Jesus (Iesous) son of Sirach (Sirach 50:27).
Written in the first part of the second century BC (around 180 BC).
There is nothing about the rise of Antiochus IV Epiphanes to power in 175 BC and the Maccabean revolt in 167 (see 1 Macc 1:10; 16-24; 2:15-28).
Another indication is the praise of Simon the high priest in Sirach 50:1-24 identified as Simon II, who was high priest from 219 to 196 BC.
Sirach 50:1 implies that Simon has died but the author has a vivid memory of him.
It would indicate that not much time passed since his death.
The original work was written in Hebrew - probably in Jerusalem - and was translated into Greek by his grandson in Egypt in 132 BC (see Prolog verse 27-30).
The Hebrew version of the book got lost but part of it was found in Cairo (in XIX century) and in Masada (Qumran - XX century).
Today, we have 2/3 of the book in Hebrew.
We know about him from the Prolog of his grandson.
And from Sirach 24:30-33; 33:16-18; 50:27-29 - Sirach’s self-understanding.
He calls his teaching “prophecy” destined for future generations (Sirach 24:33).
He wrote not just for himself but for others (Sirach 24:34; 33:18).
He is modest - his success was due to the Lord’s blessing (Sirach 33:17).
But, he is sure that his teaching can help his students to cope with anything (Sirach 50:28-29).
Sirach 51:23 may indicate that he had a house for instruction.
Sirach 39:1-11 - shows the goal that Sirach set for himself.
Also wisdom is connected with personal holiness (39:5-6).
And in Sirach 38:24-39:11 - he compares various trade with that of the scribe.
His grandson says that his grandfather devoted himself to an intense study of the Hebrew Bible and, out of a desire to help others, had written the present work (Prolog 7-14).
Here, we already find threefold division of the Hebrew Bible into: Law, Prophets, and other writings.
Sirach knew Bible very well and his book is filled with allusions and repetitions of phrases from earlier books of the Bible.
He also knows biblical history well (44-50:21).
Since St. Cyprian (died 258 BC) - the book is called as “liber ecclesiasticus - the church book”.
Perhaps it was used as a kind of manual for Christians.
It is also quoted in Talmud and other Jewish writings.
But, it was not placed in the Jewish cannon.
Today, it is accepted as canonical by Catholics and Orthodox.
It is difficult to come out with a clear structure.
Sirach speaks on many different topics. For example:
Sirach 1:11-30 - about the fear of the Lord;
Sirach 16:24-18:24 - about God’s goodness.
13:1-14:2 - the theme on rich and poor
31:1-11 - justice and sacrifice.
40:1-10 - miseries of life.
42:15-43:33 - the hymn to God’s works.
44-49 - “praise of the famous men”.
But, basically, it can be divided into three parts:
1. (1-23) - Praising wisdom in the commandments and teaching about virtues;
2. (24:1-42:14) - Presenting Wisdom’s ethical teaching;
3. (42:15-51:30) - Examples of virtues.
The book begins with description of the wisdom of God , the source of all other wisdom (1:1-10).
The theme is developed further in describing elements of cosmos (18:1-7; 30:16-35);
In the qualities of the created world (42:15-43:33);
In the speech of Wisdom regarding her participation in the history of Israel (24:1-22);
And in the history of the famous people (44-50).
God is presented as Creatore and Ruler of the world, nations and people.
According to Sirach, there is order in the created world (16:24-30).
All the works of God are perfect and everywhere can be seen His wisdom.(18:1-14; 39:12-35);
God knows everything, He is gracious and merciful (15:18-19; 18:13; 23:19-20; 39:19-20).
The greatest gift that man receive from God is wisdom.
Sirach puts the classic triad together:
Fear of God - wisdom - keeping God’s commandments.
Fear of God is the beginning of wisdom and it leads to avoidance of sin and obeying God’s commandments.
The Book presents a theoretical wisdom - a fruit of personal studies, experience, travels, and meeting with other wise people.
And a practical wisdom that is expressed in personal discipline and exercise of one’s will.
He advice farmers and those who have cattle (7:15,22; 38:25);
Leaders of the people (9:17-10:5);
Those who engage in business (26:29-27:3);
He also teaches about landing and surety (29:1-20);
He criticises laziness (10:26-27);
He evaluates riches and poverty (5:1-8; 11:10-19; 31:1-11);
He teaches how to take care of one’s health (30:14-25),
How to behave on a banquet (31:12-33:13; 37:27-31),
And during a mourning (38:16-23).
He advice parents and children (3:1-16; 7:27-28; 22:3-5; 30:1-13; 33:20-24; 42:9-14);
He speaks about relationship between masters and servants (7:20-21; 33:25-33),
And between rich and poor (3:30-4:10; 7:32-35; 13:15-23; 18:15-18; 29:8-13).
He also teaches about friends (6:5-17; 9:10; 22:16-26; 37:1-6) and enemies (12:8-18), good and bad women (9:1-9; 25-26; 36:23-31).
Sirach insists on shaping one’s character through self-discipline (1:22-24; 6:2-4; 18:30-19:4; 20:18-26; 22:27-23:27).
1. Keep on removing vices (3:26-29; 10:6-18; 22:27-23:6,16-27; 27:22-28:11).
2. Keep cultivating virtues (3:17-24; 4:20-31; 10:26-31);
Speech is the test of the intellectual and spiritual level of each person (see 5:9-6:1; 19:4-17; 20:1-8, 18-31; 23:7-35; 27:4-7; 28:13-26).
