Constantine's Bible: Politics and the Making of the New Testament

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Constantine's Bible: Politics and the Making of the New Testament by David L. Dungan Fortress, Minneapolis, 2007. 224 pp. $17.00. ISBN 9780-8006-3790-9.

MAPPING THE DEVELOPMENT of the church catholic's authoritative canon of Scripture from earlier Christian sectarian uses of divergent texts is an important task of both ancient church history and contemporary hermeneutics. Though David Dungan's primary focus is on the ancient material, he contributes to both discussions in his book.

Dungan begins by pointing out that the terms "Scripture" and "canon" are not synonymous. Scripture is the larger category referring to "a semidurable, semifluid, slowly evolving conglomeration of sacred texts" (p. 2). "Canon," in comparison, is a frozen subset of Scripture. The need for this terminological clarification is revealed in Dungan's thesis, that after Constantine's conversion "the legal imposition of a kanon (Latin: régula, a rule, regulation) upon Christian Scripture along with a kanon of the correct summary of doctrine (the creed)" was enforced "with the full power of the Roman government" (p. 8). In arguing his case, Dugan places the initial desire for a Christian scriptural canon within the broader cultural context of what he calls the Greek city's (polis) demand for "accuracy, clarity, and precision." Eusebius' Ecclesiastical History is seen to epitomize this typically "Greek" movement towards self-definition by means of regulating canons. To this mix, add Constantine's demand for uniformity in church matters, and the officially sanctioned Christian canon of Scripture results.

Dungan is at his best when he discusses the role of Eusebius in articulating a canon of Scripture, simply because here he proceeds with attention to historical detail (ch. …