Thank you – 28

June 30, 2016

Thank you – 28

 

After a little over two months, I have finally finished blogging the long book of Ecclesiasticus or Sirach. Every time I finish a book of the Bible, I send a thank you blog. I usually post five blogs a day covering about a chapter or so of the biblical books. So far I have posted 4,560 blogs about the individual paragraphs of the first five books of the Torah, Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy, as well as the so-called historical books of Joshua, Judges, Ruth, 1 Samuel and 2 Samuel, 1 Kings and 2 Kings, 1 Chronicles and 2 Chronicles, Ezra and Nehemiah, Tobit, Judith, Esther, and 1 Maccabees and 2 Maccabees. I have now finished the so-called wisdom literature, the books of Job, the Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Song of Solomon, the Book of Wisdom of Solomon, and finally Ecclesiasticus or Sirach. This makes the first 28 books of the Bible that are now complete with a commentary for each paragraph. It has taken me over two years to get this done.

 

About 360 people have emailed me that they are following this project in some form or another. 121 people receive an email subscription every day. Around 20-30 people look at this site daily, but it has reached as high as 363 people on January 19, 2015, which was also the best week with 554 people that week. The best month was February, 2015, with 1,364 people. This past month, June, 2016, 542 people have visited this site. On June 28, 2016, 40 people visited this site. There have been over 12,770, hits on this blog since its inception. I just want to thank all of you. Word Press sent me a yearly compilation that showed that about 6,800 people from 84 countries visited this web site in 2015.

 

I realize that 207 of you have left comments, but I have not responded to them. Some of you might want to moderate my comments, which is fine with me. If you want to contact me directly, my email is efinne1540@gmail.com.

 

Since my last thank you note two months ago, 18 people have sent me emails about this blog site. Here is the list of the 18 people with their email addresses on Word Press. Thank you so very much for your kind comments.

*Rae
AntonioWestley
natalieslovelyblog
Frank Solanki
Beejai
empress2inspire
Ramona Crisstea
Ankita
animalkingdompics
jenifabian
beautybeyondbones
Shannon
wudinstoun l
begintobelieve
New pingback
BlookUp
PrayThroughHistory
beautybeyondbones

 

Peace –love-joy

Eugene Finnegan

The so-called Wisdom literature

The Hebrew Bible does not use the category or term of “wisdom literature,” just as it did not use the classification or phrase “historical books.” Thus I prefer to use the name of “so-called wisdom literature” in reference to these seven biblical books. The Jewish Hebrew Bible refers to the historical books as prophetic, Nevi’im, while these wisdom literature books are listed among the writings, the Ketuvim. However, the term “Sapiential Books” or “Wisdom Literature” has been widely used as a reference for some books of the Jewish Bible in the Greek Septuagint version.

These sapiential books are in the broad tradition of popular wisdom literature that was prevalent in the Ancient Near East, especially among scribal circles. A variety of religious writings are sometimes called books of wisdom. We even at times refer to the whole Bible itself as a book of wisdom. This generic wisdom literature tries to teach about heavenly matters, gods, and virtues. While using some story-telling, these books presume to offer insight and wisdom about nature and reality. They try to teach us about life and morality. Today we might call them “self-help” books. They are somewhat like philosophical works with lots of simple generic statements. These kinds of ancient elite writings were directed towards young men who would take up careers in royal courts.

The most famous example of this wisdom literature is actually found in the Bible. In the Christian version of the Old Testament of the Bible, the following specific seven books are classified as biblical wisdom literature. (1) The Book of Job, (2) Psalms, (3) The Book of Proverbs and (4) Ecclesiastes are included in all versions of the Christian Old Testament. However, (5) The Book of Wisdom, (6) Song of Songs and (7) Sirach or Ecclesiasticus are regarded in some Christian traditions as deutero-canonical since they only appear in the Greek Septuagint.

These biblical post-Exilic writers of the wisdom tradition developed the idea that wisdom existed before creation since God used wisdom to create the universe. Borrowing ideas from Greek philosophers who held that reason bound the universe together, the wisdom tradition taught that God’s wisdom, word, and Spirit were the grounds of cosmic unity.  Christianity, in turn, adopted these ideas and applied them to Jesus. In fact, the prologue to the Gospel of John identifies Jesus with the creative word.

