For my write-up today on the Anchor Bible commentary on The Wisdom of Ben Sira, my focus will be on the topic of adultery. The text is Ben Sira 23:18-26.
Sira 23:18 criticizes the "man who dishonors his marriage bed" (Patrick
Skehan's translation). My impression is that Alexander Di Lella thinks
that this passage is criticizing a man who cheats on his wife----what
we today call an adulterer. The reason that this stands out to me is
that I've often read scholars who maintain that the Hebrew Bible regards
adultery as a woman cheating on her husband or a man sleeping with
another man's wife----but not as a man cheating on his own wife. Some
have heralded Jesus as revolutionary because Jesus contends in his
teachings on divorce that a man can commit adultery against his wife by
being with another woman (Mark 10:11-12). But did Jesus come up with
that concept? In Ben Sira 23:18, we see the notion that a man can
dishonor his own marriage bed.
Something else that stood
out to me in my reading of his commentary was Di Lella's comments on
page 325 about the penalty for adultery: "Apparently, in Ben
Sira's day death by stoning, the penalty the Law decreed for adulterers
(cf. Lev 20:10; Deut 22:22-24; Ezek 16:36-40; John 8:4-5), was not
enforced since it is not alluded to in v 21 or in vv 22-26. Under
Talmudic law the adulterer was scourged." At the same time,
Ben Sira 23:24 affirms that the punishment of an adulteress will "extend
to her children" (again, Skehan's translation), and Di Lella interprets
that in light of B.T. Qiddushin 78b's statement that the offspring of
adulterous unions was to be excluded from the Israelite congregation.
This is probably based on Deuteronomy 23:2, which prohibits the mamzer from entering the congregation of the LORD.
reason that this stood out to me is that I'm interested in how elements
of ancient Judaism simply regarded some biblical laws as
null-and-void. You would think that they'd see all of the Torah as
eternally-binding, but that's not necessarily the case. Some thought
that certain laws were not binding anymore due to new circumstances.
For example, there is one rabbinic teaching that says that Deuteronomy
23's prohibition of certain foreigners from Israel's congregation no
longer applies because people have mixed ancestry and ethnicity.