Sirach 25, 13 - 26, 18

The Book of Sirach, also known as Ecclesiasticus, was written in the second century BC by Jewish authors in Alexandria.

To understand the text, we should remember:

The text itself: Sirach 25,13 - 16,18

I follow the translation in the Jerusalem Bible, Darton, Longman & Todd, London 1966, pp.1070-1071. The subheadings in the text are my own. I have put into italics the phrases which are most often (mis)quoted!

Life with a troublesome wife

“Any wound rather than a wound of the heart!
Any spite rather than the spite of woman!
Any evil rather than an evil caused by an enemy!
Any vengeance rather than the vengeance of a foe!
There is no poison, worse than the poison of a snake,
there is no fury worse than the fury of an enemy.
I would sooner keep house with a lion or a dragon
than keep house with a spiteful wife.” (verses 13-16)

“A woman’s spite changes her appearance
and makes her face as grim as any bear’s.
When her husband goes out to dinner with his neighbours,
he cannot helps heaving bitter sighs. ” (verses 17-18)

No wickedness comes anywhere near the wickedness of a woman,
may a sinner’s lot be hers!” (verse 19)

“ As climbing up a sandhill is for elderly feet
such is a garrulous wife for a quiet husband.
Do not be taken in by a woman’s beauty,
never lose your head over a woman.” (verses 20-21)

“ Bad temper, insolence and shame hold sway
where the wife supports the husband.
Low spirits, gloomy face, stricken heart:
such the achievements of a spiteful wife.
Slack hands and sagging knees
indicate a wife who makes her husband wretched.” (verses 22-23)

“Sin began with a woman,
and thanks to her we all must die.

Do not let water find a leak,
do not allow a spiteful woman free rein for her tongue.
If she will not do as you tell her,
get rid of her.” (verses 24-26)

Life with a caring wife

“ Happy the husband of a really good wife;
the number of his days will be doubled.
A perfect wife is the joy of her husband,
he will live out the years of his life in peace.
A good wife is the best of portions,
reserved for those who fear the Lord;
rich or poor, they will be glad of heart,
cheerful of face, whatever the season.” (Chapter 26, verses 1-4)

Suffering brought by an unruly wife

“There are three things my heart dreads,
and a fourth which terrifies me:
slander by a whole town, the gathering of a mob,
and a false accusation—these are all worse than death;
but a woman jealous of a woman means heartbreak and sorrow,
and all this is the scourge of the tongue.” (verses 5-6)

“A bad wife is a badly fitting ox yoke,
trying to master her is like grasping a scorpion.
A drunken wife will goad anyone to fury,
she makes no effort to hide her degradation.” (verses 7-8)

Daughters need to be kept in check

“ A woman’s wantonness shows in her bold look,
and can be recognised by her sidelong glances.
Keep a headstrong daughter under firm control,
or she will abuse any indulgence she receives.
Keep a strict watch on her shameless eye,
do not be surprised if she disgraces you.
Like a thirsty traveller she will open her mouth
and drink any water she comes across;
she will sit in front of every peg,
and open her quiver to any arrow. ” (verses 9 - 12)

Blessings brought by a good wife

“The grace of a wife will charm her husband,
her accomplishments will make him the stronger.
A silent wife is a gift from the Lord,
no price can be put on a well-trained character.
A modest wife is a boon twice over,
a chaste character cannot be weighed on scales.
Like the sun rising over the mountains of the Lord
is the beauty of a good wife in a well-kept house.
Like the lamp shining on the sacred lamp-stance
is a beautiful face on a well-proportioned body.
Like golden pillars on a silver base
are shapely legs on firm-set heels.” (verses 13 - 18)

Additional text found in some manuscripts:

The good and evil wife compared

“Search the whole plain for a fertile field,
sow our own seed there, trusting in your own good stock.
Thus your offspring will survive,
they will grow great, confident of their breeding,
A woman for hire is not worth spitting at,
but a lawful wife is as strong as a tower.
A godless wife is assigned to a transgressor as his fortune,
but a devout wife given to the man who fears the Lord.
A shameless wife takes pleasure in disgracing herself,
a modest wife is diffident even with her husband.
A headstrong wife is no more respected than a dog,
but one with a sense of shame fears the Lord.
A wife who respects her husband will be acknowledged wise by all.
but one who proudly despises him will be known by all as wicked.
Happy the husband of a good wife,
for the number of his days will be doubled.
A loud-mouthed, gossiping wife is like a trumpet sounding the charge,
and any man saddled with one spends his life in the turmoil of war.” (chapter 26,19-27)

John Wijngaards

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