(Re)writing the Bible in Antiquity and Today


The New Testament writers and early Church Fathers used the Septuagint (LXX) for proof texts and for personal and communal worship.  The LXX is based on the Old Greek translations of the Hebrew and Aramaic Scriptures (indeed, it is the oldest of the Versions) begun probably in the mid-3rd century B.C.E. with the Torah (i.e., the Pentateuch, the first five books of the Hebrew Bible), but eventually culminating over the next couple of centuries with all the books now present in the Christian Old Testament, as well as a number of other important Jewish religious texts (some with originally Semitic originals, some with Greek), such as Ecclesiasticus, the books of Maccabees and Tobit (these other texts are commonly called the Apocrypha).[1] These texts were not accepted as scriptural, however, later in the Rabbinic tradition that would eventually produce the Masoretic Text. Moreover, in the late Second Temple Period (i.e., 250 B.C.E.-70 C.E.) there were many other Jewish religious texts, commonly referred to as the Pseudepigrapha, that carried claims to revelatory authority and were regarded as sacred and religiously authoritative by many Jewish and early Christian groups in the same manner that later biblical texts came to be, but which were not included by the later Rabbinic tradition or in the LXX.[2] For instance, 1 Enoch is alluded to or quoted over a dozen times in the New Testament and the biblical book of Jude (vv. 14-15, quoting 1 Enoch 1:9) cites it as prophetical, utilizing the same type(s) of formula(e) that introduce biblical proof texts.  Moreover, this book was popular and sacred generally among Second Temple Judaisms, as can be seen from Qumran. Jubilees too should probably be regarded similarly, and no doubt there are other such texts as well. Indeed, the existence of numerous Jewish texts from antiquity that are based on biblical characters and texts but which also expand the biblical texts and traditions demonstrate that many at this time felt it was legitimate to expand upon the biblical stories and to use them for religious purposes.  Finally, it is also apparent that certain groups also held religiously authoritative and sacred the words of their founder(s) or certain of their spiritual teachers.  Thus the words of the Teacher of Righteousness, revered at Qumran, held special significance for the sectarian group, he being believed to have held the key to the correct (eschatological) interpretation(s) of all the mysteries of the prophets.  The earliest Christians, on the other hand, highly esteemed the words of Jesus and certain of his earliest disciples.  The examples of these groups illustrate that the canon was far from firmly fixed in the eyes of many Jews and early Christians in the late Second Temple Period; indeed, there was no such idea as yet.

Thus the idea of canon is clearly a post-biblical development. Although in the late Second Temple Period certain collections of texts had become standardized (both in content and order) and religiously authoritative and sacred, such as the Torah (also referred to as the Law, the first traditional division of the Hebrew Bible), the Bible [3] as a closed book, consciously chosen as uniquely scriptural in contradistinction to all other books, did not then exist, nor could it really, since biblical and non-biblical books were written not in book (or codex) form but on individual scrolls (we should imagine a collection of scrolls, of various text types, since all the books of what would later become the Bible could not fit on a single scroll or roll).  Moreover, it is clear from ancient sources that the contents of the Bible had not been fixed yet, either in terms of content or order.  The book of Daniel, for instance, was considered prophetic both in the New Testament (e.g., Matt. 24:15) and at Qumran (4Q 174, the Florilegium, 2:3), as well as by Josephus (e.g., Ant. 10.249) and Melito, although later Rabbinic tradition allocates it to the third division of the Hebrew Bible, the Writings, and not to the Prophets (the second traditional division).  The same is true for the Psalms.  Not only were the contents of the second traditional division of the Hebrew Bible fluid–that is, Daniel and Psalms were probably included among the Prophets–but so was its order.  So we see in the Talmud (4th or 5th century) that the order of the Major Prophets is to be Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Isaiah (B. B. Bat. 14b).  However, it should be stated that the Torah (Law) and (for the most part) the Prophets were considered scriptural by the late Second Temple period, although the contents (probably including Daniel and Psalms) and order  of this section were not entirely fixed and established.  Eventually the Psalms became segregated from the Prophets. Thus Luke 24:44 speaks of “the Law, and the Prophets, and Psalms,” and 1 QMMT mentions the Law, Prophets, and David (i.e., the Psalms–since many of them were often attributed to king David–although not necessarily the edition of Psalms in the Masoretic Text [see below]).  Moreover, the contents of what would become the third traditional division of the Tanakh, the Writings, was very unstable in this period, and those works, such as 1 Enoch or Jubilees, among others, as mentioned above, would have been part of this later section.  Even in the second century the contents of this section were still not agreed upon, as can be seen by the fact that Rabbi Aqiba was still arguing that the Song of Songs was indeed scriptural.


