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The Oxford Bible Commentary Line-by-line commentary for the New Revised Standard Version Bible.

Genre.

Ben Sira's book stands in the tradition of Proverbs, which in turn stood in a tradition of wisdom instruction that is best represented in Egyptian literature. The basic genre of wisdom instruction includes a blend of observational sentences and commands and prohibitions. Sir 3:1–16 is a typical example: ‘Those who respect their father will have long life…Honour your father by word and deed.’ Traditional wisdom forms of speech in Sirach include comparisons (Sir 20:31: ‘Better are those who hide their folly than those who hide their wisdom’), beatitudes ( 26:1: ‘Happy is the husband of a good wife’), numerical sayings ( 50:25–6: ‘Two nations my soul detests and the third is not even a people…’), and hymns in praise of wisdom ( 1:1–10; 24:1–34 ). But Sirach also incorporates literary forms that are not part of the repertoire of Proverbs. These include hymns of praise to God ( 39:12–35; 42:15–43:33 ) and at least one prayer of petition ( 22:27–23:6; 36:1–22 is probably a later addition). Some departures from Proverbs have precedents in Egyptian wisdom literature, notably the use of autobiographical narrative ( 33:16–18; 51:13–30 ) and the critique of the trades ( 38:24–34 ). The most striking formal departure from biblical wisdom, however, is found in the Praise of the Fathers (chs. 44–50 ) which uses the history of Israel as a source of instructional examples.

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