From John Ray's shorter notes

September 09, 2019

Sirach 44

A Roman Catholic Bible has a number of books that Protestant Bibles do not have.  The church calls them deutero-canonical books: ancient books of wisdom that do not have the same authority as the rest of the Bible. The acceptance of some of these books among early Christians was widespread, though not universal. Martin Luther considered these books very good and useful reading; John Calvin considered them as work of Satan.

They are clearly later than the generally accepted books of the Old Testament.  For a start, they have mostly come down to us in Greek, with only fragments extant in Hebrew.  They also recount events much closer to the time of Christ. -- such as the revolt of the Maccabees

For the first thousand years of Christianity, there was no general agreement about what books rightly belonged in the Old Testament.  The various church fathers all had their own lists and some of the deutero-canonical books were normally included -- though not always the same deutero-canonical books.

But when Jews formulated their Masoretic text -- ending in the 10th century -- their selection of books gradually gained authority.  Protestant Bibles are based on it. Since the deutero-canonical books were widely accepted among early Christians, however, they are clearly part of the Christian tradition and deserve respect for that.

I am not well-read in the deutero-canonical books but I rather like chapter 44 of Sirach. Below is an excerpt in a modern translation:

1 Now allow us to praise famous people and our ancestors, generation by generation.

2 The Lord created great glory, his majesty from eternity.

3 They ruled in their kingdoms, and made a name with their power, some giving counsel by their intelligence; some making pronouncements in prophecies;

4 some leading the people by their deliberations, and by their understanding of the people’s learning, giving wise words in their instruction;

5 others devising musical melodies, and composing poems;

6 rich people endowed with strength, living in peace in their dwellings—

7 all of these were honored in their generation, a source of pride in their time.

8 Some of them left behind a name so that their praises might be told.

9 For some there is no memory, and they perished as though they hadn’t existed. These have become as though they hadn’t been born, they and even their children after them.

10 But these were compassionate people whose righteous deeds haven’t been forgotten.

11 This will persist with their children; their descendants will be a good legacy.

12 Their descendants stand by the covenants, and their children also, for their sake.

13 Their descendants will last forever, and their glory will never be erased.

14 Their bodies were buried in peace, but their name lives for generations.

15 The people will tell of their wisdom, and the congregation will proclaim their praise.

It seems to me that this passage constitutes an exact repudiation of Leftism. Leftists want everybody to be equal and loathe success wherever they find it.  Far from praising and remembering great men, they mock them as "dead white males".  Leftists envy great men.  They do not honour them. As Gore Vidal said:  "Every time a friend succeeds, I die a little"

But I agree with Sirach.  We SHOULD remember great men -- because we may be able to learn from them.  They represent excellence and we should aspire to excellence.  So the passage above is an emphatic expression of values that we may never hear so strongly put today but which should be part of a healthy scale of values.  It is wisdom from the Christian tradition.

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