The Dead Sea Scrolls have opened up a new world in the scholarly study of the history of the biblical text and the textual criticism of the Hebrew Bible. Scholars now realize that the Septuagint (better: Old Greek [OG]) translators were usually attempting to render a faithful translation of their sacred texts, and that disagreements between it and the traditionally received Massoretic Text (MT, the textus receptus) are not due to the carelessness or intrigue of the translators, but are often because the LXX is based on different Hebrew (or Aramaic) Vorlagen (source/parent texts).[4] The import of this point should be stressed, for it is now clear that there were not only meaningful differences in individual words (that is, individual variants; e.g., Deut. 32:8-9) and orthography, but even variant literary editions of entire biblical (as well as non-biblical) books or passages throughout the Second Temple Period.[5] Thus, for instance, the book of Jeremiah in the LXX is noticeably shorter than that of the MT and has a different order, and this different length and order is confirmed by 4QJerb and 4QJerd. The difference between the LXX and MT is almost certainly due to the fact that the MT of Jeremiah is a later, revised, expanded edition of the book.

Pluriformity and diversity in the biblical texts abounded during the Second Temple period. For instance, the LXX has an earlier version of the David-Goliath story in 1 Samuel 17-18, to which the MT has added various David traditions, while the LXX has probably secondarily expanded the Hannah story found in MT 1 Samuel 1-2 for theological reasons.  Additionally, the LXX of Psalms contains a 151st Psalm attributed to David, and this Psalm, as well as other non-biblical Psalms, have turned up in their Hebrew originals in 11QPsa (c.f. the edition of Psalms attested in 4QPse) in the Dead Sea Scrolls (as well as being attested in Syriac translations).  The Book of Daniel has been significantly expanded in the LXX tradition (particularly interesting is that chapters 4 and 6 are expanded in the LXX, although the MT represents a secondary edition of chapter 5) as has the book of Esther (N.B.: no copies of Esther have been found among the Dead Sea Scrolls, and manuscripts of the book of Daniel found at Qumran seem to reflect the MT).  The Samaritan Pentateuch (SP), frequently ignored by scholars in the past, since its “rediscovery” shows different, expanded editions of the books of Exodus and Numbers, and these expansions (minus the very few Samaritan sectarian additions) are also found in 4QpaleoExodm (c.f. 4QNumb), thus showing that at Qumran there were multiple textual traditions in use for the book of Exodus with apparently no distinction as to whether one was truly scripturally valid and the other not.  Also, the LXX represents a different literary edition of Exodus 35-40 as over against the MT.  Josephus, moreover, had a different edition of the book of Samuel (a later edition of the Old Greek/LXX), also represented in Hebrew by 4QSama among the Dead Sea Scrolls, than that found in the MT.[6] Other books too show evidences of variant editions of biblical books or passages, including the books of Joshua (e.g., 4QJosha and the building of the first altar after Israel’s crossing the Jordan), Judges (4QJudga), and others. 

Further, the Dead Sea Scrolls have confirmed a number of variant (individual) readings from the Septuagint as older than those preserved in the MT, and they have also provided at times unique individual variants that appear to be older than those in either the MT or LXX (or SP) (of course, it too has many readings that appear to be revised or later additions).   Additionally, certain passages that were altogether missing from the MT where scholars have long suspected that there was corruption in the traditional text have been found.  Thus the NRSV now contains the translation of a biblical passage that has not been in any Bible for nearly two millennia (see the extra paragraph about Nahash in the NRSV, recovered from 4QSama and confirmed by Josephus, after 1 Samuel 10:27).  Finally, passages that are secondary in the MT (and/or LXX) have been more certainly isolated, such as Judges 6:7-10, which does not appear in 4QJudga and, for a variety of reasons (e.g., Wiederaufnahme), is almost certainly an expansion in the MT textus receptus.

