C.D. Seitz, The Goodly Fellowship of the Prophets: The Achievement of Association in Canon Formation

Journal of Hebrew Scriptures - Volume 12 (2012) - Review

Seitz, Christopher R., The Goodly Fellowship of the Prophets: The Achievement of Association in Canon Formation (Acadia Studies in Bible and Theology; Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2009). Pp. 136. Paperback. US$20.00. ISBN 978-0-8010-3883-9.

This study consists of the 2007 Haywood Lectures at Acadia Divinity College, which were a revised version of lectures given at Golden Gate Baptist Theological Seminary earlier in the same year, adapted for publication and supplemented with an introduction. Dedicated to Ann Childs and the memory of Brevard S. Childs, the author's mentor and friend, the book functions, in essence, as an extended defense of Childs' canonical approach to the entire Christian Bible and, specifically, to the Old Testament in its Hebrew order (cf. p. 125). In the supplemental introduction, Seitz argues that the existence of an Old Testament canon contributed to the generation of the New Testament canon. Pointing to the fixed collections of the Torah and, as evidenced in recent work on the book of the Twelve minor prophets, the painstaking integration of Isaiah, as well as the careful cross-linkages established between the major and minor prophets and the “Prophetic History” (= the Deuteronomistic History; hereafter, DtrH; p. 28), Seitz argues that a process of “association” tied the Twelve and the three major prophets to the DtrH in “a conception of prophecy…integrally related to Torah” (p. 29). This “association” (p. 30) produced a “grammar” (rule and syntax; p. 33) of Law and Prophets.

Seitz helpfully adumbrates his entire argument at the beginning of chapter 1, “Starting Points” (the first lecture). He challenges popular interpretations of NT texts such as Luke 16:31, which refers to “Moses and the Prophets.” These interpretations argue either that, by Luke's day, “the Writings” was not yet a stable collection or that the Law of Moses was stable, but all other books could be loosely denoted as “prophetic.” In other words, the tripartite division of the Hebrew Bible into Torah, Prophets, and Writings postdates the NT era. Seitz's objections are fourfold: first, the popular interpretation misapprehends the cohesion of the prophetic division of the canon—i. e., in Seitz's view, circumstances do not involve “a coherent Mosaic grouping” (p. 32) over against an unstructured set of individual writings. Second, closure need not be the primary criterion of canonical authority. Instead, Seitz proposes to illuminate the interrelationship between Torah and Prophets as a grammar “by which the language of Israel's scriptures makes its voice most fundamentally heard” (p. 33). Third, since the numbers and order of individual books in the “Writings” vary, they relate to the Law/Prophets grammar, not as a collection, but in individual fashions. Finally, the Law/Prophets grammar, already fixed by the NT period, played a key role in the foundation of the NT canon in two respects: (1) “the grouping of the Law and Prophets, in its ordered form, provides key categories of hermeneutics and re-application, of affiliation and association, critical for the formation of the NT” (pp. 33–34), and (2) during the period of the formation of the NT canon, the established OT canon provided the “stable witness against which the claims of the gospel were tested and shown to have been established from of old” (p. 35).

Seitz substantiates and elaborates on these claims in the subsequent two chapters, first by examining the history and implications of the alternative arrangements of the books of the OT. Materially, what constitutes the OT canon? Seitz sees the recent work demonstrating that the book of the Twelve has been painstakingly and intentionally formed as a coherent whole as evidence of the importance of arrangement and closure for canon. Noting the tendency of scholarly OT introductions to opt for chronological or other ordering principles, Seitz concludes chapter two by observing that the OT prophetic division apparently underwent a process marked by the increasingly fixed order of the Twelve, the consolidation of the Twelve with the Three (and the omission of Daniel in the order), and the combination of the narratives books of Joshua through 2 Kings with this prophetic collection.

Chapter 3, “The Achievement of Association in the Prophetic Canon,” explores this process in detail, leading to the summary, “What Childs saw in Hosea as an effort of association via editorial expansions aimed at future generations, subsequent scholarship in the Twelve has identified within, across, and comprehensively throughout the Twelve as a whole” (pp. 87–88). Seitz calls attention to similar editorial efforts that associate the three major prophets with the Twelve (cf. Isa 2:2–6 || Mic 4:1–5) and the Latter with the Former Prophets (cf. 2 Kgs 18–20 || Isa 36–39 and 2 Kgs 25 || Jer 52).

The final chapter, corresponding to the third lecture, turns attention to the “Writings,” the final section in a tripartite division of the OT canon. Seitz argues that this section took formal and material shape quite late, as evidenced by the great variety in the arrangement of its components manifest in ancient manuscripts. Further, order never played the key role in this section that it did in the Law and Prophets. Finally and consequently, this section does not stand in relation to the previous two collections in the same way that the Prophets relate to the Torah. Torah, the revelation of God's will through the prophet Moses, requires interpretation and application by Moses' successors. In contrast, “the internal logic of the Writings is not associative but serial” (p. 107).

Seitz develops strong arguments for the aggregation of the prophetic literature as a distinct and intentional corpus: the collection and careful editing of the book of the Twelve; the linkages between books within the latter prophets; and the association of the latter prophets with the former by various means, including the incorporation of sections of 2 Kings in Isaiah and Jeremiah. Since, for the most part, these connections and cross references do not seem to have arisen in the period after translation into Greek, the four-part division of the canon only obscures the latter circumstance, in particular. Similarly, Seitz's concept of a “grammar” of Torah-Prophets constitutes a helpful and potentially productive hermeneutical lens. Seitz's assertions concerning the significance of the Torah/Prophets “grammar” for the development of the New Testament coupled with observations concerning the late date at which the Writings attained a somewhat stable order raise the specter of a canon within the canon. If the Writings, in contrast to the Prophets, were not yet “totally stabilized (and closed)” (p. 119) during the period of the formation of the NT, can they be considered part of the canon assumed by NT authors and the early church? If the Writings relates to the other two sections of the canon of the Hebrew Bible in a “serial” fashion, how do they relate to the New Testament or to a Christian canon, as a whole? Readers of this book will no doubt be eager for its sequel.[1]

Mark E. Biddle, Baptist Theological Seminary at Richmond

[1] This is now available as Christopher R. Seitz, The Character of Christian Scripture: The Significance of a Two Testament Bible (Studies in Theological Interpretation; Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2011). reference