The variety of titles given to this book in the ancient past is somewhat curious; no other Biblical or deutero-canonical book offers a parallel in this respect. These various titles may be enumerated as follows:
The Hebrew MSS (see below ? V) only begin with the concluding words of iii. 6, so that, for the present at any rate, it is not possible to say with certainty what the original Hebrew title was. On the other hand, these MSS. give definite information regarding the name of the author, and in so far they help in determining what the original title may have been. In 1.27 the writer speaks of himself as "Simeon, the son of Jeshua the son of Eleazar, the son of Sira". At the end of the book there is a subscription, in the third line of which these identical words occur; but in the second line of this subscription it is: "Simeon, the son of Jeshua, who was called the son of Sira." This would lead one to suppose that Simeon was the name of the author.
Schechter and Taylor believe this to have been the case: " ... it is more probable that the name of our author was Simeon. Probably he was so called after the High-priest Simeon whose younger contemporary he was - a custom usual enough among the Jews at a very early period." (The Wisdom of Ben-Sira, p.65 (1899).)
That the author was a great admirer of this High priest is clear from 1.1 ff., and Nestle has shown that " the name Simeon is firmly attached to the author of this book in the Syrian Church." (In Hastings' D.B. iv.550a. On the other hand, Smend holds that "Simeon the son of" was added under the influence of i.1; 24 (Hebr.), where the High-priest Simeon is spoken of?)
On the other hand, in the Prologue to the Greek translation made by the grandson of the writer, the translator speaks of "my grandfather Jesus"; and the early Rabbis call the book "The instruction of Ben-Sira."
In most of the Greek MSS the title is "Wisdom of Jesus son of Sirach," which in Cod.B is abbreviated to "Wisdom of Sirach"; and in 1.27 they read: "Jesus the son of Sirach (the son of) Eleazar, the Jerusalemite," though "Eleazar" is omitted in some cases.
In the Syriac MSS the usual title is " Wisdom of Bar Sira," though "Jesus the son of Simeon" also occurs; the Syro-Hexaplar gives the name of the author as "Jesus the son of Sirach (the son of) Eliezer."
A word may here be added regarding the form Sirach of the Greek MSS; the addition of the last letter (the Greek χ - ch) was intended to indicate that the word was indeclinable. (Cp. Akeldamach (᾽Ακελδαμάχ) which is the reading of the best Greek MSS in Acts i.19 for the Aramaic form Akeldama; and Josech (᾽ιωσήχ Luke iii.26) for Jose; see Dalman, Grammatik des Judisch-Palastinischen Aramaisch, p.202 note 3 (2. ed. 1905).)
Gottfried Kuhn explains why this particular letter was chosen. He says:
The Greek σιραχ - sirach is to be pronounced Sira, not Sirach. The first (Greek) scribe who wrote down the name added an Alef (א), the Hebrew character, for the want of a corresponding Greek one: ΣΕΙΡΑא.
By this means the object was achieved of indicating that the word was not to be regarded as a substantive of the Greek first
declension (σειρα = " chain "), but as an
indeclinable foreign word. It has a " consonant" as its final letter, the soundless semitic א. The copyists, who could not read Hebrew and were not familiar with the original
signification of this letter, put in place of it the Greek χ - ch since
this was similar to the Hebrew א. Thus arose σιραχ (Sirach).
(Zeitschrift far die A. T. Wissenschaft, 1929, p.289.)
Schlatter however, regards the χ - ch as due to a scribal error. (Das neugefundene hebr. Stuck des Sirach?, p.4 (1897).) He thinks that the original Greek text of the words "Sirach (the son of) Eleazar" was not, as now Σειρὰχ, ᾽Ελεαζάρ, but ΣΕΙΡΑ Ῡ ΕΛΕΑΖΑΡ, the Ῡ being an abbreviation for υἱοῦ - uhiou ("the son of"), and that this Ῡ became corrupted into Χ. The suggestion is very interesting.
The Latin MSS need not be taken into consideration, so far as the title is concerned, for they follow the Greek. But in the Vulgate, which otherwise represents the Old Latin Version (for Jerome left the Latin text of Sirach as he found it, see further ? VII), the title is Ecclesiasticus. It is from this that the title in the English Bible is taken.
But Jerome tells us (Praef. in Libr. Sal.) that he had seen a Hebrew copy of the book which had the title "Parabolae"; this is interesting, for quotations from the book occurring in later Jewish literature are twice introduced by the words "the Parabolist said". (Cp. CowIey-Neubauer, The Original Hebrew of a portion of Ecclesiasticus p.xx, note x, p.xxiv, note xxxviii, p.xxvi, note liv (1897))
Schechter quotes, moreover, the words of Rabbi Joseph to the effect that the "Proverbs of Ben-Sira" should be read because they contain useful matter. (In the Jewish Quarterly Review, 1900, pp. 460 f.)
As to the title "Ecclesiasticus," however, something further must be said. It is generally held that this title was given because the book was the "Church Book" par excellence; among the Libri Ecclesiastici, i.e. books which were not admitted into the Canon, but which were regarded as edifying and therefore read in the Church.
It is pointed out that this is the explanation of the title given by Rufinus (Comm. in Symb. 38), (His date 345-410AD.) and that it has been in use in the Western Church ever since the time of Cyprian. (He died in 258AD.)
The correctness of this explanation has, however, recently been questioned by De Bruyne (In the Zeitschrift fur die A.T. Wissenschaft, for 1929, pp.260 ff.) on the grounds that it implies that the book was not regarded as canonical at the time this title was given to it, which the evidence shows to be very improbable. And that it implies also that the book occupied an outstanding position among those which we now call deutero-canonical, which is an error.
For during the early centuries of the Church it was not Ecclesiasticus which was the most important of this group, but the Wisdom of Solomon, with its prophecy of the sufferings of Christ (ii.12-20), (This was the interpretation of the passage in the early Church.) its description of the happiness of the righteous departed (iii.1-8), and the distress of spirit among the unrighteous (v.1-9), and with its discourse against the heathen (i.1-5). This is the book which was most quoted by the Fathers, and which was most read. De Bruyne then gives reasons for his theory as to the origin of the title "Ecclesiasticus". To go into these would take up too much space here; but he concludes his arguments with the question: "Est il temeraire de supposer que le nom Ecclesiasticus est forme sur le modele Ecclesiastes?" The question certainly deserves consideration, for the usual explanation given to account for the title is not convincing.
What the actual title of the original Hebrew book was can only be surmised on the basis of the Hebrew MSS (see above) and of the titles occurring in the Versions, and on the later Rabbinical evidence. (In modern works the author is frequently spoken of as Ben-Sira, while the book, for convenience' sake, is commonly referred to as Sirach.)
Putting these together it may be said that the original Hebrew title was either:
"The Instruction of Jesus the son of Sira" (טוּסַר יֵשוּעַ בֶזיסִירָא) or:
"The Wisdom of ?" (חָכְטַת.....).
There are two main indications regarding the approximate date at which our book was written:
(1) The panegyric on the High-priest Simeon, the son of Jochanan, in l.1. ff., and
(2) the statement of the writer's grandson in the Prologue that he came into Egypt in the thirty-eighth year of Euergetes the king, and translated his grandfather's book during his sojourn there.
