Miller, a professor emeritus at Conrad Grebel University College in the University of Waterloo, Ontario, has written one of the clearest expositions to date of the importance of canonical criticism for the study of the bible. In the battle of the titans now underway (e.g., Barr vs. Childs), Miller's book stands out for the boldness of its assertions on mending relations between Christians and Jews by patiently attempting to dismantle supercessionist rhetoric. A careful re-assemblage of the criteria used to decide on the form and content of the Hebrew bible and its Christian progeny knit the two compositions so closely as to make them whole. In retracing these steps and then testing his theory against the available data, Miller's thesis is both plausible and illuminating.
Ten concise chapters precede two supplementary sections and annotations. Chapters one to five relate to the narrative composition and overall message of the Tanak. He suggests two formative periods. The first arises from the state reforms of Kings Hezekiah and Josiah, and the second emerges during "the teaching and temple reforms of Ezra and Nehemiah" (15). Shifts between the first and second phases occur when the texts are reconfigured and enlarged, reflecting those accretions traceable to the various periods of reform. Miller suggests that the first period is marked by an epoch imbued with a "Deuteronomistic History" while the second period accepts this Deutoronmistic History and adds the remaining portions of the Pentateuch at the beginning and the four prophetic scrolls plus Ezra-Nehemiah at the end.
Chapters six through ten, focusing on what Miller calls the "third stage" of Israel's canonical development, examine the implications of adding the Christian scriptures to the Tanak. Marcion takes center stage here and his own religious and textual leanings are seen as the impetus for concerted defenses of biblical canonicity, particularly through the efforts of Irenaeus of Lyons. The supplements pertain to significant documents that give clues about the canonical formation of both the Tanak and Christian scriptures, especially extra-biblical sources such as the Babylonian Talmud (Baba Bathra 14b), Origen's commentary on Psalm 1, lengthy quotations from Hegesippus in Eusebius' Ecclesiastical History, and so on.
Miller's book is satisfying on many levels, but his argument sometimes gets over-extended. For instance, in a section "discerning a canonically congruent 'canonical narrative,'" Miller suggests that there is a similar procedure going on in the canonical formation of the second testament when Jesus' followers "were commissioned and empowered to launch a witness to the nations in his name (Matt. 28:16-20; Luke 24:44-49; Acts 1:6-8)" . He then tries to make the comparison between this commissioning and the story of Israel's "mission of being a 'blessing' (Gen. 12:1-3; 18: 17-20) and a 'light' (Isa. 49:6) to the nations" (98). "How," he asks, "are these two 'world missions' related'—Israel's 'world mission' and the 'world mission' of Christians?" Fine question. The answer? "My suggestion is this: the church's story as introduced and set forth in the church's scriptures is about a momentous 'fulfillment' or flowering of Israel's world mission that occurred within the story of fulfillment already begun when Israel (but not its kingdom) was restored and renewed following its Babylonian captivity" (99). Miller's suggestion, he hopes, will go a long way toward eradicating supercessionism. A brief exploration ensues of Jewish messianism at the time of Jesus, but I would have liked a further exploration of how that general ethos, with all its variables, gets concentrated or otherwise transformed by Jesus who, in turn, becomes the lynchpin connecting Israel's canon with what became the Christian mission narrative.
Among the significant advantages of using this book as a course text, I can point to three. First, the author makes his most emphatic claims in bold print. This technique provides the reader with a two-fold understanding, namely, it allows for easy tracking of the argument and establishes a systematic approach to the author's canonical method. Miller provides a chapter-by-chapter "summary overview" which recapitulates the main points. Second, there are a number of helpful charts which also assist in deciphering this rather nuanced reconstruction of the biblical narratives. This will be especially useful for beginning students or those who have only just started to think through the problems of canonical criticism. Some of these can be rather knotty and so the charts will be of great benefit. Third, the author sees the project of canonical criticism as a healthy and helpful guide toward fostering inter-religious dialogue and insofar as his argument succeeds on that score, it will have done yeoman work.