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Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament [1]

Sirach (Σειραχ or Σιραχ) is the Greek form of the name which in Syriac and post-biblical Hebrew is written סִירָא, and resembles in structure עָזְרָא and numerous other names which appear in late Hebrew lists (e.g. Ezra 2), though its etymology is obscure. The Greek transliteration has been compared to Ἀκελδαμάχ for חקל דמא in  Acts 1:19, and appears to be an attempt to render a sound sometimes called the glottal catch.

1. Author. -The person who bore this name was the father of a Jesus, author of a Hebrew work of which the original is lost, but which is preserved in a Greek translation called Σοφία Ἰησοῦ υἱοῦ Σειράχ, a Syriac translation called The Words of Jesus son of Simon called son of Asira (i.e. the Captive), and a Latin translation called Ecclesiasticus Iesu filii Sirach. In the Jewish oral tradition it is cited as The Book of Ben-Sira, whereas according to Jerome it was called Proverbs. The Latin name is explained by the Latin Father Rufinus as a ‘non-canonical book suited for churches’; but this is very probably a conjecture, and the suggestion in the mediaeval chronicle called סדר עולם (A. Neubauer, Mediceval Jewish Chronicles, Oxford, 1887-95, i. 167) that the title was a Latin one derived from Ecclesiastes, i.e. ‘Book in the style of Ecclesiastes,’ is attractive. The Hebrew original doubtless perished when the rest of the non-canonical literature in that language was destroyed; and such specimens as are preserved in the collections of oral tradition are exceedingly inaccurate, inconsistent, and mixed up with biblical and other matter, while at times sayings of Ben-Sira are ascribed to other Rabbis. In some cases the gradual merging of a saying of his in some biblical text can be followed in different collections of tradition. From this source, then, nothing certain can be learned about him or his book.

In the colophon ( Sirach 50:27) some Greek Manuscriptsgive the grandfather’s name as Eleazar, and, as has been seen, the Syriac gives the father’s as Simon, supposing Asira to be an Aramaic sobriquet. The last seems improbable, since we should have expected the Hebrew form to be ben-ha-Asir; but the word may have been a sobriquet, and the other statements may be correct.

To the Greek translation there is prefixed a preface of great interest, said to be the only known honest paragraph by any Israelite of this period, in which the translator states that the original was by his grandfather, a diligent student of the Law, the Prophets, and the other national books (a phrase which represents the Rabbinical TNK, i.e. Law, Prophets, Writings, as a name for the OT), and that he himself had come to Alexandria in the year 38 under King Euergetes, and studied there for a long time. He implies further that the whole OT already existed in Greek. Though the chronological expression is not perfectly clear, it seems probable that it should be interpreted as the year 38 of Euergetes II., which synchronizes with 132 b.c. The author in the Greek translation calls himself in the colophon ( Sirach 50:27) ‘of Jerusalem,’ according to some Manuscripts‘a priest of Jerusalem’; and the list of eminent Israelites with which the book closes ends with an encomium on the high priest Simon son of Onias (‘Nathania’ of the Syriac is a corruption to be explained from the Syriac script). If this personage is to be identified with the Simon the Just of Josephus, his period of office appears to have been from 300 to 287 b.c., and the words of Ben-Sira imply, though they do not distinctly state, that he had seen this Simon officiate. Various ways have been devised of reconciling the dates of the original and the translation, which according to this would be separated by about 150 years, though the translator was the grandson of the author; probably the solution is to be found in the great uncertainty which attaches to the list of the high priests, as may be seen from the works of those who have endeavoured to restore it (e.g. L. Herzfeld, Geschichte des Volkes Jisrael2, 2 vols., Leipzig, 1863, ii. Excursus 6). It is clear that Ben-Sira is pre-Maccabaean; his floruit is probably to be placed near the end of the 3rd or the beginning of the 2nd pre-Christian century. The appendix to his work (ch. 51), which has the heading ‘A Prayer of Jesus the son of Sirach,’ contains some biographical details, but they are too vague and obscurely worded to convey much information. He claims to have travelled, and this may also be inferred from his praise of travel ( Sirach 31:10-12), and in both passages he asserts that he had many times been in great danger; in the Prayer he specifies an occasion when he had been falsely accused before a king. Neither this nor the other perils which he enumerates are anywhere explained in detail. Since in  Sirach 43:24 he quotes hearsay for the dangers of the sea, we should infer that he had not himself crossed it; it is noticeable that he gives the correct seasons for the overflow of the rivers Jordan, Tigris, and Nile ( Sirach 24:23-25), and, though the first of these may have been got from  Joshua 3:15, the others could scarcely have been learned from the Bible. If (as seems likely) the account of the scribe in ch. 39 is autobiographical, he must at some time have obtained employment at a Court.

