restricted access The Muratorian Fragment and the Development of the Canon (review)
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Reviewed by
Geoffrey Mark Hahneman. The Muratorian Fragment and the Development of the Canon. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1992. Pp. xi + 237. $52.00.

It is nearly thirty years since Albert C. Sundberg launched his revisionist attack against the so-called "Alexandrian canon hypothesis" about the formation of the Christian canon of the Old Testament. Shortly thereafter, he published the first of several articles designed to refute traditional conclusions about the formation of the New Testament canon as well. The burden of his work on the NT canon has been to demonstrate that the decisive period in the formation of the canon was not the late second century, as traditionally held, but the early fourth century. The linchpin of his argument is his redating of the Muratorian Fragment to around 325 and assigning its provenance to Syria/Palestine rather than Rome. Having set forth this thesis in a 40-page article, "Canon Muratori: A Fourth-Century List," Harvard Theological Review 66 (1973): 1-41, Sundberg retired from the field of battle and declared victory, since, even though few scholars supported his conclusions, no one launched a counterattack worthy of Sundberg's efforts.

Now a champion has entered the lists on behalf of Sundberg, in a thesis at Oxford supervised by Maurice Wiles producing a closely argued study of the Muratorianum and supporting Sundberg's essential hypothesis.

In chapter 1 Hahneman reviews the history of the study of the Muratorian Fragment and begins to pick at the foundations of the traditional date and provenance. The codex in which the Fragment appears contains a miscellaneous collection of theological works, all the identifiable parts of which are datable to the fourth and fifth centuries, and two-thirds of which are from Eastern sources. He claims that if the original language of the Fragment was Latin, vocabulary, grammar [End Page 89] and spelling confirm a fourth-century date. If the original language was Greek and the date is fourth century, the provenance is not Roman because Latin replaced Greek as the language of the Western church by the third century.

Chapter 2 centers on the Fragment's key clue to its date, namely the reference to the Shepherd's having been written "nuperrim e(t) temporibus nostris." Hahneman first redates the Shepherd to around A.D. 100, thus throwing doubt on the Fragment's claim that Hermas wrote the Shepherd while his brother Pius was bishop of Rome (ca. 140). He regards the attribution of authorship to the second-century Hermas as a tendentious statement by a fourth-century writer interested in discrediting the view that the Hermas of the Shepherd was the Hermas known to Paul (Rom 10.14), a tradition unattested before Origen.

Hahneman devotes the longest chapter to outlining a reconstructed history of the formation of the canon. What both Hahneman and Sundberg claim as the chief contribution of their work is laid out here, namely the shift of attention from the second to the fourth century as the most crucial period in the formation of the church's canon of both OT and NT Scripture. Hahneman draws a careful distinction between "comments" (references in ancient Christian literature to authoritative or scriptural writings), "collections" (specific but not closed groups or subgroups of Christian authoritative writings), and "catalogues" (lists of authoritative writings with closed boundaries). This is also the most problematic section of the book, because "subcanonical" collections (Gospels, Paulines) appear in some sources to be "hardening" their boundaries well before the fourth century. Hahneman tracks the shifting opinions on dates and origins of the Old Gospel Prologues and the so-called Marcionite Prologues to the Paulines, with a view to showing that these compositions continued to be revised and expanded until the fourth century. He shows that the Chester Beatty Papyrus 46 did not comprise a closed collection of the Paulines, because it almost certainly did not include the Pastorals. Thus, we do not have "catalogues" in the second/third centuries, only collections. Since the Muratorian Fragment is a catalogue, it is an anomaly if dated to the second century.

Chapter 4 is a comparative study of fifteen catalogues, all appearing in the fourth and early fifth centuries...