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Jesus Sirach

The 1901 Jewish Encyclopedia

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Among the books of the Greek Bible is one entitled Σοφία Ἰησοῦ ϒἱοῦ Σιράχ (Codices Sinaiticus and Alexandrinus) or simply Σοφία Σειρáχ (Codex Vaticanus). The Greek Church Fathers called it also "The All-Virtuous Wisdom" (Πανάρετος Σοφία; Eusebius, "Chronicon," ed. Schoene, 2:122; Ἡ Πανάρετος; Jerome, Commentary on Daniel 9) or "The Mentor" (Παιδαγωγός; Clement of Alexandria, "Pædagogus," 2:10,99,101,109); while the Latin Church Fathers, beginning with Cyprian ("Testimonia," 2:1; 3:1,35,51,95, et passim), termed it "Ecclesiasticus." All these names testify to the high esteem in which the book was held in Christian circles. The Jews, who never admitted its canonicity, called it during the Talmudic period the "Book of Ben Sira" (Ḥag. 13a; Niddah 16b; Ber. 11b; et passim) or the "Books of Ben Sira" (; Yer. Sanh. 28a; Tosef., Yad. 2:13; possibly a scribal error; comp. the parallel passage of Eccl. R. 12:11), and a Hebrew copy in the possession of Jerome was entitled "Parabolæ" (= ). However, the fact that the verses of this work cited in the Midrash are preceded by the word "Mashal" or "Matla" does not prove that such was the title of the book, but simply that these verses had come to be accepted as proverbs (contrary to the view of Ryssel in Kautzsch, "Apokryphen," p. 232, where he attributes to Lévi the opinion expressed by Blau in "R. E. J." 35:22). Nor is it possible to draw any inference from the fact that Saadia calls the book in Arabic "Kitab al-Adab"; for he certainly did not give this appellation (which he had no reason to translate) as the title, but, contrary to the opinion of Harkavy ("Studien und Mittheilungen," 5:200) and Blau (c.), merely as a description of the contents of the book. The Syriac name is "Ḥekmata de-Bar Sira" = "The Wisdom of Bar Sira."


The author, who, alone of all Old Testament and Apocryphal writers, signed his work, is called in the Greek text ( 27) "Jesus the son of Sirach of Jerusalem." The oldest manuscripts (Vaticanus, Sinaiticus, Alexandrinus, Venetus) add to Σειρáχ the name Ἐλεáζαρ or ἘλεΆζαροζ, an error for Ἐλεαζáρου, probably the name of his grandfather. The copy owned by Saadia (Harkavy, c. p. 150) had: = "Simon, son of Jesus, son of Eleazar ben Sira"; and a similar reading occurs in the Hebrew manuscript B, which will be discussed below. By interchanging the positions of the names "Simon" and "Jesus," the same reading is obtained as in the other manuscripts. The correctness of the name "Simon" is confirmed by the Syriac version, which has = "Jesus, son of Simon, surnamed Bar Asira." The discrepancy between the two readings "Bar Asira" and "Bar Sira" is a noteworthy one, "Asira" (= "prisoner") being a popular etymology of "Sira." The evidence seems to show that the author's name was Jesus, son of Simon, son of Eleazar ben Sira.

Every attempt to identify this writer with some member of the high-priestly family has proved a failure, the only basis for the supposition that Ben Sira was a priest being due to a scribal error; for while the Sinaitic manuscript reads ελεαζαροιερευσοσολυμειτης, this is, beyond all question, a scribal error, and should be emended to ελεαςαροιεροσολυμειτης (see א*). According to the Greek version, though not according to the Syriac, the author traveled extensively (34:11) and was frequently in danger of death (ib. verse 12). In the hymn of ch. he speaks of the perils of all sorts from which God had delivered him, although this is probably only a poetic theme in imitation of the Psalms. The calumnies to which he was exposed in the presence of a certain king, supposed to be one of the Lagi, are mentioned only in the Greek version, being ignored both in the Syriac and in the Hebrew text. The only fact known with certainty is that Ben Sira was a scholar, and a scribe thoroughly versed in the Law, and especially in the "Books of Wisdom." He was not, however, a rabbi, nor was he a physician, as has been conjectured (see especially 38:24 et seq., 49:1-5, and the introduction by his grandson).


The approximate date of the redaction of the book and the period of its author's literary activity are somewhat less doubtful. The Greek translator states in his preface that he was the grandson of the author, and that he came to Egypt in the thirty-eighth year of the reign of Euergetes, an epithet borne by only two of the Lagi, Ptolemy III. (247-222 B.C.) and Ptolemy VII. (sometimes reckonedIX.). The former monarch can not be intended in this passage; for his reign lasted only twenty-five years. The latter ascended the throne in the year 170, together with his brother Philometor; but he soon became sole ruler of Cyrene, and from 146 to 117 held sway over all Egypt, although he dated his reign from the year in which he received the crown (e., from 170). The translator must, therefore, have gone to Egypt in 132, and if the average length of two generations be reckoned Ben Sira's date must fall in the first third of the second century. The result of this reckoning is confirmed by the fact that the author evidently lived before the persecution of Antiochus in 168, since he does not allude to it. Another argument is commonly relied on. In ch. Ben Sira eulogizes a high priest named Simon, son of Johanan (Onias in G), this laudation being apparently an expression of the admiration aroused by actual sight of the object of his praise. There were, however, a number of high priests named Simon b. Onias, one of whom exercised his functions from 300 to 287, and another from 226 to 199. The Simon b. Johanan mentioned here can only be the second of the name; and as the passage seems to have been written after the high priest's death ( 1-3), the date of its composition coincides approximately with the period mentioned above (190-170). The work is in reality a collection of maxims written at various times—a fact which also explains its frequent repetitions and contradictions.

