Daniel’s ‘dreaming’ not a good reason for Sirach to omit him

Image result for prophet daniel dreams


Damien F. Mackey


“This raises the question of what reason Ben Sira might have had for not wanting to mention Daniel or single him out for special praise. As it happens, a very plausible and straightforward answer to the above question is available, but it has nothing to do with when the book of Daniel was written. Ben Sira [Sirach] held the opinion, and stated it in so many words, that dreamers and dreams were fools and foolishness, respectively”.

 Frank W. Hardy



Might not the reason why Sirach (“Ecclesiasticus”) seemingly failed to refer to the great prophet Daniel – not to mention Ezra the scribe, the very “Father of Judaïsm” – in his “praises of famous men”, beginning with 44:1:

“Let us now sing the praises of famous men,

our ancestors in their generations”,


be because Daniel was – Ezra was – referred to in the Book of Sirach under some other name?

It was common for the ancients to have more than the one name. To give just one example, from I Maccabees 2:2-5: “John surnamed Gaddi, Simon called Thassi, Judas called Maccabeus, Eleazar called Avaran, and Jonathan called Apphus”.

And I have already suggested that:

Ezra the Scribe [be] Identified as Nehemiah the Governor



which, if this be the case, would mean that Ezra was included by Sirach, when he wrote (49:13): “The memory of Nehemiah is also great. He rebuilt the ruined walls of Jerusalem, installing the gates and bars. He rebuilt our homes”.


Other inspired scribes did not fail to mention Daniel. Nor could they have?

Ezekiel, for example, mentions Daniel three times (14:14 and 20): “Though these three men, Noah, Daniel, and Job, were in it, they should deliver but their own souls by their righteousness, saith the Lord God”.

And 28:3: “Are you wiser than Daniel? Is no secret hidden from you?”

Whilst Mattathias, the father of the five Maccabean sons, encouraged them with the examples of holy men such as Daniel (I Maccabees 2:60-61): “Daniel was a man of integrity, and the Lord rescued him from the mouth of the lions. Take each of these ancestors of ours as an example, and you will realize that no one who puts his trust in the Lord will ever lack strength”.


It is likewise quite inconceivable that Sirach could possibly have omitted reference to Ezra. Henry Englander has, in his article “Ezra the Scribe” (Journal of Jewish Lore and Philosophy

Vol. 1, No. 3/4 (JULY/OCTOBER 1919)), written, with reference to “H. P. Smith, following Torrey” (p. 322-323):


[Smith] notes that Ezra was unknown to Jesus ben Sirach the author who lived in the early part of the second century before the common era …. It is impossible, he believes, that ben Sirach would have ignored Ezra in his praise of Israel’s worthies had he been known to him. But, the omission of any reference to Ezra does not necessarily mean that he was the creation of the Chronicler. This omission, however, calls for an adequate explanation on the part of those who hold Ezra to be historical. If it could be shown that the identification of Ezra with “Malachai” [Malachi] … was current in the time of ben Sirach then it could be said that Ezra was included in his praise of the Minor Prophets.


On the possible identification of Ezra with Malachi, see my article:


“By the hand of Malachi … whose name is called Ezra the scribe”




I think that the alter ego explanation for Sirach, in the case of Daniel – of Ezra – is far preferable to the following version (whose BC dating I may not accept either) as given by Frank W. Hardy in his article, “Ben Sira’s Silence Concerning Daniel” (2008):



Jesus Ben Sira … was a Jew from Jerusalem who, in approximately 190 or 180 B.C. … wrote a book of religious wisdom and pious advice on a variety of topics. In 132 B.C.—the thirty-eighth year of Ptolemy Physcon VII Euergetes II (170-164, 147-117 B.C.)–Ben Sira’s grandson went to live in Egypt and sometime after the death of Euergetes II, i.e., sometime after 117 B.C., translated his grandfather’s book from Hebrew into Greek. Although translations were subsequently made into Latin, Syriac, and a number of other languages it is primarily in its Greek form–with the Latin title “Ecclesiasticus”–that the book has come down to us as one of the deuterocanonicl books of the Septuagint. ….


In Ben Sira chaps. 44-49 the author comments on the outstanding lives of some 28 individual Old Testament heroes … along with the judges as a group (46:11) and the twelve minor prophets (49:10). This long section ends with the following summary: ….


No one like Enoch has been created on earth, for he was taken up from the earth. And no man like Joseph has been born, and his bones are cared for. Shem and Seth were honored among men, and Adam above every living being in the creation. ….


The significance for Daniel research of Ben Sira’s “Praise of the Fathers” lies in what he

does not say. Throughout this extended section of six chapters Daniel is passed over in silence; there is no mention of him at all. Such an omission is conspicuous when compared with 1 Maccabees, written somewhat later at around 100 B.C. Daniel appears at the end of a passage that mentions a number of ancient heroes.


