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The Book of Sirach, also called the Wisdom of Sirach or simply Sirach (), and also known as the Book of Ecclesiasticus (; abbreviated Ecclus.) or Ben Sira, is a Jewish work originally in Hebrew of ethical teachings, from approximately 200 to 175 BC, written by the Jewish scribe
Ben Sira Ben Sira also known as Shimon ben Yeshua ben Eliezer ben Sira (שמעון בן יהושע בן אליעזר בן סירא) or Yeshua Ben Sirach (fl. 2nd century BCE), was a Hellenistic Jewish scribe, sage, and allegorist from Seleucid The Sele ...
of
Jerusalem Jerusalem (; he, יְרוּשָׁלַיִם ; ar, القُدس, ', , (combining the Biblical and common usage Arabic names); grc, Ἱερουσαλήμ/Ἰεροσόλυμα, Hierousalḗm/Hierosóluma; hy, Երուսաղեմ, Erusałē ...

Jerusalem
, on the inspiration of his father Joshua son of Sirach, sometimes called Jesus son of Sirach or Yeshua ben Eliezer ben Sira. In
Egypt Egypt ( ar, مِصر, Miṣr), officially the Arab Republic of Egypt, is a spanning the and the of . It is bordered by the to , the () and to , the to the east, to , and to . In the northeast, the , which is the northern arm of the R ...

Egypt
, it was translated into Greek by the author's unnamed grandson, who added a prologue. This prologue is generally considered the earliest witness to a canon of the books of the prophets, and thus the date of the text is the subject of intense scrutiny. The book itself is the largest wisdom book from antiquity to have survived.


Canonical status

Sirach is accepted as part of the
Canon Canon or Canons may refer to: Places * Canon, Georgia Canon is a city in Franklin County, Georgia, Franklin and Hart County, Georgia, Hart counties in the U.S. state of Georgia (U.S. state), Georgia. The population was 804 at the 2010 census. His ...
by
Catholics The Catholic Church, also known as the Roman Catholic Church, is the largest Christian church, with 1.3 billion baptised Baptism (from the Greek language, Greek noun βάπτισμα ''báptisma'') is a Christians, Christian ri ...

Catholics
,
Eastern Orthodox The Eastern Orthodox Church, also called the Orthodox Church, is the second-largest Christian church, with approximately 220 million baptised members. It operates as a communion Communion may refer to: Religion * The Eucharist (also cal ...
, and most of
Oriental Orthodox The Oriental Orthodox Churches are a group of Eastern Christian Eastern Christianity comprises Christian Christians () are people who follow or adhere to Christianity, a monotheistic Abrahamic religion based on the life and teachings ...
Christians. The
Anglican Anglicanism is a Western Christianity, Western Christian tradition that has developed from the practices, liturgy, and identity of the Church of England following the English Reformation. Adherents of Anglicanism are called ''Anglicans''; t ...
tradition considers Sirach (which was published with other Greek Jewish books in a separate section of the
King James Bible The King James Version (KJV), also the King James Bible (KJB) and the Authorized Version, is an English translations of the Bible, English translation of the Christian Bible for the Church of England, which was commissioned in 1604 and publ ...
) among the apocryphal books, and read them "for example of life and instruction of manners; but yet
o
o
not apply them to establish any doctrine." The
Lutheran Lutheranism is one of the largest branches of Protestantism that identifies with the teachings of Jesus Christ and was founded by Martin Luther, a 16th-century German monk and Protestant Reformers, reformer whose efforts to reform the theology ...
Churches take a similar position. It was cited in some writings in
early Christianity The history of Christianity concerns the Christian religion Christianity is an Abrahamic The Abrahamic religions, also referred to collectively as the world of Abrahamism and Semitic religions, are a group of Semitic-originated religi ...
. There are claims that it is cited in the
Epistle of James The Epistle of James, the Letter of James, or simply James ( grc, Ἰάκωβος, Iakōbos), is a General epistle The catholic epistles (also called the general epistlesEncarta-encyclopedie Winkler Prins (1993–2002) s.v. "katholieke brieven" ...
, and also the non-canonical
Didache The ''Didache'' (; ), also known as The Lord's Teaching Through the Twelve Apostles to the Nations (Διδαχὴ Κυρίου διὰ τῶν δώδεκα ἀποστόλων τοῖς ἔθνεσιν), is a brief anonymous Early Christiani ...

Didache
(iv. 5) and
Epistle of Barnabas The ''Epistle of Barnabas'' ( el, Βαρνάβα Ἐπιστολή) is a Greek epistle An epistle (; el, ἐπιστολή, ''epistolē,'' "letter") is a writing directed or sent to a person or group of people, usually an elegant and formal ...
(xix. 9).
Clement of Alexandria Titus Flavius Clemens, also known as Clement of Alexandria ( grc, Κλήμης ὁ Ἀλεξανδρεύς; – ), was a and philosopher who taught at the . Among his pupils were and . A convert to Christianity, he was an educated man who was ...
and
Origen Origen of Alexandria, ''Ōrigénēs''; Coptic language, Coptic: Ϩⲱⲣⲓⲕⲉⲛ Origen's Greek name ''Ōrigénēs'' () probably means "child of Horus" (from , "Horus", and , "born"). ( 184 – 253), also known as Origen Adamantius, was an ...