The century in which he lived is one of the most obscure in Israelitish history; hence it is not possible to interpret any political allusions with certainty. Some have endeavoured to find a political programme in  Sirach 45:24-25, where the author insists that the high-priesthood belongs for ever to the house of Aaron, but the royal title to the house of David. The true explanation seems to be that he is projecting himself into the period of national independence for the restoration of which he prays, and indeed Jewish authors of a much later period do the same; in the Tanna d’Be Eliahu of about the 10th cent. a.d. (ed. Warsaw, 1893, p. 563), the ‘crown of the house of Aaron and the crown of the house of David’ are still said to be inalienable.

2. Sources. -The translator mentions the author’s biblical studies, and in  Sirach 24:28-29 the latter confesses that his book is a biblical anthology, though in  Sirach 39:1-3 his enumeration of what the scribe should study seems to be rather too copious to be confined to the OT as we know it. Besides the Law, he is to study the wisdom of all the ancients, prophecies, the dicta of renowned men, strophes, mysteries, and enigmas. From his list of famous men we should gather that his Bible contained no book that, or at any rate no author who, has since been lost, and in the main the Torah (in the wider sense) which he possessed was identical with ours. Thus he utilizes the whole of Isaiah, all five books of Psalms, Job, Ecclesiastes, and every division of the Proverbs. He fails, indeed, to mention Daniel and Ezra in his list of famous men, and this silence is often used as a strong argument against the genuineness of both; nevertheless he appears to quote Daniel in 33:8b, καὶ ἠλλοίωσε καιροὺς καὶ ἑορτάς, from  Daniel 2:21, ἀλλοιοῖ καιροὺς καὶ χρόνους (perhaps מועדים), and the name for the Deity, ὁ ζῶν εἰς τὸν αἰῶνα (18:1), is found in the OT only in  Daniel 12:7. The phrase εἰρηνεύοντες ἐν κατοικίαις αὐτῶν (44:6b) is from Dn 4:1. 40:29c, ἀλισγήσει τὴν ψυχὴν αὐτοῦ ἐν ἐδέσμασιν ἀλλοτρίοις, is probably an allusion to  Daniel 1:8. Further, the passage 39:13, 14, in which the ‘holy sons’ are addressed and bidden ‘bless the Lord for all his works,’ is very like a reference to the hymn of the ‘three holy children’ inserted in the Greek Daniel 3:52. For it is not clear who else the ‘holy sons’ can be, and the words addressed to them, ‘thrive as a rose growing on a water-brook,’ are easily interpreted from  Daniel 1:15. It does not appear possible to demonstrate acquaintance on Ben-Sira’s part with Chronicles or Esther; on the other hand, it cannot be shown that he was unacquainted with them.

Besides the OT, Ben-Sira displays very considerable acquaintance with Greek literature, though he nowhere confesses this, or even makes the study of Greek a necessary part of the equipment of the ‘scribe.’ Homer’s comparison of the race of men to leaves (Il. vi. 146-149) is fairly closely paraphrased in 14:18. There is a reference to an aesopic fable in 13:2. Many thoughts are borrowed from the works of Aristotle: the sleeplessness of the stars (43:10) from de Caelo, 284 A 32; the changeableness of the fool (27:11) from Eudemian Ethics, 1239 B 12; the comparison of a friend to wine (9:10) from ib. 1238 A 23; abuse preceding battle (22:22) from Metaphys. 1013 A 9; the enmity between the hyaena and the dog (13:18) from Nat. Hist. 594 B 3; the decoy partridge (11:30) from ib. 614 A 13; the pleasing effect of green vegetation on the eye (40:22) from Problems, 959 A 25; the description of a friend as ‘one whose soul is like thine’ (37:12c) from Great Ethics, 1211 A 32; the affection between animals of the same species (13:14) from Problems, 896 B 10. The use of Plato is far less considerable; still the author appears in 43:8 to adopt from Cratylus 409 C Plato’s derivation of the word ‘month,’ μείς or μήν, from μειοῦσθαι, ‘to diminish’ or ‘wane’ of the moon-a derivation which naturally applies to the Greek, not to the Hebrew, name of the month; and the puzzle in 6:22, ‘wisdom is according to her name and is not manifest to many,’ appears to be a misunderstanding of the passage in the Cratylus (412 B) where the etymology of σοφία is given, and is said to be σκοτωδέστερον, ‘somewhat obscure,’ with reference not to wisdom, but to the etymology which he suggests. (The coincidence of some precepts with those to be found in the Story of Aḥikar is to be explained by borrowing on the part of the latter from Ben-Sira, the Aramaic papyrus of Aḥikar published by Sachau being a glaring forgery.)

