Religious studies Assignment on Biblical studies Essay


Select a (1) theme from the options below and discuss how this is presented in the wisdom literature in the bible. Your research should examine both the primary biblical material and secondary literature from a range of perspectives, showing how the ideas and language around this theme develop.

The themes available for discussion are money, work, honesty, fear of YHWH, and marriage.

Be mindful of the Marking Criteria (below) that will guide the grading of your assessment.

Please include an Abstract

Depending the outcome of this essay, I have 2 more to send your way if this is PH d level work.

Criteria Description
1. Ideas (40%) Logical, coherent and relevant content addressing the set question.
2. Research (20%) Engagement with current scholarship covering a variety of sources and perspectives
3. Organisation (20%) Structure and sequence of ideas, including introduction, conclusion and abstract.
4. Language (10%) Spelling, punctuation, grammar, clarity of expression
5. Referencing (10%) Citation details, number and quality of sources cited

Use 8 resources below that will best support the THEME you choose for this essay.

Also, reference biblical material to support one theme: money, work, honesty, fear of YHWH, or marriage.

*Note: I have added one complete resource to use in this essay***

***David A. de Silva, “The Wisdom of Been Sira: Honor, Shame, and the Maintenance of the Values of a Minority Culture,” CBQ 58/3 (1996) 433-455

Bergant, D. Israel’s Wisdom Literature: A Liberation-Critical Reading. Philadelphia: Fortress, 2000.

Clifford, Richard J. Wisdom Literature in Mesopotamia and Israel, Atlanta: Society of Biblical Literature, 2007.

Clines, David J.A., Job 21-37: Word Biblical Commentary, Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 2006 (Job 38-42, 2011)

Estes, Daniel J. Handbook on the Wisdom Books and Psalms. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2005.

Fox, M.V. “The Epistemology of the Book of Proverbs” Journal of Biblical Literature 126:4 (2007):669-684.

Hunter, A. Wisdom Literature. London: SCM Press, 2006.

Keck, Leander E., (ed.), New Interpreters Bible Commentary, Vol III: Introduction to Hebrew Poetry; Job; Psalms; Introduction to Wisdom Literature; Proverbs; Ecclesiastes; Song of Songs, Abingdon Press, Nashville, 2015.

Lenzi, A. “Proverbs 8:22-31: Three Perspectives On Its Composition” Journal of Biblical Literature 125(4) (2006):687-714.

Longman III, T. How to Read Proverbs. Downers Grove: IVP, 2002. Longman III, T. and Peter Enns (eds) Dictionary of the OT: Wisdom, Poetry &

Writings, IVP Academic, Downers Grove, Ill, 2008.
Lucas, Ernest, C. Exploring the Old Testament: A Guide to the Psalms & Wisdom

Literature – Volume 3. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2003.
Murphy, R.E. The Tree of Life: An Exploration of Biblical Wisdom Literature. 3rd.

Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2002.

Perdue, L.L. Wisdom and Creation: The Theology of Wisdom Literature. Eugene, OR: Wipf & Stock Publishers, 2009.

__________ Wisdom Literature: A Theological History, Louisville: Westminster/John Knox Press, 2007.

Waltke, B. The Book of Proverbs: Chapters 1-15, NICOT, Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2004.

Webb, Barry G., Five Festal Garments, New Studies in Biblical Theology, IVP, Downers Grove, Ill, 2000.

The Wisdom of Ben Sira:
Honor, Shame, and the Maintenance

of the Values of a Minority Culture


Ashland Theological Seminary Ashland, OH 44805

Cultural anthropologists have long been engaged in a discussion of honor and shame as values central to the Mediterranean world.1 These dis-

cushions have recently attracted the interest of a number of biblical scholars, who have become aware of the importance of these values also for the Semi- tic world of the Hebrew Scriptures and the Greco-Roman world of the NT. Julian Pitt-Rivers’s seminal essay on honor and social status provide a foundation for the beginnings of modern cultural-anthropological reflection on honor and shame in the Mediterranean; the following excerpts from his essay provide a fairly coherent summary of the basic definitions of honor and of the way in which sensitivity to honor affects actions:

