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

Structure and Composition.

1.

Attempts to discern a literary structure in Ben Sira have met with only limited success. In the judgement of A. A. DiLella ‘the book manifests no particular order of subject matter or obvious coherence’ (Skehan and DiLella, 1987: 4). In contrast, an elaborate structure has been proposed by M. H. Segal (1972) and W. Roth (1980 ). These authors distinguish an original book in 1:1–23:27 and 51:1–30 . This book was made up of four sections: 1:1–4:10; 4:11–6:17; 6:18–14:19 ; and 14:20–23:27 + 51:1–30 . Each section was introduced by a prologue: 1:1–2:18; 4:11–19; 6:18–37 , and 14:20–15:10 . Three additional sections were subsequently added: 24:1–32:13; 32:14–38:23; 38:24–50:29 . (So Roth 1980 . Segal 1972 distinguishes the Praise of the Fathers as an additional section.) Each of these also has a prologue: 24:1–29; 32:14–33:15 , and 38:24–39:11 . The key to this structure is provided by five passages on wisdom ( 1:1–10; 4:11–19; 6:18–37; 14:20–15:10 , and 24:1–34 ). These passages seem to mark stresses in the first part of the book, but they have no discernible effect on the passages that precede or follow them (Gilbert 1984: 292–3). There are some indications that the book grew by a series of additions. The personal reflection in 24:30–4 appears to be the conclusion of a section rather than the beginning of the second half of the book. A similar autobiographical note is found in 33:16–18 . First-person statements at 39:12 and 42:15 may also mark new beginnings, and the Praise of the Fathers in chs. 44–9 is formally distinct. There is a concentration of hymnic material in chs. 39–43 . These observations render plausible the hypothesis that the book grew gradually, but they do not amount to proof.

2.

In this commentary the structure proposed by Segal and Roth is modified to yield the following division: Prologue; Part I: 1:1–4:10; 4:11–6:17; 6:18–14:19; 14:20–23:27; 24:1–34 . Part II: 25:1–33:18; 33:19–39:11; 39:12–43:33; 44:1–50:29; 51:1–30 .

3.

Sirach differs from Proverbs in so far as its material is not a collection of individual sayings, but consists of several short treatises. Some of these are devoted to traditional practical wisdom (e.g. relations with women, behaviour at banquets). Others are theological reflections on wisdom and on the problem of theodicy. Even when the material is largely traditional, Sirach often concludes his reflections by commending the fear of the Lord or observance of the law (e.g. 9:15–16; 37:15 ).

4.

The prayer for the deliverance and restoration of Israel in 36:1–22 contrasts sharply in tone and style with the remainder of the book. It may have been added during the upheavals of Maccabean times. Another prayer, in 51:13–30 , is attested independently in 11QPsa and evidently circulated separately in antiquity. Whether it was composed by Ben Sira remains in dispute.

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