Ecclesiastes
Overview
 
The Book of Ecclesiastes, called (icon; , Qoheleth, literally, "Preacher," in the Hebrew, or, in the most literal sense of the Greek, "Member of the Assembly," sharing the root ekklesia with the word for "assembly," or "church," with Qoheleth being derived from a Heb. word of similar meaning, commonly referred to simply as Ecclesiastes (abbreviated "Ecc."), is a book of the Hebrew Bible
Hebrew Bible
The Hebrew Bible is a term used by biblical scholars outside of Judaism to refer to the Tanakh , a canonical collection of Jewish texts, and the common textual antecedent of the several canonical editions of the Christian Old Testament...

.
Encyclopedia
The Book of Ecclesiastes, called (icon; , Qoheleth, literally, "Preacher," in the Hebrew, or, in the most literal sense of the Greek, "Member of the Assembly," sharing the root ekklesia with the word for "assembly," or "church," with Qoheleth being derived from a Heb. word of similar meaning, commonly referred to simply as Ecclesiastes (abbreviated "Ecc."), is a book of the Hebrew Bible
Hebrew Bible
The Hebrew Bible is a term used by biblical scholars outside of Judaism to refer to the Tanakh , a canonical collection of Jewish texts, and the common textual antecedent of the several canonical editions of the Christian Old Testament...

. The English name derives from the Greek
Greek language
Greek is an independent branch of the Indo-European family of languages. Native to the southern Balkans, it has the longest documented history of any Indo-European language, spanning 34 centuries of written records. Its writing system has been the Greek alphabet for the majority of its history;...

 translation of the Hebrew title.

The main speaker in the book, identified by the name or title Qoheleth (usually translated as "teacher" or "preacher"), introduces himself as "son of David
David
David was the second king of the united Kingdom of Israel according to the Hebrew Bible and, according to the Gospels of Matthew and Luke, an ancestor of Jesus Christ through both Saint Joseph and Mary...

, king in Jerusalem." The work consists of personal or autobiographic
Autobiography
An autobiography is a book about the life of a person, written by that person.-Origin of the term:...

 matter, at times expressed in aphorisms and maxims illuminated in terse paragraphs with reflections on the meaning of life
Meaning of life
The meaning of life constitutes a philosophical question concerning the purpose and significance of life or existence in general. This concept can be expressed through a variety of related questions, such as "Why are we here?", "What is life all about?", and "What is the meaning of it all?" It has...

 and the best way of life. The work emphatically proclaims all the actions of man to be inherently "vain", "futile", "empty", "meaningless", "temporary", "transitory", "fleeting, or "mere breath", depending on translation, as the lives of both wise and foolish men end in death. While Qoheleth clearly endorses wisdom as a means for a well-lived earthly life, he is unable to ascribe eternal meaning to it. In light of this perceived senselessness, he suggests that one should enjoy the simple pleasures of daily life, such as eating, drinking, and taking enjoyment in one's work, which are gifts from the hand of God.

According to the Talmud
Talmud
The Talmud is a central text of mainstream Judaism. It takes the form of a record of rabbinic discussions pertaining to Jewish law, ethics, philosophy, customs and history....

, however, the point of Qoheleth is to state that all is futile under the Sun
Sun
The Sun is the star at the center of the Solar System. It is almost perfectly spherical and consists of hot plasma interwoven with magnetic fields...

. One should therefore put all one's efforts towards that which is above the Sun. This is summed up in the second to last verse: "The end of the matter; all has been heard. Fear God, and keep His commandments; for that is the whole duty of everyone" (12:13).

The book is particularly notable for its iconic phrases, "the sun also rises," "[there's] nothing new under the sun" ('nihil novi sub sole' in the Latin Vulgate) and "he who increaseth knowledge, increaseth sorrow."

American 20th-century novelist Tom Wolfe
Tom Wolfe
Thomas Kennerly "Tom" Wolfe, Jr. is a best-selling American author and journalist. He is one of the founders of the New Journalism movement of the 1960s and 1970s.-Early life and education:...

 wrote: “For of all I have ever seen or learned, this book seems to me the noblest, the wisest, and the most powerful expression of man’s life upon this earth – and also the highest flower of poetry, eloquence, and truth. I am not given to dogmatic judgments in the matter of literary creation, but if I had to make one I could say that Ecclesiastes is the greatest single piece of writing I have ever known, and the wisdom expressed in it the most lasting and profound.”

