Barber gives a conclusion which he reached years ago – and I agree with him today, especially since it effects my exegesis paper project. I remember reading F.F. Bruce, on the subject of canonical texts who noted that our text is canon in of itself… Anyway, I digress into a subject which I am not yet prepared to address. Dr. Barber, however, is:
1. The myth that the Palestinian canon was closed by 100 C. E.
2. The notion, even held by Jerome, that the divergent readings of the Christian LXX could simply be chalked up to Hellenizations. Scholars now recognize that the varying readings of the LXX and the MT have their origins in different Hebrew Vorlage.
3. (Closely related to 2): That the MT reading represents a more ancient textual tradition than that of the LXX.
4. The idea that the criterion used by the rabbis to determine the canonical status of the Biblical books was based on solid historical evidence. (In fact, anti-Christian prejudices shaped in their determination.)
5. That when the fathers speak of “canonical” books they always referred to the exhaustive list of books they consider part of Scripture. Indeed, there was not even a neatly divided list of protocanonical and deuterocanoical books – many included Esther in the category of disputed books.
The original Hebrew text of the apocryphal book of Ben Sira (Ecclesiasticus) lies at the very heart of the story of the discovery of the Cairo Genizah and the subsequent dispersal of its contents to the libraries of Europe and the United States. Indeed, the discovery of the Genizah may be dated to 1865, the year when Jacob Saphir visited the repository in the Ben Ezra synagogue in Fustat, as reported in his book Even Sapir (Lyk, 1866). However, it was not until 1896 that the effort to recover and acquire Genizah manuscripts began in earnest, for this was the year when the twin sisters Agnes Smith Lewis and Margaret Dunlop Gibson returned from a trip to Cairo with a number of leaves from the Genizah that they had succeeded in purchasing. When they showed these leaves to Solomon Schechter at Cambridge University, he quickly recognised among them the remains of the Hebrew Ben Sira. Schechter’s discovery touched off a bitter rivalry between himself and Adolf Neubauer of Oxford University, the object of which was the identification of further fragments of this book. It was in the course of this rivalry that Schechter traveled to Cairo and secured permission to transfer the bulk of the contents of the Genizah to Cambridge University Library (for further details see Reif 1997 and Jefferson 2009).
One interesting finding concerning a BL fragment from Ben-Sira is worth mentioning. This fragment was already identified by Margaliouth (JQR 12, 1899) and then described and transcribed in the Appendix of Margaliouth Catalog (vol. 1, 273-277). Still, no microfilm of this fragment is available at the Institute of Microfilmed Hebrew Manuscripts in Jerusalem, and it seems that since Margaliouth nobody really examined the original. Even in the latest edition of Ben-Sira Fragments (Beentjes, Leiden, 1997), the fragment is mentioned only as [British Museum], without a shelfmark. Well, the fragment is now displayed as Or. 5518, to the great joy, we hope, of all interested researchers
Sirach is a beautiful book, timely, inspired, given and often ignored because it was discarded by the Jews after the destruction of the Temple and later still by Christians, first by Melito of Sardis. Yet, it endures to give us ancient wisdom for a modern world. While others simply only to regulate it as ‘Apocrypha’ it is by far more valuable than most of the self-help books on the shelves today. Further, it was used in early debates and should be used today for Christology.
(24) A hard heart will be afflicted at the end, and whoever loves danger will perish by it.
The Hebrew adds to this verse,
But he that loves the good things shall walk in them
(25) A hard heart will be weighed down by troubles, and the sinner will add sin to sins.
Paul can be found to echo this thought in his Roman letter,
But because you are stubborn and refuse to turn from your sin, you are storing up terrible punishment for yourself. For a day of anger is coming, when God’s righteous judgment will be revealed. He will judge everyone according to what they have done. (Romams 2:5-6 NLT)
This passage in Sirach concerns the heart of the man, which may be humble and given to God, or arrogant and given in to sin. Like the previous section of contrast, Sirach brings to us the contrast of the heart and the end of each one. Like Paul several centuries later, Sirach knew that the end of the arrogant heart, the heart which stood before God instead of kneeling, would end with no remedy, but the heart that was humble, will have a good future.