These indications would be definite enough were it not for the fact that there were two High-priests of the
name of Simeon, and two Egyptian kings of the name of Euergetes; thus:
Simeon I, the son of Onias: @ 300-270BC (Josephus, Antiq..43.);
Simeon II, the son of Onias: @ 225-200BC (Antiq..224);
Ptolemy III Euergetes I: 246-221BC;
Ptolemy VII Euergetes II, Physkon: 145-116BC; but he reigned as joint-king with
Ptolemy VI Philometor from: 170 to 145BC. (Bevan, The Ptolemaic Empire, p.285 (1927))
Josephus' description of Simeon I, "he is called Simon the just, both because of his piety towards God,
and his kind disposition to those of his own nation," would agree with what is said in xlix.15b, l.1 ff. Especially the
opening words: "Great among his brethren, and the glory of his people," and verse 7: "He took thought for his
people (protecting them) from spoliation"; the account of his ministration in the sanctuary illustrates his "piety
towards God." But if we are to identify the Simeon in this passage with Simeon I it will mean that our book was written at
the latest about the middle of the third century BC. And this cannot be reconciled with what is said in the Prologue about Ben-Sira's
grandson having made his translation during his sojourn in Egypt in and after the thirty-eighth year of Euergetes.
For there is, as a matter of fact, but one Euergetes who can be meant;
Euergetes I reigned only twenty-five years, whereas Euergetes II reigned fifty-four altogether, so that his thirty-eighth year would be 132BC.
Allowing something like fifty years for the period between grandfather and grandson, we should get, approximately, the year 180BC as that of the composition of our book.
Two subsidiary points demand notice.
Josephus applies the expression "the just" to Simeon I, which, as we have seen, is appropriate to the words written in reference to the Simeon of Chap. 1. In explanation of this, it may justifiably be maintained that Josephus was mistaken, and that the epithet should be in reference to Simeon II. As is well known, Josephus is not always reliable in what he writes.
Then, again, Josephus - in this case rightly - speaks of Simeon as the son of Onias and this would be correct in regard to both Simeons. But the text of our book in l.1 speaks of "Simeon, the son of Jochanan". There was, however, no High priest who could be thus described.
The fact is, as Smend has shown, that the two names Onias and Jochanan in their Hebrew form could easily have been confused. (Die Weisheit des Jesus Sirach, pp.478 f (1906).) The Greek text reads Onias. In the Hebrew text "Jochanan" should be read "Onias."
For the date 180BC, more or less, of our book one or two indirect arguments may be mentioned. It was during the High-priesthood of Simeon II that Antiochus the Great (223-187BC), through his great victory at Panion in 198BC over the Egyptian forces, was able to incorporate the whole of Syria within his empire.
Josephus tells us that when, in visiting his newly won territory, Antiochus came to Jerusalem, he was well received by the Jews," "who gave plentiful provision to all his army..." (Antiq..133.)
In recognition of this the king rewarded the Jews in various ways; Josephus records these in a letter of Antiochus, in which, among other things, he writes:
I would also have the work about the temple finished, and the cloisters, and if there be anything else that ought to be rebuilt. And for the materials of wood, let it be brought to them out of Judaea itself, and out of the other countries, and out of Libanus, tax-free. And the same I would have observed as to those other materials, which will be necessary, in order to render the temple more glorious. (Antiq..141.)
The carrying out of these instructions would obviously have been under the supervision of the High priest, so that we can understand the words of Ben-Sira in l.1 ff., where, in referring to Simeon, the priest, i.e. High priest, he says:
In whose time the house was renovated;
And in whose days the Temple was fortified;
In whose time a reservoir was dug,
A water-cistern like the sea in abundance.
In his days the wall was built,
(With) turrets for strength like a king's palace.
Here, therefore, we have a strong indirect piece of evidence for the date of the book as indicated above.
Again, in x.1 ff. there seem to be some covert references to historical events that occurred during the lifetime of Ben-Sira. In verse 8 he says:
Dominion goeth from one nation to another
Because of the violence of pride.
These words may well refer to the war between Syria and Egypt which is also referred to, but with more detail, in the somewhat later book of Daniel; there, in xi.11, 12 it is said:
And the king of the south shall be moved with choler, and shall come forth and fight with him, even with the king of the north; and he shall set forth a great multitude, but the multitude shall be given into his hand. And the multitude shall be carried away, and his heart shall be exalted; and he shall cast down tens of thousands, but he shall not prevail.
This is in reference to the battle of Raphia (217BC) when Ptolemy IV Philopator, "the king of the south," gained the victory over Antiochus III, "the king of the north." Ptolemy's heart was exalted, or as Ben-Sira says, was filled "with the pride of violence"; but ultimately he did not prevail, dominion went from the nation of Egypt to that of Syria.
It is quite possible, moreover, that when Ben-Sira goes on in verse 10 to say that:
The ravage of disease mocketh the physician,
A king to day, to-morrow he falleth.
He is referring to the death of Ptolemy IV, which, as Bevan says, "was wrapped in some mystery". (Op. cit., p.250.) Polybius tells us that "after the termination of the war for Coele-Syria Ptolemy Philopator abandoned entirely the path of virtue and took to a life of dissipation". (Histories, xiv.12, 3) That may well have been the cause of the sudden death to which Ben-Sira refers.
Finally, it is certain that our book must have been written before the outbreak of the Maccabaean wars soon after 170BC, because there is no hint of this external danger to the the country. On the other hand, there is a direct reference to the Hellenistic Jews who, later, were largely responsible for the Maccabaean revolt because of their siding with Antiochus Epiphanes against their own orthodox brethren. In xli.8-10 Ben-Sira says:
Woe unto you, ungodly men,
Who have forsaken the Law of the Most High God.
If ye be fruitful (it will be) for harm,
And if ye bear children (it will be) for sighing.
The fact that Ben-Sira speaks of these without any farther reference to the critical state of affairs, which their attitude helped to bring about, is conclusive evidence that he wrote before the beginning of the Maccabaean era.
All these subsidiary points go to substantiate the contention that the book was written, at any rate, before 170BC, while the evidence of the Prologue suggests, as above remarked, a date 180BC at the latest.
