Wisdom from the Ancients: Ben Sira

I’ve been curious about wisdom lately–what it is, how we acquire it, and from where we draw it.

I have some initial ideas about wisdom, but after thinking about it, I decided to explore further. I came across a pretty cool guy, as a matter of fact, one whom I had never heard of until adulthood.

This guy was an ancient Hebrew sage, who lived before Jesus was ever born. He wrote an entire book about wisdom, and his son found it to be so valuable and true that he translated it from Hebrew into Greek–which would have been the equivalent of taking Latin church prayers and translating them into English. The result would be wider accessibility to the knowledge, something I am always in favor of.

The name of this man (shortened, since it’s long) is Ben Sira.

Ben Sira had some great ideas about wisdom which I thought were fascinating. His book challenges me often, and ignites my imagination. Not to mention, there are also several rules for good living, which Ben Sira calls wise.

Interesting Points About This Book

  • This book is technically Pre-Christian, since it was written hundreds of years before the birth of Christ.
  • Ben Sira was a Hebrew sage who valued wisdom, the law, tradition, priesthood, Temple, and saw science and creation as a way of worshipping a Creator. Neat, right? This guy was the academe of academes.
  • He refers to wisdom as feminine. How’s that for forward-thinking?
  • He would have been part of a tradition that worshipped God and awaited a coming Messiah. This is an interesting perspective to think about!

Diving Right In

Now that you know a little about Ben Sira, here are two of the things he says that I found interesting.

  1. Wisdom is a gift of God.

The root of wisdom–to whom has it been revealed?
Her subleties–who knows them?
There is but one, wise and truly awesome,
seated upon his throne–the Lord.
It is he who created her,
saw her, and measured her,
Poured her forth upon all his works,
upon every living thing according to his bounty,
lavished her upon those who love him.

Ben Sira 1:1-10, NAB, revised edition

So, who knows wisdom? Only the Lord. And the Lord gives her (“her!” I love it) to those who love the Lord, upon every living thing according to its divine placement.
Doesn’t that make you feel protected and thought about? Doesn’t it make you feel loved to think that a Creator lovingly “lavishes” you with wisdom–a gift understood and preserved only for the divine–on you? What a bountiful, abundant existence it is to be full of love, then!

2. Wisdom brings rewards

Those who love her love life;
those who seek her out win the Lord’s favor.
Those who hold her fast will attain glory,
and they shall abide in the blessing of the Lord.
Those who serve her serve the Holy One;
those who love her the Lord loves.”

Ben Sira 4: 12-14

I love this, because you know, not everyone is Catholic. To me, this is an argument in favor of God loving everyone. If you’re not Catholic, you won’t find any condemnation here. Rather, I would invite you to think about what Ben Sira is saying. Don’t worry right now about “signing up” for the right group to visit on Sundays. Go where wisdom is. Go where truth is. Ben Sira is saying there is no such thing as finding real wisdom without also finding God–anyone who serves wisdom is serving God, because they are loving what God loves.

I’m just saying, next time some Anti-Christian tells you they’re “atheist” because of some cockamamie somethingorother about a vengeful Old Testament God, you go ahead and think about Ben Sira–whom even the “Old Testament Hebrews” thought of as a wisest-of-the-wise-guys–saying God loves you, and that you’ll find God as you seek the things that are true, good, and holy in your life. Why? Because God–even the one in the Old Testament–loves you and wants to lavish you with a love of life.

This is also super progressive of Ben Sira, since the traditional understanding was for a Messiah to come and deliver God’s chosen people, which the Hebrews thought referred to just them. But by these descriptions, God loves and waits to lavish that love on everyone–Jews and Gentiles alike. Go figure, that’s exactly what Jesus fulfilled a couple centuries later.

Neat? You bet it’s neat.

So, on goes my exploration into wisdom. Would I ever really be done? No, of course not. But I invite you to start your own quest.
I invite you to take up your own journey into understanding what wisdom is. Maybe you could teach me a thing or two.!

Resources

Here are some affiliate links to books that could help you explore more about the wisdom of Ben Sira.

Here’s a book I’d actually like to buy myself. I’m currently working through another Bible study about mercy–my first Bible study, in fact. I am hooked on studying Scripture, and if you are Catholic, you’ll know how novel this is 😉

Thomas Aquinas was another wise man who was devoted to the intellectual study of all the theology surrounding the life of Christ. Fun fact: he was also such a fan of culinary pursuits, he had a special table with a moon shape cut out so he could write letters and still have room for his tummy. Smart guy, loves good food and brew, reads lots of books….sounds like the kind of guy I’d like to hang out with, if you ask me.

Finally, it’s hard to go wrong with anything by Bishop Robert Barron. He has been seeking holy wisdom for years, and I would argue it is the main drive behind his entire vocation as a priest. He shares his insights from all his studies with us. This is another book on my wish list.

