Since the individual components of the Hebrew bible were written by a multitude of authors across a large time period, how did the components end up being compiled into the singular “book” we know as the Hebrew bible?

I don’t really know as much about the Hebrew canon formation as I do about the formation of the Christian canon. Here is an article from Wikipedia:  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Development_of_the_Hebrew_Bible_canon (Links to an external site.). It mentions several stages of composition:

  • The collection or creation by Ezra of the first Torah (as late as 400 BCE). This collection probably included the Torah and possibly some prophetic writings–possibly just Isaiah, Ezekiel, and Jeremiah.
  • The 3rd c. BCE composition the the Septuagint (the Greek text of the Hebrew bible), which includes the Torah and Nevi’im (prophets) but not the writings (Ketuvim)
  • Sirach, an apocryphal text, mentions most of the works above and a few others
  • Josephus (first c. CE), mentions 22 of the 24 works of the Hebrew bible. He may have combined Ruth with Judges and Lamentations with Jeremiah.
  • The status of some writings aka Wisdom books such as Ecclesiastes were still being debated in the 2nd c. CE.
  • Also in 2nd c. CE, Rabbi Akiva says that no one who reads non-canonical texts will be admitted to the afterlife. He excepts himself, since he read non-canonical texts.

For later Rabbinical Jews, the extensive literature of the MIshnah and Talmud was also canonical, but that is because they consider it “oral Torah” and attribute it to Moses. I suspect the tradition of copying and reproducing texts by the Masoretes, whose Hebrew bible is still considered canonical, had a role in the decision too.

By the time the canon was finished, many more books were floating around being read than made it into any canon. Some of those books had a huge effect of Christian ideas of Purgatory, Hell and the harrowing of hell by Jesus, and Mary’s virginity, among other things. They probably also influenced canonical Jewish thought in the Mishnah and Talmud. One example might be Sirach, mentioned above.

In the case of the Christian canon, one of the factors in closing it was Constantine’s decision to print bibles (printing was expensive) so there was an extensive debate about what would go in and what wouldn’t.  Though some wanted to exclude the entire Hebrew bible, the Old Testament Christians eventually kept contained all the same books as the Hebrew Bible but in a different order (though, as we’ve said elsewhere, they added a third class of “secret” books that Jews did not recognize called the apocrypha). Martin Luther, a well-known anti-Semite, nevertheless excluded the apocrypha because Jews did not accept it.

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