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The Meditations of Marcus Aurelius, Selections Annotated and Explained by Malaspina Great Books Web Editor Russell McNeil PhD
The Meditations of Marcus Aurelius:
Selections Annotated and Explained

Russell McNeil, PhD
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In 1862 the English literary critic and poet Matthew Arnold described Marcus Aurelius as "the most beautiful figure in history." The Stoicism of Aurelius is grounded in rationality and rests solidly on an ethical approach rooted in nature. Stoicism promises real happiness and joy in this life and a serenity that can never be soured by personal misfortune. This philosophy has universal appeal with practical implications on problems ranging from climate change and terrorism to the personal management of sickness, aging, depression and addiction. I truly believe that the Meditations of Marcus Aurelius has much to offer us now...(Click on book cover for more)

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Name:Old Testament - Theology

Lec: Gen., Ex. & Job
Birth Year:c. 1250 BCE
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The word "testament", Hebrew berith, Greek diatheke, primarily signifies the covenant which God entered into first with Abraham, then with the people of Israel. The Prophets had knowledge of a new covenant to which the one concluded on Mount Sinai should give away. Accordingly Christ at the Last Supper speaks of the blood of the New Testament. The Apostle St. Paul declares himself (II Cor., iii, 6) a minister "of the new testament", and calls (iii, 14) the covenant entered into on Mount Sinai "the old testament". The Greek expression diatheke is employed in the Septuagint for the Hebrew "berith". The later interpreters Aquila and Symmachus substituted for diatheke the more common syntheke, which probably agreed more with their literary taste. The Latin term is "f dus" and oftener testamentum", a word corresponding more exactly to the Greek.

As regards Christian times, the expression at an early period came to signify the whole of God's Revelation as exhibited in the history of Israelites, and because this old covenant was incorporated into the Canonical Books, it was but an easy step to make the term signify the Canonical Scriptures. Even the text referred to above (II Cor., iii, 14) points to that. So, the Scriptures are called "books of the Old Testament" by Melito of Sardis and Clement of Alexandria (ta palaia biblia; ta tes palaias diathekes biblia). It is not clear whether with these authors "Old Testament" and "Scriptures of the Old Testament" mean the same. Origen shows that in his time the transition was complete, although in his writing signs of the gradual fixing of the expression may be still traced. For he repeatedly speaks of the "so-called" Old Testament, when meaning the Scriptures. With the Western writers this use of term in the most ancient period cannot yet be proved. To the lawyer Tertullian the Sacred Books are, above all, documents and sources of argument, and he therefore frequently calls them "vetus and novum instrumentum". Cyprian once mentions the "scriptur veteres et nov ". Subsequently the Greek use of the term becomes established among the Latins as well, and through them it has been made common property of the Christian world. In this meaning, as signifying the Canonical Scriptures of the Old Testament, the expression "Old Testament" will be used in what follows.


A. Text of the Manuscripts and Massoretes

The sure starting-point for a correct estimation of the text of the Old Testament is the evidence obtained from the manuscripts. In this connection, the first thing to observe is that however distant the oldest manuscripts are -- the earliest are of the ninth century A.D. -- from the time when the books were composed, there is a uniform and homogeneous tradition concerning the text. The fact is all the more striking, as the history of the New Testament is quite different. We have New Testament manuscripts written not much more than 300 years after the composition of the books, and in them we find numerous differences, though but few of them are important. The textual variants n the manuscripts of the Old Testament are limited to quite insignificant differences of vowels and more rarely of consonants. Even when we take into account the discrepancies between the Eastern, or Babylonian, and Western, or Palestinian schools, no essential differences are found. The proof for the agreement between the manuscripts was established by B. Kennicott after comparing more than 600 manuscripts ("Vetus Testamentum Hebraicum cum cariis lectionibus", Oxford, 1776, 1780). De Rossi has added considerably to this material ("Variæ lectiones veteris Testamenti", Parma, 1784-88). It is obvious that this striking uniformity cannot be due to chance; it is unique in the history of text-tradition, and all the more remarkable as the imperfect Hebrew system of writing could not but occasion many and various errors and slips. Besides many peculiarities in the method of writing show themselves uniformly everywhere. False readings are retained in the same manner, so that the text is clearly the result of artificial equalization.

The question now arises: How far back can we trace this care in handing down the text to posterity? Philo, many authorities on the Talmud, and alter Jewish rabbis and savants of the sixteenth and seventeenth century favoured the opinion that the Hebrew text, as it is now read in our manuscripts, was written down from the outset and bequeathed to us unadulterated. The works of Elias Levita, Morinus, Cappelus have shown this view to be untenable; and later investigations have established the history of the text in its essential features. The uniformity of the manuscripts is ultimately the outcome of the labours of the Massoretes, which were not concluded till after the writing of the oldest manuscripts. The work of the Massoretes chiefly consisted in the faithful preservation of the transmitted text. This they accomplished by maintaining accurate statistics on the entire state of the Sacred Books. Verses, words, letters were counted; lists were complied of like words and of forms of words with full and effective spelling, and possibilities of easy mistakes were catalogued. The invention of the signs for vowels and accents -- about the seventh century -- facilitated a faithful preservation of the text. Incorrect separation and connection of syllables and words was henceforth all but excluded.

Textual criticism was employed by the Massoretes very moderately, and even the little they did, shows that as mush as possible they left untouched all that had been handed down. If a reading proved untenable, they did not correct the text itself, but were satisfied with noting the proper reading on the margin as "Qere" (read), in opposition to "Kethibh" (written). Such corrections were of various kinds. They were first of all corrections of real mistakes, whether of letters or of entire words. A letter or a word in the text had, according to the note on the margin, either to be changed, or inserted, or omitted by the reader. Such were the so-called "Tiqqune Sopherim", corrections of the scribes. The second group of corrections consisted in changing an ambiguous word, -- of such eighteen are recorded in the Massorah. In the Talmud no mention has as yet been made of them. But its compilers were aware of the " Itture Sopherim", or erasures of the connecting Waw, which had been made in several places in opposition to the Septuagint and the Samaritan Versions. When later the Massoretes speak only of four or five instances, we must say with Ginsburg that these are merely recorded as typical. Cases are not rare when consideration for religious or moral feeling has led to the substitution of a more harmless euphemism for an ill-sounding word. The vowels of the expression to be read are attached to the written word of the text, whilst the consonants are noted on the margin. Well known is the ever-recurring "Qere" Adonai instead of Jahve; it seems to date back to the time before Christ, and probably even the first Greek interpreters were acquainted with it.

The fact that the Massoretes did not dare insert the changes described in the Sacred Text itself shows that the latter was already fixed. Other peculiarities point to the same reverence for tradition. We repeatedly find in the text a so-called inverted Nun (e.g., Num., x, 35-36). In Isaiah 9:6, there is a final Mem within the word. A Waw is interrupted or letters are made bigger, whilst others are placed higher up -- the so-called suspended letters. Not a few of these oddities are already recorded in the Talmud, and therefore must be of great age. Letters with points are mentioned even in the "Mishna". The counting of the letters also probably belongs to the older period. Records serving for textual criticism are extant from the same time. In its essentials the work is completed with the post-Talmdic treatise "Sopher m". This treatise, which gives a careful introduction to the writing of the Sacred Text, is one of the most conclusive proofs of the scrupulosity with which at the time of its origin (not before the seventh century) the text was generally treated.

B. Older Witnesses

The condition of the text previous to the age of the Massoretes is guaranteed by the "Talmud" with its notes on text-criticism and its innumerable quotations, which are however, frequently drawn only from memory. Another help are the "Targums", or free Aramaic versions of the Sacred Books, composed from the last centuries B.C. to the fifth A.D. But the state of the text is chiefly evidenced by the Vulgate Version made by St. Jerome at the end of the fourth and the beginning of the fifth centuries. He followed the Hebrew original, and his occasional remarks on how a word was spelt or read enable us to arrive at a sure judgment on the text of the fourth century. As was to be expected form the statements of the Talmud, the consonant-text of the manuscripts tallies almost in every respect with the original of St. Jerome. There appear greater discrepancies in vocalization, which is not to be wondered at, for at that time the marking of vowels was not known. Thus the reading is necessarily often ambiguous, as the saint expressly states. His comment on Is., xxxviii, 11, shows that this statement is not only to be taken as learned note, but that thereby the interpretation might often be influenced practically. When St. Jerome occasionally speaks of vowels, he means the quiescent or vowel letters. Nevertheless, the opinion that in the fourth century the pronunciation was still fluctuating, would be erroneous. For the saint knew how, in a definite case, ambiguous word was to be vocalized; he appealed to the custom of the Jews standing in opposition to the interpretation of the Septuagint. A fixed pronunciation had already resulted from the practice, in vogue for centuries, of reading the Holy Writ publicly in the synagogue. There might be doubt in particular cases, but, on the whole, even the vowel-text was secured.

The letters in which the manuscripts of that time were written are the "square characters", as appears from St. Jerome's remarks. This writing distinguished the final forms of the well-known five letters (Prologus galeatus), and probably supposed the separation of words which, excepting a few places, is the same as in our Massoretic Text. Sometimes the Vulgate alone seems to have preserved the correct separation in opposition to the Massoretes and the Greek Version.

The loss of Origen's hexapla is very much to be regretted. This work in its first two columns would have handed down to us both the consonant-text and the vocalization. But only a few scattered remnants of the second are left. They show that the pronunciation, especially of the proper names, in the third century disagrees not infrequently with the one used later. The alphabet at the time of Origen was the same as that of a century and a half afterwards. As regards the consonants there is little change, and the text shows no essential transformation

We are led still further back by the Greek versions originating in the second century. The most valuable is Aqulia s, as it was based upon the Hebrew text, and rendered it to the letter, with the greatest fidelity, thus enabling us to draw reliable conclusions as to the condition of the original. The work is all the more valuable, as Aquila does not care about the Greek position of words and the peculiar Greek idiom. More over, he consciously differs from the Septuagint, taking the then official text for his norm. Being a disciple of Rabbi Aqiba he presumably maintains the views and principles of the Jewish scribes in the beginning of the second century. The two other versions of the same period are of less importance for the critic. Theodotion depends upon the Septuagint, and Symmachus allows himself greater liberty in the treatment of the text. Of the three versions only very small fragments have come down to us. The form of the text which we gather from them is almost the one transmitted by the Massoretes; the differences naturally became more numerous, but it remains the one recension we know of from our manuscripts. It must, therefore, be scribed at least to the beginning of the second century, and recent investigations in fact assign it to that period.

But that is not all. The perfect agreement of the manuscripts, even in their critical remarks and seemingly irrelevant and casual peculiarities, has led to the assumption that the present text not only represents a single recension, but that this recension is even built upon one archetype containing the very peculiarities that now strike us in the manuscripts. In favour of this hypothesis, which, since the time of Olshausen, has been defended and based upon a deeper argument especially by de Lagarde, evidence has been brought forward which seems overwhelming. Hence it is not surprising that, of late, the assertion was made that this view had long since become an admitted fact in the textual criticism of the Old Testament. Yet, however persuasive the argument appears at first sight its validity has been constantly impugned by authorities such as Kuenen, Strack, Buhl, Konig, and others distinguished by their knowledge of the subject. The present state of the Hebrew text is doubtless the outcome of systematic labour during the course of several centuries, but the question is whether the supposed archetype ever existed.

At the outset the very assumption that about A.D. 150 only a single copy was available for the preparation of the Bible text is so improbable as scarcely to deserve consideration. For even if during the insurrection of Bar-Cocheba a great number of Scripture rolls perished, there nevertheless existed enough of them in Egypt and Persia, so that there was no need to rely on one damaged copy. And how could this copy, the defective peculiarities of which could not have been overlooked, attain to such undisputed authority? This could have happened only if it had much greater weight than the others, for instance, for its being a temple scroll; this would imply further that there existed official texts and copies, and so the uniformity goes further back. On the supposition that it were but a private scroll, preserved merely by chance, it would be impossible to explain how the obvious mistakes were retained. Why, for instance, should all copies have a closed Qoph, or a letter casually made larger, or a final Mem within a word? Such improbabilities arise necessarily from the hypothesis of a single archetype. Is it not much more likely that the supposed mistakes are really not erroneous, but have some critical signification? For several of them a satisfactory explanation has already been given. Thus the inverted Nun points to the uncertainly of the respective passages: in Prov., xvi, 28, for instance, the small Nun, as Blau rightly conjectures, might owe its origin to a textual emendation suggested by the feeling prevalent later on. The larger letters served perhaps to mark the middle of a book. Possibly something similar may have given rise to the other peculiarities for which we cannot at present account. As long as there exists the possibility of a probable explanation, we should not make chance responsible for the condition of our text, though we do not deny that here and there chance has been at play. But the complete agreement was certainly brought about gradually. The older the witnesses, the more they differ, even though the recension remains the same. And yet it might have been expected, the more ancient they were the more uniform they should become. Besides, if one codex had been the source of all the rest, it cannot be explained why trifling oddities were everywhere taken over faithfully, whilst the consonant-text was less cared for. If, again, in later times the differences were maintained by the Western and Eastern schools, it is clear that the supposed codex did not possess the necessarily decisive authority.

