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Before beginning my question, I'd like to clarify what I mean by 'Apostolic Christian'. By this, I mean anyone in the Assyrian, Oriental Orthodox, Eastern Orthodox, or Roman Catholic Communions.

The book of Sirach is a deuterocanonical book rejected by most Protestants as Scripture, but accepted as Scripture by most everyone else. It has several verses that are extremely problematic prima facie relating to women; all quotations are from the NSRV-CI.

For from garments comes the moth,
and from a woman comes woman’s wickedness.
Better is the wickedness of a man than a woman who does good;
it is woman who brings shame and disgrace.
-Sirach 42:13-14

From a woman sin had its beginning,
and because of her we all die....
If she [that is, your wife] does not go as you direct,
separate her from yourself.
-Sirach 25:24,26

It is a disgrace to be the father of an undisciplined son,
and the birth of a daughter is a loss.
-Sirach 22:3

He who acquires a wife gets his best possession,
a helper fit for him and a pillar of support.
Sirach 36:29

Unfortunately, I could quote many more. Jesus ben Sirach here says that women's goodness is worse than man's wickedness; that women were the originators of sin; that if wives do listen to you, they should be abandoned; that wives are possessions; and that, of course, the birth of a daughter is a loss. When discussing a headstrong daughter, he is incredibly obscene:

As a thirsty traveler opens his mouth
and drinks from any water near him,
so she will sit in front of every tent peg
and open her quiver to the arrow.
-Sirach 26:12

How do folks who accept this book as inspired Scripture interpret these in light of the Gospel? Patristic citations are both welcome and appreciated.

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  • This seems somewhat opinion based outside of the request for patristic citations, as well as rather confrontational IMO. What if we simply don't believe the verses you cited are "problematic"? Apr 13 at 1:06
  • "rejected by most Protestants as Scripture, but accepted as Scripture by most everyone else". Other than the Roman and Orthodox forms of Catholicism, who are "most everyone else"? Off hand, I can't think of any denomination in the "most everyone else" category. May 13 at 2:31
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    Where does this use of the term "Apostolic Christians" come from? Apostolic Christian Church - Wikipedia sounds nothing like your usage. May 13 at 2:33

2 Answers 2

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Have you checked other translations? I've noticed a couple striking differences in the NRSV-CE and the DRA. E.g

A son ill taught is the confusion of the father: and a foolish daughter shall be to his loss.

The verses are also numbered differently, so that is tripping me up quite a bit as I go back and forth.

Note the modifier that is absent in the NRSVCE, which I expect would change your view of the verse.

Leaving the translation differences aside, I'll focus on your question and post commentaries, using Catena and for the Haydock quotations https://johnblood.gitlab.io/haydock/id330.html

  1. I can't find any commentaries on 42:13. Also, the DRA has "and from a woman the iniquity of a man." Another odd discrepancy. St. Thomas, however, does cite this verse in warning men to refrain from spending too much time around women, in order to safeguard his chastity.

    A great obstacle to continence arises from extrinsic circumstances, such as constant intercourse with women. We read in Ecclesiasticus, “Many have perished by the beauty of a woman, and hereby lust is enkindled as a fire . . . for her conversation burneth as fire” (9:9). And, in the same chapter, the following safeguard is proposed against these dangers: “Look not upon a woman that hath a mind for many, lest thou fall into her snares. Use not much the company of her that is a dancer, and hearken not to her lest thou perish by the force of her charms.” Again, in another chapter, “Behold not everybody’s beauty; and tarry not, among women, for from garments cometh a moth, and from a woman the iniquity of a man” (42:12). St. Jerome, in his book Against Vigilantius, writes that a monk, knowing his own frailty, and how fragile is the vessel which he carries, will fear to slip or stumble, lest he fail and be broken.

