Jesus Ben Sirach

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Authors born between 200 BCE and 200 CE

[ Jesus Ben Sirach ] Sima Qian ] Tiruvalluvar ] Lucretius ] Vitruvius ] Jesus of Nazareth ] Wang Ch'ung ] Epictetus ]

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Contents

Introduction

Living

Friendship

Family

Riches

Speaking

Eating and Drinking

Lending and Borrowing

The Poor

The Rich and Powerful

Men to Avoid

Dreams

Advice

Death

Source

 

Introduction

In about 200 BCE, Jesus the son of Sirach, a Jewish scholar, wrote down a compilation of the wisdom he had gathered during his life. His son passed on the manuscript to his own son. In 132 BCE, this grandson took the manuscript with him from Palestine to Alexandria, where he translated it some time later from Hebrew to Greek, "in order that it might be studied by his fellow believers in Alexandria and elsewhere who spoke and read only in that language". Greek was the shared language of regions in south western Asia at that time. 

Jesus ben Sirach extolled the value of health over riches, advised occupying a dwelling of one's own no matter how humble, advocated cheerfulness and being comfortable with one's life, warned against disruptive passions, and urged that one should not defraud oneself of one good day, for there is no luxury to be enjoyed in the grave.

In the Hebrew text the authorís name is given as Simeon the son of Jeshua the son of Eleazar the son of Sira. However, the book did not enter into the Jewish religious canon. In the Christian church it was pronounced suitable for the instruction of the people by Jerome, and was used by Augustine. The material Jesus Ben Sirach left behind depends strongly on Jewish religious traditions, but also contains much that is similar to the wisdom literature of the Egyptians (as we have received it from Phahhotep and Amenemope, for example). It is the wisdom literature that is extracted here.

Of the original translation, Greek manuscripts and translations into Arabic have survived. There are also fragments of a Hebrew text. Significant variations exist between the versions that have come down to us, and it is likely that subsequent editors have added to the text. The compilation has entered the Christian Bible as one of the books of the Apocrypha.

 

Living

1 A poor man of sound and strong of constitution

Is better off than a rich man plagued in his body.

Health and a good constitution are better than all gold,

And a strong body better than immeasurable wealth.

There are no riches better than bodily health;

And no gladness higher than a heart full of joy.

Death is better than a bitter life,

And eternal rest better than a continual sickness.

 

2 The chief needs for life are water, bread, and clothes,

And oneís own dwelling to avoid shame.

Better live as a poor man under a shelter of logs,

Than live off sumptuous fare in another man's house.

Be satisfied with what you have, whether it is little or much.

It is a miserable life going from house to house,

Where you are always a temporary guest:

You fear to open your mouth, you are asked to entertain,

And to pass out drinks

You receive no thanks; worse, you hear bitter words.

 

3 Do not immerse yourself in sorrow,

Or make yourself ill with your own dark thoughts.

Gladness of heart is the life of a man,

And cheerfulness multiplies his days.

Love what you are, seek your own comfort,

And push sorrow aside.

For many have been destroyed by sorrow,

And there is no benefit in it.

Envy and anger shorten a man's life,

And anxiety brings on old age before its time.

A cheerful and optimistic outlook ensures you enjoy

The benefits from good food and diet.

 

4 Do not bow down to your own passions

Or they will tear your to pieces, like an angry bull;

You will be like a tree that eats its own leaves,

And fades to dry timber.

Evil passions destroy the man they rule,

And make him the laughingstock of his enemies.

 

5 Do well by your friend before you die;

Be generous to him according to your ability.

Do not defraud not yourself of one good day;

And do not let a chance for healthy enjoyment pass by.

Will you leave all you labored for to others?

Is what you toiled foróto be divided by lot?

Enjoy giving and receiving, and pass your time pleasantly;

For there is no luxury to be sought in the grave.

All flesh wears out like an old garment;

For the bargain from the beginning has been

You shall surrender to death.

Among leaves flourishing on a thick tree,

Some are dropped, others flourish.

So it is with generations of peopleó

One reaches his end, and another is born.

Every work of man decays and falls apart,

And the workman departs with it.

 

6 Call no man happy before his death,

For only then can a manís life be assessed.

 

Friendship

 

7 A faithful friend is a powerful protection,

And he that has found one has found treasure.

Nothing can be taken in exchange for a faithful friend;

And his excellency is beyond price.

A faithful friend is the elixir of life.

 

8 Sweet words will multiply a man's friends,

And a fair-speaking tongue will multiply courtesies.

Let many people feel at ease with you,

But take advice from only one in a thousand.

