptic works which purport to be the work of pre-Mosaic figures like Enoch [6].

    The Torah is the Divine Rule of Faith and Life

    35. Deuteronomy 31:9-13 (as well as vv.24 ff.) informs us that Moses took down (recorded) "this Torah (Law)", namely, the essentials of Deuteronomy, and took measures to ensure that its divine authority would be acknowledged into the remote future. What's remarkable is that it is already foretold here that the people will frequently fail to acknowledge this authority. Many testimonies show that, in the course of history of Israel, the Torah or Mosaic Law was considered the divine rule for emunah (faith) and chayim (life) [7]. We do not know for certain when the Pentateuch was completed in full, but we can safely assume that from the beginning high authority was attached to it. It contained the laws which Yahweh had given to Israel by Moses, and, in addition, the record of the beginning of Israel's history, in other words, the dealings of Yahweh with His chosen people.

    Moses is the Old Covenant Canon's Terminus a Quo

    36. Moses, therefore, was the terminus a quo, the point at which the Tanakh Canon began, and as we shall see later, Ezra (as the 'Second Moses') was the terminus ad quem, the point at which the Tanakh Canon ended. Once we see this clearly from the internal evidence of the Tanakh (Old Testament), we will not be troubled by all the semi- or uninspired apocryphal and pseudepigraphical books of the rabbis and others, written so as to compete for a place amongst the Sacred Literature. Only the Book of Esther managed to slip past this 'Moses-Ezra Net' after the first century AD.

    The Ancient View of Scriptural Writings: Later Revelation Added

    37. I must now make two observations about what we have discussed so far so as to lend even great clarity to the subject matter:

    The Division of Land as Inheritance

    • 1. In former times, people did not deal with writings which we consider qodesh (holy, set-apart) in the same way that we do now. In many books we find smaller or greater portions which are to be regarded as later additions. One law could be replaced by another because altered circumstances made it necessary. Let me give an example:

        "Then Yahweh spoke to Moses, saying: 'To these the land shall be divided as an inheritance, according to the number of names. To a large tribe you shall give a larger inheritance, and to a small tribe you shall give a smaller inheritance. Each shall be given its inheritance according to those who were numbered of them. But the land shall be divided by lot; they shall inherit according to the names of the tribes of their fathers. According to the lot their inheritance shall be divided between the larger and the smaller'" (Num.26:52-56, NKJV).

      A Later Addition: the Daughters of Zelophehad (Addition #1)

      38. Compare this with the following:

        "Then came the daughters of Zelophehad the son of Hepher, the son of Gilead, the son of Machir, the son of Manasseh, from the families of Manasseh the son of Joseph; and these were the names of his daughters: Mahlah, Noah, Hoglah, Milcah, and Tirzah. And they stood before Moses, before Eleazar the cohen (priest), and before the leaders and all the congregation, by the doorway of the tabernacle of meeting, saying: 'Our father died in the wilderness; but he was not in the company of those who gathered together against Yahweh, in company with Korah, but he died in his own sin; and he had no sons. Why should the name of our father be removed from among his family because he had no son? Give us a possession among the brothers of our father.' So Moses brought their case before Yahweh. And Yahweh spoke to Moses, saying: 'The daughters of Zelophehad speak what is right; you shall surely give them a possession of inheritance among their father's brothers, and cause the inheritance of their father to pass to them. And you shall speak to the children of Israel, saying: 'If a man dies and has no son, then you shall cause his inheritance to pass to his daughter. If he has no daughter, then you shall give his inheritance to his brothers. If he has no brothers, then you shall give his inheritance to his father's brothers (his uncles). And if his father has no brothers, then you shall give his inheritance to the kinsman closest him in his family, and he shall possess it.'' And it shall be to the children of Israel a statute of judgment, just as Yahweh commanded Moses" (Num.27:1-11, NKJV).

      Another Later Addition: Jubilee Inheritance (Addition #2)

        "Now the chief fathers of the families of the children of Gilead the son of Machir, the son of Manasseh, of the families of the sons of Joseph, came near and spoke before Moses and before the leaders, the chief fathers of the children of Israel; and they said: 'Yahweh commanded my master Moses to give the land as an inheritance by lot to the children of Israel, and my master was commanded by Yahweh to give the inheritance of our brother Zelophehad to his daughters. Now if they are married to any of the sons of the other tribes of the children of Israel, then their inheritance will be taken from the inheritance of our fathers, and it will be added to the inheritance of the tribe into which they marry; so it will be taken from the lot of our inheritance. And when the Jubilee of the children of Israel comes, then their inheritance will be added to the inheritance of the tribe into which they marry; so their inheritance will be taken away from the inheritance of the tribe of our fathers.' Then Moses commanded the children of Israel according to the word of Yahweh, saying: 'What the tribe of the sons of Joseph speaks is right. This is what Yahweh commands concerning the daughters of Zelophehad, saying, 'Let them marry whom they think best, but they may marry only within the family of their father's tribe.' So the inheritance of the children of Israel shall not change hands from tribe to tribe, for every one of the children of Israel shall keep the inheritance of the tribe of his fathers. And every daughter who possesses an inheritance in any tribe of the children of Israel shall be the wife of one of the family of her father's tribe, so that the children of Israel each may possess the inheritance of his fathers. Thus no inheritance shall change hands from one tribe to another, but every tribe of the children of Israel shall keep its own inheritance.' Just as Yahweh commanded Moses, so did the daughters of Zelophehad; for Mahlah, Tirzah, Hoglah, Milcah, and Noah, the daughters of Zelophehad, were married to the sons of their father's brothers. They were married into the families of the children of Manasseh the son of Joseph, and their inheritance remained in the tribe of their father's family. These are the mitzvot (commandments) and the judgments which Yahweh commanded the children of Israel by the hand of Moses in the plains of Moab by the Jordan, across from Jericho" (Num.36, NKJV).

      The Torah Was Penned in Stages

      39. Clearly new revelation has been added in the process of time, showing that the Torah was not penned all at one time. You will find another example of what I call 'process revelation' in Numbers 15:22 ff. compared with Leviticus 4. Nevertheless it is fair to say that Israel was cautious in handling written texts containing Israel's history, or their laws. The additions and alterations will have been of limited extent and will have been made the people qualified by their office to do so, i.e. Moses in these examples. This was not a licence for someone else in the future to change scripture or anybody else contemporaneous with Moses (like Aaron) who clearly did not have the authority. This may not sit well with those convinced that the Torah was, and remains, a single document from the beginning delivered 'ready made', as it were, out of heaven. Revelation does not always work like this, as is clear from the examples given.

