The term canon is not understood easily because of its complexity in meaning. This is because different groups have different canons of the scripture. However, the term canon can be defined as an inventory or catalog of books approved by a group as having divine power and obligatory for the group’s religious activities and guidelines (Vanderkam and Flint 156). Members of such a community believe that the list of books are inspired by God and therefore, have some divine authority.
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Canons of the Old Testament
A variety of communities attests to the canons of the Old Testament hence making it one of the complex canons. The complexity in the canon is evident in their structure, content, as well as, the form. In the Jewish Old Testament, the books were arranged in a unique way. The Old Testament contains 24 books in the Jewish bible. The 24 books of the Old Testament have been divided into categories, where each category has a number of books. The Pentateuch or Torah consists of the first five books, which include Genesis, exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy. This Jewish canon is similar to other canons in the first category of the books. The protestant canon, Roman Catholic, and the Greek orthodox all start with the five books. The protestant Old Testament canon consists of 39 books whereas there are 46 books of the Roman Catholic canon’s Old Testament and other 2 additions.
The difference between the Jewish canon and the rest is the arrangement of the books. The Hebrew or the Jewish bible has placed the book of Joshua under the prophets’ category whereas the protestant and Roman Catholic bibles place the book under the history books. The Jewish bible ends with the books of Ezra-Nehemiah and chronicles whereas the Christian bible ends with Zechariah and Malachi (Vanderkam and Flint 157). The Jewish bible shows the return of the people to the land of Israel at the end whereas the Christian bible ends with judgment prophecies (Vanderkam and Flint 160). In terms of content, the Jewish bible has almost the same amount of content with the protestant bible. This is because some of the books like first and second Samuel, as well as, first and second Kings are considered as one book in the Jewish bible. The twelve Minor Prophets also form one book in the Jewish bible. These books are considered as separate books. The Roman Catholic Old Testament contains extra books making 46 books.
Contribution of the Qumran Biblical Scrolls to our Understanding of the Canon of the Hebrew Bible
The Hebrew Bible borrowed much from the Dead Sea scrolls. The scrolls were written in Hebrew and Aramaic, the same languages that are used in the Hebrew bible. The ancient writings have a great contribution to the canon of the Hebrew bible in terms of both structure and contents (Vanderkam and Flint 169). Various scriptures have been incorporated into the Jewish bible. This is seen especially in the books of laws of mosses and 2 kings. The book of psalms has been considered to have borrowed much from the writings in Qumran. The arrangement or organization of the Qumran scroll from mosses to the books of the prophets resembles the arrangement in the current Jewish bible (Vanderkam and Flint 171). However, the arrangement of books in the Greek orthodox may vary.
However, it is worth to note that, similarity in the structure does not result to similarity in content. For example, it does not mean that the book of Mosses in the Qumran community structure include the five books of Torah from Genesis through Deuteronomy. The content of the modern Jewish Bible vary with the content found in the Qumran community scripture. It is hard to believe that all the books in the Hebrew bible or the Christian Old Testament were scriptures for the Qumran community. Such a conclusion must be supported by evidence from the scrolls (Vanderkam and Flint 172). It is possible to identify Qumran writings, which show that Qumran community considered some writings, as sacred scripture or as having divine authority (Vanderkam and Flint 172). In the Damascus document for instance, Ezekiel is termed as a prophet who was used by God (Vanderkam and Flint 172).
The writings also depict Daniel as being authoritative and having prophetic status in the florilegium (Vanderkam and Flint 172). In the passages of the 4Q text, the jubilee is mentioned though in a Hebrew title as Divisions of the times. In the Qumran community, they believed in appeal to prophesy. This makes their writings to be scriptural in nature and authoritative. The writings in the Qumran attribute their message to God. This is the same case found in the Jewish bible. They claim that the messages in the writings are from angels or from God. The jubilee in the Qumran writings is described as a divine revelation (Vanderkam and Flint 173). The Pentateuch consisting of the books from Genesis through Deuteronomy claims to have Divine revelation. There has been a huge amount of script used at Qumran that has been maintained in the current canon of the Jewish bible. The Qumran scrolls have been represented in the books of psalms, Deuteronomy, Isaiah, genesis, exodus, jubilees, Leviticus, and Enoch. This is a clear indication of the contribution the Qumran scrolls have made into the canon of the Hebrew bible (Vanderkam and Flint 174).
The understanding of the canon depends on the community an individual belongs to. Different communities have different canons, which they consider to be a scripture and have divine authority. This is seen with the difference between the canons of the Jewish bible and the Christian bible in terms of structure and content.
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