Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Dictionary of the Old Testament: Wisdom, Poetry, & Writings: A Brief Review II

I just finished reading the entry, "Book of Sirach" (720-728) by Michael Phua, in the Dictionary of the Old Testament: Wisdom, Poetry, & Writings, and once again, I am duly impressed with the content of this entry. Rather than interact with the various sections of Phua's entry, I would rather discuss some of the highlights for me as the reader.

T-S 12.864 (= ms A), containing Ben Sira 5:10–7:29 and 11:34–14:11

First, I was mildly surprised that in Phua's words that the textual history of Sirach is "notoriously complex" (720). I did know that a Hebrew version existed alongside a Greek version (LXX), but I was not aware that there are at least two forms of Sirach in the Greek version (G I and G II), no fewer than nine Hebrew manuscripts, along with two Hebrew versions (H I and H II). This does not include several manuscripts in Syriac version along with an Old Latin translation. Second, I really liked Phua's description of Ben Sira as a "transitional sage" (721). Phua writes:

 He is, on the one hand, a traditional wisdom teacher, and on the other hand, an interpreter of the Scriptures. As a transitional figure, he was doing more than what the traditional wisdom teachers were doing. He interpreted Scriptures, making it part of the subject of his inquiry (721).

Third, I was happy to see Phua's treatment of the section of Sirach that is traditionally deemed the Praise of the Fathers (Sir 44-49), as rewritten Bible. Phua notes that certain characteristics of the figures in this section are not found in the OT (e.g. Abraham's observance of the law [Sir 44:20], Aaron receiving more attention than Moses [45:6-22; cf. 45:1-5]; 724). Fourth, Phua explains that Ben Sira is the first in Jewish tradition to explicitly correlate the wisdom and Torah (e.g. Sir 24:23). Fifth, and perhaps most strikingly, as Phua points out, is the figure of Solomon, considered the wise king par excellence, is considered anything but wise according to Ben Sira (e.g. Sir 47:13, 14, 19; 726).

Lastly, Phua has a helpful section labeled "Sirach and the New Testament" (726-727). Here he points to similar saying of Jesus in the Gospels with some of Ben Sira's, along with some notable differences as well as the Epistle of James. Phua includes 36 authors in his bibliography along with 38 separate works.

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