Singers of Wisdom: Hymnody and Pedagogy in Ben Sira and the Second Temple Period
Skelton, David A. (author)
Goff, Matthew J. (professor directing dissertation)
Brewer, Charles E. (Charles Everett) (university representative)
Levenson, David B. (committee member)
Kelley, Nicole, 1975- (committee member)
Florida State University (degree granting institution)
College of Arts and Sciences (degree granting college)
Department of Religion (degree granting department)
This dissertation examines the role of musical training in scribal education and its implication for Ben Sira’s pedagogy. Chapter One surveys the scholarship regarding the function of hymns in the book of Sirach and their role in Ben Sira’s pedagogy. I contend that answers to the former has been too textually oriented, and the latter has discounted the pedagogical value of hymns. I propose that one should take seriously Ben Sira’s command for his students to sing and the predominance of hymns in the book as indicative of the education he provided. I suggest that a comparative study with ANE and Greco-Roman education models and hymns from the Dead Sea Scrolls will accentuate the role of hymnody in ancient education. Chapter Two, “Singers of Wisdom in the Ancient Near East and Greco-Roman World,” explores the role of music in scribal education in the ancient world in general. In particular, I examine the evidence for scribal training in songs in Old Babylonian and Neo-Assyrian scribal practices, the use of chanting and “verse points” in scribal singing in Ancient Egypt, and the equation of musical acumen with education in fifth-century Athens. Utilizing Hadot’s concept of “spiritual exercises” in philosophical schools, I suggest that hymnody as a pedagogical tool for sophists and presocratic sages provides a helpful model for songs in Ben Sira’s pedagogy. Chapter Three, “Singers of Wisdom in Israel and the Second Temple Period” narrows the exploration of music in ancient education to ancient Israel. This chapter utilizes music archaeology and a close textual analysis of the Hebrew Bible and Dead Scrolls. Particularly important is the predominance of the lyre and double-pipe in Iron Age II and the Greco-Roman period and the emergence of the Levites as singers and teachers in the Second Temple period. This tradition of singing teachers carries over in the Dead Sea Scrolls in the office of the maskil and allusions to singing teachers in the Teacher Hymns of the Hodayot. Chapter Four, “Ben Sira as a Singer of Wisdom” turns to Ben Sira’s construction of the teacher in which the depiction of the scribe as a singer is quite pervasive. I explore the implications behind Ben Sira’s command for the reader to sing with a lyre and stringed instruments in Sir 39:15, the allocation of praise to the wise in Sir 14:20-15:10, and the touting of his prophetic authority in the wisdom hymn in Sirach 24. These passages have much in common with the singing office of the maskil, the Teacher Hymns in the Hodayot, the Levitical scribes in Chronicles, and the scribal depiction of David in Sir 47:8-10 and 11Q5. These parallels suggests that Ben Sira is drawing on a common model of the teacher in the Second Temple period. I also demonstrate the possibility that the hymn in Sir 39:12-35 functioned as a school exercise whereas the hymn in Sirach 24 functioned as a public demonstration of Ben Sira’s wisdom in order for him to attract new followers/students. Chapter Five, “Singing Teachers, Singing Students,” explores the role of hymns in the composition and reception of the book of Sirach. I contend that the Hymn to Creation (42:14-43:33) and the Praise of the Ancestors (44:1-50:24) function teleologically and are mosaics of terms from previous passages in Sirach. Whereas the Hymn to Creation represents the composition of a new hymn by Ben Sira’s disciples based on older hymns, the latter is an imaginal liturgy that influenced later Jewish poetic traditions, particularly the ʿAvodah poetry, through its performance in a festival setting. The continued use of hymns by Ben Sira’s students also explains the additional hymns and colophons in Sirach 51, particularly in MS B from the Cairo Genizah, in which the Hymn of Divine Names in Sir 51:12a-o utilizes the Amidah. Chapter Six, “Did Ben Sira Sing in Class” offers a concise conclusion to my dissertation along with its broader themes. This dissertation as a whole demonstrates: (1) the importance of music in ancient pedagogy; (2) the influence of the Levitical scribal singers on Jewish pedagogy in the Second Temple period; (3) the pedagogical use of hymns in the Second Temple period in general, in which comparisons between Ben Sira and the Dead Sea Scrolls often demonstrate shared rhetorical strategies, and (4) the centrality of music in Ben Sira’s pedagogy and the depiction of his sagely persona. Overall, I contend that the hymnic and didactic discourse flourished together in Ben Sira’s pedagogy, which helps explain his reception as both a proto-rabbi and singer in later Jewish tradition. This dissertation also demonstrates a cross-pollination between Hellenistic and Hebraic thought at the level of pedagogical practice and forces us to rethink ancient learning in a more embodied and less text-focused way.
Ben Sira, Dead Sea Scrolls, Hymnody, Levites, Music, Pedagogy
June 12, 2017.
A Dissertation submitted to the Department of Religion in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy.
Includes bibliographical references.
Matthew Goff, Professor Directing Dissertation; Charles Brewer, University Representative; David Levenson, Committee Member; Nicole Kelley, Committee Member.
Florida State University