ECCLESIASTICUS. One of the deutero canonical books of the Old Testament. It is found in the Greek Bible and its daughter versions,. in the Latin Vulgate, and in Syriac manuscripts, and recognized as a part of the canon of the Roman Catholic .and the Oriental churches, but not included in that of the Palestinian Jews, and therefore counted as apocryphal by Jerome and other Church fathers as well as by the Protestants, and with drawn from public use in the Greek Orthodox churches of Russia, Serbia and Bulgaria. The title is a transliteration of the Greek ekklesias tikos which is the superscription in Cod. 248. It has been plausibly explained, on the basis of a statement by Rufinus, as derived from the custom of referring to books used in the Church, but not in the synagogue, as libri ecclesiastici, or "ecclesiastical reading-books," this designation attaching itself permanently to the one especially employed in the moral instruction of the catechumens. In the Greek Bible it is called "The Wiidom of Jesus son of Sirach" or "The Wisdom of Sirach"; Clement of Alexandria and others speak of it as "The Pedagogue" or "The Teacher of all the Virtues" (Panaretos). From the prologue to the Greek translation we learn that it was originally written in Hebrew. Jerome states, in his preface to the Solomonic books, that he found a Hebrew copy of Ecclesiasticus, united in one volume with Canticles and Ecclesiastes, entitled "Proverbs." Rabbis of the Talmudic period frequently refer to it under this title, or as "The Wisdom of Ben Sira," or simply as "Ben Sira? About 80 quotations, many of them from the Babylonian Talmud, five from the Palestinian Talmud and a number front other Jewish sources down to the 11th century, have been gathered. Not infrequently it is quoted as "Scripture" showing that, in spite of its exclusion from the Palestinian canon, it still had some sort of recognition, especially in Babylonia, similar to that which it enjoyed in the Church. Saadia the Gaon, who quoted the book, knew of copies provided with vowel points and accents like the biblical books. Too much must not be inferred from this, how ever, as he alludes to other writings similarly treated and mentions it in defense of having thus pointed one of his own books. As late as in the 11th century the Hebrew text was known to Nissim ben Jacob of Kairawan who spread in the West the traditions of Sura. The so-called
°Alphabet of Ben Sira,° translated by Fagius and published with a commentary by Drusius, is only in part composed of genuine quotations from the book. For many centuries neither Jews nor Christians had any further knowl edge of the Hebrew original; and some scholars ventured the opinion that the passages quoted had been translated from the Greek or the Syriac.
The recovery of extensive portions of the lost Hebrew text between 1896 and 1900 was, therefore, as unexpected as it was welcome. Fragments of four manuscripts, covering ap proximately two-thirds of the work, were dis covered. Though the first leaf was brought from Palestine by Mrs. Agnes Lewis Smith, the discovery is rightly connected with the name of Solomon Schechter who surmised whence it came, gained permission to examine the genizo, or °hiding-place° for worn-out copies of the Scripture and books not approved for public use, in the synagogue at Cairo, car ried to Cambridge a large part of its contents, and identified most of the leaves. The manu scripts seem to come from the 11th and 12th centuries. It is of considerable value that they occasionally overlap, so that in some cases two for four verses three, are available, especially as they have the appearance of exhibiting to some extent two different recensions of the text. On the other hand, it is to be regretted that so many parts are still missing. Among these is the fine poetic description of wisdom in chap. xxiv, the Hebrew text of which was conjecturally restored by Lowth and Fritzsche; of chap. 1, Fritzschc's translation can now be compared with the original, and the measure of success and failure is highly instructive. The contention of Margoliouth that the dis covered manuscripts represent a translation from the Greek made by a Persian Jew slightly acquainted with the Syriac version has not commended itself to other scholars. But though they are, no doubt, descendants of the Hebrew original, they are late copies and have manifestly suffered much in transmission. It is not inconceivable that some changes and additions may be due to a version but it is more likely that they originated in a second recension of the Hebrew text be fore the Syriac translation was made. The Persian glosses in the margin of one manu script only indicate the home or nativity of the copyist.