During the unsettled times of Joshua and the Judges there could have been comparatively little writing. The song of Deborah appeared, full of poetic force and fire. The period of the early kings was characterized not only by a remarkable development of the Hebrew people and their consolidation into a national state, but by fresh literary activity. Laws were written out for the guidance of priests and people; and the political organization of the rapidly growing nation was promoted by poetical productions in which spiritual life expressed its aspirations. Schools of prophets were instituted by Samuel, whose literary efforts tended to purify the worship. David was an accomplished poet, whose psalms are composed in lofty strains; and Solomon may have written a few odes. The building of the temple, and the arrangements connected with its worship, contributed materially to a written legislation.
During this early and flourishing period appeared the book of the Wars of Jehovah,(31) a heroic anthology, celebrating warlike deeds; and the book of Jashar,(32) also poetical. Jehoshaphat is mentioned as court-annalist to David and Solomon.(33) Above all, the Elohists now appeared, the first of whom, in the reign of Saul, was author of annals, beginning at the earliest time which were distinguished by genealogical and chronological details as well as systematic minuteness, by archaic simplicity, and by legal prescriptions more theoretical than practical. The long genealogical registers with an artificial chronology and a statement of the years of men's lives, the dry narratives, the precise accounts of the gradual enlargement of divine laws, the copious description of the tabernacle and the institution of divine worship, are wearisome, though pervaded by a theoretic interest which looks at everything from a legal point of view. A second or junior Elohist was less methodical and more fragmentary, supplying additional information, furnishing new theocratic details, and setting forth the relation of Israel to heathen nations and to God. In contrast with his predecessor, he has great beauty of description, which is exemplified in the account of Isaac's sacrifice and the history of Joseph; in picturesque and graphic narratives interspersed with few reflections. His parallels to the later writer commonly called the Jehovist, are numerous. The third author, who lived in the time of Uzziah, though more mythological than the Elohists, was less formal. His stand-point is prophetic. The third document incorporated with the Elohistic ones formed an important part of the whole, exhibiting a vividness which the first lacked; with descriptions of persons and things from another stand-point. The Jehovist belonged to the northern kingdom; the Elohists were of Judah.
The state of the nation after Rehoboam was unfavorable to literature. When the people were threatened and attacked by other nations, divided among themselves in worship and all higher interests, rent by conflicting parties, the theocratic principle which was the true bond of union could not assert itself with effect. The people were corrupt; their religious life debased. The example of the kings was usually prejudicial to political healthiness. Contact with foreigners as well as with the older inhabitants of the land, hindered progress. In these circumstances the prophets were the true reformers, the advocates of political liberty, expositors of the principles that give life and stability to a nation. In Judah, Joel wrote prophetic discourses; in Israel, Amos and Hosea. Now, too, a redactor put together the Elohistic and Jehovistic documents, making various changes in them, adding throughout sentences or words that seemed desirable, and suppressing what was unsuited to his taste. Several psalm-writers enriched the national literature after David. Learned men at the court of Hezekiah recast and enlarged (Proverbs xxv.-xxix.) the national proverbs, which bore Solomon's name because the nucleus of an older collection belonged to that monarch. These literary courtiers were not prophets, but rather scribes. The book of Job was written, with the exception of Elihu's later discourses, which were not inserted in it till after the return from Babylon; and Deuteronomy, with Joshua, was added to the preceding collection in the reign of Manasseh. The gifted author of Deuteronomy, who was evidently imbued with the prophetic spirit, completed the Pentateuch, i.e., the five books of Moses and Joshua, revising the Elohist-Jehovistic work, and making various additions and alterations. He did the same thing to the historical books of Judges, Samuel, and Kings; which received from him their present form. Immediately before and during the exile there were numerous authors and compilers. New psalms appeared, more or less national in spirit. Ezekiel, Jeremiah and others prophesied; especially an unknown seer who described the present condition of the people, predicting their coming glories and renovated worship in strains of far-reaching import.(34) This great prophet expected the regeneration of the nation from the pious portion of it, the prophets in particular, not from a kingly Messiah as Isaiah did; for the hopes resting on rulers out of David's house had been disappointed. His aspirations turned to spiritual means. He was not merely an enthusiastic seer with comprehensive glance, but also a practical philosopher who set forth the doctrine of the innocent suffering for the guilty; differing therein from Ezekiel's theory of individual reward and punishment in the present world -- a theory out of harmony with the circumstances of actual life. The very misfortunes of the nation, and the signs of their return, excited within the nobler spirits hopes of a brighter future, in which the flourishing reign of David should be surpassed by the universal worship of Jehovah. In consequence of their outward condition, the prophets of the exile were usually writers, like Ezekiel, not public speakers; and their announcement of glad tidings could only be transmitted privately from person to person. This explains in part the oblivion into which their names fell; so that the author or redactor of Jeremiah l., li.; the author of chapters xiii.-xiv.23, xxi.1-10, xxiv.-xxvii., xxxiv., xxxv., inserted in Isaiah; and, above all, the Babylonian Isaiah, whom Hitzig improbably identifies with the high-priest Joshua, are unknown. After the return from Babylon the literary spirit manifested itself in the prophets of the restoration -- Haggai, Zechariah, and Malachi -- who wrote to recall their countrymen to a sense of religious duties; though their ideas were borrowed in part from older prophets of more original genius. The book of Esther appeared, to make the observance of the purim feast, which was of Persian origin, more general in Palestine. The large historical work comprising the books of Ezra, Nehemiah, and Chronicles, was compiled partly out of materials written by Ezra and Nehemiah, partly out of older historical records which formed a portion of the national literature. Several temple-psalms were also composed; a part of the present book of Proverbs; Ecclesiastes, whose tone and language betray its late origin; and Jonah, whose diction puts its date after the Babylonian captivity. The Maccabean age called forth the book of Daniel and various psalms. In addition to new productions there was an inclination to collect former documents. To Zechariah's authentic prophecies were added the earlier ones contained in chapters ix.-xiv.; and the Psalms were gradually brought together, being made up into divisions at different times; the first and second divisions proceeding from one redactor, the third from another, the fourth and fifth from a still later. Various writings besides their own were grouped around the names of earlier prophets, as was the case with Isaiah and Jeremiah.