The present text on the contrary seems to have resulted from the critical labour of the scribes from the first century B.C. to the second century A.D. Considering the reading of the Bible in the synagogue and the statements of Josephus (Contra Apionem, I, viii) and of Plato (Eusebius, "Pr p. Evang.", VIII, vi) on the treatment of the Scriptures, we may rightly suppose that greater changes of the text did not occur at that time. Even the word of Jesus in Matt., v, 18, about the jot and tittle not passing away, seem to point to a scrupulous care in the preservation of the very letter; and the unconditional authority of the Scripture presuppose a high opinion of the letter of Holy Writ.

How the work of the scribes was carried out in detail, we cannot ascertain. Some statements of Jewish tradition suggest that they were satisfied with superficial investigation and criticism, which however, is all that could have been expected at a time when serious textual criticism was not even thought of. When difficulties arose, it is said that the witnesses were counted and the question decided according to numerical majority. However simple and imperfect his method was, under the circumstances an objective account of the actual state of the question was much more valuable than a series of hypotheses the claims of which we could not now examine. Nor is there any reason for supposing, with some early Christian writers, conscious changes or falsifications of the text. But we are, perhaps, justified in holding that the disputes between the Jews and Christians about the text of the Scriptures were one of the reasons why the former hastened the work of unifying and fixing the text.

The manuscripts of that period probably showed little difference from those of the subsequent epoch. The consonant-text was written in a more ancient form of the square characters; the so-called final letters presumably came into use then. The Nash Papyrus (the Ten Commandments) would give some information if it were only certain that it really belongs to the first century. The question cannot be decided, as our knowledge of Hebrew writing from the first to the third century is quite imperfect. The papyrus is written in well-developed square characters, exhibits division of words throughout., and always uses the "final letters". As in the Talmud, the memory of the relatively late distinction of the double forms of the five letters is still alive, their application in Holy Writ cannot be dated back too far. Even the Massorah contains a number of phrases having final letters which are divided differently in the text and on the margin, and must, therefore, belong to a period when the distinction was not as yet in use. From the Nabat n and Palmyrian inscriptions we learn that at the time of Christ the distinction already existed, but it does not follow that the same usage prevailed in the land west of Jordan and, in particular, in the Sacred Books. The Palmyrian inscriptions of the first to the third century apply the final form of only one letter, viz., Nun, whilst the Nabat an go beyond the Hebrew and use, though not consistently, double forms also for Aleph and He. The time when the Jewish copyists began to distinguish the double forms must then remain an open question. Moreover, the term "final letters" does not seem very appropriate, considering the historical development. It is not the final forms then invented, but rather the others, that seem to be the product of a new writing. For, with the single exception of Mem, the so-called final forms are those of the old characters as exhibited partly at least even in the oldest inscriptions, or at any rate in use in the Aramaic papyri of the fifth century B.C.

C. The Bible Text before Christ

As regards the preceding centuries, we are relatively well informed. In place of the missing manuscripts we have the ancient Greek Version of the Old Testament, the so- called Septuagint, or Alexandrian, Version. The Pentateuch was translated in the first half of the third century, but it cannot be determined in what order and at what intervals the other books followed. Yet in the case of the majority of the books the work was probably completed about the middle of the second century B.C. Of primary importance for us is the question of the state of the text at the time of the translation. As the version is not the work of one man -- not even the Pentateuch has only one translator -- nor the work of one period, but is extended over more than a hundred years, it cannot all be judged by the same criterion. The same holds good of its Hebrew original Some of the Old-Testament Scriptures and, at the time of the translation, existed for about a thousand years, whilst others had just been composed. Considering this historical development, we must, in judging the texts, not simply oppose the whole of the M. T. (Massoretic Text) on the one hand to the whole Septuagint on the other. Results of any practical value can be obtained only by a separate study of the different books of the Holy Scripture.

The oldest, the Pentateuch, presents considerable differences from the M.T. only in Exodus 36-40, and in Numbers. Greater divergences appear in Sam., Jer., Job, Prov., and Daniel. The M.T. of the Books of Samuel has suffered in many places. The Greek Version often serves to correct it, though not always. In Jeremias text-tradition is very unsettled. In the Greek Version not less than 2700 words of the M. T., about an eighth part of the whole, are missing. Additions to the M. T. are inconsiderable. Some of the parts wanting in Septuagint may be later additions, whilst others belong to the original text. The transpositions of the Greek text seem to be secondary. Still the order of the M.T. is not unobjectionable either, and sometimes Septuagint is right in opposition to M.T. On the whole, the text of Septuagint seems to be preferable to the M.T. In Job the textual problem is quite similar. The Greek text is considerably shorter than the M.T. The Greek rendering of Proverbs diverges still more from the Hebrew. Lastly, the Greek Ecclesiasticius, a translation which we must consider to have been made by the author's grandson, is a altogether different from the Hebrew recension lately found. These facts prove that during the third-second century B.C. texts were circulated which manifest traces of careless treatment. But it must be remembered that translators, sometimes, may have treated the text more freely, and that even our Greek Version has not come down to us in its original form. It is hard to determine how far we may recognize the official text of the period in the present form of the Greek text. The legend of the solemn mission to Jerusalem and the deputation of the translators to Egypt cannot be treated as historical. On the other hand it is arbitrary to assume that the original of the Greek Version represents a corrupted text every time if differs from M.T. We have to distinguish various forms of the text, whether we call them recensions or not.

For a judgment on the Septuagint and its original, the knowledge of the Hebrew writing then in vogue is indispensable. In the case of the Minor Prophets attempts have been made by Vollers to discover the characters employed. The Books of Samuel have been investigated by Wellhausen and Driver; Jeremias by K hler; Ezechiel by Cornill; Job by Beer; Ecclesiasticus by Peters. Full certainty as to the characters of the Hebrew scrolls of the third-second century B.C. has not as yet been obtained. According to Jewish tradition, Esdras brought over the new (Assyrian) writing when returning from the Exile, in which script the Sacred Books were thereafter transcribed. A sudden change is improbable. It is not possible that the writing of the fourth century was quite similar to that of the Nash Papyrus or of the first-century inscriptions. The Aramaic writing of the fifth century shows an unmistakable tendency towards the latter forms, yet many letters are still closely related to the ancient alphabet: as Beth, Caph, Mem, Samech, Ayin, Tasade. How did this change take place? Did it pass through the Samaritan alphabet, which clearly betrays its connection with the Phoenician? We know the Samaritan letters only after the time of Christ. The oldest inscription belongs, perhaps, to the fourth century A.D.; another, that of Nablus, to the sixth. But this writing is undoubtedly decorative, displaying care and art, and offers, therefore, no sure basis for a decision. Still there was presumably a time in which the Sacred Scriptures were written in an ancient form of the Samaritan characters which are closely related with those of the Hasmon an coin inscription.

Others suggest the Palmyrian alphabet. Some letters, indeed, agree with the square characters; but Ghimel, He, Pe, Tsade, and Qoph differ so much that a direct relation is inadmissible. In short, considering the local nature of this artificial writing, it is hardly credible that it exerted a wider influence towards the west. The Hebrew square characters come nearer to the Nabataean, the sphere of which is more extended and is immediately adjacent to Palestine.

As the change of the alphabet probably took place step by step, we must reckon with transition writings, the form and relation of which can perhaps be approximately determined by comparison. The Greek Version offers excellent material; its very mistakes are an inestimable help to us. For the errors in reading or writing, occasioned, or already supposed, by the original, will often find their reason and explanation in the form of the characters. A group of letters repeatedly read erroneously is a clue as to the form of the alphabet of the original. For the well-known possibilities in the square writing of confusing Daleth with Resh, Yodh with Waw, Beth with Caph do not exist in the same way in the transition writings. The interchanging of He and Heth, of Yodh and Waw, so easy with the new characters, is scarcely conceivable with the old ones; and the mistaking of Beth for Caph is altogether excluded. Aleph and Tau on the other hand can easily be mixed up. Now in Chronicles, in itself recent and translated into Greek long after the Pentateuch, Waw and Tau, Yodh and He, Caph and Resh have been mistaken for each other. This can be accounted for only an older form of writing were employed. Hence we are compelled to suppose that the old alphabet, or a transition form like it, was in use up to the second or first century B.C. From Christ's words about the jot (Matt., v, 18) it has been concluded that Yodh must have been regarded as the smallest letter; this holds good with the square characters. We know otherwise that, at the time of Christ, the new writing was all but developed; at least the inscriptions of the Bene Chezir and of many ossuaries sufficiently testify to this. But in these inscriptions Zayin and Waw are as small as or even smaller the Yodh.

In addition to the form of the characters, orthography is of importance. The unpointed consonant-text can be made essentially clearer by writing "plene", i.e., by using the so-called quiescent letters (matres lectionis). This means was often absent in the original of the Septuagint. In the text of the Minor Prophets Aleph seems not to have been written as a vowel-letter. Thus it came about that the translators and the M.T. diverge, according as they suppose the Aleph or not. If the vowel-letter was written, only one interpretation was possible. The same applies to the use of Waw and Yodh. Their omission occasions mistakes on the one or other side. The liberty prevailing in this regard is expressly testified even for a much later period. But it is going too far to consider the omission of the vowel-letters as the rule commonly observed. The oldest inscriptions (Mesha, Siloah) and the hole history of Semitic writing prove that this practical device was known.

In particular cases the possibility of connecting or separating the letters differently must be considered as another source of divers interpretations. Whether the division of the words was expressed in the ancient manuscripts or not cannot be shown by direct testimonies. The Mesha and Siloah inscriptions and some of the oldest Aramaic and Phoenician divide the words by a dot. The later monuments do not abide by this usage, but mark the division here and there by a little interval. This custom is universal in the Aramaic papyri from the fifth century downwards. The Hebrew fragments make no exception, and the Syriac writing applies the word-division in the earliest manuscripts. Therefore the conjecture that word-division was used in the old scrolls is not to be rejected at the outset. Still the intervals must have been so small that wrong connections easily came about. Instances are not wanting, and both the Massorah and the Greek Version testify to that. Thus Gen., xlix, 19-20, is correctly divided in the Greek and in the Vulgate, whilst the M.T. erroneously carries the Mem, that belongs to the end of verse 19, over to the following word "Asher". The passage, moreover, is poetical and a new stanza begins with verse 20. Hence in the archetype of our M.T. the stichic writing, known perhaps at an earlier period and used in the later manuscripts, was not applied.

The mistakes occurring in consequence of interchanging of letters, of wrong vocalization or connection, show how text-corruption originated, and thus suggest ways of repairing the damaged passages. Other slips which always occur in the handing down of manuscripts, such as haplography, dittography, insertion of glosses, transposition, even of entire columns, must also be taken into consideration whilst estimating the text of the Sacred Books. In books or passages of poetical nature, metre, alphabetical order of verses and stanzas, and their structure, supply a means of textual emendation, which ought nevertheless, to be sued with great prudence, especially where the manuscripts seem disarranged.

We must, however, beware of comparing the Septuagint as a unit with the Massorah. In textual criticism we must distinguish between the questions: What is the relation of the Greek Version of the Scriptures in general to the Hebrew? and, How far in a particular case may one text be corrected by the other? The Septuagint may on the whole differ considerably from the M.T., and yet often clear up an obscure passage in the Hebrew, while the reverse happens just a frequently. Apart from the Septuagint there is but little to assist us. The Samaritan Text throws light on the Pentateuch, at least up the fourth century, perhaps up the time before Esdras. Yet until the critical edition, announced a couple of years ago, appears it must remain an open question whether the Samaritan Text was not influenced by the Septuagint at a later period. Regarding shorter passages, the parallel texts allow of comparison. The deviations observed in them show that changes have taken place, which betray carelessness or intentional or accidental variations. Jewish tradition tells of a restoration of the Sacred Scriptures by Esdras. Underlying this narrative may be recollection of historical events that proved disastrous both to the political and religious life of the people of Israel and to its Sacred Books. The consequences do not everywhere manifest themselves as much as in the books of Samuel and Jeremias, for instance, but often enough are such that the application of all critical means is needed to come to a readable text. Sometimes in spite of all nothing can be done and the passage is irremediably disfigured. It will be impossible to make the M.T. agree entirely with the Septuagint until we are favoured by some unexpected discoveries. However, all these discrepancies do not alter the Sacred Texts to such a degree as to affect in any way the religious content of the Old Testament.

