Bible and Canon
A biblical canon is the closed list of books that a religious community holds to be Scripture. In our era, not only do Jews and Christians have different canons, but Christian canons (Catholic, Protestant, and Greek Orthodox) differ from each other as well. In ancient times, each book of the Bible was copied onto a separate scroll. At Qumran, we have found 37 copies of Psalms, 30 of Deuteronomy, 21 of Isaiah, and 19 or 20 of Genesis. Psalms and Deuteronomy are also among the most frequently quoted books. This listing gives an interesting indication of what books functioned as the most authoritative biblical texts for the Qumran group.
Recent scholarship has questioned the existence of a biblical canon, at least the way we think of it (as a closed listing of “scripture”), at Qumran, arguing that the status of authoritative Jewish texts was not firmly established prior to the destruction of the Second Temple. It is also possible that different Jewish groups would have had different conceptions of the level of authority they granted to various writings. The presence of a book from the Hebrew Bible (Tanakh) at Qumran is not viewed as a conclusive indication that the work was viewed as “canonical.” Conversely, there is evidence that books not included in the Tanakh as we know it may have been as authoritative as some biblical books for those at Qumran—for example, the Damascus Document appears to refer to the Book of Jubilees as an authoritative text. It also appears that Jubilees was subject (like Genesis) to interpretation, in compositions that have been coined “Pseudo-Jubilees.” This reflects another factor that is used to evaluate canonical status—how a work is used and interpreted in other texts.
In any case, the evidence points to the assessment that the first five books of the Bible (the Torah, the Pentateuch, the “five books of Moses”: Genesis through Deuteronomy) were accepted as the highest authoritative writings during the Second Temple period, and were believed to have been written by Moses. The books of the Prophets also appear to have held special authoritative status.
11QPsaOne of the scrolls that has influenced conceptions of biblical canon since the early days of Dead Sea Scrolls research was the large Psalms scroll, 11QPsa. This scrolls contains 40 Psalms known from MT (39 from the Masoretic Psalter, but in a different order, as well as the “Last Words of David” from 2 Samuel 23); 8 non-Masoretic Psalms (including 2 known previously from the Syriac Psalter, and one known from the apocryphal book of Ben Sira), and a concluding passage about David’s compositions. The similarities to and differences from the Masoretic Psalter spurred early debates about whether this was an alternative “biblical” text, or whether it was a new liturgical composition, incorporating both biblical and nonbiblical works.