Ben Sira and the Men Who Handle Books: Gender and the Rise of Canon-Consciousness
What have women to do with the rise of canon-consciousness in early Judaism? Quite a lot, Claudia Camp argues, if the book written by the early second-century BCE scribe, Ben Sira, is any indication.
What have women to do with the rise of canon-consciousness in early Judaism? Quite a lot, Claudia Camp argues, if the book written by the early second-century BCE scribe, Ben Sira, is any indication. One of the few true misogynists in the biblical tradition, Ben Sira is beset with gender anxiety, fear that his women will sully his honor, their shame causing his name to fail from the eternal memory of his people. Yet the same Ben Sira appropriates the idealized figure of cosmic Woman Wisdom from Proverbs, and identifies her with ‘the book of the covenant of the most high God, the law that Moses commanded us’.
This, then, is Ben Sira’s dilemma: a woman (Wisdom) can admit him to eternity but his own women can keep him out. It is Camp’s thesis that these conflicted perceptions of gender are fundamental to Ben Sira’s appropriation and production of authoritative religious literature, and that a critical analysis of his gender ideology is thus essential for understanding his relationship to an emerging canon. Ben Sira writes a book, and writes himself into his book, creating a possession into which he can sublimate his anxiety about the women he cannot truly possess and the God he cannot truly trust.
What is more, if Ben Sira can be considered representative of his scribal class and context, his work may also provide a window into aspects of the larger cultural process of canon building, including the question of whether we would have a canon at all —or have the canon we have —if the men in that particular patriarchal culture had not coded it in the gendered terms that Ben Sira did.
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1. THEORETICAL PERSPECTIVES Symbols, Worldview, Ethos, and the Authorization of Religion Honor and Shame in Sirach’s Gender Ideology Canons, Canon-Consciousness, and the Textualization of Culture The Iconic Book 2. BEN SIRA’S GENDERED ETHOS I: HONOR AND SHAME AMONG MEN Shame and Honor Honor, Shame and Wealth in Ben Sira: The Ideal and the Real Honor and Shame in Ben Sira’s Class Ideology 3. BEN SIRA’S GENDERED ETHOS II: HONOR, SHAME, SEX, AND THE STRUGGLE FOR CONTROL The Sage’s Struggle for Sexual Self-Control The Sage’s Struggle for Control of his Household 4. BEN SIRA’S GENDERED WORLDVIEW: HONOR, SHAME, WISDOM, AND CULT Abstraction De-personalization and Domestication Demonization Erasure through Masculinization 5. BEN SIRA’S GENDERED SPACES: SEX, TEXT, AND TEMPLE Critical Spatiality Theory Space, Text, and Gender in Sirach’s Praise of the Fathers and the High Priest 6. BECOMING CANON: WOMEN, TEXTS, AND SCRIBES FROM PROVERBS TO SIRACH The Strange Woman as Symbol of Evil in Proverbs Female Imagery from Proverbs to Ben Sira Canon-Consciousness from Proverbs to Ben Sira 7. MEN WHO HANDLE BOOKS I: TEXTUALITY AND THE PROBLEM OF THEODICY Ben Sira and the Older Wisdom Tradition Fear of God, Wisdom, and Torah God and the Problem of Contingency Ben Sira’s Bad Faith A New Educational Ideal: Textuality and a Theodicy of Denial 8. MEN WHO HANDLE BOOKS II: TEXTUALITY AND THE BIRTH OF AUTHORIAL SELF-CONSCIOUSNESS Ben Sira’s Self References Killing the Father: Ben Sira’s ‘Solomon Complex’ 9. WEALTH, WOMEN, AND THE ICONIC BOOK: POSSESSION AND THE ETHICS OF SHAME Shame and the Construction of the Moral Self Ben Sira, Shame, and Possessions Shame, Sex, and Possessions: The Problem of Appropriation
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