La Sabiduría del Escriba Alexander A. Di Lella

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                                           La Sabiduría del Escriba

Alexander A. Di Lella
This volume offers a bilingual edition of an ancient
Syriac manuscript of the Wisdom of Ben Sira. The preface and introduction, which appear in Spanish and English, provide a concise discussion of the following: Syriac versions of Ben Sira; manuscripts and editions of the Peshitta of Ben Sira; interpretative character of the Syriac Ben Sira; Codex Ambrosianus (= 7a1 in the sigla of the Leiden Peshitta, but Ceriani dated the MS to the sixth century [p. 52]); facsimile edition by Antonio M. Ceriani (Translatio Syra Pescitto Veteris Testamenti ex codice Ambrosiano sec. fere VI photolithographice edita [2 vols.; Milan: J. B. Pogliani, 1876, 1883]; and some features of the present edition. Then follows an invaluable six-page bibliography.
Regarding the
Syriac of Ben Sira (= Syr), the authors duly note that it “contains many linguistic errors, but not all of these mistakes are of the same category.” Some are simply slips by the translator; others are due to the translator’s not understanding the Hebrew Vorlage, or misunderstanding it; still others “are inexplicable.” The translator at times also made deliberate changes in the text for theological reasons (pp. 47-48). Hence, “[i]t would be more correct not to speak of translators in the strict sense but of authentic interpreters,” and the authors illustrate this view with examples (pp. 48-51). They state that “in 42:18 he [the translator] changes ‘[God] sees the signs of the times’ into ‘because nothing is hidden for [read: from, as they correctly have it on p. 238] God'” (p. 49). The reading “the signs of the times,” however, comes from Greek MSS. 248-672 (not cited at all); the authors should have translated the original Hebrew (from Masada), which has ‘tywt, “things that are to come” (see CBQ 28 [1966] 540). So the Syr translator interpreted the Hebrew fairly well.
This edition “reproduces faithfully the consonantal text of Codex Ambrosianus according to the facsimile of Ceriani, following the same format of columns and lines…. Obvious cases of repetitions or evident scribal errors have not been corrected in the text but have been duly indicated in the text with an inserted (continuously numbered) reference …” (p. 56). This procedure is admirable in a diplomatic edition, for the 106 notes alert the reader to problems in the text and provide solutions. The authors often use for their corrections the text of 7h3, B.M. 12.142, the basis of Paul Lagarde’s edition (Libri Veteris Testamenti apocryphi
syriace[Leipzig: Brockhaus; London: Williams & Norgate, 1861]). Then, using italics, they translate the corrected text–another praiseworthy editorial decision. This edition of the most important extant Syr manuscript with such features as these is, in itself, a major contribution to scholarship. The Spanish and English translations are an added bonus, since the only other translation of Syr Ben Sira had been the “at times unintelligible Latin translation by the maronite monk Gabriel Sionite (1635)” (p. 35).
The Syr text (in a beautiful estrangela font, as in the original Codex) appears on the top of facing pages: the right- and left-hand pages–in that order, of course–with the Spanish translation underneath on the right-hand page, and the English translation on the left-hand page. If a note appears in the Syr on the right-hand page, then the note just below the Syr text is in Spanish; conversely, if the note appears in the Syr on the left-hand page, the note is in English. The seventy-seven explanatory notes in the translation, useful for both student and scholar, appear at the foot of each page, in Spanish and English, respectively.
At random I chose fol. 227v, col. a (16:7a-23a) in my personal copy of Ceriani’s facsimile in order to check the text; I found the edition to be a good reproduction of the codex. However, examining carefully the seven columns of fols. 223v, col. b to 224v, col. c (containing 1:1-6:37), I found several instances where the edition failed to reproduce the codex “faithfully”: 1:10b, w’sgyh without dot over h (the fem. sing. suffix); 1:18b, why’ without seyame; 1:19a, hwtr’ for hwtr’; 1:*8b [the extra verses after 1:20 are numbered consecutively with *], whdt’ for whdwt’; 1:*9b, bspr’ with seyame; 1:*12a, wkr for wkd; 3:2a, gr for gyr; 3:8b, kwlhyn for klhyn; 3:13b, tbhtywhy, a correct reading (so 7h3, which the authors do not cite) for tbhtyhy: 3:20a, dsg’ÿn for dsgÿ’n; 3:25a, mn with no dot over m (necessary to indicate the pronoun); 3:29b, dsm`’ with no dot over m to indicate