Canon of the Old Testament

The word canon as applied to the Scriptures has long had a special and consecrated meaning. In its fullest comprehension it signifies the authoritative list or closed number of the writings composed under Divine inspiration, and destined for the well-being of the Church, using the latter word in the wide sense of the theocratic society which began with God's revelation of Himself to the people of Israel, and which finds its ripe development and completion in the Catholic organism. The whole Biblical Canon therefore consists of the canons of the Old and New Testaments. The Greek kanon means primarily a reed, or measuring-rod: by a natural figure it was employed by ancient writers both profane and religious to denote a rule or standard. We find the substantive first applied to the Sacred Scriptures in the fourth century, by St. Athanasius; for its derivatives, the Council of Laodicea of the same period speaks of the kanonika biblia and Athanasius of the biblia kanonizomena. The latter phrase proves that the passive sense of canon -- that of a regulated and defined collection -- was already in use, and this has remained the prevailing connotation of the word in ecclesiastical literature.

The terms protocanonical and deuterocanonical, of frequent usage among Catholic theologians and exegetes, require a word of caution. They are not felicitous, and it would be wrong to infer from them that the Church successively possessed two distinct Biblical Canons. Only in a partial and restricted way may we speak of a first and second Canon. Protocanonical (protos, "first") is a conventional word denoting those sacred writings which have been always received by Christendom without dispute. The protocanonical books of the Old Testament correspond with those of the Bible of the Hebrews, and the Old Testament as received by Protestants. The deuterocanonical (deuteros, "second") are those whose Scriptural character was contested in some quarters, but which long ago gained a secure footing in the Bible of the Catholic Church, though those of the Old Testament are classed by Protestants as the "Apocrypha". These consist of seven books: Tobias, Judith, Baruch, Ecclesiasticus, Wisdom, First and Second Machabees; also certain additions to Esther and Daniel.

It should be noted that protocanonical and deuterocanonical are modern terms, not having been used before the sixteenth century. As they are of cumbersome length, the latter (being frequently used in this article) will be often found in the abbreviated form deutero.

The scope of an article on the sacred Canon may now be seen to be properly limited regarding the process of
  • what may be ascertained regarding the process of the collection of the sacred writings into bodies or groups which from their very inception were the objects of a greater or less degree of veneration;
  • the circumstances and manner in which these collections were definitely canonized, or adjudged to have a uniquely Divine and authoritative quality;
  • the vicissitudes which certain compositions underwent in the opinions of individuals and localities before their Scriptural character was universally established.
It is thus seen that canonicity is a correlative of inspiration, being the extrinsic dignity belonging to writings which have been officially declared as of sacred origin and authority. It is antecedently very probable that according as a book was written early or late it entered into a sacred collection and attained a canonical standing. Hence the views of traditionalist and critic (not implying that the traditionalist may not also be critical) on the Canon parallel, and are largely influenced by, their respective hypotheses on the origin of its component members.


It has already been intimated that there is a smaller, or incomplete, and larger, or complete, Old Testament. Both of these were handed down by the Jews; the former by the Palestinian, the latter by the Alexandrian, Hellenist, Jews.

The Jewish Bible of today is composed of three divisions, whose titles combined from the current Hebrew name for the complete Scriptures of Judaism: Hat-Torah, Nebiim, wa-Kethubim, i.e. The Law, the Prophets, and the Writings. This triplication is ancient; it is supposed as long-established in the Mishnah, the Jewish code of unwritten sacred laws, reduced to writing, c. A.D. 200. A grouping closely akin to it occurs in the New Testament in Christ's own words, Luke, xxiv, 44: "All things must needs be fulfilled, which are written in the law of Moses, and in the prophets, and in the psalms concerning me". Going back to the prologue of Ecclesiasticus, prefixed to it about 132 B.C., we find mentioned "the Law, and the Prophets, and others that have followed them". The Torah, or Law, consists of the five Mosaic books, Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy. The Prophets were subdivided by the Jews into the Former Prophets [i.e. the prophetico-historical books: Josue, Judges, Samuel, (I and II Kings), and Kings (III and IV Kings)] and the Latter Prophets (Isaias, Jeremias, Ezechiel, and the twelve minor Prophets, counted by the Hebrews as one book). The Writings, more generally known by a title borrowed from the Greek Fathers, Hagiographa (holy writings), embrace all the remaining books of the Hebrew Bible. Named in the order in which they stand in the current Hebrew text, these are: Psalms, Proverbs, Job, Canticle of Canticles, Ruth, Lamentations, Ecclesiastes, Esther, Daniel, Esdras, Nehemias, or II Esdras, Paralipomenon.

1. Traditional view of the Canon of the Palestinian Jews


In opposition to scholars of more recent views, conservatives do not admit that the Prophets and the Hagiographa represent two successive stages in the formation of the Palestinian Canon. According to this older school, the principle which dictated the separation between the Prophets and the Hagiographa was not of a chronological kind, but one found in the very nature of the respective sacred compositions. That literature was grouped under the Ke-thubim, or Hagiographa, which neither was the direct product of the prophetical order, namely, that comprised in the Latter Prophets, nor contained the history of Israel as interpreted by the same prophetic teachers--narratives classed as the Former Prophets. The Book of Daniel was relegated to the Hagiographa as a work of the prophetic gift indeed, but not of the permanent prophetic office. These same conservative students of the Canon--now scarcely represented outside the Church--maintain, for the reception of the documents composing these groups into the sacred literature of the Israelites, dates which are in general much earlier than those admitted by critics. They place the practical, if not formal, completion of the Palestinian Canon in the era of Esdras (Ezra) and Nehemias, about the middle of the fifth century B.C., while true to their adhesion to a Mosaic authorship of the Pentateuch, they insist that the canonization of the five books followed soon after their composition.

Since the traditionalists infer the Mosaic authorship of the Pentateuch from other sources, they can rely for proof of an early collection of these books chiefly on Deuteronomy, xxxi, 9-13, 24-26, where there is question of a books of the law, delivered by Moses to the priests with the command to keep it in the ark and read it to the people on the feast of Tabernacles. But the effort to identify this book with the entire Pentateuch is not convincing to the opponents of Mosaic authorship.

The Remainder of the Palestinian-Jewish Canon

Without being positive on the subject, the advocates of the older views regard it as highly probable that several additions were made to the sacred repertory between the canonization of the Mosaic Torah above described and the Exile (598 B.C.). They cite especially Isaias, xxxiv, 16; II Paralipomenon, xxix, 30; Proverbs, xxv, 1; Daniel, ix, 2. For the period following the Babylonian Exile the conservative argument takes a more confident tone. This was an era of construction, a turning-point in the history of Israel. The completion of the Jewish Canon, by the addition of the Prophets and Hagiographa as bodies to the Law, is attributed by conservatives to Esdras, the priest-scribe and religious leader of the period, abetted by Nehemias, the civil governor; or at least to a school of scribes founded by the former. (Cf. II Esdras, viii-x; II Machabees, ii, 13, in the Greek original.) Far more arresting in favour of an Esdrine formulation of the Hebrew Bible is a the much discussed passage from Josephus, "Contra Apionem", I, viii, in which the Jewish historian, writing about A.D. 100, registers his conviction and that of his coreligionists--a conviction presumably based on tradition--that the Scriptures of the Palestinian Hebrews formed a closed and sacred collection from the days of the Persian king, Artaxerxes Longiamanus (465-425 B.C.), a contemporary of Esdras. Josephus is the earliest writer who numbers the books of the Jewish Bible. In its present arrangement this contains 40; Josephus arrived at 22 artificially, in order to match the number of letters in the Hebrew alphabet, by means of collocations and combinations borrowed in part from the Septuagint. The conservative exegetes find a confirmatory argument in a statement of the apocryphas Fourth Book of Esdras (xiv, 18-47), under whose legendary envelope they see an historical truth, and a further one in a reference in the Baba Bathra tract of the Babylonian Talmud to hagiographic activity on the part of "the men of the Great Synagogue", and Esdras and Nehemias.

But the Catholic Scripturists who admit an Esdrine Canon are far from allowing that Esdras and his colleagues intended to so close up the sacred library as to bar any possible future accessions. The Spirit of God might and did breathe into later writings, and the presence of the deuterocanonical books in the Church's Canon at once forestalls and answers those Protestant theologians of a preceding generation who claimed that Esdras was a Divine agent for an inviolable fixing and sealing of the Old Testament To this extent at least, Catholic writers on the subject dissent from the drift of the Josephus testimony. And while there is what may be called a consensus of Catholic exegetes of the conservative type on an Esdrine or quasi-Esdrine formulation of the canon so far as the existing material permitted it, this agreement is not absolute; Kaulen and Danko, favouring a later completion, are the notable exceptions among the above-mentioned scholars.

2. Critical views of the formation of the Palestinian Canon

Its three constituent bodies, the Law, Prophets, and Hagiographa, represent a growth and correspond to three periods more or less extended. The reason for the isolation of the Hagiographa from the Prophets was therefore mainly chronological. The only division marked off clearly by intrinsic features is the legal element of the Old Testament, viz., the Pentateuch.

The Torah, or Law

Until the reign of King Josias, and the epoch-making discovery of "the book of the law" in the Temple (621 B.C.), say the critical exegetes, there was in Israel no written code of laws, or other work, universally acknowledged as of supreme and Divine authority. This "book of the law" was practically identical with Deuteronomy, and its recognition or canonization consisted in the solemn pact entered into by Josias and the people of Juda, described in IV Kings, xxiii. That a written sacred Torah was previously unknown among the Israelites, is demonstrated by the negative evidence of the earlier prophets, by the absence of any such factor from the religious reform undertaken by Ezechias (Hezekiah), while it was the mainspring of that carried out by Josias, and lastly by the plain surprise and consternation of the latter ruler at the finding of such a work. This argument, in fact, is the pivot of the current system of Pentateuchal criticism, and will be developed more at length in the article on the Pentateuch, as also the thesis attacking the Mosaic authorship and promulgation of the latter as a whole. The actual publication of the entire Mosaic code, according to the dominant hypothesis, did not occur until the days of Esdras, and is narrated in chapters viii-x of the second book bearing that name. In this connection must be mentioned the argument from the Samaritan Pentateuch to establish that the Esdrine Canon took in nothing beyond the Hexateuch, i.e. the Pentateuch plus Josue.

The Nebiim, or Prophets

There is no direct light upon the time or manner in which the second stratum of the Hebrew Canon was finished. The creation of the above-mentioned Samaritan Canon (c. 432 B.C.) may furnish a terminus a quo; perhaps a better one is the date of the expiration of prophecy about the close of the fifth century before Christ. For the other terminus the lowest possible date is that of the prologue to Ecclesiasticus (c. 132 B.C.), which speaks of "the Law", and the Prophets, and the others that have followed them". But compare Ecclesiasticus itself, chapters xlvi-xlix, for an earlier one.

The Kethubim, or Hagiographa Completes of the Jewish Canon

Critical opinion as to date ranged from c. 165 B.C. to the middle of the second century of our era (Wildeboer). The Catholic scholars Jahn, Movers, Nickes, Danko, Haneberg, Aicher, without sharing all the views of the advanced exegetes, regard the Hebrew Hagiographa as not definitely settled till after Christ. It is an incontestable fact that the sacredness of certain parts of the Palestinian Bible (Esther, Ecclesiastes, Canticle of Canticles) was disputed by some rabbis as late as the second century of the Christian Era (Mishna, Yadaim, III, 5; Babylonian Talmud, Megilla, fol. 7). However differing as to dates, the critics are assured that the distinction between the Hagiographa and the Prophetic Canon was one essentially chronological. It was because the Prophets already formed a sealed collection that Ruth, Lamentations, and Daniel, though naturally belonging to it, could not gain entrance, but had to take their place with the last-formed division, the Kethubim.

3. The Protocanonical Books and the New Testament

The absence of any citations from Esther, Ecclesiastes, and Canticles may be reasonably explained by their unsuitability for New Testament purposes, and is further discounted by the non-citation of the two books of Esdras. Abdias, Nahum, and Sophonias, while not directly honoured, are included in the quotations from the other minor Prophets by virtue of the traditional unity of that collection. On the other hand, such frequent terms as "the Scripture", the "Scriptures", "the holy Scriptures", applied in the New Testament to the other sacred writings, would lead us to believe that the latter already formed a definite fixed collection; but, on the other, the reference in St. Luke to "the Law and the Prophets and the Psalms", while demonstrating the fixity of the Torah and the Prophets as sacred groups, does not warrant us in ascribing the same fixity to the third division, the Palestinian-Jewish Hagiographa. If, as seems certain, the exact content of the broader catalogue of the Old Testament Scriptures (that comprising the deutero books) cannot be established from the New Testament, a fortiori there is no reason to expect that it should reflect the precise extension of the narrower and Judaistic Canon. We are sure, of course, that all the Hagiographa were eventually, before the death of the last Apostle, divinely committed to the Church as Holy Scriptures, but we known this as a truth of faith, and by theological deduction, not from documentary evidence in the New Testament The latter fact has a bearing against the Protestant claim that Jesus approved and transmitted en bloc an already defined Bible of the Palestinian Synagogue.

