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The Wisdom of Sirach

It is generally accepted that the author of Sirach was a teacher and scribe in the second century BC. He was well-versed in the Scriptures and wrote to help those who wanted to make progress in both knowing the Scriptures and doing them. References and allusions to other parts of the Old Testament abound. Sirach is also a practical guide, often similar to the style of James in the New Testament. The original time of writing is estimated to be between 190 BC and 180 BC, a time after Malachi of the Old Testament and before the New Testament.

Sirach was originally written in Hebrew. But over time, the Hebrew copies fell into disuse. In modern times, Sirach has generally only been found in Greek, Syriac, and Latin manuscripts. Practically no Hebrew existed. The errors that had crept into the non-Hebrew manuscripts made Sirach unsuitable for inclusion in the Bible. However, from 1896 AD to 1982 AD, significant Hebrew manuscripts of Sirach were identified.

This Bible only includes Sirach up to Chapter 16 Verse 23. Very little of the Hebrew text has been discovered from 16:24 - 30:13. Furthermore, the quality of the Hebrew text from this point forward is questionable. There are also other gaps in the Hebrew text after that point as well. As a result, the text was not continued in this Bible after 16:23. However, most versions of Sirach include a total of 51 chapters.

Some portions which were translated in Sirach from 1:1 - 16:23 were not available in Hebrew. They were reviewed and corrected when necessary. This was done by carefully comparing the existing manuscripts; checking against parallel texts; and researching the Hebrew, Syriac, and Greek concordances of Sirach. As a further safeguard in places where no Hebrew text has been found, some readings are placed in footnotes instead of the main body of text. This is done to avoid including text that is not likely to be original.

Examples of criteria used in this evaluation are:

-Variations between different manuscripts can suggest that a reading is not original.
-The pattern of vocabulary, grammar, and/or style of writing do not appear to be from the original author based on comparison to the rest of his writing.
-The text appears to uncharacteristically duplicate or explain another passage.
-The context and/or flow of thought seem unusually abrupt or out of place.

The historical chapter and verse numbering has generally been followed. This allows easier comparison to other versions and use of reference works. The book's title 'Wisdom of Sirach' is sometimes referred to as Sirach, Wisdom of Sirach, Ben-Sira, Wisdom of Ben-Sira, or Ecclesiasticus. The dash is sometimes omitted in Ben-Sira.

This translation of Sirach was not derived from the ASV which was the starting point for the rest of this Bible (except First Maccabees).

For additional information on this subject, comprehensive Bible dictionaries may be consulted. However, dictionaries written before 1900 may not have information on the Hebrew discoveries. Examples of relatively current Bible dictionaries include:

-The article "Wisdom of Ben-Sira" in The Anchor Bible Dictionary; and
-The article "Sirach" in the International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (ISBE).
[An older version of the ISBE can be read online or downloaded from many free Bible software sites.]


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