Ben Sira on OT Canon Again: The Date of Daniel -- By: Douglas E. Fox

Journal: Westminster Theological Journal
Volume: WTJ 49:2 (Fall 1987)
Article: Ben Sira on OT Canon Again: The Date of Daniel
Author: Douglas E. Fox

Ben Sira on OT Canon Again:
The Date of Daniel

Douglas E. Fox

The Apocryphal book called Ecclesiasticus or Ben Sira has long been recognized as one of the most important sources for dating the terminus ad quem or final limiting point in time for the existence of the OT canon. Every introduction to the OT and every book dealing with the subject of OT canon must wrestle with Ben Sira and its prologue. Since both the book itself (190–180 BC), and the prologue written by Ben Sira’s grandson (132–116 BC) are clearly datable, they provide one firm place to stand in a vast area of uncertainty.

On the basis of three references in the prologue to “The law, the prophets and the rest of the books” (ho nomos kai ai prophēteiai kai hai ta loipa tōn bibliōn, Prol. 24–25; cf. 7–10, 1–2), a wide variety of conclusions have been drawn about the status of the OT canon at the time the prologue was written. Arthur Weiser believed these references prove that the Hebrew OT canon was as yet still undefined at this time.1 Many other scholars have suggested that the prologue indicates that the law and the prophets were canonical at this time but not the writings. In a different direction R. Laird Harris thought this same passage may prove that the LXX translation was finished before 130 BC2

Roger Beckwith’s recent comprehensive study of the OT canon provides a good overview of the issues. He convincingly argues that Ben Sira’s grandson had a threefold canon, distinguished from all other writings, and that the grandson

implies that such was the case in his grandfather’s time also.3 Beckwith acknowledges that this reading of the data is not the way all scholars have read the passages in the past, but he rightly complains that the clear evidence of the passages has often been tailored to fit current critical hypotheses which is an obvious reversal of proper historical procedure.4

Ben Sira is unique within the genre of wisdom literature in that it “is sprinkled with explicit references and recognizable allusions to biblical persons and events…and the actual quotation of scripture.”5 Solomon Schechter, whose name has been closely associated with Ben Sira studies because he was the first to identify the recovered Hebrew version of the book, said in his classic (but now hard to find) work The Wisdom of Ben Sira that “Ben Sira, though not entirely d...

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