Origen
quote from it repeatedly, as from a (Scripture). The ,
Pope Damasus I Damasus I (; c. 305 – 11 December 384) was the bishop of Rome A bishop is an ordained, consecrated, or appointed member of the Clergy#Christianity, Christian clergy who is generally entrusted with a position of authority and oversight. Withi ...

Pope Damasus I
, the Councils of Hippo (393) and Third
Council of Carthage (397)The Councils of Carthage were church synod A synod () is a council of a church, usually convened to decide an issue of doctrine, administration or application. The word '' synod'' comes from the meaning "assembly" or "meeting" and is analogous w ...
,
Pope Innocent I Pope Innocent I ( la, Innocentius I) was the bishop of Rome A bishop is an ordained, consecrated, or appointed member of the Clergy#Christianity, Christian clergy who is generally entrusted with a position of authority and oversight. Within ...

Pope Innocent I
, the second
Council of Carthage (419)The Councils of Carthage were church synod A synod () is a council of a church, usually convened to decide an issue of doctrine, administration or application. The word '' synod'' comes from the meaning "assembly" or "meeting" and is analogous w ...
, the
Council of Florence The Council of Florence is the seventeenth ecumenical council An ecumenical council (or oecumenical council; also general council) is a conference of ecclesiastical dignitaries and theological experts convened to discuss and settle matt ...
(1442) and all regarded it as canonical, although
Jerome Jerome (; la, Eusebius Sophronius Hieronymus; grc-gre, Εὐσέβιος Σωφρόνιος Ἱερώνυμος; – 30 September 420), also known as Jerome of Stridon, was a Christian priest A priest is a religious leader authoriz ...

Jerome
,
Rufinus of Aquileia Tyrannius Rufinus, also called Rufinus of Aquileia (''Rufinus Aquileiensis'') or Rufinus of Concordia (344/345–411), was a monk A monk (, from el, μοναχός, ''monachos'', "single, solitary" via Latin Latin (, or , ) is a classical ...
and the
Council of LaodiceaThe Council of Laodicea was a regional synod A synod () is a council of a church, usually convened to decide an issue of doctrine, administration or application. The word '' synod'' comes from the meaning "assembly" or "meeting" and is analogous ...
ranked it instead as an ecclesiastical book. The
Apostolic Canons The Apostolic Canons or Ecclesiastical Canons of the Same Holy Apostles or Canons of the Holy Apostles is a 4th-century Christianity in Syria, Syrian Christian text. It is an Ancient Church Orders, Ancient Church Order, a collection of ancient ec ...
(not recognized by the Catholic Church) stated as venerable and sacred the Wisdom of Sirach. Pope Innocent I officially confirmed the canon of the Bible shortly after the
Third Council of CarthageThe Councils of Carthage were church synods held during the 3rd, 4th, and 5th centuries in the city of Early centers of Christianity#Carthage, Carthage in Africa. The most important of these are described below. Synod of 251 In May 251 a synod, asse ...
. The Catholic Church then reaffirmed Sirach and the other
deuterocanonical books The deuterocanonical books (from the Greek language, Greek meaning "belonging to the second canon") are books and passages considered by the Catholic Church, the Eastern Orthodox Church, the Oriental Orthodox Churches, and the Assyrian Church of ...
in 1546 during the fourth session of the
Council of Trent The Council of Trent ( la, Concilium Tridentinum), held between 1545 and 1563 in Trent (or Trento, in northern Italy Italy ( it, Italia ), officially the Italian Republic ( it, Repubblica Italiana, links=no ), is a country consisting of ...

Council of Trent
, and attached an excommunication to the denial of their scriptural status. Sirach is not part of the Jewish canon, once thought to have been established at the hypothetical
Council of Jamnia The Council of Jamnia (presumably Yavneh Yavne ( he, יַבְנֶה) or Yavneh is a city in the Central District of Israel Israel (; he, יִשְׂרָאֵל; ar, إِسْرَائِيل), officially known as the State of Israel ( h ...
, perhaps due to its late authorship, although it is not clear that the canon was completely closed at the time of Ben Sira. Others have suggested that Ben Sira's self-identification as the author precluded it from attaining canonical status, which was reserved for works that were attributed (or could be attributed) to the prophets, or that it was denied entry to the canon as a rabbinical counter-reaction to its embrace by the nascent Christian community. Some Jews in the
diaspora A diaspora ( ) is a scattered population whose origin Origin(s) or The Origin may refer to: Arts, entertainment, and media Comics and manga * , a Wolverine comic book mini-series published by Marvel Comics in 2002 * , a 1999 ''Buffy th ...
considered Sirach scripture. For instance, the Greek translation made by Ben Sira's grandson was included in the
Septuagint The Greek Old Testament, or Septuagint (, ; from the la, septuaginta, lit=seventy; often abbreviated ''70''; in Roman numerals Roman numerals are a that originated in and remained the usual way of writing numbers throughout Europe wel ...
, the 2nd-century BC Greek version of the Jewish scriptures used by Diaspora Jews, through which it became part of the Greek canon. The multiplicity of manuscript fragments uncovered in the
Cairo Genizah The Cairo Geniza, alternatively spelled Genizah, is a collection of some 400,000 Jewish Jews ( he, יְהוּדִים ISO 259-2 , Israeli pronunciation ) or Jewish people are an ethnoreligious group and nation originating from the Israelit ...
evince its authoritative status among Egyptian Jewry until the Middle Ages. Because it was excluded from the Jewish canon, Sirach was not counted as being canonical in Churches originating from the
Reformation The Reformation (alternatively named the Protestant Reformation or the European Reformation) was a major movement within Western Christianity in Vatican City Vatican City (), officially the Vatican City State ( it, Stato della Cit ...

