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.
explicitly qualifying her as a moral and virtuous asset. Similarly, by qualifying a tongue as ‘pure’, Ben Sira hints at the moral dimension to this final element. Although the value of a ‘pure tongue’ might on the surface seem to be simply an aesthetic evaluation, it does not make sense as such in this context44. Are we really to assume that the verse is asserting Ben Sira’s preference for the human voice over string and wind instruments? Such an assertion would stand out in the context of wisdom, love and righteousness. In fact, it makes much more sense to interpret this whole verse metaphorically, as must be done in the first verse where ‘treasure’ is a metaphor for wisdom. Verse 21, then, suggests that truthful speech (i.e., a ‘pure tongue’) is more valuable than frivolous music or, perhaps, chatter45. Of those tertiary elements not yet mentioned, the ‘devoted wife’ of v. 19c-d seems explicitly positive since Ben Sira is at pains elsewhere to describe the perfidy of women. Similarly, the moral worth of the ‘love of friends’ in v. 20 can be deduced from other passages in both Sirach and the Bible46. In only one instance does the final element not carry the sense of implicit virtue: ‘The field’s produce’ in v. 22 cannot be so construed because in v. 19c-d ‘flocks and vineyards’ are the initial terms.
Cumulatively, the consistent moral value of each tertiary element reveals a moral dimension underlying the entire poem, something punctuated at the end by the phrase ‘fear of the Lord’. Through the structure of these comparisons Ben Sira implicitly connects moral behavior with a joyous, secure and profitable life. The emphasis on the tangible benefit of the tertiary element is a nuance that typical t@o=b-Sprüche cannot express. For example, v. 19a-b states that wisdom ‘insures a legacy’ more effectively than having a child or founding a city. A more typical t@o=b-Spruch comparing the same terms would assert the superiority of wisdom over having children and founding a city, but would not accent the superior efficacy of wisdom in conferring a legacy. Therefore, although the comparisons of Sirach 40,18-27 are labeled by some t@o=b-Sprüche, they evoke nuances which typical t@o=b-Sprüche cannot express.