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Book of Sirach

si’-rak, or The Wisdom of Jesus the Son of Sirach:





1. Religion

2. Morals

3. Manners

4. Counsels of Prudence



1. Jesus, Son of Sirach

2. Other Views



1. Most Probable Views

2. Brief Statement of Other Views


1. Composed in Hebrew

2. Margoliouth’s View


1. Greek

2. Syriac

3. Latin

4. English


Sirach is the largest and most comprehensive example of Wisdom Literature (see Wisdom Literature), and it has also the distinction of being the oldest book in the Apocrypha, being indeed older than at least two books (Daniel, Esther) which have found a place in the Canon alike of the Eastern and Western churches.

I. Name.

The Hebrew copy of the book which Jerome knew bore, according to his explicit testimony (see his preface to his version of Libri Sol.), the same title as the canonical Proverbs, i.e. meshalim, "Proverbs" (Parabolae is Jerome’s word). It is quoted in rabbinical literally, by the sing. of this name, mashal = Aramaic mathla’, but in the Talmud it is cited by the author’s name, "Ben Sira" (ben cira’). The Hebrew fragments found in recent years have no title attached to them. In the Greek manuscripts the heading is Sophia Iesou huiou Sirach (or Seirach), "The Wisdom of Jesus, son of Sirach" (so "A"); or simply Sophia Seirach (B), "The Wisdom of Sirach." The Fathers called it either (as Euseb., etc.) he panaretos sophia, "the all virtuous wisdom," or simply he panaretos, "the all virtuous (one)," or (Clement of Alexandria) paidagogos, "teacher." The first Hebrew and the several Greek titles describe the subject-matter, one Hebrew title (ben cira’) the author. But the Latin name Ecclesiasticus was given the book because it was one of the books allowed to be read in the Ecclesia, or church, for edification (libri ecclesiastici), though not one of the books of the Canon (libra canonici) which could be quoted in proof or disproof of doctrine. The present book is called Ecclesiasticus by way of preeminence since the time of Cyprian (Testimon. 2, etc.). The Syriac (Peshitta) title as given in the London Polyglot is "The Book of Jesus the son of Simon ’Acira’, called also the Book of the Wisdom of Baruch (= Hebrew ben, "son of") ’Acira’." There can be no doubt that Asira (sometimes translated "bound") is but a corrupted form of Sira. For other explanations see Ryssel in Kautzsch, AT Apocrypha, 234.

Lagarde in his corrected text prefixes the title, "The Wisdom of Baruch = Hebrew ben, "son of") Sira." How is that the Hebrew cira’, has in the Greek become Sirach (or Seirach)? How are we to explain the final chapter in the Greek? The present writer thinks it is due to an attempt to represent in writing the guttural sound of the final letter ’aleph (’) in the Hebrew name as in the Greek Akeldamach, for the Aramaic chaqal dema’ (Ac 1:19). Dalman, however (Aramaic Grammar, 161, note 6), followed by Ryssel, holds that the final chapter is simply a sign that the word is indeclinable; compare Iosech (Lu 3:26), for Hebrew yoce.

II. Canonicity.

Though older than both Da and Esther, this book was never admitted into the Jewish Canon. There are numerous quotations from it, however, in Talmudic and rabbinic literature, (see a list in Zunz, Die Gottesdiensilichen Vortrage(2), 101 f; Delitzsch, Zur Geschichte der jud. Poesie, 204 f; Schechter, JQR, III, 682-706; Cowley and Neubauer, The Original Hebrew of a Portion of Ecclesiasticus, xix-xxx). It is not referred to explicitly in Scripture, yet it is always cited by Jewish and Christian writers with respect and perhaps sometimes as Scripture. It forms a part of the Vulgate (Jerome’s Latin Bible, 390-405 A.D.) of the Tridentine Council and therefore of the Romanist Canon, but the Protestant churches have never recognized it as canonical, though the bulk of modern Protestant scholars set a much higher value upon it than they do upon many books in the Protestant Canon (Chronicles, Esther, etc.). It was accepted as of canonical rank by Augustine and by the Councils of Hippo (393) and Carthage (397, 419), yet it is omitted from the lists of accepted books given by Melito (circa 180 AD), Origen, in the Apostolic Canons and in the list of the Councils of Laodicea (341 and 381). Jerome writes in Libri Sol.: "Let the church read these two books (Wisdom and Sirach) for the instruction of the people, not for establishing the authority of the dogmas of the church." It suffered in the respect of many because it was not usually connected with a great name; compare the so-called "Proverbs of Solomon." Sirach is cited or referred to frequently in the Epistle of James (Jas 1:2-4--compare Sirach 2:1-5; Jas 1:5--compare Sirach 1:26; 41:22; 51:13 f; Jas 1:8 ("double minded")--compare Sirach 1:28, etc.). The book is often cited in the works of the Fathers (Clement of Alexandria, Origen, Augustine, etc.) and also in the Apostolical Constitutions with the formula that introduces Scripture passages: "The Scripture says," etc. The Reformers valued Sirach highly, and parts of it have been incorporated into the Anglican Prayer-book.

