Melito's canon

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Melito's canon is the name of the biblical canon[clarify] attributed to Melito of Sardis, one of the early Church Fathers of the 2nd century.

Earliest Christian canon of the Old Testament[edit]

Melito provides what is possibly the earliest known Christian canon of what he termed the "Old Testament", having traveled to Palestine (probably to the library at Caesarea Maritima) seeking to acquire accurate information about which books should be accepted as canonical. Other candidates for earliest Christian canon include the Bryennios List and the Muratorian fragment.

Protocanonicals minus Esther[edit]

The Catholic Encyclopedia states that "Melito's canon consists exclusively of the protocanonicals minus Esther".

Nehemiah and Lamentations are also not mentioned, but the former is thought to be part of Ezra (being referred to as Esdras), and with Lamentations being part of Jeremiah. Melito's canon does not include the Deuterocanonical books,[1] except for the possible inclusion of the Book of Wisdom, which is disputed.[2]

Eusebius' record of Melito[edit]

Melito's canon is found in Eusebius EH4.26.13–14:[3]

Accordingly when I went East and came to the place where these things were preached and done, I learned accurately the books of the Old Testament, and send them to thee as written below. Their names are as follows: Of Moses, five books: Genesis, Exodus, Numbers, Leviticus, Deuteronomy; Jesus Nave, Judges, Ruth; of Kings, four books;[4] of Chronicles, two; the Psalms of David, the Proverbs of Solomon, Wisdom also, Ecclesiastes, Song of Songs, Job; of Prophets, Isaiah, Jeremiah; of the twelve prophets, one book ; Daniel, Ezekiel, Esdras. From which also I have made the extracts, dividing them into six books.

See also Development of the Hebrew Bible canon.

Comparison with Athanasius' books[edit]

St. Athanasius is often quoted as endorsing 39 books in his Old Testament, rejecting any apocryphal (pseudepigraphal) writings. However, his 39 books are different from the Protestant canon in that he rejects Esther and includes Baruch. About the Deuterocanonical books he adds:

But for greater exactness I add this also, writing of necessity; that there are other books besides these not indeed included in the Canon, but appointed by the Fathers to be read by those who newly join us, and who wish for instruction in the word of godliness. The Wisdom of Solomon, and the Wisdom of Sirach, and Esther, and Judith, and Tobit, and that which is called the Teaching of the Apostles, and the Shepherd. But the former, my brethren, are included in the Canon, the latter being [merely] read; nor is there in any place a mention of apocryphal writings. But they are an invention of heretics, who write them when they choose, bestowing upon them their approbation, and assigning to them a date, that so, using them as ancient writings, they may find occasion to lead astray the simple.[5]

Jewish and Protestant canon[edit]

Melito's list almost fully corresponds to the Jewish Tanakh and Protestant canon, and does not include additional books which are found in the Greek Septuagint.[6] According to Archibald Alexander, it is thought by many to include the Book of Wisdom, which is part of the Roman Catholic and Eastern Christianity Deuterocanon, but which others dispute.[7]


  1. ^ Bruce M. Metzger, "The canon of the New Testament"
  2. ^ Section II, Constitution of the Canon of the Old…
  3. ^ Fathers, New Advent.
  4. ^ according to the names used in the LXX these are the two Books of Kings and the two Books of Samuel
  5. ^ NPNF2-04. Athanasius: Select Works and Letters | Christian Classics Ethereal Library
  6. ^ See "The canon of the New Testament", p. 123, by Bruce M. Metzger
  7. ^ Archibald Alexander, "Section II, Constitution of the Canon of the Old Testament by Ezra", The Canon of the Old and New Testaments Ascertained