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Wisdom of Jesus Son of Sirach

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David A. deSilva writes: "Yeshua Ben Sira, a scribe living and teaching in Jerusalem, brought the wisdom tradition of Israel squarely in line with the core value of Torah observance. Unlike Proverbs, Job, and Ecclesiastes, from which he learned much and which he also rebutted on certain points, Ben Sira places the pursuit of piety and obedience to the ancestral Jewish law at the center of the pursuit of Wisdom—and this at a time when tensions concerning assimilation to the dominant culture of Hellenism were mounting and about to reach a fevered pitch in the crisis of 175-164 B.C.E. Ben Sira was no reactionary, but he was definitely a conservative voice in the first decades of the second century B.C.E., calling his pupils to seek their fortune, their honor, and their good name through diligent observance of the demands of the God of Israel first and foremost. The path to Wisdom, and to a successful and secure life, was first of all the way of Torah, supplemented (but never displaced or replaced) by the worldly wisdom learned from many different cultures." (Introducing the Apocrypha, p. 153)

James King West writes: "By far the longest book, comprising almost one third of the Deuterocanon, Ecclesiasticus, or by its Greek title, the Wisdom of Jesus (from the Hebrew, Joshua), the Son of Sirach, provides the reader with the unusual advantage of a translator's preface. The author himself, moreover, has obliged the reader with his signature along with a blessing upon those who concern themselves with wisdom (50:27-29). From these passages, therefore, we learn that the book was composed in Hebrew in Judea by an ardent collector of gnomic sayings whose Hebrew name was Joshua ben Sira and was brought to the Jewish community in Alexandria by his grandson and translated into Greek. In his reference to 'the thirty-eighth year of the reign of Euergetes,' furthermore, the grandson provides us with a clue to the date. How long after his arrival in Egypt he made the translation, we are not told, but his arrival can be dated quite precisely as 132 B.C. If, as is usually assumed, the high priest Simon, celebrated in 50:1-21, is the Simon mentioned by Josephus in Antiquities XII, 4, 10 (c. 200 B.C.), the original composition of the book can be fixed somewhere between 150-170 B.C." (Introduction to the Old Testament, p. 465)

Richard J. Coggins writes: "There are two positive pointers to support the date proposed [based on the prologue]. First, it is very probable that the high-priest eulogized in ch. 50 was Simon/Simeon, who had died in 196, and the second-century date would fit very well with that. Secondly, there is no sign of the tensions which developed into outright war during the reign of Antiochus IV Epiphanes (175-164). No trace of the bitter conflicts alluded to in Daniel and vividly described in the books of Maccabees appears in Sirach. One possible exception to this might be noted: the allusions in 36.1-22 to the 'foreign nations' (v. 3), 'hostile rulers' (v. 12), and the plea for pity on Jerusalem (v. 18). This might suggest some of the underlying tensions which preceded the more open hostility of Antiochus IV's time, but this rather generalized xenophobia is not unusual in the Hebrew Bible tradition, and it would be unwise to read more than that into such a passage. We have in any case already noted that, for literary reasons, 36.1-22 has often been regarded as a later addition to the main body of the work." (Sirach, p. 19)

J. Alberto Soggin writes (Introduction to the Old Testament, pp. 451-452):

The work can be divided into two parts. In the first (chs. 1-23), we find to begin with a celebration of wisdom, which in all cases is given by God (1.11, cf. 1.16). In 2.1-4.10 there is praise of the virtues connected with it: patience, humility, mercy, trust in God and obedience to his commandments, filial piety, solidarity with the poor, and so on; in 4.11-6.17 we have a series of instructions from a wise man or from wisdom itself, the promise of reward after trials have been undergone, and various pieces of practical advice. 6.18-8.7 describes the best way of finding wisdom, by avoiding wickedness and following some advice on the company to keep (advice which is also important from a social point of view). 9.17-11.19 is directed to the rich and powerful, exhorting them to use the power which they derive from their social position justly, and to make good use of their money. 14.20-15.20 delivers a eulogy on wisdom, while 16.1-18.14 presents the doctrine of God the Creator with some examples drawn from biblical history. In 18.15-20.26 we have a series of counsels on love, foresight and self-control. 20.27-23.28 contrasts the wise man and the fool, the righteous and the sinner.

