I am wondering how to understand the Hebrew text of Sirach 13:26, which, according to this page, is (the second line):

לב אנוש ישנא פניו אם לטוב ואם לרע׃

עקבת לב טוב פנים אורים ושיג ישיח מחשבת עמל׃

The source above translates the passage into:

The mark of a happy heart is a bright countenance – a distant look tells of troubled thoughts.

I want to corroborate the second half since modern bibles have very different translations; they probably translate from a Greek source. An example is:

Happy heart, cheerful expression; but wearisome work, inventing proverbs.

The most difficult part is ‏ושיג ישיח ‎, which contains a hapax in the canonical OT books. I looked up a Latin translation of Peshitta and found yet another rendering (page 60; Sirach 13:31):

multitudo narrationum cogitationes scelestorum.

[Too much chat (is? attests to?) the thought of villains.]

Please someone help me assess how accurate the translation by Parker and Abegg is. So far, I don't have good explanations for the two words or the phrase as a single construction.

  • Neither שיג nor ישיח is a hapax legomenon by itself (the former appears in I Kings 18:27, and the latter very often). Did you mean the entire phrase together is?
    – b a
    Commented Apr 25, 2018 at 17:19

2 Answers 2


The Hebrew manuscript this is taken from is accessible here, along with the translation which I believe is quoted in this question:


I find this translation by Parker and Abegg to be fairly good. However, the phrase "a distant look" is not how I would render שיג ישיח , but it is literally, "going back to (lit. hedging in) conversation", i.e. this is probably where the other translations got "too much chat." Literally, I would render 13:26, "burdensome thoughts hedge in conversation" [i.e. one can do nothing but return to talking about these burdensome thoughts]. "Inventing proverbs" is perhaps the most compelling translation, but the Hebrew word for proverb, 'mishley' is not there, but the term ישיח can be translated, "he will meditate" or "he shall muse" or "he shall complain" i.e. 'toilsome thoughts shall hedge in musings' or 'burdensome thoughts return [one] to complaining'

שיח can mean to utter a discourse, and so it can refer to making a speech or just having a conversation. It can also refer to complaining or pleading.

Here is the BDB definition:

Noun masculine Psalm 104:34 complaint, musing;

—absolute ׳שׂ 1 Kings 18:27 Proverbs 23:29; suffix שִׂיחִי 1 Samuel 1:16 +, שִׂחִי Job 23:2, שִׂיחוֺ 2 Kings 9:11; Psalm 102:1;

—1 plaint, complaint: Job 7:13; Job 9:27; Job 10:1 ("" מר נפשׁ), Job 21:4; Job 23:2; Proverbs 23:29; Psalm 55:3 ("" אָהִימָה); קוֺלִי בְּשִׁיחי Psalm 64:2; ׳לפני י ׳שָׁפַךְ שׂ Psalm 102:1; Psalm 142:3. following are dubious:

2 musing, 1 Kings 18:27 (E) of a god, "" שִׂיג לוֺ, (so RV; SS 'nachdenken'; Buhl 'beschäftigt sein'; AV talk); Psalm 104:34 of man (Buhl SS. Bae 'Rede, oder Gesang'). — See also [שֵׂחַ] below

3 anxiety, trouble: מֵרֹב שִׂיחִי 1 Samuel 1:16 (defined in ᵑ0 by כַּעַס, compare HPS; so Buhl SS, but perhaps = 1).

4 talk: שִׂיחוֺ 2 Kings 9:11 (so RV SS, but meaning obscurein context).

So we see that this is not normally used of delivering a proverb, but is in fact more often used of complaining or talking.

Gesenius' definition of root 'Sug' and participle 'Siyg' offers us another option for translating this in perhaps the opposite way, which is to translated 'Siyg' as it is translated in 1 Kings 18:27, as 'withdrawing' instead of 'going back.' Therefore we would have, 'Burdensome thoughts withdraw conversation.' Perhaps this is whence we have, 'distant look' as idiomatic however, not literal, translation.

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First of all we need to remeber that Ben Sirah book has written in diffrent hebrew than the bible, in a language that linguistic name as "Mishnaic Hebrew". With this knowledge we can translate this sentebce like this:

לב אנוש ישנא פניו אם לטוב ואם לרע׃

לב אנוש is human heart.

ישנא is probably should be ישנה - and than ישנה פניו ia change it's state.

So the all sentence is something like: human heart is sometimes good and sometimes bad.

And this: עקבת לב טוב פנים אורים ושיג ישיח מחשבת עמל׃

The word עקבת is trace of

לב טוב is good heart

פנים אורים is good face, happy face, smiling face ( litterly אורים is from אור light).

ושיג means (here) conversation ( eiter with somebody else or with God with pray )

ישיח can be two: ושיח and than שיג ושיח gives us well known (and documented) expression that means conversation. The second option is that שיח ia from שוח and than it can be translated as to wander.

מחשבת is the thinking process of something.

עמל is work. It biblical hebrew it's always work for God ( for example Ecclesiastes).

So with that i think this part can be translated as: a trace of good heart: happy face that will wander you the correct way of speaking with/to God.

Note: this answer is MY answer based on the hebrew text and comparing it to similar hebrew litrature.

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