The Book of Sirach: Book Analysis

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ID No. 08-1221
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Wisdom Literature
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Fr. Randolf Flores, SVD

“Listen!”
An Exegesis of Sirach 3:1-16

I. Introduction

The Book of Sirach (also called the Book of Ben Sira or Ecclesiasticus) is recognized and valued for its instructive and enlightening teachings. One particular value of reading and studying Sirach comes from the light its sheds on the role of Jesus as a sage. This is the reason why the Book of Ben Sira is very relevant. It is cited well on various discussions concerning family matters and relationships especially during family encounters, recollections and retreats. We learn practical pieces of advice and morsels of truth for our daily living. This study shall discuss vv. 1-16 of the 3rd chapter of Sirach. The researcher shall also answer the question why Ben Sira wrote the duties and obligations of children to their parents. Another question which the researcher shall probe in this study is to distinguish whether the “atonement for sins” mentioned in v. 3 and v.15 “Like Frost in Fair Weather, Your Sins Will Melt Away” are tantamount to the way sins are forgiven through the sacrament of reconciliation as we understand it today.

II. Literary Structure
This book has three major divisions according to Ceresko. The “Origin of Wisdom” which is the opening poem serves as an introduction to the entire book. The passage containing the “duty toward parents” (3:1-16) belongs to the First Major Division (1:1 – 23:28).

I.First Major Division (1:1-23:28) - Various Moral Teachings II.Second Major Division (24:1:43:33) – Further Instructions III.The Third Major Division (44:1-50:24) - Praise of the Ancestors

Ben Sira divided his lesson on the honor owed to parents into positive (vv. 1-9) and negative duties (vv. 10-16). Various discourses and directives on a variety of topics such as “trust in God” (2:1-18), “alms-giving” (3:30-4:6) and “friendship” (6:5-17; 11:29-12:18; 22:19-26) are all part of the other twenty-two chapters of the book.

III. Historical Milieu
Sirach is the only book of the Old Testament in which the author gives us his name, “Jesus, son of Eleazar, son of Sirach (=Hebrew ben Sira)” (50:27). The author of Ben Sira was a wise man of Jerusalem who lived in the period of the Hellenization of Palestine. From the references in his book, it appears that he belonged to a prosperous Jerusalem family and may even have been a member of the scribal class. Ben Sira presents to us the episode in the history of the Jewish people that witnessed the domination of the Hellenistic kings. These rulers impended to sabotage and to interfere with the traditional networks of family and kinship ties among the Jewish people because of their unjust and greedy economic demands and procedures to suck up off their wealth and resources. Well-educated in the traditional values of his people and well-versed in the ways of the world in which he lived, Ben Sira treasured above all the relationship with Israel his people. Rooted in the covenant bond and flowing from it was the union of the family and therefore the clan, the tribe and the entire nation. Within the Jewish family unit, future generations were nourished physically as well as spiritually, morally and culturally in order to carry on the treasured faith and tradition of God’s chosen people. These are the historical contexts which influenced Ben Sira’s writing.

IV. Exegesis of the Text
The passage on the honor owed to parents is divided into positive (vv. 1-9) and negative duties (vv. 10-16). For the positive duties, the text opens with a statement about a parent’s right, together with the motive: life – a clear echo of Exod. 20:12. On the other hand, the negative duties (vv. 10-16) begin with a contrasting view between shame and honor.

1. Listen O Children (vv.1-2)...
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