Sacred Books: The Canon of the Hebrew Bible at the End of the First Century

Sacred Books: The Canon of the Hebrew Bible at the End of the First Century
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Sacred Books: The Canon of the Hebrew Bible at the End of the First Century

Author Robert L. Maxwell

The presence of biblical and "apocryphal" texts at Masada demonstrates that these texts were valued by the various groups that occupied the site before the Roman conquest, but it also brings up the question of canon. Which of these texts had be "canonized" or considered sacred and binding scripture by their readers?

A number of fragmentary manuscripts in Hebrew and Aramaic have been found at Masada, including seven from the Hebrew Bible. These are Mas1a (Lev. 4:3–9), Mas1b (Lev. 8:31–11:40), Mas1c (Deut. 33:17–21, 34:2–6), Mas1d (Ezek. 31:11–37:15), Mas1e (Ps. 81:6–85:6), Mas1f (Ps. 150:1–6), and Mas1g (Ps. 18:26–29). Aside from minor orthographic differences, these are, in all cases, the same as the Masoretic text (MT) of the Hebrew Bible we have today. There are, in addition, a number of extrabiblical fragments, including a fragment of Ben Sira (Ecclesiasticus) (Mas1h) and a fragment apparently of the Book of Jubilees (Mas1i).

The presence of biblical and "apocryphal" texts at Masada demonstrates that these texts were valued by the various groups that occupied the site before the Roman conquest, but it also brings up the question of canon. Which if any of these texts had been "canonized" or considered sacred and binding scripture by their readers? Their presence at the site alone says nothing of their canonicity, for many writings of a clearly noncanonical nature were also found at Masada. While it is impossible to know the exact opinion of the inhabitants of Masada on these writings, there is some evidence for the development of a Hebrew Bible canon in the larger Jewish community, and interestingly enough, certain defining events for the Hebrew canon were probably occurring almost at the same time as the fall of Masada in 73 C.E.

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