Of further significance is that many of the secondary editions and expansions were produced for the same reasons and by the same methods that scholars have argued produced the earlier stages of literary composition for the biblical books.[7] These principles include systematic harmonization (SP, 4QpaleoExodm), composite splicing of sources (1 Samuel 17-18 in the MT verses the shorter edition in the LXX), exegetical expansions and rearrangement of material (e.g., the MT revision of Jeremiah), and ideological driven changes (as perhaps is the case in the LXX revision of 1 Samuel 1-2).  Moreover, the book of Daniel, probably written sometime in the third and/or second century B.C.E., even though it is perhaps the latest of the biblical texts, was itself substantially revised and expanded in the Hebrew Vorlage to the LXX (as well as in the MT in chapter 5, as noted above).  These scribal practices are akin in nature (though usually on a somewhat smaller scale) to those of earlier editors and authors who composed the books of the Bible.  For instance, scholars see the splicing of sources throughout the Pentateuch and Deuteronomistic History (i.e., Joshua-Kings) (an especially good parallel for 1 Samuel 17-18 would be the Flood narrative in Gen. 6-9), secondary exegetical expansions and accretions of material throughout the prophetic books, Psalms and Proverbs, etc., and the transplanting of text and harmonization (e.g., 2 Kings 18 and Is. 36; Is. 2:3-4 and Mic. 4:1-4; Obad. 1-10 and Jer. 49:7-22, etc.).  Moreover, the type of large-scale redaction and expansion for the book of Daniel represented by the LXX is seen throughout the Hebrew Bible.  Moreover, the book of Chronicles furnishes a terrific example of the creation of a novel work with its own unique theological Tendenz composed from prior biblical (e.g., the Deuteronomistic History) and non-biblical sources.  The Chronicler edits, expands, supplements, changes, and ignores a number of features from his sources (including his “biblical” sources) for his own purposes (cf. the Synoptic problem).  (It is further interesting to note that the textual source for the book of Samuel in Chronicles is very similar to the text type represented in the Dead Sea Scrolls by 4QSama and also found in the OG and the Greek source for Samuel which underlies the work of Josephus; the MT, on the other hand, as scholars have realized for a long time, has a large number of textual corruptions [cf. the Nahash passage mentioned above], often resulting from parablepsis, that were never corrected in the (proto-)MT tradition.)

It is significant, therefore, that such scribal-authorial practices were still taking place in the Second Temple Period, demonstrating that the biblical texts were not yet entirely textually fixed and that variant literary editions of the biblical books existed side-by-side, apparently with no difference in religious value.  The Dead Sea Scrolls have thus helped to erase the artificial line dividing higher and lower criticism of the Hebrew Bible since scribes were at times more than simple copyists or transmitters of the biblical books, but active participants in the development of the biblical texts.


The Dead Sea Scrolls, LXX, SP, and other ancient witnesses, have amply demonstrated that the Bible as canon did not occur until long after the writing of all the now-biblical books, and that the textual history and character of these books should be described as evolutionary and pluriform.  The problem of recovering an “original” text for the biblical books is therefore extremely complicated.[8] For instance, is the original text the final, expanded edition of a given biblical book or passage (but what if there are multiple late expanded editions, as we have seen)?  Or is the original the edition of a book at an earlier stage in its transmission history (perhaps when it was accepted by some community as authoritative?)?  Is it the earliest recoverable edition of a given book (even if we know, as is the case for the book of Daniel, that there was an earlier edition underlying all of our extant witnesses)? Is the original text the earliest complete edition of the book that we would recognize as that book (even if we don’t have access to it)?  Or is the original text the literary sources used to compose that book (such as J, P, or D for the Pentateuch), even if the author(s) or editor(s) revised and modified those sources for their own (different) purposes?  Or are the oral traditions that underly many of our literary sources the real original text? There are many other such questions and complications. 

Further, the Dead Sea Scrolls and other ancient witnesses strongly indicate, on account of the great pluriformity in the biblical texts during the Second Temple Period, that there were likely many more editions of biblical books and passages, important textual variants, orthographic peculiarities etc., than we moderns currently have access to, and that the extant (and lost) literary editions of the biblical books and their many variants represent a long and complicated textual history for these texts.  Although the Dead Sea Scrolls are our oldest biblical manuscripts, they only represent a very small fraction of the biblical manuscripts from antiquity, and they also do not contain large sections of the biblical books, not to mention entire books (e.g., Esther was not found among the Dead Sea Scrolls). 


