Ben Sira and the Men Who Handle Books: Gender and the Rise of Canon-Consciousness
Camp, Claudia V.
Sheffield, England: Sheffield Phoenix, 2013 pp. xvi + 209. $80
Hebrew Bible Monographs, 50
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Description: What have women to do with the rise of canon-consciousness in early Judaism? Quite a lot, Claudia Camp argues, if the book written by the early second-century BCE scribe, Ben Sira, is any indication. One of the few true misogynists in the biblical tradition, Ben Sira is beset with gender anxiety, fear that his women will sully his honor, their shame causing his name to fail from the eternal memory of his people. Yet the same Ben Sira appropriates the idealized figure of cosmic Woman Wisdom from Proverbs, and identifies her with Ďthe book of the covenant of the most high God, the law that Moses commanded usí.
This, then, is Ben Siraís dilemma: a woman (Wisdom) can admit him to eternity but his own women can keep him out. It is Campís thesis that these conflicted perceptions of gender are fundamental to Ben Siraís appropriation and production of authoritative religious literature, and that a critical analysis of his gender ideology is thus essential for understanding his relationship to an emerging canon. Ben Sira writes a book, and writes himself into his book, creating a possession into which he can sublimate his anxiety about the women he cannot truly possess and the God he cannot truly trust.
What is more, if Ben Sira can be considered representative of his scribal class and context, his work may also provide a window into aspects of the larger cultural process of canon building, including the question of whether we would have a canon at allóor have the canon we haveóif the men in that particular patriarchal culture had not coded it in the gendered terms that Ben Sira did.
Subjects: Bible, Apocrypha and Pseudepigrapha, Old Testament Apocrypha, Ecclesiasticus (Sirach), Literature, Methods, Ideological Critique, Feminist Approaches
Review by Ibolya Balla
Citation: Ibolya Balla, review of Claudia V. Camp, Ben Sira and the Men Who Handle Books: Gender and the Rise of Canon-Consciousness, Review of Biblical Literature [http://www.bookreviews.org] (2014).
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