Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Martin Hengel on the OT Canon

Here's a thought-provoking throught from Martin Hengel on the OT canon:

"As a New Testament scholar and Christian Theologian, I would like to pose a question in view of the problem emerging here. Does the church still need a clearly demarcated, strictly closed Old Testament canon, since the New Testament is, after all, the 'conclusion', the goal and the fulfilment of the Old? Indeed, does not one face an essential contradiction if one, in an unhistorical biblicism, clings to a limited 'Hebrew', or better pharisaical, 'canon' from Jabneh? Must not the Old Testament remain a degree open to the New? Is not a figure like the eschatological prophet John the Baptist the most important example - in the New Testament itself - of this openness of the Old for the New, the final? ... The origin of Christianity as well as of rabbinic Judaism after 70 CE becomes at all historically interesting and comprehensible only through this literature, which includes in a wider dimension also Josephus, Philo and the Pseudepigrapha. One portion of this literature was preserved, sometimes unwillingly, by Christian tradition; the other comes to light now in the Qumran texts. The great interest that this rich 'post-biblical' Jewish tradition finds among Jews and Christians could perhaps be assessed as a sign of the relative openness of the 'canon' in both directions, given the fact that Jews and Christians parted conclusively only after the destruction of Jerusalem toward the end of the first century CE." (The Septuagint as Christian Scripture, 126).

I think it is perfectly valid to recognize that Christian sacred literature was broader than our modern "canon", but does this proposal mean (a) almost de-canonising the Old Testament since it has no limits; (b) making the Old Testament of less canonical weight than the New Testament; and (c) using the Old Testament as background reading rather than as "scripture"?


Alex said...

I think your (c) is a very interesting question. What do we want canon to mean? Because in some sense, Jesus is canon, the only canon. The rest is either the preview (OT) or postscript (NT). But I guess what we mean by canon is those books which have been deemed to interpret Yahweh (in the OT) and Jesus (in the NT) rightly. The rest is either suspect to varying degrees, or tangential to revealing Yahweh or Jesus.

Mick Porter said...

Thought-provoking indeed!

Perhaps we could go with:
(c) using the Old Testament as background reading rather than as "scripture" - with the following important exceptions:

- Any descriptive evidence that supports weapon ownership.
- Any descriptive evidence that supports strict gender complementarianism.
- The proverbs that prescribe spanking.

The rest of it should be fine to leave in the "background reading" category.