What a long book! This is a lot like the Book of Proverbs. This Ecclesiasticus is not to be confused with Ecclesiastes. This book called Ecclesiasticus is commonly called the Wisdom of Sirach or simply Sirach. I have used the term Ecclesiasticus–Sirach. This Book of Ecclesiasticus literally means a Church book. Ben Sira, that literally means son of Sira, wrote these ethical teachings around 200 to 175 BCE. His full name is Jesus son of Sirach or Yeshua Ben Eliezer Ben Sira.
According to the Greek text, this Jesus, the son of Sira was a Jewish scribe who had been living in Jerusalem. He then authored this work in Alexandria, Egypt, around 180–175 BCE, where he may have established a school that is mentioned in the appendix. Ben Sirach is unique among all the Old Testament writers in that he signed his work, since it is not anonymous. This book is also the largest wisdom book to have been preserved from antiquity.
Although written in Hebrew, it was translated into Greek by the author’s grandson, who added a prologue around 132 BCE. This prologue is generally considered the earliest witness to a canon of the Hebrew Bible, especially the books of the prophets. This Greek translator states in his preface that he was the grandson of the author. He came to Egypt in the thirty-eighth year of the reign of Euergetes, around132 BCE. Thus the date of this biblical text is relatively clear.
In the 1950s, three Hebrew copies of portions of this book of Sirach were found among the Dead Sea Scrolls dating from 73 CE. The earliest of these scrolls has been dated to the second part of the 1st century BCE, about 150 years after the Book of Sirach was first composed.
Sirach was accepted as part of the Christian Bible by Roman Catholics and Eastern Orthodox Christians. It was cited in some early Christian writings, especially the canonical Epistle of James (70-110 CE), and also the non-canonical work, the Epistle of Barnabus (70-131 CE), as well as among the writings of Clement of Alexandria (150-215 CE) and Origen (184-254 CE). Originally it was not part of the Jewish canon. It may have been denied entry to the canon as a rabbinical counter-reaction to its embrace by the nascent Christian community.
However, some Jews in the Diaspora considered Sirach to be Holy Scripture since it was included in the canon of the Septuagint, the 2nd century BCE Greek version of the Jewish scriptures used by the Diaspora Jews. Since the Reformation, when the King James version of the Bible relied on the Hebrew canon, it has not been considered canonical by many Protestant denominations.
The teachings in this book are applicable to all conditions of life, parents and children, husbands and wives, rich and poor, young and old, and friends. Many of these teachings are rules about courtesy and politeness. Still a greater number contain advice and instruction about the duties of man toward himself and others. This includes how to act towards the poor, society, the state, and most of all toward God.
Wisdom was synonymous with the fear of God, and sometimes with adherence to the Mosaic Law itself. The maxims are expressed in exact formulas, illustrated with striking descriptive images. They show a profound knowledge of the human heart, the disillusionment of experience, and a little sympathy with the poor and the oppressed.
However, Sirach does not have compassion for either women or slaves. He was strongly anti-feminine. He spoke of the distrust and possessive nature of women. He preferred harsh treatment for slaves. It was not clear if he was just mirroring the ideas of his time.
Like Ecclesiastes, the author of Ecclesiasticus had a great faith in the morality of the good old days. Yet at times, he seemed to prefer his contemporary philosophical ideas about Epicureanism. Sirach often attacked theories that he considered dangerous.
Of particular interest to biblical scholars are chapters 44–50, in which Sirach praised famous men in generations past, starting from the pre-flood Enoch and continuing through to Simeon, the just high priest, who may have been his contemporary. Sirach identified, either directly or indirectly, most of the books of the Hebrew Bible that would eventually become canonical. This may be due to his familiarity with the Greek Septuagint. Thus we have some insight into the historical development and evolution of the Jewish biblical canon from this book.
This work definitely had an influence on the New Testament writers, especially the Gospel of Matthew. Some Christians have regarded the catalogue of the famous men in Sirach as containing Messianic references. Among the influences on this work are Aesop’s Fables and some Egyptian works. In popular culture the opening lines of the 1982 Chariots of Fire movie is a verse from Sirach about famous men of the past.
