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.
|Table of Contents||
1. THEORETICAL PERSPECTIVES
2. BEN SIRA’S GENDERED ETHOS I: HONOR AND SHAME AMONG MEN
3. BEN SIRA’S GENDERED ETHOS II: HONOR, SHAME, SEX, AND THE STRUGGLE FOR CONTROL
4. BEN SIRA’S GENDERED WORLDVIEW: HONOR, SHAME, WISDOM, AND CULT
5. BEN SIRA’S GENDERED SPACES: SEX, TEXT, AND TEMPLE
6. BECOMING CANON: WOMEN, TEXTS, AND SCRIBES FROM PROVERBS TO SIRACH
7. MEN WHO HANDLE BOOKS I:
8. MEN WHO HANDLE BOOKS II:
9. WEALTH, WOMEN, AND THE ICONIC BOOK: POSSESSION AND THE ETHICS OF SHAME