The formation of the Jewish canon, or list of authoritative Scriptures, has been highly contested among scholars. Since the three-stage theory of the development of the canon — which espoused that the three stages of canonization corresponded with the three divisions of the Tanakh: Pentateuch, Prophets, and the Writings — was largely dispelled in the 1970s and ‘80s, there has yet to be a theory accepted as widely.
Lim’s expert treatment of the ancient literary sources regarding this topic, ranging from the Letter of Aristeas to rabbinic literature, is of use to both laypeople and scholars, giving a concise overview of the current scholarship as well as convincing arguments for his own position. He differentiates between “canon” and “authoritative Scriptures,” defining “canon” as a fixed list of books considered authoritative by a community, as opposed to “authoritative Scriptures,” writings that were considered to be divine and inspired before the appearance of this list. The “majority canon” that manifested itself at the end of this historical process was a compilation of authoritative Scriptures.
Successfully disproving theories of the canon’s closure during the time of the Maccabees as well as during the era of the Babylonian Talmud, Lim shows through a thorough examination of the available literary sources that a list of authoritative Scriptures was largely agreed upon by the end of the first century. He cautiously accepts John Collins’s identification of the end of this process with the end of sectarianism and majority consensus that came along with it after the destruction of the Second Temple.
Given the lack of concrete evidence, it is impossible to come to any historical conclusions regarding the closure of the Jewish canon. However, Lim’s treatment of this topic provides a convincing theory for the canon’s development as well as how these Scriptures were treated throughout antiquity.
- Arguing The Modern Jewish Canon: Essays on Literature and Culture in Honor of Ruth R. Wisse edited by Justin Cammy, et al.
- The Censor, The Editor, and The Text: The Catholic Church and The Shaping of The Jewish Canon in The Sixteenth Century by Amnon Raz-Krakorzkin
- The Wisdom of Love: Man, Woman, & God in Jewish Canonical Literature by Naftali Rothenberg