We have already concluded, drawing on the research of Ulrich, Vanderkam, Tov, and others, that there was no canon in the Second Temple Period and that the idea of a canon–a closed, authoritative collection of texts that is consciously chosen as distinct from other texts–is a post-biblical development.  Indeed, many Second Temple Jewish groups and individuals believed other books or traditions were as religiously sacred and authoritative as the (later) biblical texts (although some groups, like the Samaritans, only accepted a smaller collection of texts, e.g., the Torah), while other groups also held in high regard the words and teachings of their contemporaries (or near contemporaries).  The LXX (and later Vulgate) was the Bible of the Christian Church for the great majority of its history and it contains a number of books not found in traditional Rabbinic and Protestant Bibles.  The Dead Sea Scrolls and other ancient witnesses show part of the development of the canon–what we might term the canonical process–but they do not witness to the canon as such.  Rather, the Dead Sea Scrolls show that ancient scribes, like earlier authors and editors, both transmitted their religious texts and modified them to meet the needs and circumstances of their contemporary communities.

However, although the idea of a fixed canon exists in traditional Judaism and Christianity, modern religious readers of the Bible still edit and modify their sacred texts in similar ways to those of the ancient scribes and editors who physically composed and transmitted the biblical texts.  Modern readers update and expand (and subtract) from the Bible through various hermeneutical traditions (e.g., religious traditions, the academy, etc.), pluriform ideological and political perspectives (e.g., egalitarianism, Marxism, etc.), manifold world views, and their own diverse, raw human experiences.  Modern readers eisegete the biblical texts, harmonize them, use secondary materials as means of interpreting the Bible, selectively choose which parts are to be emphasized or ignored, etc.  There is also a dialectical interpretive[9] process at work between these and the modern reader, and in this process the modern reader necessarily adds to and takes away from the biblical books (even if not physically).  Thus modernreaders are in many ways similar to their ancient counterparts–the difference is that many (though not all; c.f. scholarly conjectural emendations, etc.) do not physically change the text of their sacred writings because of their developed, non-biblical notions of canon.


However, does the fact that all readers of the Bible add to and subtract from it in their dialectical engagement with the biblical texts, in combination with the fact that the biblical texts themselves show complex evolutionary stages of growth and development, undermine certain modern notions of canon?  That is, does the evidence from the Dead Sea Scrolls, other ancient witnesses, and modern biblical scholarship, undermine certain modern ideas of canon since 1) there is, historically speaking, seemingly no accessible “original” text, 2) the idea of canon is itself non-biblical, and ancient Jewish and Christian groups used other sacred texts (e.g., 1 Enoch or Jubilees) and traditions (e.g., the words of Jesus, Paul, or the Teacher of Righteousness) as religiously authoritative, 3) the very composition and transmission of what would become the biblical texts was gradual and evolutionary until an artificial end (e.g., there is no evidence that the text types for the biblical books selected in the Rabbinic tradition were chosen on textual grounds[10]) sometime probably in the second century C.E., 4) there were multiple editions of biblical books and/or passages, and 5) the biblical texts (like all texts) are always read in a dialectical manner involving both the reader and the text in a process that necessarily adds to and subtracts from the scriptures (even if not physically)?  And finally: what impact do these issues have on modern notions of Scriptural, and especially biblical, authority and the devotional use of the biblical texts?


[1] On the LXX, see Emanuel Tov, Textual Criticism of the Hebrew Bible (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1992), 134-148; Eugene Ulrich, The Dead Sea Scrolls and the Origins of the Bible. Studies in the Dead Sea scrolls and related literature (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1999), 205-214.

[2] For the following discussion of canon see James C. Vanderkam, The Dead Sea Scrolls Today, 2nd Edition (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1994), 178-195, 63 (concerning the role of the Teacher of Righteousness); Ulrich, The Dead Sea Scrolls, 17-33, 51-78.

[3] “Bible” as a general term throughout this paper means primarily the Jewish Bible, i.e., the Hebrew Bible, what Christians typically refer to as the Old Testament, and does not usually include the New Testament unless otherwise indicated through the immediate context or explicit mention.

[4] Emanuel Tov, The Text-Critical Use of the Septuagint in Biblical Research. Jerusalem biblical studies, 3. (Jerusalem: Simor, 1981).

[5] For the following discussion of variant literary editions see Ulrich, The Dead Sea Scrolls, 3-120.

[6] Ulrich, The Dead Sea Scrolls, 184-201.