The second part (chs. 24-50) begins with an account of wisdom by herself (24.1ff.); she is identified with the 'law of Moses' (24.22). Chapters 25-26 deal with the theme of marriage, and in 26.29-29.28 we have an exhortation to honesty and prudence in word and deed. 30.1-32.13 discusses the education of children, health and manners, especially at banquets; 32.14-35.18 gives advice about how to find wisdom. 33.19-36.17 instructs heads of families about various themes: the administration of patrimony, true piety (cf. 34.18-25, etc.). 36.18-38.23 deals with some difficulties in which a man might find himself; in such cases, however, he is aided by wife, children, friends, the counsellor, the wise man, the doctor and so on. 38.1-15 discusses the interesting theological problem of the relationship between the doctor's cure and faith in God: which of the two is it better to trust? The reply is similar to that given by James 5.14 in the New Testament: the divine wisdom enlightens the doctor and gives him his gifts; therefore the two positions are complementary. 38.24-39.35 praises the scribe, whose profession is the most noble of all, whereas 40.1-41.33 considers suffering and death. In 41.14-42.14 we have considerations on shame, whether it is justified or not, a text which ends in 42.15ff. with a song of praise to God for the virtue of which the fathers have given proof. We have a list of the fathers in 44.1ff., followed by a mention of the last legitimate high priest, Simeon II son of Jonathan (50.1). The book ends with praise to God (ch. 51).

James L. Crenshaw writes: "Although Sirach resembles other Jewish literary works of the third to first century B.C., the book also has points of contact with Greek literature. Affinities with Jewish wisdom link Sirach more closely with those texts in Hebrew than with the Greek Wisdom of Solomon. Ben Sira shares a few phrases with Ecclesiastes, but he does not endorse this book's skepticism, particularly with regard to the divine-human relationship. The book of Tobit places more emphasis on specific acts of piety as an expression of loyalty to the Mosaic law, but both Tobit and Sirach freely lift their voices in prayer. Whereas Ben Sira prays for wondrous acts on God's part, Tobit both prays for wondrous acts on God's part, Tobit both prays for and experiences divine feats. Baruch's poem on wisdom (3:9-4:4) does not integrate mythic themes about wisdom's role in creation with the idea that the concrete expression of wisdom occurs in the law. The Testament of the Twelve Patriarchs transcends the ritual aspects of religion to a degree that Ben Sira never achieves. The author of Wisdom of Solomon embraces Hellenistic concepts enthusiastically, whereas Ben Sira's indebtedness to the Greeks appears to be no more than unconscious breathing of the air." (Harper's Bible Commentary, p. 840)

Thomas H. Weber writes: "Sir is one of the deuterocanonical books; it did not fit into the theology of the Pharasaic part of Judaism, which was responsible for fixing the Jewish canon. The book was generally well received in Judaism as is evident from its use in Jewish worship and literature. Its rejection from the Jewish canon may have been partly because of its recent date, but the chief reason is that it was associated with Sadducean literature. Sirach was no Sadducee, but the tone of the work with its preoccupation with cult, the lack of any appreciation for the afterlife, and minimal messianism put it in a class with later Sadducean tenets." (The Jerome Biblical Commentary, p. 542)

Marjorie L. Kimbrough writes: "Chapter 22 begins with a discussion of the disgrace of being idle, but then moves to these words: 'It is a disgrace to be the father of an undisciplined son, and the birth of a daughter is a loss. A sensible daughter obtains a husband of her own, but one who acts shamefully is a grief to her father. An impudent daughter disgraces father and husband, and is despised by both (22:3-5). I can easily understand how an undisciplined son is a disgrace, but I cannot understand how the birth of a dughter is a loss. . . . Then chapter 25 returns to female-bashing. There is no wickedness like that of a woman and no anger worse than a woman's wrath. Her wickedness even changes her appearance (25:13-17). Yet young men are warned not to be ensnared by a woman's beauty or to desire her for her possessions (25:21). The writer states that it is disgraceful for a wife to support her husband and that it is her duty to make him happy (25:22-23). Women are the source of sin and death, so if one of them is not obedient, a man should leave her (25:24-26)." (Stories Between the Testaments, pp. 50-51)

Daniel J. Harrington writes: "The book of Sirach is not quoted directly in the New Testament. The strongest parallel is Matthew 11:28-30 (see Sirach 6:24-25; 51:26-27). But even there it may be a matter of common terminology and conceptuality. . . . The earliest patristic evdience for Sirach occurs in Didache 4:5 and Barnabas 19:9, which appear to cite Sirach 4:31. The book was translated into Latin, Coptic, Syriac, Ethiopic, Armenian, and Arabic, thus insuring a wide circulation. Many Greek church fathers (Clement of Alexandria, Origen, John Chrysostom, Cyril of Jerusalem) and Latin fathers (Tertullian, Cyprian, Jerome, Augustine) quoted or incorporated material from Sirach in their own works. Throughout the late patristic and medieval periods, Sirach generated a rich commentary tradition." (Invitation to the Apocrypha, p. 90)

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