LEGAL CONSTRUCTS OF JUDAISM
IN THE THEODOSIAN CODE*
Oxymoronic as the title may appear it is time, perhaps, to move the debate about canons and canonization from its literary-theological cradle to a socio-historical context.1 Having spent an entire semester pursuing the notion of canon and of canonization I can begin, without tremor, with the statement that there is no agreement regarding these terms even among theologians.
One exception appears to be a certain understanding that in any socio-cultural system canons fulfill the functions of stabilization, orientation and identity making by means of decreeing and dogmatizing.2 Implicit in this perception is an assumption that canons also have the power to convert and that their rejection implies decanonization as marginalization.
For the sake of this paper I am assuming, rightly or wrongly, that ‘canonization’ entails a deliberate presentation of a mythic normativity for a carefully targeted audience. The presenters of such a compilation aspire to delineate a normative code of behavior from which, in turn, they derive their own authority to control its recipients.
A prime example of this type of a canon is provided by legal texts and especially by legal codes. In the ancient world only legal compilations came into being attendant by explicit canonic and universal aspirations. From the Code of Hammurabi to the Roman and barbarian law codes of Late Antiquity, the desire to regulate society
* This article is dedicated with thanks to Jim Seaver, a friend, a wonderful colleague and a great person. I am very grateful to the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences and the Gradutae Research Fund at the University of Kansas for their generous help in pursuing this project.
1 For focus on the former see the recent collection entitled Canonization and Decanonization, A. van der Kooij and K. van der Toorn (eds.), (Leiden, 1998).
2 H. J. Adriaanse, “Canonicity and the Problem of the Golden Mean”, in Canonization, 315.