Honour is the value of a person in his own eyes, but also in the eyes of his society. It is his estimation of his own worth, his claim to pride, but it is also acknowledgment of that claim, his excellence recognized by society. … In a complex society where consensus is not uniform, the individual’s worth is not the same in the view of one group as in that of another. . . . Public opinion forms … a

1 This discussion is well documented in several collections of essays. The most prominent are Honour and Shame: The Values of Mediterranean Society (The Nature of Human Society Series; ed. J. G. Peristany; Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1966); Honor and Shame and the Unity of the Mediterranean (Special Publications of the American Anthropological Association 22; ed. D. D. Gilmore; Washington: American Anthropological Association, 1987); Honour and Grace in Anthropology (ed. J. G. Peristany and J. Pitt-Rivers; Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1992).


This content downloaded from on Tue, 16 Jun 2020 08:45:56 UTC All use is subject to


tribunal before which the claimants to honour are brought, “the court of repu- tation” as it has been called, and against its judgments there is no redress.2

It is essential to note that honor is not assumed to mean the same thing in

every culture. Pitt-Rivers himself argues that evaluations of the honorable or

dishonorable vary between cultures, between different groups within a cul-

ture, and between different epochs.3 Bruce Malina and Jerome Neyrey are

also careful to make the important caveat that “what is honorable is what

people consider valuable and worthy,” and that specific instances of behavior

that is valuable and worthy “are often quite local, variable, and ad hoc,” with

the result that “what might be deviant and shameful for one group in one

locality may be worthy and honorable for another.”4 Discussions of honor

and shame become especially interesting at the intersection of cultures, in-

deed, in the conflict of cultures. It is just such a conflict of cultures which

scholars have identified as an important part of the setting of the Wisdom of Ben Sira.

Rhetorical handbooks provide strong evidence that considerations of honor were important motivators in the ancient Mediterranean world, and, because they reflect the cultures of that ancient world, they supplement cultural- anthropological observations based on modern Mediterranean societies. For example, the author of the Rhetorica ad Herennium states that all delibera- tive rhetoric aims at proving that a certain course will result in the preserva- tion or achievement of honor or of safety ( Rhet . Her. 3.2.3-3.3.8), and that even when safety is the main motive it cannot be admitted that this course is dishonorable. Similarly, Aristotle (Rh. 1.9.35-36) relates what is praised as honorable, or censured as dishonorable, to the advice given in a deliberative speech; what one advises is essentially the same as what results in honor. Quintilian (Inst. 3.8.1), writing near the end of the first century c.e., asserts that “the honorable” is the chief aim even of deliberative oratory. Even the masses exhibit a certain sensitivity to honor, if not out of devotion to the highest virtues, at least out of a desire to receive praise and to rise in public opinion (Inst. 3.8.39). Thus, attention to what is promoted as honorable or warned against as dishonorable leads one into an examination of the rhetorical

2 Julian Pitt-Rivers, “Honour and Social Status,” Honour and Shame: The Values of Mediterranean Society, 21-77; the excerpts given here are all found on pp. 21-27.

3 Ibid., 38. There is a small subsection clarifying this point in the revised edition of B. Malina, The New Testament World: Insights from Cultural Anthropology (Louisville: West- minster/John Knox, 1993) 53-54.

4 B. Malina and J. H. Neyrey, “Honor and Shame in Luke-Acts: Pivotal Values of the Mediterranean World,” The Social World of Luke-Acts: Models for Interpretation (ed. J. H. Ney- rey; Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 1991) 26.

This content downloaded from on Tue, 16 Jun 2020 08:45:56 UTC All use subject to


strategy of an ancient text – even a collection of wisdom sayings and instruc- tions – and from there into an understanding of the situation within which the text works. The ancient rhetoricians’ recommendations concerning the use of honor and dishonor in the task of persuasion are witnesses to the power of this language for the speaker and the hearers, serving both as guides and as checks for the modern investigator of honor and dishonor in ancient texts.

