Sirach, Chapter 22
It has been said that Sirach does not belong in the Bible. Sirach 22:3 is commonly interpreted as “It is a disgrace to be the father of an undisciplined son, and the birth of a daughter is a loss.” (RSV) In the first it is said that no inspired work would, or could ever, say that the birth of a daughter is a loss. What of it? And what is the Catholic response to this?
Let us concentrate first on the Sirach passage. Has our opponent rightly understood this passage? How are we to understand it? Let it be first be said that the Book of Sirach has two names. One is Sirach, the other is Ecclesiasticus. Why Ecclesiaticus? Ecclesiaticus means “Book of the Church”! And where did it get that name? It is a historical fact that this book was used for the catechumens who desired to enter the Church. It was used so much by the early Christians in their teaching that it got this nickname “book of the Church.” So you can see it was widely used by the first Christians, the one who were trained by the Apostle’s themselves.
No on to understanding what is meant by “the birth of a daughter is a loss.” A comparison of different translations gives us a little insight. You’ve read the RSV version.
Now from the New Jerusalem Bible:
“It is a disgrace to have fathered a badly brought–up son, but the birth of any daughter is a loss.”
The New American Bible:
“An unruly child is a disgrace to its father; if it be a daughter she brings him to poverty.”
The King James:
An evil nurtured son is the dishonour of his father that begat him: and a [foolish] daughter is born to his loss.”
With these parallel verses we can begin to see what Ben Sirach meant when he wrote this. Not that “any” daughter is a “loss”, but that a “foolish” one will bring him to poverty. The Jerome Biblical commentary says this “On Laziness and Foolishness (22:1-18 ). Sirach digresses and concentrates on the lot of the fool. In a series of loosely connected maxims he gives various consequences of folly and counsels the proper course of action in dealing with the fool. Finally, he returns to his original theme by contrasting the constancy of the sage with the instability of the fool. 3 .poverty: An unruly daughter brings financial loss as well as disgrace; no one will agree to marry her, and she must be supported at home.” Now this makes much sense especially when compared to the other things Sirach wrote concerning daughters.
Give a daughter in marriage; you will have finished a great task. But give her to a man of understanding. Sirach 7:25(RSV)
Keep strict watch over a headstrong daughter, lest, when she finds liberty, she use it to her hurt. Sirach 26:10 (RSV)
A woman will accept any man, but one daughter is better than another.
Sirach 36:21 (RSV)
A daughter keeps her father secretly wakeful, and worry over her robs him of sleep; when she is young, lest she do not marry, or if married, lest she be hated;
whilea virgin, lest she be defiled or become pregnant in her father's house; or having a husband, lest she prove unfaithful, or, though married, lest she be barren.Keep strict watch over a headstrong daughter, lest she make you a laughingstock to your enemies, a byword in the city and notorious among the people, and put you to shame before the great multitude. Sirach 42:9-11 (RSV)
As is quite evident from these other texts concerning “daughters”, Sirach is obviously concerned about the ‘wayward’, or ‘foolish’ daughter, not every daughter. To take verse 22:3 out of its context as has been done by non-Catholics is truly poor scholarship.
It is said the Council of Jamnia (A Jewish Council in 90 AD) did not include them (the Deuterocanonicals) in their final canon. One problem with that is that the Jewish Church had lost its authority to decide the Canon after the destruction of the Jewish Temple and thus their place as Gods’ people on earth. They were replaced by Christianity, and the Church would decide what was, and was not, canonical Scripture. The second problem, as F.F. Bruce, noted Protestant Biblical scholar, was jealousy. Bruce noted that the reason the Jews rejected the Deuterocanonicals, especially Sirach, was because the Christians were so successful in converting people to Christianity using those books
In conclusion, it must be noted that this one passage of Scripture cannot be used to attempt to defame this Sacred Book. As part of the Greek Septuagint, the Scripture that Jesus and His Apostle’s were most prone to quote, along with the fact that the early Church used it most extensively in its catechizing of initiates, Sirach is most definitely a member of the Canon of the Holy Bible.