4. Authors and Standards of Canonicity among the Jews

Though the Old Testament reveals no formal notion of inspiration, the later Jews at least must have possessed the idea (cf. II Timothy, iii, 16; II Peter, i, 21). There is an instance of a Talmudic doctor distinguishing between a composition "given by the wisdom of the Holy Spirit" and one supposed to be the product of merely human wisdom. But as to our distinct concept of canonicity, it is a modern idea, and even the Talmud gives no evidence of it. To characterize a book which held no acknowledged place in the divine library, the rabbis spoke of it as "defiling the hands", a curious technical expression due probably to the desire to prevent any profane touching of the sacred roll. But though the formal idea of canonicity was wanting among the Jews the fact existed. Regarding the sources of canonicity among the Hebrew ancients, we are left to surmise an analogy. There are both psychological and historical reasons against the supposition that the Old Testament Canon grew spontaneously by a kind of instinctive public recognition of inspired books. True, it is quite reasonable to assume that the prophetic office in Israel carried its own credentials, which in a large measure extended to its written compositions. But there were many pseduo-prophets in the nation, and so some authority was necessary to draw the line between the true and the false prophetical writings. And an ultimate tribunal was also needed to set its seal upon the miscellaneous and in some cases mystifying literature embraced in the Hagiographa. Jewish tradition, as illustrated by the already cited Josephus, Baba Bathra, and pseudo-Esdras data, points to authority as the final arbiter of what was Scriptural and what not. The so-called Council of Jamnia (c. A.D. 90) has reasonably been taken as having terminated the disputes between rival rabbinic schools concerning the canonicity of Canticles. So while the intuitive sense and increasingly reverent consciousness of the faithful element of Israel could, and presumably did, give a general impulse and direction to authority, we must conclude that it was the word of official authority which actually fixed the limits of the Hebrew Canon, and here, broadly speaking, the advanced and conservative exegetes meet on common ground. However the case may have been for the Prophets, the preponderance of evidence favours a late period as that in which the Hagiographa were closed, a period when the general body of Scribes dominated Judaism, sitting "in the chair of Moses", and alone having the authority and prestige for such action. The term general body of Scribes has been used advisedly; contemporary scholars gravely suspect, when they do not entirely reject, the "Great Synagogue" of rabbinic tradition, and the matter lay outside the jurisdiction of the Sanhedrim.

As a touchstone by which uncanonical and canonical works were discriminated, an important influence was that of the Pentateuchal Law. This was always the Canon par excellence of the Israelites. To the Jews of the Middle Ages the Torah was the inner sanctuary, or Holy of Holies, while the Prophets were the Holy Place, and the Kethubim only the outer court of the Biblical temple, and this Medieval conception finds ample basis in the pre-eminence allowed to the Law by the rabbis of the Talmudic age. Indeed, from Esdras downwards the Law, as the oldest portion of the Canon, and the formal expression of God's commands, received the highest reverence. The Cabbalists of the second century after Christ, and later schools, regarded the other section of the Old Testament as merely the expansion and interpretation of the Pentateuch. We may be sure, then, that the chief test of canonicity, at least for the Hagiographa, was conformity with the Canon par excellence, the Pentateuch. It is evident, in addition, that no book was admitted which had not been composed in Hebrew, and did not possess the antiquity and prestige of a classic age, or name at least. These criteria are negative and exclusive rather than directive. The impulse of religious feeling or liturgical usage must have been the prevailing positive factors in the decision. But the negative tests were in part arbitrary, and an intuitive sense cannot give the assurance of Divine certification. Only later was the infallible Voice to come, and then it was to declare that the Canon of the Synagogue, though unadulterated indeed, was incomplete.


The most striking difference between the Catholic and Protestant Bibles is the presence in the former of a number of writings which are wanting in the latter and also in the Hebrew Bible, which became the Old Testament of Protestantism. These number seven books: Tobias (Tobit), Judith, Wisdom, Ecclesiasticus, Baruch, I and II Machabees, and three documents added to protocanonical books, viz., the supplement to Esther, from x, 4, to the end, the Canticle of the Three Youths (Song of the Three Children) in Daniel, iii, and the stories of Susanna and the Elders and Bel and the Dragon, forming the closing chapters of the Catholic version of that book. Of these works, Tobias and Judith were written originally in Aramaic, perhaps in Hebrew; Baruch and I Machabees in Hebrew, while Wisdom and II Machabees were certainly composed in Greek. The probabilities favour Hebrew as the original language of the addition to Esther, and Greek for the enlargements of Daniel.

The ancient Greek Old Testament known as the Septuagint was the vehicle which conveyed these additional Scriptures into the Catholic Church. The Septuagint version was the Bible of the Greek-speaking, or Hellenist, Jews, whose intellectual and literary centre was Alexandria (see SEPTUAGINT). The oldest extant copies date from the fourth and fifth centuries of our era, and were therefore made by Christian hands; nevertheless scholars generally admit that these faithfully represent the Old Testament as it was current among the Hellenist or Alexandrian Jews in the age immediately preceding Christ. These venerable manuscripts of the Septuagint vary somewhat in their content outside the Palestinian Canon, showing that in Alexandrian-Jewish circles the number of admissible extra books was not sharply determined either by tradition or by authority. However, aside from the absence of Machabees from the Codex Vaticanus (the very oldest copy of the Greek Old Testament), all the entire manuscripts contain all the deutero writings; where the manuscript Septuagints differ from one another, with the exception noted, it is in a certain excess above the deuterocanonical books. It is a significant fact that in all these Alexandrian Bibles the traditional Hebrew order is broken up by the interspersion of the additional literature among the other books, outside the law, thus asserting for the extra writings a substantial equality of rank and privilege.

It is pertinent to ask the motives which impelled the Hellenist Jews to thus, virtually at least, canonize this considerable section of literature, some of it very recent, and depart so radically from the Palestinian tradition. Some would have it that not the Alexandrian, but the Palestinian, Jews departed from the Biblical tradition. The Catholic writers Nickes, Movers, Danko, and more recently Kaulen and Mullen, have advocated the view that originally the Palestinian Canon must have included all the deuterocanonicals, and so stood down to the time of the Apostles (Kaulen, c. 100 B.C.), when, moved by the fact that the Septuagint had become the Old Testament of the Church, it was put under ban by the Jerusalem Scribes, who were actuated moreover (thus especially Kaulen) by hostility to the Hellenistic largeness of spirit and Greek composition of our deuterocanonical books. These exegetes place much reliance on St. Justin Martyr's statement that the Jews had mutilated Holy Writ, a statement that rests on no positive evidence. They adduce the fact that certain deutero books were quoted with veneration, and even in a few cases as Scriptures, by Palestinian or Babylonian doctors; but the private utterances of a few rabbis cannot outweigh the consistent Hebrew tradition of the canon, attested by Josephus--although he himself was inclined to Hellenism--and even by the Alexandrian-Jewish author of IV Esdras. We are therefore forced to admit that the leaders of Alexandrian Judaism showed a notable independence of Jerusalem tradition and authority in permitting the sacred boundaries of the Canon, which certainly had been fixed for the Prophets, to be broken by the insertion of an enlarged Daniel and the Epistle of Baruch. On the assumption that the limits of the Palestinian Hagiographa remained undefined until a relatively late date, there was less bold innovation in the addition of the other books, but the wiping out of the lines of the triple division reveals that the Hellenists were ready to extend the Hebrew Canon, if not establish a new official one of their own.

On their human side these innovations are to be accounted for by the free spirit of the Hellenist Jews. Under the influence of Greek thought they had conceived a broader view of Divine inspiration than that of their Palestinian brethren, and refused to restrict the literary manifestations of the Holy Ghost to a certain terminus of time and the Hebrew form of language. The Book of Wisdom, emphatically Hellenist in character, presents to us Divine wisdom as flowing on from generation to generation and making holy souls and prophets (vii, 27, in the Greek). Philo, a typical Alexandrian-Jewish thinker, has even an exaggerated notion of the diffusion of inspiration (Quis rerum divinarum hæres, 52; ed. Lips., iii, 57; De migratione Abrahæ, 11,299; ed. Lips. ii, 334). But even Philo, while indicating acquaintance with the deutero literature, nowhere cites it in his voluminous writings. True, he does not employ several books of the Hebrew Canon; but there is a natural presumption that if he had regarded the additional works as being quite on the same plane as the others, he would not have failed to quote so stimulating and congenial a production as the Book of Wisdom. Moreover, as has been pointed out by several authorities, the independent spirit of the Hellenists could not have gone so far as to setup a different official Canon from that of Jerusalem, without having left historical traces of such a rupture. So, from the available data we may justly infer that, while the deuterocanonicals were admitted as sacred by the Alexandrian Jews, they possessed a lower degree of sanctity and authority than the longer accepted books, i.e., the Palestinian Hagiographa and the Prophets, themselves inferior to the Law.


The most explicit definition of the Catholic Canon is that given by the Council of Trent, Session IV, 1546. For the Old Testament its catalogue reads as follows:

The five books of Moses (Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy), Josue, Judges, Ruth, the four books of Kings, two of Paralipomenon, the first and second of Esdras (which latter is called Nehemias), Tobias, Judith, Esther, Job, the Davidic Psalter (in number one hundred and fifty Psalms), Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, the Canticle of Canticles, Wisdom, Ecclesiasticus, Isaias, Jeremias, with Baruch, Ezechiel, Daniel, the twelve minor Prophets (Osee, Joel, Amos, Abdias, Jonas, Micheas, Nahum, Habacue, Sophonias, Aggeus, Zacharias, Malachias), two books of Machabees, the first and second.The order of books copies that of the Council of Florence, 1442, and in its general plan is that of the Septuagint. The divergence of titles from those found in the Protestant versions is due to the fact that the official Latin Vulgate retained the forms of the Septuagint.


The Tridentine decrees from which the above list is extracted was the first infallible and effectually promulgated pronouncement on the Canon, addressed to the Church Universal. Being dogmatic in its purport, it implies that the Apostles bequeathed the same Canon to the Church, as a part of the depositum fedei. But this was not done by way of any formal decision; we should search the pages of the New Testament in vain for any trace of such action. The larger Canon of the Old Testament passed through the Apostles' hands to the church tacitly, by way of their usage and whole attitude toward its components; an attitude which, for most of the sacred writings of the Old Testament, reveals itself in the New, and for the rest, must have exhibited itself in oral utterances, or at least in tacit approval of the special reverence of the faithful. Reasoning backward from the status in which we find the deutero books in the earliest ages of post-Apostolic Christianity, we rightly affirm that such a status points of Apostolic sanction, which in turn must have rested on revelation either by Christ or the Holy Spirit. For the deuterocanonicals at least, we needs must have recourse to this legitimate prescriptive argument, owing to the complexity and inadequacy of the New Testament data.

All the books of the Hebrew Old Testament are cited in the New except those which have been aptly called the Antilegomena of the Old Testament, viz., Esther, Ecclesiastes, and Canticles; moreover Esdras and Nehemias are not employed. The admitted absence of any explicit citation of the deutero writings does not therefore prove that they were regarded as inferior to the above-mentioned works in the eyes of New Testament personages and authors. The deutero literature was in general unsuited to their purposes, and some consideration should be given to the fact that even at its Alexandrian home it was not quoted by Jewish writers, as we saw in the case of Philo. The negative argument drawn from the non-citation of the deuterocanonicals in the New Testament is especially minimized by the indirect use made of them by the same Testament. This takes the form of allusions and reminiscences, and shows unquestionably that the Apostles and Evangelists were acquainted with the Alexandrian increment, regarded its books as at least respectable sources, and wrote more or less under its influence. A comparison of Hebrews, xi and II Machabees, vi and vii reveals unmistakable references in the former to the heroism of the martyrs glorified in the latter. There are close affinities of thought, and in some cases also of language, between I Peter, i, 6, 7, and Wisdom, iii, 5, 6; Hebrews, i, 3, and Wisdom, vii, 26, 27; I Corinthians, x, 9, 10, and Judith, viii, 24-25; I Corinthians, vi, 13, and Ecclesiasticus, xxxvi, 20.

Yet the force of the direct and indirect employment of Old Testament writings by the New is slightly impaired by the disconcerting truth that at least one of the New Testament authors, St. Jude, quotes explicitly from the "Book of Henoch", long universally recognized as apocryphal, see verse 14, while in verse 9 he borrows from another apocryphal narrative, the "Assumption of Moses". The New Testament quotations from the Old are in general characterized by a freedom and elasticity regarding manner and source which further ten to diminish their weight as proofs of canonicity. But so far as concerns the great majority of the Palestinian Hagiographa--a fortiori, the Pentateuch and Prophets--whatever want of conclusiveness there may be in the New Testament, evidence of their canonical standing is abundantly supplemented from Jewish sources alone, in the series of witnesses beginning with the Mishnah and running back through Josephus and Philo to the translation of the above books for the Hellenist Greeks. But for the deuterocanonical literature, only the last testimony speaks as a Jewish confirmation. However, there are signs that the Greek version was not deemed by its readers as a closed Bible of definite sacredness in all its parts, but that its somewhat variable contents shaded off in the eyes of the Hellenists from the eminently sacred Law down to works of questionable divinity, such as III Machabees.