      Cautious Handling of Scripture

      40. From this we come to the following conclusion, namely, that Israel handled its qodesh (holy, set-apart) writings cautiously as it clear from the manner in which writers of the Tanakh (Old Testament) used their sources. They did not work with them as modern authors do, but copied the parts they needed as literally as possible.

      The Solemn Pledge to Scripture Obedience

    • 2. The Tanakh (Old Testament) tells us that on two occasions Israel solemnly pledged itself to obey the Book of the Torah (Law) which Elohim (God) had given by Moses, namely during the reign of Josiah [8] and during the lives of Ezra and Nehemiah [9]. These covenants are still effectual and binding on us as the continuation of Messianic Israel within the context of the B'rit Chadashah (New Covenant) with its fulfillment of parts of, and additions to, Torah.


    41. The second body of Tanakh (Old Testament) Canon is the Nevi'im or Prophets. For one theological school in Yah'shua's (Jesus') day (namely, the Sadducees) the Torah was the only Canon or Body of Scripture recognised as authoritative, which means that they in particular refused to recognise any more Canon than the Pentateuch. The modern Samaritans likewise have this view. This is itself evidence that an earlier Torah-only Canon existed at one time as part of the process of divine unfolding.

    Two Sub-Divisions of the Nevi'im

    42. The Nevi'im (Prophets) are divided into two parts:

    • A. The Former Prophets
        1. Joshua
        2. Judges
        3. Samuel
        4. Kings
    • B. The Latter Prophets
        1. Isaiah
        2. Jeremiah
        3. Ezekiel
        4. The 12 'Minor Prophets'
          i. Hosea
          ii. Joel
          iii. Amos
          iv. Obadiah
          v. Jonah
          vi. Micah
          ix. Zephaniah
          x. Haggai
          xi. Zechariah
          xii. Malachi

    The Former Nevi'im (Prophets)

    43. Three factors in particular will have contributed in the acknowledgement of Joshua, Judges, Samuel and Kings as Scriptural authorities:

    • 1. These books describe the dealings of Yahweh with His chosen people;
    • 2. They do so in the spirit of the Torah (Law) and the Nevi'im (Prophets); and
    • 3. The authors will have been official persons in a more or less strict sense.

    44. It is interesting to read in Joshua 24:26 that some later additions were made to "the book of the Covenant of Elohim (God)", which presumably is the "Book of the Torah (Law)" mentioned in Deuteronomy 31:24 ff..

    The Latter Nevi'im (Prophets)

    45. Because of their very nature, the writings of the of the 'Latter Nevi'im (Prophets) - Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel and the twelve 'Minor Nevi'im (Prophets)' - were considered authoritative from their earliest beginning by smaller or larger circles. That their predictions of disaster were fulfilled in the Exile will no doubt have contributed to the extension of their authority. From the fact that one navi (prophet) sometimes quotes another it is clear that they ascribed authority to their predecessors. Indeed, more than once a navi (prophet) rebukes Israel because they have not listened to his predecessors [10]. Isaiah 34:16 probably mentions the scroll on which the prophecies of Isaiah were noted down as "the Book of Yahweh". Daniel 9:2 speaks of "the books (scrolls)", by which is evidently meant a collection of prophetic writings, including, among others, prophecies of Jeremiah. It is obvious from the context that divine authority is attributed to these prophetic writings.

    46. Both the Former and Latter Nevi'im (Prophets) are therefore second tier Scriptural Canon, after the Pentateuch or Torah (Law), by all the criteria commonly accepted at that time.


    47. The third tier or part of the Hebrew Canon contains books of different character, and we don't have much of an idea how many of them became sacred scripture. They are traditionally divided into three sections:

    • A. The Poetic Books
        1. Tehilim (Psalms)
        2. Mishle (Proverbs)
        3. Iyob (Job)
    • B. The Megilloth (Five Rolls)
        1. Shir haShirim (Song of Songs / Canticles / Song of Solomon)*
        2. Ruth
        3. Ekah (Lamentations)
        4. Esther*
        5. Qoheleth (Ecclesiastes / The Preacher)
    • C. Historical Books
        1. Daniel
        2. Ezra-Nehemiah
        3. Chronicles*

    48. As mentioned earlier, three of these books (marked with a *) have been disputed as canonical material.

    A Questionmark over the Song of Songs and Book of Esther

    49. The Song of Songs, Canticles or the Song of Solomon is a case in question. Many Christians argue that it owes its place in the Canon because of the allegorical exegesis of the two lovers being Messiah and the Messianic Community (Church) often applied to it. But to so categorise this love poem is to start from a wrong conception of 'canonisation'. The Hebrews similarly viewed it as an allegory of the love between Yahweh and Israel. Like the Book of Esther, it makes no reference to the Torah (Law) or Covenant of Yahweh, to the Elohim (God) of Israel, nor does it teach or explore 'wisdom' like Proverbs or Ecclesiastes (although it does have some affinities to Wisdom literature, as the ascription to Solomon suggests) - rather, it celebrates sexual love. On the other hand, the debased and unspiritual nature of Esther, is absent from it. Like Esther, the evidence of vocabulary, morphology, idiom and syntax clearly points to a time after the Exile even if it may contain some old material (e.g. SS 6:4). It has long been recognised that the Song has parallels with the pastoral idylls of Theocritus, a Greek poet who wrote in the first half of the 3rd century BC; against this, it clearly shows the influence of Mesopotamian and Egyptian love-poetry, and is probably even closer to Egyptian love-poetry from the first half of the 1st millennium than to Greek parallels from the last. As a result of these conflicting signs, speculation ranges from the 10th to the 2nd centuries BC, with the cumulative evidence supporting a later rather than an earlier date. These reasons may account for early doubts about its sacred nature. However, it was finally canonised because of the (unproven) assumption that Solomon was its author. No such luminary can be claimed for authorship of the Book of Esther, however, which shows all the unmistakable signs of being a redaction of another, longer text.

