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Thursday, 28 July 2016
A Canon from Above

Religion and Cultural Memory (tr. Rodney Livingstone),
Jan Assmann, Stanford University Press, 2006, page 70-72

No, not from heaven, but authorisation from the Persian Empire. Set during the Persian period from 525 to 404 BCE, the Persian Empire consolidate its hold on its vassal states and provinces by becoming th guardian of local tradition. Ezra the priest was sent to the province of Judah to enquire after and establish the worship of G-d in that Land.

In contrast to the first two steps, which really involve a process of canonisation from below - in the first place, against the monarchy, in the second, against the hegemony of Babylonian culture - what we have here is a process of canonisation from above. Ezra and his statute book, using writing to preserve the normative traditions of Israel, marked a further stage alog the road of the canonisation of the Hebrew Bible.

Once back in Jerusalem, Ezra reads the book, with interpretation, to all the people; Ezra provides exegesis, interpretation, for the people to know how to apply the text in their current lives. The Torah has now bean excarnated, as there is no king, then committted to writing as very few were literate, and finally brought full circle by being imposed upon the people by their military overlords, in the interests of getting work and taxes out of the people. But stability comes with a price.

The prerequisite of the canon is the end of prophecy. There is no longer any room for prophecy in thr depoliticised space of the Province of Judah, which becomes part of the satarapy of Transeuphratene. The prophets speak to king and people in the name of Adonai, not that even the satrapis far away, how much further is the king. The prophet's place speak to king and people in the name of Adonai ... his place is now taken by the scholar who codifies, canonises and interprets the tradition ... it is relegated to purity of life, teaching and interpretation, while delegating the management of world affais to the Persian occupying power.

Posted By Jonathan, 8:15am Comment Comments: 0