III. Contents.

It is quite impossible in the book as it stands to trace any one scheme of thought, for the author’s mind moves lightly from topic to topic, recurring frequently to the same theme and repeating not seldom the same idea. It is, however, too much to say with Sonntag (De Jesu Siracidae, etc.) that the book is a farrago of sayings with no connection, or with Berthold that the "work is but a rhapsody," for the whole is informed and controlled by one master thought, the supreme value to everyone of Wisdom. By this last the writer means the Jewish religion as conceived by enlightened Jews toward the beginning of the 2nd century BC, and as reflected in the Law of Moses (see Sirach 24:23-34), and in a less degree in the books of the Prophets and in the other writings (see Prologue). The book follows the lines of the canonical Book of Proverbs, and is made up of short pithy sayings with occasional longer discussions, largely collected but in part composed, and all informed and governed by the dominant note of the book: true Wisdom, the chief end of man. Most of the book is poetical in form, and even in the prose parts the parallelism of Hebrew poetry is found. Many unsuccessful attempts have been made to trace a definite continuous line of reasoning in the book, but the vital differences in the schemes propounded suggest what an examination of the book itself confirms, that the compiler and author put his materials together with little or no regard to logical connection, though he never loses sight of his main theme--Wisdom, the chief thing.

Eichhorn (Einleitung, 50 ff) divides the book into three parts (Sirach 1-23; 24-42:14; 42:15-50:24), and maintains that at first each of these was a separate work, united subsequently by the author. Julian divides the work into three, Scholz into twelve, Fritzsche (Einleitung, xxxii) and Ryssel (op. cit., 240) into seven, Edershelm (op. cit., 19 f) and R.G. Moulton (Modern Reader’s Bible: Ecclus, xvi ff) into five portions, and many other arrangements have been proposed and defended as by Ewald, Holzmann, Bissell, Zockler, etc. That there are small independent sections, essayettes, poems, etc., was seen by the early scribes to whom the Septuagint in its present form was largely due, for they have prefixed headings to the sections beginning with the following verses: Sirach 18:30 ("Temperance of Soul"); 20:27 ("Proverbs"); 23:7 ("Discipline of the Mouth"); 24:1 ("The Praise of Wisdom"); 30:1 ("Concerning Children"); 30:14 ("Concerning Health"); 30:16 ("Concerning Foods "; this is absent from many manuscripts, though retained by Swete who, however, omits the preceding heading); 30:24 (English Versions of the Bible 33:24, "Concerning Servants"); Sirach 35 (English Versions of the Bible 32:1, "Concerning Rulers"); 44:1 ("Praise of the Fathers"); 51:1 ("The Prayer of Jesus, Son of Sirach"). Probably the whole book possessed such headings at one time, and it is quite possible that they originated in the need to guide readers after the book had become one of the chief church reading-books (so W. J. Deane ii The Expositor, II, vi, 327). These headings are given in English in the King James Version proper (in the margin), though in modern reprints, as also in the Revised Version (British and American), they are unfortunately omitted. The whole book has been arranged in headed sections by H. J. Holzmann (Bunsen’s Bibelwerk, IX, 392 ff) and by R. G. Moulton (op. cit.).

IV. Teaching.

In general it may be said that the principles enunciated in this book agree with those of the Wisdom school of Palestinian Judaism about 200 BC, though there is not a word in the book about a Messianic hope or the setting up of a Messianic kingdom. None of the views characteristic of Alexandrian Judaism and absent from the teaching of Palestinian Judaism are to be found in this book, though some of them at least are represented in Wisdom (see WISDOM OF SOLOMON, VI; TEACHING). Girorer (Milo und die jud.-alex. Philo., II, 18 ff) and Dahne (Gesch. der jud.-alex. rel. Phil., II, 141 ff) hold that the book contains many Alexandrian expressions and numerous statements peculiar to the Alexandrian philosophy. But apart from some late interpolations, mostly Christian, what these German scholars say is untrue, as Drummond (Philo Judaeus, I, 144 ff), Deane (Expos, II, v, 334 ff) and others have shown. The outstanding features of Alexandrianism are the allegorical interpretation of the Scriptures, its conception of the ecstatic vision of God, its doctrine of mediating powers between man and God and its adoption of purely Greek ideas. None of these can be traced in Sir. The Hebrews never developed a theoretical or speculative theology or philosophy: all their thinking gathered about life and conduct; the duties that men owed to God and to one another; the hopes that they cherished and the fears by which they were animated. This is the only philosophy which the Bible and the so-called Apocrypha teach, and it is seen at its highest point in the so-called WISDOM LITERATURE (which see). The main lines of the teaching of Sirach may be set out as follows, under the three heads of religion, morals, and manners.

1. Religion:

(1) God.