    On 42:14, see Geremia's answer

  2. For Sirach 25:24 I found St John Chrysostom:

    "How is it," one could say, "that Scripture calls a helper she who was a hindrance? In fact it says, "Let us make a helper like him." " And I would ask you: how can she be a helper who deprived the man of such security and drove him out of that wonderful existence in paradise, casting him into the tumult of the present life? A schemer does this, not a helper! "Woman," it says, "was the beginning of sin, and because of her we all die." And blessed Paul says, "Adam was not deceived. It was the woman who, being deceived, transgressed." How, then, can she be a helper who put the man at the mercy of death? How could she be a helper who brought it about that the children of God, which is to say all of the inhabitants of the earth, are submerged in death together with the beasts, the birds and all the other animals? Would not the woman have caused the ruin of righteous Job, if he had not been truly a man? Was it not the woman who brought about Sampson"s ruin? Was it not a woman who did her best that the whole Hebrew people take up the worship of Baal of Peor and was slaughtered at the hands of her brothers? And who more than anyone else consigned Ahab to the devil, and before him Solomon, despite his wisdom and fame? Even now, do not women often lead their husbands to offend God? Did not the wise man say, perhaps for this reason, "Any kind of evil is small, compared with the evil of a woman"? "How is it then," you ask me, "that God said, "Let us make a helper like him"? God does not lie." Nor do I say so"never! She was made for that purpose and reason, but like her companion, she did not want to remain in the dignity that was hers. The man was created by God in his image and likeness. Indeed, God said, "Let us make the man in our image and likeness," just as he said, "Let us make him a helper." Once created however, the man immediately lost both of these prerogatives. He knew how to keep neither the image nor the likeness (and how could he have, if he gave himself over to absurd desire, was prey to deception and was unable to overcome pleasure?). To his disgrace, the image was taken from him for all time to come.

  3. Haydock has on 22:3

    Loss. "I wish," said Augustus, "I had never married, or that I had died without children." (Suetonius)

  4. And on 36:26 he has

    Good, is not in Greek, but the context shews that it is necessary. (Haydock) --- By concord small possessions increase, as by discord the greatest are lost. (Worthington)

  5. On 26:15:

    Hedge. Or "stake," palum, (Haydock) on which tents were fixed, Genesis xxxviii. 14. (Calmet) --- Fail. Incontinence will at last ruin her health. (Haydock)

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How do Apostolic Christians interpret arguably sexist verses in Sirach?

By this, I mean anyone in the ... Eastern Orthodox ... Communion.

Eastern Orthodox, born and raised.

from a woman comes woman’s wickedness.

To most males, women are physically beautiful.
But physical beauty needn't necessarily go hand in hand with spiritual beauty.

One must be aware of the distinction,
rather than naively assume the two to go hand in hand.

Better is the wickedness of a man
than a woman who does good;

There are two main types of enemies:

  • those that openly oppose or attack you,
    physically or otherwise;
  • those that deceitfully employ an apparent goodness or sweetness,
    to veil or cover their true intentions.

One must beware of both kinds of dangers.

The pagan Greek philosopher Aesop has a similar teaching in one of his many fables,
wherein a little mouse is frightened of a rooster's apparently savage behavior,
yet drawn to the mild manners displayed by a cat.

From a woman sin had its beginning

To one's body, women are physically attractive.
To one's soul, sin is morally repellent.

Attraction and repellence are antonymic concepts.

because of her we all die

Mothers give life (Genesis 3:20).

Yet, the (physical) beauty of women can also tempt many males
to engage in (spiritually) ugly things,
whose end is death, be it either moral, or physical, or both.

If she [that is, your wife] does not go as you direct,
separate her from yourself.

Allowed in the old covenant; forbidden in the new.

Nevertheless, the solid life advice still stands,
that the two spouses must be attuned to one another morally and intellectually as well,
beyond mere physicality,
lest their marriage be short lived.

It is a disgrace to be the father of an undisciplined son,
and the birth of a daughter is a loss.

The former, spiritually;
the latter, financially.

Even today, after decades of widespread employment of women,
there is still a significant income disparity, between the two genders,
and it was substantially worse in the historical past.

He who acquires a wife gets his best possession

wives are possessions

See equivocation.

When discussing a headstrong daughter, he is incredibly obscene:

When discussing a morally loose daughter, he is incredibly poetic.

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