Reformation
, although some retained the book in an appendix to the Bible called
Apocrypha Apocrypha (Gr. ἀπόκρυφος, ‘the hidden hings) The biblical Books received by the early Church as part of the Greek version of the Old Testament, but not included in the Hebrew Bible, being excluded by the non-Hellenistic Jews fro ...
.


Structure

As with other wisdom books, there is no easily recognizable structure in Sirach; in many parts it is difficult to discover a logical progression of thought or to discern the principles of arrangement. However, a series of six poems about the search for and attainment of wisdom (1:1–10, 4:11–19; 6:18–37; 14:20–15:10; 24:1–33; and 38:24–39:11) divide the book into something resembling chapters, although the divisions are not thematically based. The exceptions are the first two chapters, whose reflections on wisdom and fear of God provide the theological framework for what follows, and the last nine chapters, which function as a sort of climax, first in an extended praise of God's glory as manifested through creation (42:15–43:33) and second in the celebration of the heroes of ancient Israel's history dating back to before the
Great Flood A flood myth or deluge myth is a myth Myth is a folklore genre consisting of narratives that play a fundamental role in a society, such as foundational tales or origin myths. The main characters in myths are usually gods, demigods, or supe ...
through contemporary times (see previous section). Despite the lack of structure, there are certain themes running through the Book that reappear at various points. The New Oxford Annotated Apocrypha identifies ten major recurring topics: # The Creation (16:24–17:24, 18:1–14; 33:7–15; 39:12–35; and 42:15–43:33); # Death (11:26–28; 22:11–12; 38:16–23; and 41:1–13); # Friendship (6:5–17; 9:10–16: 19:13–17; 22:19–26: 27:16–21; and 36:23–37:15); # Happiness (25:1–11; 30:14–25; and 40:1–30); # Honor and shame (4:20–6:4; 10:19–11:6; and 41:14–42:8); # Money matters (3:30–4:10; 11:7–28; 13:1–14:19; 29:1–28; and 31:1–11); # Sin (7:1–17; 15:11–20; 16:1–17:32; 18:30–19:3; 21:1–10; 22:27–23:27; and 26:28–28:7); # Social justice (4:1–10; 34:21–27; and 35:14–26); # Speech (5:6,9-15; 18:15–29; 19:4–17; 20:1–31; 23:7–15; 27:4–7; 27:11–15; and 28:8–26); and # Women (9:1–9; 23:22–27; 25:13–26:27; 36:26–31; and 42:9–14).


Contents

''The Wisdom of Sirach'' is a collection of ethical teachings. Thus ''Sirach'', sometimes called ''Ecclesiasticus'', closely resembles ''
Proverbs A proverb (from la, proverbium) is a simple and insightful, traditional saying A saying is any concisely written or spoken expression (linguistics), expression that is especially memorable because of its meaning or style. Sayings are categorize ...
'', except that, unlike the latter, it is presented as the work of a single author, not an anthology of maxims drawn from various sources, presented in verse form. The question of which apothegms actually originated with Sirach is open to debate, although scholars tend to regard him as a compiler or anthologist. The teachings are applicable to all conditions of life: to parents and children, to husbands and wives, to the young, to masters, to friends, to the rich, and to the poor. Many of them are rules of courtesy and politeness; and a still greater number contain advice and instruction as to the duties of man toward himself and others, especially the poor, as well as toward society and the state, and most of all toward God. Wisdom, in Ben Sira's view, is synonymous with the fear of God, and sometimes is identified in the text with adherence to the
Mosaic law The Law of Moses ( he, תֹּורַת מֹשֶׁה ), also called the Mosaic Law, primarily refers to the Torah The Torah (; he, תּוֹרָה, "Instruction", "Teaching" or "Law") includes the first five books of the Hebrew Bible ...
. The maxims are expressed in exact formulas, and are illustrated by striking images. They show a profound knowledge of the human heart, the disillusionment of experience, a fraternal sympathy with the poor and the oppressed. By contrast some feel Sirach exhibits little compassion for either women or slaves. He advocates distrust and possessiveness over women, and the harsh treatment of slaves (which presupposes the validity of slavery as an institution), positions which are not only difficult for modern readers, but cannot be completely reconciled with the social milieu at the time of its composition. The book contains the only instance in Biblical teaching of an explicit recommendation of physicians. This is a direct challenge against the traditional idea that illness and disease was seen as penalty for sin. As in ''
Ecclesiastes Ecclesiastes (; Hebrew language, Hebrew: , , grc, Ἐκκλησιαστής, ) written , is one of the Ketuvim ("Writings") of the Hebrew Bible and one of the wisdom literature, "Wisdom" books of the Christianity, Christian Old Testament. Th ...

