|Int. Standard Bible Encyclopedia|
SIRACH, BOOK OF
si'-rak, or The Wisdom of Jesus the Son of Sirach:
4. Counsels of Prudence
V. LITERARY FORM
1. Jesus, Son of Sirach
2. Other Views
VII. UNITY AND INTEGRITY
1. Most Probable Views
2. Brief Statement of Other Views
IX. ORIGINAL LANGUAGES
1. Composed in Hebrew
2. Margoliouth's View
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.
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' (Acts 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 (Luke 3:26), for Hebrew yoce.
Though older than both Daniel 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 A.D.), 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 (James 1:2-4 -compare Sirach 2:1-5; Jas 1:5-compare Sirach 1:26; 41:22:00; 51:13; 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 Cons Genesis 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;). His works are past finding out (Sirach 18:2;); 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.
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.
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 1 Timothy 2:14). See Romans 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.
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).
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.
There is no salvation except by way of good works on man's part (Sirach 14:16) and forgiveness on God's (Sirach 17:24-32). The only atonement is through one's own good works (Sirach 5:5), honoring parents (Sirach 32:14), almsgiving, etc. (Sirach 3:30; 17:19;). There is no objective atonement ("expiation," literally, "propitiation"; the Greek verb exilaskomai, is the great Septuagint word for the Hebrew kipper, "to atone").
The sacrifice of the wicked is an abomination to God (Sirach 34:18;), though He Himself appointed sacrifices and first-fruits (Sirach 45:20), and when the righteous offer sacrifices to God they are accepted and remembered in the time to come (Sirach 35:1-12).
Festivals as well as seasons are ordained by God to be observed by man (Sirach 33 (Septuagint 36):8 f; compare Genesis 1:14).
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 Matthew 6:7), nor should there be any faint-heartedness in the matter (Sirach 5:10; compare James 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, 12;).
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 (2 Kings 19:35) has maggephah, "plague," and so the Syriac, though the Septuagint (followed by the Vulgate) has "angel."
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; 9:12; 11:26). 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; 40:15:00; 41:06:00; 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;) 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."
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; 11:17; 16:6; 40:13, 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 (Luke 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); 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;), and humility (Sirach 3:18), as well as forgiveness (Sirach 28:2), commended.
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). It is quite wrong to stand in front of people's doors, peeping and listening: only fools do this (Sirach 21:23). 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). 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;), 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;). 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, lxxixff;). After Sirach 51:12 of the Greek and other versions the Hebrew has a psalm of 15 verses closely resembling Psalm 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.
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), 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). 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, 12; 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;) 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 Psalm 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.
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 B.C.), and Ptolemy VII Physcon, or Euergetes II (218-198 B.C.). 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 B.C.), and Simon II, son of Onias II (circa 218-198 B.C.). 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 B.C.) is the high priest meant; (2) that Ptolemy VII Physcon (218-198 B.C.) 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 B.C., as seems likely, it is a reasonable conclusion that the original Hebrew work was composed somewhat later than 250 B.C. If Simon II is the man intended, the book could hardly have been composed before 150 B.C., an impossible date; see below.
(b) In the list of great men in Sirach 44-50 the praises of Simon (50:1;) 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 Maccabees 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) 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 B.C.) 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 acco
SIRACH, THE ALPHABET OF
Usually called The Alphabet of Ben Sira. The compilation so designated consists of two lists of proverbs, 22 in Aramaic and 22 in Hebrew, arranged in each case as alphabet acrostics. Each of these proverbs is followed by a haggadic comm., with legends and tales, many of them indecent. Some of the proverbs in the Alphabets are probably genuine compositions by Ben Sira and are quoted as such in the Talmud, but in their present form the Alphabets are at least as late as the 11th century A.D.
The only complete copy of the text known is in the British Museum, the copy in the Bodleian being defective. Steinschneider has published a reprint of this last with critical notes (Alphabeticum Syracidis, Berlin, 1854). Cowley and Neubauer (The Original Hebrew of a Portion of Ecclesiasticus), besides giving a general account of this work, add a translation into English of the Aramaic proverbs. In his brief but excellent articles in the Jewish Encyclopedia (Ben Sira, The Alphabet of), Dr. Louis Ginzberg (New York) also gives a translation of the 22 Aramaic proverbs with useful remarks after each. The work has been translated into Latin, Yiddish (often), Judeo-Spanish, French and German, but never, so far, completely into English.
T. Witton Davies