The Old Testament Periods of Canonization
There were five periods in the history of Israel in which the canonization of sacred scriptures took place. The final collection was established in the time of Ezra and Nehemiah and, of course, this latter canonization must be reckoned the most important. But when one surveys the biblical evidence for the other periods, a great deal of instruction in overall biblical teaching can be the result.
In this chapter we want to give the biblical evidence for these times of canonization. There are some plain statements within the Bible that mention these periods but often they are not considered important by some scholars today. Since our emphasis in this book, however, is to focus on what the Bible says about itself, I believe it is essential to mention these periods which the Bible takes a considerable amount of space to relate.
It was universally believed, until modern times, that Moses wrote the five books of the Law. The internal indications certainly claim Moses as the author, and there are many New Testament assurances of this fact. Simple reference to these five books (called the Pentateuch) shows them to be compositions written within the 40 years of the Exodus period. It appears that Genesis, Exodus and Leviticus were composed the first year. Moses did not arrive at the teaching in these books solely as a new revelation from God. Moses actually had access to scrolls describing ancient historical events. Some of the genealogical portions that Moses recorded even had titles to them, e.g., “The Generations” (Genesis 2:4; 5:1; 10:1, etc.). 1
The Book of Numbers was the journal of Israel’s trek through the wilderness. The last entry (chapter 36) was written by Moses at the conclusion of those forty years, along with Deuteronomy, which was produced within the last 60 days (compare Deuteronomy 1:3 with Deuteronomy chapter 34).
Deuteronomy was formulated for a special reason: it was intended to teach Israel further laws and statutes they would need to know when they settled in the Promised Land. Almost all the laws in Deuteronomy pertain to an agricultural economy, not one within a desert or wilderness environment. As evidence of this, notice the types of animals recorded in Deuteronomy chapter 14. In comparing them with Leviticus chapter 11, there are in some instances different animals mentioned. In Leviticus, the animals were generally those native to the wilderness, or animals that Israel encountered south and east of Palestine, while in Deuteronomy the animals were located in more habitable and civilized areas of the Fertile Crescent.
These variations do not show evidences of different authorship. The Book of Deuteronomy was a re-phrasing or reapplication of the basic laws given in the wilderness that made them more appropriate for a settled land economy.
Shortly before he died, Moses authorized the first five books of our Bible to be the divine Law of Israel (called the Torah). He then delivered them into the custody of the priesthood for safekeeping. Moses ordained the Levitical priesthood to be the official guardians of the Law.
“And Moses wrote this law, and delivered it unto the priests, the sons of Levi, which bore the ark of the covenant of the Lord, and unto all the elders of Israel.”
The Ark of the Covenant was a wooden chest with two cherubim hovering over it that was associated with the tables of stone, the rod that budded, plus the pot of manna (Hebrews 9:4). It constituted the central part of Israel’s physical worship and was located in the Holy of Holies of the Tabernacle. The scrolls of the Law were stored in specially designated sleeve compartments attached to the sides of the Ark (Deuteronomy 31:26). By this provision, the High Priest could consult the standard copies left by Moses. These original scrolls were seldom used, consequently they did not become ragged and torn as those read regularly in assembly. All scrolls for public reading, however, were required to be faithful copies of the standard ones kept in the side of the Ark.
In later times, when Israel had kings, each king was supposed to write out with his own hand personal copies of the original “Ark Scrolls” as a surety that he understood all the separate laws written therein.
“And it shall be, when he sits upon the throne of his kingdom, that he shall write him a copy of this law in a book out of that which is before the priests the Levites.”
Eventually many copies of the basic Law were made. This was perfectly proper as long as the Temple priests supervised or performed the copying. Of course, over the centuries, even the standard “Ark” copies themselves had to be replaced. But it was not uncommon for reference scrolls made of animal skins to last in good condition for 500 years or more. The less often the scrolls had to be used, the fewer times they needed replacing. The standard “Ark Scrolls” were used so infrequently that the recopying of such standard scrolls was rare.
In New Testament times, these standard scrolls were even referred to as the “Temple Scriptures.” Paul may have been referring to them in Second Timothy
“And that from a child you have known the holy scriptures, which are able to make you wise unto salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus.”
2 Timothy 3:15
The word “holy” often means “temple,” and Newberry translated Paul as saying such in his version of 2 Timothy 3:15. Newberry believed that Paul was referring to the official scriptures deposited in the Temple by Ezra when he completed the Old Testament revelation. The scrolls found in official synagogues throughout the world in the 1st century were in agreement with these standard “Temple Scriptures.” Newberry’s suggestion may well have been right.
The first period for canonization of sacred scriptures was in the time of Moses. It would be over 400 years later before another canonization took place. We will come to see that there is a remarkable similarity to all the periods when the various canonizations of the biblical writings occurred. Thankfully, the men who finally canonized the New Testament had the example of Ezra as a guide in all matters of canonization.
The Book of Chronicles is the Old Testament book giving us information of the canonizations prior to the final one by Ezra. Indeed, this is one of the primary reasons for its composition. There were three historical periods discussed at length by Ezra: the times of David and Solomon; the times of King Hezekiah; and the times of King Josiah. We shall see that these time periods were those when extra literature was added to the Law of Moses for Temple use.
We are left in no doubt as to Ezra’s reasons for writing the important Book of Chronicles. Not only was he recording the three periods after Moses when canonizations occurred, but he also concentrated on matters relative to true worship and the fixing of proper rituals to be observed in the Temple. Chronicles gives us a full genealogical listing of the priests, Levites, and the House of David, and showing who were the legitimate ancestors of Israel and to demonstrate that Jerusalem was to be reckoned the center of all true worship.
The whole emphasis in the Book of Chronicles, which makes it so different from the parallel Book of Kingdoms, is upon Jerusalem as the center of God’s divine government on earth. It also shows how the proper authorities (the ordained priests and secular rulers as proved by the genealogical lists) were associated with the Temple at Jerusalem, and not in any other area of the world. According to Ezra in the Book of Chronicles, it was at Jerusalem that the standard of all religious teaching was to be centered.
This is why Chronicles gives a great amount of detail to the history of the Ark (1 Chronicles chapters 13–16), the preparations for building the Temple, and the assignments of the priests and Levites in the Temple, and the genealogical lists of proper individuals and families who were necessary to perform the duties in the Temple and to govern Israelite society. As said before, Chronicles also shows when and especially where the canonizations of the Old Testament were accomplished. The making of the Jewish scriptures was at Jerusalem, and the canonizations were done at times when it was necessary to revitalize the Temple services. This was also the case with the final canonization. Ezra resided at Jerusalem and Temple services were once again being authorized. By writing Chronicles, he was demonstrating that Jerusalem was always the place to which Jews needed to look as the source of God’s truth.
The next period for canonization after the time of Moses was that of David. The Israelites had been in possession of Mosaic teachings some 400 years. Throughout this period, they had used the portable Tabernacle as the central place of worship. But in the time of David, the former religious system was becoming inadequate for accommodating great masses of people. The Tabernacle had now become ineffectual in handling the religious requirements of all the Israelites. The time had come to establish a permanent building in which a more appropriate worship and regulated services could be made. With this in mind, David planned a Temple to be erected as an honor to God as a non-portable sanctuary for Israel.
