For my write-up today on the Anchor Bible commentary on The Wisdom of Ben Sira, I will talk about Alexander Di Lella's discussion of Ben Sira 33:4-6. The passage says, according to Patrick Skehan's translation:
your words and you will be listened to; bind your training to your
person, and then give your answer. Like the wheel of a cart in the mind
of a fool; his thoughts revolve in circles. An unscrupulous friend is
like the distracted stallion that neighs, no matter who the rider."
Di Lella states the following:
mind of the fool' is like a cartwheel, and 'his thoughts revolve in
circles' (33:5)----strong and distasteful images----because he lacks
instruction, discipline, and firm convictions. In other words, because
his folly makes him incapable of weighing his words before speaking, as
the wise are urged to do in 33:4, he constantly changes his mind like a
wheel that is revolving. Hence, what he says makes little or no sense.
'An unscrupulous...friend is like the distracted [lit., rutting...]
stallion'----another forceful image----'that neighs, no matter who the
rider,' i.e., such a 'friend' speaks up or acts impulsively, no matter
who is present; considerations of time or place, of courtesy or
confidence, mean nothing to him."
I have two reactions to this:
I think that people can get the impression that my thoughts revolve in
circles----that I do not have firm convictions, and that my thoughts are
not exactly linear. Some have applied to me Ephesians 4:14, in which
Paul (or, for liberal scholars, "Paul") exhorts his congregation not to
be tossed about by every wind of doctrine. For those who apply that
verse to me, I need to make a decision about what I believe and act
according to it, rather than entertaining different perspectives and
evaluating their strengths and weaknesses.
I do not
believe that my thinking in circles is a sign that my mind lacks
instruction. Actually, it's because I think things through that I am
reluctant to consider one dogmatic perspective to be the
end-all-be-all. I have difficulty committing to one
perspective and thinking in a linear fashion because a "Yes, but" or a
"What about this?" interrupts me from doing so. And I should note that
Ben Sira himself acknowledges that there are shades of gray. For
example, is modesty a good thing? At one point, Ben Sira says that it
is, but he also believes that too much modesty is not that good.
do I believe in any black and white? Is everything for me a shade of
gray? I think that there is better and worse when it comes to how I
live my life. In some cases, there is black and white----I should not
harm somebody else. In other cases, there is better and worse, and that
can be adaptable based on the situation. Instruction perhaps can help
me to learn what to do in different situations.
But, when it comes
to doctrinal issues, such as whether everyone has to keep the Sabbath
on Saturday, or if there is a true religion, or what not, I tend to
leave that up in the air. I have some convictions. I just don't think
that some of the issues that people expect me to have convictions on are
overly vital, or can even be successfully arbitrated.
Thinking before you speak. Well, I admit that there are times when I
say socially-inappropriate things. It's difficult when I'm pressured to
talk in order to fit into a social situation and to stand out, and when
I don't have much time to think before I speak because the conversation
is moving rapidly from one topic to another. So why should I beat
myself up if I flub things up, at times?