Sirach wrote in the period before the events which led to the Maccabean revolt. He is friendly toward the Greeks and optimistic that Jewish people can live alongside their Greek neighbors. Perhaps Israel’s religion can be presented to the nations as a rational philosophy of life, so that the Gentiles would flock to Israel and fulfill the sort of hopes found in Isaiah 2. That Sirach would try to synthesis Wisdom and Law implies that Judaism is facing a crisis between Torah and Wisdom: many of the peculiar laws cannot be made to work with Hellenism.

This kind of apologetic strategy is rarely successful. Sirach could be attacked by more liberal Jewish thinkers as antiquated, and by more conservative thinkers are giving up the heart of Judaism. Hebrew Law never was going to appeal to the Hellenist and factions on either end of the spectrum might think Sirach was wrong to even try. The Maccabean revolt will try to re-assert and enforce the Jewish boundary markers.

Perhaps an analogy would help. How do extremely conservative Christians keep their children from leaving the faith? What is their apologetic strategy”?  For some, they shelter their children and never let them think outside of the approved conservative reading list. For others, they develop rationalistic explanations for why “the world” has a keatondifferent view (creation science as a rational way to explain away evolution). On the other end of the scale, some conservatives allow their children freedom to explore, and sometimes they lose them to “the world.” Potentially this analogy works for extremely liberal parents shielding their children from the conservative worldview (Alex P. Keaton, for example).

After the Maccabean revolt, there are several movements which step forward as competitors to Sirach’s hope for a rational and intellectual Judaism.

First, although the apocalyptic movement begins before Sirach, the best representatives of this style of literature appear after the Maccabean revolt. The Enochian literature, for example would find Sirach far too worldly.  1 Enoch sees the cosmic dimension of the Jewish religion: evil angels and the war of the forces of darkness and the forces of light.

Second, martyrdom movements that produced 4 Maccabees, revolutionary prophets and the Zealots at the end of the first century would find intellectual arguments as insufficient.  Sirach never calls for the use of force, the Zealots will. The Law of Moses is recommended to people through rational persuasion – the Zealots think that violence is necessary to enforce the Law.

Third, the development of scribes and “teachers of the Law” who worked to make new connections between Torah and contemporary practice (and to undo the connections others are made). The old Torah was alive and could be made to work in a Hellenistic world, a Roman world, or even the modern world.

In the Second Temple period Jewish people are desperate because history is not actualizing their hopes. The utopia dreams of Isaiah or Ezekiel’s hope for a restoration of the tribes of Israel around a Davidic leader are not being realized. They are trying to bring together elements to give their children something which will prevent them from going to Hellenism.

It is not a stretch to say that Christianity developed as one answer to this struggle for the heart of Judaism. But Christianity finds itself in a similar place, at least in the west. How does the approach of Sirach (or Aristeas or others) help Christians who are finding it difficult to remain faithful to the core beliefs of the faith in an increasingly anti-Christian world?