One fascinating find was the book of Tobit: four manuscripts of the original Aramaic text of Tobit were found, and one in Hebrew. Recall that one of the most common Protestant arguments against the deuterocanonical books were that none were written in Hebrew (or Aramaic), but only Greek. Well, that argument is sunk by Tobit alone, but of course Protestants couldn’t know that until the 1950s when the scrolls began to be discovered. Judith, Sirach, and 1 Maccabees were also thought to be originally composed in Hebrew.
Also interesting: Sirach was read and copied by the Jews even after 90 AD, and it was recorded by Tosephta in Yadaim that it was a book that “did not soil the hands,” indicating reverence for it.
Esther was not in the Qumran collection, but deuterocanonical books as well as Apocryphal books (like Enoch, Jubilees, etc.) were also found, more evidence that the the “Jewish canon” was not a fixed collection at this time. Baruch 6 and Sirach manuscripts were also found in the Dead Sea Scrolls.
So the early Church did not have a fixed OT canon to use, which is evidenced by the diversity of quotations and references that the Fathers made to protocanonical and deuterocanonical books. It is true that several Fathers wanted to remain closer to the Jewish canon (that was settling out in the 2nd century), but there was no universally accepted definition of the boundaries of the OT canon until centuries later.
We come to the time of Trent, and questions still remain about the deuterocanonicals. Cardinal Cajetan did not want to accept them as Scripture. But the prelates at Trent ended up accepting the wider canon–not because they knew all the historical arguments, as indeed it seems like they were not the most historically knowledgeable group of clergy–but on the theological basis of which books had been most consistently used by the Church over the centuries.
But the Reformers and Cardinal Cajetan, perhaps influenced by Erasmus, also questioned many NT books. Cajetan shared Erasmus’ reservations about Hebrews, James, 2 Peter, 2 and 3 John, and Revelation. That’s right, Cajetan, the Catholic whom Protestants celebrate as proof that the deuterocanonicals should be rejected, wanted to reject books that all Protestants accept in the NT. Hmmm, maybe he’s not such a great witness for Protestantism?
Luther and Carlstadt also doubted some of those same NT books, as I and others have written about before. They placed them in a second position, lower than the rest of the NT, the “canon within the canon” that to most Protestants today sounds so ludicrous. (Though some Lutherans still hold to that belief.)
In the end, mere historical analysis was not enough to unambiguously know the true canon. The many opinions about both the OT and NT canon demonstrates that. Which is more evidence for the Catholic claim that God preserves His truth by guiding His Church–even men who are less historically knowledgeable than others–into all truth on faith and morals. He guided the prelates at Trent to get the canon right, in spite of the historical ambiguity.
The more I learn about the development of the canon, the more I am grateful to God for His providence in guiding the Church. Without that guidance, we would all be like the Christians at the time of the Reformation: endlessly debating the vague and conflicting evidence for or against this or that book. Never being able to come to conscience-binding certainty on it, and thus not knowing what God’s Word is with confidence.