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Re: [textualcriticism] New Fragment of Ben Sira

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  • Daniel Buck
    From the diaspora of the Cairo Genizah comes a newly identified fragment of the the Wisdom of Jesus Ben Sira, in the original Hebrew. HT to James Snapp.
    Message 1 of 5 , Dec 2, 2011
      From the diaspora of the Cairo Genizah comes a newly identified fragment of the the Wisdom of Jesus Ben Sira, in the original Hebrew. HT to James Snapp.


      The report states that nothing particularly new and exciting comes from this find, as we already have so much of Ben Sira in Hebrew. So whatever I say here will be new only to those who haven't already examined the earlier finds in comparable detail.

      1. The Name of the Book

      For centuries this book has been known as Ecclesiasticus, its title in the English versions. The Greek title, on the other hand, was SOFIA SEIRAC, or, based on information given in the PROLOGOS, SOFIA IHSOUS UIOU SEIRAC,The Wisdom of Jesus the Son of Sirach--the basis for the Vulgate titleLiber Iesu filii Sirach, which has traditionally been partially back-translated into Hebrew as The Wisdom of Jesus Ben Sirach. All this has gone away, however, now that most of the text has been recovered in Hebrew manuscripts from Cairo, Qumran, and Masada. The report and its cited references all now refer to it simply as "Ben Sira," without any 'h' at the end (the Hebrew name terminates in an aleph, thus the alternate transliteration ending in -ah). 

      2. Hypertextual features

      The layout of this new fragment, now identified as part of Ben Sira ms D, is much the same as ms A, with which it overlaps and which is much more intact and legible. Spaces between words, paragraph divisions, and punctuation are all present. But although these mss date to about the 11th or 12th century--a bit later than the oldest mss of the MT--there are no Masoretic features.  The style appears to be much the same as when Ben Sira was first published, with distinct paleographic features at the level of the individual letter and punctuation mark being needed to establish the date.

      3. The identification of SOUFEIR in 7:18

      The first extant line of this fragment reads, . . . Wa AKh ThaLWI BZHB AWFIR, (and a ┬┐legitimate? brother, for the Gold of Ophir). The Greek expression for that last phrase is EN CRUSIWi SOUFEIR. Now, we already know "Sofir" to be the usual LXX rendition of "Ophir," from all of its uses in the LXX (the Greek spells 'o' and 'i' variously, but rarely leaves off the 's'). But why is this--why did even Ben Sira's grandson, translating in the 14th decade BCE, use this spelling?  There may be some connection to the Coptic name for India, which was reportedly "Sofir." That being the case, Ophir was identified by the Ptolemic Egyptians as equal to what they called Sofir, and thus the name was translated, not merely transliterated, whenever it came up in the Hebrew Scriptures. They appear to have had a problem, though, in the Job and Psalms passages when the name was just one of a string of modifiers for 'gold'--there it was dropped entirely.

      4. The name of the author

      It doesn't pertain to this fragment, but there is a textual question as to the author's name, identified in a colophon at 50:27, to which "The Prayer of Jesus the Son of Sirach" is appended in the Greek edition. Apparently there was a Hebrew copy, owned in the 10th century by Saadia Gaon, which gave a fuller patronym "Shimon, the son of Yeshua, the son of Eleazar, the son of Sira." It would appear that ms B corroborates this identification.

      The Wisdom of Ben Sira is a windfall for textual critics: a book long known only in translation can now be checked with manuscripts of the original, both medieval and ancient. Lost to Christians since ancient times, the Hebrew original was preserved down through the centuries by the Jews, both in the manuscripts themselves and in numerous rabbinical citations. I welcome the discovery of this fragment, if only for drawing our attention once again to this little treasure.
      Daniel Buck

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