The Apocrypha’s “The Wisdom of Sirach” I – Laundry List of What to Embrace and What to Avoid When Living Your Life
Books make great gifts, and on special occasions, such as high school or college graduation, parents often bestow a handful of tried-and-true tomes to arm their children as they make their way in the world. Several of these types of books exist—such as Seuss’ Oh, The Places You’ll Go—and tend to provide little kernels of wisdom. One such book is 50 Rules for Sons. This small book asks little commitment of its reader, although the back cover touts it as the “The only guide book to life your son will ever need,” and its above-average size print, and, pocket size makes it ideal for a bathroom book.
Books like these are surprisingly useful, although the audience is important. Often, we forget how much we didn’t know about life in our late teens, so reminders about thinking long and hard before getting a tattoo, how to be a good friend (i.e. dependable), and reading at least 30 minutes a day in order to broaden your world view (all rules in Hoch’s book), might seem too obvious a point to mention when you’ve experienced a bit of life.
The Apocrypha’s “Ecclesiasticus, or Wisdom of Jeshua, the Son of Sirach” (shortened to “The Wisdom of Sirach,” apparently) contains the reflections of a “learned and experienced man who is conscious of his own attainments. The author is concerned for “religious truth and observance.” He places an emphasis on worldly wisdom that comes from experience. He also has a low opinion of women. In short, this former Bible book is a collection of what he’s learned and wants to pass on—if you weed out the sexist thinking (such as never giving liberty to daughters (26:10) and that women are whores (26:12), a lot of it is still useful advice today
Given the format of these ideas, there’s little narrative setup that can frame these ideas, so I’ll just list a few of the notable ones:
- The weight of a man’s anger weighs him down (1:22).
- Don’t defraud a poor man of his living (4:1)
- Don’t prove to be an enemy instead of a friend to those you care about (6:1)
- Test your friends and wait to trust them (6:7)
- Embrace hard work (7:15)
- A new friend is like a new wine—it needs to age (9:10)
- Investigate before acting (11:7)
- Take the time to enjoy your own prosperity (14:14)
Yet with any advice, you have to know the person delivering it, for he is offering his take on life. For this reason, some of Sirach’s advice falls short for me. Specifically:
- Don’t investigate what is beyond your strength (3:21)—which seems to suggest that you should never challenge yourself.
- Don’t quarrel with powerful men (8:1)—which suggests that you should never stand up to those in power.
- Avoid obscure parts of the city (9:7)—although this is likely a safety issue, this advice suggests that you should only investigate the same areas as everyone else, never stray from the mainstream.
- Beat your son for his own good (30)—which suggests that the ONLY way to raise a good child is through physical abuse.
Although some readers will discount this entire book because of the nuggets of advice that ring false, modern readers should be able to parse through and take what speaks to them and what doesn’t. But perhaps many readers skip the Bible (or its associated books altogether) because they feel there’s simply too much to wade through. Now, we have the type of books Hoch has written (and others like him). We like the points to be condensed to a few sentences, which, perhaps sadly, makes them easier to process. Although a number of people might shake their head at this reality, perhaps we should rejoice at the fact that people are at least curious about how to live better, wiser lives, whether it comes from Bible-associated material or a book a soon-to-be-college student could read in one sitting.