One or two additional cases of borrowing from Greek literature will be noticed below; there is of course some danger of discerning a loan where there is only a coincidence. Hence the saying (20:18), ‘A slip off the ground rather than from the tongue,’ need have no connexion with that ascribed to the Stoic Zeno (Diog. Laert. vii. 22), ‘It is better to slip with the feet than with the tongue,’ just as al-Muhallab may have been independent of both when he pointed out (a.h. 83 = a.d. 702) that ‘a man may slip with his foot and recover; but if he slips with his tongue, he will perish’ (Ibn Khaldun, iii. 53). Where, however, an author acknowledges to composing an anthology and insists on the importance of learning by heart what wise men have said, the chances of borrowing on his part where there is close correspondence in thought and expression are very great. We shall probably be right, then, in supposing Ben-Sira to have got from the Greeks the maxim (11:28), ‘Call no man happy before his end.’ For this saying is definitely associated by the Hellenes with the name of Solon (Herod. i. 86; Aristotle, Nic. Ethics, 1100 A 11), though it is constantly quoted as a proverb.

The fact that Ben-Sira had before him no Hebrew or national literature which has not been preserved is of great interest; and, as has been seen, with his grandson the biblical books were classified as they are still. In the book itself certain other names appear. Thus a portion of the prophecies is called the Remonstrances (48:10), of which we recognize the original in התוכתות similarly used in Jerus. Peah, ii. 4. Enigmas and Parables is the title taken by Psalms 78, to which there is a reference in 39:3b. The Bible as a whole is identified with Wisdom in 24:21, 23, and v. 28 implies that it had already undergone several generations of expounders. The attitude of Jewish writers to their Bible has so often been dictated by that of their neighbours to their own sacred books that we may be justified in finding here the traces of the Hellenic estimate of the Homeric pcems, to which the Greek translator makes a veiled allusion in the phrase ‘narrating epics in writing’ (44:5b).

3. Poetical form. -To any one who compares the lines of Ben-Sira with the corresponding passages of the OT it is apparent that the latter have been subjected to Procrustean treatment; thus  Genesis 17:5, ‘a father of many nations have I made thee,’ becomes in  Sirach 44:19, ‘Abraham was a great father of many people’; but for  Genesis 22:18, ‘in thy seed shall all the nations of the earth be blessed,’  Sirach 45:21 b substitutes, ‘that nations should be blessed in his seed.’ Sometimes the order of the phrases is inverted; so  Ecclesiastes 3:14, ‘nothing can be added to it nor anything taken from it,’ becomes in  Sirach 18:6, ‘there may be nothing taken from them, neither may anything be added to them.’ Sometimes the verse reproduced undergoes so much inversion and padding that the sense is seriously injured, e.g.  Job 8:12 in  Sirach 40:16. Since in the first passages cited the author has altered a Divine etymology by the introduction of a monosyllable רב and seriously reduced a Divine promise by the omission of another monosyllable בל, it is evident that single syllables are of importance to him, i.e. that his Procrustean methods are due to his employment of a syllabic metre to which he accommodates the biblical material. That he should do this is very natural, since, as has been seen, he displays considerable acquaintance with Greek literature; and from the nearly contemporary PCEnulus of Plautus we find that the kindred Phcenician dialect was being accommodated to Greek syllabic metres. The metrical scheme is supplied by the correct re-translation of any two or three of the lines, and, where they are taken directly from the OT, this is easy; and this scheme is a trimeter of the rhythm called in Greek and Latin Bacchic, in Arabic and Persian mutaqarib, of which the basis is a foot of the form . In Persian this rhythm is very popular, the whole of the great classic Shah-nameh being composed in it; the Hebrew variety (except in the substitution of three feet as the line-unit for four) resembles the Latin variety used by Plautus, e.g. ‘multás res simítu in meó corde vórso.’ Where the lines do not correspond with this scheme, there is some fault either in the tradition or in the re-translation. Thus  Sirach 27:11, διήγησις εὐσεβοῦς διὰ παντὸς σοφία, when re-translated is one syllable short; but the Latin version which offers ‘sicut sol’ indicates that תבמה is corrupt for בתמת, which gives the ninth syllable required, and furnishes a correct antithesis to the changeableness which in clause b is compared to that of the moon. Where the lines contain lists, the fact that they are padded in order to obtain a metrical scheme is sometimes very obvious. So in the list  Sirach 40:9, θάνατος καὶ αἶμα καὶ ἔρις καὶ ῥομφαία, ἐπαγωγαί, λιμός, καὶ σύντριμμα καὶ μάστιξ, Fritzsche ejected ἐπαγωγαί, ‘utpote explications causa adsutum.’ It seems unnecessary for the sense, but the two syllables which it represents (צרות) are very necessary for the metre.

The re-translation, if ever satisfactorily accomplished, will be of importance for the study of Hebrew grammar, which at present depends on a tradition codified some 1000 years later. For it will be found that, when the consonants are restored, the metre settles the vocalization (to a certain extent) as in  Sirach 33:6, ἐγκαίνισον σημεῖα καὶ ἀλλοίωσον θαυμάσια תדש אתות ושנה נפלאות, where the metre and the sense both require that ושנה should be read ushneh, not w’shanneh (‘and repeat,’ not ‘and alter’).

