Guide The Book of Sirach

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Toggle navigation. We ask you, humbly, to help. Hi readers, it seems you use Catholic Online a lot; that's great! It's a little awkward to ask, but we need your help. Ben Sira doesn't discount the difficulty of adhering to the Torah and understands that his students are challenged, distressed or even fearful. They might see their contemporaries living lives of ease and might be tempted to forego the study of the Torah to make a quick buck.

Instead, they must hold fast, surround themselves with like-minded friends and redouble their commitment to the Torah. Students should be prepared for these trials because the reward for overcoming them is well worth the effort. As a result, much of Ben Sira's writings include admonitions against the dangers of slander, gossip, insincere friends, and indulging one's passions. His topics range from how to behave at a dinner party to how to manage your money. His pupils are taught to be honorable in business and to avoid idleness.

There is also a section on household management, including the treatment of slaves and children. Lest one think this is all of a secular nature, Ben Sira is anxious to promote Jewish piety throughout. It is an essential component of life and cannot be separated from day-to-day realities. He attributes absolute control to God and reflects repeatedly on God as Creator of all. His main source for his writings was, of course, the Hebrew Scriptures.

He uses proverbs, prayers, hymns, and questions-and-answers. Women A word needs to be said about Ben Sira's teachings about women. The good news is that more than verses are dedicated to women; the bad news is that most of them are very negative.


The good wife garners only ten of his verses and nothing is said from her point of view. She is "good" because she is silent, obedient, modest, and a valuable "possession" for her husband. Mothers are only mentioned in conjunction with fathers. Widows do need to be cared for, not because it is compassionate but because they will nag you until you do.

The lengthy discussion on the "bad wife" culminates in a list of evils — the "bad wife" is the worst of those evils. Included among her many traits, a bad wife does not make her husband happy It is at this point that we read for the first time in scriptural writings that sin came through a woman.

In speaking about the adulteress a specific example of a bad wife , Ben Sira describes her punishment in considerable detail — a public shaming. But if a man commits adultery, his main worry is having a guilty conscience. And if a man did commit adultery, it was because a woman led him astray.

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Nonetheless, it is Ben Sira's treatment of daughters that raises the biggest concerns. Having a daughter is seen as a "loss" for the father. She will probably be headstrong and commit sexual improprieties. The best thing is to keep her as a virtual prisoner in the house until she can be safely married off. He ends this section by saying: "Better is the wickedness of a man than a woman who does good" What do scholars make of all this?

Some argue that he was simply a man of his times. He lived in a patriarchal society where the father was the head of the household and he decided everything. So Syncellus Chronicles, edition Dindf. But the teaching and temper of the book make this supposition more improbable than the last.

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An inference drawn from Sirach f,12 ff and other references to the professional healer of the body But this is a very small foundation on which to build so great an edifice. There is, on the whole, such a uniformity in the style and teaching of the book that most scholars agree in ascribing the whole book except, the Prologue, which is the work of the translator to Ben Sira. This does not mean that he composed every line; he must have adopted current sayings, written and oral, and this will account for the apparent contradictions, as about becoming surety Sirach , and refusing to become surety Sirach ; ; words in praise Sirach ; ff and condemnation of women Sirach ,13; ; the varying estimates of life Sirach ; , etc.

But in these seeming opposites we have probably no more than complementary principles, the whole making up the complete truth. Nothing is more manifest in the book than the all-pervading thought of one dominant mind. Some have denied the genuineness of Sirach 51, but the evidence is at least indecisive. There is nothing in this chapter inconsistent with the rest of the book.

In the recently discovered fragments of Hebrew text there is a psalm between Sirach and 13 of the Greek and English Versions of the Bible which seems a copy of Ps It is absent from the versions and its genuineness is doubtful.

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But in both the Hebrew and Greek texts there are undoubted additions and omissions. There are, in the Greek, frequent glosses by Christian editors or copyists and other changes by the translators? In the book itself there is one mark of definite date Sirach , and in the Prologue there is another.

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Unfortunately both are ambiguous. In the Prologue the translator, whose grandfather or ancestor Greek pappos wrote the book the younger Siracides, as he is called , says that he reached Egypt, where he found and translated this book in the reign of Euergetes, king of Egypt. Sirach mentions, among the great men whom he praises, Simon the high priest, son of Onias, who is named last in the list and lived probably near the time of the elder Siracidess.