The view of God given in this book agrees generally with that put forth by the later writers of the Old Testament from the exile (Second Isaiah, Job, etc.) onward, though the God of this book lacks the love and tenderness of the Yahweh of the Old Testament prophets. God is present everywhere (Sirach 16:17-23); He created the world as an ordered whole (Sirach 16:26-30) and made man intelligent and supreme over all flesh. The expressions used are no doubt modeled on Ge 1, and it may fairly be inferred that creation out of nothing is meant. Wisdom, on the other hand, teaches the Alexandrian doctrine that matter (hule) is eternal and that the Creator’s work consisted of fashioning, adapting and beautifying. The world is a creature of God, not (as in Philo, etc.) an emanation from Him. Yet is He compassionate and forgiving (Sirach 17:24 ff). His works are past finding out (Sirach 18:2 ff); but His compassion is upon all flesh (Sirach 18:13), i.e. upon all that accept His chastening and seek to do His will (Sirach 18:14). In Sirach 43:27 God is said to be "the all" (to pan), which simply means that He pervades and is the ground of everything. It is not Alexandrian pantheism that is taught. Gfrorer and others take a contrary view.

(2) Revelation.

In harmony with other products of the "Wise Men," Sirach sets chief value upon natural religion, that revealed in the instincts, reason and conscience of man as well as by the sun, moon, stars, etc. Yet Sirach gives far more prominence than Proverbs to the idea that the Divine Will is specially made known in the Law of Moses (Sirach 24:23; 45:1-4). We do not meet once with the word "law" in Ecclesiastes, nor law in the technical sense (Law of Moses) in either Job, Wisdom or Proverbs. In the last-named it is simply one of many synonyms denoting "Wisdom." In Sirach the word occurs over 20 times, not, however, always, even when the expression "Law of Moses" is used, in the sense of the "five books" (Pentateuch). It generally includes in its connotation also "the prophecies and the rest of the books" (Prologue); see Sirach 32 (Septuagint 35):24; 33 (Septuagint 36):1-3.

(3) Sin.

Sin is due to the wrong exercise of man’s free will. Men can, if they like, keep the commandments, and when they break from them they are themselves alone to be blamed (Sirach 15:14-17). Yet it was through a woman (Eve) that sin entered the world and death by sin (Sirach 25:24; compare 1Ti 2:14). See Ro 5:12 where "one man," strictly "human being" (5:14, "Adam"), is made the first cause of sin. But nowhere in Sirach is the doctrine of original sin taught.

(4) Predestination.

Notwithstanding the prominence given to "free will" (see (3), above), Sirach teaches the doctrine of predestination, for God has determined that some men should be high and some low, some blessed and others cursed (33:10 ft).

(5) Satan.

The word "Satan" (Satanas) in Sirach 21:27 (it occurs nowhere else in the Apocrypha) denotes one’s own wicked heart, as the parallelism shows.

(6) Salvation.

There is no salvation except by way of good works on man’s part (Sirach 14:16 f) and forgiveness on God’s (Sirach 17:24-32). The only atonement is through one’s own good works (Sirach 5:5 f), honoring parents (Sirach 32:14 f), almsgiving, etc. (Sirach 3:30; 17:19 ff). There is no objective atonement ("expiation," literally, "propitiation"; the Greek verb exilaskomai, is the great Septuagint word for the Hebrew kipper, "to atone").

(7) Sacrifice.

The sacrifice of the wicked is an abomination to God (Sirach 34:18 ff), though He Himself appointed sacrifices and first-fruits (Sirach 45:20 f), and when the righteous offer sacrifices to God they are accepted and remembered in the time to come (Sirach 35:1-12).

(8) Feasts.

Festivals as well as seasons are ordained by God to be observed by man (Sirach 33 (Septuagint 36):8 f; compare Ge 1:14).

(9) Prayer.

The duty of prayer is often pointed out (Sirach 37:15, etc.), the necessary preparation defined (Sirach 17:25; 18:20,23), and its successful issue promised (Sirach 35:17). There must be no vain repetitions (Sirach 7:14; compare Mt 6:7), nor should there be any faint-heartedness in the matter (Sirach 5:10; compare Jas 1:6). Men are to pray in sickness (Sirach 38:9), but all the same the physician should be consulted and his advice followed (Sirach 38:1 f,12 ff).

(10) Angelology.

Sirach nowhere clearly expresses his belief in angels or uses language which implies such a belief. For "an angel (ho aggelos) destroyed them" the Hebrew of the original passage (2Ki 19:35) has maggephah, "plague," and so the Syriac, though the Septuagint (followed by the Vulgate) has "angel."

(11) Eschatology.

Nowhere in this book is the doctrine of a future life taught, and the whole teaching of the book leaves no place for such a doctrine. Men will be indeed rewarded or punished according to their conduct, but in this world (see Sirach 2:10 f; 9:12; 11:26 f). The retribution is, however, not confined to the individuals in their lifetime; it extends to their children and involves their own glorious or inglorious name after death (see Sirach 11:28; 40:15; 41:6; 44:11-13). The passage concerning Gehenna (Sirach 7:17) is undoubtedly spurious and is lacking in the Syriac, Ethiopic, etc. Since the book is silent as to a future life, it is of necessity silent on the question of a resurrection. Nothing is hinted as to a life beyond the grave, even in Sirach 41:1-4, where the author deprecates the fear of death. In these matters Sirach agrees with the Pentateuch and the prophetic and poetical books of the Old Testament (Psalms, Job, etc.), none of which give any intimation of a life beyond the grave. Little or nothing is said of the Messianic hope which must have been entertained largely by Palestinian Jews living in the author’s time, though in Sirach 36 (Septuagint 33):1-17 the writer prays for the restoration of Israel and Jerusalem, i.e. R.H. Charles thinks (Eschatology, etc., 65), for the bringing in of the Messianic kingdom.

