Ben Sira Scroll from Masada, 73 CE


Wisdom of Ben Sira

The Greek translation of the apocryphal book of Ben Sira has been known to western readers since antiquity. Throughout all that time, however, there were skeptics who dismissed the notion of a Hebrew predecessor. The late nineteenth-century discovery of the Cairo Geniza included the first known Hebrew text of Ben Sira, but this did not convince all the skeptics who doubted its ancient Hebrew origins. Then Yigael Yadin’s excavations at the Herodian redoubt of Masada during the 1960s produced a fragment of Ben Sira in its original Hebrew. Some Tannaitic sages discouraged the reading of Ben Sira, and the Mishnah prohibited it as a text that “did not stain the fingers,” that is, it did not boast divine inspiration. The discovery of Ben Sira at Masada, however, is a testament to the book’s popularity in the unlikeliest of places –– a desert hilltop fortress.

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