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Sirach
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Sirach

The Wisdom of Ben Sirach, also called The Wisdom of Joshua Ben Sirach, Sirach is a book written circa 180 BCE in Hebrew. The author, Joshua ben Sirach, was a Jew living in Egypt; his work was translated into Greek by his grandson.

The Greek Church Fathers called it also "The All-Virtuous Wisdom. The Latin Church Fathers, beginning with Cyprian ("Testimonia," ii. 1; iii. 1, 35, 51, 95, et passim), termed it "Ecclesiasticus".

The Greek translation contains a preface written by Ben Sirach's grandson. It was called Ecclesiasticus because it was frequently read in churches, and was thus called liber ecclesiasticus (Latin and latinised Greek for 'church book'). Today it is more frequently known as Ben Sirach or simply Sirach.

Although it was not accepted into the Jewish biblical canon, Sirach is quoted infrequently in the Talmud, and works of rabbinic literature. It is included in the Septuagint and is accepted as part of the biblical canon by Catholics and Eastern Orthodox, but not by Protestants.

Table of contents
1 The author
2 Date
3 Contents
4 References

The author

The author is called in the Greek text (l. 27) "Jesus the son of Sirach of Jerusalem." The copy owned by Saadia Gaon had the reading "Simon, son of Joshua, son of Eleazar ben Sira"; and a similar reading occurs in the Hebrew manuscript B. By interchanging the positions of the names "Simon" and "Joshua," the same reading is obtained as in the other manuscripts. The correctness of the name "Simon" is confirmed by the Syriac version, which has = "Joshua, son of Simon, surnamed Bar Asira." The discrepancy between the two readings "Bar Asira" and "Bar Sira" is a noteworthy one, "Asira" (= "prisoner") being a popular etymology of "Sira." The evidence seems to show that the author's name was Joshua, son of Simon, son of Eleazar ben Sira.

According to the Greek version, though not according to the Syriac, the author traveled extensively (xxxiv. 11) and was frequently in danger of death (ib. verse 12). In the hymn of ch. li. he speaks of the perils of all sorts from which God had delivered him, although this is probably only a poetic theme in imitation of the Psalms. The calumnies to which he was exposed in the presence of a certain king, supposed to be one of the Lagi, are mentioned only in the Greek version, being ignored both in the Syriac and in the Hebrew text. The only fact known with certainty is that Ben Sira was a scholar, and a scribe thoroughly versed in the Law, and especially in the "Books of Wisdom."

Date

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, an epithet borne by only two of the Lagi, Ptolemy III. (247-222 B.C.) and Ptolemy VII. (sometimes reckonedIX.). The former monarch can not be intended in this passage; for his reign lasted only twenty-five years. The latter ascended the throne in the year 170, together with his brother Philometor; but he soon became sole ruler of Cyrene, and from 146 to 117 held sway over all Egypt, although he dated his reign from the year in which he received the crown (i.e., from 170). The translator must, therefore, have gone to Egypt in 132, and if the average length of two generations be reckoned Ben Sira's date must fall in the first third of the second century. The result of this reckoning is confirmed by the fact that the author evidently lived before the persecution of Antiochus in 168, since he does not allude to it.

Ecclesiasticus closely resembles Proverbs, except that, unlike the latter, it is the work of a single author, not an anthology of maxims drawn from various sources. Some have denied Ben Sira the authorship of the apothegms, and have regarded him as a compiler.

Contents

The Book of Ben Sirach is a collection of ethical teachings. They 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. These precepts are arranged in verses, which are grouped according to their outward form. The sections are preceded by eulogies of wisdom which serve as introductions and mark the divisions into which the collection falls.

Wisdom, in Ben Sira's view, is synonymous with the fear of God, and sometimes is confounded in his mind with the Mosaic law. 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, and an unconquerable distrust of women.

As in 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 of modern date. Occasionally Ben Sira digresses to attack theories which he considers dangerous; for example, the doctrines that divine mercy blots out all sin; 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 moralistic 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.

Influence in the Jewish liturgy

Sirach was used as the basis for two important parts of the Jewish liturgy. In the Mahzor (High Holy day prayer book), a medieval Jewish poet used Ben Sirach as the basis for a poem, KeOhel HaNimtah, in the Yom Kippur musaf ("additional") service. Recent scholarship indicates that it formed the basis of the most important of all Jewish prayers, the Amidah. Ben Sira apparently provides the vocabulary and framework for many of the Amidah's blessings.

References

Amidah, entry in the Encyclopedia Judaica, Keter Publishing