4. Language. -The language employed by the author was from the nature of the case mainly that of the OT, of which his book is so largely a metrical cento; but here and there the traces of a later development of Hebrew, such as we find in the Mishna, can be discovered; and indeed the fragments preserved by the Oral Tradition exhibit a considerable amount of this. No confidence can indeed be placed in the accuracy of these; it is, however, of some interest that the transmitters of that tradition thought of his language as Rabbinic. One interesting technicality, הלבות, ‘rules of conduct,’ which clearly underlies πορεῖαι in  Sirach 1:4 d occurs in an obelized passage; but comparison of Greek and Syriac seems to reveal התזיר for ‘to beg’ in  Sirach 40:28 b, and בישן for ‘shamefast’ in  Sirach 41:14; while in  Sirach 37:1 b the sentence rendered ‘there is a friend, which is only a friend in name’ meant ‘which is really a friend,’ the usage which is here hidden being that of the later Hebrew, where ‘to be named’ means ‘to be in reality’ (e.g. Bab.[Note: Babylonian.]Giṭṭin, 47a). The use of late or Aramaic words seems at times to have been dictated by metrical reasons; so in  Sirach 8:10 נּומרי can be restored with certainty for ‘coals,’ and it would seem that this word was employed because נתלי contained a syllable too many. The Greek word ἀγωγός may have been employed in  Sirach 48:17 b, but this seems to be isolated.

5. Subject. -The subject of the work belongs to what is called in Arabic Adab, sometimes rendered ‘Miscellanies’; it is didactic, devotional, and to a slight extent historical. The last portion is clearly marked off from the rest and occupies the final chapters 44-50, being a record of the great men mentioned in the OT, to whom the high priest Simon is added; it is preceded by a description of the wonders of Nature occupying ch. 42 from v. 15 and ch. 43. The matter which precedes seems to fall into two books, each of which starts with a hymn to Wisdom (chs. 1-23 and  Sirach 24:1 to  Sirach 42:14).

Since the aphorisms are very largely counsels of prudence, rules of conduct and behaviour, or observations on ‘things in general,’ even where they are not reproductions of OT verses, they contain little that is original or distinctive; man in all known societies has developed largely the same characteristics, which therefore have been noticed by observers in very different countries and periods. The interest of the work consists largely in the differences which it exhibits from the OT on the one hand and the later Jewish literature on the other. The former are largely due to the influence of Greek culture, which in the OT itself appears only in the Book of Ecclesiastes. It has been observed that in our time contact of Orientals with the West leads either to contempt on the part of the former for their own civilization or to exaggerated appreciation of it; Ben-Sira’s case seems to resemble the latter. He places the home of Wisdom in Jerusalem ( Sirach 24:11), and ignores all celebrities save biblical heroes in his list of statesmen, authors, and musical composers ( Sirach 44:1-6). Nevertheless his debt to Greek authors is, as has been seen, considerable; and though in one place he ridicules sacrifices to idols ( Sirach 30:19), which he compares with the practice of offering meats to the dead, his book is on the whole singularly free from that invective against foreign cults which reaches its climax in Isaiah and the Wisdom of Solomon, and made the Jews, in the words of Pliny, notorious for their contempt of the gods. Of the sacrifices enjoined by his own religion he can only say that they should be offered because the law enjoins them ( Sirach 32:5). His theory of life ( Sirach 14:11-16) reproduces that of Heracles in the Alcestis of Euripides (770-802): since man has only one life, and death may come at any time, he had best enjoy himself while he has the chance. If this is slightly modified or explained away in what follows, in the demonstration that the pursuit of wisdom is the happiest form of existence, the Greek hedonistic schools were prepared to accept this gloss, or rather provided it themselves. Quite in Hellenic style he dilates on the delights of a symposium, where there is good wine and choice music ( Sirach 34:25 to  Sirach 35:6), and, parodying the words of Mimnermus, who declared that life would not be worth having without love (T. Bergk, Lyrici Grceci, Leipzig, 1882, ii. 25), asserts that it would not be worth having without wine (34:27). He is, however, by no means inclined to disparage female beauty, as appears from  Sirach 26:13-18. Comparison of this passage with  Proverbs 31:10-31, on which it is partly modelled, indicates very clearly the influence of the beauty-cult of the Hellenes on the Israelitish mind. The precepts on the use of wine display very close correspondence with those of Theognis (Lyrici Grceci, ii. 162-164), from whom they are likely to have been taken.

