Ecclesiasticus

Article

Deuterocanonical book of the Old Testament.

From its inscription in Greek and Syriac versions it is also known as “The Wisdom of Jesus, the Son of Sirach,” a title connected with and possibly derived from the subscription occurring in recently discovered (1896-1900) Hebrew fragments, “The Wisdom (Hókhmâ) of Simeon, the son of Yeshua (Jesus), the son of Eleazar, the son of Sira.” The name Ecclesiasticus (Liber), i.e., a church reading-book is significant of the special esteem in which this book was held for the public instruction of the faithful. It is now evident that the work was written originally in Hebrew to which reference had been made in ancient times (Talmud, Saint Jerome). From the prologue to the Greek version composed by a nephew of the author we learn that the latter was Jesus or Josua (Yeshua), son of Sirach of Jerusalem, who seems to have been a contemporary of Simon II, son of Onias the high priest between 220-205 B.C. The translation seems to have been made about 116 B.C., i.e., after the death of Ptolemy Euergetes Philopator II. Catholic editions are derived from the Vulgate which was prepared by Saint Jerome from the Old Latin compared with the Septuagint text of the book.

Scholars are divided as to the book’s nature. One group regards it as the work of the author whose name it bears having for its purpose an exposition of the practical value of Hebrew teaching (wisdom) concerning fundamental verities: God, law, wisdom. The material may have been derived from oral tradition or older collections of maxims. According to the other theory, the book as we have it in the Greek is a compilation, the final redaction of which was made by the translator though in its major portion it may represent an original composed by the son of Sirach.

This is the longest of the didactic books of the Old Testament, 51 chapters, and is usually divided into two unequal parts: 1 to 42,14; and 44 to 50, 23. After an exhortation to seek wisdom it presents a series of practical precepts for life after the manner of the Proverbs of Solomon. The transition 42, 15 to 43, 28, is a sublime hymn extolling God’s work in nature and contains a beautiful description of creatures. In the second part God is praised in the lives of the heroes of Israel. The conclusion, 50, 24 to 51, 38, is an exhortation to praise God and seek wisdom. Highly prized by the Jews particularly of the Dispersion and the early Christians after the Psalms and the Gospels, it is the most utilized portion of Scripture in the Office and Mass. Besides, being used for the Nocturnes of the fourth and fifth weeks of August, lessons are taken from it for the common of doctors, confessors, virgins, non-virgins; likewise the chapters of these offices as well as those of the Blessed Virgin Mary and; epistles (Mass for the Propagation of the Faith). It embodies clear statements on the nature of God and His attributes, life, eternity, greatness, mercy (43, 29-37). Noteworthy is chapter 24, introducing uncreated wisdom speaking as a Divine person although the idea of distinct subsistence is not expressed. Talmudic and rabbinical literature placed it in the same category as the Ketubim (Sacred Writings) like Psalms and Proverbs. New Testament references, indicative of its divine origin are very numerous, e.g., John 14:23 to Ecclesiasticus 2:18.

MLA Citation

  • “Ecclesiasticus”. New Catholic Dictionary. Saints.SQPN.com. 11 June 2010. Web. 27 November 2014. <http://saints.sqpn.com/ecclesiasticus/>