Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Sifting: An African American Woman Reading

below, an excerpt from her chapter "Sirach," by Dr. Naomi P. Franklin, Chair of the Department of Religious Studies at Virginia Union University, and Preacher at Pilgrim Journey Baptist Church, in The Africana Bible: Reading Israel's Scriptures from Africa and the African Diaspora.  (HT David Ker)
      For Africana people, Sirach [also known as Ecclesiasticus, written by Jesus son of Sirach and translated into Greek by his grandson] is problematic, for it contains misogynistic advice and negative advice about slaves.  However, alongside that negative information, one finds constructive advice about living.  His [i.e., the author's] teachings are contradictory.  In one chapter, he speaks of the "wickedness" and "anger of women" (25:13, 15), yet in the very next one he speaks about the happiness of the man who finds a good wife (26:1).  His greatest appreciation seems to be for a silent wife, seeing her as a gift from the Lord (26:14).  This reflects the influence on Sirach of Hellenism, with its narrow view of the place of women in society and its negative view of women ([Claudia] Camp ["Becoming Canon: Women, Texts and Scribes in Proverbs and Sirach"] 2005: [page] 377).  For Africana women in particular and the community in general, these teachings must be eschewed.  Likewise, readers will find the negative advice about slaves and their treatment disconcerting, given our long and tortuous experience of slavery.
      While Sirach is part of the corpus of Wisdom literature, there is much within it that cannot be considered wisdom in the modern context.  His advice regarding women and children and how to live in society must be sifted in order to find that which can be useful in a modern context....


Rod said...


I think we also need to recognize the priveleged worldviews of those who wrote Wisdom literature (canonical and otherwise). From what I am learning, contextually, Wisdom literature was written by the elites of society, just look at Proverbs and Koholeth. Written by what we suppose kings or former kings. Its just interesting how class may have played a role in these texts.

J. K. Gayle said...

Rod, Great point! There was a blogger named Iyov, once upon a time, who wrote a post on the infamous Ben Sira(ch). He quoted "Ben Sira's birth narrative, which is quite bawdy " from The Alphabet of Ben Sira. The irony and parody in the narrative suggests the elite status you're tuned in to here. So we have class, race, and sex complicating the wisdom texts? Definitely needs sifting.