Sunday, March 30, 2008

"Centuries of Silence"

The "centuries of silence" are a key stone to the debate over canon lists. If the centuries of silence can be reasonably established, then any books falling into that time can be safely dismissed as non-canonical. Fortunately for Protestants and Jews, a good case for the centuries of silence can be made.

Josephus, a first-century Jewish historian, has been key to our modern understanding of the political, social, and intellectual context of the Bible. In this case, Josephus tells us how many books were in the Jewish canon, somewhat the content, the nature of other historical books, and the existence of the silent period.

In regards to the centuries of silence, Josephus says, "It is true, our history has been written since Artaxerxes very particularly, but has not been esteemed of the like authority with the former by our forefathers, because there has not been an exact succession of prophets since that time (emphasis mine).” Here Josephus gives us the time frame of the centuries of silence and mentions the resulting lack of inspired books during these centuries.

Josephus is writing to inform gentiles about Judaism and defend his antiquities and, in this section, is representing the common Jewish thought on the centuries of silence as well as the nature of the Jewish canonical books. This view is not unique to Josephus. He is a Jewish historian who has done his homework and is himself steeped in Jewish thought and practice which probably have an earlier tradition.

Josephus' claims are further backed up by 1 Macc 9:27 which reads, "So there was great distress in Israel, such as had not been since the time that prophets ceased to appear among them (emphasis mine)." Those in the Maccabean period acknowledged prophecy had ceased and were distressed by it (Also see Macc4:46 and 14:41). This agrees with Josephus' account as does several others. For instance, in 2 Baruch 85:1-3 it is said,

"Know ye, moreover, that in former times and in the generations of old those our fathers had helpers, righteous men and holy prophets; nay, more, we were in our own land, and they helped us when we sinned and they interceded for us to Him Who made us, because they trusted in their works, and the Mighty One heard their prayer and forgave us. But now the righteous have been gathered, and the prophets have fallen asleep, and we also have gone forth from the land, and Zion hath been taken from us; and we have nothing now save the Mighty One and His Law (emphasis mine)."

Yet another source reads, "When the latter prophets died, that is, Haggai, Zechariah, and Malachi, then the Holy Spirit came to an end in Israel" (Tosefta Sota 13:3). The above sources along with those found in later tradition seem to indicate that the centuries of silence are a historical reality that can even be seen within the Eastern Orthodox canon. But this is not all that the Protestant or Jew has in his favor. Apart from the centuries of silence, there is also positive evidence for the books within the current Protestant and Hebrew canon.

More information:
1.Does the Bible give any hint to the coming silence of the prophets? Some point to Zech 13:2-6 and Mal 4:4-6, but these seem unlikely and in my opinion do not have a wider ref. Take a look for yourself.
2. For information on the concept of an echo or "daughter of a voice" see Beckwith P375.
3. Does 2 Esdras (4 Ezra) 14:19-48 imply that none of the inspired books of the canon has a later date than Ezra? Concentrate on v44-47 and see Beckwith p370-371.
4.There are also numerous other less important sources acknowledging the centuries of silence. These are: (a)Seder Olam Rabbah 30, quoting Prov. 22:17, (b) Jer. Taanith 2:1; Jer. Makkoth 2:4-8, (c) Bab. Baba Bathra 12a, and (d) Bab. Baba Bathra 12b (see Beckwith).

Books/sources used:
*Beckwith, Roger "The Old Testament Canon of the New Testament Church"
*Flavious Josephus "The Completed Works" (Against Apion)
*Rev. Canon R. H. Charles "The Apocalypse of Baruch and the Assumption of Moses"
*Stein, Robert "Jesus the Messiah"
*"The Apocrypha NRSV"

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