[7] Again, for this discussion see Ulrich, The Dead Sea Scrolls, 3-120.

[8] For the following discussion of “original text,” etc., see Ulrich, The Dead Sea Scrolls, 3-33 (esp. 12-16).

[9] See Ulrich, The Dead Sea Scrolls, 73-78 (esp. 73-75).

[10] Ulrich, The Dead Sea Scrolls, 84.

12 Replies to “(Re)writing the Bible in Antiquity and Today”

  1. ah, the importance of keeping gospel doctrine fairly simple, and not straying into unverifiable doctrine. I can see why today’s Apostles and Prophets tend to stick with simpler doctrine in their talks. With such changes in the texts between various translations, how could someone, for instance, take prophecies from the Old Testament related to the end of the world seriously?

  2. Dan, I’m not sure that I understand how your point relates to the OP. As I understand this post, it raises the question of whether the term “verifiable doctrine” has any meaning — or are simple, verifiable doctrines simple the ones most of us agree on?

  3. Dane,

    My point is simply this. Understanding that the biblical texts have gone through such understandable changes, how could someone today grab an obscure section or piece of today’s bible and build a whole mythology over it, like, say, Gog and Magog, and expect it to actually occur as he or she built up the mythology.

  4. Dear Dan,

    I think that the original post raises a number of interesting issues that could have meaningful responses from a Mormon perspective (among others, of course). I am still not sure how your response(s) relate to the content and questions posed in the post.

    Best wishes,


  5. TYD, I skimmed through this interesting overview of canonical and textual history of the Jewish Scriptures, looking for observations of significance for the audience of this blog. You comment that your post “raises a number of interesting issues that could have meaningful responses from a Mormon perspective”, and I agree. But are you leaving us to do that work? What was the original source of this content? It reads like a paper for a survey course. Lots of interesting information, but I feel like I would be able to better engage with it if you applied it explicitly to LDS perspectives on canon and scripture.

    A direction of thinking I have found to be productive is: what picture of canon is presupposed by LDS scripture? For example, the idea of a “book” that clearly describes the Bible in 1 Ne. 13:20 would have been foreign to a sixth century Judean, and the contents of the brass plates described in 1 Ne. 5:11-13 deserve a post of their own. In effect it describes *our* Bible up until precisely 597 BCE–good thing those scribes were so punctual. This one example brings up a wealth of problems to chew on.

  6. To link my comment to my post, I don’t really have a problem with the anachronistic description of the scriptures in the Book of Mormon. It makes sense that the Book of Mormon as we have it is filtered through Joseph’s worldview and expectations. To be most efficient as a spiritual text, it is better that the narratives conform to the expectations of the majority, though they cause serious misgivings to the experts. The alternative would be reveal scriptures in a “historically accurate” way that pleases the 2% intellectual readership and confuses the 98%. But even though I have an answer I am happy with, I do think these issues make for very interesting discussion.

  7. tyd:

    thanks for sharing what obviously represents a significant amount of time and study.

    with enoch, i would be interested to hear your thoughts on how this impacts mormonism.

    for instance, does the fact that ancients rewrote scripture make it easier for you to accept, say, the book of moses as an apocryphal addition to the bible, as i think bushman describes it in rough stone rolling? or does it introduce further problems, such as whether pseudepigraphy is ever innocent, as i think robinson doubts in his ‘lying for god’ essay?

  8. Enoch and g.wesley,

    It is true that I did not originally write this as a post for FPR (you ask for the original source Enoch: it is simply something I wrote because I like to write about subjects I am researching–in this case, the textual composition and transmission of the biblical texts in the Second Temple Period). The reason I did not add my own contributions for how the above relates to Mormonism is because there are so many interesting issues that could be addressed that I just didn’t want to pick one. I wanted to leave it up to the readers to pick out what they thought might be of interest for discussion and further reflection. Perhaps this approach was foolish of me. Alas.

    Thank you all for commenting, however.


    I take an approach to the Book of Mormon very similar to Blake Ostler’s “Expansion Theory,” and it sounds similar (in application, at least) to the way you deal with 1 Nephi 13:20.

    g. wesley,

    I like your questions and I will address them later today or early tomorrow (hopefully). Since I have been asked specifically how this impacts Mormonism by both you and Enoch, I think I may discuss how the post could influence Mormon approaches to the JST (including the Book of Moses, as you suggest). Finally, I don’t know Robinson’s “Lying for God” essay–is this Stephen Robinson of BYU, or another Robinson?