The literature is more indebted for its best constituents to the prophetic than to the priestly order, because the prophets were preachers of repentance and righteousness whose great aim was to make Israel a Jehovah-worshipping nation to the exclusion of other gods. Their utterances were essentially ethical and religious; their pictures of the future subjective and ideal. There was silently elaborated in their schools a spiritual monotheism, over against the crude polytheism of the people generally -- a theocratic ideal inadequately apprehended by gross and sensuous Israel -- Jehovism simple and sublime amid a sacerdotal worship which left the heart impure while cleansing the hands. Instead of taking their stand upon the law, with its rules of worship, its ceremonial precepts and penalties against transgressors, the prophets set themselves above it, speaking slightingly of the forms and customs which the people took for the whole of religion. To the view of such as were prepared to receive a faith that looked for its realization to the future, they helped to create a millennium, in which the worship of Jehovah alone should become the basis of a universal religion for humanity. In addition to the prophetic literature proper, they wrote historical works also. How superior this literature is to the priestly, appears from a comparison of the Kings and Chronicles. The subjective underlies the one; the objective distinguishes the other. Faith in Jehovah, clothed, it may be in sensible or historical forms, characterizes the one; reference of an outward order to a divine source, the other. The sanctity of a people under the government of a righteous God, is the object of the one; the sanctity of institutions, that of the other. Even when the prophets wrote history, the facts are subordinate to the belief. Subjective purposes colored their representation of real events.
To them we are indebted for the Messianic idea, the hope of a better time in which their high ideal of the theocracy should be realized. With such belief in the future, with pious aspirations enlivening their patriotism, did they comfort and encourage their countrymen. The hope, general or indefinite at first, was afterwards attached to the house of David, out of which a restorer of the theocracy was expected, a king pre-eminent in righteousness, and marvelously gifted. It was not merely a political but a religious hope, implying the thorough purification of the nation, the extinction of idolatry, the general spread and triumph of true religion. The pious wishes of the prophets, often repeated, became a sort of doctrine, and contributed to sustain the failing spirit of the people. The indefinite idea of a golden age was commoner than that of a personal prince who should reign in equity and peace. Neither was part of the national faith, like the law, or the doctrine of sacrifice; and but a few of the prophets portrayed a king, in their description of the period of ideal prosperity.
The man who first gave public sanction to a portion of the national literature was Ezra, who laid the foundation of a canon. He was the leader in restoring the theocracy after the exile, "a ready scribe in the law of Moses, who had prepared his heart to seek the law of the Lord and to teach in Israel statutes and judgments." As we are told that he brought the book of the law of Moses before the congregation and read it publicly, the idea naturally arises that he was the final redactor of the Pentateuch, separating it from the historical work consisting of Joshua and the subsequent writings, of which it formed the commencement. Such was the first canon given to the Jewish Church after its reconstruction -- ready for temple service as well as synagogue use. Henceforward the Mosaic book became an authoritative guide in spiritual, ecclesiastical, and civil matters, as we infer from various passages in Ezra and Nehemiah and from the chronicler's own statements in the book bearing his name. The doings of Ezra with regard to the Scriptures are deduced not only from what we read of him in the Biblical book that bears his name, but also from the legend in the fourth book of Ezdras,(35) where it is related that he dictated by inspiration to five ready writers ninety-four books; the first twenty-four of which he was ordered to publish openly that the worthy and unworthy might read, but reserved the last seventy for the wise. Though the twenty-four books of the Old Testament cannot be attributed to him, the fact that he copied and wrote portions need not be questioned. He edited the law, making the first canon or collection of books, and giving it an authority which it had not before. Talmudic accounts associate with him the men of the great synagogue. It is true that they are legendary, but there is a foundation of fact beneath the fanciful superstructure. As to Ezra's treatment of the Pentateuch, or his specific mode of redaction, we are left for the most part to conjecture. Yet it is safe to affirm that he added; -- making new precepts and practices either in place of or beside older ones. Some things he removed as unsuited to the altered circumstances of the people; others he modified. He threw back later enactments into earlier times. It is difficult to discover all the parts that betray his hand. Some elaborate priestly details show his authorship most clearly. If his hand be not visible in Leviticus, chap. xvii.-xxvi.; a writer not far removed from his time is observable; Ezekiel or some other. It is clear that some of the portion (xxv.19-22; xxvi.3-45) is much later than the Elohists, and belongs to the exile or post-exile period. But great difficulty attaches to the separation of the sources here used; even after Kayser's acute handling of them. It is also perceptible from Ezekiel xx.25, 26, that the clause in Exodus xiii.15, "but all the first-born of my children I redeem," was added after the exile, since the prophet shows his unacquaintance with it. The statute that all which openeth the womb should be burnt in sacrifice to Jehovah, appeared inhuman not only to Ezekiel, but to Ezra or his associates in re-editing the law; and therefore the clause about the redemption of every first-born male was subjoined. Ezra, a second Moses in the eyes of the later Jews, did not scruple to refer to Moses what was of recent origin, and to deal freely with the national literature. Such was the first canon -- that of Ezra the priest and scribe.