Wisdom means both a way of thinking and a body of knowledge, as well as the practical ability to apply it to life. Can this wisdom be attained through human effort or only as a gift from God?  This kind of wisdom literature was not confined to the Israelite biblical writers or to Israel. In fact, this wisdom literature had an influence on the works of the Gnostics in 1st and 2nd centuries (CE) during the early Christian era. Some of these Gnostic groups believed that knowledge alone would save people.

Wisdom, or the wise person, is often compared and contrasted with foolishness or the fool, someone one who is lacking in wisdom and uninterested in instruction, not one who is merely silly or playful. In the biblical sapiential wisdom literature, wisdom was synonymous with the fear of God. They praise wisdom, but remind the reader that wisdom has its limitations and is not man’s main concern. The journey to knowledge is incomplete, although the journey itself is important.

There is some confusion about the names of these books. The Book of Wisdom of Solomon should not be confused with the Wisdom of Sirach or Ecclesiasticus.  The Proverbs of Solomon is not the same as the Book of Wisdom of Solomon. Ecclesiasticus is not to be confused with Ecclesiastes.  Ecclesiasticus is commonly called the Wisdom of Sirach or simply Sirach.  Ecclesiastes was written by a Hebrew Qoheleth, meaning teacher or preacher. Both these books, Ecclesiasticus and Ecclesiastes, literally mean a Church book. One is accepted as canonical by all, Ecclesiastes, while the other Ecclesiasticus is not accepted because of its later Greek Septuagint status.

1) The Hebrew Book of Job belongs to this so-called wisdom literature. Several texts from ancient Mesopotamia and Egypt also offered parallels to the story of this non-Jewish person called Job and his search for the meaning of suffering.

2) Psalms falls into the so-called poetic or wisdom literature.   The English title Psalms is derived from a literal translation of the Greek psyalmoi, meaning instrumental music, as these words were accompanied with music. About half of the psalms have been attributed to King David.

3) The Book of Proverbs is based on the Hebrew word mashal that was translated into the Septuagint Greek as παροιμίες and finally into the Latin Vulgate and English as proverbs. These proverbs were part of the wisdom literature that was widespread throughout Egypt and Mesopotamia. However, the biblical proverbs leave the impression of being family instructions. For the most part, Proverbs, often attributed to King Solomon, offers a simplistic view of life with few grey areas. Much of this wisdom appeals to human reason and observation.

4) Ecclesiastes is one of the Ketuvim or Writings of the Hebrew Bible. Among the Christian Old Testament books it appears with the wisdom literature books. The titleEcclesiastes is a Latin translation of the Greek έκκλασία, based on the Hebrew Qoheleth, meaning teacher or preacher, something like one who convenes or addresses an assembly. Qoheleth may also have been influenced by the Greek schools of Stoicism and Epicureanism. He proclaims that all the actions of humans are vain.

5) The Song of Songs love story has parallels with the pastorals of Theocritus, a Greek poet who wrote in the first half of the 3rd century BCE. However, it also shows the influence of earlier Mesopotamian and Egyptian love-poetry from the first half of the 1st millennium.

6) The Book of Wisdom is like Proverbs in poetic style. This Book of Wisdom of Solomonis not one of the books of the Hebrew Bible, but is included in the Roman Catholic and Orthodox Bible because of its place in the Greek Septuagint. This book was an encouragement to help refute any compromise with idolatry with a strong condemnation of false idols. The later part of this book portrays and reflects on the Israelites and their arguments and disputes with the Egyptians. The power of God is shown throughout this work.

7) Ecclesiasticus is not to be confused with Ecclesiastes since it is commonly called the Wisdom of Sirachor simply  It too was not in the Hebrew Bible just like the Book of Wisdom, but in the Roman Catholic and Orthodox Bible because of its place in the Greek Septuagint. This is an extremely long book that ends with a history of the famous Israelite leaders.