(12) Sirach’s Doctrine of Wisdom.

For a general discussion of the rise and development of the conception of Wisdom in the Old Testament and in the Apocrypha see Wisdom Literature. A brief statement as to what the word implies in Sirach is all that can here be attempted. It is in chapters 1 and 24 that Ben Sira’s doctrine is chiefly contained.

Wisdom is from God: He created it and it must therefore have a separate existence. Yet it is dependent on Him. It is omnipresent, though it dwells in a peculiar sense with all flesh. The root and beginning of Wisdom, its fullness and crown, are the fear of God (Sirach 1:14,16,18,21); so that only the obedient and pious possess it (Sirach 1:10,26); indeed Wisdom is identified with the fear of the Lord and the observance of the Law (Sirach 19:20); it is even made one with the Law of Moses (Sirach 24:23), i.e. it consists of practical principles, of precepts regulating the life. In this doctrine we have a combination of universalism, principles of reason and Jewish particularism as the teaching of the revealed Law. We have the first in Sirach 24:3-21; the second in 24:23-34. Have we in this chapter, as in Proverbs, nothing outside the teaching of Palestinian Judaism? Gfrorer (op. cit., II, 18 ff) denies this, maintaining that the whole of Sirach 24 was written by an Alexandrian Jew and adopted unchanged by Ben Sira. But what is there in this chapter which an orthodox, well-informed Palestinian Jew of Ben Sira’s time might not well have written? It is quite another question whether this whole conception of Wisdom in the so-called Wisdom books is not due, in some measure, to Greek, though not Alexandrian, influence, unless indeed the Greek influence came by way of Alexandria. In the philosophy of Socrates, and in a less exclusive sense in that of Plato and Aristotle, the good man is the wise one. Cheyne (Job and Solomon, 190) goes probably too far when he says, "By Greek philosophy Sirach, as far as we can see, was wholly uninfluenced."

2. Morals:

The ethical principle of Sirach is Hedonism or individual utilitarianism, as is that of Proverbs and the Old Testament generally, though in the Psalms and in the prophetical writings gratitude to God for the love He has shown and the kind acts He has performed is the basis of endless appeals and vows. Moreover, the individual point of view is reached only in the late parts of the Old Testament. In the older Old Testament books, as in Plato, etc., it is the state that constitutes the unit, not the individual human being. The rewards and penalties of conduct, good and bad, belong to this present world. See what is said in (11) "Eschatology," above; see also Sirach 2:7 f; 11:17; 16:6 f; 40:13 f, etc.

The hedonistic principle is carried so far that we are urged to help the good because they are most likely to prove serviceable to us (Sirach 12:2); to aid our fellow-man in distress, so that in his days of prosperity he may be our friend (Sirach 22:23); contrast the teaching of Jesus Christ (Lu 6:30-36). Friends are to be bemoaned for appearance’ sake (Sirach 38:17). Yet many of the precepts are lofty. We are exhorted to show kindness and forbearance to the poor and to give help to our fellow-man (Sirach 29:8,20); to give alms (Sirach 12:3); speak kindly (Sirach 18:15-18); masters should treat servants as brethren, nay as they would themselves be treated (Sirach 7:20-22; 33:30 f); parents should give heed to the proper training of their children (Sirach 3:2; 7:23; 30:1-13); and children ought to respect and obey their parents (Sirach 3:1-16). It is men’s duty to defend the truth and to fight for it. So shall the Lord fight for them (Sirach 4:25,28). Pride is denounced (Sirach 10:2 ff), and humility (Sirach 3:18), as well as forgiveness (Sirach 28:2), commended.

3. Manners:

Sirach is as much a code of etiquette as one of ethics, the motive being almost invariably the individual’s own good. Far more attention is given to "manners" in Sirach than in Proverbs, owing to the fact that a more complex and artificial state of society had arisen in Palestine. When one is invited to a banquet he is not to show greed or to be too forward in helping himself to the good things provided. He is to be the first to leave and not to be insatiable (Sirach 31:12-18). Moderation in eating is necessary for health as well as for appearance’ sake (Sirach 31:19-22). Mourning for the dead is a social propriety, and it should on that account be carefully carried out, since failure to do this brings bad repute (Sirach 38:16 f). It is quite wrong to stand in front of people’s doors, peeping and listening: only fools do this (Sirach 21:23 f). Music and wine are praised: nay even a "concert of music" and a "banquet of wine" are good in their season and in moderation (Sirach 32 (Septuagint 35):5 f). The author has not a high opinion of woman (Sirach 25:13). A man is to be on his strict guard against singing and dancing girls and harlots, and adultery is an evil to be feared and avoided (Sirach 36:18-26). From a woman sin began, and it is through her that we all die (Sirach 25:4). Yet no one has used more eulogistic terms in praising the good wife than Ben Sira (Sirach 26:1 ff), or in extolling the happiness of the home when the husband and wife "walk together in agreement" (Sirach 25:1).

