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The Oxford Study Bible Study Bible supplemented with commentary from scholars of various religions.

Text, Canon, and Community

The Bible is largely pseudepigraphic. That is, most of the literature in it is anonymous either in initial composition or at points of community transmission; then, it is often attributed to one or another great, recognizable name in antiquity. In this manner unidentifiable individuals, even authors of truly great literary compositions, were caught up into community identity at the expense of their own. Attributions to former great figures often occurred rather late in the transmission process, many perhaps when the dialogue and debate in Early Judaism about corporate and individual responsibility had become widespread. Often the attribution was made in a late superscription or was passed on in oral transmission and does not occur in the manuscripts themselves. This is true of both testaments.

Many scholars today want to go behind the canonical stages of biblical texts inherited from ancient communities to a “recovered original” text. In some cases this effort may be based on some theory of authority (historical and/or theological) that impels the effort to reconstruct what ancient individuals said or wrote before the text became community property as canonical literature. In other cases, it is more of an intellectual exercise concerning the conjectured roots of variants or divergencies in extant manuscripts. In either case, one or more line(s) of textual transmission (e.g., the Septuagint in the case of the Old Testament) may be used in an attempt to reconstruct a more “original” form of the Hebrew text. The intent is to reach behind the early canonical stages of text exhibited in extant manuscripts. Such attempts are made even in the case of stories or accounts found in different stages of transmission which manifest quite distinctive cultural contexts—e.g., the stories of Hannah (in Hebrew, 1 Sam. 1 ) and Anna (in the Septuagint, 1 Kingdoms 1) or the books of Jeremiah (which are quite different in the Hebrew and Septuagint).

In contrast to this tendency, there is a growing interest among some scholars in preserving the differences (as the Masoretes did for the Hebrew text) and even translating two or more versions of the same story or accounts (as the Bible preserves both Ps. 18 and 2 Sam. 22 ). Some recent translations (including the REB) have the Hebrew Esther in the canonical Old Testament but also the full Greek Esther in its own integrity in the Apocrypha. Scholars as historians should be interested in probing back as far as possible toward the inception of all things biblical, but there is serious concern now that such probes not destroy the forms of the stories and accounts inherited from the tradents of the communities of the extant manuscript traditions. Indeed, scholars engaged in textual and canonical criticism can now usually reach agreement on the earliest canonical stage of a biblical text in antiquity and thus transmit the various text traditions responsibly to current believing communities. Such communities, scholars and lay folk together, are the heirs of centuries—even millennia—of textual tradition and are themselves now tradents in the continuing canonical process of these remarkable texts.

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