The origin of the great synagogue is noticed in Ezra x.16, and described more particularly in Nehemiah viii.-x., the members being apparently enumerated in x.1-27; at least the Megila Jer. (i.5) and Midrash Ruth (§ 3) speak of an assembly of eighty-five elders, who are probably found in the last passage. One name, however, is wanting, for only eighty-four are given; and as Ezra is not mentioned among them, the conjecture of Krochmal that it has dropped out of x.9, may be allowed. Another tradition gives the number as one hundred and twenty, which may be got by adding the "chief of the fathers" enumerated in Ezra viii.1-14 to the hundred and two heads of families in Ezra ii.2-58. Whether the number was the same at the commencement as afterwards is uncertain. Late Jewish writers, however, such as Abarbanel, Abraham ben David, Ben Maimun, &c., speak as if it consisted of the larger number at the beginning; and have no scruple in pronouncing Ezra president, rather than Nehemiah.(36)
The oldest extra-biblical mention of the synagogue, is in the Mishnic treatise Pirke Aboth, where it is said, "Moses received the laws from Mount Sinai, and delivered it to Joshua, Joshua to the elders, the elders to the prophets, and the prophets delivered it to the men of the great synagogue. These last spake these words: 'Be slow in judgment; appoint many disciples; make a hedge for the law.' "(37) In the Talmudic Baba Bathra, their biblical doings are described: "Moses wrote his book, the section about Balaam and job. Joshua wrote his book and eight verses of the law. Samuel wrote his book and judges and Ruth. David wrote the book of Psalms by (?)(38) ten elders, by Adam the first man, by Melchizedek, by Abraham, by Moses, by Heman, by Jeduthun, by Asaph, and the three sons of Korah. Jeremiah wrote his book, the books of Kings and Lamentations. Hezekiah and his friends wrote Isaiah, Proverbs, Canticles, and Coheleth; the men of the great synagogue, Ezekiel, the twelve prophets, Daniel and Esther. Ezra wrote his own book and the genealogies of Chronicles down to himself."(39) This passage has its obscurities. What is meant by the verb write!(40) Does it mean composition and then something else; the former in the first part of the passage, and editing in the second? Rashi explains it of composition throughout, which introduces absurdity. The most obvious interpretation is that which understands the verb of writing in one place, and editing in the second. But it is improbable that the author should have used the same word in different senses, in one and the same passage. Bloch(41) understands it of copying or writing out, a sense that suits the procedure of the men of the great synagogue in regard to Ezekiel, the twelve prophets, &c., but is inapplicable to Moses, Joshua, Samuel, David, Jeremiah, &c. It is probable enough that the synagogue scribes put into their present form and made the first authorized copies of the works specified. The Boraitha, however, is not clear, and may only express the opinion of a private individual in a confused way. Simon the Just is said to have belonged to the remnants of the synagogue. As Ezra is called "a ready scribe," and his labors in connection with the law were important, he may have organized a body of literary men who should work in harmony, attending, among other things, to the collection and preservation of the national literature; or they may have been an association of patriotic men who voluntarily rallied round the heads of the new state, to support them in their fundamental reforms. The company of scribes mentioned in 1 Maccabees does not probably relate to it.(42) A succession of priests and scribes, excited at first by the reforming zeal of one whom later Jews looked upon as a second Moses, labored in one department of literary work till the corporation ceased to exist soon after, if not in the time of Simon, i.e., from about 445 B.C. till about 200; for we identify the Simon celebrated in Sirach l.1-26 with Simon II., son of the high-priest Onias II., B.C.221-202; not with Simon I., son and successor of the high-priest Onias I., B.C.310-291. Josephus's opinion, indeed, is contrary; but leading Jewish scholars, such as Zunz, Herzfeld, Krochmal, Derenbourg, Jost, and Bloch differ from him.
To the great synagogue must be referred the compilation of the second canon, containing Joshua, Judges with Ruth, Samuel, Kings, Isaiah, Jeremiah with Lamentations, Ezekiel and the twelve minor prophets. It was not completed prior to 300 B.C., because the book of Jonah was not written before. This work may be called a historical parable composed for a didactic purpose, giving a milder, larger view of Jehovah's favor than the orthodox one, that excluded the Gentiles. Ruth, containing an idyllic story with an unfinished genealogy attached, meant to glorify the house of David, and presenting a kindred spirit towards a people uniformly hated, was appended to Judges; but was subsequently transferred to the third canon. It was written immediately after the return from the Babylonian captivity; for the Chaldaising language points to this date, notwithstanding the supposed archaisms discovered in it by some. In like manner, the Lamentations, originally added to Jeremiah, were afterwards put into the later or third canon. Joshua, which had been separated from the five books of Moses with which it was closely joined at first, formed, with the other historical portion (Judges, Samuel, Kings), the proper continuation of Ezra's canon. The prophets included the three greater and twelve minor. With Isaiah's authentic oracles were incorporated the last twenty-seven chapters, belonging for the most part to an anonymous prophet of the exile, besides several late pieces inserted in the first thirty-nine chapters. Men of prophetic gifts wrote in the name of distinguished prophets, and put their productions with those of the latter, or adapted and wrote them over after their own fashion. The fiftieth and fifty-first chapters of Jeremiah show such over-writing. To Zechariah's authentic oracles were attached chapters ix.-xiv., themselves made up of two parts (ix.-xi., xii.-xiv.) belonging to different times and authors prior to the destruction of the Jewish state by the Babylonians.
The character of the synagogue's proceedings in regard to the books of Scripture can only be deduced from the conduct of Ezra himself, as well as the prevailing views and wants of the times. The scribes who began with Ezra, seeing how he acted, would naturally follow his example, not hesitating to revise the text in substance as well as form.(43) They did not refrain from changing what had been written, or from inserting fresh matter. Some of their novelties can be discerned even in the Pentateuch. Their chief work, however, related to the form of the text. They put into a proper form and state the text of the writings they studied, perceiving less need for revising the matter. What they did was in good faith, with honest intention.
The prophetic canon ended with Malachi's oracles. And it was made sometime after he prophesied, because the general consciousness that the function ceased with him required a considerable period for its growth. The fact that it included Jonah and Ruth brings the completion after 300 B.C., as already stated. There are no definite allusions to it till the second century B.C. Daniel speaks of a passage in Jeremiah being in "the books" or "writings;"(44) and the prologue of Jesus Sirach presupposes its formation. Such was the second canon, which had been made up gradually (444-290 B.C.)