    The Psalms

    50. That the Psalms were canonised comes as no great surprise, many of which may have served as formularies for the Sanctuary. Not only did David have an important share in writing the psalms but various of them are clearly prophetic in their tone (e.g. Ps.81; 110)

    Prophetic-Historical Books

    51. Similar observations as I have made in discussing the Nevi'im (Prophets) can be made on the historical and prophetic books Ezra, Nehemiah and Daniel which are clearly of a similar genre and were never in dispute.

    The Wisdom Literature

    52. With regard to the Wisdom books, to which belong Proverbs and Ecclesiastes and, to a certain extent, Job, we should bear in mind that wisdom, and especially the power to act as a teacher of wisdom, was regarded as an exceptional gift of Yahweh [11]. The fact that many proverbs came from Solomon has certainly contributed to the acknowledgement of the Book of Proverbs as Scripture. However, not all of Proverbs is of Solomon, as the later chapters make clear, which speak of the "sayings of the wise" (Prov.22:17; 24:23) and the "sayings of Agus" (Prov.30) and "of King Lemuel" (Prov.31:1-9). Indeed some of Lemuel's sayings contain some Aramaic spellings that point to a non-Israelite background. That these books appear in the third tier of Canon is therefroe wholly appropriate as they do not merit the status of either the first or second.

    The Mysterious Origin of Chronicles

    53. The two books of Chronicles, though in a different way to Kings, are written in the spirit of the Torah (Law) and the Nevi'im (Prophets). But why were they disputed? I can think of some reasons. For instance, why have the sources used for the writing of Chronicles not been taken into the Canon? Is it true that several of the books which existed during the time when the books of the Tanakh (Old Testament) were written have been lost (we discussed this earlier)? How could this have happened if they were of such importance to the formulation of a qodesh (set-apart, holy) Book of Scripture? These questions are pressing because these books still existed during the relatively recent time in which Chronicles was formed, and because they were written, at least partly, by nevi'im (prophets) [12]. Were these books superceded by Chronicles? Persionally, I can understand why Chronicles was debated.

    Should the Third Tier Be Divided Further?

    54. The Kethuvim are difficult to evaluate spiritually and in terms of their worthiness to be in the Canon especially if the criterion that a particular roll be included because of claimed authorship by, say, Solomon, bearing in mind that he fell into darkness in the latter part of his life by embracing paganism and being overwhelmed by sensuality. The Song of Songs maybe beautiful romantic poetry, but is it Divine Scripture? Because it is allegorisable? C.S.Lewis' Narnia tales are Christian allegory but the plot is riddled with paganism. Just because something can be allegorised to serve the Besorah (Gospel) doesn't necessarily make it inspired.

    Who are the Two Interlopers Absent from Josephus' Canon?

    55. We have still to resolve the discrepancy between Josephus' 22 canonical books at the time of the apostles and the 24 books of the traditional Hebrew Canon. We have two 'interlopers' to deal with. Who are they? One we have already identified, the Book of Esther, discussed in depth in another article, but what of the 24th?

    Resolving Chronicles

    56. If Ezra is the author of Chronicles (along with Ezra and Nehemiah), as is claimed by Jewish tradition, then Chronicles is not a candidate for any doubt. A growing body of concensus amongst all types of theologian - liberal as well as conservative - now dates Chronicles in the latter half of the 5th century BC, and thus possibly within Ezra's lifetime. Even if that were true, there is evidence of later expansions after the basic work had been completed, so editorial revisions are not unlikely, though all proposals of this kind remain tentative. Had I been on a council voting on whether to retain Chronicles in the Canon, I probably would have been 'for'. There is nothing in it at all doctrinally disjunctive with the first two tiers of Scripture and it appears to be historically accurate. It meets all the criteria for canonisation.

    The Pesky Song of Songs

    57. The Song of Songs is a bit of an enigma. Exoterically it contains nothing of doctrinal value and outwardly appears to be little more than a sex manual for lovers veiled in poetry, but I am prepared to accept that it is an esoteric book containing deeper mysteries, about which I have already written in The Brides of Solomon. I am of two minds about it being in the canon, and whilst I do not think it is harmful (like the Book of Esther), I am not sure it is profitable for your typical Sabbath School Study. After all, how many congregations do you know who sit down and analyse it verse by verse? You can imagine the embarrassed faces of the prudish. So I believe the Song of Songs is our '24th book' and the '2nd interloper' though I see no need to remove it as the Mormons have done. How it 'got in' is a matter of controversy and cannot for now be ascertained. It is therefore best left where it is as a kind of Tanakh 'appendix' to the 22 main books (scrolls). If nothing else it can be recommended to newly weds as a tastefully written sex manual, and for the rest it can continue to be used allegorically with good effect.

    Origins of the Canon During the Times of Ezra and Nehemiah

    58. When we speak of the 'Ezra-Nehemiahan Canon' we're essentially talking about Scriptures mentioned in Ezra 7 and Nehemiah 8-10. Ezra is described as "Ezra the cohen (priest), the scribe of the Torah (Law)" (Ezra 7:21, NKJV) who brought the "Book (Scroll) of the Torah (Law) of Moses, which Yahweh had commanded Israel" (Neh.8:1, NKJV). But where does the idea come from that the Canon of the Tanakh (Old Testament) was completed in his time? The answer to that question is in old testimonies.

    An Important Testimony of Josephus

    59. Flavius Josephus (Yosef ben Matityahu) records in AD 95 [13] that in the Jewish qodesh (holy, set-apart) writings the history of the origin of the world up to the reign of Artaxerxes I (465-425 BC) has been described. He then continues:

      "All that has occurred from Artaxerxes' time toward the present time has also been described, but these books do not deserve the same trust as the previous ones, since the succession of the prophets was not accurately fixed."

    The Tanakh Canon Completed in Ezra's Day

    60. By this statement, Josephus almost certainly means that during Ezra's life (middle of the 5th century BC) at least the historical books of the Tanakh (Old Testament) had been completed. Anything after that time, which would include the later Apocrypha and Pseudepigrapha, cannot possibly be regarded as Canon. This is one of the compelling historical reasons for excluding the Book of Esther. So in other words, the 22 authentic books of the 24 recognised later by Judaism were completed and canonical.