    Best wishes,


  9. [EDITED]

    Dear Enoch and g.wesley,

    I believe that the canonical process–that is, the composition and transmission of the biblical texts as discussed in the post–may be a meaningful lens for evaluating the JST. The JST itself was never completed in Joseph Smith’s lifetime, and indeed underwent various revisions over time. The biblical texts were harmonized, expanded, and edited in the process, and I am in agreement with those Mormons (e.g., Kevin Barney and Stephen Robinson) who view the JST not as representing primarily restorations of an “original text” (as that term has been used classically) but rather as prophetic midrash or commentary which sought, like some of the scribal modifications identified in the original post, to update the scriptures in a way that was meaninful for Joseph Smith and his contemporaries while yet attempting to remain faithful to the original base text. That is, the biblical texts were modified, both by Joseph Smith as well as by ancient tradents, in a way that sought to be true to the original but that also made the texts more applicable or relevant to a certain faith group or tradition.

    For LDS Christians, furthermore, it is, seemingly, a commandent to follow a similar practice to that of Joseph Smith and the ancient scribes, that is, to “liken the scriptures unto ourselves.” The classic proof-text from the Book of Mormon for this idea is 1 Nephi 9:23: “And I did read many things unto them which were written in the books of Moses; but that I might more fully persuade them to believe in the Lord their Redeemer I did read unto them that which was written by the prophet Isaiah; for I did liken all scriptures unto us, that it might be for our profit and learning.” For the Mormon tradition, then, it is not simply a matter of Joseph Smith “changing” the biblical texts, but that all God’s faithful are to update and expand the scriptures to apply to themselves and their contemporary situation (indeed, given the fact that reading texts, whether ancient or not, is itself a dialectical process in which readers both derive meaning from and bring meaning to the texts, and in so doing necessarily add to and take away from the original, this seems inevitable). Thus many modern LDS Christian leaders have said that the average member is to follow a process similar to that of Joseph Smith and/or the ancient tradents–except to the extent that modern members don’t usually alter the actual wording of the base texts (however, there is no prohibition for members not write in their scriptures, and in fact it seems, from my experience, to be encouraged). Moreover, such an idea seems to be supported by passages elsewhere in uniquely Mormon scripture where significant bodies of lay members are said to have the ability to produce “scripture” themselves. For example, D&C 68:4 reads: “And whatsoever they [all those ordained to the priesthood; v.2] shall speak when moved upon by the Holy Ghost shall be scripture, shall be the will of the Lord, shall be the mind of the Lord, shall be the word of the Lord, shall be the voice of the Lord, and the bpower of God unto salvation.” “Scripture” is not limited to the biblical texts, or even the “Standard Works” for Mormons, but is applicable to anything uttered under the influence of the Holy Spirit.

    Additionally, a number of the modern revelations found in the Doctrine and Covenants, as well the Book of Mormon, have undergone editing (both by Joseph Smith and his contemporaries as well as in more recent times). Some of the current revelations are in fact compilations or amalgamations of several different revelations, and the wording at various places in some of the revelations, as well as in the Book of Mormon, have at times been changed, whether for grammatical reasons or to clarify meaning, etc. What, then, is the original text of these revelations? Is it the revelations in their individual form or after they were edited together? Are we to use the original text of the Book of Mormon at all times or the modern edition, or both? We can ask similar questions of the biblical texts, as was done in the original post.

    Concerning the post’s discussion of canon, it seems clear that the idea of a canon is a post-biblical development. Moreover, although a canon can exist in the sense that a certain collection of books chosen as authoritative in contradistinction to all other books may be made, it is impossible to use one’s canon in isolation as though one’s faith is nothing more nor less than what is contained in that canon. As I have said before, readers necessarily add to and take away from their texts–and this includes their canonical texts. In this sense then, although I have no idea where the term comes from historically, I like the LDS term “Standard Works,” because it does not necessarily entail that the only religiously authoritative or spiritually valid texts are those found within its covers. Additionally, I believe that if we use the term “canon” in the strict sense I have stated above–and not to refer generally to just any authoritative collection of texts but specifically to an authoritative collection of books consciously chosen as over against all other texts–then the term “open canon,” which I sometimes hear used, seems to make little sense (indeed, is a contradiction ofterms) and so should probably be abandoned.