Another view of the collection in question has been taken by various scholars. According to a passage in the second book of Maccabees, the second canon originated with Nehemiah, who "gathered together the acts of the kings and the prophets and (psalms) of David, and the epistles of the kings concerning the holy gifts."(45) These words are obscure. They occur in a letter purporting to be sent by the Sanhedrim at Jerusalem to the Jews in Egypt, which contains apocryphal things; a letter which assigns to Nehemiah the merit of various arrangements rather belonging to Ezra. It is difficult to understand the meaning of "the epistles of the kings concerning the offerings." If they were the documents of heathen or Persian kings favorable to the rebuilding of Jerusalem and its temple, would they not have been rejected from a collection of sacred books belonging to the chosen people? They might perhaps have been adopted had they been interwoven with the holy books themselves, like portions of Ezra and Nehemiah; but they could not have formed a distinct part of the national literature, because they were foreign and heathen. Again, "the psalms of David" cannot have existed in the time of Nehemiah, if the phrase includes the whole collection. It may perhaps refer to the first three divisions of the book, as Herzfeld thinks; but these contain many odes which are not David's; while earlier ones belong to the last two divisions of the Psalm-book. In like manner, "the prophets" could not all have belonged to this canon; neither Malachi, who was later, nor Jonah. The account will not bear strict examination, and must be pronounced apocryphal. Nehemiah was a statesman, not a priest or scribe; a politician, not a literary man. It is true that he may have had assistants, or committed the work to competent hands; but this is conjectural. The account of his supposed canon hardly commends itself by inherent truthfulness or probability, though it is accepted by Ewald and Bleek.
When the great synagogue ceased, there was an interval during which it is not clear whether the sacred books were neglected, except by private individuals; or whether they were studied, copied, and collected by a body of scribes. Perhaps the scribes and elders of the Hasmonaean time were active at intervals in this department. The institution of a senate by Judas Maccabaeus is supposed to be favored by 2 Maccabees (chapter i.10-ii.18); but the passage furnishes poor evidence of the thing. Judas is there made to write to Egypt in the year of the Seleucidae 188, though he died thirty-six years before, i.e., 152. Other places have been added as corroborative, viz., 2 Maccab. iv.44, xi.27; 1 Maccab. vii.33. Some go so far as to state that Jose ben Joeser was appointed its first president at that time. The Midrash in Bereshith Rabba (§ 65) makes him one of the sixty Hassidim who were treacherously murdered by Alcimus; but this is neither in the first book of the Maccabees (chapter vii.) nor in Josephus,(46) and must be pronounced conjectural. It is impossible to fix the exact date of Jose ben Joeser in the Hasmonean period. Pirke Aboth leaves it indefinite. Jonathan, Judas Maccabaeus's successor, when writing to the Lacedaemonians, speaks of the gerusia or senate as well as the people of the Jews; whence we learn that the body existed as early as the time of Judas.(47) Again, Demetrius writes to Simon, as also to the elders and nation of the Jews.(48) After Jonathan and Simon, it may have been suspended for a while, in consequence of the persecution and anarchy prevailing in Judea; till the great Sanhedrim at Jerusalem succeeded it, under Hyrcanus I. Though the traces of a senate in the Maccabaean epoch are slight, the Talmud countenances its existence.(49) We believe that it was earlier than Judas Maccabaeus. Of its constitution nothing is known; but it was probably aristocratic. The Hasmonean prince would naturally exert a commanding influence over it. The great synagogue had been a kind of democratic council, consisting of scribes, doctors or teachers, and priests.(50) Like their predecessors of the great synagogue, the Hasmonaean elders revised the text freely, putting into it explanatory or corrective additions, which were not always improvements. The way in which they used the book of Esther, employing it as a medium of Halachite prescription, shows a treatment involving little idea of sacredness attaching to the Hagiographa.
We are aware that the existence of this body is liable to doubt, and that the expressions belonging to it in Jewish books, whether elders or gerusia, have been applied to the great synagogue or to the Sanhedrim at Jerusalem, or even to the elders of any little town or hamlet; but it is difficult to explain all on that hypothesis, without attributing confusion to the places where they occur. If the body in question be not allowed, an interval of about sixty years elapsed between the great synagogue and the Sanhedrim, during which the hagiographical writings were comparatively neglected, though literary activity did not cease. No authoritative association, at least, dealt with them. This is improbable. It is true that we read of no distinguished teachers in the interval, except Antigonus of Socho, disciple of Simon the Just; but the silence can hardly weigh against a reasonable presumption. One thing is clear, viz., that Antigonus did not reach down to the time of the first pair that presided over the Sanhedrim.
The contents of the third canon, i.e., Psalms, Proverbs, Job, Canticles, Ecclesiastes, Esther, Daniel, Ezra, Nehemiah, Chronicles, the formation of which we assign to the Hasmonaean gerusia, were multifarious, differing widely from one another in age, character, and value -- poetical, prophetic, didactic, historical. Such as seemed worthy of preservation, though they had not been included in the second canon, were gathered together during the space of an hundred and fifty years. The oldest part consisted of psalms supposed to belong to David. The first psalm, which contains within itself traces of late authorship, was prefixed as an introduction to the whole collection now put into the third canon. Next to the Psalms were Proverbs, Job, Canticles, which, though non-prophetic and probably excluded on that account from the second canon, must have existed before the exile. Enriched with the latest additions, they survived the national disasters, and claimed a place next to the Psalms. They were but a portion of the literature current in and after the 5th century B.C., as may be inferred from the epilogue to Ecclesiastes, and the Wisdom of Sirach. The historical work compiled by the chronicle-writer was separated, Ezra being put first as the most important part, and referring also to the church of the 6th and 5th centuries whose history had not been written. The Chronicles themselves were placed last, being considered of less value than the first part, as they contained the summary of a period already described, though with numerous adaptations to post-exile times. The youngest portion consisted of the book of Daniel, not written till the Maccabean period (between 170 and 160 B.C.);(51) and probably of several Psalms (44, 60, 74, 75, 76, 79, 80, 83, 89, 110, 118) which were inserted in different places of the collection to make the whole number 150. These late odes savor of the Maccabean time; and are fitly illustrated by the history given in the first book of Maccabees. The list continued open; dominated by no stringent principle of selection, and with a character somewhat indefinite. It was called c'tubim, i.e., writings(52) a general epithet suited to the contents.
