Possessing the Iconic Book
Ben Sira as Case Study
Keywords:Iconic Books, Ben Sira, Sirach
I propose that the notion of possession adds an important ideological nuance to the analyses of iconic books set forth by Martin Marty (1980) and, more recently, by James Watts (2006). Using the early second century BCE book of Sirach as a case study, I tease out some of the symbolic dynamics through which the Bible achieved iconic status in the first place, that is, the conditions in which significance was attached to its material, finite shape. For Ben Sira, this symbolism was deeply tied to his honor-shame ethos in which women posed a threat to the honor of his eternal name, a threat resolved through his possession of Torah figured as the Woman Wisdom. What my analysis suggests is that the conflicted perceptions of gender in Ben Sira’s text is fundamental to his appropriation of, and attempt to produce, authoritative religious literature, and thus essential for understanding his relationship to this emerging canon. Torah, conceived as female, was the core of this canon, but Ben Sira adds his own literary production to this female “body” (or feminized corpus, if you will), becoming the voice of both through the experience of perfect possession.
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