Monday, May 29, 2017

The rediscovery of Hebrew Ben Sira

THE ANXIOUS BENCH: Alternative Scriptures: Finding Sirach (Philip Jenkins). The story of the rediscovery of substantial portions of the original Hebrew of Sirach (Ben Sira, Ecclesiasticus) in the Cairo Geniza at the end of the nineteenth century. Additional fragments from the late Second Temple period were found at Qumran and Masada. The essay includes this little thought experiment in counterfactual history:
This is an evocative tale in its own right, and it has often been retold. But for present purposes, the central point is that within the past century, we have established the fact that Sirach was definitely read and venerated in Hebrew in the Second Temple era, and indeed into early Christian times. Although the Qumran sect did not have strict guidelines as to what might be considered approved scriptures, Sirach probably did enjoy canonical or near-canonical status in the last couple of centuries BC.

If the Hebrew text had survived the Middle Ages, and had been known to West Europeans, I wonder how they could have avoided including the work fully in the approved canonical Bible? It was a near run thing.
Some past PaleoJudaica posts on the Hebrew text of Ben Sira are here, here, here, here, here, here, here, and here. Past posts on the Cairo Geniza are here with endless links. And other past posts in Professor Jenkins's "alternative scriptures" series are noted here and links. Cross-file under Old Testament Apocrypha.