Ben Sira

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Jesus Ben Sirach 1860 woodcut by Julius Schnorr von Carolsfeld

Ben Sira or Joshua ben Sirach (Hebrew: שמעון בן יהושע בן אליעזר בן סירא, romanizedšimʿon ben yəhošuʿ ben ʾəliʿezer ben Sirā) (fl. 2nd century BCE) was a Hellenistic Jewish scribe, sage, and allegorist from Seleucid-controlled Jerusalem of the Second Temple period. He is the author of the Book of Sirach, also known as "Ecclesiasticus".

Ben Sirach wrote his work in Hebrew, possibly in Alexandria in the Ptolemaic Kingdom c. 180–175 BCE, where he is thought to have established a school.[1]

While Ben Sira is sometimes claimed to be a contemporary of Simeon the Just, it is more likely that his contemporary was High Priest Simon II (219–199 BCE) and this is due to confusion with his father, Joshua.[2]

A medieval text, the Alphabet of Sirach, was falsely attributed to him.


In the Koine Greek text of the Book of Sirach, the author's father is called "Jesus the son of Sirach of Jerusalem".[3][failed verification] Jesus is the Anglicized form of the Greek name Ἰησοῦς, the equivalent of the Aramaic form borrowed from late Biblical Hebrew 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, had the reading "Shimʽon, son of Yeshuaʽ, son of Elʽazar ben Siraʼ"; and a similar reading occurs in the Hebrew manuscript B.[citation needed]

Sirach is the Greek form of the family name Sira. It adds the letter Chi, an addition like that in Hakel-dama-ch in Acts 1:19.[citation needed]


Ben Sirach (Schnorr von Carolsfeld 1860)

According to the Greek version, though not according to the Syriac, the author traveled extensively (Sirach 34:12) and was frequently in danger of death (34:13). Collins comments that unfortunately "he gives no details of his travels".[4] Corley surmises from these travels that Ben Sira may have been a diplomat or counseller.[5] In the hymn of chapter 51, 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".


According to a Jewish legend, Ben Sira was born to the daughter of Jeremiah of Libnah, (not to be confused with the "Weeping-Prophet" Jeremiah ); after she entered a hot bath soon after her father had left it, and there received her father's seed. The son of this conception was named Ben Zera', "son of seed", but when he grew older and came to understand the significance of his name he was ashamed of it and changed it to Ben Sira.[6]

Ben Sira's grandson[edit]

Very little is known about his grandson, who claims in the prologue to the Greek text to be the translator of Sirach into Greek.[7] He probably undertook the translation many years after the original was written.[citation needed]

The grandson states that he came to Egypt in the thirty-eighth year of the reign of Euergetes. Ptolemy VIII Physcon must be intended; he ascended the throne in 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.[8]

The prologue is generally considered the earliest witness to a canon of the books of the prophets.[citation needed]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ 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
  2. ^ אנציקלופדיה יהודית דעת – בן סירא. Jewish Encyclopedia Daat (in Hebrew). Herzog College. Retrieved 2013-09-06.
  3. ^ "Catholic Encyclopedia : Ecclesiasticus (Sirach)". 1909-05-01. Retrieved 2013-09-06.
  4. ^ Collins, J. J., "44. Ecclesiasticus, or The Wisdom of Jesus Son of Sirach", in Barton, J. and Muddiman, J. (2001), The Oxford Bible Commentary Archived 2017-11-22 at the Wayback Machine, p. 689
  5. ^ Corley, J., Ben Sira’s Teaching on Friendship, Brown Judaic Studies, number 316, published 2020, p. 17, accessed 10 July 2023
  6. ^ Trachtenberg, Joshua (2004) [Originally published 1939]. "FOLK BIOLOGY—PROCREATION". Jewish Magic and Superstition. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press. p. 189. ISBN 9780812218626. Retrieved Feb 9, 2023.
  7. ^ Sirach 1
  8. ^ Baxter, J. Sidlow (1968). The Strategic Grasp of the Bible. Zondervan. p. 46.

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