For all the debate in the contemporary humanities about the canon, there is little interdisciplinary dialogue on the issue, nor even meaningful input from the perspective of academic biblical studies, the one discipline that specializes in the formation and interpretation of the canon. Seeking to provide such a perspective, this article shows how cultures having a tradition of prestigious or authoritative texts address the problem of literary and legal innovation. Engaging the work of Jonathan Z. Smith on exegetical ingenuity, the study begins with cuneiform law, and then shows how ancient Israel's development of the idea of divine revelation of law creates a cluster of constraints that would be expected to impede legal revision or amendment. As a test-case, the article examines the idea that God punishes sinners transgenerationally, vicariously extending the punishment due them to three or four generations of their progeny. A series of inner-biblical and post-biblical responses to the rule demonstrates, however, that later writers were able to criticize, reject, and replace it with the alternative notion of individual retribution. The conclusions stress the extent to which the formative canon sponsors this kind of critical reflection and intellectual freedom.