The building of the Temple entailed other elaborate arrangements in regard to services to be performed within its precincts. For one thing, priests were no longer a handful in number as they were when Aaron was High Priest. Their number was now so great that they could not possibly perform the Temple rituals all together as a single family. David thought it was time to re-evaluate the duties of the priesthood.
Under directions from Samuel (1 Chronicles 9:22.) David subdivided the enlarged priestly family into twenty-four divisions or courses (1 Chronicles 24). Instead of the priests performing their Temple services as a single family in unison, each priestly course was assigned specified times to do their ministrations. Each course was responsible for appointing one of its leading priests as chief priest, and to authorize him to select certain members of that course to serve with him at the Temple. Only those particular priests then became responsible for offering the evening and morning sacrifices at the designated times.
The service of each priestly course lasted for one week (from Sabbath noon to Sabbath noon). Thus, each of the twenty-four courses served one week within a six-month period. They repeated the procedure for the second half of the year. Over the period of a year, each course served in the Temple for two weeks (each week separated by a six month span), and all twenty-four courses served together at the three annual festival periods (Passover, Pentecost and Tabernacles).
David’s organization did not stop with the priests. The Levites and singers in the Temple were divided into twenty-four courses as well (1 Chronicles 25). This meant that, for all practical purposes, a new religious system had come to Israel. Instead of a temporary dwelling for God, there was to be a permanent structure. Along with this magnificent and rich building, there were to be regular successions of authorized personnel performing needed rituals in the Temple. All these things required definite liturgies to be ordained and followed. David, under the direction of Samuel, set about arranging all these matters into a proper order before Solomon constructed the Temple. We will now see that David’s work necessarily involved canonization.
The Levitical singers were authorized to sing appropriate songs in the Temple. These various singers had been divided into twenty-four courses (1 Chronicles 25). The times for their singing, and the prophetic songs they were ordained to sing, were arranged by David with the help of Gad, the king’s seer, and Nathan the prophet (2 Chronicles 29:25).
David, as is well known, was the most famous psalmist in the Old Testament. People customarily refer to the Book of Psalms as being of David’s authorship. While this is not quite accurate (for some psalms were written by others), David certainly composed the majority of the ones found within the Old Testament canon.
A notable section of psalms entirely from the hand of David is that from Psalm 1 to 72 in our present Book of Psalms. At the end of Psalm 72 there is a subscription to all those seventy-two psalms. It informs us: “The prayers of David the son of Jesse are ended.” This does not mean that no more of David’s psalms were to be found in later portions of the Book of Psalms. The subscription simply means that the preceding Psalms represented a set of seventy-two Davidic songs which were to he sung in succession by the twenty-four priestly courses. 2
Notice also that some of these Davidic psalms are titled “Korah’s” (e.g., Psalms 44–49), to Asaph (Psalm 50), and one was composed for Solomon (Psalm 72). David wrote these psalms in honor of, or for and on behalf of, Korah and Asaph who were Levites responsible for performing these assigned psalms in the regular Temple services.
Indeed, David wrote many psalms for various Levitical singing groups. An example is found in 1 Chronicles 16:7. He composed a psalm in commemoration of a special occasion. Of this, Ezra says in Chronicles: “On that day David delivered first this psalm to thank the Lord into the hand of Asaph and his brethren.” It was a psalm for Asaph but written by David. Many of the titles of the psalms indicate to whom the psalm was to be delivered, or they signified the Levitical families responsible for singing those particular psalms in the Temple services.
Thus, the first section of seventy-two psalms, which are found in our present Book of Psalms (Psalms 1 to 72), was probably the original collection ordained at the time of David. Later on, in the days of Ezra, the totality of the Law of Moses began to be read in synagogue services in weekly portions (about twenty verses each week). This allowed the complete five books of Moses to be recited, and commented on, over a three-year period. These were known as Triennial Cycle readings because they took three years to complete.
To correspond to this reading, another set of seventy-two psalms was no doubt added by Ezra to the first group, making a hundred and forty-four — enough for singing one psalm each Sabbath in the Temple services over a three-year period. Six other psalms were added to the final collection, making a hundred and fifty in all, probably to account for the extra month in the calendar that occurred about every third year. 3 Every seventh year, however, the first five books of the Law, along with the five sections of the Psalms, were read over the period of one year. This was the Sabbatical Year cycle of readings, and after the Temple was destroyed in 70 C.E., it was this annual reading of the Law and Prophets that prevailed in Judaism.
The point to remember is that David was probably the first to appoint the initial seventy-two psalms of our present Book of Psalms to be sung by the Levites at the Temple services. The official singing of these psalms involved canonization, because those psalms had become part of the sacred services. To Ezra, singing Temple songs in regular succession clearly entailed their official canonization. 4
With a permanent religious society established in Israel by Solomon’s time, there was need for additional literary works to direct the people in their religious duties. The Bible says that Solomon searched the books of the wise men of old (ancient philosophers, poets, theologians and historians) to find what their teachings were. Solomon “was wise, he still taught the people knowledge; yea, he gave good heed, and sought out, and set in order many proverbs” (Ecclesiastes 12:9). This tells us that Solomon did not originate all the proverbs for which he became famous.
Certain proverbs and proverbial illustrations now found in the Bible were composed by several wise men who preceded Solomon in time. In some cases, Solomon merely catalogued the wisdom from the pens of ancient wise men. He openly stated that he collected many proverbial sayings so that people might “understand a proverb, and the interpretation; the words of the wise ones [the Hebrew is plural], and their dark sayings” (Proverbs 1:6).
In a superscription to one group of proverbs (Proverbs 22:17 to 24:22), Solomon advised: “Bow down your ear, and hear the words of the wise ones.” Another batch of proverbs was also “set in order” by Solomon or his editors and given the title: “These things also belong to the wise ones” (Proverbs 24:23).
Admittedly Solomon wrote many proverbs of his own, especially those from Proverbs 10 to Proverbs 22:16. But lots of others came from older sources that he had sought out and put in order. It could be possible that the section from Proverbs 1:6 to the end of chapter 9 might have been written by the patriarch Joseph. 5
It should be understood that at the time of Solomon, there must have been scores of documents circulating in Israel — written not only by Solomon but also by other important men. Some of those works may have been used temporarily for divine services in that period. On the other hand, some documents of our Old Testament may not have received their canonical status until Ezra selected them to be among the scriptural works. We are speaking of documents such as Ruth, the Song of Songs and Ecclesiastes. The fact is it was finally up to Ezra and the Great Assembly of priests to establish which documents would enter the Old Testament canon. Though there was a type of canonization when the Temple was first inaugurated in the time of David and Solomon, the real canon came from Ezra.