    The Talmudic Witness

    61. The Talmud, which was completed about AD 500, but which contains many century-old Jewish traditions, gives an enumeration of the writers of the Tanakh (Old Testament) books [14]. It concludes by saying:

      "Hezekiah and his men wrote [15] Isaiah, Proverbs, Canticles and Ecclesiastes; the men of the great gathering wrote [15] Ezekiel, the Twelve, Daniel, Esther; Ezra wrote his book, and the genealogy of the Chronicles except his own; Nehemiah completed it (viz. the Book of Ezra)."

    Who Were the Men of the Great Gathering?

    62. Who "the men of the great gathering" were is not, unfortunately, established and so naturally opinions vary widely. Many hold that the expression denotes the men who had returned from the Exile during the time of Zerubbabl and Ezra. The expression would then correspond to statements such as that made in Ezekiel:

      "When I have brought them back from the peoples and gathered them out of their enemies' lands, and I am hallowed in them in the sight of many nations, then they shall know that I am Yahweh their Elohim (God), who sent them into captivity among the nations, but also brought them back to their own land, and left none of them captive any longer" (Ezek.39:27-28, NKJV).

    The Conspiracy Exposed: 2 Esdras

    63. 2 Esdras, a Jewish (Pharisaic) apocalyptic writing written about AD 100, related that in the 13th year after the destruction of Jerusalem (i.e. 557 BC), Ezra stayed in Babylon. On his complaint that Yahweh's Torah had been burnt, he received the Ruach haQodesh (Holy Spirit) and then in the course of 40 days he dictated 94 books to 5 scribes. Then he received instructions to make known 24 books "so that the worthy and unworthy man may read in them", but the remaining 70 he was to keep secret "in order to surrender them to the wise among your people" (2 Esdr.14:18 ff.). It is pretty obvious that the Pharisees are attempting here not only to justify their 24-book 'canon' (the 39 books of the current Protestant Old Testament) but to exalt all their false apocryphal and pseudepigraphical scriptues (like Jasher and Enoch) too, along with the counterfeit 'Oral Law' that would later become the infamous Talmud. This is 70 years into the Christian/Messianic era so it is clear what their agenda is. Since we are left to guess what the 70 'secret' and super-holy books not-for-public-consumption are, it is obvious that what the ruling religious party was doing was establishing an occult precedent - having an 'inner' and 'outer' teaching of 70 and 24 books, respectively - and cementing the means to consolidate their power indefinitely, with the 'bastard' Book of Esther serving as the 'bridge' between this public canon of mostly authentic Scripture and their own false secret one consisting of the "tradition of the elders" which Yah'shua (Jesus) so roundly condemned (Mt.15:3,6; Mk.7:9,13). These '70' books would no doubt include not only the Tanakh-like apocrypha and pseudepigrapha but also their more esoteric, occultic and kabbalistic works like the Sefer Yetsirah, Zohar and all the 'wisdom' of these elders that would come to later be contained in the Talmud. 2 Esdras, written by the Pharisees, records the conspiracy for us. Welcome to the ancient sect of Jewish Illuminati.

    Another Apocryphal Witness: 2 Maccabees

    64. That is not, of course, to say that there isn't authentic historical material in some of these '70 books' - there would have to be for them to be in any way credible. In this context we may also refer to a piece of information given in 2 Maccabees. In a 'letter' which purports to be written by the inhabitants of Jerusalem and Judea to the Jews of Egypt we read:

      "In the annals and memoirs concerning Nehemiah we are told the same things, and how, making a library, he gathered together the books about the kings and [the books] of the prophets and [the writings] of David, and letters from the kings concerning votive offerings (or sacrifices). Likewise Judas collected everything that had been scattered by the war which came over to us, and we are in possession of this collection; so if you are in want of them, send men to carry them to you" (2 Macc.2:13-15).

    Assessing the Maccabean Claim

    65. If the letter is authentic, it was written in 165 BC, but many deny its authenticity and date it to the first century BC. As to the books, the collection which is attributed to Nehemiah, I think it is safe to assume that we are talking about a great part of the Tanakh (Old Testament), if not all of it. By the "books about the kings" may be meant the so-called 'former nevi'im (prophets)', "the writings of David" will be the Psalms, and the "letters from the kings concerning votive offerings" will be writings of Persian kings as we find them in Ezra 6:3-12 and 7:12-26. The fact that the Torah (Law) is not mentioned need not surprise us, as it had only recently been rehabilitated by Ezra. For the rest, it is evident that Nehemiah is not credited with the collection of all the books of the Tanakh (Old Testament). The size of the collection which 'Judas' is said to have made can no longer be assessed; it may well have comprised all the original 22 books of the Tanakh (Old Testament) and other books as well.

    Tentatative Conclusions About Tanakh Canonical Authority

    66. What can now be concluded from all this? First, we have to go further into the data given in Ezra 7 and Nehemiah 8-10. In these places we are certainly not informed that at a certain moment Ezra and his people decreed that from that time onwards the "Book of the Torah (Law)" was to be considered a qodesh (holy, set-apart) writing vested with divine toqef (authority). The Book of the Torah (Pentateuch) had for long been credited with divine toqef (authority) so no new proclamation was needed. "It was the book of the Torah of Moses, which Yahweh had commanded to Israel" (Neh.8:1, NKJV). It was true that for a long time the people had paid little attention to this law; in the Promised Land the knowledge of it was even lost to a considerable extent (see, for example, Neh.8:14), just as was the case during the reigns of Manasseh and Amon (cp. 2 Ki.22). But the people acknowledged this as their own fault. They accepted the Book of the Torah as a qadosh (holy, set-apart) writing, not in any virtue of any decree of Ezra and his assistants, but because its contents arrested their hearts. They just knew it was true and no one needed to tell them it was 'canon'. And that's the way it's supposed to be.


    67. The claim of 2 Esdras that Ezra is the creator of the Tanakh (Old Testament) is not, of course, accepted by all theologians, no doubt because of the justifiable suspicion that any Pharisee-derived 'scripture' is itself open to doubt. They point out that the quotations in the Talmud and Josephus do not clearly state this and nowhere in Ezra or Nehemiah are these two men credited with a special task in the formation and completion of a Tanakh (Old Testament) canon. Indeed, Ezra isn't even mentioned in any Jewish writing that we know of before the destruction of the second Temple, with, of course, the exception of the Bible story itself and the Greek paraphrases of it in 1 Esdras.

