The Jewish Council of Jamnia and the Christian Canon: Fail

Some non-Catholics, in an attempt to disprove the canonical
nature of the Catholic old testament and specifically the deutroconical books,
will commonly appeal to the Jewish council of Jamnia, which is said to have
happen in the year 90 A.D.  Rabbis met at
the council of Jamnia, so the story goes, to set the canon for their book of
scriptures.  However, there are several
problems when appealing to this council in an attempt to discredit the Catholic
Old Testament canon: historical, theological, and canonical.

Historically – Council of Jamnia

The idea that a Jewish council was held in 90 A.D. that set
the Jewish canon of scripture did not surface till the 19th century
and was promoted by two German scholars – one being Heinrich Graetz.  There is virtually no scholarly evidence,
beyond a few scant rabbinical texts, that supports the historicity of this
council.  It is still discussed among
some scholarly circles but mostly predicated with “myth” or “legend.”
 

Marc Zvi Brettler writes that the meager evidence from
rabbinic texts informing us of this supposed council where the canon of
scripture for the Jews was actually set is based largely on a misunderstanding
of those rabbinic texts.  Instead, the
council was attempting to justify certain texts already considered canonical.  One such book that was
debated was the Song of Songs
[1].  Moreover Brettler also indicates
that the Jewish cannon was not stabilized until sometime in the second century CE
and the process of canonization was a gradual process and not a definitive act at the Council of Jamnia[2].
If this council did occur, then a big question arises as to
“Why weren’t all the Jews invited?”  The
records show a heavy leaning towards the pharisaic understanding of the
books.  It appears that several groups
were ignored, even the African Jews who considered the entire Septuagint as
canonical.
 

Theologically – Council of Jamnia

Supposing the council of Jamnia set the canon for the Jewish
scriptures in 90 A.D. and thereby Christians, as well as Jews, must follow the
same canon raises serious theological questions about the nature of
authority.  First what gave this council
of Rabbis, sans-Temple and possibly sans-priesthood, the authority to make a
binding set of books for the entire Jewish faith?  This is even more so when one wonders if the Sanhedrin
and Scribes were present.
 

A second theological problem arises based upon the date of
the council.  Jamnia is said to have
happened in about the year 90 A.D.  What
kind of authority can or does a Jewish Council, post-resurrection, have on the
body of Christianity?  To appeal to this
council in an attempt to discredit the Catholic Old Testament canon is to
essentially shoot ones self in the proverbial foot, for by discrediting the
Canon with appeal to Jamnia is to give a group of Jewish rabbis authority over
all of Christianity.  This is a belief
that is far from Christian.  For Christ,
from the Christian perspective, came to fulfill Judaism thereby rendering parts
of Judaism nonbinding, or binding in a new way, to Christians. 
 


Canonically

If the Council of Jamnia occurred, as once thought, what it
does tell us is that the Jewish Canon was not a unified, settled, definitive
work before the year 90 A.D.  Examples of
this can easily be found through history. The Ethiopian Jews had a different
Canon by accepting all of the Septuagint.
The Sadducees only accepted the books of Moses and authoritative
scriptures, while the Pharisees accepted more. More recently, the Dead Sea
Scrolls have been shedding light on the history of the Jewish canon to a
further degree with a now incomplete book of Psalms, which appears to have been
used in a fashion similar to modern prayer books.  The Dead Sea Scrolls also have a canon more
akin to the Septuagint except written in Hebrew instead of Greek.
 

Therefore, for a non-Catholic to appeal to the Council of
Jamnia as proof that the Catholic canon is not the Old Testament for Christians
is to hang one’s coat on a broken hook.
It ignores history, promotes bad theology, and disregards Jewish culture
and the multiplicity of Jewish canons in existence at the time of at the time
of the Apostles and the very early church.
 

[1] Berlin, Adele, Marc Zvi.
Brettler, and Michael A. Fishbane. “The Canonization of the
Bible.” The Jewish Study Bible: Jewish Publication Society Tanakh
Translation
. Oxford: Oxford UP, 2004. 2072-077. Print.
 

[2] ibid