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The Oxford Bible Commentary Line-by-line commentary for the New Revised Standard Version Bible.

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

The book of Ben Sira is known by various names in Jewish and Christian tradition. The Greek MSS usually provide a title at the beginning and again at the end: The Wisdom of Jesus, son of Sirach. The Latin is similar: The Book of Jesus son of Sirach. The beginning of the book is not extant in Hebrew, but MS B from the Cairo Geniza refers to the book as The Wisdom of Simon son of Jeshua son of Eleazar son of Sira ( 51:30; cf. 50:27 ). The name Simon is probably introduced by mistake, because of the praise of the high priest Simon in ch. 50 . The author's grandson, who translated the book into Greek, refers to his illustrious ancestor as ‘my grandfather Jesus’. The full name was presumably Jeshua ben Eleazar ben Sira. The ‘ch’ in the form Sirach derives from the Greek Sirachides, son or grandson of Sira, and so the Greek and Latin ‘son of Sirach’ is redundant; here we will use Ben Sira or Sirach. In many MSS of the Latin Vulgate the book is called simply ‘Ecclesiasticus’, or ‘church book’. The medieval Jewish commentator Saadia calls it The Book of Instruction.

Ben Sira was evidently a scribe, and he provides a eulogistic account of his way of life in 39:1–11 . In his view, the ideal scribe is a man of piety, devoted to the study of the law and to prayer, but also concerned with the wisdom of all the ancients. He also appears before rulers and travels in foreign lands. The book concludes with a quasi-autobiographical poem ( 51:13–30 ), in which the author refers to travels in his youth and invites the uneducated to ‘lodge in the house of instruction’. The first part (vv. 13–20 ) of this poem, however, is found independently in 11QPsa and its authenticity as a composition of Ben Sira is disputed (J. A. Sanders 1965: 79–85; but see Skehan and DiLella 1987: 576–80, who take it as autobiographical). Regardless of the authenticity of this passage, however, it is likely that the author of the book was a teacher and that it preserves a sample of one kind of instruction offered to the youth of Jerusalem in the period before the Maccabean revolt.

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