    The Likely Truth vs. Pharisaic Fairy Tales

    68. So whether you believe Ezra and Nehemiah fixed the Tanakh (Old Testament) canon or not is really a matter of whether you believe the account in 2 Esdras or not. My own view is that this is reliable historical material and that until further evidence to the contrary can be marshalled, we should assume that this assertion is, at least, credible. It makes a lot of sense that at such a critical time in Israel's and Judah's history, with the threat of the loss of her identity in Babylonian captivity, that Yahweh would lead these to man to asemble the Scriptures together for safe-keeping. What we can be absolutely sure of, though, is that a considerable amount of the Tanakh (Old Testament) was assembled by Ezra and Nehemiah. I certainly do not, though, believe the legend recorded in this same book that the Scriptures were all destroyed by burning and that the whole Tanakh (Old Testament) canon was dictated to Ezra, along with the 70 spurious books. That definitely smacks of Pharisee fable, hyperbole and propensity to exaggerate for dramatic effect to tickle the ears of their subjects.

    The Canon from Ezra to the Beginning of the New Covenant Era

    69. We know so little about the history of Yahweh's people during the centuries after Ezra and Nehemiah that is comes as no surprise to learn that no records have come down to us from that time either. We are left to dig in the murky pseudo-scriptures of the emerging Pharisee sect for clues which as we have already seen are less than reliable. This was in many respects Israel's 'Dark Age'. However, since that's all we have to work with, we have little choice but to rummage around there for some clues.

    Hunting for the Canon in Ecclesiasticus

    70. The prologue to Ecclesiaticus or Sirach, written by the man who translated the book from Hebrew into Greek, begins thus:

      "As many great things have been given us through the law (Torah) and the prophets (Nevi'im), and others that succeeded them, for which it is proper to praise Israel on account of their instructionm and wisdom ..."

    71. Later on the author speaks of "the law (Torah) and the prophecies (Nevi'im) and the rest of the books", and he tells us that Yah'shua Ben-Sira, his pappos (probably 'Grandpa' or 'Ancestor'), devoted himself to reading "the law (Torah) and the prophets (Nevi'im) and the other books of our fathers". It is quite obvious from the prologue that both its writer and Ben-Sira himself knew the three parts of the Tanakh (Old Testament) Canon, and attached high authority to them. It is not possible, however, to conclude with certainty from the prologue that the third part, "the Writings" (Kethuvim), had been completed. It does appear from Ecclesiasticus, on the other hand, that Ben-Sira knew several books of "the Writings (Kethuvim)". Ben-Sirah apparently lived in Palestine. It is usually assumed that his book was written in the first half of the 2nd century BC and that the author of the prologue worked during the latter half of that century.

    Hunting for the Canon in 1 Maccabees

    72. In the stories about the Maccabees the sacred books are repeatedly mentioned [16]. It is clear that in those days the Judeans had holy books to which they attached divine authority. It cannot be proved that there was already a complete Canon, although the expression "the holy books" (1 Macc.12:9) may point in that direction.

    The Canon of the Tanakh in the New Testament

    73. Upon the authority of the Messianic Scriptures (New Testament), it may be assumed that during Yah'shua's (Jesus') ministry, and when the Messianic Scriptures (New Testament) were coming into being, the Tanakh (Old Testament) existed as a completed collection to which divine toqef (authority) was attached. Repeatedly the Tanakh (Old Testament) is referred to as "the Scriptures" (Mt.26:54; Jn.5:39; Ac.17:2: etc.), indicating that the Tanakh (Old Testament) was a well-known collection of writings, forming an echad or unity. This applies equally to the expression "the Scripture", which sometimes denotes a definite place (Lk.4:21; Jn.13:18; etc.) but more than once points to the Tanakh (Old Testament) as a whole (Jn.2:22; Ac.8:32; etc.). It is hardly necessary to prove that divine toqef (authority) was attached to "the Scriptures" or "the Scripture" (see Mt.1:22; 5:18; Jn.10:35; Ac.1:16; etc.).

    The Torah Becomes More Than the Pentateuch

    74. The degree to which the Tanakh (Old Testament) books were considered an echad (unity) is indicated by the fact that for statements from the nevi'im (prophets) or the Psalms we are referred to "the Torah (Law)". The expression "the Torah (Law)", which is in fact an indication of the first part of the Tanakh (Old Testament) Canon (i.e. the Pentateuch), is used to denote the whole Canon of the Tanakh (Old Testament) (e.g. Jn.10:34; 1 Cor.14:21).

    Two Murders

    75. In this connection we should pay attention to Messiah's words in Matthew 23:25 and Luke 11:51. The murder of Abel is narrated in the first book of the Hebrew Canon, Genesis. The murder of the Zechariah here here mentioned is narrated in the last book of the Hebrew Canon, Chronicles. This may indicate that as early as that time the Canon finished with Chronicles; of course, this favours the view that the Canon comprised the same books then as now. No chronological order can be indicated by Yah'shua's (Jesus') words, for the murder of Urijah (Jer.26:23) took place after the murder of Zechariah (cp. further Lk.24:44).

    The Tanakh Canon Named in the New Testament

    76. The name Tanakh (Old Testament) as an indication of the collection of the qodesh (set-apart, holy) Scriptures already occurs in the Messianic Scriptures (New Testament), viz. 2 Corinthians 3:14 where is speaks of "the reading of the Tanakh (Old Testament)" [17].

    Tanakh Books Not Quoted in the New Testament

    77. Naturally, the fact that several books of the Tanakh (Old Testament) (Esther, Ecclesiastes, Song of Songs, Ezra, Nehemiah, Obadiah, Nahum, Zephaniah) are not quoted in the Messianic Scriptures (New Testament) certainly does not prove (with the exception of Esther, for reasons discussed earlier) that they were not then reckoned as part of the Canon.

