The gospels belong to the ancient genre of biography. These ancient biographies were concerned with providing examples for readers to emulate, while preserving and promoting the subject’s reputation and memory. Thus, they were about kerygma or preaching. They were not biographies in the modern sense. The biographies of Jesus are more like apocalyptic history, depicting Jesus as caught up in events near the end of time. Despite this, scholars are confident that the gospels do provide a good idea of the public career of Jesus. There is no guarantee that the gospels are precisely historical in our modern sense of history. These are faith documents, not eyewitness accounts. Modern scholars are cautious of relying on the gospels uncritically, but nevertheless they do provide a good idea of the public life of Jesus.
“The dead do not live.
Shades do not rise.
You have punished them.
You have destroyed them.
You have wiped out
All memory of them.
But you have increased the nation!
You have increased the nation!
You are glorified!
You have enlarged
All the borders of the land.”
The dead do not live and will not rise again where there is no shade. Yahweh has punished and destroyed them. He has wiped them out so that all memory of them has been lost. On the other hand, the glorified Yahweh has increased his beloved land, the nation of Israel, and enlarged its borders. It is difficult to place this prayer at a specific time.
“All these were honored
In their generations.
They were the pride
Of their times.
Some of them
Have left behind a name.
Thus others declare their praise.
But there is no memory
They have perished
As though they had never existed.
They have become
As though they
And their children
Had never been born.”
Sirach notes that each one of these holy famous men was honored when they were alive. Their contemporaries took great pride in them. Some of these men have left behind a name or reputation, so that others can share in that pride. However, some of the others have left no memory. We do not know even who they were. They have died as if they never existed without any trace of them. Both they and their children are like they were never born. There was a great emphasis on a good name and being remembered, also a Latin and Greek ideal. Thus we do not have any memory about some good people.
“Therefore the Lord brings upon them
Unheard of calamities.
He destroys them completely.
The Lord overthrows
The thrones of rulers.
The lowly in their place.
The Lord plucks up
The roots of the nations.
He plants the humble
In their place.
The Lord lays waste
The lands of the nations.
He destroys them
To the foundations of the earth.
He removes some of them.
He destroys them.
He erases the memory of them
From the earth.
Pride was not created
For human beings.
Violent anger was not
For those born of women.”
There will be consequences for pride because the Lord will act. The prideful ones will have many afflictions and unheard of calamities. The Lord will destroy them completely. He will overthrow the proud rulers and put humble ones in their place. He will root out nations and have humble ones replace them. He will lay waste to the lands of the proud, destroying them to their foundations. He will remove some and destroy others. Their memory will be erased from this earth. Humans were not created for pride or violent anger.
“The righteous that have died
Will condemn the ungodly that are living.
Youth that is quickly perfected
Will condemn the prolonged old age of the unrighteous.
They will see the end of the wise.
They will not understand
What the Lord purposed for them.
He kept them safe.
The unrighteous will see.
They will have contempt for them.
But the Lord will laugh them to scorn.
They will become dishonored corpses.
They are an outrage among the dead forever.
He will dash them speechless to the ground.
He will shake them from the foundations.
They will be left utterly dry.
They will be left barren.
They will suffer anguish.
Their memory will perish.”
The righteous (δίκαιος), when they die, condemn the living ungodly ones (ἀσεβεῖς). The perfected youth of the righteous is better than the old age of the unrighteous. The righteous understood the Lord’s purpose. The unrighteous have contempt for the righteous, but the Lord will laugh (ὁ Κύριος ἐκγελάσεται) at the unrighteous in scorn, after they have become dishonored corpses. The Lord will strike them speechless on the ground. They will be left dry, barren, and in anguish as their memory will be wiped out.
“Childlessness is better
In the memory of virtue
Because it is known
It is known
When it is present,
People imitate it.
They long for it
When it has gone.
Throughout all time
Crowned in triumph.
It is the victor in the contest for prizes
That are undefiled.”
Once again, we return to the concept of childless people who are virtuous. The memory of their virtues (ἀρετῆς) will live on in immortality (ἀθανασία) before God (παρὰ Θεῷ) and among humans (παρὰ ἀνθρώποις). People will imitate virtue because they long for it. In fact, when it is gone, it still marches with a crown, just like in the Greek Olympic Games. They would wear this crown of virtue, since they were undefiled.
