Saturday, March 28, 2009

Melito and the Eastern Canon (2)

In the previous post Melito’s canon list was suggested as good insight into the earliest canonical tradition of the Christian Church. His Old Testament list is the oldest among Christians and in content is curiously close to the Protestant and Hebrew canon. None of what Protestants call apocryphal books are present and only gradually become evident in lists later on. While this is the case, it is important for me to be clear that while Eastern canonical lists tend to be more conservative, this does not mean there was no canonical confusion at the time (after all, this is why we have Melito‘s list in the first place), nor does it imply that the early Jews had their canon firmly fixed by a council- though I hold that the Jews in Palestine were for the most part without confusion over what comprised inspired writings.

The importance of Melito’s list is mainly two-fold. 1) It gives us insight into the mindset and tendencies of the early Church and 2) offers understanding of what the Jews considered as canonical. What if Melito’s list did contain what Protestants call an “apocryphal” book? This would not only mean that the earliest Christian list of canonical books of the Old Testament contained one, but that the Jewish canon Melito was influenced by did as well which could potential lead us to consider a wider Jewish canon than first thought- though perhaps only by one book.

Disagreements center on a phrase in Eusebius’ Ecclesiastical History 4.26.14 where some scholars take the Wisdom of Solomon to be included and others think “his Wisdom” is just another name for Proverbs. In this post I will present what I think is the best case for the inclusion of the Wisdom of Solomon in Melito’s list before giving a case against it. While much research, discussion and annoying of professors has gone into this, I understand my knowledge to be limited and am willing to even altar my posts or extend the discussion based off of good insight or more relevant information on this particular question.

Case For: The Inclusion of the Wisdom of Solomon

Overall, the case for the inclusion of the Wisdom of Solomon in Melito’s list seems to focus on the books popularity and use within Christendom and its presence in other lists or arrangements- including an Irenaeus citation by Eusebius himself who preserved Melito’s list. Scholars who believe in the inclusion of the book are: De Wette, Lake, McDonald and possibly Sanders. The following case is the product of my interactions with the third as well as the examination of key literature: 1) The Wisdom of Solomon was popular in early Christendom: it is often cited with Proverbs in ancient lists, used by the early Church and cited as Scripture by some Church fathers. 2) The language seems to indicate a separation leading us to think two books are being referred to and 3) Wisdom of Solomon is referred to elsewhere by Eusebius in the same work as the passage under question.

The Wisdom of Solomon was popular in early Christendom and we should not be too surprised to discover its appearance in early canonical lists. Its presence can be found in numerous sources. Some of which are: middle to late fourth century Codex Vaticanus, Sinaiticus and fifth century Alexandrinus (with books in between) as well as Augustine’s De Docrina Christiana 2:13. All of these include both Proverbs and the Wisdom of Solomon. The book itself is also cited in 1 Clement 27:5 (Wisdom 12:12) and alluded to in Irenaeus Adv. Haer. 4:38:3 (Wisdom 6:19). Clearly, it was treasured from an early time, but beyond treasured it was cited in the same way Scripture was cited by both Origen and Augustine.

The language in the Eusebius passage itself appears to indicate a separation between Proverbs and Wisdom. After all, the passage reads “the Psalms of David, the Proverbs of Solomon and his Wisdom, Ecclesiastes, the Song of Songs, Job…” ect. Proverbs and Wisdom are separated by kai (and). On the face of it there seem to be two different books referenced and is said to be a stretch to equate Proverbs and Wisdom of Solomon. It doesn’t make sense that Melito would say more than Proverbs since this was the common designation. It is more likely he is referring to two separate books.

Wisdom of Solomon is referred to elsewhere by Eusebius in the same work as the passage under question. When citing Irenaeus in an unknown book, Eusebius mentions Wisdom (Hist. Eccl. 5:26).

“Besides the works and letters of Irenaeus which we have mentioned, a certain book of his On Knowledge, written against the Greeks, very concise and remarkably forcible, is extant; and another, which he dedicated to a brother Marcian, In Demonstration of the Apostolic Preaching; and a volume containing various Dissertations, in which he mentions the Epistle to the Hebrews and the so-called Wisdom of Solomon, making quotations from them. These are the works of Irenaeus which have come to our knowledge.”

Altogether, what has been presented indicates that the Wisdom of Solomon was popular among Christians- perhaps even considered inspired and one should not be surprised to see it appear in early lists. Also, given Eusebius’ early use of Wisdom and the construction of the passage under question, this view sees a reference to both Proverbs and the Wisdom of Solomon as two separate books to be the most likely interpretation.

Personally, I have found this case to be extraordinarily week. At the beginning of my research and discussions I was uncertain due to other considerations. For instance, I had heard that the other position was in the minority and that the interpretation was so straight forward. Only after digging deeper and speaking with Dr. Finely did I discover quite the opposite to be true.

I think that overall, this position is successful in casting doubt on another view that equates Proverbs and Wisdom. Even still, there are a few more merits to the position mentioned in this post which I hope to bring out once the position against the presence of the Wisdom of Solomon in Melito's list is given. I will critique each view from the opposing perspective though my view is quite obviously against the inclusion- and for good reason.

Apologies for the delay...I have been distracted with other subjects and the arguments and information have just been resting in my folder.

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