    Quotations from the Apocrypha and Pseudepigrapha in the New Testament

    78. It is often alleged that, in the Messianic Scriptures (New Testament), parts of the Apocrypha and Pseudepigrapha are quoted as authoritative. Whilst it is true that sometimes a quotation is given from "the Scripture" which cannot easily be traced in the Tanakh (Old Testament); but in these cases a non-canonical book from which the quotation may be taken cannot be found either. We may be encountering here a (perhaps traditional) combination of Tanakh (Old Testament) pronouncements.

    Example #1 of Combined Quotations

    78. Thus John 7:38 may refer to Isaiah 58:11 and Ezekiel 37:25-26:

      "He who believes in Me, as the Scripture has said, out of his heart will flow rivers of living water" (John 7:38, NKJV).

      80. Compare with:

      "Yahweh will guide you continually, and satisfy your soul in drought, and strengthen your bones; you shall be like a watered garden, and like a spring of water, whose waters do not fail" (Isa.58:11, NKJV).

      "Then they shall dwell in the land that I have given to Jacob My servant, where your fathers dwelt; and they shall dwell there, they, their children, and their children's children, forever; and My servant David shall be their prince forever. Moreover I will make a covenant of shalom (peace) with them, and it shall be an everlasting covenant with them; I will establish them and multiply them, and I will set My sanctuary in their midst forevermore" (Ezek.37:25-26, NKJV).

    Example #2 of Combined Quotations

    81. Likewise, 1 Corinthians 2:9 may refer to Isaiah 64:4, 52:15 and 65:17:

      "But as it is written: 'Eye has not seen, nor ear heard, nor have entered into the heart of man the things which Elohim (God) has prepared for those who love Him" (1 Cor.2:8-9, NKJV).

      82. Compare with:

      "For since the beginning of the world men have not heard nor perceived by the ear, nor has the eye seen any Elohim (God) besides You, Who acts for the one who waits for Him" (Isa.64:4, NKJV).

      "So shall He sprinkle many nations. Kings shall shut their mouths at Him; for what had not been told them they shall see, and what they had not heard they shall consider" (Isa.52:15, NKJV).

      "For behold, I create new heavens and a new earth; and the former shall not be remembered or come to mind" (Isa.65:17, NKJV).

    Jude Quotes an Oral Tradition About Enoch

    83. Another case is Jude 14-15 where it is possible Jude quotes 1 Enoch 1:9:

      "Now Enoch, the seventh from Adam, prophesied about these men also, saying, 'Behold, Yahweh comes with ten thousands of His qodeshim (saints, set-apart/holy ones), to execute judgment on all, to convict all who are ungodly among them of all their ungodly deeds which they have committed in an ungodly way, and of all the harsh things which ungodly sinners have spoken against Him'" (Jude 14-15, NKJV).

      84. Compare with:

      "And behold! He cometh with then thousands of [His] holy ones (qodeshim) to execute judgement upon all, and to destroy [all] the ungodly: and to convict all flesh of all the works [of their ungodliness] which they have ungodly committed. [And of all the hard things which] ungodly sinners [have spoken] against Him" (1 Enoch 1:9, R.H.Charles translation). [18]

    New Testament Illustrations from Non-Canonical and Pagan Material

    85. The use of the Pharisaic pseudepigraph, the Book of Enoch should neither surprise nor alarm us since the Messianic Scriptures (New Testament) also quote pagan authors (Ac.17:28; 1 Cor.15:33) for illustrative purposes. What is significant to note is that Jude does not tell us that he quotes from "the Scripture" so the use of the pseudepigraph Enoch is not an authentication of any supposed authority. We must also consider the very real possibility (which is my own view) that both Jude 15-15 and 1 Enoch 1:9 refer back to an ancient oral tradition that they are both quoting [19].

    Partial Review

    86. Our study has taken us up to the time of the Messianic Scriptures (New Testament). We have learned that by the time of Ezra there were 22 books of Scripture in the Tanakh (Old Testament), that is to say, all the books of the present Protestant Canon minus the Song of Solomon (probably) and Esther (almost certainly). By the time of the Dead Sea Scrolls the Song has been included too but not the Book of Esther.

    The Elusive 'Council of Jamnia' Part 2

    87. As we saw earlier (11-15), the suggestion has been made by scholars that a council or synod was called by Messiah-rejecting Jewish leaders at Jamnia (Jabneh) around AD 90 at which the current Canon of 24 books (including Esther) was fixed. However, to speak about the 'Council of Jamnia' is to beg the question. It is true, certainly, that in the teaching-house of Jamnia, about AD 70-100 in the apostolic era, certain discussions were held, and certain decisions were made concerning some books of the Tanakh (Old Testament). Yet similar discussions were held elsewhere before and after that period too so we cannot ascribe any pre-eminence to it.

    The Yadayim Debate

    88. One of the most important places informing us about this is the Mishnah tractate Yadayim 3.5. These discussions dealt chiefly with the question as to whether or not some books of the Tanakh (Old Testament) (e.g. Esther, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Song of Solomon and Ezekiel) "soiled the hands" or had to be "concealed" because they were too sacred for public viewing but or because their canonicity was in doubt. Remember, these were not Ruach-led (Spirit-led) believers but Messiah-rejectors. However, theirs was not necessarily the view of all rabbis and there is evidence that some took an opposite view, namely, that these might not be inspired at all. Certainly in later centuries Luther, like ourselves, came to seriously doubt the canonicity of Esther. Whatever the point-of-view, all of these books were discussed from the vantage point of them already being in the 24-book Jewish Canon.

    Esther, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes and Canticles Questioned

    89. With the exception of Ezekiel, I find this selection of books (Esther, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes and Song of Solomon/Canticles) interesting because they are the very ones I too have questioned, for various reasons. Had Luther beeen aware of the true data about Esther as we now are, then I suspect it would never have survived into the Protestant Canon. Because there is no doubt that Proverbs and Ecclesiastes were canonised in the days of Ezra and Nehemiah, we must accept their judgment as a move of the Ruach haQodesh (Holy Spirit). That later rabbis would come to question them is all the more remarkable and something we should nevertheless make a mental note of for future reference.

