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The Access Bible New Revised Standard Bible, written and edited with first-time Bible readers in mind.

Ecclesiasticus, or the Wisdom of Jesus Son of Sirach - Introduction

The Wisdom of Jesus, son of Sirach (the Greek rendition of the Hebrew “Joshua ben Sira”), commonly known as Ecclesiasticus, or simply Sirach, is a collection of Hebrew wisdom teachings authored by a highly respected Jerusalem scribe * about 180 BCE. (The Latin title “Ecclesiasticus,” the “church book,” points to its early use by Christians.) Ben Sira, as he is commonly called, was a wisdom teacher and may have been the founder of a wisdom school; he may also have been a priest. The manuscript tradition for Sirach is complex. This English translation depends primarily upon different and often fragmentary Hebrew texts as well as Greek manuscripts.

The prologue, which was added by Ben Sira's grandson when he translated his grandfather's work into Greek, provides the date and place of translation (Egypt, about 117 BCE) as well as his motivation for undertaking the task of translation: Having found a paucity of available instruction in Jewish wisdom in the Diaspora, * he published Ben Sira's book in Greek for those who wished to gain learning and are disposed to live according to the law. Indeed, it is from this perspective that Sirach offers advice on such topics as money, talk, and relationships.

The context within which Ben Sira produced his book of instruction was that of Hellenistic * Judaism. After the conquest of Alexander the Great in 333 BCE, the Mediterranean world was divided up among Alexander's generals into individual Hellenistic dynasties. Over the next several hundred years the influence of Greek culture upon local peoples was extensive. Jews in the land of Israel as well as the Diaspora debated the extent to which Judaism could accommodate Greek ideas and practices. Conversely, Hellenistic rulers differed in the extent to which they would accommodate Judaism. Shortly after Sirach was composed, a Seleucid king, Antiochus IV Epiphanes, * tried to force radical Hellenization by setting up a statue of Zeus in the Temple * and outlawing Jewish practices. This crisis resulted in the Maccabean revolt (167–164 BCE), recounted in the first and second books of Maccabees.

Significantly, Sirach does not reflect explicit antagonism toward Greek culture. In fact, this is one reason that scholars date Sirach prior to the Maccabean revolt. To be sure, Ben Sira praises the glories of Judaism, displaying unmitigated pride in his Jewish tradition, but there is no evidence that he feels the tradition is seriously threatened. His wisdom, rather, reflects a sophisticated blend of Jewish beliefs, generic practical advice, and Hellenized notions of ethical piety. That Sirach contains practical advice is not surprising; such advice is typical of wisdom literature. * What makes Sirach unique is its heavy reliance upon Jewish scripture and tradition. In comparison to Proverbs, for instance, Sirach has far more resonance with the books of the Hebrew Bible, containing numerous quotations, allusions, images, and summaries of the various parts of Jewish scripture.

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