Ecclesiastes
'', two opposing tendencies war in the author: the faith and the morality of olden times, which are stronger than all argument, and an
Epicureanism Epicureanism is a system of philosophy Philosophy (from , ) is the study of general and fundamental questions, such as those about Metaphysics, existence, reason, Epistemology, knowledge, Ethics, values, Philosophy of mind, mind, and Ph ...
of modern date. Occasionally Sirach digresses to attack theories which he considers dangerous; for example, that man has no freedom of will, and that God is indifferent to the actions of mankind and does not reward virtue. Some of the refutations of these views are developed at considerable length. Through these ethical chapters runs the prayer of Israel imploring God to gather together his scattered children, to bring to fulfilment the predictions of the Prophets, and to have mercy upon his Temple and his people. The book concludes with a justification of God, whose wisdom and greatness are said to be revealed in all God's works as well as in the history of Israel. These chapters are completed by the author's signature, and are followed by two hymns, the latter apparently a sort of alphabetical acrostic. Of particular interest to biblical scholars are Chapters 44–50, in which Ben Sira praises "men of renown, and our fathers in their generation", starting from the antediluvian Enoch and continuing through to "Simon, the high priest, son of Onias" (300–270 BCE). Within this recitation, Ben Sira identifies, either directly or indirectly, each of the books of the Old Testament that would eventually become canonical, with the apparent exception of only Ezra, Daniel, Ruth, Esther, and perhaps Chronicles. The ability to date the composition of Sirach within a few years given the autobiographical hints of Ben Sira and his grandson (author of the introduction to the work) provides great insight regarding the historical development and evolution of the Jewish canon.


Authorship and translation

Joshua ben Sirach, or, according to the Greek text "Jesus the son of Sirach of Jerusalem", was a Jewish scribe who had been living in
Jerusalem Jerusalem (; he, יְרוּשָׁלַיִם ; ar, القُدس, ', , (combining the Biblical and common usage Arabic names); grc, Ἱερουσαλήμ/Ἰεροσόλυμα, Hierousalḗm/Hierosóluma; hy, Երուսաղեմ, Erusałē ...

Jerusalem
, and may have authored the work in
Alexandria Alexandria ( or ; ar, الإسكندرية ; arz, اسكندرية ; Coptic language, Coptic: Rakodī; el, Αλεξάνδρεια ''Alexandria'') is the List of cities and towns in Egypt, third-largest city in Egypt after Cairo and Giza, ...

Alexandria
, Egypt ca. 180–175 BC, where he is thought to have established a school. Ben Sirach is unique among all Old Testament and Apocryphal writers in that he signed his work. The Prologue, attributed to Ben Sira's grandson and dated to 132 BCE, is generally considered the earliest witness to a canon of the books of the prophets. Thus the date of the text, has been the subject of intense scrutiny by biblical scholars. Joshua ben Sirach's grandson was in Egypt, translating and editing after the usurping line had definitively ousted Simon's heirs in long struggles and was finally in control of the High Priesthood in Jerusalem. Comparing the Hebrew and Greek versions shows that he altered the prayer for Simon and broadened its application ("may He entrust to his mercy"), in order to avoid closing a work praising God's covenanted faithfulness on an unanswered prayer. The Greek translator states in his preface that he was the grandson of the author, and that he came to Egypt in the thirty-eighth year of the reign of "
Euergetes ( grc, Εὐεργέτης, ), meaning "the Benefactor" (from , "good", + , "doer, worker"), was an epithet, an honoring title, given to various benefactors. Euergetism (literally "doing good deeds") was the practice of high-status and wealthy indi ...
". This
epithet An epithet (, ) is a byname, or a descriptive term (word or phrase), accompanying or occurring in place of a name and having entered common usage. It has various shades of meaning when applied to seemingly real or fictitious people, divinities, ...
was borne by only two of the
Ptolemies The Ptolemaic dynasty (; grc, Πτολεμαῖοι, ''Ptolemaioi''), the Thirty-third dynasty of Egypt, sometimes referred to as the Lagid dynasty (Λαγίδαι, ''Lagidae;'' after Ptolemy I Ptolemy I Soter (; gr, Πτολεμαῖο ...
. Of these,
Ptolemy III Euergetes egy, Iwaennetjerwysenwy Sekhemankhre Setepamun#Clayton06, Clayton (2006) p. 208 , predecessor = Ptolemy II , successor = Ptolemy IV , nebty = ''ḳn nḏtj-nṯrw jnb-mnḫ-n-tꜢmrj'Qen nedjtinetjeru inebmenekhentamery''The bra ...
reigned only twenty-five years (247–222 BCE) and thus
Ptolemy VIII Euergetes Ptolemy VIII Euergetes II Tryphon ( gr, Πτολεμαῖος Εὐεργέτης Τρύφων, ''Ptolemaĩos Euergétēs Tryphon'' "Ptolemy the Benefactor, the luxurious"; c. 184 BC – 28 June 116 BC), nicknamed Physcon ( "Fatty"), was a king o ...
must be intended; he ascended the throne in the year 170 BCE, together with his brother
Ptolemy VI Philometor Ptolemy VI Philometor ( gr, Πτολεμαῖος Φιλομήτωρ, ''Ptolemaĩos Philomḗtōr'';"Ptolemy, lover of his Mother". 186–145 BC) was a king of Egypt from the Ptolemaic period. He reigned from 180 to 164 BC and from 163 to 145 BC. ...

