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Is Judaism the Law of Moses? (part 4)

Which books belong in the Old Testament?
What about the Apocrypha?
In this fourth installment you will learn how and by what authority the canon of the Old Testament was determined.


THE LAST installment revealed how Ezra and Nehemiah reestablished God's Government in the Old Testament church.

The central authority in Palestine to carry out that government has often been called by the Greek name "The Great Synagogue." The word "synagogue" in Greek means assembly. This is the name most modern writers use when referring to that authoritative body of priests established by Ezra and Nehemiah (Neh. 10). But whether the name Great Synagogue or Great Assembly is used, it always represents the same institution.

We shall see in this installment how this Great Assembly, with the Spirit of God guiding them, put together the Scriptures of the Old Testament. Our Old Testament comes to us because of the work of this Great Assembly!


What the Great Assembly Did

The firm reestablishment of the religious and political government in Palestine was accomplished by Ezra and Nehemiah. They convened the Jewish elders for the purpose of signing and officially sealing a covenant to keep God's commandments. It brought about the inauguration of a constitutional government in Palestine. The constitution was the Law of Moses!

Both Ezra and Nehemiah were at this covenant — signing, with the leaders of the Jews, to acknowledge the written Law of Moses as the law of the land — as their constitution. All the Jewish leaders, except a very small minority, happily covenanted to perform the requirements of the Law. In consequence of this, the people put away their foreign wives, started tithing, established proper Temple services and began to keep God's Sabbath!

This is the real beginning of the religion of Moses after the Babylonian captivity. And it was the true religion of Moses, no additions or subtractions!


New Controversy Arises

In the previous installment we found that Eliashib, the High Priest at the time of Ezra and Nehemiah, did not countenance the decision of the Great Assembly in regard to the putting away of foreign wives. One of his older grandsons was involved in such an illegal marriage. This grandson, Manasseh, was married to one of the daughters of Sanballat the Horonite — a Gentile.

Had Manasseh been married to an ordinary woman of no repute, it probably would not have made a great deal of difference. But he was married to the daughter of Sanballat who was governor of the northern province of Samaria. Sanballat was an influential government official of the Kingdom of Persia.

The grandson of the High Priest of the Jews being married to the daughter of the governor of Samaria offered a type of alliance between the two peoples. This presented a delicate political situation. If Manasseh repudiated his wife, in order to keep the Law, this friendly relationship would undoubtedly have ceased.

There were a few other Jews along with Eliashib and Manasseh who felt that this marriage should not be terminated even if the Law of Moses and the decision of the Great Assembly commanded it. So, Manasseh openly rebelled against God's Government — the constitutional law — defying Ezra and Nehemiah and the Great Assembly.

When Manasseh refused to adhere to the Law, Nehemiah, who was governor of Judea, excommunicated him from the Jewish society and banished him from the country (Neh. 13:23-31).

Manasseh was exceedingly indignant over the excommunication. He especially was angered because he would have become High Priest of the Jews upon his father's death, had he remained faithful to the Law and had not been excommunicated. In lieu of this, he, and some of his Jewish sympathizers, even some of the priests, left Judaea and went northward to Samaria.


Samaritans Enter the Picture

The Samaritans, who nominally adhered to some points of the Law of Moses, only as it suited their fancy, readily accepted these renegade Jews. The Samaritans had no scruples over marrying Gentile wives, for they themselves were Gentiles who had been placed in central Palestine about 250 years before by the Assyrians.

With the arrival of Manasseh in Samaria, Sanballat, his father-in-law, sympathized with him because he had been deprived of the opportunity to be High Priest among the Jews. But Sanballat had cunningly devised plans to honor his son-in-law for his rebellion against Nehemiah and the Great Assembly.

Since the Samaritans had no temple in which to worship, Sanballat petitioned the Persian government to grant him permission to build a temple for the Samaritan people. Because it was the general policy of the Persians to allow their captive nations to worship their own gods, this permission was granted.

It was the design of Sanballat to build this temple and install Manasseh, the son of the Jewish High Priest, as the High Priest of the Samaritans. This plan was carried out.

