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.
Examples of comparisons with transitive, dynamic G-stem verbs are also found:
Mywgh-Nm (rh-t) tw#(l h#nm M(tyw
Manasseh misled them into doing more evil than the nations (2 Kgs 21,9)36
Thus, the comparison of v. 21 could be rendered into a more prosaic syntax:
lbnw lylxm ry#h-t) hrb N#l byr(y
A pure tongue sweetens the song more than flute or harp.
Other instances are found where the min preposition modifies a dynamic verb that is intransitive:
Mtwb)m wtyx#hw wb#y
They (the Israelites) regressed and sinned worse than their fathers (Judg 2,19);
Kykrd-lkb Nhm ytx#tw
‘You (Jerusalem) acted more corruptly than they (had) in all your ways’ (Ezek 16,47)37.
In an analogous fashion, v. 23, therefore, could be rendered:
rbxw bh)m t(l tlk#m h#) ghnt
A prudent wife behaves herself at the proper time(s) more than friend or neighbor.
In the biblical expressions the compared items always share a perceptible semantic link in that they each behave in a like manner. For instance, in Ezek 16,27 the nations and Jerusalem are similar in ‘acting corruptly’. An analogous semantic link is observable between the compared items in the Sirach expressions. In 40,20 alcohol and ‘the love of friends’ are similar in that they can both ‘bring joy to the heart’; in 40,21 ‘flute and harp’ are related to ‘a pure tongue’ in that they all can ‘sweeten the song’. The elements of the Sirach proverbs, however, in contrast to those of the biblical expressions, are otherwise dissimilar. The verbs provide a common denominator to the compared elements without which the expressions would seem more abstract or even non-sensical. This kind of semantic dissimilarity is not as frequent in the more typical t@o=b-Sprüche; in these biblical expressions, a strong semantic bond usually exists between compared items. In the three biblical t@o=b-Sprüche listed above, Prov 16,19 contains the pair ‘meek’ and ‘proud’; Prov 25,7 contains another antonymic match: ‘get up’ and ‘get down’; and Qoh 7,3 contains yet another antonymic pair: ‘laughing’ and ‘anger’38. The fact that all the items in each Sirach expression share the common denominator of a verbal idea, but are otherwise semantically distinct, suggests that Ben Sira is comparing the worth