Friday, February 01, 2008

The OT witness to the OT canon

“How do we begin to pull together the various pieces of the Old Testament corpus? The answer lies in this crucial concept: blocks of writing. A careful reader of the Old Testament immediately notices that although the Old Testament is a collection of books of different kinds and periods, certain books share commonalities with others: vocabulary, literary genre, thematic continuities, and other intertextual evidences. These natural boundaries, not imposed by a scholar seeking to systematize, but present in the text as a reflection of the authors’ intentions, allow us to organize the Old Testament books into blocks of writing and in turn to track the themes of the books both within and among the blocks. By taking these natural boundaries seriously, we begin the process of building a coherent theology that is based on the shape of the canon and/or on the thrust of the texts themselves,” B. Waltke, An Old Testament Theology: An Exegetical, Canonical, and Thematic Approach (Zondervan 2007), 55.

“Assume for a moment that the Old Testament does not come to us as a bound volume with the ordering of its books predetermined by tradition, but as a random pile of thirty-nine individual volumes. How would we begin to organize this pile? Which book would we begin to read? The book of Genesis would likely strike us as a promising candidate…the various promises and covenants made by God to Abraham do not come to fruition: no nation, no land, no blessing to other nations. Instead, the book ends with the sons of Israel residing in Egypt, not in the homeland God promised them,” ibid. 56.

“The book of Genesis requires a sequel, and we find it in the book of Exodus. In terms of chronology, the book of Exodus picks up four hundred years after the end of Genesis, continuing the story of the sons of Israel and their march toward nationhood. Plot, however, is not the only connection between the two books. Various textual phenomena, easily observable to the careful reader, reflect an intentional effort by the author or authors/or editors to maintain continuity between the two books,” ibid. 56.

“Other books are drawn into this block of writing by similar textual phenomena: Exodus and Leviticus are tied together geographically. Exodus ends at Mount Sinai; the entirety of Leviticus takes place at Mount Sinai. Furthermore, the section on ceremonial law extends from Exodus 25 to Leviticus 9. This material is so unified that one could easily argue that it is part of the same book. Geography and time line continue to serve as the unifying agent for Leviticus and Numbers: Leviticus takes place at Mount Sinai; Numbers traces the path of the Israelites from Mount Sinai to the plains of Moab. Furthermore, the two books are also tied together by their last verses,” ibid. 56-57.

Following the line of plot development and inner-textual links, we would eventually arrive at 2 Kings. Joshua 1 is a pastiche of Deuteronomy (see chap. 18, n.10); Judges 2:6-8 repeats Joshua 24:28-31, but in a chiastic structure bringing closure; 1 Samuel brings closure to the period of the judges; and 1 Kings 1-2 brings the so-called ‘succession narrative’ (about David’s heir to the throne) begun in 2 Samuel 9 to a close…Hence, we have one unified story, from God’s creation of the world to the destruction of Jerusalem and the exile of the people of God to Babylon, Primary History,” ibid. 57.

“Though the Primary History provides the principal account of the history of the kingdom of God, other books also serve to recount portions of this same history. The book of Chronicles charts the story from Adam through the exile and extends the plot beyond the Primary History to the enthronement of Cyrus, the king of Persia, who allowed the Israelites to return to Judah to rebuild the temple. This story is then continued by Ezra-Nehemiah, which recounts the return from exile and the rebuilding of the temple and the city wall of Jerusalem. Hence, Chronicles and Ezra-Nehemiah form another block of historical narrative, tracing Israel’s history from Adam to the reestablishment of Israel in the land as the second Jewish commonwealth with its religious and political structures fully in place so that it can survive under the successive hegemonies of Persia, Greece, and Rome,” ibid. 58-59.

“The remaining books can be divided based on genre and function. The books of the prophets…easily form a single block—the Prophetic Literature. The five books that make up the book of Psalms, which evolved from earlier anthologies of Israel’s liturgical petitions and praises, stands alone comprising the Hymnic Literature. Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, and Job form the Wisdom Literature,” ibid. 59.

“Ruth has strong thematic connections to the Primary History; Song of Songs is ascribed to Solomon and has strong connections to Proverbs 7; Esther, concerned with the preservation of the people of God, evokes echoes of another attempted genocide in the book of Exodus and brings to conclusion God’s command to the Benjamite Saul son of Kish to exterminate the Amalekites centuries later by another Benjamite, Mordecai, probably a distant descendant of Kish (Est. 2:5),” ibid. 59.

At this juncture, Waltke is simply laying down some markers for further development. He will amplify these points in the course of his OT theology.

Although it is not his specific intention to defend the OT canon, it’s easy to see how his organic analysis of the OT books as larger literary units is effectively mapping out a strategy for how to explain and defend the contours of the OT canon from within the viewpoint of the OT canon itself. This is not a random pile of books. Rather, the OT books grow into each other and out of each other, like a branching tree, from the roots through the trunk through the various offshoots leading up to the crown. We can witness their canonical point of origin, development, as well as the end-product.

By contrast, the OT apocrypha and pseudepigrapha, which were composed in Inter-Testamental times, fall outside this historical narrative.

Likewise, the historical books provide the historical narrative within which the Prophetic, Hymnic, and Wisdom Literature reside, whether in terms of the place, date, author, audience, and occasion concerning their own composition, or their literary allusions to earlier books of the canon. And a parallel argument can be made for the NT canon.


  1. "By contrast, the OT apocrypha and pseudepigrapha, which were composed in Inter-Testamental times, fall outside this historical narrative. "

    Then you would be at odds with Josephus, whose narritive and history, transitions from the protestant canon to the so-called apocryphal books smoothly and without comment.

  2. "Then you would be at odds with Josephus, whose narritive and history, transitions from the protestant canon to the so-called apocryphal books smoothly and without comment."

    Josephus rejected the Apocrypha as Scripture.