Introduction
This is the only book in the Apocrypha to which the author's name has been attached—Jesus ben Sirach, or Jesus the son of Sirach (50.27). Sirach, as he is more conveniently known, was a Wisdom teacher who directed an academy in Jerusalem in which pupils were schooled in the very practical ethics and theology of the Hebrew Wisdom tradition. In the prologue to the book, Sirach's grandson writes that Jesus ben Sirach had devoted his life to the study of the Hebrew scriptures and wrote this book to help people learn Wisdom and live by its precepts.
The book extends to 51 chapters and was written around 180 b.c. That date can be closely approximated from the book's prologue because Sirach's grandson there states the year of the Egyptian ruler in which he translated the Hebrew text into Greek (shortly after 132 b.c.). There can be no doubt that it was originally written in Hebrew since fragmentary manuscripts from Cairo and Qumran confirm this. In the time of Sirach, Jews living in Judea, Syria, and Egypt were inundated by the Greek culture and language that had been introduced throughout the Near East by Alexander the Great and maintained by his successors, the Seleucids in Syria and Ptolemies in Egypt, each contending for control of the Judean sites and trade routes. Because these cultural and language tensions challenged Jewish faith and tradition, Sirach sought to show the importance of following God's teaching in the Torah. He wanted his people to realize the enormous gift God has given them—true Wisdom. This book, originally called Sirach, is thus a kind of Wisdom handbook covering a wide range of subjects and representing a variety of literary forms—ethical, moral, and practical maxims and proverbs, hymns, prayers, lists, poetic narratives, and even autobiography. The KJV also included the much later prologue of Athanasius (called “An Explanatory Introduction” in this edition).
In the third century a.d., in the Western Church, the book of Sirach came to be called Ecclesiasticus, “the church book,” suggestive of its significance for use as a manual for social ethics in the Early Church. Sirach is the last in the line of great Wisdom collections, a worthy successor of those included in the Hebrew Bible: Job, Proverbs, and Ecclesiastes. The brief Epistle of James in the New Testament, with its wisdom style and content, also continues this tradition of instructing the faithful in right living.
Outline
Athanasius' Prologue (An Explanatory Introduction)
The Translator Explains His Intentions (Prologue)
Wisdom and the Fear of the Lord (1.1—4.10)
Study Wisdom and Obey God (4.11—6.17)
Finding Wisdom, Prosperity, and Contentment (6.18—15.10)
Wise People, Sinners, and Fools (15.11—23.28)
Wisdom, Family, and Friends (24.1—33.31)
Wisdom and Faithfulness to God (34.1—38.23)
Wisdom and Blessings Come from God the Creator (38.24—43.33)
A Hymn of Praise to Israel's Famed Ancestors (44.1—50.26)
Author, Blessing and Concluding Prayer (50.27—51.30)
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