The Old Testament Canon: The council of Jamnia: 90 AD

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Introduction:

  1. In 90 AD, the council of Jamnia was unimportant in determining the Jewish Canon.
  2. It was not a major council like Nicea, but a small collection of rabbinic Jewish leaders.
  3. They did not gather to determine the canon of the Old Testament, but rather limited their discussion to the books of Ecclesiastes and the Song of Solomon.
  4. Roman Catholics and Orthodox leaders misrepresent history when they make claims that the Canon of the Old Testament was not fixed until the council of Jamnia in 90 AD. They desperately don't want to be bound to following the Bible. Roman Catholics and Orthodox leaders feel that re-writing history to suggest the canon of the Jews was not fixed until after the Jewish system was abolished in 70 AD, is as absurd as it is wishful thinking. Think about it, only after God destroys the Jewish religion, do the Jews get a fixed canon.
  5. There was clearly a fixed canon long before Jesus was born and when Jesus was tempted by the Bible three times, he did not reply, "human, man-made church tradition says Satan" Rather all three times Jesus replied, "It is written", (Matthew 4:1-4) referring to the Old Testament canon. In other words, the Devil didn't ask, "Written in what?" for everyone, including even the Devil knew what books were included in the Old Testament.

A. Discussion:

  1. Frank M. Cross designates the Council of Jamnia "a common and somewhat misleading designation of a particular session of the rabbinic academy (or court) at Yabneh." He adds, "Recent sifting of the rabbinic evidence makes clear that in the proceedings at the academy of Yabneh the Rabbis did not fix the canon, but at most discussed marginal books, notably Ecclesiastes (Qohelet) and the Song of Songs. . . . Moreover, it must be insisted that the proceedings at Yabneh were not a `council,' certainly not in the late ecclesiastical sense." Cross sees Josephus, independent of any Jamnia proceedings, reflecting "a clear and coherent theological doctrine of canon that must stem, we believe, from canonical doctrine of Hillel and his school." Albert Sundberg recognizes that the "Council of Jamnia" hypothesis is dead. At the same time, still contending that the Hebrew tripartite canon was probably fixed between 70 and 135 C.E., he suggests that my own view of the hypothesis may have been too quickly accepted. He asks, "What alternatives are there to Jamnia as the venue?" Lee McDonald summarizes the case, "There is evidence that a discussion was held at Jamnia on the canonical status of Ecclesiastes and the Song of Songs, but this is not enough to suggest that any binding or official decisions were made regarding the scope of the biblical canon at Jamnia." (Lee Martin McDonald, James A. Sanders, Editors: The Canon Debate; Jack P. Lewis, Jainnia Revisited, p 161, 2002)
  2. "it appears that a general consensus already existed regarding the extent of the category called Scripture, so that even the author of 4 Ezra, though desiring to add one of his own, was obliged to recognize this consensus in his distinction between public and hidden Scripture." (The Council Of Jamnia And The Old Testament Canon, Robert C. Newman, 1983, abstract)
  3. A basic feature of most liberal theories of the Old Testament canon is an alleged council held at Jamnia about AD 90 which is supposed to have canonized or at least finalized the Writings or Hagiographa, the third division of the Hebrew Old Testament. In this paper--a reprint of the article appearing in the Westminster Theological Journal 38 (Spring, 1976)--the Talmudic evidence for such a council is surveyed. It is concluded that there is no real evidence for such a council nor for any binding canonical decisions at that time. Instead there appears to have existed a consensus on the content of the Old Testament in the first century AD which was already ancient at that time. (The Council Of Jamnia And The Old Testament Canon, Robert C. Newman, 1983)
  4. From these sources, as well as from the statements in Josephus, 4 Ezra and the Talmud regarding the cessation of prophecy about the time of Ezra (cited above, notes 1, 4, 7, 9), and in view of the New Testament use of "Scripture" as though it were a recognized body of material, it seems that there was a popular consensus on the books belonging to Scripture even before the end of the first century A.D. This consensus did not extend to the question of how these books were to be ordered or counted, but it did seem to be combined with the belief that these books had been known publicly since the time of Ezra. (The Council Of Jamnia And The Old Testament Canon, Robert C. Newman, 1983, conclusion)

B. Roman Catholic and Orthodox leaders deliberately misrepresent history:

"THE BIBLE OF THE APOSTLES: ... The modern Jewish canon was not rigidly fixed until the third century A.D. Interestingly, it is this later version of the Jewish canon of the Old Testament, rather than the canon of early Christianity, that is followed by most modern Protestants today. When the Apostles lived and wrote, there was no New Testament and no finalized Old Testament. The concept of "Scripture" was much less well-defined than I had envisioned." (Which Came First: The Church or the New Testament?, Fr. James Bernstein, Orthodox churchman, 1994, p 5, p )
"Indeed, it may not have been until the Council of Jamnia (c. A.D. 90), well into the Christian era, that the Jews defined their canon." (THE WAY: What Every Protestant Should Know About the Orthodox Church, Clark Carlton, 1997, p 98)

Refutation of James Bernstein and Clark Carlton (Orthodox):

  1. Bernstein, being an Orthodox apologist, has a direct vested interest in promoting the superiority of "man made church tradition" over what the Bible says.
  2. There was a well defined canon of the Old Testament well before Jesus walked the earth. To say that it wasn't until the third century AD that the Jews had a fixed canon, is just irresponsible to say. It is deliberate misrepresentation of the facts of history.
  3. By 70 AD most of the books of the New Testament were written and in full use. By 96 AD, the last book of the New Testament was written.

By Steve Rudd

 

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