    The Witness of 2 Esdras and Josephus

    90. In the context we have to revert to the testimonies of 2 Esdras and Josephus. As we have seen, the Canon, at any rate in its broad outline, has the same extent for the author of 2 Esdras as for the later non-Messianic Jews. The same applies to Josephus who wrote:

      "With us (Jews), one does not find innumerable books, mutually divergent and conflicting, but only twenty-two, comprising the whole past, and in which one is obliged to believe. As so much time has already passed now, yet no one of us has ever ventured to take anything away from them, or to add anything to them, or to make even the slightest alteration. From his very birth it is inbred in every Jew to consider them as writings given by God, to adhere to them and, if need be, gladly die for them."

    The Canon After the Fall of Jerusalem

    91. During the early centuries of our era, especially after the fall of Jerusalem in AD 70, the Jews took stock of their spiritual assets, and in particular what had come down to them as 'holy books'. It is not surprising on reflection some of them raised objections to some of these books. In consequence, the limits of the Canon were defined somewhat more clearly than hitherto. But the Canon of the Tanakh (Old Testament) is not, it must be clearly understood, the creation of the Jews of the early centuries AD. The Jews did not create something new, nor did they intend to create something new. They only established in detail what was already accepted in substance.

    The Need to Sort Out a Mass of Writings

    92. One of the factors which induced the Jews to define the limits of the Canon more particularly was that, beside the 22 qadosh (holy, set-apart) writings, several other books had been been written. Here we must again ask the question, why did they not include in the Canon such books as Ecclesiasticus (Sirach), 1 Maccabees, Jasher and 1 Enoch? Everyone who accepts the present Old Testament of the Protestant Bible will give as their reason that these books were not inspired and that is why they were never accepted as Canon (ignoring the tricky issue of Canticles and Esther). Of course, and especially amongst zealous (and frequently careless) modern Messianics eager to add more books to the Tanakh (Old Testament) Canon, various conjectures may be made concerning the human considerations which led to their omission, but a definite conclusion is hardly possible. There could be many possible reasons that we don't know anything about, including timing. One thing is certain, taking together all the available literature on the subject, that there was never any serious consideration by the Jewish leaders of bringing into the public Canon more than the 24 now generally accepted (39 in the Protestant Canon) books of the Tanakh (Old Testament), to say nothing of 70 spurious or 'secret' books of the Pharisee's private 'inner Canon' (see 67).

    The Septuagint

    93. The Septuagint (LXX), or Greek translation of the Tanakh (Old Testament), contains far more than the 39 books of the Protestant Old Testament. These additional books are Tobit, Judith, Wisdom of Solomon, Wisdom of Jesus son of Sirach, Baruch, Letter of Jeremiah (which later became chapter 6 of Baruch in the Vulgate), additions to Daniel (The Prayer of Azarias, the Song of the Three Children, Susanna and Bel and the Dragon), additions to Esther, 1 Maccabees, 2 Maccabees, 3 Maccabees, 4 Maccabees, 1 Esdras, Odes, including the Prayer of Manasseh, the Psalms of Solomon, and Psalm 151. However, we should be guarded in drawing our conclusions from this because the history and growth of the LXX is in many respects unknown to us. The oldest complete MSS (manuscripts) of the LXX which we possess originate from Christian circles of the 4th century AD which contain all these 'extra' apocryphal books. But it is not permissible to draw from this fact alone our conclusions about the views held by the Greek Jews in the early part of our era. In addition, we should bear in mind that none of the MSS of the LXX contain the same books - rather, they reveal a considerable divergence. Finally, an important detail: it is noteworthy, that during the lifetime of the author of the prologue to Ecclesiasticus (Sirach), "the law (Torah), the prophecies (Nevi'im) and the other books (Kethuvim)" had already been translated into Greek, but this author clearly distinguishes between these three categories and the writings of Ben-Sira.

    The Old Testament Canon in the Christian Church

    94. It is not my purpose in this study to trace the evolution of the Christian Canon of the Old Testament because, in the first place, we are not seeking canonical toqef (authority) from the Roman Catholics, Eastern Orthodox or the Protestants who are 'latecomers', and in the second, for the simple reason, as one theologian has written, "the history of the Old Testament Canon in the Christian Church has not yet been written" [20]. We just don't know enough. Our sole interest is in what the Tanakh (Old Testament) Canon was in Tanakh (Old Testament) times and what it was in the days of Yah'shua (Jesus) and the apostles. This, I believe, we have clearly established. What Christians did from the Latin Catholic period and through the Greek Orthodox period to our day is of little concern to us, or indeed what some modern Messianics are doing in supposedly 'restoring' allegedly 'lost' canonical books. There is nothing to 'restore' because we have had it complete ever since the days of Ezra and Nehemiah.

    Various Tanakh's Used by First Believers

    95. That the first believers used the various Hebrew, Aramaic and Greek Tanakh's (Old Testaments) makes things complicated and accounts for the reason why some of the non-canonical books, present in the later LXX, also found their way into Catholic and Orthodox canons. It took the Protestant Reformation to weed out all but two of them (Canticles and Esther), though Martin Luther nearly removed the latter.

    History of the King James Version and the Apocrypha

    96. Little known by most modern Protestants who take a dogmatic King James-Only position is that the first 1611 Authorised Version, which they claim is word-perfect and the only Bible with toqef (authority), contained those rejected Apocryphal books that are now viewed as uninspired and non-canonical by them. They are mostly unaware that they use the 1850 edition. Accordingly, if these Protestants believe, as they say, in the 1611 King James Bible, they must not only accept the earlier spellings but also the Apocrypha!

    Diaspora Problems

    97. Many of the Greek-speaking Christians/Messianics came across many Jewish apocryphal and pseudepigraphical books in their day so it is not surprising to find that they did not define the limits of the Canon in its details from the very beginning. The Jews in the Greek diaspora (dispersion), disconnected by geography and a lack of good communications from the religious life of Jerusalem as they were, may not have done so either. It is often presumed, quite wrongly, that the Jews of Alexandria or those in the wider diaspora, had a larger Canon, or rather a larger conception of the Canon, than the Jews in Palestine. There is no evidence that they did. Because of their isolation, decisions such as those made in Jamnia and elsewhere were unknown to many believers.

