Thursday, June 5, 2014

The Better Book of Wisdom

I feel that those Christians who do not accept the Apocrypha as divinely inspired are really missing out. Now, for those who wonder what I mean by 'divinely inspired' I mean by those words exactly what one would think they mean when straightforwardly considered. It is the belief that God genuinely reached out to people in a unique and special way, and that inspired them to respond to that revelation through writing. Anyways, there are many gems in the Apocrypha that so enrich my faith I can no longer imagine being without them. Sirach is a perfect example.

One annoying thing about this book is that it has so many names. It is known as Ecclesiasticus (my favorite name, despite the confusion with Ecclesiastes) the Wisdom of Jesus Ben Sirach (which confuses many people because they don't realize just how common the name Jesus was back then), and simply the Book of Sirach. But despite the confusing name, the Book itself is just golden. There is so much rich theological discussion in the book. It has one of the most sophisticated reflections on free will in the entirety of scripture. The literature and poetry itself far exceeds that of Proverbs. Whereas most of Proverbs' reflections are very short and terse, Sirach spends time with each concept, giving it appropriate literary and philosophical consideration, without overdoing it.

Like Proverbs, Sirach relies too much on the deuteronomic understanding of human existence. There is too much here that sounds like karma. But unlike Proverbs this oversimplification of human existence is at least couched in poetry that is aesthetically appealing. I mean 90% of the poetry in Proverbs just sucks. And it seems to me that much of our literature has been influenced by Sirach without it being much recognized. Here's an example:

Compare this well-known Sue Lynch poem:

To this quote from Sirach:

The former had to be influenced by the latter. And that is just one example. The Book of Sirach is possessed of great insight and philosophy, influenced as it is by Greek Thought, but preserves perfectly the best of the Jewish Wisdom tradition, it is fun to read and aesthetically pleasing, and in it are some of the best insights into the Judeo-Christian Tradition I've ever read. I highly recommend it.

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