To set forth the contents of our book in the same way in which this has been done with the other books of
this collection would not be found satisfactory, on account of the rather haphazard way in which the material has been written
down. Here and there, it is true, signs of some attempt to co-ordinate the subject matter are discernible. But the attempts are
desultory, and generally speaking the material is mixed up in disorderly fashion. The best way to gain an insight into the
contents is to tabulate the various subjects, with references, under different heads, in alphabetical order, thus:
(On the dislocation of the text, involving these complicated references, see below ? VI.)
|Appearances are often fallacious:||xi.2-13.|
|Art of ruling:||lx.I 7-x.18.|
|Autobiographical note:||xxi.16-18 (xxxvi.16a, xxx.25-27).|
|Conduct towards women:||ix.1-9.|
|Control of the tongue:||Need of propriety in speech,||xi.7-15.|
|Right use of speech,||v.9-vi.1.|
|Silence and speech,||xx.1-8.|
|The evil tongue,||xxviii.13-26.|
|Varieties of speech,||xxvii.11-15.|
|Duties to fellow-creatures:||Duties to all and sundry,||vii.18-28,32-36.|
|Duties in counselling,||xxxvii.7-15.|
|Treatment of subordinates,||xxi.24-31 (xxx.33-40).|
|Feasting:||How to behave at a feast,||xxxi (xxxiv).12-xx (xxxv).13.|
|Friendship:||True and false friendship,||vi.5-17; xix.13-17; xxxvii.1-6.|
|God and the individual:||Acts of God,||xxi (xxxvi).7-15.|
|All things are in the hand of God,||xi.14-28.|
|Divine mercy and justice,||v.4-8.|
|Fear of the Lord,||ii.7-11; xl.18-2 7.|
|God sees the sins of every man,||xvi.17-23.|
|God the God of Nature,||xlii.15-xliii.33.|
|God the Helper of the helpless,||xxxv (xx).14-26.|
|God's mercy towards men,||xviii.1-4.|
|God's punishment of the wicked,||xvi.6-16.|
|God's reward of the righteous,||xvii.15-24.|
|Man's duty to God,||xvii.25-32.|
|Health and good spirits:||xxx 14-25.|
|Honour to whom honour is due:||x.19-25.|
|Hymn of praise:||xxxix.12-35.|
|Lending and borrowing:||xxix.1-13.|
|Miscellaneous precepts and sayings (these are too varied to be indicated separately):||iv.20-31; vii.1-3, 8-17; viii.4-19; ix.10-16; i.2-20; i.24-xiv.2; xx.9-17; xxi.11-28; xxv.1-12; xxvi.18; xxvii.4-10, 25-29; xx (xxxv).14-17; xxxvi.18-20 (23-25); xl.28-30; xli.I4-xlii.8.|
|Parents and their children:||Care of daughters,||xlii.9-14.|
|Curse of sinful children,||xvi.1-5.|
|Filial duty and its reward,||iii.1-16.|
|Training of children,||xxx.1-13.|
|Praise of the Fathers of old:||xliv.1-l.24.|
|Prayer:||xxxvi.1-17 (xxi.1-13a, xxxvi.16b-22); li.1-30|
|Prologue from the hand of the writer's grandson.|
|Rich and poor:||i.21-23.|
|Sacrifices:||Acceptable sacrifices,||xxxv (xx).1-13.|
|Unacceptable sacrifices,||xxxiv (xxxi).21-31.|
|Subscription to the book:||l.27-29; (another subscription is added at the end of the book.)|
|Three detested nations:||l.25, 26.|
|Trade and its temptations:||xxvi.29-xxvii.3.|
|Ungodly men and the righteous:||xli.5-13.|
|Vices reproved:||Evil companionship,||xi.29-34.|
|Stubbornness of heart,||iii.26-31.|
|Thoughtlessness,||xxi (xxxvi.). 4-6.|
|Independence,||xxi.19-23 (xxx. 28-32).|
|Self-control,||vi.2-4; xviii.30-xlx.3; x.27-xi.6; xxxvii.27-31.|
|Wealth:||A false security,||v.1-3.|
|Uses of wealth,||xiv.3-19; xxxi (xxxiv). 5-11.|
|Wealth and poverty,||xxxi (xxxiv).1-4.|
|Wisdom:||Blessedness of those who seek Wisdom,||xiv.20-27.|
|Fear of the Lord is Wisdom,||i.11-21; ii.15-18; vii.29-31; xxxiv (xxxi).9-20.|
|Origin of Wisdom,||i.1-10.|
|Possession of Wisdom brings joy,||xv.1-10.|
|Praise of Wisdom,||xxiv.1-34; li.13-30.|
|Reward of those who seek Wisdom,||iv.11-19; xx.27-31.|
|Search for Wisdom,||vi.18-37.|
|Wisdom as seen in the Creation,||xvi.24-30.|
|Wisdom brings honour,||x.30-xi.1.|
|Wisdom in practice,||i.22-30.|
|Wisdom opposed to craftiness,||xix.20-30.|
|Wisdom true and false,||xxxvii.16-26.|
|Wives:||A good wife,||xxvi.1-4, 13-18.|
|An evil wife,||xxv.13-26; xxvi.5-12.|
|Different types of wives,||xxvi.19-27.|
|The choice of a wife,||xxxvi.21-26 (26-31).|
|Woes of Humanity:||xl.1-17.|
No book in the canonical scriptures, nor yet in deutero-canonical writings, gives so much direct, and still more indirect, information regarding the author as the one under consideration.
That Ben-Sira was a native of Jerusalem is evident from various indications of the book. The glimpses into social life which he gives, such as could only apply to residence in a large city, his knowledge of traders and their ways, his evident contact with men of different callings, the very fact of his being a Hakam ("Wise man"), his familiarity with the Temple and its services, - these and other indications leave no doubt that the home of Ben-Sira was in Jerusalem. And this is further borne out by the fact that the Greek Version in l.27 speaks of him as "the Jerusalemite."
As a Hakam he would have his "lecture-room" or something equivalent to this. He, therefore, speaks of his Beth ha-Midrash, "House of Learning," or "Instruction," where men seek Wisdom, in li.23:
Turn in unto me, ye unlearned,
And lodge in my house of instruction (Beth ha-Midrash).
When he says further: "Get Wisdom for yourselves without money," the words, while they may well have been prompted by Isa.Iv.1, reflect the ambition of many zealous teachers, whose glory it was to give teaching, whether of the Law or Wisdom, gratis. This is re-echoed in the Talmud (Nedarim 36a): "As I have taught you without payment, saith God, so must you do likewise." But as a Hakam, Ben-Sira would have been, as in earlier days, a sopher or "scribe". This is implied in xxxix.1-11, where the dual activities of the Wisdom-Scribe are set forth by one who evidently speaks of his own doings (cp.xxxix.12 ff.) (On the dual functions of the Wisdom-Scribe see the present writer's The Book of Proverbs, pp.lxviii ff. (1929).)
thus, for the purpose of teaching others, he
Meditateth in the Law of the Most High;
He searcheth out the wisdom of all the ancients
And is occupied in prophecies;
He preserveth the discourses of men of renown,
And entereth into subtleties of parables;
He seeketh out the hidden things of proverbs,
And is conversant with the dark things of parables (1-3).
As a result:
He himself poureth forth words of wisdom,
And giveth thanks to the Lord in prayer;
He himself (i.e. the writer) directeth his counsel and knowledge,
And in the secrets thereof doth he meditate.
He himself declareth wise instruction,
And glorieth in the Law of the covenant of the Lord (7-11).
(So the Syriac which is better than the Greek, "the instruction of his
It will be noticed here how Wisdom and the Law are identified (cp.xv.1; xix.20; xxi.II; xxiv.23; xxxiv [xxxi].8).
The other side of the Wisdom-scribe's activities is hinted at in verse 4:
He serveth among great men,
And appeareth before a ruler,
He travelleth in the land of alien nations,
And hath tried both good and evil things among men.