Several books put into the third canon, -- as Job, Proverbs, the greater number of the Psalms, &c., -- existed when the second was made. But the latter collection was pre-eminently prophetic; and it was that idea of the origin and contents of the books in it which regulated its extent. Bloch's supposition that the parts of the third collection then existing were not looked upon as holy, but merely as productions embodying human wisdom, and were therefore excluded, is improbable. We do not think that an alteration of opinion about them in the course of a century or more, by which they became divine and holy instead of human, is a satisfactory explanation. The Psalms of David and the book of Job must have been as highly esteemed in the period of the great synagogue's existence as they were at a later time. Other considerations besides the divinity and holiness of books contributed to their introduction into a canon. Ecclesiastes was taken into the third collection because it was attributed to Solomon. The Song of Songs was understood allegorically, -- a fact which, in addition to its supposed Solomonic authorship, determined its adoption. And even after their canonical reception, whether by the great synagogue or another body, the character of books was canvassed. It was so with Ecclesiastes, in spite of the supposed sanction it got from the great synagogue contained in the epilogue, added, as some think, by that body to attest the sacredness of the book.(53)
While the third canon was being made, the soferim, as the successors of the prophets, were active as before; and though interpretation was their chief duty, they must have revised and corrected the sacred books to some extent. We need not hesitate to allow that they sometimes arranged parts, and even added matter of their own. In the time of the canon's entire preparation, they and the priests, with writers and scholars generally, redacted the national literature, excluding or sanctioning such portions of it as they thought fit.
At this time appeared the present five-fold partition of the Psalms, preceded as it had been by other divisions, the last of which was very similar to the one that became final. Several inscriptions and historical notices were prefixed. The inscriptions, however, belong to very different times, their historical parts being usually older than the musical; and date from the first collection to the period of the Hasmonean college, when the final redaction of the entire Psalter took place. Those in the first three books existed at the time when the latter were made up; those in the last two were prefixed partly at the time when the collections themselves were made, and partly in the Maccabean age. How often they are out of harmony with the poems themselves, needs no remark. They are both traditional and conjectural.
The earliest attestation of the third canon is that of the prologue to Jesus Sirach (130 B.C.), where not only the law and the prophets are specified, but "the other books of the fathers," or "the rest of the books."(54) No information is given as to its extent, or the particular books included. They may have been for the most part the same as the present ones. The passage does not show that the third list was closed. The better writings of the fathers, such as tended to learning and wisdom, are not excluded by the definite article. In like manner, neither Philo nor the New Testament gives exact information as to the contents of the division in question. Indeed, several books, Canticles, Esther, Ecclesiastes, are unnoticed in the latter. The argument drawn from Matthew xxiii.35, that the Chronicles were then the last book of the canon, is inconclusive; as the Zechariah there named was probably different from the Zechariah in 2 Chronicles xxiv. None of these witnesses proves that the third canon was finally closed.
A more definite testimony respecting the canon is given by Josephus towards the end of the first century A.D. "For we have not an innumerable multitude of books among us, ... but only twenty-two books, which contain the records of all the past times; which are justly believed to be divine. And of them five belong to Moses.... But as to the time from the death of Moses till the reign of Artaxerxes, king of Persia, the prophets who were after Moses wrote down what was done in their times in thirteen books. The remaining four books contain hymns to God and precepts for the conduct of human life. It is true our history has been written since Artaxerxes very particularly, but has not been esteemed of the like authority with the former by our forefathers, because there has not been an exact succession of prophets since that time: and how firmly we have given credit to these books of our own nation is evident by what we do; for during so many ages as have already passed, no one has been so bold as either to add anything to them, to take anything from them, or to make any change in them; but it has become natural to all Jews immediately and from their very birth, to esteem these books to contain divine doctrines, and to persist in them, and if occasion be, willingly to die for them."(55) This list agrees with our present canon, showing that the Palestinian Jews were tolerably unanimous as to the extent of the collection. The thirteen prophets include Job; the four lyric and moral books are Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes and Canticles.
It is not likely that the Hasmonaean senate had a long existence. It was replaced by the Sanhedrim, a more definite and state institution, intended as a counter-balance to the influence of the Hasmonaean princes. The notices of the latter reach no further back than Hyrcanus I., i.e., about 135 B.C.(56) Josephus speaks of it under Hyrcanus II.(57) It cannot be referred to an earlier period than Hyrcanus I. Frankel(58) indeed, finds a notice of it in 2 Chronicles xix.8, 11; but the account there is indistinct, and refers to the great synagogue. The compiler having no certain information about what was long past, transfers the origin of the court he speaks of to Jehoshaphat, in order to glorify the house of David. It is impossible to date the Sanhedrim, with Frankel, in the Grecian era, in which case it must have been dissolved during the Maccabean insurrection, and afterwards reconstructed; it was not constituted till about 130 B.C. Whether it was modeled after the great synagogue or the Hasmonaean senate, is uncertain. The idea of it may have been suggested by the latter rather than the former, for its basis was aristocratic. The Hasmonaean gerusia must have been less formal and definite than the Sanhedrim; though the latter arose before the family ceased to be in power, and differed materially from its predecessor. It continued from 130 B.C. till A.D.180, surviving the terrible disasters of the nation.(59)
The closing of the third canon cannot be assigned, with Bloch, to the great synagogue. If the college ceased with or before Simon, i.e., about 200-192, and the work of Daniel did not appear till about 170 B.C., twenty years at least intervened between the extinction of the great synagogue and Daniel's book. This holds good, whether we assume, with Krochmal, the synagogue's redaction of the work, -- more correctly the putting together of the independent parts of which it is said to be composed; or equally so, if the taking of it into the canon as a book already completed, be attributed to the same body. But we are unable to see that Krochmal's reasoning about the synagogue putting Daniel's work together and one of the members writing the book of Esther is probable.
