Sunday, January 27, 2013

Introduction to the Book of Sirach

After several years of silence in this blog space, I'm rising out of the mist again to share with you excerpts from a book of the Biblical Apocrypha. As a former Roman Catholic, I grew up with the Apocrypha as part of Scripture, but when I moved to the Protestant side of the aisle, I lost track of these fascinating writings. I'm learning that most Protestants, including UU Christians, are unfamiliar with this text.

My Christian Fellowship is now reading and reflecting on Ecclesiasticus, or the Wisdom of Jesus Son of Sirach, or the Book of Sirach, or The Instruction of Ben Sira. As you see, it has many names due to its creation in Hebrew and subsequent translation to Greek and Latin. The writing and the advice of this book have caught my attention, and I felt a strong call to share it with you.

Ben Sira, the author, has been described as a scribe, that is, a Jewish teacher of the Law. Scribes were known to study the Torah and re-interpret it for the general public. Ben Sira was considered to be a wise and perceptive teacher who established a school, and his book of wisdom was read and widely used as a handbook in educational settings. He wrote between 200 and 180 BCE.

Later, in 132 BCE, his grandson (unnamed) translated the text into Greek and admits bringing some of his own stamp to the text since "...the fact is that there is no equivalent for things originally written in Hebrew when it is a question of translating them into another language;" (Sirach Foreward:21-22) Good to remember in any day and age. The grandson also says he undertook this project "for the benefit of those too who, domiciled abroad, wish to study, to reform their behavior, and to live as the Law requires." (Sirach Forward: 34-35)

What strikes me most as I read Sirach is the ability of the author to use a variety of literary forms to present the core wisdom of the Law of Moses and Proverbs, a combination that he refers to as "the fear of the Lord". The phrase "the fear of the Lord" refers not only to the Old Testament scripture, but also to the underlying principles of daily living. I prefer a suggested alternate translation "the awe of the Lord", but the thought is the same. Live with a healthy respect for the divine power and creativity that contains mysterious, unknown elements.

Sirach gives us the answer to the questions, "So what does life look like under the Law of Moses? How should I act?" He provides examples, poems, stories and experiences to show us how to live.

So moving forward, I'm going to drop some pearls from the Wisdom of Sirach onto this blog. Let's see what we both learn.

For the fear of the Lord is wisdom and instruction,
and what pleases him is faithfulness and gentleness. (Sirach 1:27-28)

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