(51) “Remember the deeds of the fathers, which they did in their generations; and receive great honor and an everlasting name. (52) Was not Abraham found faithful when tested, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness? (53) Joseph in the time of his distress kept the commandment, and became lord of Egypt. (54) Phinehas our father, because he was deeply zealous, received the covenant of everlasting priesthood. (55) Joshua, because he fulfilled the command, became a judge in Israel. (56) Caleb, because he testified in the assembly, received an inheritance in the land. (57) David, because he was merciful, inherited the throne of the kingdom for ever. (58) Elijah because of great zeal for the law was taken up into heaven. (59) Hananiah, Azariah, and Mishael believed and were saved from the flame. (60) Daniel because of his innocence was delivered from the mouth of the lions” (1 Macc 2:51-60).


The fact that Ben Sira, writing early in the second century B.C., says nothing about Daniel, while the author of 1 Maccabees does refer to him, writing at the end of the second century B.C., is taken by some scholars to indicate that the book of Daniel originated sometime in between Ben Sira and 1 Maccabees–i.e., in the mid-second century B.C. …. Eissfeldt evaluates the evidence from Ben Sira as follows, as it bears on the dating of Daniel:


We may leave the matter there, with the broader period 167-163 in mind. This dating [for Daniel] is then supported by a whole series of further observations. The fact that the book was not included in the canon of the prophets (p. 565) shows already that it can only have been composed very late. This is confirmed by the fact that Ben Sira, writing in about 190, does not mention it in his Praise of the Fathers (xliv-l) whereas 1 Maccabees, compiled probably in about 100 B.C., has in ii,59-60 a reference to it, more precisely to i, iii and vi. . . . ….


But Eissfeldt’s conclusion is not required by the evidence. There is no reason—even under preterist presuppositions–why Ben Sira should not have been well informed concerning the main events of Daniel’s life. Mertens shows that the claim that Daniel was written entirely within the second century B.C., with no sources or fragments coming from an earlier time, is a minority view even among critical scholars and one which he considers extreme. ….


According to F. Nötscher the substance, content and even formulation of individual reports go back to the time of the exile; similarly J. Goettsberger; H. Schneider also takes the position that the oldest parts of the book of Daniel derive from the sixth century B.C. ….


Thus, the claim that Ben Sira did not mention Daniel because the book of Daniel was not

written until after Ecclesiasticus requires one to assume that Rowley’s view of how Daniel originated was substantially the correct one. Rowley held that a single author produced the entire work in the second century B.C. …. There are no preterist scholars at present, however, who would accept this assumption or defend it. I submit that, whether one proceeds under preterist or historicist assumptions, Ben Sira could not have been unaware of Daniel’s life story when he wrote his book.


This raises the question of what reason Ben Sira might have had for not wanting to mention Daniel or single him out for special praise. As it happens, a very plausible and straightforward answer to the above question is available, but it has nothing to do with when the book of Daniel was written. Ben Sira held the opinion, and stated it in so many words, that dreamers and dreams were fools and foolishness, respectively.


A man of no understanding has vain and false hopes, and dreams give wings to fools. (2) As one who catches at a shadow and pursues the wind, so is he who gives heed to dreams. (3) The vision of dreams is this against that, the likeness of a face confronting a face. (4) From an unclean thing what will be made clean? And from something false what will be true? (5) Divinations and omens and dreams are folly, and like a woman in travail the mind has fancies. (6) Unless they are sent from the Most High as a visitation, do not give your mind to them. (7) For dreams have deceived many, and those who put their hope in them have failed. (8) Without such deceptions the law will be fulfilled, and wisdom is made perfect in truthful lips. (Ben Sira 34:1-8)


If Ben Sira believed dreamers were fools, and thought of Daniel primarily as a dreamer … one could hardly expect Ben Sira to name Daniel as one of Israel’s great and illustrious figures of the past. For Daniel to be passed over in silence would be much more consistent with the passage just quoted than prominent mention of him a few chapters later would be.


It is not necessary therefore to suggest that the book of Daniel came into existence after

Ben Sira wrote in order to account for the latter’s silence regarding him. Ben Sira was a man of deep convictions, some of which bordered on prejudice. …. One of these convictions was that dreams were not a dependable criterion for behaviour. …. Seeing Daniel primarily as a dreamer he was not inclined to praise him.

[End of quote]


Clever though all this may be, I shall be looking amongst Sirach’s ‘praises of famous men’ for a worthy alter ego for the great and famous prophet Daniel, who had miraculously told the King’s Dream.


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