This is to say, the Wisdom-scribe was still in Ben-Sira's day in some sense a state functionary. His learning and knowledge of men fitted him to go on diplomatic missions to the courts of foreign rulers (on this see further below). Doubtless it was largely these visits to other countries that opened Ben-Sira's mind, ardent Jew as he was, to extraneous influences:
The traces of the influence of Greek modes of thought to be found in our book are
not seen in definite form, but, as one would expect where the influence was at work unconsciously, they are to be discerned rather
in the general outlook and conception. What is perhaps the most striking example of this is the way in which virtue and knowledge
are identified; this is a distinct Hellenic trait, and is treated in the book as axiomatic. In the past, human and divine wisdom
had been regarded as opposed, whereas, owing to Greek influence, both in our book and in the Wisdom Literature generally, it is
taught that wisdom is the one thing of all others that is indispensable to him who would lead a godly life. The evil of wickedness
is represented as lying in the fact that wickedness is foolishness, and therefore essentially opposed to wisdom. On the other
hand, the Jews were faithful to the Law, the ordinances of which were binding because it was the revealed will of God. And
therefore, in order to reconcile this old teaching with the new teaching that wisdom was the chief requirement of the man of
religion, Wisdom became identified with the Law: "The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom". By the "fear of
the Lord" is meant of course, obedience to His commands, i.e. observance of the Law. These words express what is, in truth,
the foundation stone of the Wisdom Literature, and this identification between Wisdom and the Law formed the reconciling link
between Judaism and Hellenism in this domain. Nowhere is this identification more clearly brought out than in the Book of Wisdom
This fully explains why Ben-Sira, following therein, without doubt, many sages before him, divides mankind into two categories, the wise and the foolish, which correspond respectively to the righteous and the wicked. (Box and Oesterley, The Book of Sirach, in Charles' Apocr., and Pseudep., i.269.)
This extraneous influence, then, was to a large extent doubtless the result of Ben-Sira's sojournings in foreign parts, though the general atmosphere of the times will also have contributed to this. In several passages he refers to his travels. Xxxix.4 has already been quoted. When he says, clearly from his own experience, that during his travels he has "tried both good and evil things among men," he may well be thinking of one of the "evil things" of which he was the victim, during one of his journeys. To this he refers in li.i ff., from which it is evident that he was once in danger of his life owing to the slanderous tongue of some enemy. He thanks God for the preservation of his life:
Thou didst preserve me from the slander of the people,
From the scourge of a slanderous tongue,
And from the lips of those who turn aside to lying,
Thou wast with me in the presence of those who rose up against me.
Thou didst help me, according to the abundance of thy mercy,
Out of the snare of those watching for my downfall.
And from the hand of those that seek my life;
Out of many troubles hast thou saved me...
That the reference here is to foreign enemies is clear from the words "the slander of the people."
In speaking of this passage Ryssel pointedly remarks that "since Ben-Sira's travels must certainly have extended to Syria and Egypt, he might easily have been suspected by one of the kings of these countries of conspiring in the interests of the other". The relations between these two countries before 198BC were very strained (see further, Part I, chap.iv).
A pleasanter experience of his travels is referred to in xxxi (xxxiv).12 ff., where Ben-Sira gives advice to
a young contemporary as to behaviour when sitting at "the table of some great man."
(It is granted that "the table of some great man" does not necessarily refer to a foreign noble or king; but the possibility of this must be granted in view of, e.g., Aboth vi.5: "Lust not after the table of kings.")
But however sumptuous a feast among strangers, Ben-Sira evidently prefers his home:
Better the life of a poor man under a shelter of logs,
Than sumptuous fare among strangers (xxix. 22).
Further, Ben-Sira claims to be in the following of the canonical writers who had written Wisdom books; he says:
I, indeed, rose up, last of all,
As one that gleaneth after the grape-gatherers;
I advanced by the blessing of God,
And filled my wine-press as a grape-gatherer
(xxi.16-18 [= xxxvi.16a and xxx.25-27]).
(The Hebrew word means to be awake or watchful; in later Hebrew it has the sense of being intent upon something, or studious.)
The words would almost seem to imply that Ben-Sira, in his modesty, claimed to be little more than a collector from the works of his predecessors. The study of his book, however, shows that this was far from being the case. Doubtless, he was very familiar with the earlier Wisdom books, and shows frequent identity of thought with sayings in the book of Proverbs. But it must be remembered that there was a large mass of Wisdom material, oral and written, which was common property. So that what may often appear to be indebtedness on the part of Ben-Sira to the writers of the book of Proverbs, is as likely as not to be traditional material of unknown authorship utilized by both. Apart from this, however, Ben-Sira shows plenty of individuality, and goes his own way in many particulars. To be sure, in various directions, - in thought, point of view, method of expression, etc., all the Wisdom writers are at one. Allowing for this, we may make a brief examination of Ben-Sira as a teacher.
His great insight into human nature, his knowledge of and sympathy with the weaknesses of man (though never condoned) come out again and again. An interesting example of this occurs in xvi.17-23. Here Ben-Sira describes the attitude of a man who, being but one in the great mass of people, most of whom were more illustrious than himself, thinks that he is beyond the notice of God, who is so great and mighty in heaven and earth:
I am hidden from God,
And in the height who will remember me?
1 shall not be noticed among so illustrious a people,
And what am I among the mass of the spirits of all the children of men?
Behold the heavens and the heavens of the heavens
And the deep of the earth ...
Therefore, argues such a one:
In truth, unto me he will not have respect,
And as for my ways, who will mark them?
If I sin no eye beholdeth it,
Or if I deal untruly in all secrecy, who will know it?
My righteous dealing, who declareth it?
And what hope is there? For the decree is distant.
In other words, we have here the type of man depicted, who does not, indeed, deny the existence of God, but who feels his insignificance in the crowd of men, so many of whom are greatly his superiors. And, contrasting his pitiable unimportance with the immeasurable greatness of God, he feels that he is of no account. But instead of this generating in him a sense of sane and fitting humility, he prefers to make it an excuse for indulging in sin - Who cares if he does do wrong? - The arriere pensee of his "righteous dealing" either reflects the fatuous self-justification of this type of person - a perennial type in one form or another-or perhaps it is a touch of irony on Ben-Sira's part. At any rate, it is one of many illustrations that show how thoroughly in touch Ben-Sira was with his fellow-creatures. His comment on this kind of thing is:
They that lack understanding think these things,
And a man of folly thinketh thus.
Another instance of Ben-Sira's knowledge of men and their weaknesses is afforded by his reiterated precepts regarding control of the tongue. In xix.4 ff., he inveighs against thoughtless chattering and the harmfulness caused thereby. The evil of it, as he implies, consists especially in the fact that it tends to be about other people. And there are those who take a positive delight in saying things about others that, whether true or not, were best left unsaid; to such Ben-Sira remarks:
Hast thou heard anything? Let it die with thee;
Be of good courage, it will not burst thee.
A great many similar illustrations could be given. They tell of Ben-Sira's insight into human nature, and his sound common sense in dealing with men of all kinds. That he was not wanting in sympathy is certain. One instance of this may be offered. He does not crush the sinner with bitter invective, but exhorts him with a really helpful warning:
My son, hast thou sinned? Add not thereto;
And make supplication concerning thy former sins.
Flee from sin as from the face of a serpent;
For if thou come near it, it will bite thee.
The teeth of a lion are the teeth thereof,
Slaying the souls of men.
Like a two-edged sword is all iniquity,
From the stroke thereof is no healing (xxi.1-3).
