From Whitla’s introduction to Isaac Newton, Observations Upon The Prophecies Of Daniel and The Apocalypse Of St. John – Back to Table of Contents of the Introduction
THE crucial point in the controversy is the determination of the date when the Old Testament Canon was finally closed. If this should be proved to have occurred during the lives of the latest prophets the Ezra-Nehemiah period the question is settled for all time. I shall have to use this word ” Canon ” often. It simply means, as ordinarily used, the list of the books of the Old Testament which were judged to be inspired and were regarded as the divine standard for the regulation of the life and faith of the Jewish people. There was probably always a Canon or list from the time of Moses, notwithstanding the dogma of some extreme critics who are foolish enough to assume that all the earlier books so called were really written after the Exile. But this question of the exact date at which all the Old Testament books were examined and pronounced to be the product of Divine inspiration and incorporated as we now find them in our Bibles has become a huge subject in the hands of the Higher Critics.
From a study of the very extensive literature of the controversy I believe that the old traditional or accepted date would never have been seriously questioned but for the presence of Daniel’s book in the Canon. This book had to be discredited and brought into line with the late Apocryphal books by those who rejected it as a true narrative and inspired revelation. In order to establish its claim as ” a religious romance ” the date of the closing of the list of books (or the Canon) had to be ruthlessly shifted 300 years nearer to the Christian era.
Josephus, the Jewish historian, writing during the life 78 time of St. John of Patmos, emphatically states that the Canon was finally closed in the reign of Artaxerxes, in the time of Ezra, Nehemiah and Malachi. He not only makes the statement on his own account but affirms that this was an implanted belief of all the Jews, for which they would gladly die.
There are some undoubted inaccuracies in Josephus’s History and any statement of his which stands in the way of the assumptions of the Higher Critics they never hesitate to reject.
Professor Alexander points to stronger evidence still in the steadfast tradition of the Jews, which ascribes the closure of the Old Testament Canon to Ezra, who after the rebuilding of the Temple associated with himself for this purpose a number of learned and devout Jews. After examining the grounds for this fixed tradition he thinks that to call it in question would be to exhibit a degree of scepticism such as, in all other questions of a similar kind, would be thought unreasonable and absurd. The Fourth Book of Esdras, written at the end of the first century B.C., testifies to the existence of this tradition, and the scholars associated with Ezra were known as the Men of the Great Synagogue.