My Understanding of Ecclesiasticus

What a long book! This is a lot like the Book of Proverbs. This Ecclesiasticus is not to be confused with Ecclesiastes.  This book called Ecclesiasticus is commonly called the Wisdom of Sirach or simply Sirach. I have used the term Ecclesiasticus–Sirach. This Book of Ecclesiasticus literally means a Church book. Ben Sira, that literally means son of Sira, wrote these ethical teachings around 200 to 175 BCE.  His full name is Jesus son of Sirach or Yeshua Ben Eliezer Ben Sira.

According to the Greek text, this Jesus, the son of Sira was a Jewish scribe who had been living in Jerusalem. He then authored this work in Alexandria, Egypt, around 180–175 BCE, where he may have established a school that is mentioned in the appendix. Ben Sirach is unique among all the Old Testament writers in that he signed his work, since it is not anonymous. This book is also the largest wisdom book to have been preserved from antiquity.

Although written in Hebrew, it was translated into Greek by the author’s grandson, who added a prologue around 132 BCE. This prologue is generally considered the earliest witness to a canon of the Hebrew Bible, especially the books of the prophets. This Greek translator states in his preface that he was the grandson of the author. He came to Egypt in the thirty-eighth year of the reign of Euergetes, around132 BCE. Thus the date of this biblical text is relatively clear.

In the 1950s, three Hebrew copies of portions of this book of Sirach were found among the Dead Sea Scrolls dating from 73 CE. The earliest of these scrolls has been dated to the second part of the 1st century BCE, about 150 years after the Book of Sirach was first composed.

Sirach was accepted as part of the Christian Bible by Roman Catholics and Eastern Orthodox Christians. It was cited in some early Christian writings, especially the canonical Epistle of James (70-110 CE), and also the non-canonical work, the Epistle of Barnabus (70-131 CE), as well as among the writings of Clement of Alexandria (150-215 CE) and Origen (184-254 CE). Originally it was not part of the Jewish canon. It may have been denied entry to the canon as a rabbinical counter-reaction to its embrace by the nascent Christian community.

However, some Jews in the Diaspora considered Sirach to be Holy Scripture since it was included in the canon of the Septuagint, the 2nd century BCE Greek version of the Jewish scriptures used by the Diaspora Jews. Since the Reformation, when the King James version of the Bible relied on the Hebrew canon, it has not been considered canonical by many Protestant denominations.

The teachings in this book are applicable to all conditions of life, parents and children, husbands and wives, rich and poor, young and old, and friends. Many of these teachings are rules about courtesy and politeness. Still a greater number contain advice and instruction about the duties of man toward himself and others. This includes how to act towards the poor, society, the state, and most of all toward God.

Wisdom was synonymous with the fear of God, and sometimes with adherence to the Mosaic Law itself. The maxims are expressed in exact formulas, illustrated with striking descriptive images. They show a profound knowledge of the human heart, the disillusionment of experience, and a little sympathy with the poor and the oppressed.

However, Sirach does not have compassion for either women or slaves. He was strongly anti-feminine. He spoke of the distrust and possessive nature of women. He preferred harsh treatment for slaves. It was not clear if he was just mirroring the ideas of his time.

Like Ecclesiastes, the author of Ecclesiasticus had a great faith in the morality of the good old days. Yet at times, he seemed to prefer his contemporary philosophical ideas about Epicureanism. Sirach often attacked theories that he considered dangerous.

Of particular interest to biblical scholars are chapters 44–50, in which Sirach praised famous men in generations past, starting from the pre-flood Enoch and continuing through to Simeon, the just high priest, who may have been his contemporary. Sirach identified, either directly or indirectly, most of the books of the Hebrew Bible that would eventually become canonical. This may be due to his familiarity with the Greek Septuagint. Thus we have some insight into the historical development and evolution of the Jewish biblical canon from this book.

This work definitely had an influence on the New Testament writers, especially the Gospel of Matthew. Some Christians have regarded the catalogue of the famous men in Sirach as containing Messianic references. Among the influences on this work are Aesop’s Fables and some Egyptian works. In popular culture the opening lines of the 1982 Chariots of Fire movie is a verse from Sirach about famous men of the past.

