Of particular interest to biblical scholars are Chapters 44–50, in which Ben Sira praises “men of renown, and our fathers in their generation”, starting from the antediluvian Enoch and continuing through to “Simon, the high priest, son of Onias” (300–270 BCE). Within this recitation, Ben Sira identifies, either directly or indirectly, each of the books of the Old Testament that would eventually become canonical, with the apparent exception of only Ezra, Daniel, Ruth, Esther, and perhaps Chronicles. The ability to date the composition of Sirach within a few years given the autobiographical hints of Ben Sira and his grandson (author of the introduction to the work) provides great insight regarding the historical development and evolution of the Jewish canon.
Joshua ben Sirach, or, according to the Greek text “Jesus the son of Sirach of Jerusalem”, was a Jewish scribe who had been living in Jerusalem, may have authored the work in Alexandria, Egypt ca. 180–175 BCE, where he is thought to have established a school. Ben Sirach is unique among all Old Testament and Apocryphal writers in that he signed his work.
The Prologue, attributed to Ben Sira’s grandson and dated to 132 BCE, is generally considered the earliest witness to a canon of the books of the prophets. Thus the date of the text, has been the subject of intense scrutiny by biblical scholars.
Joshua ben Sirach’s grandson was in Egypt, translating and editing after the usurping Hasmonean line had definitively ousted Simon’s heirs in long struggles and was finally in control of the High Priesthood in Jerusalem. Comparing the Hebrew and Greek versions shows that he altered the prayer for Simon and broadened its application (“may He entrust to us his mercy”), in order to avoid having a work centered around praising God’s covenanted faithfulness that closed on an unanswered prayer.