There is an overwhelming consensus in the most recent scholarship that there was no such thing as “Bible” or “canon” in the Second Temple period, and that is why I find it so entertaining how boldly and shamelessly Vermes says things like this:
Some colleagues found the phrase, “Rewritten Bible” anachronistic. It is maintained by Dead Sea Scrolls scholars that Second Temple Judaism had no clear idea of either “Bible” or “canon.” These concepts, they claim, were not determined before the age of the Mishnah. For this reason rewritten or reworked “Scripture” has been suggested as a more suitable substitute. Frankly, replacing “Bible” by Scripture” strikes me as a mere quibble. The issue at stake is, however, more than verbal subtlety.
Academic scepticism concerning the existence of a Bible canon in the Second Temple period fails to pay sufficient attention to the ‘canon’ of Josephus. In Against Apion (1.38-41) he firmly states that among the Jews twenty-two books, no more, no less, enjoyed special respect and authority. Without citing individual titles, Josephus lists the five books of Moses, thirteen books of the Prophets and four books of hymns and wisdom. According to St Jerome, too, the figure of twenty-two was commonly held by Jews to represent the number of books in the biblical canon. So it can be assumed that the traditional Palestinian Hebrew canon of the Bible was already in existence in the late first century CE, or maybe even in the first century BCE.
I suggest therefore that we stick with the “Rewritten Bible” and let the music of the argument begin.
These are the closing words to the first essay in the book Rewritten Bible after Fifty Years: Texts, Terms, or Techniques? A Last Dialogue with Geza Vermes (Brill, 2014). I posted another quote from Vermes on the canon issue a while back.
He knew the primary and secondary literature as well as anyone, and he was not one to skew the data in favor of religious tradition, as far as I know. So what gives? How do we understand his firm resistance to the consensus?