Attempts have indeed been made to refute these arguments. According to Josephus, Simon I., the Just (300-287), was the only high priest whom Ben Sira could thus have extolled, and the book would accordingly be a century older; as to the number 38, it might refer to the age of the translator when he arrived in Egypt. Indeed, the word πάππο ς does not necessarily mean "grandfather"; it may mean also "remote ancestor." This, it has been held, would account for the translator's frequent miscomprehension of Ben Sira's words, which would be very strange had he actually been the author's grandson. All these quibbles, however, which it would be idle again to refute, have been definitely abandoned.

Ecclesiasticus closely resembles Proverbs, except that, unlike the latter, it is the work of a single author, not an anthology of maxims drawn from various sources. Some, it is true, have denied Ben Sira the authorship of the apothegms, and have regarded him as a mere compiler, basing their arguments on his own words: "And I myself, the last, I set myself to watch, like him that gleaneth grapes after the vintage" (33:16). This, however, is probably a simple expression of modesty. The frequent repetitions and even contradictions only prove that Ben Sira, like all moralists, did not compose the entire work at one time; moreover, the unity of the book, taken as a whole, is remarkable.


The Book of Ecclesiasticus is a collection of moral counsels and maxims, often utilitarian in character and for the most part secular, although religious apothegms occasionally occur. They are applicable to all conditions of life: to parents and children, to husbands and wives, to the young, to masters, to friends, to the rich, and to the poor. Many of them are rules of courtesy and politeness; and a still greater number contain advice and instruction as to the duties of man toward himself and others, especially the poor, as well as toward society and the state, and most of all toward God. These precepts are arranged in verses, which are grouped according to their outward form in case their content is not intrinsically coherent. The sections are preceded by eulogies of wisdom which serve as introductions and mark the divisions into which the collection falls.

Wisdom, in Ben Sira's view, is synonymous with the fear of God, and sometimes is confounded in his mind with the Mosaic law. It is essentially practical, being a routine knowledge; and it would be vain to seek to find in it any hypostasis, since mysticism is utterly opposed to the author's thought. The maxims are expressed in exact formulas, and are illustrated by striking images. They show a profound knowledge of the human heart, the disillusionment of experience, a fraternal sympathy with the poor and the oppressed, and an unconquerable distrust of women. Throughout the work are scattered pure and elevated thoughts; and the whole is dominated by a sincere, enlightened piety—what is now called a liberalism of ideas. As in Ecclesiastes, two opposing tendencies war in the author: the faith and the morality of olden times, which are stronger than all argument, and an Epicureanism of modern date. Occasionally Ben Sira digresses to attack theories which he considers dangerous; for example, the doctrines that divine mercy blots out all sin; that man has no freedom of will; and that God is indifferent to the actions of mankind, and does not reward virtue. Some of the refutations of these views are developed at considerable length. Through these moralistic chapters runs the prayer of Israel imploring God to gather together His scattered children, to bring to fulfilment the predictions of the Prophets, and to have mercy upon His Temple and His people. The book concludes with a justification of the Divinity, whose wisdom and greatness are revealed in all His works (hence is inserted a description of the beauties of creation), and also in the history of Israel; this form of sacred history, however, is little more than a panegyric on the priests, terminating in an enthusiastic delineation of the high priest Simon ben Onias. These chapters are completed by the author's signature, and are followed by two hymns, the latter apparently a sort of alphabetical acrostic.

Importance for the History of Thought.

The Wisdom of Jesus marks an epoch in the history of Jewish thought, on account both of what it teaches and of what it silently ignores. While the author advocates the offering of the prescribed sacrifices and the veneration of priests, he condemns all hypocrisy and urges the union of the outward practise of religion with a pure conscience and with the doing of charity. However, he never mentions the dietary laws, which are set forth at great length in Daniel and Tobit, and especially in Judith. In like manner, while he awaits the return of Elijah to reassemble the tribes of the past and to reconcile the fatherswith the children, and while he prays for the coming of a time which can be called Messianic, though without a Messiah—when Jerusalem and the Temple shall be restored to the divine favor and Israel delivered forever from the dominion of the stranger—he never alludes to a Messiah who will be the son of David; on the contrary, he asserts that the house of David has rendered itself unworthy of the divine favor, since of all the kings of Judah three alone remained faithful to God. God indeed made a solemn compact with the race of David; but it was one that differed widely from that into which He entered with Aaron, and which alone was to endure for eternity. Ben Sira never speaks of the resurrection of the dead nor of the immortality of the soul, but, on the contrary, declares that in Sheol there will be no joy, wherefore man should taste delight in this world in so far as it is compatible with an upright life.

Possible Traces of Hellenic Influence.

The view has been expressed that this work, early in date as it is, bears traces of Hellenic influence. The author, in his travels, may possibly have come in contact with Greek civilization, since he speaks of foreign poets and moralists whose fame was spread abroad. The customs which he describes are taken from Greek rather than from Hebrew society; thus he mentions banquets accompanied by brilliant conversation, at which musical instruments were heard, and over which presided "the masters [of the feasts]"; and the customs of the Sybarites also aroused his interest. The fatalistic philosophers whose opinions he contests were doubtless the Stoics; and the philosophical discussions instituted by him were innovations and probably borrowed. His criticisms of skeptics and would-be thinkers are further evidences of his knowledge of Hellenism; and some of his views find close analogues in Euripides. Not only does he share characteristic ideas with the Greek tragedians and moralists, but he even has the same taste for certain common topics, such as false friendship, the uncertainty of happiness, and especially the faults of women. The impression of Greek influence is strengthened by the presence of a polish quite foreign to Hebrew literature. The author composes his aphorisms with care; he makes his transitions with skill; and he inserts the titles of chapters, such as "Concerning Shame," "Proper Deportment at Table," and "The Hymn of the Patriarchs"; and the signing of his own name in full is a usage theretofore absolutely unknown.