Scholars differ as to which Euergetes is meant in the Prologue and which Simon in Assuming that Simon had died in BC, as seems likely, it is a reasonable conclusion that the original Hebrew work was composed somewhat later than BC. If Simon II is the man intended, the book could hardly have been composed before BC, an impossible date; see below.

It is said of him that he was one of the last members of the great synagogue and in the Talmud he is the hero of many glorifying legends. The so-called great synagogue never really existed, but the date assigned to it in Jewish tradition shows that it is Simon I that is thought of. Some manuscripts have "Simon the Kind. This is the exact title given to Simon I by Josephus op. In 2 Macc 3 he is the betrayer of the temple to the Syrians. Even if the incident of the above chapter were unhistorical, there must have been some basis for the legend. Josephus Ant. Edersheim says that the temple and city stood in need of what is here described in the time of Simon I, but not in the time of Simon II, for Ptolemy I BC in his wars with Demetrius destroyed many fortifications in Palestine to prevent their falling into the hands of the enemy, among which Acco, Joppa, Gaza are named, and it is natural to think that the capital and its sanctuary were included.

This is, however, but a priori reasoning, and Derenbourg argues that Simon II must be meant, since according to Josephus Ant.

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This is not, however, to say that Simon II or anyone else did, at that time, restore either. It must be admitted that there is no decisive evidence on one side or the other, but the balance weighs in favor of Simon I in the opinion of the present writer. If we accept this interpretation of the above words, the question is settled. Westcott, however DB, , I, , note c , says "the words can only mean that the translator in his 38th year came to Egypt during the reign of Euergetes.


Margoliouth I, teaches the contrary view, which is now accepted by nearly all scholars Schurer, etc. We may therefore assume that the original Hebrew book was composed about BC, or some 50 or more years after the death of Simon I, and that the translation was made about BC, for the younger Siracides came to Egypt in BC, and he gives us to understand in the Prologue that he translated the Hebrew work of his grandfather almost immediately after reaching that country. If Simon II died BC is meant in Sirach 50, we are compelled to assume a date for the original work of about BC in order to allow time for the growth of the halo of legend which had gathered about Simon.

The translation must, in that case, have been completed some 20 years after the composition of the Hebrew, a conclusion which the evidence opposes. The teaching of the book belongs to BC, or slightly earlier. The doctrine of the resurrection taught in Daniel BC is ignored in Sirach, as it has not yet become Jewish doctrine. Moreover, the priestly house of Zadok is praised in this book Sirach 50, etc. Even before the discovery of the substantial fragments of what is probably the original Hebrew text of this book, nearly all scholars had reached the conclusion that Sirach was composed in Hebrew.

There are other cases where mistakes and omissions in the Greek are explained by a reference to the newly found Hebrew text. C, or some 50 or more years after the death of Simon I, and that the translation was made about BC, for the younger Siracides came to Egypt in BC, and he gives us to understand in the Prologue that he translated the Hebrew work of his grandfather almost immediately after reaching that country.

The strongly supported conjecture of former years that the book was composed in Hebrew was turned into a practical certainty through the discovery, by Dr. Schechter and others in and after, of the fragments of a probably the Hebrew text called now A B C and D. These contain much over half the whole book, and that the text in them, nearly always identical when the same passages are given in more than one, is the original one, is exceedingly likely, to say the least.

Margoliouth Origin of the Original Hebrew of Ecclesiasticus, has tried to prove that the Hebrew text of the fragments is a translation of a Persian version which is itself derived from Greek and Syriac. The proofs he offers have not convinced scholars. As a matter of fact, in such cases the copyist has gone wholly wrong or the word is undecipherable. Thus we have the use of the "waw-consecutive" with the imperfect Sirach ; ,23; f, etc.

This mixed usage is exactly what meets us in the latest part of the Old Testament Ecclesiastes, Esther, etc. As regards vocabulary, the word chephets, has the sense of "thing," "matter," in Sirach , as in Ec ; ; In general it may be said that the Hebrew is that of early post-Biblical times. Margoliouth holds that the extant Hebrew version is no older than the 11th century, which is impossible. His mistake is due to confounding the age of the manuscripts with that of the version they contain.

Margoliouth has been answered by Smend TLZ, , col.

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Bickell Zeitschrift fur katholische Theol. The Septuagint translation was made from the Hebrew direct; it is fairly correct, though in all the extant manuscripts the text is very corrupt in several places.