Identifying the use of the language of honor in a text leads one close to the heart of what the author of the text seeks to effect in his or her audience.

What behaviors or commitments are held up as honorable? In whose eyes is one to seek honor – that is, who form the “court of reputation,” that social body from which one seeks honor and approval, and before which one is to feel shame? If there are rival definitions of honor or dishonor, how does the author defuse their appeal? By trying to answer these questions, one sees how the language of honor and shame establishes and affirms the values of a particular culture (honor itself is vacuous apart from culture-specific con- tent), as well as how the boundaries of that culture are defined and reinforced by having the limits of the “court of reputation” delineated, and by having the opinion of those who follow a different system of evaluating honor under- mined. The effort to answer these questions will also help one discover the social tensions implicit in a document such as Ben Sira’s collection of wisdom literature and the author’s response to those tensions.

This investigation of Ben Sira’s use of the language of honor and shame will begin with a discussion of the setting of the teacher’s writing, in order to set forth the social and cultural tensions within which he worked and to

which he responded. A comparison with Proverbs will show that, while Ben

Sira preserves the traditional use of the language of honor and dishonor in

many ways, he intensifies its claims in support of commitment to exclusively Jewish values and behaviors. The role of this realm of discourse in Ben Sira’s

conservative program will then be explored in earnest: his establishment of obedience to Torah as the definitive claim to honor and approval, his careful delineation of God and the congregation of the faithful as the “court of reputation,” and his attempt to stimulate his hearers to emulation of the champions of Torah and the covenant.

  1. The Setting of the Wisdom of Ben Sira

We turn first to the setting of Ben Sira’s work and writing in order to gain an appreciation for the peculiar cultural and social tensions which pro- vide the context for his instruction, and in light of which he shapes his reformulations of wisdom traditions. Since Ben Sira’s grandson, who trans- lated the Hebrew original into Greek, migrated to Egypt in the thirty-eighth

This content downloaded from on Tue, 16 Jun 2020 08:45:56 UTC All use subject to


year of Ptolemy VII Euergetes II, or 132 b.c.e., and since the hymn in praise
of the ancestors concludes with an encomium of the high priest Simon II (Sirach 50) but contains no references to the deposition of Onias III or the crisis of Hellenization in 175-164 b.c.e., the date of the book’s composition is generally placed between 190 and 175 b.c.e.5 In an epilogue Ben Sira identifies his residence as Jerusalem (50:27), where, it is believed, the sage had a school (the “house of instruction,” 5 1:23). 6

The date and location set Ben Sira in a time of cultural tension in which

some Jews are attracted to the Greek way of life, while others are concerned
to preserve the Jewish way of life, or to discover some viable synthesis between the two ways. It is now widely recognized that the crisis of Hellenization under Antiochus IV did not occur solely at his own initiative, that it occurred in collusion with Jews who favored the adoption of a fully Hellenized way of life.
In 1 Macc 1:11-12 the action of certain Jews, “transgressors,” is described: shortly after Antiochus IV’s accession, they “came forth from Israel and seduced many, saying, ‘Let us go and establish a treaty with the nations around us, for from the time we were separated from them many misfortunes have found us.'”7 Even in this anti-Hellenist history it is remembered that “the proposal was pleasing in their eyes.” The author of 2 Maccabees focuses this initiative on Jason (2 Macc 4:7-13) but notes that many of the priests were enthusiastic for these reforms (4:14-15). For Hellenization to have had the success that it had in Jerusalem (according to the author of 2 Maccabees), sentiment in its favor must have been increasing for some time. While Sirach lived and wrote before Hellenization in Jerusalem had reached its most
intense pitch, it is reasonable to infer that leanings in that direction were already growing.8

It has become a scholarly commonplace to speak of Sirach as an anti- Hellenistic work and to identify the author’s chief concern as the preservation of the Jewish way of life amidst Hellenizing propaganda. Ben Sira “must have