Ptolemy VI Philometor
, but he soon became sole ruler of
Cyrene Cyrene may refer to: Antiquity * Cyrene (mythology), an ancient Greek mythological figure * Cyrene, Libya, an ancient Greek colony in North Africa (modern Libya) ** Crete and Cyrenaica, a province of the Roman Empire ** Cyrenaica, the region aroun ...

Cyrene
, and from 146 to 117 BCE held sway over all Egypt. He dated his reign from the year in which he received the crown (i.e., from 170 BCE). The translator must therefore have gone to Egypt in 132 BCE. The translation into Greek is believed to have been done after 117 BCE.


Language and alternative titles

The "Book of ben Sirach" (, ) was originally written in
Hebrew Hebrew (, , or ) is a Northwest Semitic languages, Northwest Semitic language of the Afroasiatic languages, Afroasiatic language family. Historically, it is regarded as one of the spoken languages of the Israelites and their longest-survivi ...
, and was also known in Hebrew as the "Proverbs of ben Sirach" (, ) or the "Wisdom of ben Sirach" (, ). The book was not accepted into the
Hebrew Bible The Hebrew Bible or Tanakh (; Hebrew Hebrew (, , or ) is a Northwest Semitic languages, Northwest Semitic language of the Afroasiatic languages, Afroasiatic language family. Historically, it is regarded as the language of the Israelites ...

Hebrew Bible
and the original Hebrew text was not preserved in the Jewish canon. However, various original Hebrew versions have since been recovered, including fragments recovered within the
Dead Sea Scrolls The Dead Sea Scrolls (also the Qumran Caves Scrolls) are and religious first found in 1947 at the in what was then , near in the , on the northern shore of the . Dating back to between the and the , the Dead Sea Scrolls are considered ...

Dead Sea Scrolls
and the
Cairo Genizah The Cairo Geniza, alternatively spelled Genizah, is a collection of some 400,000 Jewish Jews ( he, יְהוּדִים ISO 259-2 , Israeli pronunciation ) or Jewish people are an ethnoreligious group and nation originating from the Israelit ...
, the latter of which includes fragments from six separate manuscripts. The Greek translation was accepted in the ''
Septuagint The Greek Old Testament, or Septuagint (, ; from the la, septuaginta, lit=seventy; often abbreviated ''70''; in Roman numerals Roman numerals are a that originated in and remained the usual way of writing numbers throughout Europe wel ...
'' under the (abbreviated) name of the author: (). Some Greek manuscripts give as the title the "Wisdom of Son of " or in short the "Wisdom of ". The older Latin versions were based on the ''Septuagint'', and simply transliterated the Greek title in Latin letters: . In the ''
Vulgate The Vulgate (; also called , ) is a late-4th-century Latin translation of the Bible The Bible (from Koine Greek Koine Greek (, , Greek approximately ;. , , , lit. "Common Greek"), also known as Alexandrian dialect, common Attic, ...
'' the book is called ("Book of Joshua Son of Sirach"). The Greek
Church Fathers The Church Fathers, Early Church Fathers, Christian Fathers, or Fathers of the Church were ancient and influential Christian theologians Christian theology is the theology Theology is the systematic study of the nature of the Divinity, di ...
also called it the "All-Virtuous Wisdom", while the Latin Church Fathers, beginning with
Cyprian Cyprian ( ; la, Thaschus Caecilius Cyprianus; 210 – September 14, 258 AD''The Liturgy of the Hours according to the Roman Rite: Vol. IV.'' New York: Catholic Book Publishing Company, 1975. p. 1406.) was a bishop of Carthage The Archdiocese ...

Cyprian
, termed it ''Ecclesiasticus'' because it was frequently read in churches, leading the early Latin Fathers to call it (
Latin Latin (, or , ) is a classical language belonging to the Italic languages, Italic branch of the Indo-European languages. Latin was originally spoken in the area around Rome, known as Latium. Through the power of the Roman Republic, it became ...