 

9 Do not abandon an old friend;

For a new one cannot be compared to him.

As with new wine, so it is with a new friend;

When it ages and matures, you drink it with pleasure.

 

10 If you seek a new friend, prove his qualities first,

And do not be in haste to trust him.

For one can appear friendly to suit his own ends,

And then not stand by you in times of trouble.

Another may be a friend who switches to enmity;

And he will make trouble for you in public.

And there is a friend who is happy to share your food,

But disappears when things go bad.

 

Wisdom

 

11 My son, seek instruction from your youth onwards,

And even when your hair is white you will uncover wisdom.

Approach wisdom as a farmer, plowing and sowing,

And waiting for a good harvest.

For your efforts will be short, and you will soon eat the fruits of your labor.

How exceeding harsh is wisdom to the unlearned!

He that is without understanding cannot abide her.

She leans on him like a rock to test him,

And he will quickly cast her aside.

For wisdom is for the wise,

And she does not display herself to the many

 

12 Do not neglect discussions by wise men,

And become conversant with their maxims.

From them you will receive instruction,

And learn how to serve great men.

Do not spurn the words of the agedó

They learned from their fathers;

From them you can gain knowledge,

And be able to respond in time of need.

 

13 Wisdom can raise his head of a poor man high,

And put him in the ranks of great men.

 

14 After shaking a sieve, the rubbish remains behind.

Reasoning tests a man in the same way.

And as a furnace proves the soundness of a potter's vessels,

So the soundness of a man is tried in his reasoning.

The fruit of a tree displays how well it was cultivated;

So the utterance of thought displays the cultivation of a man.

Praise no man before you hear him reason;

For this is the trial of men.

 

15 A well-instructed man knows many things,

And he who has much experience will exhibit understanding.

He who has no experience of the world knows very little,

But one who has traveled will become wise.

In my wandering I have seen many things,

And what I know exceeds what I have said.

Often I was in danger, even of death,

And survived because of what I knew.

 

16 A stupid man cannot be taught,

But craftiness can harbor bitter thoughts.

The knowledge of a wise man is a river in flood;

His advice is a spring of pure water.

A fool has a mind like a bucket with a hole in it:

It retains nothing.

If a learned man hears a wise saying,

He will commend it, and add to it.

The dissolute man hears it, and he is angry,

And thrusts it behind him.

The discourse of a fool is a burden;

But elegance is found on the lips of the wise.

 

17 Wisdom comes to a learned man from opportunity for leisure;

And he that is not kept busy all day long can become wise.

How can a man steering a plough become learned,

Exercising his skill with the goad,

Driving his oxen, preoccupied with their efforts,

Discussing all the time the breeding of bulls?

He will set his heart upon turning his furrows;

And his mind is taken up with giving his heifers their feed.

So it is with every worker or master of crafts,

Who works through day and night.

 

18 All such as these put their trust in their hands,

And each becomes learned in his own work.

Without these a city will not be inhabited,

Men will not live there, or walk through its streets.

But such men will not be on local councils,

And in meetings they will not have much to offer.

They will not be raised to the judiciary,

And will not interpret legal rulings.

They will not be sources of moral guidance,

And parables are beyond them.

But they maintain the fabric of the world;

And are dedicated to the handiwork of their craft.

 

19 How different is a man with an active mind,

Who pursues the understanding of ultimate truths.

He will seek out the wisdom of men of the past,

And will attempt to understand what the future holds.

He will converse with the men of renown,

And will investigate the subtleties of parables.

He will seek out the hidden meanings of proverbs,

And be conversant in the interpretation of paradoxes.

He will serve among great men,

And appear before political leaders.

He will travel through foreign lands,

Investigating both good and evil among men.

 

20 Many will commend his learning,

Which will be renowned as long as the world endures.

His memory shall not sink from sight,

And his name shall live throughout generations.

Nations shall recognize his wisdom,

And those who know him will praise him.

 

Family

 

21 As you should not abandon a friend over some trivial thing,

So you should not lose a true brother for all the gold of Ophir.

Do not spurn a wise and good wife;

For her grace is above gold.

Do not cheat an honest workmen,

Or treat a servant badly who does his best.

 

22 Do you have cattle? Take good care of them.

If they are profitable, keep them.

Do you have children? Keep them under control,

And teach them discipline from the start.

Do you have daughters? Teach them modesty,

And do not spoil them.

If you give your daughter away in marriage

You will have done well.

But make sure he is a man of understanding.

Do you have a congenial wife? Do not divorce her;

But do not trust one that is hateful.

Honor your father with your whole heart;

And do not forget the birth-pangs of your mother.