(26) The arrogant man is not healed by his punishment, for a plant of wickedness has taken root in him.
Contrast this with John’s statement in the Apocalypse that New Jerusalem would have ‘healing for the nations’ (Revelation 22.2). We may, however, go as far to point out that the ‘man’ in question is not he ignorant man – unlearned of God – but the man who knows of God and yet refuses to give heed unto Him. Here, Sirach tells us that a remedy for that man’s soul cannot be found.
(27) The mind of the intelligent man will ponder a parable, and an attentive ear is the wise man’s desire.
This brings to mind the discourse of Christ with the Apostles using parables. Many times in the Gospels, we find recorded parables, but only for those with ears to hear, and we can somewhat easily connect the Wise Man with Christ who is the Wisdom of God (1st Corinthians 1.24).
(28) Water extinguishes a blazing fire: and almsgiving atones for sin.
This verse inaugurates what many will assume to be the end of any talk of inspiration of Sirach; however, Jesus Himself considered almsgiving (charity) as method of righteousness (Luke 11.41). Briefly, we see Daniel counseling the King of Babylon (Dan. 4.27) to consider mercy to the poor as a means of cleansing iniquities. The Psalmist (Psalms 41.1-2) tells us that those that consider the poor will be delivered by God in their time of troubles while our Lord in several places speaks of the evils of not being charitable. The most prominent example is that of the Rich Man and Lazarus (Luke 16.19-31) who if we will read we see not a condemnation based on religious reasons, or one of immorality, but one of passing the beggar by every day, giving the excess of the table to the dogs. The Rich Man was not sent to the grave in torments because of his wealth or his lack of religious righteousness, but because he failed to take care of the poor.
When Christ is speaking about the hypocrisies of the Pharisees, he says,
Then the Lord said to him, “Now you Pharisees make the outside of the cup and dish clean, but your inward part is full of greed and wickedness. Foolish ones! Did not He who made the outside make the inside also? But rather give alms of such things as you have; then indeed all things are clean to you. (Luke 11:39-41 NKJV)
The French theologian Godet says,
Do you think it is enough to wash your hands before eating? There is a surer means. Let some poor man partake of your meats and wines.
And we hear from Polycarp, Bishop of Smyrna, and disciple of the Apostle John:
From Polycarp’s Epistle to the Philippians, ch. 10,
Stand fast, therefore, in these things, and follow the example of the Lord, being firm and unchangeable in the faith, loving the brotherhood, and being attached to one another, joined together in the truth, exhibiting the meekness of the Lord in your intercourse with one another, and despising no one. When you can do good , defer it not, because “alms delivers from death.” [Tobit 4:10, 12:9] Be all of you subject one to another, having your conduct blameless among the Gentiles, that ye may both receive praise for your good works, and the Lord may not be blasphemed through you. But owe to him by whom the name of the Lord is blasphemed! Teach, therefore, sobriety to all, and manifest it also in your own conduct.
Polycarp quotes another often hidden book, Tobit, directly, but the idea is the same. Charity comes by and produces righteousness. By the waters of baptism is the fires of hell quenched, just as mercy to the poor will bring forgiveness for our trespasses.
(29) Whoever repays favors gives thought to the future; at the moment of his falling he will find support.
Finally, words from John Chrysostom
Let us then travel along all these ways; for if we give ourselves wholly to these employments, if on them we spend our time, not only shall we wash off our bygone transgressions, but shall gain very great profit for the future. For we shall not allow the devil to assault us with leisure either for slothful living, or for pernicious curiosity, since by these among other means, and in consequence of these, he leads us to foolish questions and hurtful disputations, from seeing us at leisure, and idle, and taking no forethought for excellency of living. But let us block up this approach against him, let us watch, let us be sober, that having in this short time toiled a little, we may obtain eternal goods in endless ages, by the grace and lovingkindness of our Lord Jesus Christ; (Chrysostom on John 7)