Circumstances surrounding the canonizations in the time of Moses and of David and Solomon were entirely different from the three periods to follow — those in the times of Hezekiah, Josiah, and Ezra. In the first instance, Moses had “leisure time” during the forty years in the wilderness (no external wars were being fought for most of the period) to authorize the first five books as divine literature and to present them as the basic Law to Israel. Near the end of his life, Moses simply put finishing touches to the Law and delivered it for safekeeping to the official priesthood. He told the Israelites which books were divine and then charged them to obey them. No one argued with him about the matter.
In the reigns of David and Solomon, the only reason for adding certain literature to the already existing documents of the Law was the establishment of the permanent Temple, with its elaborate services, and the expanded type of religious society that accompanied it.
There were also no national emergencies of impending war facing either Moses or David and Solomon, and the establishment of the Tabernacle and later Temple services was accomplished in times of relative peace and security for the nation. But all the other canonizations were produced under entirely different circumstances. When Hezekiah ruled, for example, canonization was forced upon the authorities because a time of great external stress was besetting the nation.
At the beginning of Hezekiah’s reign the national existence of Judah was in jeopardy of being destroyed. An Assyrian invasion and captivity were threatening utter ruin to the nation and to the Mosaic religion. This emergency prompted Hezekiah and Isaiah to move swiftly to place their seal of authority upon certain sacred documents that were in Israel. They sought to preserve all Temple documents because it appeared as though the Temple services and all physical components of Judah’s religion might soon be extinguished. They later came to realize that their fears were unfounded (because Isaiah said God would step in to preserve Judah from ruin), but we can be assured that the expectations of Isaiah and Hezekiah at first produced a further set of authorized books for use by the Temple authorities.
Let us consider the period from Solomon to Hezekiah. After the time of Solomon, the religious purity of the Temple services gradually deteriorated. Such corruption ultimately became so widespread that idols and images of foreign gods began to be set up all over Judah (2 Chronicles 31:1). The twenty-four specific divisions of the priests, Levites, singers and others, established by David for the purpose of organizing Temple services, fell into confusion and practically passed out of existence. Things got so bad by the time of Ahaz, the father of Hezekiah, that many Jews, particularly Ahaz himself, thoroughly abandoned their religious duties to the God of their fathers.
Ahaz, we are told, actually stripped the Temple of its decorations, giving them to the Assyrian king as a present (2 Chronicles 28:21–24). The Temple furniture was destroyed because Ahaz “cut them in pieces,” then he “shut up the doors of the house of the Lord” (v. 24) and instituted Syrian paganism as the official religion of Judah. Ahaz,
“made him altars in every corner of Jerusalem, and in every several city of Judah he made high places to burn incense unto other gods, and provoked to anger the Lord God of his fathers.”
2 Chronicles 24–25
For all practical purposes Judah had reverted to a heathen state.
It was in this paganized society that Hezekiah ascended the throne. Right from the beginning of his reign, he made a concerted effort to reform Judaic society. He desired to purify and rebuild the ruined Temple and to re-establish the Temple services with the priests and singers performing their prescribed duties.
“He in the first year of his reign, in the first month, opened the doors of the house of the Lord, and repaired them. [They had been defaced and nailed up. Also the Temple had to be cleansed of accumulated filth after its sixteen years of disuse.] And he brought in the priests and the Levites.”
2 Chronicles 29:3–4
“Hezekiah appointed the courses of the priests and the Levites after their courses, every man according to his services, the priests and the Levites for burnt offerings and for peace offerings, to minister, and to give thanks, and to praise in the gates of the tents of the Lord.”
2 Chronicles 31:2
“He set the Levites in the house of the Lord with cymbals, with psaltries, and with harps, according to the commandment of David, and of Gad the king’s seer, and Nathan the prophet: for so was the commandment of the Lord by his prophets.”
2 Chronicles 29:35
“Moreover Hezekiah the king and the princes commanded the Levites to sing praise unto the Lord with the words of David, and of Asaph the seer. And they sang praises with gladness.”
2 Chronicles 29:30
Hezekiah even exceeded David in assigning certain psalms to be sung in regular Temple services. He included not only the performing of David’s psalms (i.e., the first seventy-two psalms), but he also ordained certain ones to be assigned to the Asaph division of the Levites. These eleven psalms followed immediately after David’s first seventy-two psalms.
Because of Hezekiah’s actions in re-vitalizing proper Temple worship, he was classified as a righteous king who followed in the footsteps of his father David. In some ways he was reckoned to be better than David: “After him was none like him among all the kings of Judah, nor any that were before him” (2 Kings 18:5).
Doubtless, when Hezekiah first commenced to reign he followed the admonitions of Moses (Deuteronomy 17:18), and copied with his hand a personal copy of the Law. Taking office at the age of twenty-five, and supported by the prophet Isaiah, he continued to do his utmost to reform the people and to restructure the religion of the nation.
“[Hezekiah] wrought that which was good and right and truth before the Lord his God. And in every work that he began in the service of the house of God, and in the law, and in the commandments, to seek his God, he did it with all his heart, and prospered.”
2 Chronicles 31:20-21
Hezekiah and Isaiah saw the need to assign more authoritative literature to Israel’s divine library. Proverbs 25 reveals some of the canonical activity of Hezekiah and his helpers. A new section of the Book of Proverbs begins with these words: “These are also the proverbs of Solomon, which the men of Hezekiah king of Judah copied out” (Proverbs 25:1).
Of the 3000 known proverbs composed by Solomon (1 Kings 4:32), Hezekiah ordained that a new group of them were to be selected for his own use. Thus, chapters 25 to 29 in our present Book of Proverbs were added to the Temple collection which had already been “set in order” by Solomon himself. The source from which the men of Hezekiah obtained these Solomonic proverbs was probably the historical document called the “Book of Acts of Solomon,” a noncanonical work which contained “the rest of the acts [words] of Solomon, and all he did, and his wisdom” (1 Kings 11:41).
Significantly, most of the proverbs selected by Hezekiah’s men were designed to help a king or a ruler guide his people towards righteous ends. Take, for example, the theme of the first proverb in the new collection of Hezekiah: “It is the glory of God to conceal a thing, but the honor of kings is to search out a matter” (Proverbs 25:2). This proverb no doubt reveals Hezekiah’s own character. What was foremost in his mind was his service to God. Notice, too, that in the next proverb in Hezekiah’s collection, the subject is again “kings.” Two following proverbs are also about a “king,” another about a “prince,” and so on.
These five chapters of proverbs (Proverbs 25 to 29), copied by Hezekiah’s men, clearly represented an addition to the canonical literature. In fact, the early Jews maintained that the “Men of Hezekiah” were a group of authorized men just like the “Great Assembly” of priests convened by Ezra and Nehemiah for the exact purpose of canonization. 6 In addition to some of the proverbs, the Talmud says that the books of Isaiah, some of the Minor Prophets, the Song of Songs and Ecclesiastes were canonized by the “Men of Hezekiah.” 7
Hezekiah brought up-to-date the canonical literature for use in the restored Temple services. One of the most striking evidences of Hezekiah’s own activity in this canonization is a sign-manual found in the Bible that is attributed to him. This sign-manual (a signet of three Hebrew alphabetic letters) is a combination of three Hebrew letters which occur in the Hebrew manuscripts at the end of every Old Testament book — except the five books of the Megillot. Curiously, the sign-manual has not been translated in any of the English versions.