Latin
and Latinised
Greek#REDIRECT Greek Greek may refer to: Greece Anything of, from, or related to Greece Greece ( el, Ελλάδα, , ), officially the Hellenic Republic, is a country located in Southeast Europe. Its population is approximately 10.7 million as of ...
for "church book"). Similarly, the ''
Nova Vulgata }"> , imagestyle = , image = , caption = Cover of the second edition , label1 = Editor , data1 = , label2 = Author , data2 = , label3 = Audio read by , data3 = , label4 = Original title , data4 = ...
'' and many modern English translations of the ''Apocrypha'' use the title ''Ecclesiasticus'', literally "of the Church" because of its frequent use in Christian teaching and worship. The
Babylonian Talmud The Talmud (; he, תַּלְמוּד ''Tálmūḏ'') is the central text of Rabbinic Judaism Rabbinic Judaism ( he, יהדות רבנית, Yahadut Rabanit), also called Rabbinism, Rabbinicism, or Judaism espoused by the Rabbanites, has ...
occasionally cites Ben-Sira (''Sanhedrin'' 100b; ''Hagigah'' 13a, ''Baba Bathra'' 98b, etc.), but even so, it only paraphrases his citations, without quoting from him verbatim. This is shown by comparing fragmented texts of the original Hebrew "Book of Wisdom" (Ecclesiasticus) discovered in
Qumran Qumran ( he, קומראן; ar, خربة قمران ') is an archaeological site in the West Bank The West Bank ( ar, الضفة الغربية '; he, הגדה המערבית ' or ') is a landlocked territory near the Mediterranean co ...
with the same quotes as given in the Babylonian Talmud.


Date and historical significance

Considering the average length of two
generation A generation is "all of the people born and living Living or The Living may refer to: Common meanings *Life, a condition that distinguishes organisms from inorganic objects and dead organisms ** extant taxon, Living species, one that is not ex ...

generation
s, Sirach's date must fall in the first third of the 2nd century BCE. Furthermore, Sirach contains a
eulogy A eulogy (from εὐλογία, ''eulogia'', Classical Greek Ancient Greek includes the forms of the Greek language Greek (modern , romanized: ''Elliniká'', Ancient Greek, ancient , ''Hellēnikḗ'') is an independent branch of th ...
of "Simon the High Priest, the son of Onias, who in his life repaired the House" (50:1). Festschrift M. Gilbert and other scholars posit that this seems to have formed the original ending of the text, and that Chapters 50 (from verse 2) and 51 are later interpolations. Under this theory, the second
High Priest The term “high priest” usually refers either to an individual who holds the office of ruler A ruler, sometimes called a rule or line gauge, is a device used in geometry and technical drawing, as well as the engineering and construction ...
Simon Simon may refer to: People * Simon (given name) Simon is a common name, from Hebrew Hebrew (, , or ) is a Northwest Semitic languages, Northwest Semitic language of the Afroasiatic languages, Afroasiatic language family. Historically, it ...
(died 196 BCE) would have been intended, and the composition would have concluded shortly thereafter, given that struggles between Simon's successors (175–172 BCE) are not alluded to in the book, nor is the persecution of the Jews by
Antiochus IV Epiphanes Antiochus IV Epiphanes (; grc, Ἀντίοχος ὁ Ἐπιφανής, ''Antíochos ho Epiphanḗs'', "God Manifest"; c. 215 BC – November/December 164 BC) was a Hellenistic The Hellenistic period spans the period of Mediterranean histo ...

Antiochus IV Epiphanes
(168 BCE).


Manuscripts

The work of Sirach is presently known through various versions, which scholars still struggle to disentangle.Stone, Michael E. (ed.) (1984) ''Jewish Writings of the Second Temple Period: Apocrypha, Pseudepigrapha, Qumran, sectarian writings, Philo, Josephus'' Van Gorcum, Assen, Netherlands
p. 290
The Greek version of Sirach is found in many codices of the Septuagint. As early as 1896, several substantial Hebrew texts of Sirach, copied in the 11th and 12th centuries, were found in the
Cairo Geniza The Cairo Geniza, alternatively spelled Genizah, is a collection of some 400,000 Judaism, Jewish manuscript fragments and Fatimid administrative documents that were found in the ''genizah'' or storeroom of the Ben Ezra Synagogue in Fustat or Old C ...
(a synagogue storage room for damaged manuscripts). Although none of these manuscripts is complete, together they provide the text for about two-thirds of the Wisdom of Sirach. According to scholars including
Solomon Schechter Solomon Schechter ( he, שניאור זלמן הכהן שכטר‎; 7 December 1847 – 19 November 1915) was a Moldavian-born American rabbi, academic scholar and educator, most famous for his roles as founder and President of the United ...

Solomon Schechter
and
Frederic Kenyon Sir Frederic George Kenyon (15 January 1863 – 23 August 1952) was a British palaeographer and biblical The Bible (from Koine Greek τὰ βιβλία, ''tà biblía'', "the books") is a collection of religious texts or scriptures sacred ...
, this shows that the book was originally written in Hebrew. In the 1950s and 1960s three copies of portions of Sirach were found among the
Dead Sea Scrolls The Dead Sea Scrolls (also the Qumran Caves Scrolls) are and religious first found in 1947 at the in what was then , near in the , on the northern shore of the . Dating back to between the and the , the Dead Sea Scrolls are considered ...

Dead Sea Scrolls
. The largest scroll was discovered at
Masada Masada ( he, מצדה ', "fortress") is an ancient fortification in the Southern District (Israel), Southern District of Israel situated on top of an isolated rock plateau, akin to a mesa. It is located on the eastern edge of the Judaean Desert, ...

Masada
, the Jewish fortress destroyed in 73 CE. The earliest of these scrolls (2Q18) has been dated to the second part of the 1st century BCE, approximately 150 years after Sirach was first composed. These early Hebrew texts are in substantial agreement with the Hebrew texts discovered in Cairo, although there are numerous minor textual variants. With these findings, scholars are now more confident that the Cairo texts are reliable witnesses to the Hebrew original.