The exclusion of Ecclesiasticus from the Hebrew canon was due in part to this imitation of the Greeks and these literary affectations. According to R. Akiba (Yer. Sanh. 28a), those who have no part in the world to come include the readers of foreign works, such as the books of Ben Sira; while Tosef., Yad. 2:13 merely states that the writings of Ben Sira do not defile the hands, or, in other words, that they are uncanonical, so that they are ranked with the works of "minim" (heretics). Eccl. R. 12:11, which is based on Yer. Sanh. 28a, contains a prohibition against having this work in one's house. R. Joseph, a Babylonian rabbi of the fourth century, in commenting on the view of R. Akiba, adds, "It is also forbidden to read the works of Ben Sira" (Sanh. 100c), although this prohibition, judging from the remainder of the passage, may have been restricted to reading in public. In his questions to R. Joseph (ib.), R. Abaye indicated some of the reasons for the exclusion of Ecclesiasticus from the canon.

"Why this prohibition?" he asked. "Is it on account of such and such verses?" With the exception of two verses written in Aramaic and which are not by Ben Sira at all, all of R. Abaye's citations are distinctly frivolous, being those relating to the anxiety caused by a young girl before and after her marriage, the uselessness of repining, and the danger of introducing strangers too freely into one's home. Abaye then condemns the misanthropy, misogyny, and Epicureanism of the author. To Ben Sira's Epicurean tendency must be attributed his denial of a future life, and, perhaps, also his pre-Sadducean spirit of reverence for the priesthood, with which the panegyric on his brethren is animated.

Popularity Among the Jews.

Manuscript Fragments from Ben Sira, Containing XXXVII. 22.
(From the Cairo genizah collection in Cambridge University, England.)

Curiously enough, the book retained its popularity among the Jews despite its exclusion from the canon. It was cited at a very early period: the Book of Tobit reproduces a number of passages word for word; while the Book of Enoch (Charles, "The Book of the Secrets of Enoch," p. 96; Index, p. ), the Psalms of Solomon (Ryle and James, "The Psalms of Solomon," pp. et seq.), and even the Talmud, the Midrashim, the Derek Ereẓ, and similar productions show decided traces of its influence. With the last-named work it has many points in common; and it is frequently quoted in the Talmud; passages from it are introduced by the formula reserved for the Biblical writings (Ḥag. 12a; Niddah 16b; Yer. Ber. 11c); and one verse is even referred to as if it belonged to the Hagiographa (B. Ḳ. 92a). It is cited by name in Sanh. 100b (= Yeb. 63c), where also a series of verses from it is given; and single verses appear in the following treatises and other works: Yer. Ber. 11b; Yer. Ḥag. 77c; Yer. Ta'an. 66d; Ḥag. 13a; Niddah 16b; Gen. R. , ,; Lev. R.; Tan., Wayishlaḥ, 8; ib. Miḳḳeẓ, 10; ib. Ḥuḳḳat, 1; a midrashic passage preserved in the "Shibbole ha-Leḳeṭ," ed. Buber, p. 23a; "Pirḳe de-Rabbenu ha-Ḳadosh," ed. Schönblum, 14a; Baraita Kallah (ed. Coronel, 7c, and in the Wilna edition of the Talmud). It is cited also by R. Nissim ("Sefer Ma'asiyyot ha-Ḥakamim wehu Ḥibbur Yafeh meha-Yeshu ah"), and especially by Saadia in the preface to his "Sefer ha-Galui" (Harkavy, c.). In his commentary on the "Sefer Yeẓirah" the latter author quotes verbatim two verses of Ben Sira, although he attributes them to one Eleazar b. Irai, of whom nothing is known. In another part of this work (p. 178) he cites the same text, again attributing it to that author. This is the more remarkable since Saadia speaks of Ben Sira in his introduction, and cites no less than seven of his maxims. The "Sefer ben Irai" contained also passages (two of them copied by Saadia) not found in Ecclesiasticus, and which were totally dissimilar to it both in form and in content. As Saadia himself says: "The book of Ben Sira is a work on ethics, similar in form to Proverbs, while that of Ben Irai is a book of Wisdom, bearing an external resemblance to Ecclesiastes." The "Sefer ben Irai" was probably a collection of maxims and sayings taken from various sources.

Quotations from Ben Sira without mention of his name are found also in the, "Mibḥar ha-Peninim," attributed to Solomon ibn Gabirol (for citations of this type see Zunz, "G. V." p. 110; Reifmann, in "Ha-Asif," 3:271; Schechter, in "J. Q. R." 3:682; Neubauer and Cowley, in their edition of Ecclesiasticus, pp. et seq. [certain of their comparisons must be discarded]; the commentaries of Schechter and Lévi, especially on the Derek Ereẓ; Lévi, in "R. E. J." 44:291). The popularity of Ecclesiasticus among the Jews of the Talmudic period is shown by the citation of a number of verses in Aramaic, with an allusion to Ben Sira, which proves that it must have been translated into that dialect, this Aramaic collection being subsequently enriched with numerous additional aphorisms in that language (Sanh. 100b = Yeb. 63b). The Baraita Kallah even restricts its citations from Ben Sira to Aramaic verses which are not found in Ecclesiasticus. Another proof of his popularity is found in the two alphabets ascribed to him (see BEN SIRA, ALPHABET OF), especially the second, in which he is the hero of a series of marvelous events.

Popularity Among Christians.

The Book of Ecclesiasticus has been honored still more highly among the Christians, being cited in the Epistle of James (Edersheim, in Wace, "Apocrypha," p. 21), the Didache (4:5), and the Epistle of Barnabas (19:9), while Clement of Alexandria and Origen quote from it repeatedly, as from a γραφή, or holy book. In the Western Church, Cyprian frequently appeals to it in his "Testimonia," as does Ambrose in the greater number of his writings. In like manner the Catalogue of Cheltenham, Damasus I., the Councils of Hippo (393) and Carthage (397), Pope Innocent I., the second Council of Carthage (419), and Augustine all regard it as a canonical book. This is contrary, however, to the opinions of the Council of Laodicea, of Jerome, and of Rufinus of Aquileia, which authorities rank it among the ecclesiastical books. It was finally declared canonical by the Council of Trent; and the favor with which the Church has always regarded it has preserved it in its entirety.

