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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