A Wandering Bible: The Aleppo Codex
---From Sacred Books to Canon
The Bible tells us that during the reign of Josiah, King of Judah (639–609 BCE), the high priest Hilkiah found “a scroll of the Law” (an early version of the book of Deuteronomy?) in the Temple. This event is commonly regarded as the earliest evidence for the revolutionary process through which the ancient traditions of the Jewish people became sacred books, the most authoritative source for religious belief and practice. Scribes and priests among the Jewish exiles in Babylonia furthered this process by collecting the ancient traditions of the Bible, committing them to writing, and editing them; during the Persian period (ca. 5th century BCE), the first corpus of sacred books came into being, known as the “Torah [or Law] of Moses” (the Pentateuch?).
Another landmark in the canonization of the Hebrew Bible is documented in the opening passage of the book known as The Wisdom of Ben Sira (or Ecclesiasticus), written around the year 132 BCE. In this passage, the phrase “the law and the prophets and the other writings” occurs three times, indicating that a second corpus of sacred scriptures – namely, the Prophets – was already known at that time. Eventually, other books (such as Psalms and Job) were “promoted” to a level of sanctity, while others (including The Wisdom of Ben Sira) remained outside the canon, either surviving as apocryphal literature or disappearing altogether. The canonization process came to an end in the first centuries CE, when the Hebrew Bible received its final form.