Now that I’ve given some terms and definitions (in yesterday’s post) I can start talking about how it is we got the books of the Hebrew Bible/Old Testament: who chose the books to include, when they did so, and on the basis of what criteria.  Before laying out what scholars today tend to think, I need to provide some information about what *used* to be the standard view (this older view is still held by some, who are not abreast on changes in scholarship over the past twenty or thirty years.)   That will be today’s post.  Again, this information comes from my textbook on the Bible.



The term “canon” comes from the Greek word for “reed” or “rod.” A canon was a straight edge that was used, for example, by a carpenter to make sure that an alignment was correct; but it could also be used as a measuring stick. Eventually the word “canon” came to be applied in other contexts, by analogy, to refer to a rule or standard by which something could be judged, and in that sense it came to be applied to a collection or list of books. In particular it referred to some kind of official or accepted or standard list of books seen to “fall in line.” And so today we might speak of the canon of Shakespeare—which would be the plays and sonnets that he actually wrote—or the canon of Canadian literature (the books widely recognized as “great” literature of the country), or the canon of the Hebrew Bible.

The Older View of the Formation of the Canon

For many years there was a more or less standard, widely accepted view about when the canon of the Tanakh came to be formed. This view maintained that …

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