In like manner, Maccabean psalms are adverse to the hypothesis that the great synagogue completed the third canon. In consequence of these late productions, it is impossible to assert that the men of the synagogue were the redactors of the Psalter as it is. It is true that the collection was made before the Chronicles and many other books of the hagiographical canon; but the complete Psalter did not appear till the Maccabean period. The canon, however, was not considered to be finally closed in the first century before and the next after Christ. There were doubts about some portions. The book of Ezekiel gave offence, because some of its statements seemed to contradict the law. Doubts about others were of a more serious nature; about Ecclesiastes, the Canticles, Esther, and the Proverbs. The first was impugned because it had contradictory passages and a heretical tendency; the second, because of its worldly and sensual tone; Esther for its want of religiousness; and Proverbs on account of inconsistencies. This scepticism went far to procure the exclusion of the suspected works from the canon, and their relegation to the class of the genuzim.(60) But it did not prevail. Hananiah, son of Hezekiah, son of Garon, about 32 B.C., is said to have reconciled the contradictions and quieted the doubts.(61) But these traces of resistance to the fixity of the canon were not the last. They reappeared about A.D.65, as we learn from the Talmud,(62) when the controversy turned mainly upon the canonicity of Ecclesiastes, which the school of Shammai, who had the majority, opposed; so that the book was probably excluded.(63) The question emerged again at a later synod at Jabneh or Jamnia, when R. Eleasar ben Asaria was chosen patriarch, and Gamaliel the second, deposed. Here it was decided, not unanimously however, but by a majority of Hillelites, that Ecclesiastes and the Song of Songs "pollute the hands," i.e., belong properly to the Hagiographa.(64) This was about 90 A.D.(65) Thus the question of the canonicity of certain books was discussed at two synods.
Passages in the Talmud have been adduced to show that the Shammaite objections to the canonicity of Ecclesiastes "were overruled by the positive declaration from the 72 elders, being a testimony anterior to the Christian era that Coheleth is canonical; but they do not support the opinion."(66)
"The sages" referred to in the treatise Sabbat and elsewhere is a vague expression, resting apparently on no historic tradition -- a mere opinion of comparatively late date. If it refer to the Jerusalem synod A.D.65, the Hillelites were simply outnumbered there by the Shammaites. The matter was debated hastily, and determined for the time by a majority. But the synod at Jamnia consisted of 72 persons; and a passage in the treatise Yadayim refers to it.(67) The testimony of the 72 elders to whom R. Simeon ben Asai here alludes, so far from belonging to an anti-christian era, belongs to a date about 90 A.D. And the fact that the synod at Jamnia took up again a question already debated at Jerusalem A.D.65, proves that no final settlement of the canon had taken place before. The canon was virtually settled at Jamnia, where was confirmed what R. Akiba said of the Canticles in his usual extravagant way: "No day in the whole history of the world is of so much worth as the one in which the Song of Songs was given to Israel; for all the Scriptures are holy; but the Song of Songs is most holy."(68) As the Hagiographa were not read in public, with the exception of Esther, opinions of the Jewish rabbins might still differ about Canticles and Ecclesiastes, even after the synod of Jamnia.
In opposition to these remarks, it is strenuously argued by Bloch that neither the passage in the Mishnic treatise Yadayim, nor any other, refers to the canonical character of the books to which Jewish elders raised several objections. But his arguments are more vehement than valid. Anxious to assign the final settlement of the entire canon to an authoritative body like the great synagogue, he affirms that all parties were united in opinion about the time of Christ, -- Assiim, Perushim, and Zeddukim; Shammaites and Hillelites. But it requires more than his ingenuity to explain away the meaning of Yadayim 3, 5, Adoyot v.3, Sabbat 1. To what did such diversity of opinion relate, if not to the canonical character of the books? A specific answer to the question is not given by the learned writer,(69) who is too eager in his endeavor to attribute the settlement of the third canon to the great synagogue, and to smooth away all diversities of opinion about several books, after that time, as if none could afterwards question the authoritative settlement by that body. He will not even allow a wider canon to the Alexandrian Jews than that of their Palestinian brethren, though he cannot but admit that the former read and highly esteemed various apocryphal books because of their theocratic character. Surely the practical use of writings is an evidence of their canonicity as strong as theoretical opinions.
The doubts about several books to which we have alluded, some of which Hananiah is said to have resolved in his old age, imply a diligent study of the national literature, if not a revision of the text; and the Tannaite college at Jabneh must have cared for the same things, as it had to deal with similar objections. After the last canon was made more than a century anterior to the Christian era, the text was not considered inviolate by the learned Jews; it received subsequent modifications and interpolations. The process of redaction had not ceased before the time of Christ. This was owing, among other causes, to the state of parties among the Jews, as well as the intrusion of Greek literature and culture, whose influence the Palestinian Jews themselves were not able altogether to withstand. When Jeremiah accused the Scribes of falsifying the law by their lying pen (viii.8), it may be inferred that the same process took place afterwards; that offensive things were removed, and alterations made continuously down to the close of the canon, and even after. The corrections consisted of additions and changes of letters, being indicated in part by the most ancient versions and the traditions of the Jews themselves who often knew what stood in the text at first, and why it was altered. They are also indicated by the nature of the passage itself viewed in the light of the state of religion at the time. Here, sober judgment must guard against unnecessary conjectures. Some changes are apparent, as the plural oaks in Genesis xiii.18, xiv.13, xviii.1, Deuteronomy xi.30, for the singular oak; and the plural gods in Exodus xxxii.4, for the singular god. So 2 Sam. Vii.23, (comp.1 Chron. xvii.21, and LXX);(70) and Deuteronomy xxxii.8,(71) have been altered. Popper and Geiger have probably assumed too much correction on the part of the Scribes and others; though they have drawn attention to the subject in the spirit of original criticism.