There is no real recognizable structure in Sirach. Sometimes it is illogical. There is a continual search for wisdom with the importance of the fear of God. However there are certain themes running through this book that reappear often. They are creation, death, friendship, happiness, honor, shame, money, sin, social justice, good speech, and the role of women.
This book opens with a prologue from the translator of this work from Hebrew to Greek, who claims that it was his grandfather who originally wrote this. He then talked about various translation problems, like many contemporary authors. Finally, he mentioned his travels in Egypt.
The actual book begins with a long series of sentences or sayings, much like the Book of Proverbs. There was the continual union of the mystery of wisdom with the fear of the Lord. There was no wisdom without this fear of the Lord. There could be an unjust anger, but wisdom and the commandments go together. He also has a series of reprimands.
You were to trust and hope in the Lord. Remember your past history and curses. The hands of the Lord should remind you about the fear of the Lord. You had a duty to your parents. You had to humbly take care of your father, but with pride. You had to provide almsgiving. Sirach gave some instructions about the poor, since you were to be kind to all people. Wisdom will teach those who love her because she was demanding. Human conduct starts at home.
Wealth should not lead to false presumption. You had to be firm by watching your tongue. Watch out for the double-tongued sinner and evil passions. You should have faithful friends who accept the discipline of wisdom. You should be an apprenticeship of wisdom. You should have wise sayings in your public conduct. Watch out for sinners and liars. Do your humble work.
Watch out for money and wives. Be careful with slaves, servants, and children. Protect your family life. Be respectful to priests and the downtrodden. Show prudence and respect for others. Listen to the wise old sages since they will tell you how to get along with people. Be careful about quarrels, travels, and secrets.
There were some instructions for men concerning women and new friends. You should watch out for envy, killers, and reckless speech. You should prefer wise companions and good government. Beware of pride because the Lord takes actions against pride. Do not boast. Keep your honor and humility because humble people have wisdom. Do not judge on appearances, but look at some rulers. Finally, be reflective and relax.
The weak have confidence in the Lord. So too, you should trust in the Lord as you wait for judgment day. Be careful with strangers. Help good people. On the other hand, watch out for friendly enemies and sinning companions. Be careful about the actions of your enemy. See the bad behavior of the rich. Do not conduct yourselves like them. Be careful with your secrets. Stay with your own kind of people. The difference between the rich and the humble is not great. Watch your heart.
True happiness comes with wisdom. The miser is not generous since he does not give to others. A happy wise person realizes that death is coming. The key to happiness is fear of the Lord and wisdom. Let us sing a hymn of praise. The Lord does not make sinners, since there is human freedom along with the wisdom of the Lord.
Life can be difficult with multiple bad kids. There is a difference between a good and a bad city. Historically, God has punished sinners. Remember the Egyptian experience. Remember that God is the creator so that you cannot hide from the Lord. You should gain knowledge about the Lord’s creation.
At the top of creation are humans with responsibility. The divine judge gives you an invitation to repent. When you compare the greatness of God with the nothingness of humans, you will see the difference. Be warned about gifts, health, and sin. Be careful with vows to the Lord. The wise ones practice self control.
Do not be a reckless drunkard. Do not be wicked. Do get involved with foolish chatter. Verify what you hear. The fear of the Lord will help you determine the difference between true and false wisdom. The clever ones know how to use silence. There are foolish givers with inappropriate speech, who are shameless. These liars are not the wise ones.
Hurtful sins are sins of pride. Sinners are not wise, but foolish. They lack education since they are ill-mannered fools. You can tell the difference between the words of fools and the wise ones. The idle ones have degenerate children. It is folly to teach a fool. Mourning for the foolish is a waste of time. Stay away from stupid people. Have firm friendships and trusting friendly neighbors.
Pray for life. Watch for evil desires that come to your mouth. Be careful about swearing oaths and your speech. Some people are sinners until they die. Notice the difference between a male adulterer and a female adulterer.
We have a hymn to wisdom because she was at creation. Wisdom has grown with beauty and an aroma. There is an invitation to wisdom by following the covenant and the law. Overflowing wisdom is expanding instructions. Old people have value. We should bless people.