The influence of Greek thought appears very strongly in the account which he gives of the training necessary for the scribe ( Sirach 38:24 to  Sirach 39:11). For this purpose leisure is required; and, although in another context he had recommended industry ( Sirach 10:25-26) and especially agriculture ( Sirach 7:15;  Sirach 7:22), he now asserts that these occupations and those of craftsmen and artists, e.g. potters and gem-engravers, are inconsistent with the two which Aristotle in the Politics declares alone suitable for gentlemen, viz. the service of the State and philosophy. The service of the State is expressed in terms of the Athenian Republic, where the governing bodies were the βουλή and the ἐκκλησία, while the δικαστήριον was the judicial authority; it is, however, clear that the δικαστής of whom he is thinking is not the Athenian juror but the judge, or qadi. Although there is not a little in this passage which reminds the reader of Greek treatises on preparation for a political career, e.g. Plato’s Alcibiades I., probably it is nearer in many respects to the Islâmic discipline called Adab al-Katib, or studies necessary for a Secretary of State. This is doubtless due to the changes introduced into Hellenic life by the fall of the free Republics. Part of the scribe’s training is to be got by travelling abroad and entering the service of some ruler ( Sirach 39:4); but it very largely consists in accumulating books and learning them by heart (vv. 1-3), as was the case in Islâmic times.

Another profession to which some attention is devoted for the first time in the literature of the Israelites is the medical ( Sirach 38:1-15), the existence of which has, however, to be defended from passages in Genesis and Exodus. The author expresses himself with great caution, and implies that what the physician can do is to pray for the patient.

As compared with the later Jewish literature, i.e., the Talmudim and Midrashim (of which the general antiquity is certified by the Gospels, though the process of oral tradition through many centuries has introduced great modifications), Ben-Sira’s book seems to exhibit few of the same interests. He looks forward to the coming of Elijah ( Sirach 48:10-11), on the faith of the prophecy of Malachi; but he knows nothing of a Messiah. He does not even mention the Sabbath or the food-legislation (unless  Sirach 40:29 c be a reference to it). His idea of religious obligations consists in offering the prescribed sacrifices and paying the priest his dues, which the Greek text assesses more highly than the Syriac ( Sirach 7:29-31). He thinks of the glyptic art as a normal industry ( Sirach 38:27), not as a violation of the Second Commandment. The profound darkness which covers Israelitish affairs in the 3rd cent. b.c. renders this phenomenon difficult to explain. The cases in which the formulae of the later Halâkhâh and Haggâdâh are suggested are exceedingly rare. In  Sirach 37:3 the πονηρὸν ἐνθύμημα evidently stands for the יצר הרע, which was derived from  Genesis 6:5, and this faculty may be what is meant by διαβούλιον in  Sirach 17:6, where a rather curious list of faculties is given. In v. 17 the theory is stated that every nation has ‘a ruler,’ i.e. guardian angel, which is worked out in the Midrashim (e.g. Exodus Rabba, 21, 32). In  Sirach 39:28 the ‘spirits’ are identified with forces whereby God wreaks vengeance on evil-doers; this theme is also worked out in the Midrash (e.g. Genesis Rabba, 10). From his account of a banquet ( Sirach 31:12-31) we should guess that the ‘hand-washing’ of which we read in the Gospels had not yet been introduced as a religious observance; the only ceremonial washing mentioned is after contact with a corpse ( Sirach 34:25). The only trace that has been found of Alexandrian exegesis is in  Sirach 44:16, where Enoch is said to have been a pattern of repentance to the generations. This is inferred by Philo from the Greek word μετέθηκεν used in  Genesis 5:24 for the Hebrew לקח, ‘took’ (de Abrahamo, 3), for ‘metathesis’ signifies change, in this case change of mind. If the verse were genuine, we should have to conclude that the author had studied the OT in the Septuagintversion, and that the interpretation found in Philo was some 200 years earlier than Philo’s time. It seems certain that this verse is an interpolation, not only because it is wanting in the Syriac, but chiefly because Enoch is mentioned in the supplementary list of celebrities ( Sirach 49:14), where what happened to him is interpreted according to the Hebrew. The interpolation, then, is later than the time of Philo, but it seems to have found its way into all the Greek Manuscripts.

6. Place of the work in Jewish literature. -The mode wherein ‘the Law’ is eulogized in the work makes it clear that the canon in the author’s time was so well fixed that the admission of any later work would be extremely difficult; although, then, verses of Ben-Sira are at times cited as from the Hagiographa, it is reasonable to explain this as due to defective memory on the part of the Rabbis who cite them, not to the work ever having been canonical. It is clear that Josephus was either unacquainted with its existence or did not regard it as sufficiently important to deserve notice. It is not actually cited in the NT, but the parable in  Luke 12:17-20 appears to be an amplification of 11:16-17, which is based on  Ecclesiastes 4:7-8; and the doctrine involved in ‘forgive us our trespasses as we forgive them that trespass against us’ is so clearly stated in 26:1-7 that we are justified in regarding the latter as the source. Further, the precept against vain repetitions in prayer ( Matthew 6:7), whatever the correct rendering of the phrase in the original, is nearer 7:14b, ‘repeat not a word in thy prayer,’ than  Ecclesiastes 5:2, the source of the latter. It is probable, then, that Ben-Sira’s book was at this time used in the education of the young.