Discovery of Hebrew Fragments.

Until recent years Ecclesiasticus was known only from the Greek and Syriac versions—the sources of all other translations—and from the Hebrew quotations already mentioned. At present the greater part of the original is known. In 1896 Agnes Smith Lewis and Margaret Dunlop Gibson brought from the East a sheet of parchment covered with comparatively antiquated Hebrew characters. At Cambridge this was shown to S. Schechter, who recognized in it Ecclus. (Sirach) 39:15- 7, and who published the decipherment, which was by no means easy. Almost simultaneously Sayce presented to the Bodleian Library, Oxford, a collection of fragments of Hebrew and Arabic manuscripts, among which Neubauer and Cowley found nine leaves of the same volume to which the Lewis-Gibson leaf had belonged, and following immediately after it. These various fragments having come from the GENIZAH at Cairo, Schechter at once went to that city, and obtained the necessary authority to examine the contents of the collection, with the result that he found not only the final portion of the manuscript, but also 30:11, 32:1b-33:3, 35:9-36:21, and 37:27-38:27. Two additional fragments of the same manuscript, called B by Schechter, and containing 31:12-31 and 36:24-37:26, have been secured by the British Museum. A second manuscript (A) was found by the same scholar in the collection brought by him from Egypt, containing 3:6-16:26, with a hiatus from 7:29 to 11:34, the missing pages of which subsequently came into the possession of Elkan Adler. A fresh discovery was made when the remaining contents of the genizah were offered for sale, and Israel Lévi secured a leaf from a third copy (C), containing 36:24-38:1. This fragment is especially valuable, since it serves as a check on the manuscript B, which likewise includes these verses. The importance of this discovery is shown below. Finally, Schechter, Gaster, and Lévi found in consignments from the same genizah the following fragments of an anthology of the Wisdom of Jesus: 4:23b, 30-31; 5:4-8,9-13; 6:18-19,28,35; 7:1,4,6,17,20-21,23-25; 18:30-31; 19:1-2; 20:4-6,12 (?); 25:7c, 8c, 8a, 12, 16-23; 26:1-2; 36:16; 37:19,22,24,26.

There are, therefore, now in existence: (a) in one manuscript: 3:6-16,26; 18:30-31; 19:1-2; 20:4-6,12 (?); 25:7c, 8c, 8a, 12, 16-23; 26:1-2; 27:5-6,16; 30:11-33:3; 35:9-38:27; 39:15-51:30; (b) in two manuscripts: 4:23b, 30-31; 5:4-8,9-13; 6:18-19,28,35; 7:1,4,6,17,20-21,23-25; 36:16,29-31; complete; 38:1; (c) in three manuscripts: 37:19,22,24,26.

These manuscripts contain also some passages that are lacking in the translations, including a psalm fifteen lines in length inserted after 51:12.


Originality of the Hebrew Fragments.

Prof. S. Margoliouth, noticing the decadent character of the language, the number of rabbinisms, and the derivatives from the Arabic and Aramaic, regarded the Hebrew text as a reconstruction of the lost original on the basis of the Greek and Syriac versions, the variants representing different attempts at retranslation. The discovery of manuscript C, however, disproved this hypothesis, since this manuscript reproduces with exactness the greater part of the variants of B, even when they are obviously false, while the transcriber of this latter manuscript discharged his task with such scrupulous care that he even recorded variants which were meaningless. If, therefore, the difference between the text and the marginal glosses corresponds to the difference between the two translations, this only shows that there were two recensions of the original. It is clear, moreover, that these fragments are not the work of some medieval scholar, but are more or less perfect copies of the Hebrew text, as a single example will show. In 32:22 the Hebrew version has . For the latter word the Syriac text substitutes (= "thy way"), which the context shows to be faulty, the reading being due to a confusion of with . The Greek version reads "thy children," the meaning attributed to in several passages of the Bible. But had the Jewish scribe used the Greek version, he would never have found beneath τῶν τέκνων σου the Hebrew , the correctness of which is attested by the Syriac. There are numerous examples of a similar nature.

Although Margoliouth's theory must be rejected as a whole, certain details indicate that both A and B are derived from a copy characterized by interpolations due to a retranslation from Syriac into Hebrew. In a number of passages the same verse is given in two distinct renderings, one of which usually corresponds to the Syriac, even when this text represents merely a faulty or biased translation of the original. These verses, moreover, in their conformity to the Syriac, become at times so meaningless that they can be explained only as incorrect translations from that language. Such suspicious passages are characterized by a comparatively modern style and language, by a commonplace phraseology, and by a break in the parallelism which is affected by Ecclesiasticus. It may therefore be safely concluded that these doublets are merely additions made to render the Syriac version more intelligible. The same statement holds true of certain textual emendations made by the glossarist. In this, however, there is nothing strange, since it is a well-known fact that the Jews of certain sections were familiar with Syriac, as is shown by the quotations made by Naḥmanides from the Wisdom of Solomon, from Judith, and from Bel and the Dragon, and also by the introduction of the Peshiṭta of Proverbs into the Targum of the Hagiographa.

The Final Hymn.

But the glossarist did not restrict himself to these slight additions and modifications, for he added to his copy a translation of the final hymn, basing this version also on the Syriac. This canticle, as Bickell has clearly shown, is an alphabetical acrostic, which may still be traced in the Syriac version, on account of the similarity between that language and Hebrew. There are lacunæ, however, in the Syriac text which are supplied in the Greek, even though these passages are lacking in the Hebrew. In the Hebrew some traces of the acrostic remain in cases where the Syriac was translatable only by a Hebrew word beginning with the same letter; but elsewhere all vestiges of it have disappeared. The Syriac version, moreover, shows evidences of corruptions and innovations, which are reproduced by the Hebrew. The Syriac occasionally corresponds to the Greek, but tends toward a confusion of sense which eventually alters the meaning, these modifications being also reproduced in the Hebrew text. The hymn, which follows the Syriac version closely throughout, is evidently a retranslation from the latter. These opinions have been championed especially by Israel Lévi, and are accepted by Ryssel and other scholars, although they are not universally held.