Title

The Hebrew
Hebrew language
Hebrew is a Semitic language of the Afroasiatic language family. Culturally, is it considered by Jews and other religious groups as the language of the Jewish people, though other Jewish languages had originated among diaspora Jews, and the Hebrew language is also used by non-Jewish groups, such...

 קהלת is a feminine participle related to the root קהל meaning "to gather." Scholars are unsure whether it means the "one who gathers" or the "one among the gathering." Although the form is a feminine participle, virtually no scholars dispute that the author is a man. Except for one dubious example of a third-person feminine singular verb associated with Qoheleth, the subject always uses masculine nouns and even refers to his wife and women. He says that he has acquired shida we-shidot, an ambiguous phrase that may refer to a harem (shdh or "breasts"); he describes how he could not find a virtuous woman; and he exhorts the reader to enjoy (re'a) life with his wife.

English translation

The English
English language
English is a West Germanic language that arose in the Anglo-Saxon kingdoms of England and spread into what was to become south-east Scotland under the influence of the Anglian medieval kingdom of Northumbria...

 title of the book, Ecclesiastes, comes from the Septuagint translation of Qoheleth, Ἐκκλησιαστής. It is related to the Greek
Greek language
Greek is an independent branch of the Indo-European family of languages. Native to the southern Balkans, it has the longest documented history of any Indo-European language, spanning 34 centuries of written records. Its writing system has been the Greek alphabet for the majority of its history;...

 noun Ἐκκλησία (originally a secular gathering
Ecclesia (ancient Athens)
The ecclesia or ekklesia was the principal assembly of the democracy of ancient Athens during its "Golden Age" . It was the popular assembly, opened to all male citizens over the age of 30 with 2 years of military service by Solon in 594 BC meaning that all classes of citizens in Athens were able...

, although later used primarily of religious gatherings, hence its New Testament
New Testament
The New Testament is the second major division of the Christian biblical canon, the first such division being the much longer Old Testament....

 meaning of "church"). Greek translators used "ecclesia" to render קהל (qahal) of the same Hebrew root.

The word Qoheleth has found several translations into English, including the Preacher (following Jerome
Jerome
Saint Jerome was a Roman Christian priest, confessor, theologian and historian, and who became a Doctor of the Church. He was the son of Eusebius, of the city of Stridon, which was on the border of Dalmatia and Pannonia...

's suggested Latin
Latin
Latin is an Italic language originally spoken in Latium and Ancient Rome. It, along with most European languages, is a descendant of the ancient Proto-Indo-European language. Although it is considered a dead language, a number of scholars and members of the Christian clergy speak it fluently, and...

 title concionator and Martin Luther
Martin Luther
Martin Luther was a German priest, professor of theology and iconic figure of the Protestant Reformation. He strongly disputed the claim that freedom from God's punishment for sin could be purchased with money. He confronted indulgence salesman Johann Tetzel with his Ninety-Five Theses in 1517...

's Der Prediger). In view of the meaning of the Hebrew root ("gather, assemble, convene") one might opt for the translation "Speaker".

Authorship and historical context

Author

In the two opening chapters the speaker describes himself as the son of David
David
David was the second king of the united Kingdom of Israel according to the Hebrew Bible and, according to the Gospels of Matthew and Luke, an ancestor of Jesus Christ through both Saint Joseph and Mary...

, and king over Israel in Jerusalem (1:1, 12, 16; 2:7, 9), presenting himself as a philosopher at the center of a brilliant court. This most likely applies to King Solomon
Solomon
Solomon , according to the Book of Kings and the Book of Chronicles, a King of Israel and according to the Talmud one of the 48 prophets, is identified as the son of David, also called Jedidiah in 2 Samuel 12:25, and is described as the third king of the United Monarchy, and the final king before...