A hymn about how God has ordered creation.
The creation of humankind is emphasised (Gen 2:7; 3:19).
The destiny of humankind is to praise God.
The Lord is aware of human sinfulness, but those who will convert will experience His mercy.
Human existence is short, but God is eternal.
Second hymn - the works of God are all of them good;
“In its time” - everything will be supplied (39:33).
“Right time” (39:34).
It is a creation hymn in praise of the master - omniscient and omnipotent.
All the works of creation obey him - especially the hail, lightning, rain (cf Pss 147, 148).
He is all (43:27) - the source and substance of all that exists.
A prayer for control of his tongue, his appetite and sexual drive.
The prayer is followed by instructions on these topics:
23:7-15 - on the control of tongue;
23:16-27 - on passion and adultery.
A prayer for deliverance.
Sirach asks that God will raise his hand against the “gentiles” - the Seleucid rulers who have begun to dominate Palestine (after 198 BC).
Just as God manifested his holiness by punishing his people, so now he is to show his glory by granting them victory over their oppressors (cf. Ezek 28:22-25).
The ‘signs and wonders” of the Exodus are to be repeated, and the Jews of the Diaspora are to be brought home to Palestine - to Zion and the Temple.
There, the divine glory will be manifested.
1. From chapter 1 till the end;
2. By topics.
For example: almsgiving and lending (29:1-20); discretion and moderation (11:7-28).
2. The union between wisdom and Israel’s covenant tradition;
3. Fear of the Lord.
On this topic, Sirach agrees with the book of Proverbs.
He does not consider the challenge that Job and Qoheleth presented on this topic.
Along with the sages of old, for Sirach wise conduct leads to prosperity and good life in this life.
The only immortality is that of name or memory, and one’s descendants (30:4-5; 37:26; 41:12-13).
41:1-4 - different reactions to death.
And for the mourners, weep and mourn by not to excess.
Since there is no hope of return, one must face the future resolutely (38:16-23).
Sirach accepts that all that happens is the Lord’s doing (33:13).
But, at the same time God has made humans free to choose (15:14-17).
All the works of God are good (39:16, 23).
See 39:34 - you cannot say that something is “worse than this”.
Moreover, things come in their “right time” (39:16, 33, 34).
Retribution takes place already in this life (39:27-30).
And it will also take place “at their time” (39:31).
How about the suffering of the just?
He regards it as “trials” and testing (2:1-5).
The one who trusts in God will eventually win out.
Finally, God’s works are wonderful but hidden before the people (11:4). So, 3:18-23; cf Ps 131.
Wisdom and Israel tradition
Sirach is the first who brought wisdom and Israel tradition together.
He identified wisdom with Torah (chapter 24; 24:8, 10-12; 24:23);
And listed Israel’s heroes (44-50) - usually it is God who is praised in the Bible.
Wisdom and Israel tradition
Sirach ends his hymn in the praise of God’s creation with a statement that God gave wisdom to his faithful ones (43:33).
Then, he begins to praise governors, wise people, and those who prophesied (44:3).
Then, a selection of names follows (from 44:16).
The list begins with Henoch, followed by Noah, and the patriarchs - Abraham, Isaac, Jacob.
Among the priests are Aaron, Phineas, Joshua, and Simon.
Among the judges (Joshua and Caleb are mentioned explicitly).
Among the prophets (Moses, Samuel, Nathan, Elijah, Elisha, the three major and the twelve).
Among the kings - David, Hezekiah, and Josiah are the good ones. Solomon is criticised.
Among the governors - Zerubbabel and Nehemiah.
Sirach follows the tradition that the fear of the Lord is beginning of wisdom or that it is wisdom itself (Sirach 1:14; Prov 1:7; 9:10; Job 28:28; Ps 111:10).
God is the source of wisdom, but He lavished her upon his whole creation and upon those who love Him (1:1-10).
1:11-30 - explains that the fear of the Lord is:
The beginning (1:14);
And root (1:20);
Wise person is characterised by:
And keeping of the commandments (1:26).
It is interesting to notice that on the one hand, fear of the Lord leads to wisdom, but wisdom in turn nourishes the one who fears God with her fruits (1:16-21).
Among those fruits are:
Prosperity, long life, and a life free from sin (1:17,20-21; cf. 24:19-21).
See 4:11-19; 6:18-31; 14:20-27; 51:13-30.
The youth is to search out and seek wisdom, take hold of her and never let her go (6:27; cf. Song of Songs 3:4).
He is to purse her (14:23; cf Song 2:9).
The youth’s devotion will be matched by Wisdom’s response (4:11-19).
“Like a young bride” she will embrace him (15:2; cf. Song 2:6; 4:9-12).
She will give him food and drink (15:3; cf. Song 8:2);
But, she will test her lover (4:17).
Sirach even speaks of Wisdom’s “yoke”, which the lover assumes (6:25; 51:26).
But, “whoever loves her loves life” (4:12; cf. Prov 8:35).
And Wisdom will reveal to him many secrets (4:18).
Thus, the “yoke” will become “a robe o glory”, “a garland of joy” (6:31).
Fear of the Lord also protects from anxieties and worries (34:16).
24:23 - Wisdom here is identified with the Law of Moses.
Thus, the love of Wisdom is to love the Torah.
In the Torah one can find God’s will and guidance in life (Ps 119:105; cf. Pss 1, 19).