The Hebrew version contains an entire canticle which does not appear in either the Greek or the Syriac text. This, however, is of doubtful authenticity, although one may cite in its favor the sentence "O give thanks unto Him that chose the sons of Zadok to be priests," alluding to the pre-Maccabean high priests who were descended from Zadok; while another possible argument is furnished by the absence of any reference to ideas essentially Pharisaic, such as the resurrection of the body. Against the genuineness of the psalm may be urged: (1) its omission in the versions; (2) the sentence "O give thanks unto Him that maketh the horn of the house of David to bud," which is directly opposed in sentiment to ch. and to the entire "Hymn of thePatriarchs"; and (3) the remarkable similarity of the hymn to the "Shemoneh 'Esreh" together with the prayers which precede and follow the "Shema'." The question has not yet been definitely settled.

Critical Value of the Hebrew Text.

Despite the corrections and interpolations mentioned, however, the originalty of the text in these fragments of Ben Sira can not be denied. Besides the fact that many scholars deny the existence of any interpolations, there are portions in which it is easy to recognize the author's hand; for he has a characteristic technique, style, vocabulary, and syntax which are evident in all the versions. It may safely be said that in the main the work of Ben Sira has been preserved just as it left his hands, while the chief variant marginal readings recorded in the fragments and confirmed by the translations may be regarded as evidences of the existence of two separate editions written by Ben Sira himself. It is self-evident, moreover, that Ecclesiasticus has undergone some alterations at the hands of scribes, but it would have been strange indeed if this book alone should have wholly escaped the common lot of such writings. No more conclusive proof could be found, were any necessary, of the fidelity of the Hebrew version than its frequent agreement, in citations from the Bible, with the text on which the Septuagint is based rather than with the Masorah, as in the case of 1 Samuel 12:3 as compared with Ecclus. (Sirach) 46:19, or Isaiah 38:17 with Ecclus. (Sirach) 2.

Manuscript Fragment from Ben Sira, Containing XXXVII. 22.
(From the Cairo genizah collection in Cambridge University, England.)

Importance for the History of the Bible.

Even before the discovery of these fragments the Book of Ecclesiasticus was regarded as a unique document of priceless value; but the account which it gives of the status of the Bible in its author's dayhas gained additional importance, now that the greater part of the original itself is known. The "Hymn of the Patriarchs," which has been preserved in its entirety, shows that the canon of the Law and of the Prophets was closed, as the author's grandson expressly states. The Prophets were arranged in the order generally adopted in the Hebrew Bible, as follows: Joshua, Judges, Samuel, Kings ("Nebi'im Rishonim"), Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and the Twelve Minor Prophets ("Nebi'im Aḥaronim"); and the expression "the Twelve Prophets" was sanctioned by usage. The greater portion of the Hagiographa was already considered canonical, including the Psalms attributed nominally to David, Proverbs, Job (the Greek translator has made a gross blunder here), and possibly the Song of Solomon, Nehemiah, and Chronicles. The author's silence regarding some of the other Hagiographa proves nothing; since he intended, as has already been said, to eulogize the priesthood in this section, and all who were not included in his scheme were passed over without notice.

In addition to this statistical information, Ben Sira furnishes other points of interest. The frequency with which he avails himself of Job and Proverbs proves that both these books had been long in circulation, although the divergence between the original and his quotation is very great. Furthermore, the labored attempt to imitate the literary style previously affected in didactic poetry was a failure, and radical changes had been introduced even as early as the time of the author. While he still availed himself of parallelism and employed verses symmetrically divided into two hemistichs, he introduced into this work on wisdom concepts thitherto excluded, such as allusions to sacred history and exhortations to fulfil the duty of religious worship. Mention has already been made of literary innovations which characterize the work. It is no less significant that the diction employed is essentially imitative, being a mixture of Biblical centos and reminiscences, yet marking a stage unattained by any analogous work. Still untouched by Hellenisms, the lexicography is characterized by rabbinisms and derivatives from the Aramaic and the Arabic. The style is decadent, showing a curious mixture of prolixity and conciseness, daring constructions, the repetition of certain figures, imitation, and false elegance, side by side with felicity of phraseology and imagery. These qualities denote a period when spontaneity and originality were replaced by pedantry, conventionality, and artificiality. Henceforth a thorough knowledge of Ecclesiasticus will be indispensable for any who wish to study the analogous portions of the Bible, although it has thus far been impossible to determine the relation of Ecclesiastes and Ecclesiasticus from a mere comparison of the two books, despite their frequent points of contact.

It is self-evident that the Hebrew fragments will aid in the reconstruction of the original of those portions for which no basal text has yet been found. These fragments, moreover, reveal the relative value of the Greek and Syriac texts, the two versions based on the Hebrew original.

The Greek Version.

The Greek text, as noted above, is the work of the author's grandson, who went to Egypt in 132. A prologue to the "Synopsis" of Athanasius gives his name as Jesus; but this passage is spurious. Although the translator may have gone to Egypt in 132, it does not necessarily follow that he entered upon his work in that year; indeed he himself says that he spent some time there before beginning his task. The theory has been advanced that he did not begin it until 116, since ἐπί ("in the time of"), which he uses in connection with Ptolemy Euergetes, is employed only after the death of the monarch whose name it precedes (Deissmann, in "Theologische Literaturzeitung," 1904, p. 558); but the incorrectness of this deduction has been demonstrated by Schürer. The translator, in the introduction, requests the indulgence of his readers, a precaution not without justification, since his rendering leaves much to be desired, sometimes straining the meaning of the text, and again containing crass blunders, so that the text must be freed from the numerous errors of the scribes before it can be fairly judged (see Lévi, "L'Ecclésiastique," p. ).