A woman’s wound comes from evil wives. Do not depend on your wife. Wives should make their husbands happy. Sin and death come from a woman. Therefore separate yourself from an evil wife. A good wife is not an evil drunk wife. The ideal wife is humble. Take care of headstrong daughters and children. The difference between a good and a bad wife is sadness.
The evil merchants have only a profit motive. Human speech is tested to see if it is just. Do not get involved with conversations among fools. Do not betray secrets. Watch out for hypocrites and paradoxes. The Lord will bring vengeance with his anger and wrath.
Seek forgiveness when you did not follow the divine commands. Stay away from quarrels, slander, and false tongues. There are problems with lending money. Almsgiving is better. There are problems of surety or guaranteeing money. You need the necessities of life, but become aware of strangers. Discipline yours sons because the son will replace their father. Thus you will avoid a spoiled son.
Stay healthy, but stay away from idol food offerings. There is great joy in life. If you are wealthy, watch out for the negative power of gold. There are some blessed rich persons. You should have good banquet manners. You need discipline in eating and sleeping. Watch how you use food and wine. If you are the master of a banquet receive your reward. Let the older people at the banquet speak, but the young people at the banquet should speak only a little bit. You should know when to leave a banquet. Never be the last one.
The sensible person has a fear of the Lord and follows the law. You must be prepared to understand God’s creative uniqueness as well as the opposites in life. Sirach was uniquely qualified to write this work. You should have financial independence. Treat bad slaves harshly, but if you only have one slave, treat him like a brother.
People have senseless dreams. It is important to travel. The fear of the Lord is better than unacceptable sacrifices. There are many paradoxes in life. If you follow the law, you will make generous sacrifices. Divine justice will be your repayment from the Lord.
There is a prayer for deliverance from foreign countries and the restoration of Israel. You should have discernment when choosing a wife. Watch out for false friend, and shady counselors and consultants. Good counselors are hard to come by. The truly wise person does not have a useless tongue and is moderate in food.
You should respect physicians and pharmacists because they do the work of God in healing sickness and illness. You should mourn for the dead, but not excessively. You cannot do manual work and seek wisdom at the same time. You should respect the various artisans and skilled workers for their contributions to society.
The wisdom of the scribes invites praise to God with a hymn of praise. The blessings of the Lord should be on everyone. God controls the environment. There is a misery to the human condition. Many have restless sleep because of the problems caused by sinful humans. Despite everything, wisdom is the best. There is nothing better. Death is the destiny of the impious and their children. A good name is great. Certain things you should be ashamed of, while other things you should not be ashamed of. A father should be worried about his daughter. Young women should stay away from married women.
The glory of God can be found in nature and in historical famous men. The works of the Lord show his knowledge. The glory of God can be found in his creation, like the sun, the moon, the stars, and rainbows. The glory of God can be found in the environment, in the wonders of weather, the northern cold wind the snow, the heat, and the wild seas. We should praise the Divine presence in the world around us.
Then Sirach went into a history of the famous holy men who have served the Lord. The Israelites were descendants of these wonderful holy men. Surprising, Enoch led them off. Then there were the classic favorites, Noah, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and Moses. After that came a long excursion on Aaron, and his sons, the priests, their holy vestments, their ornamentation, and their sacrifices. There was mention of the revolt against Aaron, and the brave deed of Phinehas.
Next it was on to the men in the Promised Land, Joshua, Caleb, and Judges. There were the prophets Samuel and Nathan, along with the legend and glory of King David and his son, King Solomon. Next, there was split in Israel with King Rehoboam and King Jeroboam. Then we see the prophets Elijah and Elisha. There were a couple of good kings, King Hezekiah and King Josiah. Next came the three great prophets, Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel with the twelve Minor Prophets. Job, although not a prophet, is also mentioned. Next acknowledged were the rebuilding people, Zerubbabel, Jeshua, and Nehemiah. This list concluded with Enoch again, and then an insertion about Joseph, Shem, Seth, and Adam.
Then there was a chapter on the high priest Simon as the builder of walls, as the glorious high priest at the altar, reactions to him, finally his blessing and prayer. Finally, there is a conclusion with an appendix thanking God for their deliverance.