5 Martin Hengel, Judaism and Hellenism: Studies in Their Encounter in Palestine during the Early Hellenistic Period (2 vols.; Philadelphia: Fortress, 1974) 1. 131; Alexander A. Di Lella, “Wisdom of Ben-Sira,” ABD, 6. 932; see also G. W. E. Nickelsburg, Jewish Literature between the Bible and the Mishnah: A Historical and Literary Introduction (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1981) 64; J. L. Crenshaw, Old Testament Wisdom: An Introduction (Atlanta: John Knox, 1981)

  1. For the book’s dating, H. Duesberg, O.S.B., and P. Auvray ( Le livre de l’Ecclésiastique [SBJ fascicle ed.; 2d ed.; Paris: Cerf, 1958] 8) find particularly significant the long encomium of Simon II, whom they think Ben Sira knew personally.

6 Di Lella, “Wisdom of Ben-Sira,” 933; Crenshaw, Old Testament Wisdom, 158; Hengel, Judaism and Hellenism, 1 . 132.

7 Translations of the LXX are provided by the author, unless otherwise noted.
So Duesberg and Auvray, L’Ecclésiastique, 8-9. See also R. Smend, Die Weisheit des

Jesus Sirach erklärt (Berlin: Reimer, 1906) xx-xxi; A. A. Di Lella, “Conservative and Progres- sive Theology: Sirach and Wisdom,” CBQ 28 (1966) 140; R. T. Siebeneck “May Their Bones Return to Life! – Sirach’s Praise of the Fathers,” CBQ 21 (1959) 411.

This content downloaded from on Tue, 16 Jun 2020 08:45:56 UTC All use subject to


encountered many Jews whose faith was rocked by the questions and doubts that arose from Greek philosophy, religion, and lifestyle,” says Di Lella, and “to strengthen the faith and confidence of his fellow Jews Ben Sira published his book,” although his purpose “was not to condemn Hellenism as such, but rather to demonstrate to Jews and even gentiles of good will that true wisdom is to be found primarily in Jerusalem and not in Athens.”9 A number of indications in the text support the claim that Sirach is particularly concerned with combatting the influence of Hellenism. Of special interest in this regard are passages which focus on the young and their relationship to their parents and their parents’ traditions. Crenshaw, for example, suggests that “Sirach’s admonition to honor parents rather than making fun of old people signals a decisive shift in values resulting from the conflict between the generations brought on by Hellenism.”10 Hengel also attributes Sirach’s frequent admoni- tions addressed to young men to the “especial danger from the attractions of Hellenistic civilization.”11 By themselves, these observations would be uncon- vincing, since wisdom literature as a genre is frequently concerned with instructing the young, but when they are combined with the complete identi- fication of wisdom with Torah (1:26; 19:20; 24:23-24), 12 and with the criticism of circles which have forsaken the law of Moses (41:8-9), 13 they make a sub- stantial case for Ben Sira’s alleged “controversy with Hellenistic liberalism.”14

Our investigation of the setting of the Wisdom of Ben Sira yields a dynamic picture of the cultural climate in which the wisdom sayings and

9 Di Lella, “Wisdom of Ben-Sira,” 933.
10 Crenshaw, Old Testament Wisdom, 162.
11 Hengel, Judaism and Hellenism, 1. 132; cf. the “zèle de néophytes en faveur de l’hel-

lénisme” noted by Duesberg and Auvray ( L’Ecclésiastique , 9). Hengel (pp. 138-39) reads 3:21-24, an appeal to the young for intellectual modesty, as an attempt to bring them back from criticism of their traditions in the perspective of Greek speculation to modest acceptance of what God has given them as their portion.

12 Hengel, Judaism and Hellenism, 1. 139; Di Lella, “Wisdom of Ben-Sira,” 940. Dues- berg and Auvray {L’Ecclésiastique, 14) note this as a development original to Ben Sira. If this is so, one may conclude that it is an essential part of his program. C. Spicq (“L’Ecclésiastique,” La Sainte Bible [ed. L. Pirot and A. Clamer; Paris: Letouzey et Ané, 1946] 6. 553) holds that for Ben Sira wisdom includes the whole of Israel’s religion, that is, both law and worship.

