Sirach the Book of Ecclesiasticus


Sirach or the Wisdom of Sirach is a discourse on ethical teachings created by Jewish scribe Ben Sira who resided in Jerusalem during the 2nd century BC. This deuterocanonical piece of work was created around 200-175 BC in Alexandria by the author who was also known as Shim`on ben Yeshu`a ben Sira or Joshua ben Sirach. The book is also referred to as Siracides or The Book of Ecclesiasticus and forms a part of the Catholic Old Testament.

Sirach Ecclesiasticus

photo by Hartwig HKD

Originally in Hebrew, the work Sirach was later translated into Greek by Ben Sira’s grandson. Although the original Hebrew document was lost over time, many fragments of it were found during the late 19th and the early 20th century when the Cairo Genizah and Dead Sea Scrolls were discovered. Quite similar to the Proverbs, the material in the Wisdom of Sirach presents itself in short sayings structured loosely. However, the Proverbs comprised of maxims drawn from numerous sources, the Sirach is created by a single author.

The teachings presented in this book Sirach or Ecclesiasticus can be applied to the various conditions of human life. Sirach believes that Wisdom starts as man begins to fear God. An adherence to the commandments presented in Mosaic Law is also a commendable feature. The commandments of the mosaic laws are notable for the exact instructions and striking imagery in which they are expressed. Sirach further presents mankind with rules of politeness and courtesy, as well as offers instructions regarding man’s duties towards himself, the poor and the needy, towards the state and society and most importantly towards God.

On the other hand, a stark contrast can be noted in Ben Sira’s opinions on women and slaves. He advocates men to treat women with distrust and possessiveness, and treat slaves with harsh cruelty. Not only is such an unyielding stance hard for modern readers to accept, it is also difficult to reconcile with the contemporary social setting of the time when it was composed.

An internal conflict can be observed in the author that is reminiscent of the Ecclesiastes: the strong faith and morality of the olden times is pitted against a stark materialist Epicureanism of the later dates. Sometimes Sirach speaks strongly against ideas which he believes to be dangerous. He refutes against the views that man is without any freedom of will or that God is plainly indifferent to man’s actions and does not bestow His rewards on virtuous tasks.

Sirach also addresses life’s practical problems that deal with issues such as relationships, business, money and friendship. He believes that men should earnestly strive for wisdom, and observe their words and manners carefully. Sirach also pleads with God to bring together all his scattered children, make sure that the prophecies of the Prophets are fulfilled and have mercy on His temple as well as his people. In the final lines, the idea that God’s wisdom can be seen in all His works and in Israel’s history is expressed. This is then followed by Ben Sira’s signature and two hymns that function as an alphabetical acrostic.

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