Monday, March 17, 2008

Josephus on the canon

Jason Engwer and I have been appealing to Josephus as a well-placed, 1C witness to the OT canon. In taking issue with our appeal, Jimmy referred to Steve Mason on Josephus—as well as referencing The Canon Debate, edited by Lee McDonald. Since Mason contributed an article on Josephus to The Canon Debate, I assume that Jimmy is alluding to that contribution.

To judge by Jimmy’s elliptical references, the unsuspecting reader might surmise that Mason has a fundamentally different take on Josephus than Jason and I. But when we turn to his essay, this is some of what he actually has to say on the subject:

“His [Josephus’] actual use of scriptural materials in Antiquities agrees by and large with the summary statement in Against Apion: he really did believe at some deep level that uniquely inspired ‘prophets’ wrote the records in a bygone age…he seems aware, without saying as much, that books like 1 and 2 Maccabees are later and separate,” S. Mason, “Josephus and his Twenty-Two Book Canon,” L. Martin & J. Sanders, eds. The Canon Debate (Hendrickson 2002), 125.

“Josephus claims his positions are held in common by all Judeans—women, children, prisoners of war—and he would presumably be vulnerable to refutation if he were making this up or presenting idiosyncratic views. It would accordingly be hard to argue from Josephus for an open canon or for one that had been recently settled—at Yavneh in the 70s and 80s, for example. Those who are convinced by other evidence of the fluidity of scriptural boundaries in the first century do better, perhaps, to isolate Josephus as idiosyncratic, in spite of his claim to speak on behalf of Judeans, than to try to enlist his statements in support,” ibid. 126.

“But isolating Josephus, too, would be hard to justify. Perhaps the most significant corollary of this study is its negative results regarding any appeal to circumstantial evidence in support of the argument for an open canon,” ibid. 126.

“The problem with this reasoning will now be obvious, for all of the phenomena that Meyer finds in other sources are much more clearly and fully present in Josephus’s own use of the scriptures in the Antiquities…If we lacked the Against Apion, Josephus himself would offer a clear case for an open canon. But we do have the Against Apion, in which this same Josephus emphatically, but also matter-of-factly, insists that the Judea records have long since been completed in twenty-two volumes,” ibid. 126.

“Indeed, once we know Against Apion, we can go back to Antiquities and discover that Josephus really does believe that the succession of prophets has ceased, and we can discern a seam after the ‘records’ have been exhausted. Against Apion was written as a deliberate sequel to Antiquities, so it is unlikely that Josephus is aware of any substantial conflict between the two. This means that his willingness to alter the biblical text in manifold ways proves nothing about his formal view of canon. His example removes the force from appeals to circumstantial evidence as proof that the Dead Sea Scrolls’ authors or Philo or Ben Sira had an open canon,” ibid. 126-27.

No comments:

Post a Comment