This factor should be considered in weighing a certain argument. A large number of Catholic authorities see a canonization of the deuteros in a supposed wholesale adoption and approval, by the Apostles, of the Greek, and therefore larger, Old Testament The argument is not without a certain force; the New Testament undoubtedly shows a preference for the Septuagint; out of the 350 texts from the Old Testament, 300 favour the language of the Greek version rather than that of the Hebrew. But there are considerations which bid us hesitate to admit an Apostolic adoption of the Septuagint en bloc. As remarked above, there are cogent reasons for believing that it was not a fixed quantity at the time. The existing oldest representative manuscripts are not entirely identical in the books they contain. Moreover, it should be remembered that at the beginning of our era, and for some time later, complete sets of any such voluminous collection as the Septuagint in manuscript would be extremely rare; the version must have been current in separate books or groups of books, a condition favourable to a certain variability of compass. So neither a fluctuating Septuagint nor an inexplicit New Testament conveys to us the exact extension of the pre- Christian Bible transmitted by the Apostles to the Primitive Church. It is more tenable to conclude to a selective process under the guidance of the Holy Ghost, and a process completed so late in Apostolic times that the New Testament fails to reflect its mature result regarding either the number or note of sanctity of the extra-Palestinian books admitted. To historically learn the Apostolic Canon of the Old Testament we must interrogate less sacred but later documents, expressing more explicitly the belief of the first ages of Christianity.


The sub-Apostolic writings of Clement, Polycarp, the author of the Epistle of Barnabas, of the pseudo-Clementine homilies, and the "Shepherd" of Hermas, contain implicit quotations from or allusions to all the deuterocanonicals except Baruch (which anciently was often united with Jeremias) and I Machabess and the additions to David. No unfavourable argument can be drawn from the loose, implicit character of these citations, since these Apostolic Fathers quote the protocanonical Scriptures in precisely the same manner. Coming down to the next age, that of the apologists, we find Baruch cited by Athenagoras as a prophet. St. Justin Martyr is the first to note that the Church has a set of Old Testament Scriptures different from the Jews', and also the earliest to intimate the principle proclaimed by later writers, namely, the self-sufficiency of the Church in establishing the Canon; its independence of the Synagogue in this respect. The full realization of this truth came slowly, at least in the Orient, where there are indications that in certain quarters the spell of Palestinian-Jewish tradition was not fully cast off for some time. St. Melito, Bishop of Sardis (c. 170), first drew up a list of the canonical books of the Old Testament While maintaining the familiar arrangement of the Septuagint, he says that he verified his catalogue by inquiry among Jews; Jewry by that time had everywhere discarded the Alexandrian books, and Melito's Canon consists exclusively of the protocanonicals minus Esther. It should be noticed, however, that the document to which this catalogue was prefixed is capable of being understood as having an anti-Jewish polemical purpose, in which case Melito's restricted canon is explicable on another ground. St. Irenæus, always a witness of the first rank, on account of his broad acquaintance with ecclesiastical tradition, vouches that Baruch was deemed on the same footing as Jeremias, and that the narratives of Susanna and Bel and the Dragon were ascribed to Daniel. The Alexandrian tradition is represented by the weighty authority of Origen. Influenced, doubtless, by the Alexandrian-Jewish usage of acknowledging in practice the extra writings as sacred while theoretically holding to the narrower Canon of Palestine, his catalogue of the Old Testament Scriptures contains only the protocanonical books, though it follows the order of the Septuagint. Nevertheless Origen employs all the deuterocanonicals as Divine Scriptures, and in his letter of Julius Africanus defends the sacredness of Tobias, Judith, and the fragments of Daniel, at the same time implicitly asserting the autonomy of the Church in fixing the Canon (see references in Cornely). In his Hexaplar edition of the Old Testament all the deuteros find a place. The sixth-century Biblical manuscript known as the "Codex Claromontanus" contains a catalogue to which both Harnack and Zahn assign an Alexandrian origin, about contemporary with Origen. At any rate it dates from the period under examination and comprises all the deuterocanonical books, with IV Machabees besides. St. Hippolytus (d. 236) may fairly be considered as representing the primitive Roman tradition. He comments on the Susanna chapter, often quotes Wisdom as the work of Solomon, and employs as Sacred Scripture Baruch and the Machabees. For the West African Church the larger canon has two strong witnesses in Tertullian and St. Cyprian. All the deuteros except Tobias, Judith, and the addition to Esther, are Biblically used in the works of these Fathers.


In this period the position of the deuterocanonical literature is no longer as secure as in the primitive age. The doubts which arose should be attributed largely to a reaction against the apocryphal or pseudo-Biblical writings with which the East especially had been flooded by heretical and other writers. Negatively, the situation became possible through the absence of any Apostolic or ecclesiastical definition of the Canon. The definite and inalterable determination of the sacred sources, like that of all Catholic doctrines, was in the Divine economy left to gradually work itself out under the stimulus of questions and opposition. Alexandria, with its elastic Scriptures, had from the beginning been a congenial field for apocryphal literature, and St. Athanasius, the vigilant pastor of that flock, to protect it against the pernicious influence, drew up a catalogue of books with the values to be attached to each. First, the strict canon and authoritative source of truth is the Jewish Old Testament, Esther excepted. Besides, there are certain books which the Fathers had appointed to be read to catechumens for edification and instruction; these are the Wisdom of Solomon, the Wisdom of Sirach (Ecclesiasticus), Esther, Judith, Tobias, the Didache, or Doctrine of the Apostles, the Shepherd of Hermas. All others are apocrypha and the inventions of heretics (Festal Epistle for 367). Following the precedent of Origen and the Alexandrian tradition, the saintly doctor recognized no other formal canon of the Old Testament than the Hebrew one; but also, faithful to the same tradition, he practically admitted the deutero books to a Scriptural dignity, as is evident from his general usage. At Jerusalem there was a renascence, perhaps a survival, of Jewish ideas, the tendency there being distinctly unfavourable to the deuteros. St. Cyril of that see, while vindicating for the Church the right to fix the Canon, places them among the apocrypha and forbids all books to be read privately which are not read in the churches. In Antioch and Syria the attitude was more favourable. St. Epiphanius shows hesitation about the rank of the deuteros; he esteemed them, but they had not the same place as the Hebrew books in his regard. The historian Eusebius attests the widespread doubts in his time; he classes them as antilegomena, or disputed writings, and, like Athanasius, places them in a class intermediate between the books received by all and the apocrypha. The 59th (or 60th) canon of the provincial Council of Laodicea (the authenticity of which however is contested) gives a catalogue of the Scriptures entirely in accord with the ideas of St. Cyril of Jerusalem. On the other hand, the Oriental versions and Greek manuscripts of the period are more liberal; the extant ones have all the deuterocanonicals and, in some cases, certain apocrypha.

The influence of Origen's and Athanasius's restricted canon naturally spread to the West. St. Hilary of Poitiers and Rufinus followed their footsteps, excluding the deuteros from canonical rank in theory, but admitting them in practice. The latter styles them "ecclesiastical" books, but in authority unequal to the other Scriptures. St. Jerome cast his weighty suffrage on the side unfavourable to the disputed books. In appreciating his attitude we must remember that Jerome lived long in Palestine, in an environment where everything outside the Jewish Canon was suspect, and that, moreover, he had an excessive veneration for the Hebrew text, the Hebraica veritas as he called it. In his famous "Prologus Galeatus", or Preface to his translation of Samuel and Kings, he declares that everything not Hebrew should be classed with the apocrypha, and explicitly says that Wisdom, Ecclesiasticus, Tobias, and Judith are not on the Canon. These books, he adds, are read in the churches for the edification of the people, and not for the confirmation of revealed doctrine. An analysis of Jerome's expressions on the deuterocanonicals, in various letters and prefaces, yields the following results: first, he strongly doubted their inspiration; secondly, the fact that he occasionally quotes them, and translated some of them as a concession to ecclesiastical tradition, is an involuntary testimony on his part to the high standing these writings enjoyed in the Church at large, and to the strength of the practical tradition which prescribed their readings in public worship. Obviously, the inferior rank to which the deuteros were relegated by authorities like Origen, Athanasius, and Jerome, was due to too rigid a conception of canonicity, one demanding that a book, to be entitled to this supreme dignity, must be received by all, must have the sanction of Jewish antiquity, and must moreover be adapted not only to edification, but also to the "confirmation of the doctrine of the Church", to borrow Jerome's phrase.

But while eminent scholars and theorists were thus depreciating the additional writings, the official attitude of the Latin Church, always favourable to them, kept the majestic tenor of its way. Two documents of capital importance in the history of the canon constitute the first formal utterance of papal authority on the subject. The first is the so-called "Decretal of Gelasius", de recipiendis et non recipiendis libris, the essential part of which is now generally attributed to a synod convoked by Pope Damasus in the year 382. The other is the Canon of Innocent I, sent in 405 to a Gallican bishop in answer to an inquiry. Both contain all the deuterocanonicals, without any distinction, and are identical with the catalogue of Trent. The African Church, always a staunch supporter of the contested books, found itself in entire accord with Rome on this question. Its ancient version, the Vetus Latina (less correctly the Itala), had admitted all the Old Testament Scriptures. St. Augustine seems to theoretically recognize degrees of inspiration; in practice he employs protos and deuteros without any discrimination whatsoever. Moreover in his "De Doctrinâ Christianâ" he enumerates the components of the complete Old Testament. The Synod of Hippo (393) and the three of Carthage (393, 397, and 419), in which, doubtless, Augustine was the leading spirit, found it necessary to deal explicitly with the question of the Canon, and drew up identical lists from which no sacred books are excluded. These councils base their canon on tradition and liturgical usage. For the Spanish Church valuable testimony is found in the work of the heretic Priscillian, "Liber de Fide et Apocryphis"; it supposes a sharp line existing between canonical and uncanonical works, and that the Canon takes in all the deuteros.


This period exhibits a curious exchange of opinions between the West and the East, while ecclesiastical usage remained unchanged, at least in the Latin Church. During this intermediate age the use of St. Jerome's new version of the Old Testament (the Vulgate) became widespread in the Occident. With its text went Jerome's prefaces disparaging the deuterocanonicals, and under the influence of his authority the West began to distrust these and to show the first symptoms of a current hostile to their canonicity. On the other hand, the Oriental Church imported a Western authority which had canonized the disputed books, viz., the decree of Carthage, and from this time there is an increasing tendency among the Greeks to place the deuteros on the same level with the others--a tendency, however, due more to forgetfulness of the old distinction than to deference to the Council of Carthage.


The Greek Church

The result of this tendency among the Greeks was that about the beginning of the twelfth century they possessed a canon identical with that of the Latins, except that it took in the apocryphal III Machabees. That all the deuteros were liturgically recognized in the Greek Church at the era of the schism in the ninth century, is indicated by the "Syntagma Canonum" of Photius.

The Latin Church

In the Latin Church, all through the Middle Ages we find evidence of hesitation about the character of the deuterocanonicals. There is a current friendly to them, another one distinctly unfavourable to their authority and sacredness, while wavering between the two are a number of writers whose veneration for these books is tempered by some perplexity as to their exact standing, and among those we note St. Thomas Aquinas. Few are found to unequivocally acknowledge their canonicity. The prevailing attitude of Western Medieval authors is substantially that of the Greek Fathers. The chief cause of this phenomenon in the West is to be sought in the influence, direct and indirect, of St. Jerome's depreciating Prologus. The compilatory "Glossa Ordinaria" was widely read and highly esteemed as a treasury of sacred learning during the Middle Ages; it embodied the prefaces in which the Doctor of Bethlehem had written in terms derogatory to the deuteros, and thus perpetuated and diffused his unfriendly opinion. And yet these doubts must be regarded as more or less academic. The countless manuscript copies of the Vulgate produced by these ages, with a slight, probably accidental, exception, uniformly embrace the complete Old Testament Ecclesiastical usage and Roman tradition held firmly to the canonical equality of all parts of the Old Testament There is no lack of evidence that during this long period the deuteros were read in the churches of Western Christendom. As to Roman authority, the catalogue of Innocent I appears in the collection of ecclesiastical canons sent by Pope Adrian I to Charlemagne, and adopted in 802 as the law of the Church in the Frankish Empire; Nicholas I, writing in 865 to the bishops of France, appeals to the same decree of Innocent as the ground on which all the sacred books are to be received.


The Council of Florence (1442)

In 1442, during the life, and with the approval, of this Council, Eugenius IV issued several Bulls, or decrees, with a view to restore the Oriental schismatic bodies to communion with Rome, and according to the common teaching of theologians these documents are infallible states of doctrine. The "Decretum pro Jacobitis" contains a complete list of the books received by the Church as inspired, but omits, perhaps advisedly, the terms canon and canonical. The Council of Florence therefore taught the inspiration of all the Scriptures, but did not formally pass on their canonicity.

