Monday, April 28, 2008

Scoring the books of the canon: part 2, early canon lists

In the previous post I showed how I think it would be fair to evaluate the books of the New Testament canon based on their history while the canon was still being formed. In this post, I actually show how early Christian writings are evaluated according to several early canon lists. First, the lists:
Canon listCentury of originRaw weight
Marcionite prologues100-199 A.D.3
Muratorian Canon fragment100-199 A.D.3
Eusebius' History300-399 A.D.1
Codex Sinaiticus300-399 A.D.1
Athanasius' 39th Festal Letter300-399 A.D.1
I will say more on the use of these particular lists shortly. First, there is another level to evaluating the lists themselves: how the list itself views the question of how a book becomes authoritative. In the previous post on scaling the scores, I'd set adjustment factors so that a list that evaluated a work's historical connection to Christian origins would be scored differently from a list that evaluated a book according to how well its portrayal of Jesus and the church suited his group's ideological preconceptions apart from any historical concerns. So the next step is to adjust the weights of the works according to how they evaluated the books and how that affects the list's value as a historical witness.
Canon listEvaluation of books listedAdjustment factorList final weight
Marcionite prologuesEvaluates the sources for conformity with group's theology0.503 x 0.50 = 1.50
Muratorian Canon fragmentEvaluates the sources by historical criteria (e.g. date of origin, known author or forgery)1.003 x 1.00 = 3.00
Eusebius' HistoryEvaluates the sources by strength of attestation1.001 x 1.00 = 1.00
Codex SinaiticusLists sources without evaluating0.751 x 0.75 = 0.75
Athanasius' 39th Festal LetterEvaluates the sources by historical origin (antiquity; authorship by apostles or those known to them; or a later work laying a false claim to antiquity)1.001 x 1.00 = 1.00

Why these particular lists? Here I owe a debt to F.F. Bruce's book The Canon of Scripture. As I figure him to be a greater New Testament scholar than I am likely to become, as he has done appreciable work in the field, and as I have enjoyed his works, I want to give him a nod by beginning with the lists he thought worth including in his book. I do not expect this list to be the end of the project; I have not even included all of F.F. Bruce's work from the book mentioned but only those canon lists of the New Testament up to the point of Athanasius' letter, the first known list that matches our modern list.

I do not consider that I have made any contribution of content at all, but perhaps of method. In this system -- or the beginnings of a system -- we have a framework for giving meaningful comparative scores to the sources. It is my hope that those more knowledgeable than I am about the sources would take up such a method and work towards a more comprehensive evaluation of the books. I would enjoy seeing much more material evaluated, not only additional canon lists but also the history of each work's citations in the early church.

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