Sequencing the Hebrew Bible: The Order of the Books, Book Review

Title: Sequencing the Hebrew Bible: The Order of Books
Author: Casey Croy
Publisher: Sheffield-Phoenix, 2021
Price: $75.00 (amz)
Binding: Hardback
Pages: 247
In this monograph, Casey Croy contributes to the field of canon studies by examining the sequence of books in the Hebrew Bible and developing criteria for how canonical compilation might relate to textual composition. Croy defines “compilation criticism” as an examination of the Hebrew Bible that seeks “to discern if the arrangement of its books is significant” (1). The goal of this analysis, then, is “to establish links between and among the Hebrew Bible’s books so that a cohesive whole emerges from the (sometimes disparate) parts” (1). 

One of the most common objections to the study of canonical contextuality is the presence of multiple arrangements in different manuscripts or reception traditions. Croy’s aim in this work is to address this particular challenge. As he poses, “Since multiple arrangements of the Hebrew Bible emerged in antiquity, is compilational criticism still a viable approach to understanding the Hebrew Bible?” (3). Croy argues that this variation does not render book ordering irrelevant but rather is actually a sign of its significance for authors and compilers of the various canonical collections. His thesis is that “multiple arrangements of the Hebrew Bible are needed to account for all the compilational features within the Hebrew Bible” (23). In other words, “compilational criticism must consider multiple arrangements of the Hebrew Bible because the composition of some of the Hebrew Bible’s books was influenced by more than one arrangement” (57; cf 23–43; 206–13). 

One of Croy’s key assumptions is that “the final forms of some books of the Hebrew Bible reveal an awareness of an emerging canon” (25). Those who produced some of these books “were aware of an emerging canon of Scripture and composed their books to fill a specific role within the arrangement of that emerging canon” (27). This claim further requires “the presence of an emerging canon of the Hebrew Scriptures” that would have “influenced the composition of some books” (57). In these instances, there would be textual features that can plausibly be understood as referring to a broader collection (i.e., canon-conscious composition). These literary features would be “understandable within the book itself” but could be better explained “by pointing to how the book in question was intended to form an intentional compilation with another book” (58). 

After describing the most important ancient witnesses to the Jewish arrangements of the Hebrew Bible and proposing methodological controls for “compilation criticism” (chapters 2–3), Croy discusses the compilation of Nahum in relation to Micah and Jonah (chapter 4), Ruth in relation to Judges, Proverbs, and Psalms (chapter 5), and Chronicles in relation to Kings and Ezra-Nehemiah (chapter 6). In addition to these local case studies, Croy also considers “macro-canonical structures” like an exile-return model in relation to the prophetic history that spans Genesis through Kings and the “messiah model” that notes strategic prophetic and poetic texts in relation to the anchoring position of the book of Moses (chapter 7). 

While the sharpness of the argument shifts depending on the evidence at hand, Croy sees in each of these compilational studies possible evidence that demonstrates his basic thesis: that “the text or wording of several books within the Hebrew Bible was influenced by more than one arrangement of the Hebrew Bible” (206). Accordingly, the study of the Hebrew Bible’s shape must include the analysis of multiple arrangements rather than a single linear sequence. For Croy, this necessity follows not only from the presence of multiple ordering traditions in the history of interpretation (which is recognized by many canonical interpreters) but also from the textual reality of compilation-conscious comments within select Old Testament books (which is the refinement Croy is proposing). 

By interacting with the relevant scholarship and providing several exegetical case studies, this work advances several strands of the current conversation about the nature of canon formation and canonical hermeneutics. Croy develops here some of the methodological parameters that can help navigate the relationship between composition and canonization in the canon formation process. I’m thankful for Croy’s work in this volume and hope many students of the biblical canon consider its claims carefully.

Book Review
August 2, 2022


Popular Posts

Why did Jesus have to heal the Blind Man Twice in Mark 8?

In Mark 8:22-26, Jesus encounters a blind man in Bethsaida. To heal the man, Je…

Dietrich Bonhoeffer and Historical Theology w/ Madison Grace

In this episode, I talk with my friend Dr. Madison Grace about Dietrich Bonhoef…

"The Gospel" as the Unifying Theme of Theology and the Rule of Faith for the Churches

Mike Bird ends his articulation and apology for the structure of his systematic…