Tuesday, March 29, 2005

Questions on the Ossuary and the Canon

Danny Zacharias at deinde.org has posed some questions for me in recent posts.

(1) First, concerning the James ossuary, Danny notes that Oded Golan claims to have an old photo of himself with the ossuary containing the full inscription:

What if a picture from the late 1970's shows the ossuary with the full inscription? It seems to me that if this is true (and only time will tell) then it is pretty damaging evidence against the contention that Golan (and others) conspired in the late 90's or early in 2000 to make this forgery and 'coincidentally' bring it out at the perfect time in Toronto right around the time when interest in James the Just had been heightening.
I agree. I am skeptical, however, that Golan really has such a photograph; and the photograph itself must be shown to be authentic and to date from the time that Golan claims (and even then the inscription could be fake). The indictment includes a charge that Golan has attempted to suborn witnesses, falsify affidavits, etc. — and Joe Zias mentioned on the ANE list that Golan has now been jailed until the trial to keep him from further attempts to suborn perjury. If all this is true, then Golan is not above faking a photograph. But yes: by all means, let us see what the trial brings out. Should be interesting.

(2) Concerning the question of canon that I addressed a few posts ago, Danny asks:

Yes, the church canon wasn't really decided until the 4th century (I do not agree with the 2nd century date of the muratorian fragment, which is only an NT list anyway) but it is still a lot closer to the early church than the reformation was, so why did the reformers get to make this decision? Again, I know this is an odd and weak argument, but I don't think that I am alone in this type of reasoning.
Well, as I noted in my original post (and this was the point of it) the Catholic church canon was not officially decided until the 16th century. (Indeed, the very earliest Christian OT canon list I know of, that contained in Eusebius, omits the Apocrypha.) The pronouncements of previous councils were not meant to be dogmatic decrees binding on the Church Universal. Before the 16th century, the canon was debatable, and was sometimes debated. The Reformers in opting for the Hebrew canon took one side of this debate.

Did the Reformers get it right? Seriously, I don't know. I don't believe the Almighty has addressed the question of canonicity in any explicit manner; in the final analysis, the canon has consisted of those books that the faithful find to contain the Word of God. The Reformers chose for their OT canon only those books which had gained unanimous approval in all the communions of the church: semper, ubique, et ab omnibus. If that's not a basis for unity, what is?

By the way, I don't know what the RC church now does with the unstable text of some of the apocryphal books. The book of Tobit has two main recensions in Greek, a long one and a short one, besides some fragments of older versions in Hebrew and Greek from Qumran. Which text is canonical? The same goes for Ecclesiasticus (Ben Sira). The Greek text that was canonized is now known to be different (in some cases, very much so) from the original Hebrew text, parts of which are now known from the Cairo Geniza and from Masada. Which text is canonical? At least the Protestant churches don't have this problem.

Finally, Danny says "If the apocrypha filled the 'silent years' as a witness to God's voice and love and provisions, why can they still not do so today for us protestants? And wouldn't it go a long way towards unity in the church, catholics and protestants together?" But can't God speak to, love, and provide for His people without supplying additional books for the canon? If not, then you must believe that God has been silent and unloving since the close of the NT canon — or are there also books from each of the Christian centuries you would be willing to add to the Bible?

As for the question of unity, my denomination (Episcopal) includes the Apocrypha in its weekly lectionary readings. As far as I know, this has not aided appreciably in the quest for Christian unity (but I speak under correction). I think that the question of canon is far from the most central issue of debate between Catholics and Protestants.

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