Ben Sira (or Ecclesiasticus or the Wisdom of Jesus the Son of Sirach)

By James M. Rochford

Unless otherwise noted, all citations are taken from the New Revised Standard Version (NRSV).

This is the longest book in the Apocrypha. This book is also named “Ecclesiasticus” from the Latin version (i.e. “The Church Book”).


This is the only book in the Apocrypha that names himself: Ben Sira (50:27). He was a scribe by profession (51:23).

The author wrote the book in Hebrew, though the Greek version is the basis of translation. DeSilva writes, “Ben Sira, however, originally wrote his work in Hebrew. It was his grandson who translated the book into Greek for the benefit of the Jewish community in Egypt sometime after he had moved there in 132 B.C.E.”[1] Roughly two-thirds of the Hebrew original has been recovered.[2]


The book can be dated “with confidence” somewhere from 196 to 175 BC.[3] DeSilva points out that the author mentions Simon II, who served from 219-196 BC (50:1-21). He doesn’t mention the Hellenistic takeover of the priesthood by Jason (Simon’s son), which occurred after 175 BC. Later, the author’s grandson translated the work into Greek after 132 BC.

Important content in this book

The historical context of the book is important. In the early second century BC, Alexander the Great had influenced the people of Israel with Greek culture. The Judean elites were wanting to be more and more Greek, and Ben Sira was against this. He encourages the Jewish people to follow the Law, rather than succumb to Greek influence.

The book is considered wisdom literature. Interestingly, the author connects wisdom with obedience to the Law (24:7-12, 23; 1:26). According to the author, humans can keep the Law (15:14-17). Covenant loyalty is of the greatest importance (Sir. 10:19-24).

Theological problems

The book contains nothing about the afterlife or the resurrection of the dead. Metzger writes, “Ben Sira often leans toward the point of view which came to be identified with that of the Sadducees. Thus, he is reticent about expressing belief in a future life and has no doctrine of a resurrection.”[4]

[1] David A. deSilva, Introducing the Apocrypha (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2002), 156.

[2] DeSilva writes, “Since the late nineteenth century, however, extensive portions of Hebrew versions have been discovered: medieval manuscripts found in the storage room of a synagogue in Cairo and first-century-B.C.E. or -C.E. manuscripts discovered at Qumran and Masada. The latter texts have a shorter version (called HTI), while the Cairo finds are of two types: the shorter version and a more expansive version (HTII). These two families of Hebrew texts correspond to the two families of Greek texts (GI and GII), the shorter being considered more original. GII contains over three hundred lines not found in GI, but this expanded form became the basis for the Old Latin and the Vulgate and hence became the form of Ben Sira used by the churches as a whole through the Reformation.’ A little more than two-thirds of Ben Sira is now available in Hebrew, a fact that has opened up important new avenues for text critics to work toward establishing Ben Sira’s original Hebrew text.” David A. deSilva, Introducing the Apocrypha (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2002), 157.

[3] David A. deSilva, Introducing the Apocrypha (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2002), 157-158.

[4] Bruce M. Metzger, An Introduction to the Apocrypha (New York: Oxford University Press, 1977), 87.