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Ben Sira was a second century BCE Jewish scribe, sage, and allegorist from Jerusalem, and the author of the Wisdom of Sirach, or the "Book of Ecclesiasticus". He is also known as Joshua ben Sirach, Shim`on ben Yeshu`a ben Sira, "Jesus son of Sirach," or Jesus Siracides. He wrote his work in Hebrew, possibly in Alexandria, Egypt ca. 180–175 BCE, where he is thought to have established a school. This text had later been translated into Greek by his grandson.
Also, a medieval text Alphabet of Sirach had been attributed to Ben Sira.
The surname Sira may mean 'thorn' [Hebrew (Ecclesiastes 7:6, Hosea 2:6)], 'white of the eye' (Mishnaic Hebrew), or 'boat' [Hebrew, according to one reading of Amos 4:2]. Sira could also be an Aramaicized form of a family name ha-qots "the thorn" (Ezra 2:51).
In the Greek text, the author is called "Jesus the son of Sirach of Jerusalem." "Jesus" is the Anglicized form of the Greek name Ἰησοῦς, the equivalent of the Aramaic Yeshua, derived from the older Masoretic Hebrew Yehoshua`.
The copy owned by Saadia Gaon, the prominent rabbi, Jewish philosopher, and exegete of the 10th Century CE, had the reading "Shim`on, son of Yeshua`, son of El`azar ben Sira"; and a similar reading occurs in the Hebrew manuscript B.
M.Z. Segal, in his commentary on Ben Sira, concluded that the long form with Shim`on should be accepted as original and suggested that the common naming of the book "Ben Sira" is because so many people were named Shim`on at the end of the Second Temple period that people often used the family name without Shim`on.
Sirach is the Greek form of the family name Sira. It adds the letter Chi similar to Hakel-dama-ch in Acts 1:19.
According to the Greek version, though not according to the Syriac, the author traveled extensively (xxxiv. 11) and was frequently in danger of death (ib. verse 12). In the hymn of chapter li. he speaks of the perils of all sorts from which God had delivered him, although this is probably only a poetic theme in imitation of the Psalms. The calumnies to which he was exposed in the presence of a certain king, supposed to be one of the Ptolemaic dynasty, are mentioned only in the Greek version, being ignored both in the Syriac and in the Hebrew text. The only fact known with certainty, drawn from the text itself, is that Ben Sira was a scholar, and a scribe thoroughly versed in the Law, and especially in the "Books of Wisdom."
The legend of his birth
According to Jewish apocrypha, Ben Sira was the son of Jeremiah’s daughter who became pregnant in the bathhouse from her father Jeremiah’s seed. As such, Ben Sira is mentioned by Rishonim and Acharonim with regard to halakhic discussion of the possibility of becoming pregnant without intercourse. Questions remain: (1) whether the sperm contributor is considered his father; (2) whether the offspring of parents who are forbidden relations to each other but who are conceived without intercourse are considered mamzerim; and (3) whether in-vitro fertilization is permissible.
Record seekers have written that because he was born from the absorption of semen without intercourse he was called Ben-Zer`a (בן זרע, "Son of Seed"), and when he grew up he was embarrassed by this name and changed it to Ben Sira (בן סירא), Sira (סירא) is the gematria equivalent of Jeremiah (ירמיהו).
The legend is brought in the apocryphal and (semi-)heretical work the Alphabet of Sirach. The Rambam and others have ridiculed such writings as a waste of time, but other Rishonim did mention it, if only skeptically or as a point in argument.
The tale in Alphabet of Sirach is that Yirmiyahu was accosted in a bathhouse by onanists, who forced him to emit seed into the water. His seed remained viable and his daughter later used the same bathhouse and became pregnant from the bath.
Halakhic status and ramifications
The halakhic rulings are as follows:
- Yirmiyahu was considered his father, and ben Sira his son.
- Ben Sira was not a mamzer.
Very little is known about his grandson, who claims in the text to be the translator of 'Sirach' into Greek. He probably did the translation many years later after the original was written.
The Prologue in the Greek text, attributed to him, is generally considered the earliest witness to a canon of the books of the prophets.
The grandson states that he came to Egypt in the thirty-eighth year of the reign of "Euergetes". Ptolemy VIII Euergetes must be intended; he ascended the throne in the year 170 BCE, together with his brother Philometor, but he soon became sole ruler of Cyrene, and from 146 to 117 BCE held sway over all Egypt. He dated his reign from the year in which he received the crown (i.e., from 170 BCE). The translator must therefore have gone to Egypt in 132 BCE.
- See Guillaume, Philippe, New Light on the Nebiim from Alexandria: A Chronography to Replace the Deuteronomistic History. PDF Journal of Hebrew Scriptures 5.9 (2004): sections 3-5: full notes and bibliography
- "אנציקלופדיה יהודית דעת - בן סירא". Daat.ac.il. Retrieved 2013-09-06.
- "CATHOLIC ENCYCLOPEDIA: Ecclesiasticus (Sirach)". Newadvent.org. 1909-05-01. Retrieved 2013-09-06.
- (Hebrew) www.daat.ac.il
- Baxter, J. Sidlow (1968). The Strategic Grasp of the Bible. Zondervan. p. 46.