There is no real recognizable structure in Sirach. Sometimes it is illogical. There is a continual search for wisdom with the importance of the fear of God. However there are certain themes running through this book that reappear often. They are creation, death, friendship, happiness, honor, shame, money, sin, social justice, good speech, and the role of women.

This book opens with a prologue from the translator of this work from Hebrew to Greek, who claims that it was his grandfather who originally wrote this. He then talked about various translation problems, like many contemporary authors. Finally, he mentioned his travels in Egypt.

The actual book begins with a long series of sentences or sayings, much like the Book of Proverbs. There was the continual union of the mystery of wisdom with the fear of the Lord. There was no wisdom without this fear of the Lord. There could be an unjust anger, but wisdom and the commandments go together. He also has a series of reprimands.

You were to trust and hope in the Lord. Remember your past history and curses. The hands of the Lord should remind you about the fear of the Lord. You had a duty to your parents. You had to humbly take care of your father, but with pride. You had to provide almsgiving. Sirach gave some instructions about the poor, since you were to be kind to all people. Wisdom will teach those who love her because she was demanding. Human conduct starts at home.

Wealth should not lead to false presumption. You had to be firm by watching your tongue. Watch out for the double-tongued sinner and evil passions. You should have faithful friends who accept the discipline of wisdom. You should be an apprenticeship of wisdom. You should have wise sayings in your public conduct. Watch out for sinners and liars. Do your humble work.

Watch out for money and wives. Be careful with slaves, servants, and children. Protect your family life. Be respectful to priests and the downtrodden. Show prudence and respect for others. Listen to the wise old sages since they will tell you how to get along with people. Be careful about quarrels, travels, and secrets.

There were some instructions for men concerning women and new friends. You should watch out for envy, killers, and reckless speech. You should prefer wise companions and good government. Beware of pride because the Lord takes actions against pride. Do not boast. Keep your honor and humility because humble people have wisdom. Do not judge on appearances, but look at some rulers. Finally, be reflective and relax.

The weak have confidence in the Lord. So too, you should trust in the Lord as you wait for judgment day. Be careful with strangers. Help good people. On the other hand, watch out for friendly enemies and sinning companions. Be careful about the actions of your enemy. See the bad behavior of the rich. Do not conduct yourselves like them. Be careful with your secrets. Stay with your own kind of people. The difference between the rich and the humble is not great. Watch your heart.

True happiness comes with wisdom. The miser is not generous since he does not give to others. A happy wise person realizes that death is coming. The key to happiness is fear of the Lord and wisdom. Let us sing a hymn of praise. The Lord does not make sinners, since there is human freedom along with the wisdom of the Lord.

Life can be difficult with multiple bad kids. There is a difference between a good and a bad city. Historically, God has punished sinners. Remember the Egyptian experience. Remember that God is the creator so that you cannot hide from the Lord. You should gain knowledge about the Lord’s creation.

At the top of creation are humans with responsibility. The divine judge gives you an invitation to repent. When you compare the greatness of God with the nothingness of humans, you will see the difference. Be warned about gifts, health, and sin. Be careful with vows to the Lord. The wise ones practice self control.

Do not be a reckless drunkard. Do not be wicked. Do get involved with foolish chatter. Verify what you hear. The fear of the Lord will help you determine the difference between true and false wisdom. The clever ones know how to use silence. There are foolish givers with inappropriate speech, who are shameless. These liars are not the wise ones.

Hurtful sins are sins of pride. Sinners are not wise, but foolish. They lack education since they are ill-mannered fools. You can tell the difference between the words of fools and the wise ones. The idle ones have degenerate children. It is folly to teach a fool. Mourning for the foolish is a waste of time. Stay away from stupid people. Have firm friendships and trusting friendly neighbors.

Pray for life. Watch for evil desires that come to your mouth. Be careful about swearing oaths and your speech. Some people are sinners until they die. Notice the difference between a male adulterer and a female adulterer.