4. Counsels of Prudence:

Never lend money to a man more powerful than thyself or thou wilt probably lose it (Sirach 8:12). It is unwise to become surety for another (Sirach 29:18; 8:13), yet for a good man one would become surety (Sirach 29:14) and he would even lend to him (Sirach 29:1 ff). It should be remembered that in those times lending and becoming financially liable were acts of kindness, pure and simple: the Jewish Law forbade the taking of interest in any form (see Century Bible, "Ezra," etc., 198). "A slip on, a pavement is better than a slip with the tongue," so guard thy mouth (Sirach 20:18); "He that is wise in words shall advance himself; and one that is prudent will please great men" (Sirach 20:27). The writer has the pride of his class, for he thinks the common untrained mind, that of the plowman, carpenter and the like, has little capacity for dealing with problems of the intellect (Sirach 38:24-34).

V. Literary Form.

The bulk of the book is poetical in form, abounding in that parallelism which characterizes Hebrew poetry, though it is less antithetic and regular than in Prov. No definite meter has been discovered, though Bickell, Margoliouth and others maintain the contrary (see Poetry, Hebrew). Even in the prose parts parallelism is found. The only strophic arrangement is that suggested by similarity of subject-matter.

Bickell (Zeitschr. far katholische Theol., 1882) translated Sirach 51:1-20 back into Hebrew and tried to prove that it is an alphabetic acrostic psalm, and Taylor supports this view by an examination of the lately discovered fragments of the Hebrew text (see The Wisdom of Ben Sira, etc., by S. Schechter and C. Taylor, lxxix ff). After Sirach 51:12 of the Greek and other versions the Hebrew has a psalm of 15 verses closely resembling Ps 136; but the Hebrew version of Sirach 51:1-20 does not favor Bickell’s view, nor does the ps, found only in the Hebrew, lend much support to what either Bickell or Taylor says. Space precludes detailed proofs.

VI. Author.

1. Jesus, Son of Sirach:

The proper name of the author was Jesus (Jeshua, Greek Iesous(?)), the family name being "Ben Sira." The full name would be therefore "Jesus Ben Sirs." In the Talmud and other Jewish writings he is known as "Ben Sira," literally, "son (or descendant?) of Sira." Who Sira was is unknown. No other book in the Apocrypha gives the name of its author as the Prologue to Sirach does. In the best Greek manuscripts (Vaticanus, Sinaiticus, Alexandrinus) of Sirach 50:27, the author’s name appears as ’Iesous huios Seirach Eleazar ho Hierosolumeites, "Jesus the son of Sirach (son of) Eleazar the Jerusalemite." For the last two words Codex Sinaiticus has by a copyist’s error, ho hiereus ho Solumeites, "the Solomon-like priest." The Hebrew text of Sirach 50:27 and 51:30 gives the following genealogy: Simeon son of Jesus, son of Eleazar, son of Sira, making the author the grandson and not the son of Sira, and so he is called by Saadia; see HDB (Nestle) and EB, II, 1165 (Toy). We know nothing of Ben Sira beyond what can be gathered from the book itself. He was a resident in Palestine (24:10 f), an orthodox Jew, well read in at least Jewish literature, a shrewd observer of life, with a philosophical bent, though true to the national faith. He had traveled far and seen much (34:11 f). His interests were too general and his outlook too wide to allow of his being either a priest or a scribe.

2. Other Views:

Many suppositions have been put forward as to the author’s identity.

(1) That the Author Was a Priest:

So in Codex Sinaiticus (Sirach 50:27). In Sirach 7:29-31 he speaks much of the priesthood, and there are numerous references to sacrifices in the book. In 45:6-26 he has a long poem in praise of Aaron and his high-priesthood. Yet on the whole Ben Sira does not write as a priest.

(2) That He Was a High Priest:

So Syncellus (Chronicles, edition Dindf., 1 525) through a misunderstanding of a passage in Eusebius. But the teaching and temper of the book make this supposition more improbable than the last.

(3) That He Was a Physician:

An inference drawn from Sirach 38:1 f,12 ff and other references to the professional healer of the body (10:10). But this is a very small foundation on which to build so great an edifice.

(4) That He Was One of the 72 Translators (Septuagint):

So Lapide (Comm.), Calmer, Goldhager, a wholly unsupported hypothesis.

(5) No One of Course Believes that Solomon Wrote the Book:

Though many of the early Fathers held that he was the author of the five Wisdom Books--Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Canticles, Sirach and Wisdom.

VII. Unity and Intergrity.

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 29:14), and refusing to become surety (Sirach 8:13; 29:18); words in praise (Sirach 25:1; 26:1 ff) and condemnation of women (Sirach 25:4,13; 36:18-26); the varying estimates of life (Sirach 36:16-35; 40:1-11), 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 51:12 and 13 of the Greek and English Versions of the Bible which seems a copy of Ps 136. It is absent from the versions and its genuineness is doubtful. 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 direction of Alexandrian Judaism; see Speaker’s Apocrypha and other commentaries for details.

