Forums Jews and Judaism Jewish acceptance of deuterocanonical books

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    • mark
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        Jesus and His Apostles—all Jews—preserved and frequently alluded to the inspired books that much later (by the sixteenth century) were called “deuterocanonical.” They are Tobit, Judith, Wisdom, Ecclesiasticus (Sirach), Baruch, 1 and 2 Maccabees, and parts of Esther and Daniel. Jesus and the Apostles never questioned the veracity of these books. “Deuterocanonical” is a technical term—it does not denote or connote a secondary status, just a secondary and final stage to the Spirit-led process of discernment that questioned and critiqued many books that later were understood and embraced by the Church as canonical. Within the New Testament, this included Martin Luther’s so-named “epistle of straw,” the sacred Epistle of Saint James. The New Testament’s deuterocanonical list, or simply second-phase list in the canonical discernment process are Hebrews, James, 2 Peter, 2 & 3 John, Jude, and the Revelation of John.

        Among Jewish/Hebrew groups and movements, Rabbinic Judaism specifically rejected the deuterocanonical books. There is no Jewish scholarly consensus when Rabbinic Judaism’s canon was fixed. We know, because of absence of any evidence, the supposed 90 AD council of Jamnia never occurred. Heinrich Graetz (1871) invented the idea: no evidence of location, date, participation, or content—including removal of books accorded as sacred by Jews for centuries—has ever been found. This phantom council never deleted the seven Mikra or Old Testament deuterocanonical books. By the 3rd to 4th centuries AD, much of Rabbinic Judaism must have rejected these books, as we can see in St. Jerome’s and Origen’s letters that indicate as such. However, not all had, or at least not all the books, e.g., the Babylonian and Palestinian Talmuds cite Ben Sira (Sirach) by name, and underscore its Scriptural authority with the words, “as it is written.” Other Jews/Hebrews have had different canonical responses. Samaritans only accept as canonical the first five books of the Bible—the Torah or Pentateuch. Karaite Jews accept as canonical the same twenty-four books (including multiple books that are condensed as one) as Rabbinic Jews, although they do not accept the Talmud as authoritative—only the Torah (or Tanakh), the word of God. Many Christian Jews (e.g., Hebrew Catholics)—though not all—and Ethiopian Jews embrace deuterocanonical books as well as the twenty-four, just as Christ had (and still does). And there are other canonical variations.

        Some think Origen and St. Jerome rejected the deuterocanonical books because of statements of theirs referencing the books determined canonical by many early Rabbinic Jews. To the contrary, however, Origen referenced deuterocanonical books, as inspired Scripture, numerous times (e.g., in his letter to Julius Africanus, and in his Leviticus Homily 5 and Commentary on John, Book 6). Only in written conversation with the early Rabbinic Jews of his time (e.g., via Commentaries on the Psalms, and the Hexapla) did he restrict his list to avoid immediate dispute in discussion of Biblical matters. St. Jerome, similarly, distinguished between the two scenarios of theological presentation, one of which addressed early Rabbinic Jews. Historians dispute whether Jerome, earlier in his career, rejected these OT books. Jerome, in Against Rufinius (402 AD), strongly rebuffed “charges” of denying them. Very clearly, Jerome embraced them—at least later in his career—and was faithful to the Church’s teaching affirming their canonicity, as seen in his correspondence with Pope Damasus and his response to the judgment of the Councils of Carthage and Hippo.

        Through allusion, Jesus and His Apostles referred to deuterocanonical books dozens of times. To merely mention three: Matthew 27:42-43 alludes to Wisdom 2:12-20; Romans 1:19-25 alludes to Wisdom 12:23-27 and 13; and Hebrews 11:35 alludes to 2 Maccabees 7. Numerous articles and other sources reference and discuss these allusions.

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