The sign-manual consisted of three Hebrew letters brought together to form the basic root name of Hezekiah. The letters are: he, zain and koph, and together they spell the name Hezekiah without the terminal yab.
This tri-grammaton, located at the end of seventeen Old Testament books, served a dual purpose. Not only did it indicate the person of Hezekiah, but its meaning in translation is most interesting and instructive. Brown, Driver & Briggs’ Hebrew Lexicon shows it means, “to bind firmly together,” “to be made firm,” “to be confirmed,” or “to be bound fast.” 8 In simple terms, HZK denoted “bound” or “confirmed.” This represented the sign-manual of Hezekiah and it could well have been his imprimatur. It signified that any book terminated by it was bound by the authority of Hezekiah, or the Men of Hezekiah.
This sign-manual occurs on every Old Testament book, with the exception of the five Festival Scrolls — called in Hebrew the Megillot. These five are: Song of Songs, Ruth, Lamentations, Ecclesiastes and Esther. It is interesting that these five books have been the ones that a number of Old Testament critics, even from ancient times, have tried to eliminate from the biblical canon. Remarkably, these are the very books without the sign-manual.
Take, for example, the Song of Songs. Some over-zealous religious leaders have tried to diminish its authority because of its obvious theme of eroticism and human romance. It has been described as “too erotic” and “lustful.” The name of God, or its derivatives, is not found once in its text in an overt manner (though it is found covertly in the phrase “the flame of Yah” found in Song 8:6).
Consider also Ecclesiastes. Many theologians have found fault with the pessimistic nature of this book and its “worldly” approach to theological matters. It even teaches there is no immortality of the soul, which has roiled some mainline Christian theologians who believe in the Platonic (non-biblical) teaching of the immortality of the soul. The truth is, however, the biblical key to understand the state of the soul until the resurrection from the dead at the end of the age are the basic statements found in the Book of Ecclesiastes and the Psalms, plus the fact that the apostle Paul taught that only God and Christ have immortality at the present time (1 Timothy 6:16).
Then there is Esther. The name of God is not found overtly in this book and the only indication of any religious activity is the single mention of fasting. The book appears almost as if it were a secular composition.
And there is Ruth and Lamentations. These books have been considered mere appendages to important books of the canon. They are usually, in modern English versions, taken out of the Megillot arrangement and attached to Judges and Jeremiah, with little attention given to them.
These five books of the Megillot are the only ones in the Old Testament which lack the imprimatur or sign-manual of Hezekiah. But do they belong in the canon of the Old Testament? They assuredly do. Ezra positioned them in one special section among the Temple liturgy and called them the Megillot (the scrolls of female attributes).
Each of these books was to be successively read and expounded to the people at the annual holy days. They were especially designed to be read and studied by the women of Jerusalem so that they could in turn teach their contents to other women and children within the society of Israel. Since the official priests were ordered to read these books to (and about) women each year, no one suspected that they were anything but canonical.
Indeed, most criticism concerning the canonicity of these five books came after the Temple services ceased in 70 C.E. when the books were no longer being read at regular intervals. Yet they formed a part of the original twenty-two books of the Old Testament. The importance of reading these five Megillot books in order is discussed in Appendix One.
Following the canonization affected by Hezekiah, the sign-manual seems to be a seal for the reading of divine writings outside the regular Temple services. When later writers, such as Jeremiah and Ezekiel had their prophecies placed among the sacred writings of the Old Testament, this same sign-manual was also affixed to the end of their books. And Ezra, at the final canonization, carefully placed the sign-manual on all books which he and the Great Assembly recognized, omitting it only from the five Festival Scrolls which had no need for the sign-manual because they were being regularly read by the priests in the Temple. They were sanctified as being canonized by the fact that Ezra associated each book to be read with a particular festival (from Passover to Purim). This secured their sacredness without the sign-manual being applied to them.
It is interesting that at the end of certain books, the sign-manual is positioned inside an extended comment and the tri-grammaton became part of the comment. Dr. E.W. Bullinger mentions the practice of using the sign-manual after the time of Hezekiah:
“The use of this tri-grammaton is uniform and continuous at the end of each book, until we come to the death of Hezekiah. Not until after that, at the end of the Book of Kings, do we meet with any departure from the addition of these three letters. There, for the first time, we find a different formula. Instead of the simple sign (HZK), we find two words, making a sentence — instead of forming the initials.
“At the end of Kings, we have ‘Be bound, and we will bind.’ This looks as though the subsequent editors whether Josiah, Ezra, or others, understood the trigrammaton as a solemn injunction transmitted to them, and they took up the work and carried it out in the same spirit in which it had come down to them, and said, ‘Be bound,’ and they responded. ‘We will bind.’ The same form [of two words] is used after Ezekiel, at the end of the Minor Prophets, the Psalms, Proverbs and Job.
“We do not find it after the Song of Solomon, Ruth, Lamentations, Ecclesiastes, or Esther. We meet with it again after Daniel, and after Ezra-Nehemiah [always as one book].”
Bullinger, “The Songs of Degrees” 9
Interestingly, after the Book of Chronicles (the last book of the Hebrew Old Testament) we encounter the final, and longer form of the sign-manual. Being translated, it reads: “Be bound. So we will bind. The Lawgiver is not straitened (or powerless).”
This comment is most instructive. Here Ezra and the Great Assembly probably added the final sign-manual to Chronicles, the last book of the Old Testament. In their comment, they not only wrote, “Be bound,” which was the customary usage, but they added for extra emphasis: “We will bind.” This showed that the Great Lawgiver [God] had given the whole and complete Old Testament revelation to the world. Thus Ezra and the Great Assembly of priests, having concluded the writing of the Book of Chronicles, finalized their responsibility of canonizing the Old Testament for all future time. Only a few editorial remarks were added later.
We are informed in the Book of Isaiah that Hezekiah actually wrote new psalms that were included in the singing services of the Temple. These psalms were written at the time when he recovered from his sickness — when the prophet Isaiah “took a lump of figs, and laid it for a plaster upon the boil” (Isaiah 38:21).
Because Hezekiah placed his complete trust in God to deliver him from his severe sickness, the Bible says he was granted another fifteen years of life. In commemoration of this deliverance, Hezekiah composed a particular set of psalms. Notice Isaiah 38:9. This begins a song occupying the next twelve verses. It says: “The writing of Hezekiah king of Judah, when he had been sick, and was recovered of his sickness.”
After this introductory superscription, there then begins the regular song — a beautiful psalm of thanksgiving to God for his protection and deliverance. And at the very end, Hezekiah finally records:
“The Lord was ready to save me: therefore [i.e., because of God’s salvation] we will sing my songs [plural] to the stringed instruments all the days of our life [Hebrew: lives] in the house of the Lord.”