VIII. Date.

In the book itself there is one mark of definite date (Sirach 50:1), and in the Prologue there is another. 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. But there were two Egyptian kings called Euergetes, namely, Ptolemy Euergetes, or Euergetes I (247-222 BC), and Ptolemy VII Physcon, or Euergetes II (218-198 BC). Sirach 50:1 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. But there were two high priests called Simon and each of them was a son of Onias, namely, Simon I, son of Onias I (circa 310-290 BC), and Simon II, son of Onias II (circa 218-198 BC). Scholars differ as to which Euergetes is meant in the Prologue and which Simon in 50:1.

1. Most Probable Views:

The conclusions to which the evidence has brought the present writer are these: (1) that Simon I (died 290 BC) is the high priest meant; (2) that Ptolemy VII Physcon (218-198 BC) is the Euergetes meant.

(1) In Favor of the First Proposition Are the Following:

(a) The book must have been written some time after the death of Simon, for in the meantime an artificial fame had gathered around the name, and the very allusion to him as a hero of the past makes it clear that he had been long dead. Assuming that Simon had died in 290 BC, as seems likely, it is a reasonable conclusion that the original Hebrew work was composed somewhat later than 250 BC. If Simon II is the man intended, the book could hardly have been composed before 150 BC, an impossible date; see below.

(b) In the list of great men in Sirach 44-50 the praises of Simon (50:1 ff) are sung after those of Nehemiah (Sirach 49:13), suggesting that the space of time between them was not very great.

(c) The "Simon the Just" of Josephus was certainly Simon I, he being so called, this Jewish historian says (Ant., XII, ii, 5), on account of his piety and kindness.

(d) It is probable that the "Simon the Just" of the Mishna (’Abhoth i.2) is also Simon I, though this is not certain. 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.

(e) In the Syriac version (Pesh) Sirach 50:23 reads thus: "Let it (peace) be established with Simon the Just," etc. Some manuscripts have "Simon the Kind." This text may of course be wrong, but Graetz and Edersheim support it. This is the exact title given to Simon I by Josephus (op. cit.), the Mishna and by Jewish tradition generally.

(f) The only references to Simon II in Jewish history and tradition depict him in an unfavorable light. 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., XII, iv, 10 f) makes him side with the sons of Tobias against Hyrcanus, son of Joseph, the wrong side from the orthodox Jewish point of view.

(g) The high priest Simon is said (Sirach 50:1-13) to have repaired the temple and fortified the city. 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 (247-222 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., XII, iii, 3) Antiochus the Great (223-187 BC) wrote a letter in which he undertakes that the city and temple of Jerusalem shall be fully restored. This is not, however, to say that Simon II or anyone else did, at that time, restore either.

(h) Of the numerous errors in the Greek text some at least seem due to the fact that the version in that language was made so long after the composition of the original Hebrew that the sense of several Hebrew words had become lost among the Alexandrian Jews. If we assume that the Simon of chapter 50 was Simon I (died 290 BC), so that the Hebrew work was composed about 250 BC; if we further assume that the Euergetes of the Prologue was Ptolemy VII (died 198 BC), there is a reasonable space of time to allow the sense of the Hebrew to be lost in many instances (see Halevy, Revue semitique, July, 1899). 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.

(2) Euergetes of the Prologue:

That the Euergetes of the Prologue in whose reign the translation was made must have been Ptolemy VII Physcon, Euergetes II, seems proved by the translator’s statement that he came to Egypt in the 38th year, epi tou Euergetou basileos, i.e. almost certainly of the reign of Euergetes, for what reason could the younger Siracides have for giving his own age? Now Euergetes I reigned but 25 years, but Euergetes II (Physcon) reigned in all 54 years, from 170 to 145 BC as regent with his father, and from 145 to 116 BC as sole monarch. If we accept this interpretation of the above words, the question is settled. Westcott, however (DB, 1863, I, 479, note c), says "the words can only mean that the translator in his 38th year came to Egypt during the reign of Euergetes." The other rendering adopted by Eichhorn is, he adds, "absolutely set at variance with the grammatical structure of the sentence." In the second edition of DB (1893) this note has become expunged, and the article as edited by D.S. Margoliouth (I, 841) 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 240-200 BC, or some 50 or more years after the death of Simon I, and that the translation was made about 130 BC, for the younger Siracides came to Egypt in 132 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 198 BC) is meant in Sirach 50, we are compelled to assume a date for the original work of about 150 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 200 BC, or slightly earlier. The doctrine of the resurrection taught in Daniel (165 BC) is ignored in Sirach, as it has not yet become Jewish doctrine.

2. Brief Statement of Other Views:

(1) That the Euergetes of the Prologue and the Simon of chapter 50 are in both cases the first so called. So Hug, Scholz, Welt, Keil, Edersheim (Speaker’s Apocrypha) and many others. The book was accordingly written after 290 BC, perhaps in 250 BC, or later, and the translation was made some time after 220 BC, say 200 BC.

(2) That Euergetes II (died 116 BC) and Simon II (died 198 BC) are the two persons referred to. So Eichhorn, De Wette, Ewald, Franz Delitzsch, Hitzig, Schurer.