The Hebrew version shows that the Greek manuscript which has best preserved the wording of the original is No. 248 of Holmes and Parsons, which was used in the Complutensian Polyglot. Yet even after a rigid purification of the text, Ben Sira contains many blunders, due to overhasty reading (Lévi, c. pp. et seq.). While the translator generally adhered closely to the original, he sometimes added comments of his own, but seldom abridged, although he occasionally slurred over a passage in which the imagery was too bold or the anthropomorphism too glaring. Moreover, he frequently substituted for the translation of one verse another already given for a passage of similar content. The version used by him was not always identical with that contained in the Hebrew fragments. Sometimes he has verses which are missing in the Hebrew; but many of those mentioned by Fritzsche in his notes are found in the fragments. A revision of the Greek text is attested by the quotations in the "Pædagogus" of Clement of Alexandria.

An accident has disarranged the pages of the parent manuscript of all the copies thus far known, two sheets, containing respectively 30:25-33:13a and 33:13b-36:16b, having been interchanged. The Itala and the Armenian versions, however, avoided the error. The conjectural restoration of the order of the chapters should be made, according to Ryssel, on the basis of manuscript No. 248, which also avoided this inversion. On the Greek manuscripts and their individual and general value as regards the history of this version, see Ryssel in Kautzsch, "Apokryphen," 1:244 et seq. It may be said that the Greek version offers the most reliable material for the reconstruction of those portions of the original which have not yet been discovered.

The Vetus Latina.

As Jerome himself says, the Latin version contained in the Vulgate is not his work, but was the one generally used in the African churches during the first half of the third century (see Thielmann in "Archiv für Lateinische Lexicographie und Grammatik,"-); and the truth of this statement is proved beyond question by the quotations of Cyprian. This text is characterized by a number of interpolations of a biased trend, although it is in general a slavish and sometimes awkward translation from the Greek (comp. Herkenne, "De Veteris Latini Ecclesiastici Capitibus -" Leipsic, 1899); but it also contains deviations from the Greek which can be explained only on the hypothesis of a Hebrew original. These divergences are corrections made on the basis of a Hebrew manuscript of the same recension as B and C, which were taken from a text that had already become corrupt. Such changes were made, therefore, prior to the third century. The corrections peculiar to the Itala are attested by the quotations of Cyprian, and may have been derived from a Greek manuscript taken to Africa. They may be divided into two groups: cases in which the corresponding passage of the Hebrew is placed beside the ordinary text of the Greek, and passages in which the Hebrew rendering is substituted for the Greek reading (comp. Lévi, c., introduction to part , and Herkenne, c.). After ch. the Vulgate and the Itala coincide. The other versions based upon the Greek are the Syriac Hexaplar, edited by Ceriani ("Codex Syro-Hexaplaris Ambrosianus Photolithographice Editus," Milan, 1874); the Coptic (Sahidic), edited by Lagarde ("Ægyptiaca," Göttingen, 1883; see Peters, "Die Sahidisch-Koptische Uebersetzung des Buchs Ecclesiasticus auf Ihren Wahren Werth für die Textkritik Untersucht," in Bardenhewer, "Biblische Studien," 1898, 3:3); the Ethiopic, edited by Dillmann ("Biblia Veteris Testamenti Æthiopica," 1894, ); and the Armenian, sometimes used to verify the reading of the Greek.

Syriac Version.

While the Syriac version does not possess the importance of the Greek, it is equally useful in the reconstruction of the Hebrew on which it was directly based, as has been clearly shown by the discovery of the fragments. As a rule the translator understood his text; but his blunders are innumerable, even making allowance for scribal errors, which are not infrequent. Unfortunately, his copy was incomplete, so that his version contains numerous lacunæ, one of which (43:1-10) was filled by a passage borrowed from the Syriac Hexaplar. This entire translation is a puzzle. In some chapters it follows the original exactly, in others it is little more than a paraphrase, or even a mere epitome. In places the translation shows very few errors, in others it betrays total ignorance of the meaning of the text. It is possible that the Syriac version was the work of several translators. Some of its repetitions and corrections betray a Christian bias; and it even bears traces of a revision based on the Greek. As already noted, it contains many variants which the Hebrew fragments show to represent the original readings. Despite its numerous defects, it is a valuable check upon the Greek text, even where it diverges widely, except in passages where it becomes fantastic. It therefore deserves to be carefully studied with the assistance of the commentaries on it and the citations from it by Syriac authors, as has been done for the glosses of Bar Hebræus by Katz in his "Scholien des Gregorius Abulfaragius Bar Hebræus zum Weisheitsbuche des Josua ben Sira" (Halle, 1892). The Arabic translation included in the London Polyglot and based upon the Syriac version is likewise a valuable adjunct to the "apparatus criticus."