The Council of Trent's Definition of the Canon (1546)

It was the exigencies of controversy that first led Luther to draw a sharp line between the books of the Hebrew Canon and the Alexandrian writings. In his disputation with Eck at Leipzig, in 1519, when his opponent urged the well-known text from II Machabees in proof of the doctrine of purgatory, Luther replied that the passage had no binding authority since the books was outside the Canon. In the first edition of Luther's Bible, 1534, the deuteros were relegated, as apocrypha, to a separate place between the two Testaments. To meet this radical departure of the Protestants, and as well define clearly the inspired sources from which the Catholic Faith draws its defence, the Council of Trent among its first acts solemnly declared as "sacred and canonical" all the books of the Old and New Testaments "with all their parts as they have been used to be read in the churches, and as found in the ancient vulgate edition". During the deliberations of the Council there never was any real question as to the reception of all the traditional Scripture. Neither--and this is remarkable--in the proceedings is there manifest any serious doubt of the canonicity of the disputed writings. In the mind of the Tridentine Fathers they had been virtually canonized, by the same decree of Florence, and the same Fathers felt especially bound by the action of the preceding ecumenical synod. The Council of Trent did not enter into an examination of the fluctuations in the history of the Canon. Neither did it trouble itself about questions of authorship or character of contents. True to the practical genius of the Latin Church, it based its decision on immemorial tradition as manifested in the decrees of previous councils and popes, and liturgical reading, relying on traditional teaching and usage to determine a question of tradition. The Tridentine catalogue has been given above.

The Vatican Council (1870)

The great constructive Synod of Trent had put the sacredness and canonicity of the whole traditional Bible forever beyond the permissibility of doubt on the part of Catholics. By implication it had defined that Bible's plenary inspiration also. The Vatican Council took occasion of a recent error on inspiration to remove any lingering shadow of uncertainty on this head; it formally ratified the action of Trent and explicitly defined the Divine inspiration of all the books with their parts.



The Greek Orthodox Church preserved its ancient Canon in practice as well as theory until recent times, when, under the dominant influence of its Russian offshoot, it is shifting its attitude towards the deuterocanonical Scriptures. The rejection of these books by the Russian theologians and authorities is a lapse which began early in the eighteenth century. The Monophysites, Nestorians, Jacobites, Armenians, and Copts, while concerning themselves little with the Canon, admit the complete catalogue and several apocrypha besides.


The Protestant Churches have continued to exclude the deutero writings from their canons, classifying them as "Apocrypha". Presbyterians and Calvinists in general, especially since the Westminster Synod of 1648, have been the most uncompromising enemies of any recognition, and owing to their influence the British and Foreign Bible Society decided in 1826 to refuse to distribute Bibles containing the Apocrypha. Since that time the publication of the deuterocanonicals as an appendix to Protestant Bibles has almost entirely ceased in English-speaking countries. The books still supply lessons for the liturgy of the Church of England, but the number has been lessened by the hostile agitation. There is an Apocrypha appendix to the British Revised Version, in a separate volume. The deuteros are still appended to the German Bibles printed under the auspices of the orthodox Lutherans. [Adapted from Catholic Encyclopedia (1912)]

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Malaspina Great Books Lecture Series

Genesis as Agenda

Powerpoint Presentation: Illustrations of Genesis
Russell McNeil, PhD (Copyright 2005)
[Malaspina Great Books Exclusive]

Why are we reading this book? I'd like to argue it is because Genesis raises most of the key questions and themes we will meet in this program over the next two years. Within the mosaic that is Genesis we are able to uncover a range of questions about the mystery of the human condition.

But what the book does overall - in an overarching way - is provide an answer to the overwhelming question we all face in all of our lives. What should I do with my life? How am I supposed to live? What is the "good life?" Genesis provides our first and certainly not the last answer. Later we will examine other responses. (from Plato, Aristotle, St. Augustine, Thomas Hobbes, Immanual Kant, Friedrich Neitzsche and others). Although we are far from unanimity on the right answer to this question - the inquiry we are embarking on here in Liberal Studies over the next two years may give us - if not the answer - at least provide us with the tools.

Genesis is an old book. The writings date from somewhere around the ninth century (B.C.), but the oral traditions captured by its several authors known only by the letters J, E and P go back to antiquity perhaps as far as the old kingdom of Egypt, at least 6,000 years.

Anything this old is bound to acquire an aura or odor -- depending on one's point of view. We revere it, or we detest it. Religious peoples from the Judeo-Christian traditions respect Genesis as "divinely inspired." The position here is that the God (and there is but one God) - who appears as a character in the text - is a real force in the cosmos and he has chosen to reveal his plan and purpose for his creation in this way. At the other end of the spectrum some critics read these scriptures as a manual for global enslavement--the work of a tyrannical crew of dead white patriarchs. A claim for which a good case can be made.

Dichotomies or polarizations as extreme as these might allow for colourful seminars in Liberal Studies but because such discussion is firmly rooted in the extremes of political ideology - on the one hand - or religious belief on the other, progress is difficult - if not impossible.

The cultural, religious and philosophical attitudes, biases, and ideologies each of us brings to the Liberal Studies experience are important and enriching. We need them. They are essential in building this community. But, the opinions and values we hold should never stand as a substitute for critical thinking -- and doing the work of reading the text anew. We all draw on what we bring with us into a program like this to illuminate our thinking. However it can be counterproductive to allow any world view to exclusively determine our thinking. We need to challenge our most precious beliefs and recognize them for what they might be: opinion. Opinions are emotional and psychological islands of safety in a sea of uncertainty. It's scary to set them aside. I challenge you to do that.

It requires a conscious decision to do so. I suspect that a lot of the opinions we do hold - whether they are good opinions or not - are closer to the status of "belief" than independently arrived at by a process of thinking critically. How many opinions do we hold - for example - not because we have reasoned them out, but because someone we respect as an "authority" has voiced the opinion and we just jump on the bandwagon. They tell us they "make no value judgments." They transmit a dose of what I now understand as "Soft Relativism" - a perspective that some view as contributing to social decay because it is a perspective that denies the possibility of everyone ever sharing common values.

A productive intellectual journey requires critical thinking which requires setting aside any opinions around which we may have doubt. In the search for new meanings "doubt" is our greatest ally. With it we are able to push the envelope, and to challenge "conventional wisdom." That's what it's all about - never accept as certain any opinion that seems safely held by many. Doubting conventional wisdom is a way if not the way to human intellectual growth. Doubt everything.

How do we do this in practical terms - how do we make it work?

We confront the text--straight on. We do it. We read, talk, listen and write, and we do it within the context of a supportive intellectual community.

Thinking critically does not mean fitting a text into a pre-formed mold. Thinking critically means being prepared to take aim at the molds the text seems to conform to at all levels. Nothing is accepted at face value. That does not mean jamming the text into our own pre-formed molds. Our molds our values are for most of us tentative. We are never really sure of anything we say we "believe in." I am a white middle class North American Roman Catholic educated male of Scottish ethnicity, Eastern Canadian roots with some experience in science and journalism and 12 years here in Liberal Studies. Those experiences were and are influential in shaping the way I react to the world. But they also distort and skew my perception of the world.

Thinking critically requires taking a second look. The influences I call mine are accidentals. What happens when I begin to question all of my values by acknowledging that those values may have been overly influenced by influences other than objective truth - if there is objective truth? What would my values have looked like if I was a person of colour, or a woman, or working class, or single, or gay, or if I were a carpenter (pause), or a Hebrew living in the middle east 3,000 years ago?

This exercise in detachment helps us understand how others might think--and how tentative many of our opinions are. It also shows me how something called "prejudice" occurs. When we adopt an opinion based on a reference to an authority with opinions developed using demonstrably bad reasoning - the consequent flawed opinions themselves are by definition prejudice: an adverse opinion or leaning formed without just grounds or before sufficient knowledge.

Let's bring some of this perspective to Genesis. To what degree has prejudice informed your response? For the sake of argument, I'd like to discuss six possible responses to this text.

1): You liked it.
2): You hated it.
3): You respond from a religious position.
4): You respond from a political perspective.
5): You regard Genesis as literature - a creation myth - one of many - but a myth with a moral - valuable wisdom - universal and sagacious.
6): You notice that genesis has merit not for its answers, but for the questions it raises. I'd call that an "existential manifesto!"

I suggest that the first two responses (liking, hating), miss the point. More pertinent they are beside the point. My personal aesthetic response to the text is important. It might help or hinder my attempt to get at the ideas, but my personal tastes are a bit like prejudice - I need to set those aside when I read the text. If we want to actually discover something new on an "intellectual" journey we need to get our hands dirty--we need to do some work.

Suppose you responded from a religious position. In this case you accept Genesis as the inspired word of God. This response comes in two main flavours. Either you take it's meaning as a): literally and historically accurate (as fundamentalist religious traditions do) or b): primarily allegorical in matters of historicity or science, but illuminating and philosophically challenging in terms of the questions it raises around the big question I mentioned earlier - What are we to do? And in doing so it provides a set of rules and or guidelines that we are bound to adhere to (the position taken by most main line Christian churches).

Let's look at Genesis as divine revelation. Well, if there is a divinity, if divinities reveal their intentions in this way--in books, and if this is one of those books, then Genesis might well be the "word of God." Unfortunately, very few readers outside the Judeo-Christian tradition will accept this, while only a subset of those within the tradition will. Furthermore, those within the tradition who accept Genesis as divine do not reach that conclusion through "critical thinking." This is a position accepted on something called "faith." Faith - rightly understood - and it is rarely understood rightly - is regarded in epistemology as a belief arrived as without proof. In theological circles faith is regarded as something real and a dependable source of true knowledge because it comes to you as a free gift of god. But "faith" is something else. Faith acknowledges "mystery"--that some forms of knowledge are forever inaccessible to reason. Unfortunately, if we try to use "faith" or "intuition" in a reasoned argument we abandon the use of reason itself! You know there may be in this universe a power like this, but I can never use this faith to prove an argument. In LBST faith is rarely persuasive. Faith may be a grand thing - but it won't cut the cake in convincing anyone but yourself.

4): Your responses and opinions were influenced by one or more contemporary political positions or political arguments. Here is one fairly radical possibility. Genesis is the product of an authoritarian and patriarchal people. It celebrates tyranny, denigrates women, and justifies the exploitation of minorities and nature for the benefit of a narrow "ruling or chosen" class. Hmmmm. I kind of like that. Let's look at that. In Genesis 1:26:

"God said, "Let us make man in our own image, in the likeness of ourselves, and let them be masters of the fish in the sea, the birds of heaven, the cattle, all the wild beasts and all the reptiles that crawl upon the earth.’"

So, we were made, in God's image, as creatures with Dominion over everything else. And, if, as Genesis purports, we were made in his "image," we might, like God, assume as an "attitude," towards nature, the same sort of "attitude" God seems to display over his creation. Just what sort of "attitude" does God display toward his creation? The same fellow who surveyed his creation and pronounced it as "good" in Genesis 1, turned around and destroyed it all in Genesis 6:6:

"Yahweh regretted having made man on earth, and his heart grieved, 'I will rid the earth's surface of the face of man, my own creation,' Yahweh said, 'and of animals also, reptiles too, and the birds of heaven; for I regret having made them.'"

Some role model! Has this "attitude" given us license to do what we will with the earth, perhaps to destroy it too if we see fit?

Genesis also formulates, in its narrative around the Fall, an "attitude" around women and woman's responsibility for the sorry state of the human condition. In Genesis 3:12, Adam says to God:

"It was the woman you put with me; she gave me the fruit, and I ate it."

And later on in Genesis 3:16:

"To the woman he said: 'I will multiply your pains in childbearing, you shall give birth to your children in pain. Your yearning shall be for your husband, yet he will lord it over you.'"

Ouch! Woman is condemned to subservience in her relationship to man.

Men get rough treatment too, Genesis 3:17:

"Accursed be the soil because of you. With suffering shall you get your food from it every day of your life...with sweat on your brow shall you eat your bread, until you return to the soil."

Men in the great scheme are defined here in terms of their labour: labour which is considered as marginal in value.

"It shall yield you brambles and thistles."

In Genesis 11, the story of Babel, God punishes man for attempting to rise above the brambles, to ennoble his work.

"Let us make a name for ourselves," man said. "Let us build ourselves a town and a tower with its top reaching heaven."

And so man did. He built a magnificent, technologically advanced city (it would have to be), with a tower reaching towards the heavens. In response to this initiative God destroys our capacity to communicate with one another--our first attempt to establish a world wide web is unplugged. God saw the danger of a large interactive human community. We were forcibly alienated from one another. Back to the brambles, says he. What's the message here? Is it not to keep the proletariat in their place?