(3) Hitzig (Psalms, 1836, II, 118) made the original work a product of the Maccabean period--an impossible supposition, for the book says nothing at all about the Maccabees. Moreover, the priestly house of Zadok is praised in this book (Sirach 50, etc.); it was held in little respect during the time of the Maccabean wars, owing to the sympathy it showed toward the Hellenizing party.

IX. Original Languages.

1. Composed in Hebrew:

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.

(1) The fact of a Hebrew original is definitely stated in the Prologue.

(2) Jerome (Praef. in vers. libri Sol.) says that he had seen the Hebrew original--the same text probably that underlies the fragments recently published, though we cannot be sure of this.

(3) Citations apparently from the same Hebrew text are made not seldom in Talmudic and rabbinical literature.

(4) There are some word-plays in the book which in the Greek are lost, but which reappear in the discovered Hebrew text, e.g. (Sirach 43:8) ho men kata to onoma autes estin auxanomene (read ananeomene), "the month is called after her name," chodhesh kishemo hu’ mitchadhes, "the moon according to its name renews itself"; the Hebrew words for "moon" and "renews itself" come from one root, as if we said in English--what of course is not English--"the moon moons itself."

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 130 BC, for the younger Siracides came to Egypt in 132 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 198 BC) is meant in Sirach 50, we are compelled to assume a date for the original work of about 150 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 200 BC, or slightly earlier. The doctrine of the resurrection taught in Daniel (165 BC) is ignored in Sirach, as it has not yet become Jewish doctrine.

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. S. Schechter and others in 1896 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.

2. Margoliouth’s View:

D. S. Margoliouth (Origin of the Original Hebrew of Ecclesiasticus, 1899) 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.

(1) He refers to words in Hebrew which in that language are senseless, and he endeavors to show that they are disguised Persian words. As a matter of fact, in such cases the copyist has gone wholly wrong or the word is undecipherable.

(2) There do appear to be Persian glosses, but they are no part of the original text, and there can be no reasonable doubt that they are due to a Persian reader or copyist.

(3) There are many cases in which the Hebrew can be proved to be a better and older text than the Greek or Syriac (see Konig, The Expository Times, XI, 170 ff).

(4) As regards the character of the language, it may be said that in syntax it agrees in the main with the classical Hebrew of the Old Testament, but its vocabulary links it with the latest Old Testament books. Thus we have the use of the "waw-consecutive" with the imperfect (Sirach 43:23; 44:9,23; 45:2 f, etc.) and with the perfect (Sirach 42:1,8,11), though the use of the simple waw with both tenses occurs also. 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 20:9, as in Ec 3:1; 5:7; 8:6. 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.

(5) It is nevertheless admitted that in some cases the Syriac or the Greek or both together preserve an older and correcter text than the Hebrew, but this because the latter has sometimes been miscopied and intentionally changed.

(6) The numerous Hebraisms in the Greek version which in the Hebrew have their original expression point to the same conclusion--that this Hebrew text is the original form of the book.

Margoliouth has been answered by Smend (TLZ, 1889, col. 506), Konig (Expository Times, X, XI, 1899-1900), Noldeke (ZATW, XX, 81-94), and by many others. Bickell (Zeitschrift fur katholische Theol., III, 387 ff) holds also that the Hebrew Sirach extant is a translation from the Greek or Syriac or both.

X. Versions.

1. Greek:

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. (1) The book occurs in the uncials Vaticanus, Sinaiticus, Ephraemi, and part of Alexandrinus fairly free from glosses, though abounding in obvious errors.

(2) The text is found in a much purer form in Codex Venetus and also in Codex Sinaiticus (ca) and part of Codex Alexandrinus.

All extant Greek manuscripts except the late cursive 248 seem to go back to one original MS, since in all of them the two sections Sirach 30:25-33:15 and 33:16-36:11 have changed places, so that 33:16-36:11 follows 30:24 and 30:25-33:15 comes after 36:11. Most scholars accept the explanation of Fritzsche (Exeg. Handbuch zu den Apok, V, 21 f) that the two leaves on which these two parts (of similar size) were written got mixed, the wrong one being put first. On the other hand, the cursive 248 (14th century) has these sections in their proper order, and the same is true of the Syriac (Peshitta), Latin and Armenian versions and of the Greek version of the Complutensian Polyglot (which follows throughout 248 and not the uncials) and English Versions of the Bible which is made from this Polyglot. The superiority of 248 to the older manuscript (B S A C V) is seen in other parts of the Greek text. In the other Greek manuscripts, Sirach 3:25 is omitted, as it is by Edersheim and most commentators before the discovery of the Hebrew text. But this last supports 248 in retaining the verse, and it is now generally kept. In 43:23 "islands" is properly read by 248, Vulgate, Syriac, 23 and the Hebrew, but older Greek manuscripts read "Jesus," making nonsense ("And Jesus planted her" [auten] for "he planted islands therein"). The other manuscripts have a text which yields no sense in 43:26: English Versions of the Bible "By reason of him his end hath success." The Greek of 248 and the Hebrew give this sense: "The angel is equipped for his task," etc.