Note several factors concerning the writing of these psalms by Hezekiah. He said he composed several “songs,” not only the one song recorded in Isaiah. He directed that “we” sing his new “songs” all the days of “our lives.” This indicates that the nation of Judah (in the persons of the official Temple singers) would continue the singing of these psalms of Hezekiah in future times. And importantly, notice that Hezekiah left directions that all the singing of his songs should be done on “stringed instruments in the house of the Lord.” This indicates that the special psalms of Hezekiah were to be performed in an official capacity in the regular Temple services. They were to take their place alongside the psalms of David, Asaph, and the other psalmists of Israel.
The reason Hezekiah wrote these particular psalms is given in verses 19 and 20:
“The living, he shall praise you, as I [Hezekiah] do this day: the father to the children shall make known your truth ... therefore, we will sing my songs to the stringed instruments all the days of our lives in the house of the Lord.”
Hezekiah wrote some particular psalms so that fathers could tell their children, from generation to generation, of the glorious salvation of God, if only God’s people would trust him. Hezekiah intended his psalms to be of permanent value to the people of God. This is why he had them canonized, making them a part of the regular Temple services.
A good number of untitled psalms are found within our present Book of Psalms. Which of them are Hezekiah’s? James W. Thirtle (an Englishman at the end of the 19th century) and others think they have discovered the true psalms of Hezekiah. These are the enigmatic fifteen “Degree Psalms” which now comprise Psalms 120–134.
Biblical commentators have long speculated as to the authorship of these untitled “Degree Psalms.” Why are they called psalms of “Degrees,” and when were they used in the Temple services? These questions may be answered in the solution presented by Dr. Bullinger.
“The Songs of the Degrees are 15 in number. They correspond in number with the 15 years added to Hezekiah’s life. Ten are by Hezekiah (corresponding to the number of ‘the Degrees’ by which the shadow of the sun went backward on the sun-dial of Ahaz, 2 Kings 20:8–11). Five are by others (four by David and one by Solomon).”
Bullinger, Notes to the Structure, Page 826” 10
Some commentators maintain that these psalms were sung on the fifteen steps (assumed by combining Ezekiel 40:22 with 40:31) leading up to the priestly compartment of the Temple:
the first degree psalm was sung as the priest stood on the first step; the second psalm on the second step, and so forth. Thus the fifteenth psalm would have placed the priest at the threshold of the priest’s court. This may well be the reason for having these fifteen-degree psalms in the divine collection of Psalms (and that these fifteen psalms represent the group written by Hezekiah).
Jewish scholars believe the degree psalms were read in the autumn near the Festival of Tabernacles, some suggesting that their reading started on the first day of the seventh month (the Day of Trumpets) and continued for fourteen more days until the 15th of Tishri (i.e., the first day of Tabernacles) was reached. Thus, the readings would have symbolically directed Israelites towards recognition of the future time of the Kingdom of God (that the Feast of Tabernacles depicted and what Christians call the Millennial Age) when all on earth would prepare to approach the “Holy Place of the Priests” as did the priests in the former Temple services.
Before concluding our discussion on the canonization in Hezekiah’s time, let us notice something about Isaiah. In the middle of the last century an Englishman, Ferrar Fenton was translating the Bible into English. He gave an interesting observation concerning the role of Isaiah the prophet in matters involving the canonization of certain biblical books. Here is what he wrote:
“In my study of the Historical Books of the Bible I had frequently wished for some clue to their writer, or writers. One day while reading the Second Book of Chronicles in the Hebrew, I met that solution in its 32nd chapter and the 32nd verse like a sudden flash of electric light, in the following words: ‘The remainder of the actions of Hezekiah and his beneficent rule, are recorded in the Visions of Isaiah-ben-Amoz, the Prophet, upon the History of the Kings of Judah and Israel.’ The flood of mental light from those three lines dispelled my perplexities, and enabled me to see the great object of the six-sectioned History [Fenton followed the arrangement by Jerome], by discovering its writer. Wondering that none had previously seen this, I took down the Authorized Version, and found that its translators had entirely, by inserting the little word ‘and’ after the name ‘Isaiah the son of Amoz,’ altered the structure and purport of the sentence as it stands in the original Hebrew, and thus destroyed the key it gave to the moral object and lessons of the historian, and to the identity of the writer of the Six Books [Joshua/Judges and the Book of Kingdoms]. A renewed study of those six books confirmed in my mind the accuracy of my conclusion by enabling me more clearly to see the unity of style and aim of their writer, Isaiah, which undoubtedly was for them to serve as an introduction to Isaiah’s prophecies.”
Fenton, Holy Bible in Modern English 11
Fenton may be right in his evaluation. However, to be exact, the statement in 2 Chronicles 32:32 does not say the Book of Joshua/Judges was among these writings of Isaiah. It merely says Isaiah wrote “the history of the Kings of Judah and Israel.” If this is a reference to our canonical book, then it can mean that Isaiah wrote the Book of Kingdoms (our present Samuel and Kings) and not the Book of Joshua/Judges which describes a time when Israel had no kings.
Another reason that Joshua/Judges should not be included among Isaiah’s writings is the reference given by the apostle Peter, which indicates that the Prophets Division of the Old Testament (the one that had as its composers “the prophets”) specifically commenced with the writings of Samuel:
“Yea, and all the prophets from Samuel and those that follow after, as many as have spoken, have likewise foretold of these days.”
This indication agrees with Jewish tradition which makes Joshua/Judges a work of Samuel, not that of Isaiah. In 1 Samuel 9:9 we read: “He that is now called a prophet was before-time called a seer.” Samuel was the first to be called a prophet in an official capacity since the time of Moses. Thus, with Joshua/Judges located within the Prophets’ Division (and at the very start of it), it is highly probable that Samuel was the author of the single Book of Joshua/Judges (the Pre-Kingdom book for Israel). Recall that it was Samuel who first established the schools of the prophets throughout Israel — at Ramah, Bethel, Jericho, and Gilgal (1 Samuel 10:5, 10; 19:20; 2 Kings 2:3, 5; 4:38). This means that there were no men called “prophets” before Samuel.
On the other hand, Isaiah could very well have been the author of the book which followed Joshua/Judges (i.e., the Book of Kingdoms) as Fenton suggests. 12 Several commentators, and among them the early Old Testament scholar Moses Stuart (the great American scholar of the early 19th century), feel that this reference to Isaiah in 2 Chronicles 32:32 certainly relates to the writing of our present Book of Kingdoms. 13 Observe also that in the Book of Chronicles Ezra speaks of the fact that Isaiah had written “the rest of the acts of Uzziah” (2 Chronicles 26:22). The only place, apart from Chronicles, in which the events of Uzziah’s life are recorded, is in the Book of Kingdoms. This implies that Isaiah was the author of that book. Also note that 2 Kings 18–20 is identical with Isaiah 36–39, which again shows common authorship.
But what about the part of the Book of Kingdoms that records events after the time of Isaiah? This should give little problem. It was perfectly possible for later canonizers to bring the book up to date. The Talmud says that Jeremiah wrote the Book of Kings, 14 but this could mean that Jeremiah was the one who finished the book. The composition of the main body of the work, however, as stated in the Bible itself, seems to be Isaiah’s.