Ben-Sira's contact with all sorts and conditions of men was truly remarkable. In public life, already referred to, and in social life (xxxi [xxxiv].12-xx [xxxv].13), he must; on the face of it, have come across the most diverse characters. And how thoroughly in touch he was with humanity in general is abundantly seen by the way in which he sets forth the right relationships between men in all walks of life. The small man and the great; the rich and the poor (iv.1-10; vii.32; i.21-23, etc.); household servants and their lords; slaves and masters (vii.20, 21; xxi.24 ff. xxx.33 ff.); husband and wife (vii.19, 26); children and parents (iii.1-16, vii.23-25; xxx.1 ff.; xlii.9 ff.); physician and patient (xxxviii.1 ff.); guests and host (xxxi [xxxiv].12 ff.; xx [xxxv].1 ff.); buyers and sellers (xxvi.29 ff.); lenders and borrowers (xxix.1 ff.); frequently he speaks of the conduct of friends one to another (vi.5-17; vii.12, 18; ix.10; .8 ff.; xix.13; x.19 ff.; xxxvii.1 ff.); he urges the visitation of the sick (vii.35), the comforting of mourners (vii.34); the very animals have his sympathy (vii.22); he insists on the honouring of the priesthood (vii.29-31); he warns the faithless (ii.12-14), and encourages the godfearing (ii.15-18); and he lays stress on man's duties to himself, both in regard to the body (xi.6; xxx.14 ff.; xxxvii.27 ff.) and the spirit (vii.1 -3; xi.2 ff., 16 ff., xxx.21 ff.).
This solicitude for the welfare of his fellow-creatures receives its full significance when it is realized that it is the outcome of Ben-Sira's love of God. Duty to God is the incentive of duty to one's fellow-creatures. That, in effect, though unexpressed in so many words, is the burden of his book. To illustrate fully the depth of Ben-Sira's religious feelings and convictions would call for much space. It must suffice to refer to the following more outstanding passages: (i.11-20; ii.1-6, 15-18; xvii.1-14; xviii.1-4; xxi [xxxvi].7-15; xxxiv [xxxi].9-20; xxxv [xx].14-26; xxxvi.1-17 [xxi.1-13a, xxxvi.16b-22]; xxxix.12-35) xl.18-27; xlii.15-xliii.33; li.
That he was an ardent student of the Scriptures is frequently evident, see especially xxxix.1-3, and, above all, the long section on the Praise of the Fathers of old (xliv-l.24). In the Prologue, too, Ben-Sira's grandson speaks of his grandsire as "having much given himself to the reading of the law, and the prophets, and the other books of our fathers..."
So that with all his intercourse with humanity, bad as well as good, and with all his worldly knowledge, Ben-Sira was a man of piety and saintly disposition; of him it may be said that he was one who lived in the world, but kept himself unspotted from the world.
The doctrinal teaching of our book has been dealt with above (see chap.vii.) but a few words as to his teaching on Wisdom are called for here.
Wisdom, according to Ben-Sira, was pre-existent before the creation of the world; it proceeded from God, almost like the divine breath, and covered the earth like a mist; it is thus ubiquitous, and intended for the use of all humanity; Wisdom is made to say:
I came forth from the mouth of the Most High,
And as a mist I covered the earth.
In the high places did I fix my abode,
And my throne was in the pillar of cloud.
Alone I compassed the circuit of heaven,
And in the depth of the abyss I walked.
In the waves of the sea, and in all the earth,
And in every people and nation I gained a possession (xxiv.3-6).
It is evident that extraneous influence is to be discerned here both in the personification of Wisdom (Though Ben-Sira was undoubtedly also indebted to Prov.viii for this.), and in the conception of Wisdom walking in the depth of the abyss.
For, according to Babylonian mythology, Ea, one of the most important of the Babylonian gods, dwelt in Apsu,
"the deep," and was known as "the Lord of Wisdom". (Jeremias, Handbuch der altorientalischen Geisteskultur, pp.352 ff. (1929) Dos alte Testament im
Lichte des alten Orients, p. 67 (1930).)
In the cosmogony of the Babylonians Bel is the creator of man, and Ea is the deep beneath the earth and which it encompasses, and he is the source of wisdom and culture. "Ea," says Jastrow, "the father, is the personification of Wisdom, while Bel embodies the practical action which streams forth from Wisdom." (Die Religion Babyloniens und Assyrians, i.61 (1905).)
But Ben-Sira, while recognizing the presence of Wisdom among all peoples, goes on to say (Wisdom is still speaking):
With all these I sought a resting-place,
And said, In whose inheritance shall I lodge?
Then the Creator of all things gave me commandment,
And he that created me fixed my dwelling-place;
And he said, In Jacob let thy dwelling-place be,
And in Israel take up thine inheritance (xxiv.7, 8).
What Ben-Sira means by these words is that Wisdom was embodied in the Law given on Sinai (cp. verse 20), an identification between Wisdom and the Law to which reference has already been made. Elsewhere, Ben-Sira earnestly appeals to his hearers to become, as it were, the bondslaves of Wisdom:
Hearken, my son, and receive my judgement,
And refuse not my counsel;
And bring thy feet into her fetters,
And into her chains thy neck.
Bow down thy shoulder and bear her,
And chafe not under her bonds ... (vi.23-27)
For such as respond to this appeal the reward will be great:
Her net will become for thee a stay of strength,
And her bonds robes of gold.
An ornament of gold is her yoke,
And her fetters a cord of blue (cp.Num.xv.38).
With glorious garments shalt thou array thyself,
And with a crown of beauty shalt thou crown thyself with her (vi.29-31).
It cannot, however, be too strongly insisted upon that Ben-Sira's teaching on wisdom, whether in the domain of utilitarianism (e.g. xviii.30-33), or in more exalted spheres (e.g. xxvii.8-10), is based on a religious foundation. This is much more pronounced and explicitly stated than in the book of Proverbs. A good instance of this occurs in iv.11-14:
Wisdom teacheth her children,
And taketh hold of all that give heed to her.
They that love her love life,
And they that seek her shall obtain grace from the Lord.
They that take her of her shall find glory from the Lord.
They that serve her serve the Holy One,
And God loveth them that love her (See also xxv.10).
Instructive, too, are the words in i. 26:
If thou desire wisdom keep the commandments,
And the Lord will give her unto thee freely.
This expressed identity of Wisdom with religion is a noteworthy feature of our book.
Ben-Sira's general standpoint was Sadducaean; not that in his day the Pharisees and Sadduccees constituted definitely opposed parties; this arose in post-Maccabaean times; none the less, the pronounced differences of opinion which in later days resulted in the formation of antagonistic parties, Pharisaic and Sadducaean, were already in evidence.
It has been suggested (says Dr. Taylor, in reference to a hint thrown out by
Kuenen), with a certain plausibility, that the book Ecclesiasticus approximates to the standpoint of the primitive Caduqin (Sadducces) as regards its theology, its sacerdotalism, and its want of sympathy with the modern Soferim (Scribes). The
name of Ezra is significantly omitted from its catalogue of worthies; "it remains singular," remarks Kuenen, "that
the name whom a later generation compared, nay made almost equal, to Moses is passed over in silence...