We have a hymn to wisdom because she was at creation. Wisdom has grown with beauty and an aroma. There is an invitation to wisdom by following the covenant and the law. Overflowing wisdom is expanding instructions. Old people have value. We should bless people.

A woman’s wound comes from evil wives. Do not depend on your wife. Wives should make their husbands happy. Sin and death come from a woman. Therefore separate yourself from an evil wife. A good wife is not an evil drunk wife. The ideal wife is humble. Take care of headstrong daughters and children.  The difference between a good and a bad wife is sadness.

The evil merchants have only a profit motive. Human speech is tested to see if it is just. Do not get involved with conversations among fools. Do not betray secrets. Watch out for hypocrites and paradoxes. The Lord will bring vengeance with his anger and wrath.

Seek forgiveness when you did not follow the divine commands. Stay away from quarrels, slander, and false tongues. There are problems with lending money. Almsgiving is better. There are problems of surety or guaranteeing money. You need the necessities of life, but become aware of strangers. Discipline yours sons because the son will replace their father. Thus you will avoid a spoiled son.

Stay healthy, but stay away from idol food offerings. There is great joy in life. If you are wealthy, watch out for the negative power of gold. There are some blessed rich persons. You should have good banquet manners. You need discipline in eating and sleeping. Watch how you use food and wine. If you are the master of a banquet receive your reward. Let the older people at the banquet speak, but the young people at the banquet should speak only a little bit. You should know when to leave a banquet. Never be the last one.

The sensible person has a fear of the Lord and follows the law. You must be prepared to understand God’s creative uniqueness as well as the opposites in life. Sirach was uniquely qualified to write this work. You should have financial independence. Treat bad slaves harshly, but if you only have one slave, treat him like a brother.

People have senseless dreams. It is important to travel. The fear of the Lord is better than unacceptable sacrifices. There are many paradoxes in life. If you follow the law, you will make generous sacrifices. Divine justice will be your repayment from the Lord.

There is a prayer for deliverance from foreign countries and the restoration of Israel. You should have discernment when choosing a wife. Watch out for false friend, and shady counselors and consultants. Good counselors are hard to come by. The truly wise person does not have a useless tongue and is moderate in food.

You should respect physicians and pharmacists because they do the work of God in healing sickness and illness. You should mourn for the dead, but not excessively. You cannot do manual work and seek wisdom at the same time. You should respect the various artisans and skilled workers for their contributions to society.

The wisdom of the scribes invites praise to God with a hymn of praise. The blessings of the Lord should be on everyone. God controls the environment. There is a misery to the human condition. Many have restless sleep because of the problems caused by sinful humans. Despite everything, wisdom is the best. There is nothing better. Death is the destiny of the impious and their children. A good name is great. Certain things you should be ashamed of, while other things you should not be ashamed of. A father should be worried about his daughter. Young women should stay away from married women.

The glory of God can be found in nature and in historical famous men. The works of the Lord show his knowledge. The glory of God can be found in his creation, like the sun, the moon, the stars, and rainbows. The glory of God can be found in the environment, in the wonders of weather, the northern cold wind the snow, the heat, and the wild seas. We should praise the Divine presence in the world around us.

Then Sirach went into a history of the famous holy men who have served the Lord. The Israelites were descendants of these wonderful holy men. Surprising, Enoch led them off. Then there were the classic favorites, Noah, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and Moses. After that came a long excursion on Aaron, and his sons, the priests, their holy vestments, their ornamentation, and their sacrifices. There was mention of the revolt against Aaron, and the brave deed of Phinehas.

Next it was on to the men in the Promised Land, Joshua, Caleb, and Judges. There were the prophets Samuel and Nathan, along with the legend and glory of King David and his son, King Solomon. Next, there was split in Israel with King Rehoboam and King Jeroboam.  Then we see the prophets Elijah and Elisha. There were a couple of good kings, King Hezekiah and King Josiah. Next came the three great prophets, Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel with the twelve Minor Prophets. Job, although not a prophet, is also mentioned. Next acknowledged were the rebuilding people, Zerubbabel, Jeshua, and Nehemiah. This list concluded with Enoch again, and then an insertion about Joseph, Shem, Seth, and Adam.