There is another strong political message in Genesis 47, in the Story of Joseph, who, although portrayed as a paradigm of virtue in his role as governor of Egypt, manages, over a period of a few years, to acquire all of the privately held land in Egypt for the Pharaoh, as payment for food that he has cleverly stored away to use for the famine that he knew would come. In the process Joseph reduces all of the people to serfdom. Joseph uses his privileged position--his pipeline to God--and the secret knowledge he alone possesses, to exploit the masses. The Joseph of Genesis, like one modern dictatorially benevolent autocratic Joseph in this century, (Joseph Stalin comes to mind), understood the power of knowledge and the importance of secrecy. If you want to keep the masses at bay, keep them in the dark.

Of course you can have a field day with these kinds of interpretations. Lots of people do. However, a careful analysis of most of these ideas will show them too, as label dependent and somewhat inconsistent with one another. I am using contemporary feminist, Marxist and environmental arguments to build the so-called "patriarchal" political case against Genesis.

As much as I may respect these politically determined "ways of thinking," environmentalism, feminism, Marxism - I think we need to step outside of those isms as well in our effort to capture the importance of Genesis. I think - but have not demonstrated - is that the modern political readings are thin, selective, self-serving, politically motivated, and fundamentally dis-respectful to the text.

5): You responded from a literary perspective. This is a literary narrative - certainly not "inspired" - but the creation myth of an early people. That creation myth - and many other cultures write them - was influenced by the mythologies of other cultures like Mesopotamia and Egypt. The work is well written, coherent, rich in symbolism, and poetry, and is worthy of study on its own merit for its other literary devices - such as the clever and subtle use of allegory. Genesis was designed - cleverly - to guide the survival of a tightly knit community living in the shadow of and enduring the tyranny of an oppressive counter-culture - Egypt. The times and privations were hard on the people that this was written for. Perhaps this is why Genesis seems to celebrate suffering. There is a way in which Genesis can be read, in which the "Fall" of man in the Garden of Eden is designed to transform the idea of suffering as a necessary path we must take to acquire any sort of true knowledge. Banishment from the Garden then can be read not as a bad thing, but - in tough love fashion - as God's greatest gift - the gift of intellectual freedom - hitherto forbidden because it required suffering - and in Eden there could be no suffering. The greatest gift of God was this gift of intellectual freedom - the very thing we - as humans - needed most and the very thing that makes us human!! Interestingly to see the text in this way requires intellectual freedom. The counter-intuitive conclusion a reading like this requires can be seen as a kind of wisdom. It's provocative. It's philosophically provocative. It's an opinion that demands attention. This alone is a best reason to read Genesis.

6): This now leaves us with our one other opinion independent option: Genesis as existential manifesto. Genesis is important, not for the answers it provides, but for the questions it raises. Those questions are universal and eternal. They are as valid today as they were 6,000 years ago. Genesis is remarkable because it addresses in a single document most of the major issues and themes that have puzzled humans from antiquity to the present.

Who are we? Where did we come from? Is there a God? What is Godlike? What is our duty to God? What is God's duty to us? What are our responsibilities as individuals in our relationships to each other, to our partners, to our children, to our communities, to our rulers, to nature? What alienates us from others, from work, from nature? What is justice? What is wisdom? What is beauty? What is the nature of evil? Why do we work? Why do we suffer? What is sin? What is right? What is wrong? What is good? What is a good life? What are the rules? Where do we go from here? Why should we care? What is the program of human civilization? What is our destiny? What is the meaning of redemption?

These themes re-emerge again and again in all of our readings. You may be delighted or outraged with the various ways Genesis responds to these themes, but it's hard to deny the importance of its questions.

- end -

Malaspina Great Books Lecture Series

Exodus: The Voice of Yahweh

Russell McNeil, PhD (Copyright 2005)
[Malaspina Great Books Exclusive]

On November 9, 1938, the German Gestapo arrested 25,000 Jewish men -- for being Jewish. This roundup set in motion a night of mayhem throughout Germany that ended with 91 dead, 267 synagogues destroyed, and thousands of Jewish shops laid waste. It was estimated that 24 million marks worth of glass had been broken in this frenzy of religious and racial hatred--hence, the name Crystal Night. The collective internment of Jewish men during the Crystal Night prefigured the fate of millions of Jews after the outbreak of war. In an article titled "Why Do they Hate the Jews?" written for Colliers Magazine a few weeks after the infamous Crystal Night in 1938 Albert Einstein wrote this:

The bond that has united the Jews for thousands of years and that unites them today is, above all, the democratic ideal of social justice. The most ancient religious scriptures of the Jews are steeped in these social ideals, which have powerfully affected Christianity and Islam and have had a benign influence upon the social structure of a great part of mankind ... The second characteristic trait of the Jewish tradition is the high regard in which it holds every form of intellectual aspiration and spiritual effort. I am convinced that this great respect for intellectual striving is solely responsible for the contributions that the Jews have made toward the progress of knowledge, in the broadest sense of the term. In view of their relatively small number and the considerable external obstacles constantly placed in their way on all sides, the extent of those contributions deserves the admiration of all sincere [people]. I am convinced that this is not due to any special wealth of endowment, but to the fact that the esteem in which intellectual accomplishment is held among the Jews creates an atmosphere particularly favorable to the development of any talents that may exist. At the same time a strong critical spirit prevents blind obeisance to any mortal authority.

There are other words for these three ideas. Social justice might read fairness, or equity under law, or even what we now call human rights. Intellectual striving might read free-thinking or the right to create, the freedom to inquire, the need to know, or even scientific inquiry. Critical spirit might read the right to object, the refusal to follow orders blindly, or -- in modern terms -- it might even contain the notion of civil disobedience.

Were the seeds for social justice, intellectual curiosity and this so-called critical spirit planted in the Books of Jewish Scripture? Is there evidence of these notions in the Book of Exodus? I am not trying to claim that Moses and the social community he led were in any modern sense liberal democrats. Obviously the sorts of freedoms we hold out today do not exist in this text. What I do claim is that these sorts of freedoms took root here. They took root not because the people were clamoring for them. They took root because -- ironically -- through a process of elimination. The old kinds of freedoms -- the fun freedoms -- the freedoms that come naturally - what came to be known as sins of the flesh -- were forbidden. This negation not only of forbidden pleasures, but of the rules of the older gods and traditions, forced this Exodus proto-community into new ways of thinking.

There is some evidence in Exodus that this "God" -- Yahweh -- is different - in kind - from the gods of old. The most important difference of course is that Yahweh is not many but one god. His representation is unique. There are no clear visual clues at all of what this new God looks like. There is no effigy, no golden calf, nothing structural at all. This new "God" Yahweh remains hidden, hidden in a burning bush, hidden in a pillar of smoke, hidden in a column of fire, hidden on the tops of mountains enveloped in clouds. He is also stern, vengeful, jealous, and angry.

When Moses approaches God in the Burning bush in Chapter 3 Verse 13, this God identifies himself with a simple yet enigmatic answer…Moses said to God, "Suppose I go to the Israelites and say to them, `The God of your fathers has sent me to you,' and they ask me, `What is his name?' Then what shall I tell them?" God said to Moses, "I AM WHO I AM. This is what you are to say to the Israelites: `I AM has sent me to you.'"

What an extraordinary response! At one level this answer seems pure nonsense -- it's no answer at all. Yet at another level the answer is absolutely stunning. This is the voice of absolute authority. It's the response we expect from none other than the "leader of the pack." What does it mean? I am who I am; I will be what I will be (which is an alternate meaning, by the way). This rag tag minority community of oppressed people is expressing through this novel creation -- a sense of power and authority and leadership that is unassailable.

What this Yahweh lacks in visual identity he more than makes up in vocal qualities. The voice of this God reverberates throughout this text. Yet, when we examine this voice and what it says we see that its character changes. I looked at over 45 separate manifestations of the voice of Yahweh in the text. I noticed a couple of things. This voice is never spontaneous. The people cry out -- the voice responds. It appears as a reaction to the voice of the people -- an oppressed, and helpless minority with no weapons, or other material resources to organize against their oppressors. What should we do? This is what you must do. Listen to this: In Exodus 2:23 "The sons of Israel, groaning in their slavery, cried out for help …" Of course this is a cry for social justice. Through Moses Yahweh responds in Exodus 5:6: "I have heard the groaning of the sons of Israel…I will free you." What can freedom mean -- if not social justice?

But God's help does not come for free. This God exacts a price and a heavy one. Freedom is promised, but the freedom is coupled to an array of exacting behavioral requirements, moral and legal, that take shape in the decalogue. You will have justice -- but here are my terms. I, Yahweh, must be your only God. You shall not worship the images of other gods. You shall respect my name. You must Honor the sabbath. You must not kill. You must not steal. You must not commit adultery. You must not lie. You must not covet the property or persons of others.

These are a tough set of commands. But by and large they are not unreasonable demands. If nothing else these laws discourage people from allowing their actions to be motivated solely by desire and instinct or custom and tradition -- is this not a first step on a road to understanding -- to intellectual striving? I think what upsets moderns most about these demands is not so much their content, but the severity and swiftness of the punishments Yahweh attaches to breaking those early rules: death for death, eye for eye, tooth for tooth as outlined in Exodus 21. But if these laws and punishments are understood as the first stage of a self-imposed communal scheme designed fundamentally to empower an otherwise powerless group of people, they may be easier to understand. With these commandments and their endless corollaries in place, these powerless people really have nothing much left but wit and cunning, and intellect. Is this clear? These commandments have forced the community to abandon the old gods and whatever they stood for -- and god knows what they stood for. The commandments have also taken away what -- let's face it -- the "freedom" to engage in anything that a primitive unwashed bunch of people might want to do to have a good time -- lying, cheating, stealing, killing, adultery, etc… The base animal nature is suppressed. What is left -- if not wit, cunning and intellect? I personally think it was a wickedly clever strategy to control the mob. But, lets face it. This takes enormous discipline. If this community of oppressed slaves is to accomplish its objective, it must impose harsh regulations -- and it must have ruthless leadership. This was the boot camp of western civilization.

Throughout most of Exodus Yahweh can be understood as the communal expression of an emerging yearning for a better life, which is first projected onto, then reflected back, as the voice of an all powerful God. But that does not really matter -- as far as this text goes. Whether this text contains the record of a real historical intervention by an all-powerful God, or whether that god is some sort of group consciousness is irrelevant. In either case the strategy was effective. But this voice remains a harsh taskmaster. It remains hidden, obscure, fearful, and invisible. It is expressed as a set of rough rules and tough justice, designed to discipline a powerless nation. That yearning is heard as a monolithic, singular voice. Yet, the quality of this voice is different from the superstitious idolatry it replaced. It is tough, rough and dreadful. I think it had it had to be, given the conditions these people needed to overcome. But it is singular, purposeful, tied to an end, and bound by a promise.

Is there was anything in this idea of Yahweh that can be seen, even remotely, as a "genesis" of something that begins to look like intellectual striving? Does this craving for freedom ever shift to a striving for solutions? I think so. Why do I think that? Because the voice changes. That monolithic tone, the one we hear most in Exodus takes on an entirely new character in several important places. First of all the voice begins to lose its monolithic quality. It becomes dialogical. I mean it engages in discourse. It even begins to listen to arguments.

In Ex 32:11 Moses pleads with Yahweh not to punish his people. "Relent," says Moses. "Leave your burning wrath," he says. "Keep your promise" he goes on. What does Yahweh do? He actually relents. This monolithic authority actually accepts Moses' argument, and with no hint of reluctance.

And later in Ex 33:10 we see more evidence of interactive dialogue, internal reasoning if you see this my way. "The pillar of cloud would come down, and Yahweh would speak with Moses. Yahweh would speak to Moses face to face, as a man speaks with a friend."

When this second voice speaks, it speaks in has a new tone. Here are the three examples I see as important.

Ex. 16:26; "If you listen carefully to the voice of Yahweh your God and do what is right in his eyes…I will give you healing." What is in this demand to be careful in our listening -- if not an injunction to strive for real meaning? There is the beginning of a shift here from demand to reason, from boot camp drill sargent to teacher.

Here's another example. In Exodus 19:5: "If you obey my voice and hold fast to my covenant…[you will be blessed]." The voice again is what we are asked to obey. What is this voice? Why does the text separate voice and covenant. A covenant is clear and unambiguous, but a voice requires analysis, understanding, and careful attention. The people of Israel have been asked to obey yes, but what exactly they have been asked to obey -- outside of the set of moral demands made earlier -- isn't obvious. It has to worked out.

Finally in Exodus 23:22, "If you listen carefully to his voice (the voice of an angel here), and do all that I say ... [your enemies will be my enemies]."

Seen in this light, the God of Exodus expresses the collective will of an oppressed minority -- a will to survive. How do humans faced with impossible odds cope. If all we have is our wit, then it is our wit that we must learn to cultivate. If the development of a climate where wit can emerge requires harsh discipline, then so be it. Such in a sense is the way of the world. We all know what self-discipline requires. Imagine coordinating that requirement within a collective of over 1 million people.