The last person known to have possessed the original appears to be R. Eleazar b. Azariah, of the first half of the 2nd century. For 3:20, 21 are cited on his authority from Ben-Sira in Gen. Rabba 8, where the four hemistichs are increased to six, and Jerus. Ḥagigah, ii. 1, where they are reduced to four, but interpolated from  Job 11:8; in Bab.[Note: Babylonian.]Ḥagigah, 13a they are again reduced to four, but by arbitrary omission of two synonymous clauses. The first of these collections comes nearest to the original as certified by the Greek and Syriac together. Naturally the connexion of R. Eleazar with the citation may be inaccurate, but the fact of its occurrence in two separate collections inspires some confidence. Numerous sayings which approximate more or less closely to verses of the book are to be found in various collections, often wrongly ascribed; thus in Aboth 4,  Sirach 7:17 is quoted according to the text of the Syriac version, and ascribed to R. Levites, a man of Yabneh.  Sirach 11:23 is to be found in the Tanna d’Be Eliahu, i. 61, without sign of quotation. An Aramaic form of 12:1 is quoted in Gen. Rabba 22 as a proverb. Some of these resemblances may be coincidences, but in other cases (e.g. 7:17) there can be no doubt that verses of the book have been preserved in a mangled form, with erroneous ascriptions. Since the period wherein they were transmitted orally covered several centuries at the least, they furnish a good example of this mode of transmission, whereby accuracy seems always to be lost. The date when any of these collections ceased to be oral cannot now be determined, since Jewish writers invariably falsify the evidence on this subject; examples will be found in the variants of Yahuda’s edition of R. Bachya’s Hidayah, Leiden, 1912, pp. 145, 146.

From the discussion in Bab.[Note: Babylonian.]Sanh. 100b we can infer that the original had been lost by the time of Rab Joseph (4th century). This personage couples it with ‘foreign literature,’ by the reading of which eternal life is forfeited; and the first passage cited and interpreted quite certainly does not belong to it. It thus appears that the book was already thought of as in the hands of Christians, though originally Jewish. Jerome indeed (about 400) professes to have seen a copy of the original; as he made no use of it for the correction of the Vetus Itala, his statement is liable to suspicion. Jewish writers either know nothing about Ben-Sira or get their information from Christians. Before the book became part of the inheritance left by the Hellenic and Syrian Jews to the Christians, it appears to have received some additions which are found in certain Greek Manuscriptsand are obelized in the Hexaplar Syriac. Some of these, e.g. those after 1:4 and 1:8, are evidently translated from Hebrew; and the long passage that follows 26:18 inmanuscript248, which contains most of these additions, seems to be certified as a translation from the Hebrew by the fact of its occurrence in the Syriac. Themanuscriptcited and some others occasionally exhibit variants which go back to a Hebrew original, e.g. 37:26b, ἔσται for ζήσεται; 25:2c, μωρόν for μοιχόν (i.e. שוטה); 10:15, where ὑπερηφάνων is added to ἐθνῶν, doubtless an improved rendering of נאים. Since it is certain, nevertheless, that all Greek Manuscriptsgo back to one copy, if the Hebrew disappeared about a.d. 150 these improvements must all have been made before that date, though perpetuated in late Manuscripts.

7. Place in the Christian Church. -The process whereby the literature of the Hellenic and Syrian Jews was appropriated and inherited by Christians is exceedingly obscure. With this question is connected that of the origin of the Peshitta OT, which is now known to lie behind certain passages in the Greek text of the Gospels, whence it appears to be pre-Christian; just as Christian books of interest were translated into Syriac shortly after their appearance in Christian times, we may suppose the same to have been done with Hebrew books in Jewish times. The work of Ben-Sira formed part of the inheritance taken over by the Christian communities from their predecessors; but, though associated with the canonical books, it failed to obtain admission into the canon; hence it is found in neither of the canons preserved in the Historia Ecclesiastica (Eusebius, etc.)of Eusebius, who notices the fact (vi. 13) that although ἀντιλεγόμενον it is cited by Clement of Alexandria. That various Christian writers should quote it as by Solomon is not surprising. The Latin version is certainly early, and in a curious language, said to be African Latinity; it appears to have been made from the Greek either directly or indirectly with the help of a copy of the original; for not only does it exhibit the chapters in their right order as does the Syriac, whereas in all copies of the Greek there is a serious transposition of chapters in the middle of the work, but in a considerable number of cases its renderings are explicable on this supposition. An example has been given above.

The other versions add little or nothing to the criticism of the text; of these the Armenian, Coptic, Ethiopic, and Syro-Hexaplar are from the Greek, the Arabic from the Syriac.