Then there was a chapter on the high priest Simon as the builder of walls, as the glorious high priest at the altar, reactions to him, finally his blessing and prayer. Finally, there is a conclusion with an appendix thanking God for their deliverance.

The final blessing (Sir 51:37-51:38)

“May your soul rejoice

In God’s mercy!

May you never be ashamed

To praise him!

Do your work in good time!

In God’s own time,

He will give you your reward.

The wisdom of Jesus,

Son of Sira.

May the name of the Lord

Be blessed now and forever!”

We now have the final blessing from Sirach. In fact, he kind of signs off on this when he says that this is the wisdom of Jesus, son of Sira, Ben Sira, or Sirach. He wanted our souls to rejoice in God’s mercy. We should never be ashamed to praise God. However, we were to continue our work. God would then reward us in his time schedule. Therefore the name of the Lord should be blessed forever.

The teacher of wisdom (Sir 51:31-51:36)

“Draw near to me!

You!

Who are uneducated!

Lodge in the home of instruction!

Why do you say

That you are lacking in these things?

Why do you endure such great thirst?

I opened my mouth.

I said.

Acquire wisdom for yourselves

Without money.

Put your neck under her yoke.

Let your souls receive instruction.

It is to be found close by.

See with your own eyes.

I have labored but little.

I found for myself much serenity.

Hear but a little of my instruction!

You will acquire silver.

You will gain much gold.”

Now this author or Sirach assumes a teaching mode. He wants the uneducated to come to his house of instruction. If you admit that you are lacking something, then maybe you can learn a thing or two. You have to thirst for knowledge in order to drink from the fountain of knowledge. He wanted them to acquire knowledge without any charges. However, they would have to put their neck under the yoke of wisdom in order to receive this instruction. You can see how much serenity Sirach has achieved. If you listen to a little of his instruction, you will make a lot of money by acquiring silver and gold.

Put wisdom into practice (Sir 51:26-51:30)

“I resolved to live

According to wisdom.

I was zealous for the good.

I shall never be disappointed.

My soul grappled with wisdom.

In my conduct

I was strict.

I spread out my hands

To the heavens.

I lamented my ignorance of her.

I directed my soul to her.

In purity

I found her.

With her,

I gained understanding

From the first.

Therefore I will never be forsaken.

My heart was stirred to seek her.

Therefore I have gained a prize possession.

The Lord gave me my tongue

As a reward.

I will praise him with it.”

Sirach or this author wanted to live according to wisdom, to put wisdom into practice. He was zealous for the good things, so that he was never disappointed. He was strict in his conduct, as his soul wrestled with wisdom. He admitted in prayer that he was ignorant of wisdom, but he tried to purify his soul to find out more. Finally, he gained the understanding that he would never be abandoned by God. His heart was stirred to seek her even more. The result was a prize possession, the Lord gave him a speaking tongue so that he could praise the Lord even much more.

A poem in search of wisdom (Sir 51:21-51:25)

“While I was still young,

Before I went on my travels,

I sought wisdom openly

In my prayer.

Before the temple

I asked for her.

I will search for her

Until the end.

From the first blossom

To the ripening grape,

My heart delighted in her.

My foot walked

On the straight path.

From my youth,

I followed her steps.

I inclined my ear a little.

I received her.

I found for myself much instruction.

I made progress in her.

To him who gives wisdom

I will give glory.”

This appendix about wisdom is a Hebrew alphabetic or acrostic poem, like the ending of Proverbs, chapter 31. It follows the hymn to God’s mercy, but had the same numbers so I changed them. This author or Sirach was searching for wisdom since his youth, even before he started traveling. He prayed for wisdom in the Temple. He would continue to search her out until the end of his life. Just as you watch a blossom grow into a grape, he too grew in wisdom and enjoyed every minute of it. He always walked on the straight paths, following in her footsteps. He listened to all the instructions about wisdom as he progressed. Thus he can now give glory to the one who gave him wisdom.