In This Article Sirach

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Bibliographies
  • Essay Collections
  • Festschrifts and Conference Volumes
  • Major Commentaries
  • Historical Background
  • Scribalism and the Growth of Hebrew Scripture

Biblical Studies Sirach
by
Jeremy Corley, Bradley C. Gregory
  • LAST REVIEWED: 21 July 2016
  • LAST MODIFIED: 28 September 2016
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195393361-0100

Introduction

This article deals with a 2nd-century BCE Jewish wisdom book, known variously as Ben Sira (its Hebrew name), Sirach (its Greek name, also “Siracide” in French or Italian), or Ecclesiasticus (its Latin name). This long book deals with many theological issues (e.g., creation, divine election and providence, prayer, theodicy, death), as well as many topics of social ethics (e.g., poverty and wealth, women, family and friends, honor and shame). The educational teaching is significant for its personification of wisdom (e.g., Sirach 24) and for its close connection of wisdom, Torah, and fear of God (Sirach 19:20). Moreover, the Praise of the Ancestors (Sirach 44–50) offers a review of Israel’s history not found in earlier Hebrew wisdom writings. As a whole, Ben Sira’s work is historically and theologically important in filling the gap between earlier Hebrew wisdom books (e.g., Proverbs and Qoheleth) and later writings (e.g., the New Testament gospels and the Mishnah tractate Pirqe Abot). Sirach is regarded as deuterocanonical by the Roman Catholic and Orthodox churches, but apocryphal or noncanonical by Jews and most Protestants. The first wave of revived studies of Sirach came in the two decades after 1896, following the discovery of several medieval Hebrew Ben Sira texts in the storeroom of the Cairo synagogue (Cairo Genizah). Modern research on Sirach began in 1965, the year of publication of both the Hebrew Masada Scroll of Ben Sira and a critical edition of the Greek version.

General Overviews

Overviews of the Old Testament Apocrypha in deSilva 2002 and Harrington 1999 include useful chapters on Sirach, while Nickelsburg 2005 situates Ben Sira within wider Jewish literature of the Greco-Roman era. For a detailed encyclopedia article, see Gilbert 1996. Book-length introductions to Sirach appear in Harrington 2005 and Coggins 1998. A brief web-based introduction appears in Oxford Biblical Studies Online.

  • Coggins, Richard J. Sirach. Guides to Apocrypha and Pseudepigrapha. Sheffield, UK: Sheffield Academic Press, 1998.

    E-mail Citation »

    Brief overview of major issues in the interpretation of Sirach, based largely on English-speaking scholarship.

  • deSilva, David A. Introducing the Apocrypha: Message, Context, and Significance. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 2002.

    E-mail Citation »

    This well-informed and concise introduction to sixteen apocryphal/deuterocanonical books includes a survey of research on Ben Sira (pp. 153–197).

  • Gilbert, Maurice. “Siracide.” In Supplément au Dictionnaire de la Bible. Vol. 12. Edited by Jacques Briend and Edouard Cothenet, 1389–1437. Paris: Letouzey et Ané, 1996.

    E-mail Citation »

    A detailed French-language outline of scholarly discussions on Sirach, with bibliographies for each section.

  • Harrington, Daniel J. Invitation to the Apocrypha. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1999.

    E-mail Citation »

    This brief introduction to sixteen apocryphal/deuterocanonical books highlights major themes in Ben Sira (pp. 78–91), such as the book’s approach to suffering.

  • Harrington, Daniel J. Jesus Ben Sira of Jerusalem: A Biblical Guide to Living Wisely. Interfaces. Collegeville, MN: Liturgical, 2005.

    E-mail Citation »

    This concise and informative volume situates Ben Sira in his historical context, relates his book to other wisdom writings, offers a synopsis of the book, explains the literary forms used, outlines the sage’s social world, and reflects on his abiding wisdom.

  • Nickelsburg, George W. E. Jewish Literature between the Bible and the Mishnah. 2d ed. Minneapolis: Fortress, 2005.

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    The survey of Ben Sira (pp. 53–63) is set within an overview of Jewish literature composed between 325 BCE and 100 CE.

  • Oxford Biblical Studies Online.

    E-mail Citation »

    Brief introduction to Sirach, translation of the book, and other resources.

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