Scribal culture in Ben Sira (Sir 38:1-15; 41:1-15; 43:11-19; 44-50)
The Book of Ben Sira, written at some point between 198 and 175 BCE, is a Second Temple Jewish wisdom text which regularly echoes or quotes the Hebrew Bible. A recent area of study in biblical scholarship has been that of scribal culture, written sources and physical remains left behind by societies with manuscripts and a scribal profession. While scholarship on Ben Sira has centred on his use of texts and on his sociocultural background, these issues might be better understood by examining Ben Sira through the lens of scribal culture as understood in biblical scholarship. This thesis proposes first to study the primary data of Ben Sira closely in order to discern characteristics of Ben Sira’s individual scribalism—or personal compositional style. This can then be compared to other evidence of ancient scribal culture. The central argument of the thesis is that the lens of scribal culture tells us more about the complexity of this ancient composition.
Chapter One introduces the thesis and covers scholarship on Ben Sira and on scribal culture. Chapter Two examines the portrayals of Noah (Sir 44:17-18) and Phineas (Sir 45:23-26), exploring how Ben Sira uses one major biblical source in each. Looking at the portrayals of Hezekiah-Isaiah (Sir 48:17-25) and Josiah (Sir 49:1-3), Chapter Three highlights the harmonization of multiple sources. Chapter Four examines Ben Sira’s lines on weather (Sir 43:11-19) in order to evaluate the relationship between quotation and literary model. Chapter Five approaches the sociocultural and textual spheres on the subjects of death and the body (Sir 41:1-15). Chapter Six investigates Ben Sira’s perspectives on physicians (Sir 38:1-15) in the light of ancient medicine. Each of the selected passages shed a slightly different light on the scribalism of Ben Sira.