The Wisdom of Sirach / Book of Ecclesiasticus – What is it?
The Book of Ecclesiasticus, also known as the Wisdom of Sirach or Book of Sirach or simply as Sirach, is a second century BC writing by a Jewish scribe named Shimon ben Yeshua ben Eliezer ben Sira who was from the City of Jerusalem.
Ecclesiasticus was originally written in Hebrew though it also existed in Greek after being translated in Egypt by the author's grandson Joshua. It is believed Shimon was living in Alexandria, Egypt, where he had started a Jewish school, at the time of the book's compilation. Ecclesiasticus is the only book found in the Apocrypha whose writer signed the writing.
The Hebrew canon or collection of books did not include Ecclesiasticus / the Wisdom of Sirach. The Greek translation of the Hebrew Scriptures called the Septuagint did include Ecclesiasticus, making it popular among Greek-speaking Jews in Egypt. The Apocrypha or Deuterocanonical Books found in Catholic, Orthodox, and Anglican versions of the Bible also include this book. Though used by various church leaders throughout history, Ecclesiasticus / Sirach was not officially accepted until 1546 at the Council of Trent.
While the Wisdom of Sirach includes much insightful wisdom, often-resembling Proverbs or other Wisdom Books in its style, the book's contents were not included in the authoritative books of the Bible accepted by the earliest Christians.
Further, despite its often-wise sayings, Ecclesiasticus also includes some disturbing readings. For example, it supports harsh treatment of slaves (33:24-28) as well as a poor view of women (42:12-14).
Some see allusions or connections to New Testament teachings. For example, Sirach 29:11 states, "Dispose of your treasure as the Most High commands, for that will profit you more than the gold" (NAB), a passage that resembles the teaching of Jesus regarding the storing up of treasures in heaven (Matthew 6:19-20). In Mary's response to God, she declares, "He has brought down the mighty from their thrones and exalted those of humble estate," (Luke 1:52) which resembles, "The thrones of the arrogant God overturns and establishes the lowly in their stead" (Sirach 10:14, NAB).
Should the Wisdom of Sirach / Book of Ecclesiasticus be accepted into the collection of Bible books? The church leader Jerome who was responsible for overseeing the translation of the Bible into the Latin Vulgate in around AD 400 believed it was best considered among the ecclesiastical books (writings of the church) rather than as one of the biblical books. This evaluation reflected the earlier church councils and leaders prior to the divisions of the Catholic and Protestant Churches and remains the best evaluation of the Book of Ecclesiasticus for today.
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