    Finally, I believe it may be worth addressing the subject of pseudepigraphical writings, since you (g.wesley) brought it up. It is clear that certain biblical authors considered certain pseudepigraphical writings authoritative (e.g., Jude’s use of 1 Enoch–my next post here at FPR is about this subject). And most modern scholars believe that a number of biblical texts are pseudepigraphical, such as the Pastoral epistles, 1 or 2 Peter (or both), James, etc., and certainly that a number of traditional authorial attributions of various biblical books are wrong (such as Moses being the author of the Pentateuch, David having written the Psalms, or Solomon having written Proverbs, Ecclesiates, or the Song of Songs, etc.). However, if we view the JST as primarily prophetic expansions or midrashic commentary, then not only is it no longer necessary to have to find ancient parallels to every idea or term in the Book of Moses but we would have a modern parallel to what ancient authors were seemingly doing in their activities. I am of the opinion then (probably in opposition to what Stephen Robinson thinks, given what you said above g.wesley) that pseudepigraphy was not just pious fraud but a meaningful genre for authors to convey their views. Thus there is in the JST (and especially in the Book of Moses section) a way to view pseudepigraphy in the Bible as harmless to one’s faith, at the very least. Pseudepigraphy may at times simply be a means of channeling one’s views for public conssumption or for relaying a divine message.

    Best wishes,


  10. Related to these issues is the interesting notion of seeing “Canon” treated as a genre in and of itself by some religious groups, including our own LDS tradition. Most can see and will admit that the Bible contains different types of texts and writings, but rarely read it as such. The construction of the idea and term Canon has in a way lead to how those texts are read and interpreted. For example, instead of seeing the Bible as an anthology of different genres (e.g. myth, legend, prophecy, religious history [i.e. not history “as it happened”]), they are all read together as one large genre–“Canon”. In this way, each writing is not viewed for what it is and read and interpreted according to the conventions of the genre it most relates to, but interpreted through the lens of seeing any text in the canon as a type of sacred text that should be read and interpreted the same as any other sacred text within its generic category. When reading the primeval history in Gen 1-11, for example, and then later reading the history in Kings, for many it is all read and interpreted as “history” with no distinction between the two.

    In my opinion, this is a big part of how most Mormons look at the texts within their Canonical tradition. Hence, it is difficult for many to start to deal with the complicated textual and compositional history of them. Moreover, anytime a modern scripture is added to the Canon (such as JST Book of Moses) it assumes the character of other texts already within the Canon and the conventions of this particular “genre” are applied.

    Hopefully the point of what I’m trying to say has come across and isn’t too divergent from the OP.

  11. TYD,

    Thank you for this post. Canonical approaches to scripture have been of great interest to me over the last few years. I love that you have underlined that all people have a “canon within a canon” or “add to and take away.” Even the most strident “every word is from God” individual has her/his favorite and not so favorite verses. Since the thread has leaned towards LDS concepts of canon, I will add a few thoughts.

    I like your appraisal of the term “open canon”. I have tried on several occasions during presentations on canons and canonical development to answer questions about the LDS notion of canon (in front of non-LDS audiences). I have tended to move quickly to the term “open canon” (-ish), or try and compare it to Rabbinic writings. Obviously LDS do not have a problem with the “adding to” the bible category and while my mostly Protestant audiences doesn’t like the idea they understand the idea. I have used sources like -Katie’s Canon- by the Womanist theologian Katie Cannon to describe the adding to.

    The taking away practice seems to be an all-encompassing occurrence though many won’t admit it. I have used, like you stated in the OP, any ideological position (i.e. everyone) to show that parts of scripture are excised both formally and/or informally, both consciously and/or unconsciously . For me, the most striking example of this is Howard Thurman’s grandmother refusing to read the Pauline epistles because they were used constantly by her slave owners to justify slavery. Today, just take a look through many OT Sunday School manuals (LDS or other) and you won’t find extended lesson material on Lot’s daughters or Ruth’s marital status when she uncovered Boaz’ feet 🙂 (if you don’t know what to do with it or you don’t agree with it, ignore it)

    So…if open canon doesn’t work, and I think your argument is convincing, how do we describe LDS canon(s)? for the average LDS? in academic terms?

    and…is more helpful to view the LDS canon(s) through a diachronic lens (James Sanders) or a synchronic lens (Brevard Childs)? or somewhere between?

    Thanks Again for this post TYD!!!

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