Is it not really most natural that a Jesus ben Sirach did not feel sympathy enough for the first of the Scribes, to give him a place of honour in the series of Israel's great men?" The modern Scribe was to Ben-Sirach an unworthy descendant of the primitive Wise.
He refers also to the significant fact that in the Babylonian Talmud (Sanhedrin 100b) the "Books of Sadducees" and the Book of Ben-Sira" are placed side by side on the Index expurgatorius. (Sayings of the Jewish Fathers, comprising Pirqe Aboth p.115 (1897).)
The Sadducaean standpoint is indicated in several particulars in our book. Regarding the future life, no belief in the resurrection is expressed, only the old Sheol conception (xiv.12-16; xxx.17; xli.4; xlviii.5, in this last passage the raising up of a corpse from death does not mean resurrection in the real sense).
Following upon this there is no belief in angels, (Cp. Acts xi. 8.) in the sense of risen men becoming angels. That the Sadducees believed in angels in the sense of the heavenly hosts, i.e. angels who are such by nature, must be obvious when it is remembered that the Sadducees insisted most strongly on the superior authority of the Pentateuch, where angels are not infrequently mentioned. Hence in xlii.17 angels in this sense are spoken of. Then, again, with regard to the Law; insistence on its precepts occurs again and again, but always in reference to the Pentateuch; there is never any hint of the pharisaic standpoint regarding the Law. The difference between the two attitudes is clearly shown by Josephus.
The Pharisees have delivered to the people a great many observances by succession
from their fathers, which are not written in the laws of Moses. And for that reason it is that the Sadducees reject them, and say
that we are to esteem those observances to be obligatory which are in the written word, but are not to observe what are derived
from the tradition of our forefathers.
Further, the attitude towards the Gentile world in our book is distinctly more favourable than the Pharisaic (e.g. i.9; xvii.17. xviii.13, "the mercy of the Lord is upon all flesh"). This would be in accordance with the Sadducaean outlook, who, as representatives of the wealthier classes, and in touch with the ruling circles, would necessarily have been brought more in contact with the outside world.
Another important point in this connexion is what is said in the "Thanksgiving" which appears in the Hebrew text after li.12. In the ninth verse it is said:
Give thanks unto him that chooseth the sons of Zadok for priests,
For his mercy endureth forever.
It is perhaps unnecessary to point out that "the sons of Zadok" are equivalent to the Sadducees; so that these words support what has been said as to the Sadducaean standpoint of our book.
Finally, one other matter demands mention. It will be pointed out later (? VI), that there are two recensions of the Greek Version of our book. The second of these, as will be seen, is a Pharisaic recension of the book. The obvious conclusion to be drawn from this is that in somewhat later times, when the Pharisees, as a party, were wholly in the ascendant, it was thought well that this popular Wisdom book should, because of its generally Sadducaean standpoint, be "pharisaized" by means of the addition of a number of verses which set forth specifically Pharisaic views.
Even in the Greek form of our book, which until comparatively recently had been regarded as the most authoritative form, there is ample evidence to show that it is a translation from the Hebrew. To illustrate this would involve the discussion of many technical points, and comparisons between Hebrew and Greek linguistic usages, which would take up a great deal of space. Investigations of this kind would be hardly appropriate here.
Abundant material will be found in Smend's great work on Ecclesiasticus. (Die Weisheit des Jesus Sirach, pp.I ff. (1906).)
Further, in the prologue to our book Ben-Sira's grandson writes:
Ye are intreated therefore to read with favour and attention, and to pardon us, if in any parts of what we have laboured to interpret, we seem to fail in some of the phrases. For things originally spoken in Hebrew have not the same force in them when they are translated into another tongue?
Again, Jerome, in his Preface to the books of Solomon writes:
Fertur et πανάρετις Jesu filii Sirach liber et alius ψεθδεπίγραθος, qui Sapientia Salomonis inscributur. Quorum priorem Hebraicum reperi, non Ecclesiasticum, ut apud Latinos, sed Parabolas praenotatum, cui juncti erant Ecclesiastes
et Canticum Canticorum, ut similitudinem Salomonis non solum librorum numero, sed etiam materiarum genere coaequaret.
(Quoted by Schurer, op. cit., iii.217.)
The Hebrew text was thus still in existence in Jerome's day (died 420AD).
And lastly, citations in Hebrew occur in the Talmud. It was therefore certain that our book was originally written in Hebrew. But apart from the Talmudic quotations, no trace of the Hebrew original was thought to exist. Then, in 1896, a Hebrew fragment of the book was found in the "Genizah" of the ancient synagogue at Cairo. More and more of these fragments were discovered as the years went on, all from the same home, the most recent having come to light in 1931.
(The term Genizah (from the root to "hide") is applied to a room adjoining the synagogue set apart for storing disused manuscripts of the books of' the Bible which had been employed in public worship, but which it was thought wrong to destroy. Manuscripts of heretical books were also deposited in the Genizah.)
This discovery (says the finder of it, Rabbi Joseph Marcus), coming more than three decades after the flush of excitement of the first discoveries, besides its own intrinsic interest and importance, filling up a large gap, will, I hope, succeed in drawing the attention of scholars to the possibility that all the Genizah material has not yet been carefully examined, and that there may yet be, awaiting the discerning eye of the scholar, hidden leaves of Ben Sira to be brought to light. (The Jewish Quarterly Review, Jan. 1931, p.223.)
For the list of publications in which all these fragments first appeared, see below, pp.254 f. But it will be well to append here a list of the passages that are now available in Hebrew according to the different manuscripts designated A-E:
|MS. A:||ii.18d, added after vi.17.|
|xi.16f, added after .14.|
|xxvii.5, 6, added after vi.22.|
|MS. B:||xxx.11-xxxvi (xxi).3.|
|MS. C:||iv.23b 30,31.|
|vi.18b (in part), 19, 28, 35.|
|vii.1, 2, 4, 6ab, 17, 20, 2 1, 23-25.|
|viii.31b (in part).|
|xix.2a , 3 b.|
|xxv.8, 13, 17-22, 23cd, 24.|
|xxxvii.19, 22, 24, 26.|
|MS. E:||xx (xxxv).I6-xxi (xxx).32;|
It will thus be seen that for some passages two MSS are available, and for some, even three. Out of the 1616 distichs represented in the Greek text, 1090, for the most part entire, have so far been recovered in their Hebrew form.
A number of complicated problems arise in regard to the relationship of these MSS to one another; for discussion on these we refer our readers to Smend's work, already referred to (pp.Ivi-l.).
Here we must restrict ourselves to some general remarks about the MSS. All of them, with the exception of MS E) abound in scribal errors. ("This MS is free from doublets, corruptions and blemishes which disfigure the other MSS and has only one marginal gloss" (Joseph Marcus, op. cit., p.224))
Letters that are similar to one another are frequently confused; many words are hopelessly corrupt, and are often in their wrong order. Sometimes whole lines are misplaced. (See the contents of the MSS given above for one or two examples of this.)
Of great importance are the many doublets, variants, and marginal notes; in MS B, especially, a number of stichoi are given in twofold, sometimes threefold, form. In MS A, too, there are many doublets. Nevertheless, the careful study of these MSS shows that, in spite of all these variations, they represent not independent types of text, but different recensions of the same archetypal text. And fragmentary as they are, they contain, as is recognized by the majority of scholars, the genuine text of Ben-Sira so far as they go.