Remember your parents gave you birth.

How can you recompense them

for things that they have done for you?

 

23 While you live, do not give power over you

To a son and wife, a brother, or friend.

And do not give your goods to another,

For fear you will regret it and ask for them back.

While you are still alive and breath is in you,

Do not give yourself over to anybody.

For it is better that your children should come to you,

Than that you should look for handouts from them.

In all your affairs keep the upper hand;

Do not bring a stain on your honor.

At the end of your days, at the time of death,

Then is the time to distribute your property.

 

24 The beauty of a woman pleases a man;

And a man desires nothing so much as this.

If she has a meek and merciful tongue,

Her husband is happier than other men.

He that marries a wife enlarges his possessions,

He gains a helper, and a place of rest.

Where there is no fence, your possessions will be gone;

Where a man has no wife, he will be unhappy

As he wanders up and down.

For who will trust a nimble robber, that slips from city to city?

In the same way, who will trust a man that has no home,

And lodges wherever he finds himself at nightfall?

 

25 For a quiet man, living with a nagging wife

Is like the exertions of an old man trying to climb a sand dune.

 

26 Turn your eyes away from an attractive woman,

And gaze not on another's beauty:

By the beauty of a woman many have been led astray;

For by it love is kindled as a conflagration.

Do not sit not at all with a woman that has a husband;

And do not revel with her at wine,

In case your emotions turn warmly to her,

And your desires lead you to destroy yourself.

 

Riches

 

27 Many cheat to gain little;

In seeking riches, one will turn a blind eye.

As a tent peg slides into a crack in a rock face,

So deception enters between seller and buyer.

 

28 A rich man toils in increasing his wealth,

And when he rests, he is filled with good things.

A poor man toils with little reward,

And when he rests, he becomes impoverished.

There is no justification for lust after money;

And he who pursues destruction shall have his fill of it.

Many have been ruined in pursuit of money,

And have met disaster face to face.

It is a stumbling block to those who sacrifice their life to it,

And every fool is snared by it.

Happy is the man of means that is untainted by avarice,

And who does not pursue money as his goal.

Who is he? We will call him admirable.

For he has achieved something wonderful among his people.

Who has been tested in this way and found perfect?

Let him be proud.

 

29 Do not be insatiable for any luxury,

And do not be gluttonous in the things that you eat.

For eating a multitude of meats can cause disease,

And overeating will bring an aching belly.

Surfeit of food has caused many to perish;

But he who eats moderately will prolong his life.

 

Speaking

 

30 Be a readier listener, but take care what you reply.

If you are sure your knowledge, give advice your neighbor;

Otherwise, let your hand guard your mouth.

Both glory and dishonor come from talk,

For a manís tongue can cause his downfall.

Do not be known for whispering behind peopleís backs,

And do not try to destroy a personís reputation;

For shame is heaped upon thief,

And deceptive speech is abhorred.

 

31 Prepare your speech properly, and you will be heard;

Assemble your knowledge, and make your answer.

The sentiments of a fool are like a cartwheel,

And his thoughts spin like a rolling axle.

A mocking friend is like a stallion

That neighs under every one that sits upon him.

 

32 He who reveals secrets destroys his own credit,

And shall never find a close friend.

Love a friend, and keep faith with him:

But if you reveal his secrets,

You must not go with him again;

For as a man destroys his enemy,

So have you destroyed friendship.

 

33 One man keeps silent, and is found wise;

Another is hated for talking too much.

One man is silent, having nothing to say;

Another is silent, knowing when to speak.

A wise man will be silent until it is time for him to speak;

But the braggart and fool will talk at any time.

He who uses too many words will be shunned;

And he who seizes authority to himself shall be hated.

 

34 A slip on a pavement is better than a slip with the tongue;

The downfall of the corrupt comes just as speedily.

A man without grace is as a tale told at the wrong time,

Continually in the mouth of the ignorant.

Even a wise sentence from a fool's mouth will be rejected;

For he will not speak it at the right time.

 

35 Curse the whisperer and slanderer,

For he has destroyed many who were at peace.

A third person's tongue has toppled many,

And driven them from nation to nation;

And it has pulled down strong cities,

And overthrown the work of great men.

A third person's tongue has cast out brave women,

And deprived them of their labors.

He who listens to it shall not find rest.

No, he shall not live quietly.

The stroke of a whip makes a mark in the flesh,

But the stroke of a tongue will break bones.

Many have been felled by the edge of the sword,

But more have been brought low because of the tongue.

 

36 Do not reproach a man after he has reformed:

Remember, we all merit punishment.

