Many Jewish websites, (Aish, Jewish History, Ou), state that the the Men of the Great Assembly finalized the contents of Tanach in the early Second Temple Period. No source is brought to support this statement in any of the sites I have perused.

Wikipedia, and Jewish Virtual Library, on the other hand, make no claim that these Sages sealed the Biblical Canon, only that they contributed to it significantly. They bring sources from the Talmud.

A mishnah in Yadayim 3:6 showcases an argument about the ritual status of certain books. This could imply that the last Sanhedrin in Yavneh was still deliberating on certain books' place in Tanakh, though it is not conclusive.

What is the source for the claim that the Men of the Great Assembly Canonized Tanach? I am looking for any source that supports the claim with evidence, or strong evidence found by the Mi Yodeya community. The earlier the better.

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    Bava Basra 14b implies that as that is the latest who wrote any of the books of neviim. Another implication is based on the inclusion of Esther (Purim) but not the Chashmonaim (Chanuka). Apr 27, 2014 at 16:44
  • @sabbahillel okay, but BB is just listing the order. You could say that it is the order that the books were compiled in once finalized, and Chronicles happened to be the last book. Re Hasmoneans, I think that's more compelling, especially since we certainly think highly of the event,but you're saying itwasjust too late to add. Anecdotally, I had heard that the Hasmonenans were excluded because they did not return the kingship to the line of Judah, having gained independence, meaning that it wasn't a matter of chronology, but rather of politics.
    – Baby Seal
    Apr 27, 2014 at 17:18
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    The Great Assembly wrote Tanach: that is, they're the latest people listed (BB 14–15) as writing books of Tanach.
    – msh210
    Apr 28, 2014 at 6:31
  • @msh210 definitely, but when was that decided? By them? By Elazar ben Azarya's Sanhedrin?
    – Baby Seal
    Apr 28, 2014 at 9:03

5 Answers 5


Actually, there's no source for this story at all, save a desire to believe that the ordering of books within Tanakh was deliberate, rather than simply retroactive. The gemara (Bava Batra 15a-b) speaks of the order in which the books appear and of their composition, while the mishna (Yadayim 3:6) possibly alludes to a debate that concerned the scriptural status of Shir haShirim and Qohelet. Elsewhere, intimations exist that concern the potential illegitimacy of Ezekiel as a scriptural text (Shabbat 13b), as well as the potential legitimacy of Ben Sirakh and Megillat Taanit.

The first person to suppose that a council once existed at which the Tanakh was finalised was Heinrich Graetz in his 1871 "Der alttestamentliche Kanon und sein Abschluss". This theory may have some merit or it may not; either way, it was a fabrication, invented to make sense of the evidence that does exist.

The supposition that the Tanakh was finalised several centuries earlier by the Anshei Kenesset haGedolah also makes sense - but only if you choose to believe that the Tanakh was already in its final form at the time of the Mishna's composition. Since the Mishna never says that it was, whether or not you believe it to have been is entirely up to you.

In order to better appreciate why it's not strange that it wouldn't be, consider that the Tanakh did not appear in codex form (in Hebrew, that is) until the 10th century. During the period of which we are speaking, the "Tanakh" was just a collection of individual scrolls. Knowing what was "in" the Tanakh and what was not meant knowing which of those scrolls were scripturally authoritative and which were not.

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    By "codex form" you mean written all together or bound book-style? If the latter, I'm not sure why that is significant; if the former, what is your evidence? Bavli Bava Batra 13b and Megilla 19a-b imply otherwise.
    – Double AA
    Apr 29, 2014 at 2:40
  • related judaism.stackexchange.com/q/26477/759
    – Double AA
    Apr 29, 2014 at 2:43
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    @DoubleAA - My mistake! I retract that final paragraph, and shall have to re-evaluate what I had been led to believe... I'd not seen those sugyas before, and spoke without knowing.
    – Shimon bM
    May 7, 2014 at 4:58
  • Related: judaism.stackexchange.com/a/105469/7303 Jul 11, 2019 at 19:07

In order to speak of a closed canon, all the books must have been written. As Daniel is the last book written, at around the time of the Hasmonians, the canon could not have been closed before 164BCE.

However, there is debate whether canonization is an act (this is how we commonly think of it – even in the scholarly world) or a process.

If it's a process, then perhaps ‫תורה‬ is completed as Bnei Yisrael enter Israel and ‫Neviim‬ is completed at the time of ‫ומלאכי‬ , ‫זכריה‬ , ‫חגי‬ . But what about the time between when the books are written and when they are canonized? For a while, they may be just books, not necessarily biblical. This intermediate stage may explain why there are variant texts (e.g. in Qumran). Anything not included in ‫Neviim that is included in Tanach has only one place left to be canonized (assuming ‫Neviim is closed before Ketuvim. Ester, Ezra, and Chronicles‬ have nowhere else to go – maybe ‫Ketuvim is just a catch-all for the leftovers.

