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Altes Testament


Ueberschaer, Frank


Weisheit aus der Begegnung. Bildung nach dem Buch Ben Sira.


Berlin-New York: de Gruyter 2007. X, 446 S. gr.8° = Beihefte zur Zeitschrift für die alttestamentliche Wissenschaft, 379. Lw. EUR 104,95. ISBN 978-3-11-020064-5.


Jan Liesen

The end of the 19th century saw a concentration of publications on Ben Sira (Ecclesiasticus). The sudden interest was due to the dis­cov­ery of large portions of Hebrew text in a genizah (storeroom for disused manuscripts) of a Medieval synagogue in Cairo. Publi­-cations focused on textual criticism, and the scholarly interest seemed short-lived. The 2nd half of the 20th century witnessed a renewed interest in Ben Sira, and since then there has been a steady stream of articles and monographs. To the list of scholarly publications is now added the doctoral dissertation of Frank Ueberschaer, directed by Siegfried Kreuzer and defended at the Kirchliche Hochschule Wuppertal; the aspect of Ben Sira investigated by the author is formation and education. He conceives wisdom instruction as a personal encounter rather than an accumulation of knowledge.
The history of interpretation shows that the personification of wisdom has drawn most attention, but it has always been known that instruction and formation are key concepts in Ben Sira. What is not easily seen is how Ben Sira understands the relationship be­-tween (Lady) Wisdom, the sage and the wisdom disciples, and how his personal remarks in the book are to be evaluated. The purpose of the study by the author is: to investigate the theoretical reflections on the process of formation by Ben Sira; special attention is given to the multicultural context of Hellenism.
The study is articulated in six chapters. Chapter One (»Ben Sira in der Forschung«, 3–24) offers an overview and a short but valuable evaluation of recently published monographs in as far as they deal with formation and instruction. To the studies that deal extensively with the chosen theme is to be added: Nuria Calduch Benages, En el crisol de la prueba. Estella: Verbo Divino, 1997.
Chapter Two (»Das Buch und seine Umwelt«, 25–59) deals with matters of textual criticism, literary format, structure, place and time of composition, and the historical context. The author briefly presents the various textual traditions (Hebrew, Greek, Latin, Syriac) and the available critical editions. Taken for granted in the study of many books of the Old Testament, textual criticism and structure are, however, still much debated in Ben Sira and some criti­cal notes (on the textform, and on the drawbacks of the critical editions) would have been in place. Also the peculiar way in which Ben Sira utilizes the Old Testament might have been highlighted. The discussion of the contemporary background of Ben Sira on the other hand is ample, dwelling on historical, political, social and economic aspects and is particularly insightful.
Chapter Three (»Das Schul- und Bildungswesen in Israel und seiner Umwelt«, 60–108) discusses the educational system in the An­cient Near East and in Israel, covering a period of nearly 3000 years. The author follows the current approach which deals with the Ancient Near Eastern tradition mainly through texts actually used by students and teachers, and which deals with the Egyptian tra­-dition through sapiential writings which are hypothesized to be of educational and/or formational relevance. Aware of the methodological difficulties involved in dealing with such diverse materials in such divergent ways the author is rightly cautious with regard to an educational system in Israel. In Israel no direct evidence is available and opinions on the existence of an educational system are many; the author lists extensively arguments pro and contra. On the one hand he argues tentatively in favor of some sort of famulus-system (in which individual professional writers would attract and educate their successors), on the other hand he tries to evaluate the educa­tional dimension of the sapiential biblical writings.
Chapter Four (»Das Hellenistische Schul- und Bildungswesen«, 109–134) continues this overview and deals with the system of education and formation in the entire Greek civilization, stretching form the preclassical, classical to Hellenistic period proper, thus covering the entire Greek literature ranging from Homer to the gymnasia, which existed in many Hellenistic cities in the time of Ben Sira, and which functioned as tools of spreading and pre­serv­­ing Greek identity and leadership. Chapters Three and Four both pre pare for the chosen theme, but the pertinence stated for this lengthy preparation remains somewhat doubtful, as it is rather supposed instead of shown that Ben Sira could draw on all of these traditions and had to determine his position in reference to them.
Chapter Five (»Weisheit und Bildung. Der sich bildende Mensch und die bildende Weisheit«, 135–391) is the fulcrum of the study and deals directly with the concept of education and the pedagogical process found in the book of Ben Sira. The author tackles the theme systematically by first exploring the anthropological presuppositions of Ben Sira (part 5.1), the target group and the requirements, i. e. the students to whom the book is thought to be addressed (part 5.2), the content which is taught and the methodology employed in the process and an excursion on Sir 30:1–13, on how to educate children (part 5.3). The central aspect of Ben Sira’s view of education and pedagogy is theological (God enables a disciple to understand and teaches him especially through the gift of wisdom) and is treated at length (part 5.4). Intrinsically part of the educational process and moreover conspicuously present in the book of Ben Sira is the role and self-understanding of the teacher/sage, which is given ample consideration (part 5.5). Finally, the possible hurdles to be taken in education and the boundaries of the formation process as deter­-mined by internal (foolishness) and external (only given by God) factors are considered (part 5.6) as well as the goal of the formation process, i. e. the professional role for a sage in society as teacher, counsellor, and being of service to the leaders and the people (part 5.7).
In this main section of his study the author discusses many texts of Ben Sira and brings out interesting aspects relevant to the theme. His treatment of the topic is both logical and synthetic; sometimes, though, the logic seems derived from the theme rather than from the texts (e. g. the treatment of foolishness). The excellent dissertation by Gian-Luigi Prato (G.-L.Prato, Il problema della teodicea in Ben Sira. Composizione e richiamo alle origini [AnBib 65], Roma 1975) touches upon many of the texts treated here and would have enriched the investigation but is never referred to. Given the textcritical status of the book of Ben Sira it is only natural that the author uses all textual traditions, and it is not surprising that his deliberations and conclusions are sometimes made on a reconstructed text, but one would also expect a methodological distinction between the various uses of the versions.
Chapter Six (»Weisheit und Bildung nach Ben Sira. Die Weisheit begegnet ihrem Schüler«, 392–399) gathers the fruits of this study in a brief and convincingly presented conclusion highlighting the personal responsibility of the wisdom teacher and wisdom student.
The style of the study is obviously that of a doctoral dissertation but sometimes acquires the quality of an expert tutorial thereby demonstrating that the author has incorporated much of the theme under discussion. The whole is eminently readable and in­structive and has the merit of dealing with one of the important aspects of Ben Sira with a hitherto unseen focus.