, but may also refer to his successors as the Bible referred to Judah as Israel in Kings/Chronicles for example. Consequently, the traditional Rabbinic and early Christian view attributed Ecclesiastes to King Solomon. The argument used by scholars to promote a later dating of the book is language and style (i.e. the vocabulary and syntax as compared to the late Hebrew and Aramaic, which suggest that the book should be dated later). However, Daniel Fredericks, who has studied all the linguistic inconsistencies used by scholars as evidence, has concluded that they are unconvincing. Instead, a popular theory suggests linguistic updating, which is when “late forms may not in fact have been original to the book but may reflect the updating of vocabulary and grammar by later scribes so their contemporaries could understand the book better.”

Many modern conservative scholars today also suggest that Solomon is an unlikely author. Since this work is found within the Ketuvim
Ketuvim
Ketuvim or Kəṯûḇîm in actual Biblical Hebrew is the third and final section of the Tanak , after Torah and Nevi'im . In English translations of the Hebrew Bible, this section is usually entitled "Writings" or "Hagiographa"...

, there must be some room for poetical treatment. There are two voices in the book, the frame-narrator (1.1–11; 12.9–14) and Qoheleth (1.12–12.8). Scholars are not unanimous about whether this indicates two authors. Some have noticed the conflicting themes that occur often throughout Qoheleth's thoughts and presented a few theories. One is that the editors edited in a way that the editor believed was language that made the writing easier to understand. It is also possible that it was edited in ways that harmonized the text with already accepted doctrine. Scholars point to Chapter 12 and the frame-editor's summary regarding fearing God and keeping His commandments as evidence of this. Others suggest that it is Qoheleth deliberately using differing wisdoms to portray his point about the "anomalies" of life.

The Babylonian Talmud, while claiming that King Solomon composed the book, says that it was only written down much later (Bava Batra page 14 side B).

According to Longman and Dillard, the book includes two 'characters', Qoheleth/Solomon and the narrator. These scholars argue that the book does not attempt to claim that Qoheleth/Solomon wrote the book, but rather to use Qoheleth/Solomon as the main character in a book of wisdom literature.

R' Nachman Krochmal
Nachman Krochmal
Nachman Kohen Krochmal was a Jewish Galician philosopher, theologian, and historian.-Biography:...

 suggests that the term "son of David" should be interpreted to mean "descendant of David". He posits that it was written by a powerful lord during the Persian Era (possibly during the missing years of Jewish history). The term "king" would not be difficult; since the Persian Monarch was known as the King of Kings, a lesser lord may have called himself a king.

The New Bible Dictionary writes the following:

Although the writer says that he was king over Israel (1:12), and speaks as though he were Solomon, he nowhere says that he is Solomon. The style of the Heb. is later than Solomon’s time. If Solomon was the author, the book underwent a later modernization of language. Otherwise a later writer may have taken up a comment on life that had been made by Solomon, ‘Vanity of vanities, all is vanity,’ and used this as a text to show why even a wise and wealthy king should say such a thing. We cannot tell at what date the book received its present form, since there are no clear historical allusions in it. About 200 [BCE] is commonly suggested.

Language

The Hebrew of Ecclesiastes was not common in the era of Solomon’s reign, and the book contains words borrowed from other languages. For example, the book contains several Aramaic and two Persian
Persian language
Persian is an Iranian language within the Indo-Iranian branch of the Indo-European languages. It is primarily spoken in Iran, Afghanistan, Tajikistan and countries which historically came under Persian influence...

 words. The influence of Aramaic is characteristic of late Hebrew. Other examples of late Biblical Hebrew include the qetAl pattern form nouns, which would have dated after an Aramaic influence, the frequent use of the relative sh (-ש) alongside asher (אשר), the Ut ending (ות-), the frequent use of the participle for the present (which is later developed in Rabbinic Hebrew), using the prefix conjugation in the future (vs. the older preterite
Preterite
The preterite is the grammatical tense expressing actions that took place or were completed in the past...

 use), and terms that appear to specifically fit a Persian/Hellenistic context (e.g. Shallit). During the time of Solomon and through the 8th century, matres lectionis were not used inside words (except maybe in 'ir (city) in the Lachish letters), and there is no evidence for early orthography
Orthography
The orthography of a language specifies a standardized way of using a specific writing system to write the language. Where more than one writing system is used for a language, for example Kurdish, Uyghur, Serbian or Inuktitut, there can be more than one orthography...

