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

The Text.

1.

The textual history of Ben Sira's book is exceptionally complicated. We know from the grandson's prologue that the book was composed in Hebrew, but it has not survived intact in the original language. For many centuries the Hebrew text was known only from rabbinic citations (Schechter 1890–1 ). At the end of the nineteenth century, however, several fragments were found at Cambridge University, in the collection of MSS recovered from the Cairo Geniza (Schechter and Taylor 1899 ). These fragments represented four distinct MSS, A, B, C, and D. More leaves of MSS B and C were discovered later. Fragments of another manuscript (MS E) were discovered in the Adler Geniza collection at the Jewish Theological Seminary in New York and yet another (MS F) at Cambridge (see Skehan and DiLella 1987: 51–3). All these Geniza fragments are of medieval origin. They include most of chs. 3–16 and fragments of chs. 18–36 . The Dead Sea scrolls yielded further, much older, fragments, from around the turn of the era. Two fragments from Cave 2 (2Q18) contain only four complete words and some letters from ch. 6 (Baillet, Milik, and de Vaux 1962 ) but 11QPsa contains Sir 51:13–20 , and the last two words of verse 30b (J. A. Sanders 1965 ). Then 26 leather fragments were found at Masada (Yadin 1965 ). These dated to the first century CE and contained portions of chs. 39–44 . In all, about 68 per cent of the book is now extant in Hebrew (Beentjes 1997 ). For a time, some scholars expressed doubts about the Hebrew text preserved in the medieval Geniza fragments, and entertained the possibility that it might have been retranslated from Syriac. The Masada fragments, however, confirmed the antiquity of Geniza MS B, and indirectly enhanced the credibility of the other fragments. The present consensus is that the Geniza fragments faithfully preserve a text from antiquity (DiLella 1966; Skehan and DiLella 1987: 54).

2.

The Hebrew fragments bear witness to two textual recensions. The second recension is distinguished from the first primarily by additions (e.g. 15:14b , 15c ). These passages can be recognized as secondary because they are not found in the primary MSS of the Greek translation, and in some cases they are reflected in overlapping Hebrew fragments. There is also a second Greek recension, which expands the text in a way similar to the second Hebrew recension. The second Greek recension is also reflected in the OL. One of the distinctive features of this recension is the belief in eternal life and judgement after death. The textual situation is further complicated by the fact that the Greek text is poorly preserved. The edition of the Greek text by J. Ziegler contains more emendations and corrections than any other book of the Septuagint (Ziegler 1965 ).

3.

In all extant Greek manuscripts 30:25–33:13a and 33:13b–36:16a have exchanged places, probably due to the transposition of leaves. The Greek order of these chapters is often given in parentheses. Only the Hebrew order is given here.

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