Thursday, May 8, 2014

The Author of Ecclesiasticus

I was reading a little Hugh of St. Victor recently, the twelfth-century Parisian theologian. (Actually, it's Frans van Liere's new Introduction to the Medieval Bible that directed me to Hugh.) Hugh has an interesting little tract called On Sacred Scripture and Its Authors, available in Migne's edition here.

He says a lot of interesting things, and a lot of what I find interesting is when he is most obviously dependent on Jerome. For instance, he excludes the deuterocanonical books from the canon and labels them 'apocrypha', just as Jerome had. But then he also discusses the authorship of some of these 'apocrypha', and here's what he says about Ecclesiasticus:
Librum Ecclesiasticum certissime filius Sirach Hierosolymita nepos Jesu sacerdotis magni, cujus meminit Zacharias, composuit.  
The book Ecclesiasticus was definitely written by the son of Sirach of Jerusalem, grandson of Jesus, the high priest whom Zechariah mentions. 
I've never heard that one before. Hugh thinks that Joshua [Jesus] the high priest from the early Second Temple period, mentioned by Zechariah (e.g. at 3:1; but also appearing in Haggai and Ezra) wrote the book of Ecclesiasticus, or at least was the grandfather of the author of Ecclesiasticus. 

It's a little hard to follow what Hugh is thinking here. According to the Greek prologue to the book of Sirach, the author of the Hebrew edition of the book was a fellow named Jesus son of Sirach, and it was this guy's grandson (whose name we don't know) who translated the book into Greek. But Hugh seems to think that the son of Sirach is the grandson of Jesus, somehow combining the author and the translator into one person. I wonder if he has a Latin text of Ecclesiasticus without the prologue (I believe such did circulate), and he's just getting his information about the authorship second-hand and jumbling it all up. 

But how he linked "Jesus" of Ecclesiasticus with Joshua the high priest...well, that's wonderful. I wonder if that's his own thought or if he got it from someone else. And even though the text has such an illustrious pedigree, it's still 'apocrypha' for Hugh. 

UPDATE: I should have included the exact reference for Hugh's comment: On Sacred Scripture 7; PL 175.16d–17a. 

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