These are neither texts nor editorial assemblages, but higher-order entities whose criterion of admission is approval by some cultural or governmental authority. Canons may include texts of any type, including whole repertories, such as the Chinese Shr, within the Confucian Canon, or the Psalms within the Old Testament. Belief and control of belief is one aim of canons, though the beliefs in question need not be religious in character. The history of canons is the history of a culture in its largest literary dimensions. The term "canon" is much abused, as is the related term "classic," but is useful when not abused. Canons tend to change slowly, mostly by addition (canonical texts no longer in current favor are usually disregarded rather than expelled). The parallel with bodies of law, and especially with constitutional law, is helpful: inactive provisions are not removed from the statute books, but legal practitioners know, largely by annotated versions of the statutes, that they no longer have force. Canons are in part attempts to stem textual growth processes, and the closure of canons tends to limit further textual advance in that area to commentaries; see the thoughtful analysis by Henderson.Chinese Examples
Five Classics. A Han form of the Chinese Confucian canon was officially fixed in 051. It comprised, in citation order, the Yi divination text, the Shu ("Documents") and Shr ("Poetry") repertoires, the Li (a mixed body of ritual treatises), and the Spring and Autumn chronicle of Lu. The inventory of the canon, and listing order of its texts, had been subject to change since the early efforts of Sywndz (c0310-c0235) to fix a Confucian curriculum. With the establishment of the Empire in 0221, the formative or ratificational power for canons passed from the school heads of the Warring States period (people likek Sywndz) to the heads of government. Scholars might recommend, but only government could enact. Successive expansions of the Han canon were the Nine Classics of c625, the Twelve Classics of c839, and finally the Thirteen Classics of c1190, the form of the canon which is still dominant at the present time.
Psalms. By tradition, all 150 of the presently canonical Psalms are ascribed to David, but scholarship has shown that the material is much more diverse, and mostly much later; the great mass of the Psalms are post-Exilic. The final Psalms canon was formed gradually, and in part out of previous collections which may have been the performance repertoires of particular liturgical specialists, such as Asaph or "the sons of Korah." Another well-defined group, probably Jerusalemized in the course of being incorporated into the canon, are the late and northern Songs of Ascents (or Pilgrimage). Psalms continued to be written after the canon was closed, an example being the extracanonical Psalms of Solomon.
New Testament. The canon of the Christian Church (which also continued to regard as authoritative the Old Testament or Jewish canon). Its contents were disputed by various "heretical" elements, and also by the orthodox, through several successive Church councils. The Muratorian Canon represents a preliminary effort, later regarded as heretical (it sought to eliminate the Jewish element from Christian tradition). The NT canon as finally fixed has a fringe area of Apocrypha, writings once regarded as canonical (that is, doctrinally authoritative) by some, but in the end not accepted by all. They are recognized as relevant to Christian tradition in a historical sense; among them is the Shepherd of Hermas.
Shakespeare. It is not wholly frivolous to speak of a Shakespeare canon, meaning all the works recognized as written by Shakespeare. The contrast with more official types of canon is instructive. Shakespeare carries cultural weight, in and around the English-speaking world, but the adjudicating authority in this case is not a secular government or a Church administration, but the consensus of relevant scholarly opinion. Thus when a new Shakespeare poem is discovered and validated, it is immediately admitted to the canon. And when that poem is subsequently found to be a forgery, it is no less immediately removed from the canon. Official canons do not often move that nimbly.
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