    The Order of the Tanakh Books

    98. Protestants are often surprised to learn that the Hebrews ordered their 22 books differently to their own 39. The problem is that all kinds of arrangements have been handed down to us, the most important of them falling into two groups:

    • 1. The Hebrew Division into Torah (Law), Nevi'im (Prophets) and Kethuvim (Writings) - see illustration in 27 showing individual book order (Baba Bathra 14b); and
    • 2. The Western & Eastern Church Division into Law (Torah), History, Poetry, Major Prophets (Nevi'im) and Minor Prophets (Nevi'im) (with apocryphal additions sprinkled throughout in the Catholic and Orthodox Canons) - see illustration in 7.

    The New Testament Confirms the Hebrew Divisions

    99. The Messianic Scriptures (New Testament) frequently speak of "{in} the Torah (Law) [of Moses] and/or {in} the Nevi'im (Prophets)" [21] or "the Nevi'im (Prophets) and the Torah (Law)" [22] indicating that these were the two main divisions of the Tanakh (Old Testament) - only in one place, hinting at three divisions, do they speak of "the Torah (Law) of Moses and the Nevi'im (Prophets) and the Tehilim (Psalms)" (Luke 24:44, NKJV), so the divisions and categories were well known. It is for this reason that nearly all Messianic versions of the Bible have restored this original Hebrew order (e.g. ISRV, HRV, OJB, RSTNE) while a few, who prefer the Church's system, have not (e.g. ATOT).


    100. The Messianic Community (Church) from the very beginning and throughout the first century AD confined itself first to the 22 books of the Ezran Canon and then later to the 24 books of the Jewish Canon. It is our contention that the Book of Esther is not Canon and though the Song of Solomon (Canticles) was almost certainly not added until much later, is of profit theologically as a spiritual allegory. Therefore of the Protestant Old Testament the Book of Esther is rejected. Furtermore, the threefold division of the Hebrews was used though the ordering of the books varied until later standardisation - this is because in the earliest times the Tanakh (Old Testament) existed as separate scrolls or rolls which was not conducive to having a fixed order. Therefore there was no single Tanakh (Old Testament) 'book' until much later. This threefold division is important because it represents the three historical stages of canonisation of first, the Torah (Law), then the Nevi'im (Prophets), and finally the Kethuvim (Writings). This, then, is the story of the formation of the Tanakh (Old Testament) Canon.

    Continued in Part 2 (New Testament Canon)


    [1] Wikipedia, Council of Jamnia
    [2] Ibid.
    [3] Ibid.
    [4] Only the Mormons have removed the Song of Solomon from their Old Testament canon, considered by one Rabbi to have been the most inspired Tanakh book of all
    [5] Some modern scholars have put forward the idea that Chronicles is a midrash, or traditional Jewish commentary, on Genesis-Kings, but this is disputed since the author or authors do not comment on the older books so much as use them to create a new work. Recent suggestions have been that it was intended as a clarification of the history in Genesis-Kings, or a replacement or alternative for it. If that is true, then that might explain why its inspired nature was so hotly debated
    [6] This is not to say that some oral tradition about Enoch and others from the ante-Diluvian period did not exist but rather that Moses was not directed to include it in Israel's new Canon. It is to say, though, that the blook claiming to be that of the ancient patriarch is a fraud, for the reasons given in the study
    [7] Joshua 1:7-8; 1 Kings 2:3, 2 Kings 14:6, etc.
    [8] 2 Kings 12; 13; 2 Chronicles 34; 25 - the "book of the Torah (Law)" possibly here means Deuteronomy
    [9] Ezra 7:6,14; Nehemiah 8-10 - the "book of the Torah (Law)" may mean the whole Pentateuch (Genesis to Deuteronomy)
    [10] For example, Zechariah 1:4 ff.; Hosea 6:5, etc.
    [11] See, for example, 1 Kings 3:28; 4:29; Job 38 ff.; Psalms 49:1-4; Proverbs 8; Ecclesiastes 12:11, etc.
    [12] For example, 1 Chronicles 29:29; 2 Chronicles 9:29; 32:32
    [13] Flavius Josephus, Contra Aponiem, i.8
    [14] Baba Bathra, 14b,15a
    [15] That is to say, wrote them down from oral tradition - it doesn't mean they composed them de novo
    [16] "And the books of the Law (Torah) were burned with fire, after having been rent; and whenever a book of the covenant was found with someone, and if there was anyone adhering to the law (Torah), he was put to death according to the order of the king (i.e. Antiochus Epiphanes)" (1 Macc.1:56-57), 4:30 referring to the narrative in 1 Samuel 14 & 17, 7:41 referring to 2 Kings 19:35, 12:9 - in a letter to Sparta, Jonathan writes: "We, as being in possession of the holy books"; 2 Macc.2:13-15, 8:23 - before the battle Judas has the 'holy book' read, and gives a rallying-cry, 'Help from Elohim (God)'; perhaps the book was opened at some place opened at will and in this way the rallying-cry was found; cp. also 1 Macc.3:48, 15:9 - Judas encourages his men out of 'the law and the prophets'
    [17] "...at the reading of the ancient Covenant (Gk. polaios diakth)..." (MRC); "..when the ancient Covenant is read..." (2 Cor.3:14, HRV); "...in the reading of the Tanach..." (RSTNE); "...when the old covenant is being read..." (ISRV); "...when they read the Old Covenant..." (JNT/CJB) - the Orthodox Jewish Bible, going beyond the text, reads in a modern Jewish mindset by rendering this passage as "...the reading of the Torah in schul..." (OJB) and thereby distorts the original sense of the whole Tanakh (Old Testament)
    [18] There are numerous variations depending which version of 1 Enoch you use - the text used here is the Ethiopic with the Greek text containing the [extra or explanatory parts in square parentheses]
    [19] See, in this connection, Bruce M. Metzger, An Introduction to the Apocrypha (1957), and especially chapter xvi, The Apocrypha and the New Testament
    [20] A. Jepsen, Zur Kanongeschichte des Alten Testaments (Zeitschrift fr die alttestamentliche Wissenschaft, LXXI: 1959), pp.114-136. One of the best books on the subject is Ed. P.R.Ackroyd & C.F.Evans, The Cambridge History of the Bible, Vol.1 From the Beginnings to Jerome (Cambridge University Press: 1970). Seventy years on we are still very much in the dark.
    [21] Matthew 5:17; 7:12; 22:40; Luke 16:16; 24:44; John 1:45; Acts 13:15; 24:14; 28:23; Romans 3:21
    [22] Matthew 11:13

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