Does this interpretation negate the theistic importance of Exodus? Does it not suggest after all that Gods are creations of collective will and nothing more? That's a theological argument and outside my purpose here. But a textual analysis along these lines need not support the conclusion that gods do not exist. A theist -- god believer - might respond this way. Sure, Yahweh may indeed be seen as a projection of communal mind. But, by the same token the same theist might also see a natural symmetry here. Is not the mind of man a projection of the will of Yahweh? Is that not the real meaning of the wording in Genesis, that man is created in the image and likeness of God? This business of projecting meaning onto imaginary creations may be way the real Yahweh operates. I am who am!

Let's leave those debates to the philosophers and theologians.

Personally, I prefer the nuance suggested by Einstein writing a few weeks after Crystal Night. What is important is that this text can be seen as containing elements that have contributed in a powerful way to the development of an enormously important stream in western culture: a hunger for social justice, a thirst for understanding, and a suspicion of monolithic authority -- elements of all three of which can be seen beginning to take shape in this text.

And Einstein -- who did not believe in a personal God - goes on with a beautiful passage in which he describes how this idea of serving the living, the real meaning of spirituality for Einstein, found expression in the Psalms of Jewish Scripture as a "sort of intoxicated joy and amazement at the beauty and grandeur of the world." Einstein equates this joy with the spiritual feeling from which real intellectual striving and true scientific research draws its spiritual sustenance.

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Malaspina Great Books Lecture Series

The Book of Job

Powerpoint Presentation: The Book of "Job"
Russell McNeil, PhD (Copyright 2005)
[Malaspina Great Books Exclusive]

The Book of Job taken as a mere work of literary genius, is one of the most wonderful productions of any age or of any language. (Daniel Webster)


The unique feature that sets Hebrew people apart from other peoples of antiquity is their belief in a God who was actively and purposively involved in the direction of human affairs. They felt a unique relationship with to God -- one of friendship and one of accountability; they were his people, and He was their God.

Wisdom Literature

The Book of Job is one of five books in the Old Testament classified as Wisdom Literature. These works: Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, the Song of Solomon, and the Book of Job, constitute a set pf practical moral guidelines which are consistent with the demands imposed by their god -- a god who is actively involved in human affairs.

All cultures generate systems of rules and guidelines that in one way or other enable its members to live meaningfully and purposefully as individuals and within community. Wisdom literature may be seen as the product of a kind of practical philosophy, a philosophy unfettered by the need for a rational justification. That does not mean that the ideas contained in wisdom literature are philosophically unsound -- although some of the "wisdom" may be that -- or that the culture from which this wisdom emerges is disinterested in philosophy. The Hebrew did engage in philosophy. Wisdom literature is designed to show people how to live practically and to communicate in a way that is emotionally engaging. Karl Marx once described wisdom literature as a sort of cultural glue -- a means of cementing community while minimizing cultural conflict with others. Marx claimed that Wisdom Literature results from the mingling of large mixed populations with contrasting traditions. Wisdom, for Marx, serves the cultural purpose of minimizing friction as cultures clash.

Wisdom literature still thrives. The popular appeals of newspaper advice columnists or books like "Everything I know I learned from my Dog," are testament to a thirst for practical guidelines. The motivation now may be different from the Hebrew desire to accommodate God, but the nature of the advice offered covers similar terrain. Wisdom seeks to guide our "motives," our "attitudes," or "orientation," and our "speech. The maxims of Wisdom (such as "The Fear of the Lord is the beginning of Wisdom") provide guidelines governing our relationships in marriage, parenting, work, government, and God. All of us carry fragments of cultural wisdom maxims: "Stick to your guns (be persistent)," "neither a lender nor borrower be (maintaining friendships)," "exercise caution in the world of business (Desiderata)."

"Wisdom" in Hebraic literature begins with "Fear of the Lord." This is the fear we experience in the presence of the truly awesome: the "fear" experienced by a canoe as it ties up to an aircraft carrier: it's a combination of awe, reverence, wonder and respect. The Hebrew God was bigger than big, whiter than white, power and love incarnate -- too much for ordinary comprehension -- and thus beyond understanding, beyond philosophy.

That does not mean that philosophy has no role. Actually the five books of Wisdom in the Jewish scripture poke away at all the big questions I've raised before. Questions involving life's meaning and human purpose. The central question in Job seeks a reconciliation around the facts of human suffering by the righteous and the innocent. One way Hebrew thought here might differ from other responses is to simply leave the irreconcilable unreconsiled! There is no answer accessible to humans. The answer is to trust god. Period. The main Hebrew dictate: "Love God and Do what is Right." Mother Teresa -- who worked most of her life amidst incredible suffering -- was once asked if she believed if her God was "doing the right thing" in allowing so much suffering in the world. Her surprising reaction, "How can you even know what is doing the right thing, unless you do it?

The Wisdom Literature

1. Song of Songs: God to Man -- How to Love
2. Ecclesiastes -- Man to Self -- How to Enjoy
3. Proverbs -- Man to Man -- How to Pray
4. Psalms -- Man to God -- How to Pray
5. Job -- Man to Existence -- How to Suffer

The Book of Job

The book is dated to the time of Solomon, around 1,000 BC. The work is clearly a fiction, an allegory in poetic form -- and intended by the poet who wrote it to be read as such -- although the allegory may have been modeled on a real historical figure.

Divine Inspiration

The book is deemed as divinely inspired in some religious traditions. What that means in religious tradition is that the allegorical conversations reported in the poem reveal truths about the nature ( but not the actions) of a real god as opposed to a fictional god.

The Poetry

Whatever else might be said about the book of Job, this is a profoundly beautiful poem. Tennyson called it "...the greatest poem, whether of ancient or modern literature." Victor Hugo said "Tomorrow, if all literature was to be destroyed and it was left to me to retain one work only, I should save Job."

What makes the poetry so effective is its concrete language -- there is no rhyme or rhythm. There is nothing abstract about the voice or words.

1 Then the LORD answered Job out of the storm. He said:
2 "Who is this that darkens my counsel with words without knowledge?
3 Brace yourself like a man; I will question you, and you shall answer me.
4 "Where were you when I laid the earth's foundation? Tell me, if you understand.
5 Who marked off its dimensions? Surely you know! Who stretched a measuring line across it?
6 On what were its footings set, or who laid its cornerstone-
7 while the morning stars sang together and all the angels [1] shouted for joy?
8 "Who shut up the sea behind doors when it burst forth from the womb,
9 when I made the clouds its garment and wrapped it in thick darkness,
10 when I fixed limits for it and set its doors and bars in place, 11 when I said, 'This far you may come and no farther; here is where your proud waves halt'?
12 "Have you ever given orders to the morning, or shown the dawn its place,
13 that it might take the earth by the edges and shake the wicked out of it?
14 The earth takes shape like clay under a seal; its features stand out like those of a garment.
15 The wicked are denied their light, and their upraised arm is broken.
16 "Have you journeyed to the springs of the sea or walked in the recesses of the deep?
17 Have the gates of death been shown to you? Have you seen the gates of the shadow of death [2]?
18 Have you comprehended the vast expanses of the earth? Tell me, if you know all this.
19 "What is the way to the abode of light? And where does darkness reside?
20 Can you take them to their places? Do you know the paths to their dwellings?
21 Surely you know, for you were already born! You have lived so many years!
22 "Have you entered the storehouses of the snow or seen the storehouses of the hail,
23 which I reserve for times of trouble, for days of war and battle?
24 What is the way to the place where the lightning is dispersed, or the place where the east winds are scattered over the earth?
25 Who cuts a channel for the torrents of rain, and a path for the thunderstorm,
26 to water a land where no man lives, a desert with no one in it,
27 to satisfy a desolate wasteland and make it sprout with grass?
28 Does the rain have a father? Who fathers the drops of dew?
29 From whose womb comes the ice? Who gives birth to the frost from the heavens
30 when the waters become hard as stone, when the surface of the deep is frozen?
31 "Can you bind the beautiful [3] Pleiades? Can you loose the cords of Orion?
32 Can you bring forth the constellations in their seasons [4] or lead out the Bear [5] with its cubs?
33 Do you know the laws of the heavens? Can you set up God's [6] dominion over the earth?
34 "Can you raise your voice to the clouds and cover yourself with a flood of water?
35 Do you send the lightning bolts on their way? Do they report to you, 'Here we are'?
36 Who endowed the heart [7] with wisdom or gave understanding to the mind [8]?
37 Who has the wisdom to count the clouds? Who can tip over the water jars of the heavens
38 when the dust becomes hard and the clods of earth stick together?
39 "Do you hunt the prey for the lioness and satisfy the hunger of the lions
40 when they crouch in their dens or lie in wait in a thicket?
41 Who provides food for the raven when its young cry out to God and wander about for lack of food?

The voice references real things. The God thunders out of the whirlwind bearing down imperiously on one small wretched suffering man. It's the pure shock of this bullying message. We expect sympathy. We get nothing of the sort. It's brutal. It's powerful. It's chilling. And, the allegory is designed to convey a capital T Truth about this character God (or the real god if you believe the work divinely inspired). Today we sons and daughters of the enlightenment -- the Newtonian Revolution and the Cartesian Project -- expect Truth to rest squarely on the pillar of reasoned argument. The earth circles the sun because F=ma, motion is conserved, mass attracts mass in proportion to its quantity and inversely as the square of its separation.

But Hebrew understanding of Truth is nothing like that. Truth is subjective. It stands inside personal experience. Truth in Hebrew Wisdom emerges from an encounter -- charges and emotional -- with another person.

The Story

The Book of Job attempts to reconcile four irreconcilables:

1. God is Just
2. Job is Innocent
3. God is the source of Job's suffering
4. A just God would not allow the innocent to suffer

Obviously the only way these can be reconciled would be to allow suffering.

The book is divided into three sections: a prolog, poetic core, and epilog.

In the Prolog the scene opens in a heavenly court. God sanctions Job to be tried by Satan as a test of Job's virtue. Job experiences six great temptations, followed by a seventh temptation, the visit of his friends to console him.

The elements of the story unfold in this way:

1. His friends are convinced Job is guilty of some wrong, They portray Job as a hypocrite and sinner.
2. Job denies he has done wrong, and suggests that his suffering is therefore unjust.
3. Job "sins" by expressing the view that his suffering is hard and inconsiderate.
4. Job holds fast to God nonetheless
5. Satan is discredited.
6. Elihu, the youth, suggests that suffering is not evidence of sin but a means whereby God promotes virtue.
7. Elihu says further that god's ways are mysterious and inexplicable
8. God confirms Elihu's comments on mystery and extends this to the wonders of animate and inanimate nature: meteorology, physics, astronomy, biology, and even economics.

In the Epilog, Job's Innocence is affirmed, the wisdom of his three friends is chastised and Job's place in society restored -- this really is the first Divine Comedy!


Four great themes emerge from this text:

1. The universe is guided by a mysterious wisdom -- don't even try!!!
2. The Book explores the problem of Evil. It makes some attempt to reconcile Evil with omnipotence.
3. The Book explores the meaning of Suffering. Let me quote C.S. Lewis on this: "God whispers to us in out pleasures, speaks in our consciences, but shouts in our pains. It is his megaphone to rouse a deaf world."
4. Job is a text of last resort. That it is used in this way is due to the sense that suffering is a sign not of hatred, but ironically a sign of divine love. But leaves the reason for this seemingly sadistic strategy untold. Some see this as prophetic -- prefiguring the suffering of another -- the Son of God --in Jesus Christ. In that Christian perspective suffering is taken on by the God himself -- for a mysterious divine purpose that involves redemption and divine knowledge.

This latter idea was considered subversive when it arose 3,000 years ago. It is certainly un-Greek. Greek gods side with good behavior, and punish bad.

Alternate Interpretive Alignments

1. God is not just. Perhaps. But the poem simply makes no sense.

2. Might makes right.

3. The devil did it. No. This is not the Satan of Christian literature. Satan here is an accuser -- a DA for God.

4. Job is rewarded for his suffering. Complex -- later addition??? Point to remember is that while true, Job never seeks reward or does he expect one.

5. Job expects Reward. No.

6. God is mysterious but works for our interest. This is the standard take. But, there is no textual support for it. God's ways are mysterious -- there is a blueprint -- but we have no idea what it is. Job is rewarded -- but if he were not the poem would still have impact.

7. God is mysterious and plays by own rules. This is a preferred take. God's purpose in not anthropocentric. God has rules but they don't fit our categories. God may be Just, in cosmic terms. In other words, God created the world for a purpose larger than Job, or man. This is chilling -- but exciting! In a sense, all that we as humans see or feel as important are in the grand scheme -- dust and ashes. But, God does nonetheless care.


Whatever else this poem may be, it forces us to pay attention to the hard message of human existence: life is harsh, we suffer, and we die.

- end -

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