Do not treat dishonorably a man in his old age,

For some of us are also growing old.

Do not rejoice not that someone has died:

Remember, we all die.

 

Eating and Drinking

 

37 Have they chosen you to preside at a banquet?

Do not let pride overcome you.

Behave as one of the crowd;

Consider them, before you sit down.

When you have done what is required of you,

Then you can take your seat.

Then you will be happy at their enjoyment,

And will receive commendation for making things go well.

 

38 Speak, if you are older, for it is your privilege,

But make sure you know what you are talking about,

And donít hold up the music.

It is wrong to keep talking where music is to be played:

That is the wrong time to display your learning.

A concert of music at a banquet

Is a ruby garnet set in a gold signet ring.

A melody with pleasant wine

Is an emerald signet in a work of gold.

 

39 Do not elbow your way to the food

and do not grab for whatever you see.

Give as much consideration to your neighbor's wishes

As to your own,

And be courteous in everything.

Eat politely those things set before you.

Do not eat not greedily, or people will be disgusted.

For the sake of good manners, be first to finish;

Do not give offense by going on eating for ever.

And if you are dining among a group of people,

Do not reach out your hand before the others.

 

40 Do not display your skill at swallowing wine,

For wine has destroyed many.

The temper of steel is established in a furnace;

Wine finds out character when men get noisy.

Wine is as good as life to men,

If you drink it in proper measure.

What sort of life has a man without wine?

It has been created to make men happy.

Wine drunk moderately and with satisfaction

Is gladness and joy to the heart.

Wine drunk over much leads to bitterness,

To provocation, and to conflict.

 

Lending and Borrowing

 

41 Lend to your neighbor when he is in need.

Pay your own debt to your neighbor on time;

Meet your bond and maintain his trust in you,

And you will find the help you need at all times.

Many have considered a loan as a gift dropped from the sky,

And have made trouble for those who lent it to them.

Until he receives a loan, such a one will kiss a man's hands,

And speak submissively for his neighbor's money.

But when payment is due, he will demand more time,

And speak angrily, and complain he is being pressured.

If he gives way, he will grudgingly pay back half,

And the lender will be glad to get even that returned.

If he refuses to pay up, the lender has lost his money

And has obtained, through no fault of his own,

An enemy who will tender him curses and abuse,

And provide him with disgrace instead of honor.

 

42 A good man will act as surety for his neighbor;

But he that is without shame will not.

Remember the kindness of one who has provided surety,

Because he has put his living on the line for you.

A wicked man will consume the property of one who pledges his property for him;

And an unthankful man will fail him that got him out of debt.

Acting as surety has impoverished many that were prospering,

And, like a wave of the sea, brought them low.

It has driven powerful men from their homes,

So that they found themselves in places foreign to them.

 

The Poor

 

43 My son, do not take away a poor manís livelihood,

Or make one with needy eyes wait at your pleasure.

Do not bring sorrow to a hungry man,

Or anger a man in distress.

To a heart that is disturbed add no more trouble,

And do not put off giving to one in need.

Do not reject someone who appeals to you for help,

And do not turn your face away from a poor man.

Do not avert your eyes from someone who seeks your help,

And give no man occasion to curse you.

 

44 Listen to what a poor man has to say,

And respond with calm and gentle words.

Rescue from injustice one who has been wronged,

But remain firm in giving judgment.

Be as a father to the fatherless,

And assist their mothers.

 

45 The bread of the needy is the life of the poor:

He that deprives him of this is a murderer.

He who takes away his neighborís livelihood is like one who kills him.

And he who deprives a man of his employment is like one who sheds blood.

One building, and another pulling down,

What have they got out of it but wasted exertion?

 

46 Gain the trust of your neighbor when he is poor,

That in his prosperity you may have gladness.

Stick steadfastly with him in his time of difficulty,

That you may share with him his good fortune.

 

The Rich and Powerful

 

47 He who handles pitch will be made filthy;

And he who associates with a proud man shall become like him.

Do not take not up a burden beyond your strength;

And do not associate with one that is mightier and richer than you.

What companionship is there between an earthen pot and kettle?

Bring one up against the other and the pot will be smashed.

When a rich man does something wrong, he threatens you.

When a poor man is wronged, he can only entreat.

If you are profitable, a rich man will take over your property;

And if you become poor, he will leave you.

 

48 Every living creature loves its like,

And every man loves one who lives nearby.

All animals consort according to their kind,

And a man will cleave to his like.

What fellowship shall the wolf have with the lamb?

So is the dishonest to the honest.

What peace is there between the hyena and the dog?

And what peace between the rich man and the poor?