.
Seow has claimed that there are orthographic inconsistencies in the book. This might imply authorship from different periods, or later additions to the text.

Date of writing

Dominic Rudman cites the modern commentaries that support dating the book to the 3rd century BCE. "A Note on Dating of Ecclesiastes" contains a discussion with C. L. Seow. Seow supports a 4th century dating.

"Most current commentators e.g., R. N. Whybray argue for a mid-to-late-third-century date. Others, among them N. Lohfink and C. E Whitley, have suggested an early- or mid-second-century background."

Michael Coogan supports the statement that authorship was most probably later than the 5th century because it uses Persian "loan words" in the text. "Aramaisms" exist that indicate a period when Aramaic was the official language during the Persian empire. Coogan states that most scholars think authorship was most likely during the Hellenistic period in the third or 4th century BCE.

Philosophy

Some scholars, such as Michael V. Fox, have suggested that Ecclesiastes is influenced by philosophies like Stoicism
Stoicism
Stoicism is a school of Hellenistic philosophy founded in Athens by Zeno of Citium in the early . The Stoics taught that destructive emotions resulted from errors in judgment, and that a sage, or person of "moral and intellectual perfection," would not suffer such emotions.Stoics were concerned...

 and Epicureanism
Epicureanism
Epicureanism is a system of philosophy based upon the teachings of Epicurus, founded around 307 BC. Epicurus was an atomic materialist, following in the steps of Democritus. His materialism led him to a general attack on superstition and divine intervention. Following Aristippus—about whom...

.
“The boldest, most radical notion in the book is...the belief that the individual can and should proceed toward truth by means of his own powers of perception and reasoning; and that he can in this way discover truths previously unknown…This is the approach of philosophy, and its appearance in Ecclesiastes probably reflects a Jewish awareness of this type of thinking among foreign intellectuals…He does not look to revelation or tradition for guidance. He believes that he can discover what is good to do in life by acquiring wisdom and using it to examine and contemplate the world. This is the stance of Greek philosophy…Koheleth’s focus on individual experience, in particular the perception of pleasure, bears a significant resemblance to Hellenistic popular philosophy, whose central purpose was to find the way to individual happiness by the use of the powers of reason. The Epicureans sought happiness through pleasure and freedom from fear. The Stoics thought to find it in the shedding of desires and passions…In 1:4-7 Koheleth mentions that the four elements compromise the totality of the physical world – a notion common to Greek philosophers especially Stoics…These general similarities…support the hypothesis that the author was aware of some concerns and attitudes of philosophical thinking current in the Hellenistic age."

Other scholars, however, argue that Ecclesiastes was written before the Hellenistic period because of the lack of Greek loan words.

Name of God

The book of Ecclesiastes uses the expression ha-Elohim, "The God", 32 times, although the Jewish Encyclopedia
Jewish Encyclopedia
The Jewish Encyclopedia is an encyclopedia originally published in New York between 1901 and 1906 by Funk and Wagnalls. It contained over 15,000 articles in 12 volumes on the history and then-current state of Judaism and the Jews as of 1901...

 says that; "The Israelitish name for God is nowhere employed, nor does there appear to be any reference to Judaic matters; hence there seems to be a possibility that the book is an adaptation of a work in some other language".

The more conventional Tetragrammaton
Tetragrammaton
The term Tetragrammaton refers to the name of the God of Israel YHWH used in the Hebrew Bible.-Hebrew Bible:...

 (YHWH: a Jewish name for God) is not used, though almost no modern scholars think that the book was written in Aramaic
Aramaic language
Aramaic is a group of languages belonging to the Afroasiatic language phylum. The name of the language is based on the name of Aram, an ancient region in central Syria. Within this family, Aramaic belongs to the Semitic family, and more specifically, is a part of the Northwest Semitic subfamily,...

 or Phoenician
Phoenician alphabet
The Phoenician alphabet, called by convention the Proto-Canaanite alphabet for inscriptions older than around 1050 BC, was a non-pictographic consonantal alphabet, or abjad. It was used for the writing of Phoenician, a Northern Semitic language, used by the civilization of Phoenicia...

