Constantine's Bible: Politics and the Making of the New Testament. By David L. Dungan. Minneapolis, Minn.: Fortress Press, 2007. 224 pp. $17.00 paper.
Constantine's Bible offers a sweeping and useful history of the development of scripture and canon. David Dungan carefully reconstructs the roots of the concept, concluding that a canon is a narrow subset of sacred texts established by an authoritative body with the political power to enforce its decisions. Canon is contrasted with scripture, the latter being a set of evolving sacred texts naturally modified as its community changes. Dungan argues that the fixed boundary of canon exists in tension with the living religion, and requires constant force to shore up its boundaries.
In chapters two through four, Dungan examines the roots of canon within Greek culture. Claiming a comparative religions approach to gain access to the original meaning of canon, he maintains that the rise of the Greek polis ideology offers the proper starting point. Mathematics elevated the ideals of precision and accuracy; philosophy sought exactitude in politics and ethics. According to Dungan, the philosophers did not seek to establish a final word on a matter, nor was a layman expected to participate in the dialogue. These last two characteristics are critical to Dungan's complaint leveled against Constantine later in the book.
Chapter Five is devoted to Eusebius's account of accepted and disputed works. He argues that Eusebius follows Origen, who embraced the goals and methods of Greek philosophy as displayed in his Hexapla and his discussion about the authorship of Hebrews. Like a good Greek philosopher, Origen declined to draw any final conclusion on the authorship question but rather reveled in the debate. …