a fem. participle; 4:5a, tt’ for ttl; 5:9a, bkl for the first lkl; 5:9b, wmtpn’ with dot over m; 5:10b, hr’ for hd’; 6:37c, ntqn with no dot over t to indicate the Aphel. In fol. 228r, col. b, n. 32 on 18:22a correctly states that the infin. Aphel lm`brw of 7h3 is preferable to l`brw of 7a1, a form incorrectly parsed as third person plural Peal or Pael, an impossible form with prefix l. In fol. 229v, col. b, 23:10d, zb’ is given for zk’. These misreadings (and probably others, for I checked only the folios listed above) point to the need for more careful proofreading. For a (hoped for) second edition, the authors should recheck their complete Syr text for absolute accuracy, which is a sine qua non in a diplomatic edition of an ancient text.
The English translation (part of which I checked carefully) is generally accurate and remains “rather close to the
Syriac” (p. 57). There are, however, some things that could be improved–not surprising in a translation done by scholars whose native tongue is not English. At times, the minimal punctuation is not in keeping with normal English usage. An example will suffice: 2:6, “Believe in God and He will be a helper for you/hope in Him and He will straighten your ways.” Even the codex has a full point after “you.” An English editor could easily solve such problems. At times Syr brns’/’ns’ (or the plural) is translated as the noninclusive “man” (e.g., 1:*1a, 1:*2a, 1:*6b; 4:3a), but in almost all other places the authors correctly have the inclusive “human being(s)” (2:5b; 3:24a; 42:18b) or “humans” (7:17b) or “a person” (2:12b; 4:2b; 7:15; 8:5a, 6a, 7a; 9:11a, 13a) or “(every or no) one” (8:19a; 9:12b). In 3:8b, “may” was left out before “come” in the purpose clause. For 3:10a, “Do not take honour (in the shame of your father),” read, “Do not glory”; 3:13b, “do not be ashamed on account of him,” read “do not put him to shame”; 3:16a, “he who depreciates (his father),” read “he who treats with contempt”; 3:21b, “too big,” read “too strong”; 3:26a, “A hard heart will be(come) evil in the end,” read “A hard heart, its end will be evil” (the subject of the fem. verb is the fem. noun “end”; “heart” is a m. noun); 3:31b, “in the time of falling the will find a support for him,” read “when he falls, it [“path” in 3:31a, a fem. noun, subject of the fem. participle] supports him”; 4:17d, “my [Lady Wisdom’s] temptations,” read “my trials” or “testings” (as in 6:7a); 6:3a, “It will steep (your leaves),” read “It will shake off”; 6:13b, “for (your friend),” read “of”; 6:34b, “remain with him,” read “cleave to him” (as in 31:10a); 7:19, “to see for pearls,” delete “to see,” which is not in the Syr; 7:36b, “do not ever sin,” read “you will never sin,” the exact meaning of Cairo Geniza Hebrew (=Heb) MS. A; 9:8d, “her love kindles (you) as fire,” read “love for her burns like fire”; 9:12b, n. 13, “a conqueror” can be misleading, for Syr zk’ also means “to be blameless,” as correctly given in the translation; 10:31a, “richness,” read “riches” or “wealth,” as in the Spanish translation “riqueza”; 11:5b, “they clothed in (clothing),” read “put on”; 23:15a, “teaches (idle words),” read “learns.”
In 14:3b, Syr gbr’ dbys’ `ynh is rendered “a jealous man”; Heb MS. A of this passage reads: ‘ys r` `yn; the Heb and Syr idiom usually means “a greedy, or stingy, person; a miser” (see, e.g., Prov 23:6 and 28:22). In 14:10a, `yn’ byst’, “a jealous person” should read “greed”; and superscript 19 on the phrase should be 34, and n. 34 itself should read “wicked eye” instead of “eyes of wickedness.” In 31:14 the authors translate Syr byswt `yn’ sn’ ‘lh’, “God hates jealousy,” but more correctly it should read: “God hates greed”; the corresponding passage is 31:13b in Heb MS. B, r` `yn swn’ ‘l, which has the same meaning. The context of all these passages deals with a greedy person or miser, and has nothing to do with jealousy. Curiously, on p. 58 in the list of Syr idiomatic expressions not indicated in the footnotes, an entry reads: “`yn’ bys’ (evil eye) jealous, greedy.”
These and many other similar flaws, which Syr readers will also catch in the English translation, as well as the misreadings in the Syr text, which I pointed out above, will be easy to correct in a second edition, but they do detract from the general usefulness of the volume. In fact, scholars and students should use this diplomatic edition with caution. Despite these shortcomings, the volume deserves to be in the personal library of every student of the wisdom
literature in general and of Ben Sira in particular.

Alexander A. Di Lella, O.F.M., The Catholic University of America, Washington, DC 20064

La Sabiduría del Escriba

Alexander A. Di Lella