THE BOOK OF BEN SIRA OR SIRACH


Map of Qumran and Masada by the Dead Sea.

THE BOOK OF BEN SIRA OR SIRACH

The Book of Sirach, also known as Ecclesiasticus, is part of the Wisdom Literature of the Greek Septuagint and the Latin Vulgate Bible. While originally written in Hebrew, the Book was read only through its Greek translation, known as Σιράχ. The Book was not included in the Hebrew Masoretic Text as part of the Hebrew Canon of the Old Testament. However, most of the Hebrew text of Sirach has been uncovered in the Cairo Geniza, at Masada, and in three Dead Sea Scrolls at Qumran. 2QSir designates Sirach from Cave 2 at Qumran, 11QPsª designates a scroll from Cave 11, which contained the canticle from Sirach Chapter 51:13-30, but which was found in the Psalms scroll! As with all ancient texts discovered in the Dead Sea Scrolls, Hebrew Scripture was in consonantal text only. A manuscript with six chapters of Sirach was found at Masada. Survivors following the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 AD fled to Masada, a fortress on a mountain plateau built by Herod near the Dead Sea.

Ben Sira, the author, was a devout man of wisdom who lived in Jerusalem about 200 BC. The first 43 chapters of the Book provide moral instruction and common sense gained from experience, fitting of Wisdom literature. As with the Book of Job, the author notes the “beginning of wisdom is fear of the Lord.” Chapter One on Wisdom, Chapter Six on Friendship and Discipline, Chapters 25-26 on Wives and Women, and Chapter 42 on a Father’s Care for his Daughter are representative of the first section. Chapters 44-50 present a refreshing history of the ancestors, patriarchs, and leaders of Israel. A Fifty-First Chapter concludes the Book with a prayer.

In light of recent discoveries, while the Book had traditionally been known as Sirach or Ecclesiasticus, the text is now called Ben Sira in view of its Hebrew origin.

The Wisdom Literature included in the following order: the Books of JobPsalmsProverbsEcclesiastes, the Song of Songs, and, in the Greek Septuagint, the Books of Wisdom and Sirach. The Wisdom Literature is followed by the Prophets beginning with the Prophet Isaiah in the Greek Septuagint, Latin Vulgate, and the Christian Old Testament of the Bible.

Twelve chapters of Ben Sira are reproduced here. Scripture is from the New American Bible with Revised New Testament and Revised Psalms copyright 1991, 1986, 1970 Confraternity of Christian Doctrine, Washington, D.C. and are used by permission of the copyright owner. All Rights Reserved. No part of the New American Bible may be reproduced in any form without permission in writing from the copyright owner.

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