Why did Isaiah write the Book of Kingdoms? There was a good reason for it. As Fenton said, the historical books preceding Isaiah are a perfectly good introduction to Isaiah’s prophecies. In the original order of the Old Testament, the Book of Kingdoms immediately precedes that of the prophet Isaiah. Would it not be natural for Isaiah to present a continuous history of Israel’s obedience and their later rebellions and punishments before relating his prophecies of what would happen to them should they continue following in the footsteps of their forefathers?
If this solution by Ferrar Fenton is the true one, as seems most likely, the position of the Book of Isaiah following the Book of Kingdoms, as in the canonical order of the Old Testament, makes good sense and gives a reason for Isaiah writing the Book of Kingdoms. This would help confirm Isaiah, along with Hezekiah, as one of the great canonizers of Scripture.
The time of King Josiah in the history of canonization is almost as significant as that of Hezekiah. The ominous conditions that prevailed with Hezekiah were again extant in Josiah’s day. Only the actors had changed. Instead of the Assyrians threatening the existence of Judah, this time it was the Babylonians. And instead of Ahaz’s evil, which blanketed Judaic society prior to the reign of Hezekiah, this time it was that of Manasseh and Amon. In some ways, the latter apostasy of Manasseh exceeded that of Ahaz.
“So Manasseh made Judah and Jerusalem to err, and to do worse than the heathen, whom the Lord had destroyed before the children of Israel.”
2 Chronicles 33:9
The re-introduction of Gentile paganism during the long reign of Manasseh was accomplished at the expense of Mosaic religion. The Temple services, carefully reinstituted by Hezekiah and Isaiah, again were neglected, and finally ceased altogether. Manasseh (like Ahaz before him) stripped the Temple of its furniture. Even blocks of masonry and ceiling rafters were removed and used in other buildings until the Temple structure itself became practically an empty hulk (2 Chronicles 34:8–11).
The Book of Chronicles shows that the religious condition of Judah during Manasseh’s reign was near the low point, but with the two-year rule of his son, Amon, the situation even worsened. “Amon trespassed more and more” (2 Chronicles 33:21–23). However, Amon was finally murdered by his own servants (2 Chronicles 33:24–25). At this point, Josiah, a mere child, was thrust onto the stage of history.
Josiah was one of the most remarkable men of the Old Testament. In his short life, the Bible states he maintained extraordinary character, even though his father and grandfather had been two of the most evil kings that the house of David ever produced. Despite the religious depravity of the environment into which he was born, Josiah displayed a righteousness rivaling that of David and Hezekiah. In fact, the Bible says he even excelled those kings.
“And like unto him [Josiah] was there no king before him, that turned to the Lord with all his heart, and with all his soul, and with all his might, according to all the Law of Moses; neither after him arose there any like him.”
2 Kings 23:25
Long previously, in the reign of Rehoboam, a prophecy had been uttered about a certain Josiah who would destroy the heathen altars in the land of Israel (1 Kings 13:1–3). That Josiah had now arrived.
Josiah ascended to the throne at eight years of age. When he was twenty he began to:
“purge Judah and Jerusalem from the high places, and the groves, and the carved images, and the molten images.”
2 Chronicles 34:3
Six years later, having cleansed the land of idolatry, he ordered that the Temple (which lay practically in ruins) be completely repaired and restored to its former splendor. He also ordained that all the priestly functions be reinstated. Josiah renovated the whole religious environment in the land of Judah. It seemed to be a time of renewal like that of Hezekiah.
Then, a significant event took place. While the Holy Place of the Temple was being repaired, Hilkiah, the High Priest and the father of Jeremiah came upon the neglected scroll of the Law (the standard copy placed in the sleeves of the Ark). Recognizing the importance of his find, Hilkiah had this archetype copy taken to King Josiah.
After thoroughly reading it for several days and noticing especially the curse-warnings within the Law, Josiah rent his clothes in repentance for himself and for the people of Judah. He discovered that even in his reformation he had not been accomplishing things in the precise manner required by the Law (2 Chronicles 34:19). Endeavoring to do his best was not good enough for Josiah. He wanted to perform all the religious duties as prescribed by Moses.
In the Law, which he had been reading, were statements that if the people forsook God and his Law, then God would forsake them and send them into captivity. Josiah was terror-stricken when the impact of these warnings became clear to him. He saw immediately that time was running out for Judah. With the new-found Law in his midst, he pursued his reforming policies with even greater diligence. His zeal gained for him a promise from God that there would be peace in Judah for the remainder of his life.
“Because your heart was tender, and you did humble yourself before God, when you heard his words against this place, and against the inhabitants thereof, and humble yourself before me, and did rend your clothes, and weep before me: I have even heard you also, says the Lord. Behold, I will gather you to your fathers, and you shall be gathered to your grave in peace, neither shall your eyes see all the evil that I will bring upon this place, and upon the inhabitants of the same.”
2 Chronicles 34:27–28
These words constituted a promise of peace and safety for Judah during the lifetime of Josiah. Those who shared Josiah’s enthusiasm for reform received these promises with great joy. With Josiah being only twenty-six years old, they fully expected the curses of Deuteronomy 28 to be delayed at least forty or fifty years.
Even though the rumblings of the Babylonian armies were already being heard in the north, the people of Jerusalem felt those armies would not approach them as long as King Josiah lived. But, the promise depended on Josiah being prudent about his own safety.
A few years later, Josiah ventured north to confront the Egyptians and the Babylonians at the place that later became known as Armageddon. Within days, shock seized the Jews. They received news from a messenger that Josiah had sustained a severe wound from a chance arrow. But they were paralyzed with horror when the next messenger reported that Josiah had died at the youthful age of thirty-nine. The prospect for two or three more decades of God’s protection, in which the God-fearing Jews had taken comfort, vanished overnight. Since Josiah was dead, nothing lay ahead for the Jews but certain drought, plague, invasion and captivity.
All hopes for the peace of Jerusalem appeared lost. The evils of Deuteronomy 28 were then expected to occur. Not only had an excellent king been taken from them, but his death also meant the prophesied captivity upon the Jewish nation could then occur. Thus, “all Judah and Jerusalem mourned for Josiah” (2 Chronicles 35:24). It is no coincidence that from this time forward Jeremiah began his series of prophecies about the imminent captivity of Judah. Even at the critical moment of Josiah’s death, Jeremiah composed an important work about the significance of that event.
“And Jeremiah lamented for Josiah: and all the singing men and the singing women spoke of Josiah in their lamentations to this day, and made them an ordinance in Israel: and, behold [said the author of Chronicles], they are written in the lamentations.”
