Although about two-thirds of this book in the original Hebrew have been discovered (e.g. among the Dead Sea scrolls) it has long been known in the Greek translation made in Egypt soon after 132 BCE by the author’s grandson, who was anxious in case traditional Jewish learning, piety, and discipline might be lost amongst the large Jewish immigrant population. The book was first composed in Jerusalem about 190 BCE by Jesus ben Sirach, a great traveller (34: 12). It is often referred to simply as ‘Sirach’. ‘Ecclesiasticus’ is Latin and is a late title given to it possibly because it was often read in Christian churches, where it formed part of the LXX; canonical status in the Hebrew Bible was never attained though it was quite widely read.
Ecclesiasticus contains a variety of proverbs and aphorisms and advice for young men on all manner of subjects in daily life with a bias in favour of intellectual as against manual work. It shares the contemporary attitude to women of an androcentric society (25: 16–26) and its misogyny (42: 14–15): the wickedness of a man is preferred above the goodness of a woman. Perhaps this is due to a horror that a father would be disgraced by his daughters’ public shame. In personal behaviour a wise man will escape public humiliation if he is privately humble (10: 28); but wealth gains a man more of a public reputation than poverty (10: 31). There are also hymns and doctrine, as in 33: 7–15, about the co-existence of both good and evil, and a call for personal repentance (17: 25–32). Wisdom is extolled as in the books of Proverbs and the Wisdom of Solomon, which thus puts Ecclesiasticus in the same literary wisdom category; but it is a wisdom located in the Torah (Law) and found in the Temple at Jerusalem (Ecclus. 24: 10). Whereas the book of Wisdom has a strong belief in immortality (3: 4), it is clear that Ben Sirach has no hope except for a dismal survival in sheol beyond the presence of God (17: 27–8). The Greek translator tried to insert a more hopeful expectation (19: 19, NRSV marg.).