8. In Islâmic literature the name of Ben-Sira appears to be unknown, but in spite of this his work is perhaps more frequently cited than any other biblical book. Thus 30:1-3 are cited in the Kamil of Mubarrad (i. 45) as the words of ‘a sage’; 26:20 was cited by Malik b. Dinar ( a.h. 123 = a.d. 740) as ‘written in the Wisdom’ (Mikhlat, 49, 16); 18:24 is cited by Ghazali (Iḥyâ ‛ulûm al din, iii. 66) as from the Torah; 29:21 is ascribed to the prophet Muhammad in the Musnad of Ibn Hanbal (i. 62) as  Isaiah 25:2 in the Sahih of Muslim (i. 41); while 26:26 is cited as ‘a tradition’ by Yaqut (Dictionary of Learned Men, ed. D. S. Margoliouth, London, 1913, i. 15). Early authors, e.g. the pcet Abu Nuwas and the polygraph Jahiz of Basrah, occasionally employ phrases which seem traceable to the book, though there is no suggestion of the source; thus in the Misers of the latter (ed H. van Vloten, Leiden, 1900, p. 99, 12) ‘the people call miser one whose loaves are few in number’ looks like a reproduction of 34:24a; it is, however, difficult to distinguish in such cases between reproduction and coincidence, whence it is likely that the verse of Ibn Hijjah (Cairo, 1304, p. 96), ‘death is sweeter than a bitter life,’ is his own, though the words are all but identical with those of  Sirach 30:17.

9. Re-translations. -Re-translation, in the sense of restoring the lost original, is a difficult task, yet somewhat facilitated by the extreme faithfulness of the Greek; it is further aided by comparison with the independent Peshitta Syriac, which seems to have followed a mutilated and partly obliterated copy, which it often paraphrased rather than translated. In recent times the task has been attempted by J. L. Wolfsohn (Ben-Zeb), who followed the Syriac, which he supplemented from a German version of the Greek (3Vienna, 1814). A more scholarly re-translation is that of I. Z. Frankel (re-printed Warsaw, 1894, in a complete version of the Apocrypha made from the Greek). Both these works aim at providing a readable rendering for those who are accustomed to read Hebrew rather than at restoring for philological purposes the ipsissima verba of the original.

In the years 1897-99 considerable fragments were published in Oxford by A. E. Cowley and A. Neubauer, and in Cambridge by S. Schechter and C. Taylor, of a re-translation made in the 10th or 11th cent., which, doubtless owing to its extreme badness, had been consigned to oblivion in an Egyptian Genizah. This was, indeed, mistaken for the original by the editors and for a time by some others, but that it is a re-translation is demonstrated by all the tests that can be applied, and only a few arguments need be adduced here.

(1) It borrows from the Talmud, and not vice versa. In Bab.[Note: Babylonian.]Erubin 54a the following is quoted: ‘My son, if thou hast, do good to thyself, for there is not in Sheol luxury, neither is there to death delay.’ This comes originally from  Sirach 14:11, ‘Child, according as thou hast, do good to thyself, and offerings to the Lord worthily bring’; v. 12, ‘Remember that death will not delay, and a covenant of Hades has not been shown thee’; v. 16, ‘Give and take and deceive thy soul, for there is not in Hades to seek luxury.’ It is clear that the reminiscence in the Talmud is of vv. 11a, 16b, 12a. The Egyptian document for v. 12 gives the two clauses vv. 16b and vv. 12a in the order in which they appear in the Talmud: ‘Remember that there is not in Sheol luxury, neither will death delay.’ The clause which in the Greek is v. 16b is here transferred to the place before v. 12a. But when we come to v. 16 we find the same clause repeated: ‘Give to a brother and give and indulge thyself; for there is not in Sheol to seek luxury.’ The only explanation of this is that, when retranslating v. 12, the translator recollected the Talmudic citation and inserted it whole, without noticing that the clause about Sheol and luxury came later in the copy before him; and when he came to v. 16b he translated it afresh. Practically the same thing is done by Wolfsohn, who inserts the Talmudic quotation as v. 13, but does not repeat the clause about Sheol and luxury in v. 16 because the Syriac omits it.

(2) In numerous places where the Greek and Syriac versions differ slightly, yet quite clearly represent the same original, the Egyptian document has two texts, translating or mistranslating both the Greek and the Syriac. So in 30:20 where the Greek has ‘eunuch’ and the Syriac mhaimna, i.e. ‘faithful,’ but sed ordinarily for ‘eunuch,’ the Egyptian document has two verses, one with ‘eunuch’ and the other with ‘faithful.’ Similarly in 30:17, where the Greek has ‘Better is death than a bitter life, and eternal rest than constant sickness,’ but the Syriac, ‘Better is it to die than an evil life, and go down to Sheol than a sickness which is permanent,’ the Egyptian document has two verses, one with ‘eternal rest’ and the other with ‘to go down to Sheol.’ Since the Greek and the Syriac clearly represent the same original, somewhat differently rendered, it is obvious and certain that the Egyptian document is compiled from the Greek and the Syriac, not vice versa.