The Samaritan temple was built on Mount Gerizim in Samaria and Manasseh received his schismatic priesthood. This is the beginning of the Samaritan religion.


Manesseh's Further Rebellion

The first act of Manasseh after being installed as the Samaritan High Priest was to repudiate the true Temple of God located on Mount Zion in Jerusalem. He did this by maintaining that the Temple should be located on Mount Gerizim and not in Jerusalem. Manasseh's rebellious motive was to strengthen his own position among the Samaritans and perhaps to gain some of the Jews in Judaea to his side.

In maintaining that the Temple should be situated on Mount Gerizim, he encountered, however, an embarrassing situation. Throughout the writings of the Old Testament prophets were the clear prophecies that the Temple of God should be located only on Mount Zion in Jerusalem (Isaiah 2 and Micah 4). The prophecies concerning this fact were so conclusive, so decisive, that it was impossible for Manasseh to reconcile his temple being located on Mount Gerizim with the statements of the prophets.

Realizing that the writings of the prophets and many of the Psalms specifically taught just the opposite from what he was endeavoring to maintain, he seized upon the only alternative to seemingly justify his temple being on Mount Gerizim. His way out of the dilemma was to formally reject the writings of the prophets. To do this, he had to represent them as the uninspired opinions of men.

As a result of this, Manasseh acknowledged that the only books which were really the inspired words of God were the books of Moses — the first five books of the Old Testament. The reason he accepted this portion of the Old Testament was that in this section there was no direct mention of the necessity of having the Temple of God on Mount Zion in Jerusalem. By accepting only the first five books of the Bible and none other, he put his own authority ahead of the Word of God.

With Manasseh ruling as the Samaritan High Priest and finally claiming that only the books of Moses were the inspired word of God, the situation called for drastic action by Ezra, Nehemiah and the Great Assembly. Here was a new temple built in Samaria, and Manasseh loudly proclaiming that all the Jews in Judaea were in error.

Something had to be done about this situation.

Ezra and Nehemiah knew it was possible that there might be an internal disruption of the Jewish society that they were developing in Judaea, unless a determinate and authoritative counteraction could be launched against the falsehoods of Manasseh and his heretical followers, especially since many of his ideas were being subversively planted in the minds of many Jews in Judaea. The people had to know who was right, Manasseh — or Ezra and Nehemiah!


The Great Assembly Settles the Question

Under the divine inspiration of Almighty God, Ezra and Nehemiah with the Great Assembly convened to settle the matter. These two authoritative servants of God, along with the ordained priests of God, were given the responsibility of assembling the inspired books of the prophets and holy men of God. Their task was not to write the books, for they were already written. They had to assemble the already acknowledged inspired books into one book in a final order.

Thus, we read: "To erect a wall of partition between the Jews and these apostates (Manasseh and his followers), and to show the people which of the ancient prophetical books were sacred . . . the men of the Great Synagogue (Assembly) compiled the canon of the prophets" (Cyclo. of Bib., Theo. and Ecc. Lit., vol. x, p. 83).


The Canon of the Old Testament

That Ezra, Nehemiah and the Great Assembly, under the divine inspiration of the Spirit of God, compiled the books of the Old Testament is the universal acknowledgment of all early Jews and Christians (ibid., vol. ii, p. 75).

All of the Old Testament books, re-member, were already written. The task of the Great Assembly was merely to put them together into one book in proper order! And this they did!

It has been thought by some modern critics that Ezra and the Great Assembly may have sanctioned only the Law of Moses, the first five books. This is decidedly not the case! The very reason the canon of the Old Testament had to be defined at this time was that the renegade Jew, Manasseh, erroneously maintained that the first five books of Moses were the only inspired books. He, out of his own vanity, rejected the inspired books of the Prophets and Psalms. These books were already as much a part of God's Word as the Law of Moses.

It was not necessary to OFFICIALLY proclaim the Law of Moses as being inspired for it had already long been recognized as God's Word. See II Kings 22:8.

It was, of course, God's purpose that all the writings of the Prophets be transmitted to those of future eras in final and unchangeable form. The books of the Prophets, the Psalms and the other books were now officially established, properly placed in the canon and proclaimed as the authoritative Word of God.