March 17, 2009

A deo est omnis medela

In English: All healing is from God.

Today's proverb comes from the book of the Bible which is called Ecclesiasticus in the Vulgate, not to be confused with the book of Ecclesiastes!

The word Ecclesiastes is a Greek noun adopted into Latin, meaning a member of the assembly (traditional Greek usage) or a member of the "church" (Christian usage gave the Greek word "ekklesia" a new sense related to the assembly of believers). When the Septuagint, the Greek translation of the Hebrew Bible, was prepared, the book of the Hebrew Bible called Qohelet was rendered in Greek as Ecclesiastes. Then, in the Vulgate Bible, the Greek name of the book was transliterated into Roman characters, rather than being translated into an actual Latin word. Jerome had argued that the book should be called Concionator (a translation of the Latin word), but Jerome's suggestion met with no success and the word concionator failed to become part of the Christian Latin vocabulary.

What, then, about Ecclesiasticus? This is a non-canonical book of the Bible, but it has a special status among those non-canonical books, as reflected in the name itself. The Latin word ecclesiasticus is an adjective, meaning "belonging to the church (ecclesia)," and it was a name bestowed on this book of the Bible by the early Latin Fathers of the Church in acknowledgment of the fact that passages from this book were widely known and also used in church worship services. So, even though the book is not part of the Bible, it came to be called "the church book," Ecclesiasticus, among the Latin fathers, and was even included in the canon of Epiphanius.

Before it acquired the name Ecclesiasticus, however, this book was known by another name: The Wisdom of Ben-Sira, or The Wisdom of the Son of Sira. In Greek, it was called simply Sirach (the final "ch" being added to the name to indicate its Hebrew origin, even though the "ch" is not part of the Hebrew spelling of the name). The early Latin versions of the book followed this same convention, calling the book Sirach.

Yet who was the "Son of Sira"? In some versions of the title, his name is given as the Hebrew name Yeshua, which is Jesus in Latin, so the book has this title in the Vulgate: Liber Iesu filii Sirach, which is to say, The Book of Jesus, the son of Sirach.

Confusing enough? You will indeed find this book referred to by all manner of titles in English, sometimes based on the Hebrew or Greek or Latin. So: Ecclesiasticus, Ben Sira, Sira, Sirach, Ben Sirach (a rather bizarre amalgam of Hebrew and Greek!), Siracides (a Greek neologism meaning "son of Sirac"), Wisdom of Ben Sira, and Wisdom of Jesus son of Sira.

What is really important, of course, is what an AMAZING book this is. Given my own interest in proverbs and wisdom literature, this is one of my own favorite books of the Bible. If you have never read through this book of the Bible, it is definitely worth your attention. There is a parallel edition of Sirach at Sacred Texts with Greek, Latin, and English (the book was originally written in Hebrew, but a complete Hebrew text has not survived, although major portions of the Hebrew text have been recovered from the famous Cairo Geniza). You can also read more about the background of the book in this Wikipedia article, and also in this article from the Catholic Encyclopedia online.

So, as a sample of the "wisdom of the son of Sira," here is today's proverb read out loud:

505. A deo est omnis medela

The number here is the number for this proverb in Latin Via Proverbs: 4000 Proverbs, Mottoes and Sayings for Students of Latin.

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Anonymous said...

Excellent entry, though, as a Catholic, I would dispute your point that this book is not a canonical text. Protestants don't accept it as such (calling it part of the "Apocrypha"), but it and 6 other books are called "deuterocanonical" by the Church and are considered just as "inspired" as the other books of the bible. I'm sure you knew this, but your post could be a bit misleading to the uninitiated. Thanks!

Laura Gibbs said...

Thank you, Heath - I've gotten so used to teaching in Oklahoma (where I would guess 90% of my students are Protestants), that it's hard to figure out just what terminology is best to use. My students are usually amazed to find out that there is a version of these books in the King James Bible (here is the King James of Ecclesiasticus, for example), because the modern editions of King James suppress the translations entirely. Thanks for pointing out that just what category people put the book into is highly variable, as well as the name of the book itself.

Anonymous said...

myself personally i have been led spiritually to believe that because Jesus wrote this book of Sirach, it must have been this Jesus who was seen on top of that mountain when James, John , and Peter had made an agreement to not tell anyone what they say on that mountain. This info is recorded in Luke chapter 9 vs 28 - 36. You must consider that the other Jesus standing with Peter, James and John was the false prophet Bar Jesus. WHY IN THE HELL WOULD THEY WANT TO MAKE AN AGREEMENT TO NOT TELL ANYONE WHAT THEY SAW IF THEY WERE GOING TO PREACH THE WORD OF JESUS ! It is a very bizare tale and truth that I personally search for, because of the fact that this book has been pulled from many bibles (very hard to find the book of Sirach in many bibles) I will still continue to strongly believe that Jesus wrote this book while being held in captivity by a group of Teuotonics.