Theological significance


Influence in Jewish doctrine and liturgy

Although excluded from the Jewish canon, Sirach was read and quoted as authoritative from the beginning of the rabbinic period. There are numerous citations to Sirach in the ''
Talmud The Talmud (; he, תַּלְמוּד ''Tálmūḏ'') is the central text of Rabbinic Judaism and the primary source of Jewish religious law (''halakha'') and Jewish theology. Until the advent of modernity, in nearly all Jewish communities, the ...

Talmud
'' and works of
rabbinic literature Rabbinic literature, in its broadest sense, is the entire spectrum of rabbi A rabbi is a spiritual leader or religious teacher in Judaism. One becomes a rabbi by being ordained by another rabbi, following a course of study of Jewish texts ...
(as "", e.g., Hagigah 13a, Niddah 16b; Ber. 11b). Some of those (Sanhedrin 100b) record an unresolved debate between R'Joseph and
Abaye Abaye ( he, אַבַּיֵי) was a rabbi of the Jew Jews ( he, יְהוּדִים ISO 259-2ISO The International Organization for Standardization (ISO; ) is an international standard are technical standards developed by internationa ...

Abaye
as to whether it is forbidden to read the book of Sirach, wherein Abaye repeatedly draws parallels between statements in Sirach cited by R'Joseph as objectionable and similar statements appearing in canonical books. Sirach may have been used as a basis for two important parts of the Jewish liturgy. In the ''
Mahzor The ''machzor'' ( he, :wikt: מחזור, מחזור, plural ''machzorim'', and , respectively) is the prayer book used by Jews on the High Holy Days of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. Many Jews also make use of specialized ''machzorim'' on the thr ...
'' (High Holiday prayer book), a medieval Jewish poet may have used Sirach as the basis for a poem, , in the
Yom Kippur Yom Kippur (; he, יוֹם כִּיפּוּר, Yōm Kīpūr, , ; plural , ) is the holiest day of the year in Judaism Judaism is an Abrahamic The Abrahamic religions, also referred to collectively as the world of Abrahamism and Semi ...
("additional") service for the High Holidays. Yosef Tabori questioned whether this passage in Sirach is referring at all to Yom Kippur, and thus argued it cannot form the basis of this poem. Some early 20th-century scholars also argued that the vocabulary and framework used by Sirach formed the basis of the most important of all Jewish prayers, the
Amidah The Amidah ( he, תפילת העמידה, ''Tefilat HaAmidah'', "The Standing Prayer"), also called the ''Shemoneh Esreh'' ( 'eighteen'), is the central prayer of the Jewish liturgy Jewish prayer ( he, תְּפִלָּה, ; plural ; ...
, but that conclusion is disputed as well. Current scholarship takes a more conservative approach. On one hand, scholars find that "Ben Sira links Torah and wisdom with prayer in a manner that calls to mind the later views of the Rabbis", and that the Jewish liturgy echoes Sirach in the "use of hymns of praise, supplicatory prayers and benedictions, as well as the occurrence of iblicalwords and phrases
hat A collection of 18th and 19th century men's beaver felt hats A hat is a head covering which is worn for various reasons, including protection against weather conditions, ceremonial reasons such as university graduation, religious reasons, safet ...

hat
take on special forms and meanings."Reif, p. 338. However, they stop short of concluding a direct relationship existed; rather, what "seems likely is that the Rabbis ultimately borrowed extensively from the kinds of circles which produced Ben Sira and the Dead Sea Scrolls ...."


New Testament

Some people argue that there are several allusions to the Wisdom of Sirach in the New Testament. These include the
Virgin Mary According to the gospels Gospel originally meant the Christian message, but in the 2nd century it came to be used also for the books in which the message was set out; in this sense a gospel can be defined as a loose-knit, episodic narrat ...

Virgin Mary
's ''
Magnificat The Magnificat (Latin Latin (, or , ) is a classical language belonging to the Italic languages, Italic branch of the Indo-European languages. Latin was originally spoken in the area around Rome, known as Latium. Through the power of the ...

Magnificat
'' in Luke 1:52 following Sirach 10:14; the description of the seed in Mark 4:5, 16–17 following Sirach 40:15; the statement by Jesus in Matthew 7:16,20 following Sirach 27:6; and James 1:19 quoting Sirach 5:11. The distinguished
patristic Patristics or patrology is the study of the early Christian writers who are designated Church Fathers. The names derive from the Classical compound, combined forms of Latin ''pater'' and Greek ''patḗr'' (father). The period is generally consider ...
scholar Henry Chadwick has said that in Matthew 11:28 Jesus was directly quoting Sirach 51:27,Chadwick, Henry.(2001) ''The Church in Ancient Society: From Galilee to Gregory the Great'' Clarendon Press, Oxford, England
p. 28
, however, it appears that Chadwick cited these verses incorrectly because Jesus quotes Sirach 51:34 at Matthew 11:29. Additionally, compare Matthew 6:12 - "And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors" - with Sirach 28:2; "Forgive your neighbor a wrong, and then, when you petition, your sins will be pardoned."


