Sirach 9.1-9: The Perilous Association with Women

Sirach is essentially a book of Jewish wisdom in Greek demotic, showcasing post-exilic, pre-Maccabean Jewish life. In this section, we find Sirach‘s warning against all manner of women. It is misogynistic. Clearly, women here are seen in a negative light, where even an association is deemed corrupting to the man.

King James VersionNew American BibleNew Jerusalem BibleNew Revised Standard
Be not jealous over the wife of thy bosom, and teach her not an evil lesson against thyself.Be not jealous of the wife of your bosom, lest you teach her to do evil against you.Do not be jealous of the wife you love, do not teach her lessons in how to harm you.Do not be jealous of the wife of your bosom, or you will teach her an evil lesson to your own hurt.
2 Give not thy soul unto a woman to set her foot upon thy substance.2 Give no woman power over you to trample upon your dignity.2 Do not put yourself in a woman’s hands or she may come to dominate you completely.2 Do not give yourself to a woman and let her trample down your strength.
3 Meet not with an harlot, lest thou fall into her snares.3 Be not intimate with a strange woman, lest you fall into her snares.3 Do not keep company with a prostitute, in case you get entangled in her snares.3 Do not go near a loose woman, or you will fall into her snares.
4 Use not much the company of a woman that is a singer, lest thou be taken with her attempts.4 With a singing girl be not familiar, lest you be caught in her wiles.4 Do not dally with a singing girl, in case you get caught by her wiles.4 Do not dally with a singing girl, or you will be caught by her tricks.
5 Gaze not on a maid, that thou fall not by those things that are precious in her.5 Entertain no thoughts against a virgin, lest you be enmeshed in damages for her.5 Do not stare at a pretty girl, in case you and she incur the same punishment.5 Do not look intently at a virgin, or you may stumble and incur penalties for her.
6 Give not thy soul unto harlots, that thou lose not thine inheritance.6 Give not yourself to harlots, lest you surrender your inheritance.6 Do not give your heart to whores, or you will ruin your inheritance.6 Do not give yourself to prostitutes, or you may lose your inheritance.
7 Look not round about thee in the streets of the city, neither wander thou in the solitary place thereof.7 Gaze not about the lanes of the city and wander not through its squares;7 Keep your eyes to yourself in the streets of a town, do not prowl about its unfrequented quarters.7 Do not look around in the streets of a city, or wander about in its deserted sections.
8 Turn away thine eye from a beautiful woman, and look not upon another’s beauty; for many have been deceived by the beauty of a woman; for herewith love is kindled as a fire.8 Avert your eyes from a comely woman; gaze not upon the beauty of another’s wife– Through woman’s beauty many perish, for lust for it burns like fire.8 Turn your eyes away from a handsome woman, do not stare at a beauty belonging to someone else. Because of a woman’s beauty, many have been undone; this makes passion flare up like a fire.8 Turn away your eyes from a shapely woman, and do not gaze at beauty belonging to another; many have been seduced by a woman’s beauty, and by it passion is kindled like a fire.
9 Sit not at all with another man’s wife, nor sit down with her in thine arms, and spend not thy money with her at the wine; lest thine heart incline unto her, and so through thy desire thou fall into destruction.9 With a married woman dine not, recline not at table to drink by her side, Lest your heart be drawn to her and you go down in blood to the grave.9 Never sit down with a married woman, or sit at table with her drinking wine, in case you let your heart succumb to her and you l9 Never dine with another man’s wife, or revel with her at wine; or your heart may turn aside to her, and in blood you may be plunged into destruction.

Sirach has a deeply startling view of women, all women, when compared to the ‘post modern’ concept of equality. Drawing heavily from Proverbs, and unlike Paul, Sirach recommends marriage (7.19), but for him, a good wife is a good possession (Sirach 36.29 NRSV). While he clearly treats Sophia with a high regard, it is difficult to seem him treat a woman in the same way. He allows that women and wine are bad for men (19.2) and further, as we have seen above, classifies women according to their sins against men. Even in adultery, men are given a reprieve of one sin whereas women have three sins (23.18-23).

Is it a stand against women, or is it an argument for self-control? Ben Sira could very well be arguing that a man must remain in control of him in order to avoid any pitfalls. Consider what Paul said,

So I say to those who aren’t married and to widows– it’s better to stay unmarried, just as I am. But if they can’t control themselves, they should go ahead and marry. It’s better to marry than to burn with lust. (1Co 7:8-9 NLT)

Was Paul echoing Ben Sira, in that control of the person (we could list specific examples from Paul here) is important to the walk of the faithful?

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10 Replies to “Sirach 9.1-9: The Perilous Association with Women”

  1. I do not find Sirach’s view disturbing in the least. The simple fact is that God has made men as sexual beings (women also, but I am talking about men here). Men are attracted to beauty and tend to have fragile egos. In the fallenness of man’s state (without Christ) men are want to lust after women, that lust simply being a perversion of the love men are supposed to have. Sirach’s warnings are just just that wise warnings. A man searches after a good wife and will trade all his possessions for her, and until then stay away from the other kinds of women. Self control is one of the hallmarks of maturity.

    I have to disagree with the idea that “women here are seen in a negative light, where even an association is deemed corrupting to the man.” Rather it is the wrong kinds of women that can assist strongly with the further corruption of a man. I the same way, I argue that association with the wrong kinds of men are a corrupting influence on virtuous women and men are told what kinds of men to associate with also.1

    I consider Sirach to be inspiring but not inspired. I am glad though that you delve into materials most of us refuse to look at. Many people do not realize that the Bible quotes many peices of wisdom literature that did not make it into the general cannon.

    1. R.K., Jason, thanks for the comments.

      I was trying to be rhetoric in the end, comparing it to Paul’s ‘sexism’ when in reality, it is not about women, but about self-control. I’m still working on my technique, which simply isn’t that good 🙂

      I think that the only real issue is in verse 1 in which the husband is taught not to teach his wife tricks which will come back to hurt him. Of course, I have lived with as when discussing things with my wife, she used my style against me and I had to give in. Not a happy day 🙁

      I think that this passage is about self-control and not putting our selves – you are right about men being sexual creatures – into positions which my compromise our temperance. This is the wisdom of Ben Sira, that we must be masters of our own bodies, such as what Paul taught.

  2. All of these with the first deal with women in an extramarital context—prostitutes, singing girls, other men’s wives, etc.

    The first is the only one that seems somewhat problematic, but I’m not sure it’s all that misogynistic to say, “Don’t get jealous over your own wife, or it’ll come back to bite you.”

  3. Jason, obviously I agree with your statement. I wonder if there is an equivocation going on with the term jealousy as in scripture we are told to love our wives as Christ loves the Church and we are also told that God is a jealous God so there must be a disconnect somewhere.

    1. I like how the NRSV translates it – inserting ‘or’. If we are jealous, then we teach our wife a bad lesson. Perhaps, if this is the proper translation, verse 1 is all that much more important in determining the context of the passage – that self-control is key. A man who lacks self-control will often see himself in others.

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