Ben Sira 50: The Glory of the High Priest


Second Temple Model

Second Temple Model, Israel Museum. By Ariely – Own work, CC BY 3.0,

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.

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