E.D. Reymond, «Sirach 40,18-27 as ‘T@o=b-Spruch’», Vol. 82 (2001) 84-92
Although the series of comparisons that make up Sirach 40,18-27 are often characterized as ‘better-than’ proverbs or t@o=b-Sprüche, they do not convey a generic idea of degree, but rather express the superiority of items in the specific context of verbs’ semantic fields. This construction emphasizes the tangible benefit of the ‘superior’ elements, a nuance that the more typical t@o=b-Sprüche would not express. In addition, Ben Sira describes each superior item as unambiguously virtuous, implying a connection between righteous behavior and a joyous, satisfying and successful life.
The term ‘t@o=b-Spruch’ was first used by Walther Zimmerli to designate proverbs in which one thing is said to be ‘better’ than another through the construction t@o=b ... min ...2. Because some analogous phrases appear in which the t@o=b is absent 3, the title was logically extended to designate these constructions. Most analyses of the poem in Sirach 40,18-27 and general treatments of t@o=b -Sprüche which mention this poem have considered the expressions in it ‘better-than’ proverbs similar to others which omit the adjective t@o=b4. Unfortunately, such an interpretation does not elucidate these comparisons, but rather obscures their nuances.
Each comparison in this poem is constructed of two cola. In the first colon two synonymous, coordinate items are the subject of a finite verb (e.g., v. 18 begins: wqtmy rk#<w> rty yyx ‘A life of plenty <and> (a life) of wages is sweet’). The second colon asserts the superiority of a third item over the initial two elements through the phrase Mhyn#m, which is composed of the preposition min, the noun ‘two’ and the 3mp pronominal suffix (e.g., v. 18 has: [hmy#] )cm Mhyn#m ‘But even more so, finding [treasure]’). The word on which the min depends is not present in this second colon. As just stated, most commentators treat these expressions as analogous to other comparative expressions in which the adjective t@o=b has been elided. Although there are instances in the Bible where the word on which min depends is absent and must be intuited from the context, there is no need to assert the elision of an adjective here5. Rather, it is the verb which, through the convention of parallelism, has been gapped. In the deep structure of each proverb the preposition depends on the verb of each verse’s first colon (i.e., in v. 18 the min depends on the verb qtm). Analogous syntactic structures can be observed throughout the Bible. Thus, 40,18 suggests that finding treasure is sweeter than a life of wages and plenty, not just generically better.