Ben Sira 1
New American Bible (Revised Edition)
Inasmuch as many and great truths have been given to us through the Law, the prophets, and the authors who followed them,[a] for which the instruction and wisdom of Israel merit praise, it is the duty of those who read the scriptures not only to become knowledgeable themselves but also to use their love of learning in speech and in writing to help others less familiar. So my grandfather Jesus, who had long devoted himself to the study of the law, the prophets, and the rest of the books of our ancestors, and had acquired great familiarity with them, was moved to write something himself regarding instruction and wisdom. He did this so that those who love learning might, by accepting what he had written, make even greater progress in living according to the Law.
You are invited therefore to read it with good will and attention, with indulgence for any failure on our part, despite earnest efforts, in the interpretation of particular passages. For words spoken originally in Hebrew do not have the same effect when they are translated into another language. That is true not only of this book but of the Law itself, the prophecies, and the rest of the books, which differ no little when they are read in the original.
I arrived in Egypt in the thirty-eighth year of the reign of King Euergetes, and while there, I had access to no little learning. I therefore considered it my duty to devote some diligence and industry to the translation of this book. During this time I applied my skill for many sleepless hours to complete the book and publish it for those living abroad who wish to acquire learning and are disposed to live their lives according to the Law.
The Wisdom of Ben Sira
God’s Gift of Wisdom[b]
1 All wisdom[c] is from the Lord
and remains with him forever.(A)
2 The sands of the sea, the drops of rain,
the days of eternity—who can count them?
3 Heaven’s height, earth’s extent,
the abyss and wisdom—who can explore them?
4 Before all other things wisdom was created;
and prudent understanding, from eternity.[d]
6 The root of wisdom—to whom has it been revealed?
Her subtleties—who knows them?[e](B)
8 [f]There is but one, wise and truly awesome,
seated upon his throne—the Lord.
9 It is he who created her,
saw her and measured her,(C)
Poured her forth upon all his works,
10 upon every living thing according to his bounty,
lavished her upon those who love him.
Fear of the Lord Is Wisdom[g]
11 The fear of the Lord[h] is glory and exultation,
gladness and a festive crown.
12 The fear of the Lord rejoices the heart,
giving gladness, joy, and long life.[i]
13 Those who fear the Lord will be happy at the end,
even on the day of death they will be blessed.
14 The beginning of wisdom is to fear the Lord;
she is created with the faithful in the womb.(D)
15 With the godly she was created from of old,
and with their descendants she will keep faith.
16 The fullness of wisdom is to fear the Lord;
she inebriates them with her fruits.(E)
17 Their entire house she fills with choice foods,
their granaries with her produce.
18 The crown of wisdom is the fear of the Lord,
flowering with peace and perfect health.[j]
19 Knowledge and full understanding she rains down;
she heightens the glory of those who possess her.
20 The root of wisdom is to fear the Lord;
her branches are long life.
21 The fear of the Lord drives away sins;
where it abides it turns back all anger.
22 Unjust anger can never be justified;
anger pulls a person to utter ruin.
23 [k]Until the right time, the patient remain calm,
then cheerfulness comes back to them.
24 Until the right time they hold back their words;
then the lips of many will tell of their good sense.
25 Among wisdom’s treasures is the model for knowledge;
but godliness is an abomination to the sinner.
26 If you desire wisdom, keep the commandments,
and the Lord will bestow her upon you;
27 For the fear of the Lord is wisdom and discipline;
faithfulness and humility are his delight.
28 Do not disobey the fear of the Lord,[l]
do not approach it with duplicity of heart.(F)
29 Do not be a hypocrite before others;
over your lips keep watch.
30 Do not exalt yourself lest you fall
and bring dishonor upon yourself;
For then the Lord will reveal your secrets
and cast you down in the midst of the assembly.
Because you did not approach the fear of the Lord,
and your heart was full of deceit.
- Foreword The Law, the prophets, and the authors who followed them: an indication of the eventual tripartite division of the Hebrew Scriptures: Law (torah), Prophets (nebi’im), and Writings (ketubim), shortened in the acronym Tanak. Thirty-eighth…Euergetes: 132 B.C. The reference is to Ptolemy VII, Physkon Euergetes II (170–163; 145–117 B.C.).
- 1:1–10 This brief poem serves as an introduction to the book. The Lord is the source and preserver of all wisdom, which he pours out upon all. See Jb 28:20–28; Prv 2:6; 8:22–31; Wis 7:25–27.
- 1:1 Wisdom: throughout the book Ben Sira describes in great detail just what wisdom is: sometimes divine (1:6, 8), sometimes a synonym for God’s law (24:22–23). Ben Sira makes clear that all wisdom comes from God.
Other ancient texts read as v. 5:
The wellspring of wisdom is the word of God in the heights,
and its runlets are the ageless commandments.
Other ancient texts read as v. 7:
An understanding of wisdom—to whom has this been disclosed;
her resourcefulness, who has known?
- 1:8–10 In contrast to Jb 28, wisdom is not only with God, but given to all, especially Israel; see Bar 3:9; 4:4.
- 1:11–30 This is one of several poems of 22 bicola, or poetic lines, corresponding to the number of letters in the Hebrew alphabet. Ben Sira uses the expression “fear of the Lord” twelve times and the noun “wisdom” seven times to emphasize the connection between the two ideas. He describes the blessings that come to those who fear the Lord, i.e., those who practice true religion by loving and serving God and keeping the Law (2:7–10, 15–17; 4:11–16; see Dt 6:1–5, 24). Such blessings recur throughout the book.
- 1:11 Fear of the Lord: Ben Sira identifies wisdom with the fear of the Lord (vv. 26–27).
Other ancient texts read as v. 12cd:
Fear of the Lord is the Lord’s gift;
also for love he makes firm paths.
Other ancient texts read as v. 18cd:
Both are gifts of God toward peace;
splendor opens out for those who love him.
- 1:23–24 Ben Sira pays close attention to kaīros, the right time, occurring some sixty times in his book.
- 1:28–30 Attempting to serve the Lord with duplicity of heart is hypocrisy and self-exaltation, deserving of public disgrace.