Bibliography: Editions of the Hebrew text, in chronological order:
  • Schechter, Ecclesiasticus 39:15- 8, in Expository Times, July, 1896, pp. 1-15;
  • Cowley and Neubauer, The Original Hebrew of a Portion of Ecclesiasticus (39:15-49:11), Together with the Early Versions and an English Translation, Followed by the Quotations from Ben Sira in Rabbinical Literature, Oxford, 1897;
  • Halévy, Etude sur la Partie du Texte Hébreu de l'Ecclésiastique Récemment Découverte [39:15-49:11], in Rev. Sém. 5:148,193,383;
  • Smend, Das Hebräische Fragment der Weisheit des Jesus Sirach, in Abhandlungen der Göttinger Gesellschaft der Wissenschaften, 1897, 2:2 (containing the same text);
  • Collotype Facsimiles of the Oxford Fragment of Ecclesiasticus, Oxford, 1897;
  • Israel Lévi, L'Ecclesiastique ou la Sagesse de Jesus, Fils de Sira, Texte Original Hébreu, Traduit et Commenté, in Bibliothèque de l'Ecole des Hautes Etudes, Sciences Réligieuses, , No. , Paris, 1897 (part , ib. 1901);
  • Schlatter, Das Neugefundene Hebräische Stück des Sirach, Güterslohe, 1897;
  • Kohn, same text, in Ha-Shiloaḥ, 3:42-48,133-140,321-325,517-520;
  • Schechter, Genizah Specimens: Ecclesiasticus [49:12-1. 22], in J. Q. R. 10:197;
  • Schechter and Taylor, The Wisdom of Ben Sira, Cambridge, 1899;
  • Halévy, Le Nouveau Fragment Hébreu de l'Ecclésiastique [49:12-1. 22], in Rev. Sém. 7:214-220;
  • Margoliouth, The Original Hebrew of Ecclesiasticus 31:12-31 and 36:22-37:26, in J. Q. R. 12:1-33;
  • Schechter, A Further Fragment of Ben Sira [4:23-5:13, 25:8-26:2], ib. pp. 456-465;
  • Adler, Some Missing Fragments of Ben Sira [7:29-12:1]. ib. pp. 466-480;
  • Lévi, Fragments de-Deux Nouveaux Manuscrits Hébreux de l'Ecclésiastique [36:24-38:1; 6:18-19; 28:35; 7:1,4,6,17,20-21,23-25], in R. E. J. 1-30;
  • Gaster, A New Fragment of Ben Sira [18:31-33; 19:1-2; 20:5-7; 27:19. 22, 24, 26; 20:13], in J. Q. R. 12:688-702;
  • Ecclesiasticus: The Fragments Hitherto Recovered of the Hebrew Text in Facsimile, Cambridge and Oxford, 1901;
  • Schlögel, Ecclesiasticus 39:12-49:16, Ope Artis Criticœ et Metricœ in Formam Originalem Redactus, 1901;
  • Knabenbauer, Commentariusin Ecclesiasticum cum Appendice: Textus Ecclesiastici Hebrœus Descriptus Secundum Fragmenta Nuper Reperta cum Notis et Versione Litterali Latina, Paris, 1902;
  • Peters, Der Jüngst Wiederaufgefundene Hebräische Text des Buches Ecclesiasticus, etc., Freiburg, 1902;
  • Strack, Die Sprüche Jesus', des Sohnes Sirach, der Jüngst Wiedergefundene Hebräische Text mit Anmerkungen und Wörterbuch, Leipsic, 1903;
  • Lévi, The Hebrew Text of the Book of Ecclesiasticus, Edited with Brief Notes and a Selected Glossary, Leyden, 1904, in Semitic Study Series, ed. Gottheil and Jastrow,;
  • La Sainte Bible Polyglotte, ed. Viguroux, vol. , Paris, 1904;
  • Peters, Liber Iesu Filii Sirach sive Ecclesiasticus Hebraice Secundum Codices Nuper Repertos, Vocalibus Adornatus Addita Versione Latina cum Glossario Hebraico-Latino, Freiburg, 1905.
On the question of the originality of the book:
  • Margoliouth, The Origin of the "Original Hebrew" of Ecclesiasticus, London, 1899;
  • Bacher, in J. Q. R. 12:97-108;
  • idem, in Expository Times, 11:563;
  • Bickell, in W. Z. K. M. 13:251-256;
  • Halévy, in Rev. Sém. 8:78-88;
  • König, in Expository Times, 10:512,564; 11:31,69,139-140,170-176,234-235;
  • idem, Die Originalität des Neulich Entdeckten Hebräischen Sirachtextes, Tübingen, 1900;
  • idem, in Neue Kirchliche Zeitung, 11:60,67;
  • idem, in Theologische Rundschau, 3:19;
  • idem, in Evangelische Kirchen-Zeitung, 74:289-292;
  • Lévi, in R. E. J. 39:1-15, 1-30;
  • Margoliouth, in Expository Times, 11:90-92,191,427-429,521; 12:45,95, et passim;
  • Ryssel, in Theologische Studien und Kritiken, 75:406-420;
  • Schechter, in Expository Times, 11:140-142,382,522;
  • Selbie, ib. 127, 363, 378, 446, 494, 550;
  • Tyler, in J. Q. R. 12:555-562.
Studies on the Hebrew text, exclusive of the editions and commentaries mentioned above:
  • Bacher, in J. Q. R. 9:543-562, 12:272-290;
  • idem, in Stade's Zeitschrift, 20:308;
  • idem, in R. E. J. 253;
  • Blau, ib. 35:25-29;
  • Büchler, ib. 38:137-140;
  • Chajes, ib. 31-36;
  • Cheyne, in J. Q. R. 10:13, 12:554;
  • Cowley, ib. 12:109-111;
  • Cowley and Neubauer, ib. 9:563-567;
  • Frankel, in Monatsschrift, 13:380-384, 43:481-484;
  • Ginsburger, in R. E. J. 42:267;
  • Grimme, in Orientalistische Literaturzeitung, 2:213,316;
  • idem. in La Revue Biblique, 9:400-413; 10:55-65,260-267,423-435;
  • Gray, in J. Q. R. 9:567-572;
  • Halévy, in Journal Asiatique, 1897, 10:501;
  • Herz, in J. Q. R. 10:719-724;
  • Hogg, in Expositor, 1897, pp. 262-266;