.

Canonicity

Both Judaism and Christianity accept Ecclesiastes as canonical. However, in the 1st century AD, literal interpretation of the work led to debate over whether it was to be included in the Jewish canon. The House of Hillel
House of Hillel
The House of Hillel , also known as the Academy of Hillel, founded by the famed Hillel the Elder, is a school of Jewish law and thought that thrived in 1st century B.C.E.Jerusalem. The House of Hillel is most widely known for its hundreds of disputes with the Beit Shammai, founded by Shammai, a...

 and the House of Shammai
House of Shammai
The House of Shammai was the school of thought of Judaism founded by Shammai, a Jewish scholar of the 1st century...

 debated its inclusion, with the Hillel school arguing for it. Its inclusion was decided when Eleazar ben Azariah
Eleazar ben Azariah
Eleazar ben Azariah , was a 1st-century CE Palestinian tanna . He was of the second generation and a junior contemporary of Gamaliel II, Eliezer b. Hyrcanus, and Joshua b. Hananiah, and senior of Akiba...

 was made head of the assembly.

Based on the contents of the majority of the book, it has perplexed scholars as to why Ecclesiastes was included in the canon of the Hebrew Bible. While there is no hypothesis that is unanimously supported by scholarship, there have been many suggestions offered. One idea is that association with Solomon had lent enough credibility to the book that it was canonized. However, “the difficulty with this justification…is clear: similar pseudonymous attributions in other texts-texts that were more orthodox than Ecclesiastes-proved to be insufficient reason for those texts to be accepted as canonical.” Another prominent explanation for the canonical status of Ecclesiastes is that the final words redeem the entire book. This view is supported by the discussions at Jamnia, and Rabbi Akiba’s utterances there, “Why did they not withdraw it? Because the beginning and the end of it consist of words of the law” (b. Sabb. 30b) This hypothesis though also has flaws, because of the lack of canonical status for other books that more consistently interpret the laws of Judaism in an orthodox manner.

Death and afterlife

A great portion of the book concerns itself with death. Qoheleth emphatically affirms human mortality, going so far as to say that the dead in sheol
Sheol
Sheol |Hebrew]] Šʾôl) is the "grave", "pit", or "abyss" in Hebrew. She'ol is the earliest conception of the afterlife in the Jewish scriptures. It is a place of darkness to which all dead go, regardless of the moral choices made in life, and where they are "removed from the light of God"...

 know nothing. He mentions no resurrection
Resurrection
Resurrection refers to the literal coming back to life of the biologically dead. It is used both with respect to particular individuals or the belief in a General Resurrection of the dead at the end of the world. The General Resurrection is featured prominently in Jewish, Christian, and Muslim...

, which, some may argue, is to be expected seeing that it predates this theology. (This view has been disputed, as Solomon's father, David, expressed a belief in the afterlife upon the death of Solomon's older brother, claiming with certainty that he would see his deceased son again. However, belief in an afterlife, a continued existence in a shadowy realm like Sheol or Hades must not be confused with the belief in a resurrection from the dead of later Christian theology.) In fact, it is the lack of consequences after death that lead Qoheleth to advocate enjoying life while you can. Martin Luther
Martin Luther
Martin Luther was a German priest, professor of theology and iconic figure of the Protestant Reformation. He strongly disputed the claim that freedom from God's punishment for sin could be purchased with money. He confronted indulgence salesman Johann Tetzel with his Ninety-Five Theses in 1517...

 quoted these verses in defense of the doctrine that the soul sleeps between death and resurrection. A meaningless life followed by oblivion
Oblivion
Oblivion may refer to:*The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion, a 2006 video game*Oblivion , a Marvel Comics character*Oblivion , a 1994 western/science fiction film from Full Moon Entertainment...

 is consistent with the purport of much (though not all) of the rest of the Tanakh
Tanakh
The Tanakh is a name used in Judaism for the canon of the Hebrew Bible. The Tanakh is also known as the Masoretic Text or the Miqra. The name is an acronym formed from the initial Hebrew letters of the Masoretic Text's three traditional subdivisions: The Torah , Nevi'im and Ketuvim —hence...

