In such a bibliocentric culture, I wonder why we lack curiosity about the Bible. Not only do we not study it much in religion classes, we often accept it as a fixed cultural object. Saying that it’s the word of God, as if that explains anything, many Protestant groups take it as the 39 books of the “Old Testament” and the 27 of the New, ignoring the 66 total that stands like a warning sign of impending idolatry. Roman Catholics and some Anglicans add the books of the Apocrypha, or Deuterocanon, bringing the number closer to 73 books. I say “closer to” because some of these books seem to be expansions on other books already in the canon. Over the years the National Council of Churches has added a few more books, considering various other groups (mostly Orthodox) that recognize some further works as canonical.
In this era of recognizing the importance of black lives and black culture, I’m amazed there’s so little curiosity about the Ethiopian Orthodox canon. I’ve spoken to many biblical scholars who could care less that the fantastic books of Jubilees and 1 Enoch are in the canon of the Ethiopian and Eritrean Orthodox Churches. It’s almost as if these groups simply don’t matter in the world of Christendom. I note that biblical scholars I ask about this are usually Protestant or Catholic themselves. It seems to me almost a racist slight not to include books that are recognized among some Christian groups, but not others.
What is the scientific criterion for determining a book is the word of God or not? It surely can’t be fear of contradiction, for the Protestant Bible—the briefest in mainstream Christendom—has plenty of contradictions of its own. The Bible itself famously does not name the books included. Various authorities made decisions at various points about which books should be included and which should be left out. It is such a very human process. But when it comes to including the books of churches that total nearly 40 million members, suddenly people just aren’t that curious. Those of us interested in demons have to take Jubilees and 1 Enoch seriously. They are fascinating books. And Biblical for millions of people. The past several years have made me think quite seriously about the borders built around the Bible. Whose choice is it not to include books already in the canon for their neighbors? Or, as might be more accurate, who has the authority to cut out books that already belong for many African Christians?