The reconstruction of the text, it will be realized, is a difficult task. But with the help of the Hebrew of the Old Testament, the language of which Ben-Sira constantly echoes, and with the help of the Versions, especially the Greek and the Syriac, this reconstruction has been accomplished with conspicuous success by Smend. (Die Weisheit des Jesus Sirach, Hebraisch und Deutsch (1906). This is a different volume from that mentioned above.)
A matter of particular interest is the question of a secondary Hebrew recension. When we come to speak of the Greek Version it will be pointed out that there is a secondary Greek recension which owed its existence to the wish to make the book more acceptable to later orthodox, i.e. Pharisaic, circles. This secondary Greek recension was not due to a purely Greek revision of the book, it depends upon a secondary Hebrew recension.
"The phenomena of the text point unmistakably to the latter alternative; the secondary Greek text depends essentially upon, and is a translation of, a younger Hebrew recension of the book." (Box and Oesterley, op. Cit., p.278.)
Illustrations to be given in the next section will show the significance of this recension.
The value of the Greek Version lies not only in the fact of its being the oldest of the Versions. But still more because in many passages it has preserved a form of text more closely approximating to the original Hebrew than that of the Hebrew manuscripts which have been discovered. The latter fact makes this Version most valuable for the reconstruction of the Hebrew text, though the freedom with which the Greek translation was made - a fact hinted at in the Prologue-demands great caution when used for this purpose.
Mention must here be made of the great displacement in the Greek text. This is dealt with by Swete:
A remarkable divergence in the arrangement of the
Septuagint and Old Latin Versions of Ecclesiasticus xxx-xxxvi calls for notice. In these chapters the Greek order fails to yield a
natural sequence, whereas the Latin arrangement, which is also that of the Syriac and Armenian Versions, makes excellent sense.
Two sections, xxx.25-xxi.13a (ὡς καλαμώμενος ... φυλὰς ᾽Ιακώβ -
hos kalamomenos ... phulas 'Iakob) and xxi.13 b-xxxvi.16a (λαμπρὰ
καρδία ... ἔσχατος
ἠγρύπνησα - lampra kardia ... eschatos egrupesa),
have exchanged places in Latin, and the change is justified by the result. On examination it appears that these sections are
nearly equal, containing in B 154 and 159 στίχοι - stichoi respectively, whilst א exhibits 160 in each.
(The Old Testament in Greek, ii. pp.vi ff. (1896).)
There can be little doubt that in the exemplar from which, so far as is certainly known, all our Greek MSS of this book are, as Fritzsche says, "ultimately derived, the pairs of leaves on which these sections were severally written had been transposed. Whereas the Latin translator, working from a manuscript in which the transposition had not taken place, has preserved the true order." (Kurzgefasstes exegetisches Handbuch zu den Apokryphen v.169 f. (1851-1860).) The displacement is sometimes apt to cause some confusion when giving references. The matter is simplified when it is remembered that in the Greek text xxi.13 bc xxxiv.1-xxxvi.16a must come between xxx.24 and xxx.25. All the Greek manuscripts, including the cursive 248 (on this see below) have this displacement. (See Smend, Die Weisheit des Jesus Sirach, p.lxxvii.)
The Greek Version has come down to us in two forms; one of these is represented by the great uncials BאA, followed by a number of cursives; it appears also in the Aldine and Sixtine editions, and is the basis for the Revised Version. This is a translation of the primary original Hebrew text.
The other form of the text is represented by a group of cursives, of which the most representative is 248, and the manuscript used by the first corrector of Cod. Sinaiticus א c.a (seventh century). It is also reflected, more or less, in the Old Latin and Syriac Versions, in the Syro-Hexaplar, in which the passages belonging to this later recension are, for the most part, marked with the asterisk, and in the Complutensian text. It has also the support of Clement of Alexandria and St. Chrysostom in their quotations from our book. This second form represents the translation of a recension of the Hebrew text.
We have, thus, a primary and a secondary Greek text, each of which is translated from a Hebrew original.
The secondary Greek text must have come into existence at a very early period, and must at one time have received wide recognition and have been regarded as authoritative. The fact that the Old Latin Version contains a large number of passages belonging to it is evidence, apart from other things, of the favour that this secondary Greek Version must have enjoyed at one time.
The text of this Version is characterized by a large number of additions to the original text; the manuscripts belonging to the 248 group contain nearly 150 additional stichoi, besides which ninety others have been preserved in different manuscripts of the Old Latin Version. (These have all been gathered together and conveniently tabulated by Smend, op. cit., pp.xcix-cxviii.)
At the same time, it must be added that although some half-dozen Greek MSS represent this secondary Greek text, there is no one MS now extant that contains this text as such. All that can be said is that the 248 group have to a larger or smaller extent been influenced by it. The cursive MSS of the other group mentioned above which follow, in the main, the great uncials representative of the primary text, were originally based on the secondary text. For they contain traces of it, according to Ryssel, and are therefore the descendants of MSS which were corrected on the basis of the great uncials. This correctional process must, of course, belong to considerably later times.
To sum up, then: The course of the early history of the Greek text, or rather texts, can perhaps be best described in this way: There was an original Hebrew text; the writer's grandson made a Greek translation of this. Later there was a revised Hebrew text, made for reasons of which we shall speak below; a Greek translation was likewise made of this; so that both Greek translations were made direct from two Hebrew originals, respectively. One was made from the Hebrew text of the author, the other from a Hebrew text, which embodied a large number of additions to the original text.
That the two Greek translations owe their origin to two independent Hebrew texts is shown by the following facts:
(1) in the Talmud, and some other Jewish writings, there are Hebrew quotations from our book which differ from the text of the great uncials, but which are represented in the secondary Greek text reflected in the 248 group, in the Old Latin Version, and in the quotations which occur in the writings of Clement of Alexandria and St. Chrysostom;
(2) in a certain number of instances the secondary Hebrew recension which, as we have seen, is sometimes preserved in the Hebrew MSS now available, has been incorporated in the 248 group, but not in the great uncials; and
(3) many of the additions found in this 248 group can, on account of their form, be explained only on the supposition of their having been translated from the Hebrew. It is, therefore, evident that the additions in the 248 group are not interpolations in the Greek text, but are based, as a whole, on a secondary Hebrew original. (cp. the present writer's The Wisdom of Jesus The son of Sirach, or Ecclesiasticus, p.xcvii (1912).)
Now, as to the object of this secondary Greek text and its Hebrew original, - while in some instances the additions are intended to explain the Hebrew and to make its meaning clearer, yet this is only a subsidiary purpose; the real object is to be sought in another direction. It will be found that in most of them "there is a tendency to emphasize spiritual religion as distinct from practical religion; love to God, hope in Him, the desire to please Him and to give glory to Him; the thirst for righteousness; the need of repentance; the recognition of the divine recompense; a developed belief regarding the Hereafter, - these are the main characteristics to be observed in the additions." (Ibid.)
These are all the precepts of Pharisaism at its best.