(3) The Egyptian document has numerous readings which are easily explicable as mistranslations of Syriac or Greek words, e.g. that already cited of mhaimna, 41:12b, ‘wisdom’ for דעתא, which really means ‘of injustice,’ but would be certainly misrendered thus by one acquainted only with the Jewish Aramaic; 35:5, ‘a judgment of song’ for σύγκριμα μουσικῶν (!). Others are explicable by the medium of another language; for it is not probable that the re-translator had access to the Greek directly. This language is identified with certainty as Persian written in the Arabic character by the mistranslation in 43:2 of διαγγέλλων by ‘pouring out heat.’ This is obviously due to the Persian skhn, which means both ‘speech’ (its Persian sense) and ‘heat’ (its Arabic sense). Since the subject is the sun, one who did not remember Psalms 19 might not unreasonably think that he poured forth heat rather than speech. Another certain mistranslation from Persian is in 43:13, ‘lightning’ for ‘snow,’ since in this language the words are all but indistinguishable (barq and barf, distinguished by a dot). Besides containing mistranslations this document sometimes absolutely fails to understand the author, e.g. the ‘decoy-partridge’ of 11:30.

(4) Even if the document were not condemned hopelessly by internal evidence, the external evidence would condemn it. As has been seen, the nature of the references in the Oral Tradition makes it certain that the work had been lost before that tradition had been compiled. The only work in which the Egyptian document is quoted is a mediaeval squib called Sefer ha-Galuy, composed in mockery of the Gaon Saadyah ( a.d. 941), though ascribed to him; but even this work is rather against it than in its favour, since it classifies it with a notorious forgery, the Hebrew Hasmonaean Roll, and makes the ludicrous statement that the authors of these works provided them with points and accents-inventions of the 8th cent. at the earliest. The real Saadyah knows Ben-Sira only from the citations in the Talmud. In the pseudo-Josephus, a Hebrew work of the 9th cent., the latter is called Ben-Shirach, a form which must come from the Greek; and in a chronicle of the 11th or 12th cent. (Neubauer, MediCEval Jewish Chronicles, i. 167) his work is called Maqhil, which is a rendering of the Latin Ecclesiasticus. Towards the end of the 10th cent. the author of the Arabic Fihrist mentions the work as in the hands of the Christians, but not of the Jews. When the Gaon Hai ( 1038) was asked to account for certain words of Ben-Sira being said in the Talmud to be in the Writings, his reply is ‘they were written,’ implying that they were so no longer (Teshuboth ha-Gaonim, Lyck, 5624, p. 12).

(5) The appearance of themanuscript, in which the text is corrected with the greatest licence, resembles an author’s brouillon more than a copy of an ancient work.

Against this evidence no argument can be adduced which deserves to be refuted or even cited. Even if it be true that it sometimes has a text which explains both the Greek and the Syriac where they differ, this is fully accounted for by the fact that the re-translator had the two texts before him, and tried to reconcile them; there is no reason why he should not occasionally succeed. But that the original author should have written a series of verses twice with slight differences, and the Greek and Syriac translators in each case have selected one and selected differently, is a supposition which takes us into the region of sheer impossibility. Moreover, any one mistranslation, such as that of mhaimna above, condemns the whole work absolutely.

Since in Islâmic States Jews were regularly associated with Christians in the public bureaux and the medical profession, they saw much of each other, and those Jews who wished to consult Ben-Sira’s book could easily do so by borrowing it from their Christian friends; hence it may be suspected that it was translated into Hebrew from Christian copies many times. In the Seder Olam of the 11th or 12th cent., as we have seen, it is quoted from the Latin; and at least one passage of the Egyptian re-translation shows use of the Latin version. This is in 32:10, ‘Before thunder there hurries lightning, and before a shamefast man there will precede grace.’ The Latin renders this, ‘ante grandinem praeibit coruscatio, et ante verecundiam praeibit gratia.’ The Egyptian document gives two renderings which agree in substituting ‘hail’ for ‘thunder,’ while one repeats ינצח as a rendering of prCEivit, but a very erroneous one, since the Hebrew verb means (as Gesenius renders it) ‘cantum praeivit.’ Since lightning precedes not hail, but thunder, this Latin is a certain misrendering of the original. But why the re-translator should in this case have called in its assistance and in what medium is unknown.

D. S. Margoliouth.

Smith's Bible Dictionary [2]

Si'rach. The father of Jesus, (Joshua), the writer of the Hebrew original of the book of Ecclesiasticus. (B.C. 310-220).

Hastings' Dictionary of the Bible [3]

SIRACH . See Apocrypha, 13 .

Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature [4]

( Σειράχ , Σιράχ ; in Rabbinic writers Sira, סַירָא ), the father of Jesus (Joshua), the writer of the Hebrew original of the book of Ecclesiasticus (Ecclus. prol. 1, 1; 1, 27). See Winer, De Utriusque Siracidoe, Aetate (Erlang. 1832). (See Ecclesiasticus); (See Jesus The Son Of Sirach).