Closing

If you want to read Ben Sira in its entirety, you can find it in the Old Testament of the New American Bible, or any bible within your local Catholic church.

Really, you have every right in the world to read this yourself, and I hope you do. Remember: wisdom is thinking your own thoughts, finding things out for yourself as best as you can. So you don’t have to take my word for it!

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Wisdom

I’ve been curious about wisdom lately.

What is Wisdom?

We all want it. We all admire and respect it. We also know it when we see it. If someone gives you advice, you know right away whether or not it’s something that would allow you to advance to a new level of wisdom.

But what is wisdom, and how do we get it?

Contemporary Understanding of Wisdom

Nowadays, Webster defines wisdom as (2016):

  • The ability to discern inner qualities and relationships: INSIGHT
  • Generally accepted belief (Like saying “The wisdom of the ancients says that…”
  • Accumulated philosophical or scientific learning: KNOWLEDGE
  • A wise attitude, belief, or course of action
  • The teachings of the ancient wise men

What is Wisdom?

If we are going to go by the definition, that means we can talk about wisdom in terms of insight, forming ideas about things, knowledge, wise actions, and a study of people who are smarter than we are.

Oh Boy Do We Ever Need Wisdom Today

Why do we need to study wisdom, now more than ever?
Well:

-If you are studying wisdom, by definition you are forming your own ideas. Quick, take stock for a second: Are you forming your own ideas about politics, or are you getting your information from Instagram or Facebook or other social media? I’m not saying they’re wrong, only that if we want to be wise, we’ve got to be responsible for our own ideas.

-If you are studying wisdom, by definition you are also accumulating knowledge. Maybe this means getting a formal education. Maybe this means studying a trade–a very honorable path (that we need more folks to get skills in, desperately!). Maybe this means visiting an elderly home and being open to what they have to share (wisdom of the elders, right?). If we want to be wise, we must be constantly in search of new ideas.

-If you are studying wisdom, by definition you are also making discerning moves to take wise actions. Think about it: what patterns of thought are you keeping in your life that do not serve you? Are you promiscuous? Are you remaining friends with people who get you into bad situations? Are you holding on to excuses or self-sabotaging behavior? Now, you are still loved–if you’re doing any of these things, they don’t make you evil, and they don’t make YOU “bad.” But they also are never going to make you wise.

I’m gonna really drive that:

These actions are never going to be the actions that lead you to wisdom.

The Worst You Could Do

Based on this, the absolute worst thing you could do would be to assume that you are one of the ancients, one of the respected elderly who have done and seen and learned. The worst thing you could do would be to think that there’s nothing more you need to explore, or to tell yourself that you “don’t like reading.” SIDE NOTE: No one hates reading, really. There are people who may not be very good at it, but no one actually hates language–our modern brains evolved to LOVE and develop language, including written. It’s a part of how we’re made).

What would it look like if you were unwise?

Well, I think you’d look/act/smell/sound like a downright SNOB.

Yeah. Being a snob is probably the WORST thing you could do, if you were to acquire any wisdom.

So How Did You Do?

How’d you measure up in regards to your own wisdom seeking in your life? I know how I did, and let me tell you….I’ve got some good things to get to work on, pronto. And you know what? I’m looking forward to it. Mostly.

Resources

Here are some links to stuff that can help you get started on your path to wisdom. These are things I have perused or read myself, and I am including them as affiliate links. You should know that if you do happen to purchase any of these things, Amazon will send me a few cents from that sale, so I can keep writing blog posts. Thanks for your support!

THE RELIGIONS BOOK: Here are some ideas about where people around the world are going to encounter wisdom and draw their own wisdom experience from it.

THE CATECHISM OF THE CATHOLIC CHURCH: Here’s where I go to a lot to draw wisdom from, especially nowadays when there are more people claiming to know what I believe better than I would (I mean, honestly.).

GREAT BOOKS OF THE WESTERN WORLD: Don’t let the sticker shock get you on these. Let me tell you something: if you were to read these books well, each and every one, there would be no forum you couldn’t enter, no academic gate you couldn’t open, no person you couldn’t strike up an interesting debate with. There would be no door that could hold you back, no culture you couldn’t truly appreciate for what it is. That’s what education is SUPPOSED to give you. So, you could spend $40k on a 4-year degree, or you could spend a fraction of that on actually getting an education. A real one. And yes, I have gotten a chance to look at these books, and I swear they saved my life in a time when I was destined for nothing but changing garbage cans on nightshifts and going home to an abusive relationship. I can’t stress how wonderful and necessary books like this are.

Sources:

Mirriam-Webster, Incorporated. (2019). “Wisdom.” Retrieved from: mirriam-webster.com

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