2 Chronicles 35:25
This is a remarkable reference to the writing of an Old Testament book: the Book of Lamentations. It was a prophetical song, to be sung in the minor or mournful key. The composition was written to commemorate the slaying of Josiah, and it carried with it a prophecy of the destruction of the Temple, Jerusalem and Judaic society. Jeremiah even referred to the death of Josiah in the Book of Lamentations. “The breath of our nostrils, the anointed of the Lord [Josiah], was taken in their pits, of whom we said, under his shadow we shall live among the heathen” (Lamentations 4:20).
Jewish history since the time of Ezra mentioned that this Book of Lamentations was commissioned to be sung in the Temple as an “ordinance” for all the Jewish people. 15 It was ordained that Lamentations was to be sung each year on the eve of the 10th day of the month Ab, the anniversary of the burning of the Temple by Nebuchadnezzar. Even now, Jews read this composition of Jeremiah annually in commemoration of that destruction.
There is another writing of Jeremiah written in mindfulness of Josiah’s death. This was Psalm 89. The latter part of the psalm speaks about a great calamity that had occurred to Judah. An anointed person had been cast off (Psalm 89:38). His crown had been destroyed (verses 39, 44) and the covenant of protection given to David and his descendants seemed to be broken (verse 39). The king had recently been killed in battle (verse 43) and while he was only a youth (verse 45). The enemies of Judah were now in much rejoicing (verses 41–42, 51) and the strongholds of the country were expected to be broken down (verse 40).
This lament is found at the end of Psalm 89 and it describes the historical situation that existed in Judah at the death of King Josiah. Indeed, the previous eighteen psalms (comprising the “Asaph Division” — the third section — of the Psalms) had as their general theme the destruction of the land of Israel, Jerusalem and the Temple. It appears that Jeremiah wrote Psalm 89 to conclude the “Asaph Division” to the Book of Psalms. 16
The final touches of the canonization, which started in the time of King Josiah, took place in Babylon after the Jews had been taken captive. Jeremiah had first gone to Egypt, but he returned to be with the Jews in Babylon (because he recorded events which happened in Babylon some 26 years after the final captivity — Jeremiah 52:31–34). Jeremiah was then able to hand over to Daniel, the Jewish prince in Babylon, any remaining prophecies which he had written (or other documents which he may have rescued from the Temple). Thus, the canonization, which began in the time of King Josiah, ended with the final activities of Jeremiah in Babylon. 17
After Jeremiah’s departure from the scene, Jerusalem and Judah continued in a desolate state for many years while the Jews remained in Babylon. But the preservation of the various books was not left, during this period of captivity, to unauthorized members of the Jewish community. We read that Daniel (who was of royal stock, “of the king’s seed, and of the princes,” Daniel 1:3) had been given a high literary position in Babylon.
“[Daniel] was well favored, and skillful in all wisdom, and cunning in knowledge, and understanding science, and such as had ability in them to stand in the king’s palace, and whom they might teach the learning and the tongue of the Chaldeans.”
Lange’s Commentary amplifies the meaning of this verse. Daniel’s “learning” was “all literary knowledge.” The phrase “skillful [cunning] in knowledge” signifies that he was adept in “various fields of knowledge as contained in books.” Daniel was one who had “acquaintance with literature.” 18
In effect, Daniel was chosen to be one of the librarians (later the chief librarian) in the court of Nebuchadnezzar at Babylon. The nature of Daniel’s work brought him into contact with all types of literature that existed at the time. This included works that had been rescued from the Temple at Jerusalem. He was familiar with:
This latter prophecy is the most detailed prediction found anywhere in the Bible and it contains considerable information about events even future to us.
The Prophet Daniel was a very important link to the story of biblical canonization because he was the responsible person through whom the divine documents of the Temple were preserved at Babylon. This enabled those official documents to be returned to Jerusalem by Ezra in later years.
We now come to the period of Ezra and the Great Assembly. Although we have previously mentioned some reasons for the final canonization during Ezra’s time, there are other observations to be mentioned which can give us a better understanding of the subject.
One point should never be forgotten: all of the canonizations preceding that of Ezra are only of historical interest to us and they do not involve what books belong in the Old Testament canon for us today. The question of exactly which books represent the complete Old Testament for us, can only be answered by understanding the canonization of Ezra and those one hundred and twenty priests who comprised the Great Assembly. It is Ezra’s final work which is most important to us and to later Judaism.
The reason for this should be apparent. While we can know when and by whom many of the books or portions of books were written, there are other books of the Old Testament about which we are uncertain. What about the books by Hosea, Joel, Job, Amos, other parts of the Psalms or Proverbs? Until the time of Ezra, we have no certain knowledge of how and when they were reckoned as canonical, or if they ever were in early times.
Furthermore, though various suggestions as to which books David, Solomon, Hezekiah, etc., saw fit to canonize have been made in previous pages of this book, this was mainly possible because of hints given in Ezra’s Book of Chronicles, it was Ezra (the “Second Moses”) who gave to the Jewish world the official (and final) Old Testament to be read in the Temple and synagogues. This makes the canonization by Ezra the most important of all.
There is a most important aspect of the Old Testament’s final canonization. This concerns certain editing in the Bible for which Ezra was responsible. At first it might seem almost irreverent to suggest that editing the Bible could be permissible to anyone, regardless of how important his office. Some might say: “Leave the Bible alone; don’t touch a single letter of it.” This may appear proper to us today, but Ezra felt that the Old Testament needed editing to allow the Jewish nation of his time to have the complete and full revelation of God in the Hebrew language.
Ezra’s additions were not vast changes in the text of the Old Testament. He simply made small edits, mostly in earlier portions of the Law. His editorial comments were principally restricted (among other things) to simple parenthetical expressions explaining to the Jews of his time the contemporary geographical names of ancient places and towns that had been changed over the years.
Reference to a good biblical handbook will give the majority of these editorial remarks. One can be found in Genesis 36:31–39 which records the names of Edomite kings down to the time of King Saul. Moses could not have written this section because he would hardly have known the names of Edomite kings living three hundred years after his death. Such indications as Judges 18:30, which records events seven hundred years after the period of the Judges, is a further example of editing.
Ezra simply went through the early books of the Old Testament and brought them, in some important sections, to a contemporary relevance with accurate geographical or historical facts pertinent to his own time. Moses did the same thing when he originally wrote the Law. He adopted the principle of bringing earlier historical documents of his time up-to-date. Even Moses introduced into the ancient records geographical terms familiar to Israelites of his time (Genesis 2:14). This procedure adopted by Moses also prompted Ezra to do the same.
The prophet Samuel did a similar type of editing in his day. This occurred when the people demanded a king. “Then Samuel told the people the manner of the Kingdom, and wrote it in the book and laid it up before the Lord” (1 Samuel 10:25). Samuel wrote “in the book” the manner of how a king was to govern, and what the rules of his kingdom were supposed to be. Samuel wrote it not just in any book, but also in “the book” which was “laid up before the Lord.” The only writing in existence with Samuel which was placed “before the Lord” was the Law of Moses. Thus the section about a king in Deuteronomy 17:18 was not written by Moses. This was the addition to the Law that Samuel the prophet included as an edit.
“And it shall be, when he sits upon the throne of his kingdom, that he shall write him a copy of this law in a book out of that which is before the priests the Levites.”
