"Good things come in small packages" describes this excellent commentary on the Book of Sirach, also known as the Book of Ecclesiasticus. This biblical book was originally written in Hebrew in Jerusalem by Jesus Ben Sira c.180 B.C.E. and translated into Greek by his grandson in Egypt c.117 B.C.E. Sira was a Jewish wisdom teacher at Jerusalem and attempted to blend together the ancient wisdom of the Near East with the wisdom found in the Torah. Harrington's book goes beyond studying the Book of Sirach and gives a summary exposition of the other wisdom literature found in the Old Testament, viz., Proverbs, Job, Qoheleth/Ecclesiastes, and the Wisdom of Solomon. It also examines the wisdom teachings found in the New Testament in the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew's Gospel, in the Epistle of James, and in the wisdom texts found in the Dead Sea Scrolls. The author situates the Book of Sirach within the wisdom traditions of ancient Israel and the New Testament while showing the parallels, likenesses, and differences found in each.
Chapter three gives a summary exegesis of the entire Book of Sirach bringing the New Testament into play at times with comparisons and analogies as well as engaging other common ancient Near Eastern wisdom traditions. It places special emphasis upon Ben Sira as a teacher and makes use of solid contemporary biblical research in the process. The author shows that Ben Sira used many different literary forms in his wisdom teaching while seeking to integrate secular wisdom with biblical wisdom. His original audience consisted of "young Jewish males on the way to becoming scribes/sages" (p. 85). Harrington suggests that Ben Sira wrote his book as a textbook in the first century B.C.E. and describes it as "a handbook for personal and spiritual formation" (p. 101) and that his teachings are still valid and relevant today although he frankly admits that Ben Sira was definitely a male chauvinist.
The book concludes by examining ten major themes as "interfaces" with other contemporary wisdom literature including both Old and New Testament books as well as writings found in the Dead Sea Scrolls and other extra biblical works while asking questions about each to the reader for personal meditation. These "spiritual exercises" reflect ten major teachings found in the book itself and are given to the reader as "a method for reading Ben Sira's book and better appreciating Ben Sira's person and teaching...and also show that Ben Sira should be regarded as a major voice within Second Temple Judaism.... But the most important lesson we can learn from Jesus Ben Sira today is that the quest for wisdom never ends" (pp. 131-132).
This reviewer thinks that Harrington's book is one of the best books available as an introductory study to the Book of Sirach. The book itself is very readable while Ben Sira grapples with the most important questions of life itself. The author, however, does not go into any detail why and how the book also became known as the Book of Ecclesiasticus.