“The same fate comes to all,
To the righteous,
To the wicked,
To the good,
To the evil,
To the clean
To the unclean,
To those who sacrifice
To those who do not sacrifice.
As are the good,
So are the sinners.
Those who swear are
Like those who shun an oath.
This is an evil
In all that happens
Under the sun.
The same fate comes to everyone.
Moreover the hearts of all are full of evil.
Madness is in their hearts while they live.
They go to the dead.
Whoever is joined with all the living has hope.
A living dog is better than a dead lion.
The living know that they will die.
However the dead know nothing.
They have no more reward.
Even the memory of them is lost.
Their love has already perished.
Their hate has already perished.
Their envy has already perished.
Never again will they have any share
In all that happens
Under the sun.”
Qoheleth remarks that we all share the same fate. Whether we are righteous or wicked, good or evil, clean or unclean, sacrificing or not sacrificing, the same fate of death awaits us. It makes no difference whether you were good or a sinner, an oath taker or not, the end is the same. Our hearts are full of evil and madness. Then death takes its toll. As long as you are living there is hope. As Qoheleth points out, it is better to be a living dog than a dead lion. The living humans know that they are going to die, but the dead know nothing. There is no more reward for the dead. Their memory is lost. All their love, hate, or envy fail to exist anymore. The dead will never again share in what happens under the sun here on earth.
“Blessings are on the head of the righteous.
But the mouth of the wicked conceals violence.
The memory of the righteous is a blessing.
But the name of the wicked will not be a blessing.
The wise of heart will heed commandments.
But a babbling fool will come to ruin.
Whoever walks in integrity walks securely.
But whoever follows perverse ways will be found out.
Whoever winks the eye causes trouble.
But the one who rebukes boldly makes peace.
The mouth of the righteous is a fountain of life.
But the mouth of the wicked conceals violence.”
This constant contrast of the righteous and the wicked continues. The righteous ones will be blessed, because the wicked ones conceal violence. The righteous memory is a blessing, but the name of the wicked ones will not get a blessing. The wise ones follow the commandments, but the babbling fools come to ruin. If you walk with integrity, you will be secure. However, if you follow perverse ways, you will be found out. If you wink your eye and let evil happen, you cause more problems. If you rebuke evil things, then you will bring about peace. The righteous mouth is a fountain of life, while the mouth of the wicked conceals its violent ways.
“May his days be few!
May another seize his position!
May his children be orphans!
May his wife be a widow!
May his children wander about!
May his children beg!
May they be driven out of the ruins they inhabit!
May the creditor seize all that he has!
May strangers plunder the fruits of his toil!
May there be no one to do him a kindness!
May there be no one to pity his orphaned children!
May his posterity be cut off!
May his name be blotted out in the second generation!
May the iniquity of his father be remembered before Yahweh!
May the sin of his mother not be blotted out!
May they be before Yahweh continually!
May his memory be cut off from the earth!”
The enemies of David issued a whole series of curses against him. They wanted his days to be few with an early death, so that his children would be orphans and his wife a widow. They wanted someone to take over his position or the crown. They wanted his children to wander about begging. They wanted them driven out of their ruined home. Creditors should seize all his things. Strangers should plunder his fields. No one should show him kindness. No one should worry about his orphaned children. His name should be wiped out in the 2nd generation. People should remember the iniquity and sin of his father and mother. There was to be no memory of him on earth. All of this should be brought to Yahweh so that he might punish David. Obviously, these curses did not come true for David.
“The eyes of Yahweh are toward the righteous.
His ears are open to their cry.
The face of Yahweh is against evildoers.
He would cut off the remembrance of them from the earth.
When the righteous cry for help,
He rescues them from all their troubles.
Yahweh is near to the brokenhearted.
He saves the crushed in spirit.”
Once again, Yahweh has eyes, ears, and a face to hear and see. There was this continual cry to have Yahweh listen to them. Much like “the eyes of Texas are on you” so too the eyes of Yahweh on the righteous ones. The ears of Yahweh are open to hear the righteous cry. The face of Yahweh was against the evildoers, whose memory would be wiped away. When the righteous cry, Yahweh hears them with his ears. He rescues them from all their troubles. He is near to the broken hearted. He saves those with a crushed spirit.