Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Bible in a Year: Wisdom of Solomon, Sirach (Ecclesiasticus)

This calendar year, I’m reading through the Bible and taking informal notes on the readings. Since we so often read verses and passages of the Bible without appreciating context, I’m especially focusing on the overall narrative and connections among passages.

This week I’m studying The Wisdom of Solomon and Sirach (Ecclesiasticus), neither of which I’ve read or studied much, if at all. They are Roman Catholic deuterocanonical books, and are also included among the Anagignoskomenon of the Eastern Orthodox Church. They follow Song of Songs and precede Isaiah. They are not found in the Jewish Bible, nor the Protestant Old Testament.

According to scholarly consensus, the Book of Wisdom, or the Wisdom of Solomon, was written in Greek by a Jew of Alexandria, somewhere between 100 BCE and the middle of the first century CE. (New Interpreter’s Study Bible, p. 1419). Using a common writing technique of the time, the author writes under the guise of a well-known person, in this case Solomon. Thus it is a pseudepigraphical work.

The Book of Wisdom has two parts. Chapters 1 through 9 reflect on wisdom from a speculative viewpoint, connecting wisdom to human destiny and the life of the righteous. The author particularly urges monarchs to search for wisdom. The first section can be read as having two parts; chapters 1-5 connects wisdom with immortality and the afterlife, while chapter 6-9 becomes more like the Book of Proverbs and epigrammatically teaches the value of wisdom and the search or wisdom.

In chapters 10-19, the author looks at wisdom through the lens of scriptural history, beginning with Adam and progressing through the times of Moses and the Exodus. The author writes about how Wisdom guided biblical figures from Adam to Moses (10:1-14), and then he writes about Moses and the people in their experience in Egypt and the Wilderness (10:15-19:22).

This site explains more about the book from a Catholic viewpoint: “The primary purpose of the author was the edification of his co-religionists in a time when they had experienced suffering and oppression, in part at least at the hands of apostate fellow Jews. To convey his message he made use of the most popular religious themes of his time, namely the splendor and worth of divine wisdom (6:22–11:1), the glorious events of the exodus (11:2–16; 12:23–27; 15:18–19:22), God’s mercy (11:17–12:22), the folly of idolatry (13:1–15:17), and the manner in which God’s justice operates in rewarding or punishing the individual (1:1–6:21). The first ten chapters in particular provide background for the teaching of Jesus and for some New Testament theology about Jesus. Many passages from this section of the book, notably 3:1–8, are used by the church in the liturgy. …”

Here is another discussion of the book, at this catholic site: http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/15666a.htm

Ecclesiasticus, or Sirach, or the Wisdom of Jesus, the Son of Sirach, all refer to the same book. As I wrote above, Sirach is accepted as part of the Christian Old Testament by Roman Catholics and Eastern Orthodox, but not by Protestants, although a few Protestant churches honor it as worthy of reading if not of doctrine. It is not found in the Jewish Bible, probably because of its late authorship, but the book was influential in Talmudic discussions.

Interestingly, Sirach 28:2 reads, "Forgive your neighbor the wrong he has done, and then your sins will be pardoned when you pray." Did Jesus quote that verse in the Lord's Prayer?

Jesus ben Sira (“son of Sirach”) was a Jewish scribe of Jerusalem who wrote during the approximate period 200-175 BCE. Although originally written in Hebrew, the book was finally not included in Jewish scripture, though some early rabbis treasured its contents (New Interpreter’s Study Bible, 1452).

Similar to Proverbs, though a little longer, it is a widely ranging compilation of wisdom teaching that, consequently, warns about ungodly living. “[Author Ben Sira] joined individual sayings by means of common words or citing themes. This way he developed a topic and explained its implications for his own day. He preferred the longer instructional form that is sometimes found in Proverbs rather than the simple proverbial sense. Like Proverbs, Sirach begins with a hymn to Woman Wisdom.. and ends with an acrostic or alphabetic poem…” (ibid, p. 1452).

Also similar to Proverbs, it is not really arranged thematically, but it does have themes. Wikipedia cites the New Oxford Annotated Apocrypha to point out six poems about the search for wisdom—-1:1-10, 4:11-19; 6:18-37; 14:20-15:10; 24:1-33; and 38:24-39:11—and the major themes include: 

The Creation (16:24-17:24, 18:1-14; 33:7-15; 39:12-35; and 42:15-43:33).

Death (11:26-28; 22:11-12; 38:16-23; and 41:1-13).

Friendship (6:5-17; 9:10-16: 19:13-17; 22:19-26: 27:16-21; and 36:23-37:15).

Happiness (25:1-11; 30:14-25; and 40:1-30).

Honor and shame (4:20-6:4; 10:19-11:6; and 41:14-42:8).

Money matters (3:30-4:10; 11:7-28; 13:1-14:19; 29:1-28; and 31:1-11).

Sin (7:1-17; 15:11-20; 16:1-17:32; 18:30-19:3; 21:1-10; 22:27-23:27; and 26:28-28:7).

Social justice (4:1-10; 34:21-27; and 35:14-26).

Speech (5:6,9-15; 18:15-29; 19:4-17; 20:1-31; 23:7-15; 27:4-7; 27:11-15; and 28:8-26).

Women (9:1-9; 23:22-27; 25:13-26:27; 36:26-31; and 42:9-14).

See more about Sirach here: http://biblescripture.net/Sirach.html and here: http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/05263a.htm

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