  • idem, in American Journal of Theology, 1:777-786;
  • Houtsma; in Theologisch Tijdschrift, 34:329-354;
  • Jouon, in Zeitschrift für Katholische Theologie, 27:583 et seq.;
  • Kaufmann, in J. Q. R. 11:159-162;
  • idem, in Monatsschrift, 11:337-340;
  • Kautzsch, in Theologische Studien und Kritiken. 71:185-199;
  • Krauss, in J. Q. R. 11:156-158;
  • Landauer, in Zeitschrift für Assyriologie, 12:393-395;
  • Lévi, in R.E.J.34:1-50,294-296; 35:29-47; 37:210-217; 39:1-15,177-190; 253-257; 42:269; 44:291-294; l-2;
  • idem, in J. Q. R. 13:1-17,331;
  • Margolis, in Stade's Zeitschrift, 21:271;
  • Margoliouth, in Athenœum, July, 1897, p. 162;
  • Méchineau, in Etudes. 78:451-477, 81:831-834, 85:693-698;
  • Müller, in W. Z. K. M. 11:103-105;
  • Nöldeke, in Expositor, 1897, pp. 347-364;
  • Peters, in Theologische Quartalschrift, 80:94-98, 82:180-193;
  • idem, in Biblische Zeitschrift, 1:47,129;
  • Rosenthal, in Monatsschrift, 1902, pp. 49-52;
  • Ryssel, in Theologische Studien und Kritiken, 1900, pp. 363-403, 505-541; 1901, pp. 75-109, 270-294, 547-592; 1902, pp. 205-261, 347-420;
  • Schechter, in J. Q. R. 12:266-274;
  • Schlögel, in Z. D. M. G. 53:669-682;
  • Smend, in Theologische Literaturzeitung, 1897, pp. 161, 265;
  • Steiniger, in Stade's Zeitschrift, 21:143;
  • Strauss, in Schweizerische Theologische Zeitung, 17:65-80;
  • Taylor, in J. Q. R. 10:470-488; 15:440-474,604-626; 17:238-239;
  • idem, in Journal of Theological Studies, 1:571-583;
  • Touzard, in Revue Biblique, 6:271-282,547-573; 7:3358; 9:45-67,525-563.
  • Principal editions of the Greek text: Fritzsche, Libri Apocryphi Veteris Testamenti Grœce, Leipsic, 1871;
  • Holmes and Parsons, Vetus Testamentum Grœcum cum Variis Lectionibus, , Oxford, 1827;
  • Swete, The Old Testament in Greek, , Cambridge, 1891.
  • Of the Syriac text: Lagarde, Libri Veteris Testamenti Apocryphi Syriace, Leipsic, 1861;
  • Ceriani, Codex Syro-Hexaplaris Ambrosianus Photolithographice Editus, Milan, 1874.
  • On the other translations derived from the Greek: Peters, Der Jüngst Wiederaufgefundene Hebräische Text des Buches Ecclesiasticus, pp. 35 et seq.;
  • Herkenne, De Veteris Latini Ecclesiastici Capitibus -, Leipsic, 1899;
  • Ryssel, in Kautzsch, Apokryphen,
  • Chief general commentaries: Fritzsche, Die Weisheit Jesus Sirach's Erklärt und Uebersetzt (Exegetisches Handbuch zu den Apokryphen), Leipsic, 1859;
  • Edersheim, in Wace, Apocrypha, , London, 1888;
  • Ryssel, in Kautzsch, Apokryphen,
  • Special studies (following Schürer's list): Gfrörer, Philo, 2:18-52, Stuttgart, 1831;
  • Dähne, Geschichtliche Darstellung der Jüdisch-Alexandrinischen Religionsphilosophie, 2:126-150, Halle, 1834;
  • Winer, De Utriusque Siracidœ Ætate, Erlangen, 1832;
  • Zunz, G. V. pp. 100-105 (2d ed., pp. 106-111);
  • Ewald, Ueber das Griechische Spruchbuch Jesus' Sohnes Sirach's, in Jahrbücher der Biblischen Wissenschaft, 3:125-140;
  • Bruch, Weisheitslehre der Hebräer, pp. 266-319, Strasburg, 1851;
  • Horowitz, Das Buch Jesus Sirach, Breslau, 1865;
  • Montet, Etude du Livre de Jésus, Fils de Sirach, au Point de Vue Critique, Dogmatique et Moral, Montauban, 1870;
  • Grätz, in Monatsschrift, 1872, pp. 49, 97;
  • Merguet, Die Glaubens- und Sittenlehre des Buches Jesus Sirach, Königsberg, 1874;
  • Sellgmann, Das Buch der Weisheit des Jesus Sirach in Seinem Verhältniss zu den Salomon. Sprüchen und Seiner Historischen Bedeutung, Breslau, 1883;
  • Bickell, Ein Alphabetisches Lied Jesus Sirach's, in Zeitschrift für Katholische Theologie, 1882, pp. 319-333;
  • Drummond, Philo Judœus, 1888, 1:144-155;
  • Margoliouth, An Essay on the Place of Ecclesiasticus in Semitic Literature, Oxford, 1890;
  • idem, The Language and Metre of Ecclesiasticus, in Expositor, 1890, pp. 295-320, 381-391;
  • Bois, Essai sur les Origines de la Philosophie Judéo-Alexandrine, pp. 160-210, 313-372, Paris, 1890;
  • Perles, Notes Critiques sur le Texte de l' Ecclésiastique, in R. E. J. 35:48-64;
  • Krauss, Notes on Sirach, in J. Q. R. 11:150;
  • Müller, Strophenbau und Responsion, Vienna, 1898;
  • Gasser, Die Bedeutung der Sprüche Jesu ben Sira für die Datierung des Althebräischnen Spruchbuches, Güterslohe, 1904;
  • comp. also Schürer, Gesch. 3:157-166;
  • André, Les Apocryphes de l' Ancien Testament, pp. 271-310, Florence, 1903;
  • Toy, in Cheyne and Black, Encyc. Bibl. s. Ecclesiasticus and Sirach;
  • Nestle, Sirach, in Hastings, Dict. Bible.
I. L.
Bibliography Information
Singer, Isidore, Ph.D, Projector and Managing Editor. Entry for 'Jesus Sirach'. 1901 The Jewish Encyclopedia. https://www.studylight.org/​encyclopedias/​eng/​tje/​j/jesus-sirach.html. 1901.
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