13 Hengel, Judaism and Hellenism, 1. 151. Spicq (“L’Ecclésiastique,” 553) and Di Lella (“Conservative and Progressive Theology,” 141) likewise find evidence that Ben Sira aims his work at those who have turned away from obedience to Torah and those who are wavering in their commitment.

14 Hengel, Judaism and Hellenism, 1. 138. Nickelsburg ( Jewish Literature, 64), by calling attention to the “lack of specific, pointed, and explicit polemics against Hellenism,” the more general applicability of statements read as anti-Hellenistic polemics, and the fact that Ben Sira’s thought “is sometimes couched in language that was at home in Hellenistic philosophy,” presents a strong caveat to the majority view. Hengel (pp. 147-50) does not fail to notice the Stoic ele- ments in Ben Sira’s thought, but he attributes this to Ben Sira’s need “to adapt himself to the learned arguments of his time, if only to be heard and understood by his pupils and his oppo- nents in the youth of the aristocracy” (p. 148). Crenshaw ( Old Testament Wisdom, 173; see also

This content downloaded from on Tue, 16 Jun 2020 08:45:56 UTC All use subject to


instructions were formed and within which they spoke. After nearly one and
a half centuries of Hellenization, Jews, like other groups which had held onto their native culture, found themselves at the frontier of an emerging world culture, superior in power and, for some, superior in promise for personal achievement and enjoyment of life’s pleasures. Internal desires to enter this dominant culture, and Antiochus’ ambitions to fulfill Alexander’s dream of a single world united by a common culture, would soon precipitate a severe crisis for Judaism. Sirach lived at a time when certain age groups and certain classes no longer took it as given that because they were born Jewish they would adhere to Jewish law and custom. The world was changing, and Israel was a small place in that world, continually passed back and forth from Ptolemaic to Seleucid control. Its culture was, thus, a minority culture in the world of competing powers which nevertheless shared a dominant culture, that of Hellenism. Within such a setting, Ben Sira’s use of the language of honor and shame appears clearly as a means of preserving or promoting adherence to the values and customs of the minority group, of combatting strong tendencies to assimilate and become “like the Gentiles.”15

  1. Proverbs and Ben Sira

Ben Sira’s use of the language of honor and shame bears many simi-

larities to the use of the same language in other wisdom literature, notably in that earlier collection of wisdom material which is the Book of Proverbs.16

“Being a wisdom teacher himself, Ben Sira chose to reflect and comment especially on the sacred literature most like his own, the Book of Proverbs”;

Di Lella, “Wisdom of Ben-Sira,” 933-34) attributes the presence of Hellenistic elements and influences to Ben Sira’s “willingness to enrich his own teachings from the scholarly tradition within Hellenism,” with the result that he “strengthened his appeal to those who longed for intellectual respectability in the Greek world.” These authors all see a strategic use of elements of Hellenistic thought rather than signs of Ben Sira’s complete openness to Hellenism. He may embrace aspects of Greek thought, such as the identification of virtue and knowledge (G. H. Box and W. O. E. Oesterly, “Sirach,” A POT, 1. 481), while still seeking to preserve an essential commitment to Jewish particularism and to unqualified obedience to Torah.

15 See Duesberg and Auvray, L’Ecclésiastique, 10: “Le ton traditionaliste qui règne à travers le livre paraît bien être dû à une vive réaction contre les nouveautés menaçantes.” R. A. F. MacKenzie, ( Sirach [OTM 19; Wilmington, DE: Michael Glazier, 1983] 15) claims that “Ben Sira has no private axe to grind, no pet theories to develop, like Ecclesiastes or the author of Job.” While Ben Sira may indeed refrain from grinding a theological axe, he clearly promotes a conservative response to the encroachment of Hellenism and, at the very least, grinds a social and cultural ax in his reformulation of the wisdom traditions.

16 The collection’s completion is placed in the early fifth century b.c. by P. W. Skehan
( Studies in Israelite Poetry and Wisdom [CBQMS 1; Washington: Catholic Biblical Association, 1971] 15-26).

This content was downloaded from on Tue, 16 Jun 2020