At the heart of Christian belief, across denominations, is the collection of texts commonly known as “the Bible”. This singular name obscures the real variety of texts contained within: texts of different ages (with arguably the earliest texts in the Hebrew Bible dating – in part – from the 8th Century BC); texts of different genres (legal texts, prophetic oracles, narrative texts, Gospels, apocalyptic texts); and texts which – from a Christian point of view – respectively form “new” and “old” testaments. Indeed, most of the individual texts within this collection are the product of successive authors, editors, and translators. The book of Isaiah, for instance, is comprised of at least three separate collections of prophetic oracles, which reflect different stages of ancient Jewish history.
The texts collected into the volume known as the Bible are but a selection of the writings that were produced, read, and had authority in early Jewish and Christian movements. Texts such as 1 Enoch, the book of Jubilees, and the Apocalypse of Peter were clearly influential texts for a range of early readers. Given that reading and texts were a pivotal component in early Christian and Jewish religious experience, some of the keenest debates in these traditions focussed on what texts were authoritative, and which weren’t. Gradually, these texts began to form “canons”, lists of texts which communities agree had a binding authority for the religious life of the movement. For Christians, this canon became the Bible in use today (although between denominations, the debate about exactly which texts are “canonical” hasn’t entirely been settled…) For the Southcottian movement, in particular, the question of which writings form the Southcottian “canon” is a complex one.