Jewish literature began to degenerate after the captivity, and it continued to do so. It leaned upon the past more and more, having an external and formal character with little of the living soul. The independence of their religious literature disappeared with the national independence of the Jews; and the genius of the people was too exclusive to receive much expansion from the spirit of nations with whom they came in contact. In such circumstances, amid the general consciousness of present misfortune which the hope of a brighter future could not dispel, and regretful retrospects of the past tinged with ideal splendor, the exact time of drawing a line between books that might be included in the third division of the canon must have been arbitrary. In the absence of a normal principle to determine selection, the productions were arbitrarily separated. Not that they were badly adjusted. On the contrary, the canon as a whole was settled wisely. Yet the critical spirit of learned Jews in the future could not be extinguished by anticipation. The canon was not really settled for all time by a synodical gathering at Jamnia; for Sirach was added to the Hagiographa by some rabbins about the beginning of the 4th century;(72) while Baruch circulated long in Hebrew, and was publicly read on the day of atonement in the third century, according to the Apostolic constitutions.(73) These two books were in high repute for a considerable time, possessing a kind of canonical credit even among the learned Jews of Palestine. Rab, Jochanan, Elasar, Rabba bar Mare, occasionally refer to Sirach in the way in which the c'tubim were quoted: the writer of Daniel used Baruch; and the translator of Jeremiah put it into Greek.
If it be asked on what principle books were admitted into the canon, a single answer does not suffice. One and the same criterion did not determine the process at all times. The leading principle with which the first canon-makers set out was to collect all the documents of Hebrew antiquity. This seems to have guided Ezra, if not the great synagogue after him. The nation, early imbued with the theocratic spirit and believing itself the chosen of God, was favorably inclined towards documents in which that standpoint was assumed. The legal and ethical were specially valued. The prophetic claimed a divine origin; the lyric or poetic touched and elevated the ideal faculty on which religion acts. But the leading principle which actuated Ezra and the great synagogue was gradually modified, amid the growing compass of the national literature and the consciousness that prophecy ceased with Malachi. When the latest part of the canon had to be selected from a literature almost contemporaneous, regard was had to such productions as resembled the old in spirit. Orthodoxy of contents was the dominant criterion. But this was a difficult thing, for various works really anonymous, though wearing the garb of old names and histories, were in existence, so that the boundary of the third part became uncertain and fluctuating.
The principle that actuated Ezra in making the first canon was a religious and patriotic one. From his treatment of the oldest law books we infer that he did not look upon them as inviolable. Venerable they were, and so far sacred; but neither perfect nor complete for all time. In his view they were not unconditionally authoritative. Doubtless they had a high value as the productions of inspired lawgivers and men of a prophetic spirit; but the redaction to which he submitted them shows no superstitious reverence. With him canonical and holy were not identical. Nor does the idea of an immediate, divine authority appear to have dominated the mind of the great synagogue in the selection of books. Like Ezra, these scholars reverenced the productions of the prophets, poets, and historians to whom their countrymen were indebted in the past for religious or political progress; but they did not look upon them as the offspring of unerring wisdom. How could they, while witnessing repetitions and minor contradictions in the books collected?
The same remarks apply to the third canon. Direct divinity of origin was not the criterion which determined the reception of a book into it; but the character and authorship of the book. Did it breathe the old spirit, or proceed from one venerated for his wisdom? Was it like the old orthodox productions; or did it bear the name of one renowned for his piety and knowledge of divine things? The stamp of antiquity was necessary in a certain sense; but the theocratic spirit was the leading consideration. Ecclesiastes was admitted because it bore the name of Solomon; and Daniel's apocalyptic writings, because veiled under the name of an old prophet. New psalms were taken in because of their association with much older ones in the temple service. Yet the first book of Maccabees was excluded, though written in Hebrew. It is still more remarkable that Sirach was put among the external productions; but this was owing not so much to its recent origin, for it is older than the book of Daniel, as to its being an apparent echo of the Proverbs, and therefore unnecessary. Yet it was long after assigned to the Hagiographa, and quoted as such by several rabbis. Baruch was also left out, though it is as old as Daniel, if not older; and professes to have been written by Jeremiah's friend, in Babylon.
That redactors dealt freely with the text of the second and third canons especially, without a superstitious belief in its sacredness, is apparent from the double recension which existed when the Egyptian Jews translated the books into Greek. If the one that formed the basis of the Alexandrian version be less correct than the Palestinian in the majority of instances, it is still superior in many. The differences between them, often remarkable, prove that those who had most to do with the books did not guard them as they would have done had they thought them infallibly inspired. Palestinians and Alexandrians subjected the text to redaction; or had suffered it to fall into a state inconsistent with the assumption of its supernatural origin. At a much later period, the Masoretes reduced to one type all existing copies of their Scriptures, introducing an uniformity imperatively demanded in their opinion by multiplied discrepancies.
Whatever divine character the reflecting attributed to the canonical books, it must have amounted to the same thing as that assigned to human attributes and physical phenomena -- a divinity resulting from the over-leaping of second causes, in the absence of inductive philosophy. Here the imperfection conditioned by the nature of the created cannot be hid. Yet the books may be truly said to have contained the word of God.
