Wisdom of Ben Sira

Q. The most recently revised version of the New American Bible has changed the title of the Book of Sirach to Ben Sira. What is that about?

A. Here’s a reply from Father Reginald Martin:

The Book of Sirach has been known by many names, among them The Wisdom of Ben Sira and The Book of Ecclesiasticus. How shall we account for the diversity? In Hebrew, “Ben” means “son of,” so “Ben Sira” identifies the author of the book as the “Son of Sira” — or “Sirach,” as his name was translated into Greek. The title “Ecclesiasticus,” derived from the Latin word for “Church,” comes into play because the book was so often used in Roman Catholic liturgy.

Actually, the Sirach (or Sira) of the book’s title identifies himself not as the book’s author, but the mere recorder of his grandfather’s wisdom. This grandfather’s name was Jesus (or Joshua), and he was another “Ben Sira.”

The Book of Sirach has an interesting history. Joshua, whose wisdom it represents, was a resident of Jerusalem, writing in Hebrew. In the prologue to the book, his grandson, part of the expatriate Jewish community in Egypt, describes translating the work (into Greek) in the second century B.C. For various reasons, the book was not universally accepted by Jewish authorities and was thus rejected by Protestant Reformers, although the Letter of James and other early Christian documents cite it.