Robert Carroll and Stephen Prickett

in The Bible: Authorized King James Version

Published in print February 1998 | ISBN: 9780192835253
Published online April 2009 |

Series: Oxford World's Classics


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Ecclesiasticus (not to be confused with Ecclesiastes) or Ben Sira (Sirach), as he is often known, and his book ‘The Wisdom of Jesus (Joshua) ben Eleazar ben Sira’ (or ‘The Wisdom of Jesus the son of Sirach’) is the largest of the books in the Apocrypha. An anonymous prologue identifies the author as Jesus the son of Sira(ch), and grandson of Jesus, and as the one who, having received them from his father, completed his grandfather's writings. The book, entitled Wisdom by Ben Sira(ch), claims to contain: ‘wise sayings, dark sentences, and parables, and certain particular ancient godly stories of men that pleased God; also his prayer and song; moreover, what benefits God had vouchsafed his people, and what plagues he had heaped upon their enemies.’ The prologue also recognizes that Jesus had imitated Solomon, as well as being as famous as Solomon for his wisdom and great learning. The actual prologue to Ben Sira is a fine piece of ancient observation on the subtle and difficult art of translation and interpretation: ‘For the same things uttered in Hebrew, and translated into another tongue, have not the same force in them: and not only these things, but the law itself, and the prophets, and the rest of the books, have no small difference, when they are spoken in their own language … I found a book of no small learning: therefore I thought it most necessary for me to bestow some diligence and travail to interpret it; using great watchfulness and skill in that space to bring the book to an end …’ Ben Sira wrote in Hebrew in the early part of the second century (198–175 bce), but his grandson translated his book into Greek towards the end of the century. The Latin name by which the book is known, Ecclesiasticus (‘belonging to the church’), indicates its (deutero) canonical status in the early Latin Church. Ben Sira is essentially similar to the Book of Proverbs, only twice as long. It fears women (9: 1–9; cf. 26: 1–27), disorder, and the dangers of wealth, and praises wisdom (24). Where Ben Sira seems to differ from most of the other wisdom writers in the Bible is in his identification of wisdom and Torah: wisdom dwells with Israel (24: 8) and is the book of the covenant of the most high God, that is, the law of Moses (24: 23). The best-known part of Ben Sira is his lengthy account of the fathers of the nation in 44–50: ‘Let us now praise famous men, and our fathers that begat us … Their bodies are buried in peace; but their name liveth for evermore’ (44: 1, 14). This litany of the fame and deeds of the most illustrious ancestors of Israel runs from Enoch to Ben Sira's own time, concluding with the fulsome praise of Simon the high priest and son of Onias (50: 1–21). Ben Sira ends with a jibe against the Samaritans, ‘that foolish people that dwell in Sichem’ (50: 25–6). There is a strong doxological spirit throughout Ben Sira, and the book itself is brought to a conclusion with a lengthy prayer of Jesus ben Sirach, asserting the benevolence of the Lord and praising wisdom's role in his life.

Chapter.  554 words. 

Subjects: Religious Studies ; Biblical Studies

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