Messianic interpretation by Christians

Some Christians regard the catalogue of famous men in Sirach as containing several messianic references. The first occurs during the verses on
David David (; ) (traditional spelling), , ''Dāwūd''; grc-koi, Δαυΐδ, Dauíd; la, Davidus, David; gez , ዳዊት, ''Dawit''; xcl, Դաւիթ, ''Dawitʿ''; cu, Давíдъ, ''Davidŭ''; possibly meaning "beloved one". is described in th ...

David
. Sirach 47:11 reads "The Lord took away his sins, and exalted his power for ever; he gave him the covenant of kings and a throne of glory in Israel." This references the covenant of 2 Samuel 7, which pointed toward the Messiah. "Power" (Hebrew ) is literally translated as 'horn'. This word is often used in a messianic and Davidic sense (e.g. Ezekiel 29:21, Psalms 132:17, Zechariah 6:12, Jeremiah 33:15). It is also used in the
Benedictus Benedictus may refer to: Music * Benedictus (Song of Zechariah), ''Benedictus'' (''Song of Zechariah''), the canticle sung at Lauds, also called the Canticle of Zachary * The second part of the Sanctus, part of the Eucharistic prayer * Benedictus ...
to refer to
Jesus Jesus, likely from he, יֵשׁוּעַ, translit=Yēšūaʿ, label=Hebrew Hebrew (, , or ) is a Northwest Semitic languages, Northwest Semitic language of the Afroasiatic languages, Afroasiatic language family. Historically, it ...

Jesus
("and has raised up a horn of salvation for us in the house of his servant David"). Another verse (47:22) that Christians interpret messianically begins by again referencing 2 Samuel 7. This verse speaks of Solomon and goes on to say that David's line will continue forever. The verse ends stating that "he gave a remnant to Jacob, and to David a root of his stock." This references Isaiah's prophecy of the Messiah: "There shall come forth a shoot from the stump of Jesse, and a branch shall grow out of his roots"; and "In that day the root of Jesse shall stand as an ensign to the peoples; him shall the nations seek…" (Isaiah 11:1, 10).


References in Sirach and pre-modern texts

Note: verse numbers may vary slightly between versions. * Aesop's fable of ''The Two Pots'' referenced at Sirach 13:2-3See footnote to the Biblical passage in ''The Jerusalem Bible'', Garden City, New York: Doubleday & Company, 1966 * The Satire of the Trades, ''The Egyptian Satire of the Trades'' (written during the Middle Kingdom of Egypt, between 2025 and 1700 BCE), or another work in that tradition referenced at Sirach 38:24-39:11 *The treatises of Zara Yaqob, Emperor of Ethiopia, on the nature and power of the Virgin Mary quotes Sirach 3:30, "Water extinguishes a burning fire and almsgiving atones for sin." *The Kebra Nagast chapter 88 quotes the Book of Sirach 15:16-17.


References in culture

* The opening lines of ''Chariots of Fire'', Best Picture at the 1982 Academy Awards, is from Sirach 44:1: "Let us now praise famous men, and our fathers that begat us." * In "Canon Alberic's Scrap-Book", the first ghost story in his first published collection, M. R. James has his protagonist, Dennistoun, quote lines from Ecclesiasticus 39:28: "Some spirits there be that are created for vengeance, and in their fury lay on sore strokes." * "Their name liveth for evermore" is a phrase from the
King James Bible The King James Version (KJV), also the King James Bible (KJB) and the Authorized Version, is an English translations of the Bible, English translation of the Christian Bible for the Church of England, which was commissioned in 1604 and publ ...
, forming the second half of a line in Sirach 44:14, widely inscribed on war memorials. * The title of James Agee and Walker Evans's book ''Let Us Now Praise Famous Men'' is taken from Sirach 44:1. * Ecclesiasticus 43:11-26 was recited at the 2021 Death and funeral of Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh, funeral of Prince Philip by the Dean of Windsor.


See also

*Roy Kinneer Patteson, Jr. *David Kohn *Development of the Hebrew Bible canon


Notes


Sources

*Askin, Lindsey A. (2018) ''Scribal Culture in Ben Sira'' E.J. Brill, Leiden *Beentjes, Pancratius C. (1997) ''The Book of Ben Sira in Hebrew: A Text Edition of All Extant Hebrew Manuscripts and a Synopsis of All Parallel Hebrew Ben Sira Texts'' E.J. Brill, Leiden, *Toy, Crawford Howell and Lévi, Israel (1906
"Sirach, The Wisdom of Jesus the Son of"
entry in the ''Jewish Encyclopedia'' *''Amidah'', entry in (1972) ''Encyclopedia Judaica Jerusalem'', Keter Publishing, Jerusalem,


External links


Sirach (Ecclesiasticus)
– Latin Vulgate with Douay-Rheims version side-by-side
BenSira.org, original Hebrew manuscripts
''Catholic Encyclopedia''

– Bibledex video overview


The Wisdom of Jesus the Son of Sirach
''Jewish Encyclopedia'' (1906 ed.). {{Authority control 2nd-century BC books Deuterocanonical books Essene texts Ancient Hebrew texts Wisdom literature Jewish apocrypha Jerusalem Poetic Books