Prof. Kirkpatrick remarks pertinently that Samuel:
“wrote it in a book, and laid it up before the Lord. Literally, in the book. Possibly this important chapter [concerning the kingdom] was added to ‘the book of the law’ kept by the side of the ark ‘before the Lord’.”
Kirkpatrick, The First Book of Samuel 19
This seems certain. Samuel inserted the rules concerning kingship into the Law of Moses — the books which were preserved in the sleeves of the Ark (see also Deuteronomy 31:26). It is evident that the Law did not contain the rules of the kingdom prior to Samuel. Note that when the people clamored for a king in Samuel’s day, they presented no appeal to the Law of Moses for support. Samuel himself was upset by the mere suggestion of having a king. Had the rules concerning the kingdom been already within the Book of Deuteronomy, there would have been no need for Samuel to express displeasure.
“This narrative [in the book of Samuel] shows no indication of the law in Deuteronomy [concerning the kingdom] having been known in fact, either to Samuel, or to the people who demanded of him a king: Had such been the case, it is incredible either that Samuel would have resisted the application of the people as he is represented as doing, or, that the people should not have appealed to the law, as a sufficient justification for their request.”
Samuel Driver, Commentary on Deuteronomy 20
Samuel took to himself the authority to write out the rules concerning the kingdom and he placed them in “the book which was laid up before the Lord.” This example of Samuel gave Ezra even further historical precedent for adding a few editorial remarks to the Law of God in his time.
One more example will show Ezra to be the most important editor of the Old Testament. At the end of Deuteronomy we find some remarks concerning the death of Moses. “So Moses the servant of the Lord died there in the land of Moab but no man knows of his sepulchre unto this day” (Deuteronomy 34:5–6).
It is hardly possible for Moses to have recorded his own death and then, in some curious prophecy, tell later people that his burial place was unknown “unto this day.” These are clearly editorial remarks added by Ezra at the final canonization, proof that the editor could be none other than Ezra is found in Deuteronomy 34:10. “And there arose not a prophet since in Israel like unto Moses, whom the Lord knew face to face.” It was promised in Deuteronomy 18:15–19 that there would arise a major prophet like unto Moses in power and authority. That prophet was to be so great that his words would be like those of Moses.
But of all the prophets who preceded Ezra, not one of them was the lawgiver (like Moses) or the maker of the New Covenant with Israel as a new Moses. So Ezra was informing his readers in his time through this editorial comment that none of the earlier prophets (such as Isaiah, Jeremiah or Ezekiel) was the prophet ordained to be like Moses. Ezra, the compiler of the Hebrew Bible, directed the Jewish people in the 5th century B.C.E. to look forward to a future time for the coming of the great prophet. The Jewish people in the time of Jesus were doing just that (John 6:14 and 7:40), and Christians came to believe that the prophet was Christ.
It should be remembered that even after Ezra’s death, some later members of the Great Assembly (the authorized supreme religious court of the nation) carried the genealogical tables of important priestly families down to the time of Alexander the Great. 21
In conclusion, let us notice some books which are mentioned in the Old Testament but are not found in the pages of our Bible.
Do these “lost books” belong in the sacred canon of the Old Testament? They do not. Ezra in the Book of Chronicles referred to the last seven of these ten books, and it was he who was responsible for canonizing the complete Old Testament. He mentioned these historical documents to support the truth of what he wrote in the Book of Chronicles, but he did not include any of them as a part of divine scripture. Had he wanted them in the canon, he could easily have placed one or all of them within the divine collection. He did not.
These were simple books of history that contained truthful records of the past (much like First Maccabees in the Apocrypha), but Ezra did not accord them with divine status. This is significant. If Ezra did not reckon them as canonical, neither should anyone else who respects the office of Ezra and the Great Assembly. This is the case with all other books mentioned in the Old Testament and not found within the present biblical canon.
1 See P.J. Wiseman’s short and excellent book Ancient Records and the Structure of Genesis (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, Inc., 1985).
2 Note that 72 is 3 x 24 and this number must have carried some relationship to the arranged schedule of singing the psalms by the twenty-four priestly courses.
3 Joseph Jacobs, “Triennial Cycle,” Jewish Encyclopedia, vol. XII, pp. 255–256 and at http://www.jewishencyclopedia.com/view.jsp?artid=327&letter=T.
4 For more information on the design and purpose of the Book of Psalms, see my further study in Appendix One.
6 Louis Ginzberg, The Legends of the Jews, vol. VI (Philadelphia, 1908–38), p. 368.
7 Babylonian Talmud, Baba Bathra, 15a. See the website at www.come-and-hear.com/bababathra/bababathra_15.html.
8 Brown, Driver & Briggs, Hebrew Lexicon, p. 305.
9 E.W. Bullinger, “The Songs of Degrees,” in Things to Come, XIII (1907), p. 112.
10 E.W. Bullinger, “Notes to the Structure, Page 826,” in the Companion Bible, p. 827. These notes refer to the outline on the Fifth or Deuteronomy Book from Psalm 107 to 150 from the previous page. The quote relates specifically to the degree psalms 120 to 134. See also Bullinger, “The Song of the Degrees,” Appendix 67, Companion Bible, pp. 97–99, and James William Thirtle, Old Testament Problems (London: Henry Frowde, 1907).
11 Ferrar Fenton, The Holy Bible in Modern English: Translated Direct from the Original Hebrew, Chaldee and Greek Languages ... With introductions and critical notes (London: S. W. Partridge & co. 1903), p. 217.
12 Recall that the Book of Kingdoms is now divided into our two books of Samuel and two books of Kings.
13 Moses Stuart, Critical History and Defence of the Old Testament Canon (London: G. Routledge, 1849), p. 170.
14 Babylonian Talmud, Baba Bathra, 15a. See the text at www.come-and-hear.com/bababathra/bababathra_15.html.
15 See both Josephus, Antiquities, X.78 and Babylonian Talmud, Baba Bathra, 15a, at www.come-and-hear.com/bababathra/bababathra_15.html.
16 For more information on this important matter, see Appendix One. This, again, shows an authorization of scripture by Jeremiah.
17 Jeremiah was a priest and his father (Jeremiah 1:1, and 2 Kings chapters 22–23; 2 Chronicles chapters 34–35). Jeremiah was granted favor with Nebuchednezzar (Jeremiah 39:11–12) and the command was given for the captain of the Babylonian army to give to Jeremiah anything he wanted. It is reasonable to presume that preservation of the Temple writings would have been of greatest importance to Jeremiah. DWS
18 See “Daniel,” in Lange’s Commentary, vol. 13 (New York: Scribner, 1877), pp. 59, 61.
19 A.F. Kirkpatrick, The First Book of Samuel, vol. IX, Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1891), p. 112.
20 Samuel R. Driver, A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on Deuteronomy, 3rd ed. International Critical Commentary (Edinburgh: T. and T. Clark, 1895), p. 213.
21 Nehemiah 12:11, 22; Josephus, Antiquities of the Jews XI.7,2 ¶302.
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