2. Syriac:

The Syriac (Peshitta) version is now almost universally acknowledged to have been made from the Hebrew, of which, on the whole, it is a faithful rendering. In some places, however, it agrees with the Septuagint against the Hebrew, probably under the influence of the inaccurate idea that the Greek text is the original one. In this version the two sections Sirach 30:25-33:5 and 33:16-36:11 are in proper order, as in the Hebrew, a fresh proof that the Syriac is not translated from the Greek

3. Latin:

The Vulgate (Jerome’s Latin Bible, 390-405 A.D.) agrees with the Old Latin which follows the Septuagint closely. Lapide, Sabatier and Bengel tried to prove that the Vulgate (Jerome’s Latin Bible, 390-405 A.D.) was based on the lost original Hebrew, but the evidence they supply falls far short of proof, and recently discovered Hebrew fragments show that they were wrong. The two sections transposed in the Septuagint (except 248) are also transposed in the Latin, showing that the latter is based on the Greek text. The Latin text of both Sirach and Wisdom according to the codex Amiant is given by Lagarde in his Mittheilungen, I, 243-84. This closely follows the Greek text.

4. English:

The King James Version follows the cursives and often repeats their errors. the Revised Version (British and American) is based, for the most part, on the uncials and thus often departs from the Hebrew. Sirach 3:19 is retained by the King James Version but omitted by the Revised Version (British and American). For the latter clause of the verse ("mysteries are revealed unto the meek"), the King James Version is supported by codex 248, the Syriac and the Hebrew. Both English Versions of the Bible should be corrected by the Hebrew in Sirach 7:26 and 38:1,15.

For fuller details concerning versions see Speaker’s Apocrypha, II, 23-32 (Edersheim); Kautzsch, Die Apok. des Altes Testament, I, 242 ff (Ryssel), and the article by Nestle in HDB, IV, 544 ff.


In addition to books mentioned under Apocrypha and in the course of the present article, note the following:

(1) The Text of the Hebrew Fragments:

For accounts of the discovery and decipherments of these see HDB, IV, 546 f (Nestle); Bible Polyglotte (F. Vigoureux), V, 4 ff; Schurer GJ V4, III, 221 ff. The text of the Hebrew as yet known is conveniently printed in the following: H. L. Strack, Die Spruche Jesus, etc. (with notes and glossary), Leipzig, 1903; Isaac Levi, The Hebrew Text of Ecclesiasticus (with notes and glossary), Leiden, 1906; Rudolf Smend, Die Weisheit des Jesus Sirach, Hebrew und Deutsch (with notes and glossary), Berlin, 1906. The Hebrew appears also in the Bible Polyglotte, edition F. Vigoureux, with the Septuagint, Vulgate (Jerome’s Latin Bible, 390-405 A.D.) and a French translation in parallel columns. (No other Polyglot has appeared since the discovery of the Hebrew.) There are parallel texts in Hebrew, Syriac, Greek and English, and also useful notes and tables in The Original Hebrew of Sirach 39:15-49:11, by Cowles and Neubauer, Oxford, 1897. Still later and fuller is The Wisdom of Ben Sira in Hebrew and English, with notes on the Hebrew by Schechter and Taylor, Cambridge, 1899.

(2) Commentaries:

The works of Fritzsche (1859), who neglects the evidence of the Syriac and ignores the Hebrew idioms in the book, and of Bissell (1880) and Edersheim (1888) appeared before the discovery of the Hebrew fragments. The last-named shows both learning and ingenuity in tracking the Hebrew idioms and in explaining difficulties by means of Hebrew. The following commentaries take full note of the Hebrew text as far as discovered: Israel Levi, L’Ecclesiastique ou la sagesse de Jesus fils de Sira: traduit et commente, Paris, 1898, 1901; Ryssel in Kautzsch’s Apok. des Altes Testament, I, 280-475, exceedingly valuable, especially for the text and introduction, but he takes account of the Hebrew fragments published by Cowley and Neubauer only in this book. To complete his treatment of the Hebrew parts published after he wrote, see further articles by him in Stud. u. Krit., 1900-1-2; Knabenbaur, Commentarius in Ecclesiasticum, Paris, 1902; Peters, Der jungst wieder aufgefundene hebraische Text des Buches Ecclesiasticus, 1902 (compare the notice by Smend, Theologische Literaturzeitung, 1903, 72-77); Smend, Die Weisheit des Jesus Sirach erklart, 1906 (full discussion of the book in the newest light; compare notice by Julicher in TLZ, 1908, 323-29). The New Oxford Apocrypha (Introduction and Notes), edition by R. H. Charles (1913), contains a full Introduction and Commentary. J. H. A. Hart has published separately a critical edition of codex 248, in which he collates the principal authorities, manuscript and printed.

(3) Dictionaries:

Of the Dict. articles those in HDB (Nestle, strong in the critical, but weak and defective on the historical and exegetical side); Encyclopedia Biblica (C. H. Toy, sound and well balanced); see also Jewish Encyclopedia (Israel Levi) and Encyclopedia Britannica (11th edition) (W. Baxendale). For detailed register of the literature see HDB (Nestle); Jew Encyclopedia, "Sirach" (Israel Levi); and especially Schurer, GJ V4, III, 219 ff.

T. Witton Davies

See also

  • Ecclesiasticus