Thursday, May 25, 2006

Matthew and his Canon of Scripture

Which writings were considered "Scripture" for the NT writers? A tricky question for sure. Matthew has more possible allusions to IT lit than most, though some of this could simply be the "milieu" instead of conscious allusion. In general, however, I think Matt has some idea of the canon of Scripture.

Some have noted that the end of Matt resembles the end of 2 Chr, which is the end of the traditional Heb Scriptures (Frankemolle esp., though he himself stressed the Chronicler's begin. with genealogy and ending with the commissioning, I think, not the shape of the canon). Form critics don't have much to work with IMO, and important verbal parallels are lacking. But I do think the first two words of Gk Mt ("biblos genesews," or "book of Genesis"--a title by which the first book of Moses was already known in Matt's day) are intentional pointers to Genesis, and it does not seem a stretch to have a conclusion like Matt's which might point to the end of a hypothetical canon as well. Other evidence? "the blood of Abel to Zechriah" in Mt 23:35. This is of course fun in English because it's "A to Z," which should warn us that coincidence is possible and not necessarily helpful. There's some doubt as to which Zechariah ("son of Berechiah" in the better mss) this is, as there are three choices biblically.

Strack-Billerbeck notes later Jewish confusion or interpretive equation of Zechariah the son of Berechiah (the biblical book's namesake) and Zechariah in 2 Chr 24:20. For more on this exegetical technique in Matthew, see Bauckham, "Tamar's Ethnicity and Rahab's Marriage," NovT 37 (1995). Nolland (2005) cites Knowles, Jeremiah in Matthew's Gospel: The Rejected Prophet Motif in Matthean Redaction, JSNTSS 68; SB; and M. McNamara, who discusses the parallel with Tg.Lam 2.20. The upshot of these opinions is that Matt is citing the first and last person in his canonical Scriptures to die because of righteousness, just as later Jewish authors may have done. This can't be proven, but it seems possible Matthew has done this. Since Matthew elsewhere has a knack for working allusions to Zechariah (the biblical prophet) into his material, as in 27:3-10 and 21:5, this wouldn't be surprising. I'd love to hear what Clay Alan Ham does with this in his new monograph on Zechariah in Matthew, but I have been unable to find a journal that is reviewing it (RBL isn't!) and has not already obtained a willing soul.

Any thoughts on "Matthew's canon" or the use of Zechariah?


Blogger theswain said...

I'm the wrong one to ask. I happen to be in an increasing minority who think that the Hebrew canon of Scripture was closed, and was closed in the second century BCE for a number of reasons. My problem with most canon studies in the field is the assumption that a quotation or allusion to another work outside the canon means that the canon is open (it is elastic, by definition, but that's not the same), or that occasional exceptions disprove the rule.

At the very least though, Matthew has a canon, the Torah, and probably the Prophets and Psalms--this is based on usage. But it seems to me that if Matthew's gospel is written with Jews, Jerusalem, and Pharisees at least partly in mind, then the writer would want to imitate as much as possible those works found canonical and authoritative (different but related categories) in his target audience.

BTW, I too am convinced that the opening of the gospel is meant as a pointer to Genesis and that the geneology suggests a closed canon.

11:38 AM, May 30, 2006  
Blogger J. B. Hood said...


Thanks for the thoughts. I don't think the genealogy itself actually hits the "closed canon" question, as it runs past the end of the canon, post-Shealtiel, right through Joseph.

One big argument, perhaps, is that whatever "authoritative" decision on canon was made was probably already dominant long before. I think it's certainly possible that the documents in our "Hebrew/Aramaic Scriptures" were all acknowledged as canonical by the point in time you mention, and certainly were believed to be such during NT times and by NT writers. The question of the limit of the canon may be more difficult to prove.

2:27 PM, May 30, 2006  
Blogger theswain said...

Ah, well, I also happen to believe that there is no such thing as a "decision" on the limit of the canon--that's one of those ideas that study of the Biblical canons in Judaism and Christianity suffers from and needs to be dispensed with. It is indeed a rare thing in literary canons (which is what we are dealing with after all) the world over to be "decided" upon in the sense that someone or someones sat down and made decisions. The closing of the Christian NT canon is a case in point--there's discussion all round the issue, and then suddenly we have a raft of writers, councils, list makers who are all saying essentially the same thing quite without "decisions" being made.

But yes, whatever was "canonical" would have been authoritative and traditional long before--how else do we explain the presence of Song of Songs for example?

11:38 AM, May 31, 2006  

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