Excerpted from Lawrence H. Schiffman, Texts and Traditions, Ktav, Hoboken 1998, p.143-145 and Revised Standard Version of the Bible, Apocrypha, copyright 1957 by the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
Writing in 180 B.C.E., Simeon ben Sira, the Jerusalemite sage, described the glory of the high priest in his service to his people and to God. Praises like this would be echoed later in the mishnaic description of the high priest as he exited the Holy of Holies on the Day of Atonement, repeated in the liturgy for that day composed in medieval times.
The leader of his brethren
And the pride of his people
was Simon the high priest, son of Onias, 85
whoin his life repaired the house,
and in his time fortified the temple.
2 He laid the foundations for the high double walls,
the high retaining walls for the temple enclosure.
3 In his days a cistern for water was quarried out,
a reservoir like the sea in circumference.
4 He considered how to save his people from ruin,
and fortified the city to withstand a siege.
5 How glorious he was when the people gathered round him
as he came out of the inner sanctuary!
6 Like the morning star amongthe clouds,
like the moon when it is full;
7 like the sun shining upon the temple of the Most High,
and like the rainbow gleaming in glorious clouds;
8 like roses in the days of the first fruits,
like lilies by a spring of water.
like a green shoot on Lebanon on a summer day
9 like fire and incense in the censer,
like a vessel of hammered gold
adorned with all kinds of precious stones;
10 like an olive tree putting forth its fruit,
and like a cypress towering in the clouds.
11 Whenhe put on his glorious robe
and clothed himself with superb perfection
and went up to the holy altar,
he made the court of the sanctuary glorious.
12 And when he received the portions
from the hands of the priests,
as he stood by the hearth ofthe altar
with a garland of brethren around him,
he was like a young cedar on Lebanon;
and they surrounded him like the trunks of palm trees,
13 all the sons of Aaron in their splendor
with the Lord’s offering in their hands,
before the wholecongregation of Israel.
14 Finishing the service at the altars
and arranging the offering to the Most High, the Almighty,
15 he reached out his hand to the cup
and poured a libation of the blood of the grape;
he poured it out at the foot of the altar,
a pleasing odor to the Most High, the King of all.
16 Then the sons of Aaron shouted,
they sounded the trumpets of hammered work,
they made a great noise to be heard
for remembrance before the Most High.
17 Then all the people together made haste
and fell to the ground upon their faces
to worship their Lord,
the Almighty, God Most High.
18 And the singers praised him with their voices
in sweet and full-toned melody.
19 And the people besought the Lord Most High
in prayer before him who is merciful,
till the order of worship of the Lord was ended-
so they completed his service.
20 Then Simon came down, and lifted up his hands
over the whole congregation of the sons of Israel,
to pronounce the blessing of the Lord with his lips, 86
and to glory in his name;
21 and they bowed down in worship a second time,
to receive the blessing from the Most High.
84. All texts from the Apocrypha taken from the Revised Standard Version Apocrypha (New York-National Council of Churches, 1957).
85. Simon II, son of Onias, was high priest in about 219-196 B.C.E.
86. The priestly blessing, Num. 6-24-25.