Author: Jesus, son of Eleazar, son of Sirach
Date Written: 200-175 BC
Sirach was written by a Jewish scribe who lived in
Sirach is very similar to Proverbs in that the majority of the material is presented in short sayings. The sayings are generally grouped by theme, so the book is loosely organized. Ben Sira speaks in the first person, sometimes giving autobiographical details (34:11; 38-39). In 1:1-42:14, He calls on his readers to seek wisdom and offers sayings on many issues. 42:15-43:35 is a song of praise to God the Creator, which is followed by a long section that honors the heroes of
Sirach addresses many issues related to human life including money, relationships, worship, business and even table manners! Its focus is to help the reader know how to live within the covenant, how to be faithful to God even in the small things. Ben Sira has much to say about choosing friends, dealing with practical problems of life and watching one's words carefully. Like other authors of wisdom literature, he praises wisdom and personifies it as a virtuous woman to be earnestly sought (4; 14-15). Much of the book is couched in terms of a father giving advice to his son. Some scholars think that the book was used to train young Jewish men for positions of leadership. Ben Sira wrote in a time when Jewish identity was threatened by the extensive influence of Greek culture. His writing invites his contemporaries to return to their spiritual and scriptural roots.
The reader faced with Sirach may get very frustrated by trying to read it too quickly, looking for an all-encompassing intent. While the book is not organized by a central argument, it does propose a radical new idea that reinterprets the earlier wisdom books. That is, it identifies wisdom with the Law of Moses (24:22-27). This important idea shapes the way Ben Sira understands wisdom in relation to
Sirach ought to be read in small doses and thoroughly meditated on. Many of its lessons are not new or startling, but they are tried and true principles about how to live in the light of God. Each one is meant to be food for meditation and prayer.
By Mark Giszczak