[b-hebrew] The Biblical politics of masculine and feminine

Peter Kirk peter at qaya.org
Sat Nov 18 14:23:51 EST 2006

On 18/11/2006 18:10, Yitzhak Sapir wrote:
> On 11/17/06, Peter Kirk wrote:
>> Some further thoughts about this: It took a lot of searching, but I did
>> eventually find the Hebrew text of Sirach online, at
>> http://ccat.sas.upenn.edu/gopher/text/religion/biblical/parallel/27.Sirach.par.
>> But unfortunately 25:25,26 seem to be missing, at least from the text
>> used to prepare this. 25:24 apparently reads M)$H TXLT (WN WBGLLH GW(NW
>> YXD, understood by the translator into Greek as ἀπὸ γυναικὸς ἀρχὴ
>> ἁμαρτίας καὶ δι᾽ αὐτὴν ἀποθνῄσκομεν πάντες, literally "From woman
>> beginning of sin, and through her we die all".
> You can look at an image of the Genizah fragment that is used for these verses
> here:
> http://www.lib.cam.ac.uk/Taylor-Schechter/GOLD/Or1102/AS213_4.html
> and at parts of a newly identified Genizah fragment that contains parts of 26:
> http://www.lib.cam.ac.uk/Taylor-Schechter/GOLD/Or1102/TS12_867.html
> You can see from the first fragment that the gopher site Hebrew text did not
> incorporate the newly identified small triangular fragment at the top
> left of the
> recto.  Also that 25:25-26 is missing is not due to any poor quality of the
> fragment itself but rather to an editorial choice.
Thank you, Yitzhak. Maybe Kraft and Tov were embarrassed by the contents 
of verse 26; otherwise I can't explain their editorial choice. I assume 
that the main fragment was available to them before 1994 which is the 
date of the text I was working from.

Here is the text as I read the MS, the second picture at 
bottom right:

מאשׁה תחלת עון ובגללה גוענו יחד · אשׁה טובה אשׁרי בעלה ומספר ימיו בפלים׃

In other words this skips directly from 25:24 to 26:1 (as transcribed at 
with no break, except for the middle dot used as a verse divider. 
25:25-26 are missing not because the manuscript is damaged, nor because 
of editorial choice, but because these verses simply are not in the 
Hebrew text.

Why not, I wonder? This doesn't look like a probable omission because of 
homoioteleuton (skipping from one place to another looking similar in 
the original). I suspect that a good case can be made for these words 
being a late insertion, perhaps originally a marginal note in Greek from 
the Hellenistic or early Christian period (possible they are first 
attested in Greek in the 4th to 5th century CE as is true of much of 
LXX), and not part of the original Hebrew text of Sirach at all.

By the way, I have blogged about these verses at 

> On the face of it it seems wrong to compare a text such as this to one
> saying that a husband must not divorce his wife, since the context of 25:26
> is a "bad wife" while the context of the second is apparently a general case. ...

I'm not sure that it is that wrong. Of course no man is going to divorce 
a wife whom he considers to be bad! So a general command not to divorce 
must be contradicted by a command to divorce a bad wife. Of course one 
might make exceptions for particular kinds of bad behaviour, as for 
example Jesus does for adultery, but if being a "bad wife" in a general 
sense is allowed as an exception, the command is about as stringent as 
"Don't divorce your wife unless you want to"!

> It appears to me that if Ben Sira has been left out of the canon in these
> cases it was not due to any feministic attitudes. ...

Historically, maybe. Some of us might believe that in the providence of 
God there is more to it than that. After all, it was presumably left out 
because certain people did not discern in it the prophetic voice of God, 
which was understood (at least at some stage) as having ceased with 
Malachi. I would agree with their judgment. I wrote the following in a 
comment on my own blog post:
> I certainly didn't intend to invalidate everything in the book of 
> Sirach or Ben Sira. I am sure that indeed "/It has a lot of brilliant 
> things to say/". As such I could class it alongside the works of some 
> of the great preachers and theologians of the Christian era, and of 
> the best modern Christian authors. However, many of these also say 
> some things with which I would strongly disagree. And that's OK, I 
> don't expect everyone to agree with me, even in my own time, far less 
> in a remote historical time.
> The issue is whether Sirach should be taken as authoritative 
> Scripture, in the way that evangelical Christians take the 66 books of 
> the Old and New Testaments as authoritative. If Sirach were taken in 
> this way, the verse I quoted would have to be taken as a clear 
> commandment, that a man must divorce a disobedient wife, and this 
> teaching would be taken as timelessly valid, without reference to the 
> cultural context ...

(Of course my endorsement of Christian authors is controversial in this 
forum, but it is of course a personal view.)

But I will further comment on my discovery that these verses are not in 
the Hebrew text of Sirach.

Peter Kirk
E-mail:  peter at qaya.org
Blog:    http://speakertruth.blogspot.com/
Website: http://www.qaya.org/

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