Most scholars believe that the canon is closed in ‫יבנה‬ (Jamnia, circa 200 CE), where there are still discussions about ‫ידים‬ ‫טומאת‬ and ‫ספרים‬ ‫גניזת‬ .

Anshei Knesset haGedolah is responsible for everything after the ‫ספר‬ leaves the author’s hand according to Chazal. The issue of ‫ידים‬ ‫טומאת‬ is that if ‫ידים‬ ‫טומאת‬ is equated with being part of canon, then they are still arguing up until the time of ‫שמואל‬ (see ‫ז‬ - ‫ו‬ ‫דף‬ ‫מגילה‬ ) (circa 200 CE)

Quotes from Notes of Yeshiva University's Intro to Bible class. Content based on Dr Shnayer Leiman's "The Canonization of Hebrew Scripture"

  • This is more of a super-long comment than an answer.
    – Shmuel
    Apr 29, 2014 at 5:28
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    In the third year of the reign of Jehoiakim (BC 606), Daniel and his friends Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah were among the young Jewish nobility carried off to Babylon. So Daniel was written long time before 164BCE. If Daniel is the last book written, it is possible for Tanakh to be canonized by fifth century BCE and afterwards.
    – ben
    Apr 29, 2014 at 17:35
  • @ben You assume Daniel wrote the whole book of Daniel that we have.
    – Double AA
    Apr 29, 2014 at 17:40

Rabbi Yehudah Hachassid in Sefer Chassidim, siman 1016 seems to say this:

"...ומ"ש הלא הם כתובים על דברי חוזה במדרש עידו אנשי כנסת הגדולה אמרו מה שהוצרכו לדרוש כבר ואין נביא נראשי לחדר דבר על עשרים וארבעה ספרים לא מלאך ולא אליהו..."

"...and that which is written "are recorded in the story of the prophet Iddo" the Men of the Great Assembly have already said what was needed to be recorded and no prophet is allowed to add anything to the twenty-four books, not an angel or Eliyahu..."


I am not sure whether this is true. But I saw in wiki.answers.com site that "The Tanakh canon was sealed by the Sanhedrin in the time of Ezra. This Sanhedrin, instead of the usual 70 members maximum, was enhanced and expanded to contain 120 sages, so that all of the greatest scholars could take part and its decisions would not be challenged. Some of the members included: Mordecai, Ezra, Nehemiah, Zerubavel, Haggai, Zechariah, Malachi, Chananiah, Ishmael, Azariah, and Daniel. It was this Sanhedrin, known as the Men of the Great Assembly, who declared that no new books would ever be added to the Tanakh. This took place around 340 BCE."

  • Welcome welcome! Awesome, it definitely seems like there's a consensus about this. I appreciate you sharing. I also appreciate that, given your reputation level, you can't comment.
    – Baby Seal
    Apr 29, 2014 at 1:10
  • But I went in to this question with website sources that say the same thing, albeit with less detail. I'm looking for something that backs up these statements with evidence. If you could add that in to your answer, it would improve it alot.
    – Baby Seal
    Apr 29, 2014 at 1:13

Professor Moshe Halbertal in People of the Book (Harvard University Press, 1997, p.16) states:

the canon seems to have been established during the Second Temple era, apparently during the late Persian or early Hellenistic period, perhaps as ealry as 150 B.C.(E.)

The author believes that the process of canonization was 'fluid' through 90 C.E. when the sages of Yavneh argued about the place of certain books (ibid). He further notes that the text of the Dead Sea Scrolls matches to a high degree the current canon's text. The author is implicit in his endorsement of Dr. Shnayer Leiman's position that there is a difference between books which are divinely inspired (and hence defile the hands) vs. not necessarily being divinely inspired, but still within the canon. (Cf The Canonization of Hebrew Scripture, Sid Z. Leiman, The Connecticut Academy of Arts and Sciences, 1976).

All of this is in contrast to Professor Shaye J.D. Cohen From the Maccabees to the Mishnah (Westminster John Knox Press, 2014 ch.6) who disputes that a true concept existed until there was a need for it due to Christianity's publishing of works which needed to then be deemed non-canonical (in this he is largely in agreement with Professor Lawrence Schiffman, Who is a Jew). To support this contention he notes that, writing circa 66 C.E. Josephus does not distinguish between canonical and non-canonical (Jewish) books (p.175)

To return to the OP's question, none of these authors cites a direct source but rather makes inferences from historical evidence.

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