In his minute and well-balanced investigation into the contents of the additions, Hart has shown that "they are fragments of the Wisdom of a Scribe of the Pharisees, and contain tentative Greek renderings of many of the technical terms and watchwords of the sect." (Ecclesiasticus: the Greek Text of Codex 248 (1909) p.274; the examination of the additions will be found on pp.275-320, and there is much else in this book of great interest.)
The Syriac Version is not a translation from the Greek, but from some form of the original Hebrew. It is, according to Smend, "the worst piece of translation in the Syriac Bible". Though, as he adds, in many cases it is uncertain whether its defects are due to the fault of the translator, or to the Hebrew text he had before him, or are to be put down to the vicissitudes of the handing down of the Syriac text. It reveals a great number of omissions. Compared with the Hebrew and Greek texts there are 370 stichoi wanting, i.e. about one-ninth of the book, though in some cases such omissions are due to Christian influence, e.g. in xvii.27, where it is said that the dead can no more praise God, xliv.9 according to which the ungodly when they die are as though they had never been born, - and many others. (Smend, p.11.)
But though the Syriac Version is a translation from the Hebrew there are many passages that are directly translated from the Greek. This is the case, e.g., with xxvi.19-27, xliii.1-10. It is not necessary to regard these passages as having been added at a later time, because the influence of the Greek Version is to be discerned throughout. And, as Smend shows by a number of examples, the Syriac text has been corrected from the Greek.
In spite of the many defects of the Syriac Version, it is of great value both from the fact that it is translated from the Hebrew. And also because it contains a number of passages which are found elsewhere only in the Hebrew MSS or in isolated Greek MSS, or in the Old Latin. (For the valuable estimate of this Version see Smend, pp.cxxxvi-cxlvi.)
It has already been pointed out that in this Version the displacement of the text does not occur.
The Latin Version has come down to us in an even worse condition than the Syriac. This is due not only to accidents in transmission, but still more owing to the fact that it was translated from a Greek text that was in a worse state than that represented by any extant Greek MSS. Nevertheless, as Smend points out, it must be regarded as a piece of good fortune that it was not ousted by a translation of Jerome, for it contains many ancient elements which are more than likely to have been obliterated had Jerome made a translation of his own.
The Syro-Hexaplar - the name given to the Syriac Version made by Paul of Tella (616AD) from the Septuagint of of Origen's Hexapla (See Swete, Introduction to the Old Testament in Greek, pp.112 f.) is of considerable value owing to the excellence of many of its readings. But it has suffered, according to Smend, from the hand of a corrector. "If we retain the designation Syro-Hexaplar," says Nestle, "we must bear in mind that Sirach had no place in Origen's Hexapla. But in one particular respect this Syriac Version reminds us of the Hexapla. One of the critical marks of Origen, the asteriscus, appears also in Sirach, at least in its first part up to Chap.i." (In Hastings' D.B. iv.544.) There are altogether forty-five asterisks, about twenty of which are placed against words and sentences belonging to the secondary Greek text.
There are a number of other Versions: The Sahidic, Ethiopic, Armenian, Slavonic, and Arabic. These are of much less importance.
The Sahidic is based on a text closely related to the Greek uncials, and is therefore of some value for text-critical purposes.
The Ethiopic is full of paraphrases intended to explain the Greek from which it is translated. The Armenian is translated from the Latin, but apparently worked over on the basis of the Greek.
The Slavonic "follows a text similar to that of the Complutensian edition, but with only a portion of the additions." (Margoliouth, quoted by Nestle, Hastings' D.B. iv.544.)
The Arabic is a translation from the Syriac, it is full of paraphrases, and has evidently been influenced by the Greek. (For all these Versions see Smend, op. cit., pp. cxxix ff.)
Fritzsche, op. cit., v., pp.ix ff., I ff. (1859).
Edersheim, in Wace, op. cit., ii.1 ff. (1888).
Schechter and Taylor, The Wisdom of Ben-Sira (1899).
Levi, L'Ecclesiastique ou la sagesse de Jesus fils de Sira (1898, 1901).
Ryssel, in Kautzsch, Op. Cit., i.226 ff. (1900).
Knabenbauer, Commentarius in Ecclesiasticum ... (1902).
Peters, Der jungst wieder aufgefundene hebraische Text des Buches Ecclesiasticus ... (1902).
Peters, Ecclesiasticus Hebraice (1905).
Strack, Die Spruche Jesus des Sohnes Sirachs (1903).
Andre, op. cit., pp.271 ff (1903).
Smend, Die Weisheit des Jesus Sirach (1906) (Introduction and Commentary).
- Die Weisheit des Jesus Sirach, Hebraisch und Deutsch (1906) (Text and translation).
- Griechisch-syrisch-hebraischer Index zur Weisheit des Jesus Sirach (1907).
Fuchs, Textkritische Untersuchungen zum Hebraischen Ekklesiastikus (1907).
Hart, Ecclesiasticus, the Greek Text of Codex 248 (1909).
Oesterley, The Wisdom of Jesus, the son of Sirach, or Ecclesiasticus (1912).
Box and Oesterley, in Charles, op. Cit., i.268 ff. (1913).
Oesterley, The Wisdom of Ben-Sira in "Translations of Early Documents" (1916).
The publications of the Hebrew Fragments:
Schechter, "Ecclesiasticus xxxix.15-xl.8," in The Expositor for July (1896).
Cowley-Neubauer, The Original Hebrew of a Portion of Ecclesiasticus (xxxix.15-xlix.11) (1897).
Halevy, in the Revue semitique, v.147 ff. (1897).
Schechter, "Genizah Specimens" (xlix.12-1.22) in The Jewish Quarterly Review, x.197 ff. (1898).
Schechter and Taylor (as above).
Halevy, "Eccles. xlix. 12-1. 22" in Revue semitique, v.148 ff., 193 ff. (1897).
Margoliouth, "The Original Hebrew of Eccl. xxxi.12-31 xxxvi.22-xxxvii.26" in J.Q.R., .1 ff. (1900).
Schechter, "A Further Fragment ..." (iv.23-v.13; xxv.8-xxvi.2), in J.Q.R., .456 ff. (1900).
Adler, "Some Missing Fragments of Ben-Sira" (vii.29-.1), in J.Q,R., .466 ff. (1900).
Levi, "Deux nouveaux manuscrits hebreux de I'Ecclesiastique" (xxxvi.24-xxxviii.1) in the Revue des etudes juives, xi.1 ff. (1900).
Gaster, "A New Fragment of Ben-Sira" (xviii.31-335 etc.), in J.Q.R., .688 ff. (1900).
Marcus, " A Fifth Manuscript of Ben-Sira " (xx [xxxv].16-xxi.32; xxxiv.1) in J.Q.R., xxi.223 ff. (1931).
G. R. Driver, "Hebrew Notes on the Wisdom of Jesus Ben-Sirach," in The Journal of Biblical Literature, 1934, 273 ff
Editions of texts other than the Hebrew:
Greek: Swete, The Old Testament in Greek, vol.ii. (1896).
Syriac: Lagarde, Libri Veteris Testamenti Apocryphi Syriace (1871).
Latin: the text of the Vulgate; Lagarde, Codex Amiatinus, in Mittheilungen ... i (1884).
The superb English edition, edited by A. D. Power, and published by the Ashendene Press, must also be mentioned here.