Wild asses are the prey of lions in the wilderness;

So poor men are pasture for the rich.

Lowliness is abominable to a proud man;

So a poor man is abominable to the rich.

 

Men to Avoid

 

49 Do not get up in anger and leave an insolent man

For fear he will use your own words to achieve your downfall.

Do not make a loan to a man more powerful than you,

But if you do, assume itís a loss.

Do not back anotherís loan beyond your means;

Always assume you will have to pay.

 

50 Do not go around with a reckless man,

As he may bring misfortune to you.

He will act rashly,

And you will be brought low by his stupidity.

Do not quarrel with a quick-tempered man,

And do not travel with him through lonely parts:

For violence is nothing to him,

And where you have no one to help you, he will do you ill.

Donot  discuss your affairs with a fool,

For he will not be able to conceal what you confide in him.

Do not be indiscrete before a stranger,

For you do not know how he will respond.

Do not open your heart to all you meet,

And do not accept a favors from them.

 

Dreams

 

51 A man lacking understanding pursues vain and false hopes;

And dreams give wings to the imagination of fools.

As one that grabs at shadows and chases after the wind,

So is he that concentrates his mind on dreams.

The vision of dreams is like one thing turned into another,

The likeness of a face seen as another face.

When something is corrupted, what purity came come of it?

And of that which is false, what shall be true?

Fortune telling, forecasting the future, and dreams are vain:

Figments of the imagination, as seen by a woman in labor.

 

52 Dreams have led many astray,

Who have failed by putting their hope in them.

Free of distorted visions, things will achieve their lawful ends,

And wisdom will come to one who holds to the truth.

 

Advice

 

53 Do nothing without seeking wise advice,

And you will not have regrets when you act.

Choose a path that is free from conflict,

To avoid stumbling over obstacles.

Do not get over confident when the way is smooth,

And keep a wary eye on your own children.

 

54 Every one with advice, praises his own opinion;

But advice can reflect the advisorís own interests.

Any counselor will be advising himself as well as you,

So be wary until you know where his interest lies.

He may encourage you, saying your plan is good,

And then step aside to see what happens to you.

 

55 Do not seek advice from someone who distrusts you,

And do not offer advice to those who envy you.

Do not listen to a womanís words about her rival;

Nor to a coward about war;

Nor to a merchant about a bargain;

Nor to a buyer about selling;

Nor to an envious man about thankfulness;

Nor to an unmerciful man about kindliness;

Nor to a lazy man about any kind of work;

Nor to a workman in your house about finishing his work;

Nor to an idle servant about getting something done:

Do not rely on any of these for advice.

 

56 Bring reason to the start of every undertaking,

And take advice before every action.

 

Death

 

57 How bitter is the thought of death

To a man happy with what he has,

Living with nothing to distract him,

Prosperous in all things,

Strong and able to eat a hearty meal!

But the sentence of death is acceptable

To a man in poverty and failing in strength,

That is in extreme old ageódistraught,

Irritable, and impatient.

Do not fear deathís summons.

Remember those who have gone before you,

And those who will come after.

 

58 In life, the graciousness of a gift is recognized by every man,

And in death, the graciousness of a gift should not be withheld.

Be generous to those that weep,

Mourn with those that mourn.

Do not be slow to visit a sick manó

For by such things will you become loved.

In all your dealings remember your last end,

And you will never go wrong.

 

59 My son, let your tears fall over the dead,

And lament as one suffering grievously.

See a shroud is wound around the body according to its due,

And do not neglect not the burial.

Give way to bitter weeping and passionate lamentation,

And stay in mourning for several days,

According to the way such things are done,

So that people will not speak badly of you.

And then give up your grief,

For death comes from undue grief,

And a heart full of sorrow will destroy your vitality.

True, sorrow remains when misfortune rules,

And the poor man's life is grievous to his heart.

But do not dedicate your heart to sorrowó

Put sorrow away, remembering your end will come too.

Do not forget, there is no returning from it.

The dead will not profit from your continued grief,

And you will destroy yourself.

Remember his sentence will be your sentenceó

Yesterday for me: today for you.

When your dead friend is put to rest, let his memory rest;

And be comforted when breath has left his body.

 

 

Source

Adapted from The English Bible With Apocrypha, Revised Version. Oxford and Cambridge Presses, Oxford and Cambridge, England, 1901.

 

Other versions of the text can be found in The Wisdom of Jesus Ben Sirach The New English Bible with Apocrypha, Oxford University Press and Cambridge University Press, Oxford and Cambridge, England, 1970.

 

                Introduction, Selection and Adaptation Copyright © 2001 Rex Pay