A Question of Canon: Star Wars and the Old Testament

The following is an answer I provided one of my graduate students regarding a “canonical approach” which was asked with reference also to Star Wars “canon” in a reading assignment for a course in Old Testament Theology. I felt a fair bit of explanation was helpful and thought there might be others who would also benefit from our discussion (though I’ve only included my reply).

Let me offer some reflections on the language of “canon” and a “canonical” approach to OT theology. It would seem there might be an improper understanding of the use of the term “canon” (in the study of OT theology or with regard to Star Wars) as it is being used in these contexts. Canon refers to the authorized forms of texts (films, books, series, etc) that were received by their respective community as authoritative for the community (in some fashion, which is not equivalent, but for the sake of discussion I will make use of such). This is why there is debates over who shot first: Han or Greedo [Han shot first is the only correct answer]. An altered version exists (and in this case is attributable to the “original author” but many claim the original film version as canon by which to judge the latter as an alteration of canon) but was not original to the series. Instead it belongs to a reworked, reimagined version (which enters the debate in Star Wars about a flexible canon and how inclusive and diverse it might be). Fan fiction accounts of Star Wars do not enter the canon of Star Wars.

On biblical texts (and the OT in this case), it is to say that the form received of our texts matters. Instead of simply tracing the history of individual texts as they developed (which is what Historical Critical studies does) canonical approaches contend for the final received version of the text (even while recognizing there are multiple communities and texts which reach back to the earliest centuries). Making it overly simple, the issue with Scripture is that we have at least two divergent accounts (technically many more) of our texts (some of them significantly divergent, some of them not so much): Masoretic Hebrew and Greek Septuagint.

The Church received the latter of these for nearly 1500 years as its text-form. The Reformation changed that though many of the Reformers and their translations included the Apocryphal/Deuteroncanonical books until the end of the 1800s. This was not only a difference of books bound within the covers of the “Canon” (where some were still called “deutero-canon” or “second/ary canon”), but also differences in the shapes of a number of the books altogether (with several fairly significant variants: 1 Samuel, Jeremiah, Daniel, Esther). So when speaking of a canonical approach such includes both discussions of the variant forms of the books (that were all independent scrolls until the Christian era) and even the arrangement of the books themselves in relation to one another (by “arrangement” I am including the idea of inclusion/exclusion of books). In an fascinating mixture of these canons, our current Protestant order of the OT follows the Greek Septuagint order, but uses the Hebrew Masoretic as the primary base text for the forms of the books within the Greek order.

While much of the theology one may suggest and/or derive from the divergent “canons” of the OT, perhaps the larger issue is related to the theological idea of “canon” itself and the group which receives/recognizes/confesses said “canon” as “canon”.

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