In this post, I’ll do two things. First, I will comment on some items that I found in the endnotes of Philip Davies’ Scribes and Schools. Second, I will look at Davies’ remarks on the Council of Yavneh.
1. The two items that stood out to me in the endnotes are on pages 192-193. On page 192, Davies states: “The view that a good deal of writing took place in Persian-period Jerusalem, despite the evidence of a rather poor material culture, is entailed even on the traditional view that places the beginnings of the Judean canonizing process in the Iron Age. For on this view, the editing of virtually all this supposedly earlier literature must be assigned to the Persian period.”
This note is to things that Davies says on page 79. Davies states that what Chronicles says about the temple may reflect the Persian Period, although Chronicles exaggerates the number of temple staff and the amount of donated wealth to the temple. The Psalm headings reflect the “division of Levites and priests into ancestral houses, clans, or guilds”, and “the collection of revenues throughout the province and the subsequent necessity of guarding the temple entrances are all plausible administrative functions.” Davies speculates that the Chronicle may show how temple administration was “organized in the fourth century B.C.E.”, and, if it does indeed reflect the Persian Period, “The view of Judah in the Persian period as a cultural backwater and as economically poor perhaps needs to be reconsidered.” But Davies thinks that another time period may be a more suitable context for intense scribal literary activity: the Ptolemaic and Seleucid Periods, when Judah’s wealth increased significantly. In the Persian Period, Davies states, “we do not know how well funded the temple was”.
On page 193, Davies states: “Not only is the Mosaic canon not pro-Judean; it is in many respects pro-Samarian: Joshua makes covenants at Shechem, while there is no hint of Jerusalem as a sanctuary. The presence of Bethel, Hebron, and Beersheba in Genesis, of course, balances this slightly. But since the Mosaic canon is impartial regarding Jerusalem and Samaria, should we assume that it was, in fact, a Jerusalem product?”
This note is to a paragraph on page 94, which I discussed yesterday: Davies talks about the schism between the Jews and the Samaritans by 100 B.C.E., and he says that is the terminus ad quem “for the creation of a Mosaic canon including Deuteronomy”. Davies says that the Pentateuch of the Samaritans is largely the same as the Judean one. Why does he think that the Pentateuch was “impartial regarding Jerusalem and Samaria”? He believes that Deuteronomy reflects the perspective of exiles who were coming into Judah to displace the people of the land. Why would they be neutral towards the Samaritans in the land?
2. On pages 169-170, Davies discusses the Council of Yavneh. Davies does not believe that the rabbinic canon of Scripture was decided there. He acknowledges that rabbis gathered at Yavneh to “transform and extend some of the roles once exercised in the temple cult”, which had just been destroyed. But he thinks that the evidence for a major council is quite slim. What we see is this: “There are references in the Mishnah to a court and a school ‘in the vineyards at Yavneh’ (e.g., m. Sanhedrin 11:4; m. Ketuboth 4:6), while Ben Zakkai is mentioned in m. Yadayim 4:6 in having participated in the discussion about scriptures, and 3:5…refers to a ‘decision.'” But Davies maintains that the discussion in Yadayim is not about canonicity, but rather the “handling of artifacts” and “books publicly read”, and that, even if the rabbis were debating the status of certain books, that doesn’t mean that the canon wasn’t already established by their time, for the rabbis debated “even over matters already established” (page 171). Davies’ position is that the canon was established in the Hasmonean Period. Davies also states that “Most discussions recorded in rabbinic literature are artificially constructed, attestations notoriously unreliable”, and that the rabbis didn’t always refer to discussions to arrive at a decision, “but sometimes to raise a methodological issue” (page 170).
At the same time, Davies does distinguish the rabbinic canon from other canons. The Book of Enoch was popular “with circles hostile to the Jerusalem priesthood” (i.e., Qumran), which may explain why it “was not incorporated into the rabbinic scriptures” (page 165). Davies highlights the importance of the Levites in canonization, and there were Levites who were in the Jerusalem priesthood. For Davies, canonization was not so much a matter of deciding which books were in and out in a council, but of communities preserving and copying the books that they considered important. Enoch was not copied that much in certain circles, which became authoritative.