Of the three divisions, the Law or Pentateuch was most highly venerated by the Jews. It was the first translated into Greek; and in Philo's view was inspired in a way peculiar to itself. The Prophets, or second division, occupied a somewhat lower place in their estimation, but were read in the public services as the law had been before. The c'tubim, or third division, was not looked upon as equal to the Prophets in importance: only the five Megiloth were publicly read. The three parts of the collection present the three gradations of sanctity which the books assumed successively in Israelite estimation. A certain reverence was attached to all as soon as they were made canonical; but the reverence was not of equal height, and the supposed authority was proportionally varied.(74) The consciousness of prophetism being extinct soon after the return from Babylon, was a genuine instinct. With the extinction of the Jewish state the religious spirit almost evaporated. The idealism which the old prophets proclaimed in contrast with the symbolic religion of the state gave place to the forms and an attachment to the written law. Religion came to be a thing of the understanding, the subject of learned treatment; and its essence was reduced to dogmas or precepts. Thus it ceased to be a spiritual element in which the heart had free scope for its highest aspirations. In addition to all, a foreign metaphysical theology, the Persian doctrine of spirits, was introduced, which seemed to enlarge the sphere of speculation, but really retarded the free exercise of the mind. As the external side of religion had been previously directed to the performance of good works, this externality was now determined by a written law. Even the prophetism that appeared after the restoration was little more than an echo of the past, falling in with an outward and written legalism. The literature of the people deteriorated in quality, and prophecy became apocalypse. In such circumstances the advent of a new man was needed to restore the free life of religion in higher power. Christ appeared in the fullness of time to do this effectually by proclaiming the divine Fatherhood, and founding a worship in spirit and in truth. Rising above the symbolic wrappings of the Mosaic religion, and relying upon the native power of the spirit itself, he showed how man may mount up to the throne of God, adoring the Supreme without the intervention of temple, sacrifice, or ceremony.
When the three divisions were united, the ecclesiastical respect which had gathered round the law and the prophets from ancient times began to be transferred to the c'tubim. A belief in their sanctity increased apace in the 1st century before the Christian era, so that sacredness and canonicity were almost identical. The doubts of individuals, it is true, were still expressed respecting certain books of the c'tubim, but they had no perceptible effect upon the current opinion. The sanctity attaching to the last division as well as the others did not permit the total displacement of any part.
The passage in Josephus already quoted shows the state of the canon about A.D.100. According to it, he considered it to have been closed at the time of Artaxerxes Longimanus, whom he identifies with the Ahasuerus of Esther, 464-424 B.C. The books were divine, so that none dared to add to, subtract from, or alter them. To him the canon was something belonging to the venerable past, and inviolable. In other words, all the books were peculiarly sacred. Although we call scarcely think this to be his private opinion merely, it is probably expressed in exaggerated terms, and hardly tallies with his use of the third Esdras in preference to the canonical texts.(75) His authority, however, is small. Bloch's estimate of it is too high. It is utterly improbable that Josephus's opinion was universally held by the Jews in his day. His division of the books is peculiar: five Mosaic, thirteen historical, four containing religious songs and rules of life. It appears, indeed, that as he had the same twenty-two books we now have, Ruth was still attached to Judges, and Lamentations to Jeremiah; but his credit is not on a par with that of a Jew who adhered to his countrymen in the time of their calamity. He wrote for the Romans. One who believed that Esther was the youngest book in the canon, who looked upon Ecclesiastes as Solomon's, and Daniel as an exile production, cannot be a competent judge. In his time the historical sense of the book of Daniel was misapprehended; for after the Grecian dynasty had fallen without the fulfillment of the Messianic prophecy connected with it, the Roman empire was put into its place. Hence various allusions in The History of the Jewish Wars.(76) The passage in the Antiquities,(77) about Alexander the Great and the priests in the Temple at Jerusalem is apocryphal. In any case, Josephus does not furnish a genuine list of the canonical books any more than Philo. The Pharisaic view of his time is undoubtedly given, that the canon was then complete and sacred. The decision proceeded from that part of the nation who ruled both over school and people, and regained supremacy after the destruction of the temple; i.e., from the Pharisee-sect to which Josephus belonged. It was a conclusion of orthodox Judaism. With true critical instinct, Spinoza says that the canon was the work of the Pharisees. The third collection was undoubtedly made under their influence.
The origin of the threefold division of the canon is not, as Oehler supposes,(78) a reflection of the different stages of religious development through which the nation passed, as if the foundation were the Law, the ulterior tendency in its objective aspect the Prophets, and its subjective aspect the Hagiographa. The books of Chronicles and others refute this arbitrary conception. The triplicity lies in the manner in which the books were collected. Men who belonged to different periods and possessed different degrees of culture, worked successively in the formation of the canon; which arose out of the circumstances of the times, and the subjective ideas of those who made it.
The places of the separate books within the first division or Torah, were determined by the succession of the historical events narrated. The second division naturally begins with Moses's successor, Joshua. Judges, Samuel, and Kings follow according to the regular chronology. To the former prophets, as Joshua -- Kings were called, the latter were attached, Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel; succeeded by the twelve minor prophets, arranged for the most part according to their times, though the length of individual prophecies and similarity of contents also influenced their position.
The arrangement of books in the third division depended on their age, character, and authors. The Psalms were put first, because David was supposed to be the author of many, and on account of their intrinsic value in promoting the religious life of the people. After the Psalms came the three poetical works attributed to Solomon, with the book of Job among them, -- Proverbs, Job, Canticles, Ecclesiastes.
The book of Esther followed, since it was intended to further the observance of the Purim feast; with the late book of Daniel. The position of Daniel among the c'tubim arises solely from the fact of its posterior origin to the prophetic writings, not excepting the book of Jonah itself; and the attempt to account for its place in the third division on the ground of its predominant subjectivity is based on the unfounded assumption that the objective state of religion is represented in the second division and the subjective in the third. Had the book existed before 400 B.C., it would doubtless have stood in the second division. But the contents themselves demonstrate its date; contemporary history being wrapped in a prophetic form. Having some affinity to Esther as regards heathenism and Greek life, the book was put next to the latter. To Ezra and Nehemiah, which were adopted before the other part of the Chronicle book and separated from it, were added the so-called Chronicles. Such was the original succession of the third division or c'tubim; but it did not remain unaltered. For the use of the synagogue, the five Megiloth were put together; so that Ruth, which was originally appended to Judges, and the Lamentations affixed at first to Jeremiah's prophecies, were taken out of the second and put into the third canon. This caused a separation of Canticles and Ecclesiastes. The new arrangement was made for liturgical purposes.