 as to the state of the dead (Ecclesiastes 9:5, 10; Genesis 3:19; Psalms 6:5; 115:17). This view that death is oblivion seems to stand in contrast to later descriptions of the afterlife
Jewish eschatology
Jewish eschatology is concerned with the Jewish Messiah, afterlife, and the revival of the dead. Eschatology, generically, is the area of theology and philosophy concerned with the final events in the history of the world, the ultimate destiny of humanity, and related concepts.-The Messiah:The...

, such as gehenna
Gehenna
Gehenna , Gehinnom and Yiddish Gehinnam, are terms derived from a place outside ancient Jerusalem known in the Hebrew Bible as the Valley of the Son of Hinnom ; one of the two principal valleys surrounding the Old City.In the Hebrew Bible, the site was initially where apostate Israelites and...

, the bosom of Abraham
Bosom of Abraham
"Bosom of Abraham" refers to the place of comfort in sheol where the Jews said the righteous dead awaited Judgment Day.-Origin of the phrase:The word found in the Greek text for "bosom" is , meaning "lap" "bay"...

, and the resurrection of the dead
Resurrection of the dead
Resurrection of the Dead is a belief found in a number of eschatologies, most commonly in Christian, Islamic, Jewish and Zoroastrian. In general, the phrase refers to a specific event in the future; multiple prophesies in the histories of these religions assert that the dead will be brought back to...

 in the New Testament
New Testament
The New Testament is the second major division of the Christian biblical canon, the first such division being the much longer Old Testament....

.

The author of Ecclesiastes appears agnostic on the concept of an afterlife. Indeed, he writes “All go to one place; all are from the dust, and all turn to dust again. Who knows whether the human spirit goes upward and the spirit of animals goes downward to the earth?” (Ecclesiastes 3:20-21).

Nevertheless, the concluding verses are open to God's judgment, and to a perspective that overcomes "futility under the Sun" “The end of the matter; all has been heard. Fear God, and keep his commandments; for that is the whole duty of everyone. For God will bring every deed into judgement, including every secret thing, whether good or evil. ” (Eccl 12:13-14).

Influences on other ancient writings

Ecclesiastes evidently influenced the deuterocanonical works, Wisdom of Solomon and Wisdom of Sirach, both of which contain vocal rejections of the Ecclesiastical philosophy of futility. As an example of this relationship among the books, consider the following pairs of passages:

Ecclesiastes: "For who knoweth what is good for man in this life, all the days of his vain life which he spendeth as a shadow? for who can tell a man what shall be after him under the sun" . "For that which befalleth the sons of men befalleth beasts; even one thing befalleth them: as the one dieth, so dieth the other; yea, they have all one breath; so that a man hath no preeminence above a beast: for all is vanity. All go unto one place; all are of the dust, and all turn to dust again" .
Wisdom of Solomon: "For the ungodly said, reasoning with themselves, but not aright, Our life is short and tedious, and in the death of a man there is no remedy: neither was there any man known to have returned from the grave"


Ecclesiastes: "And I gave my heart to seek and search out by wisdom concerning all things that are done under heaven: this sore travail hath God given to the sons of man to be exercised therewith" . "All this have I proved by wisdom: I said, I will be wise; but it was far from me. That which is far off, and exceeding deep, who can find it out?" .
Ben Sira: "Seek not out the things that are too hard for thee, neither search the things that are above thy strength. But what is commanded thee, think upon with reverence; for it is not needful for thee to see with thine eyes the things that are in secret. Be not curious in unnecessary matters: for more things are shewed unto thee than men understand" .

Traditional Judaism

In traditional Judaism, Ecclesiastes is read either on Shemini Atzeret
Shemini Atzeret
Shemini Atzeret is a Jewish holiday. It is celebrated on the 22nd day of the Hebrew month of Tishrei. In the Diaspora, an additional day is celebrated, the second day being separately referred to as Simchat Torah...

 (by Yemenites, Italians, some Sepharadim, and the mediaeval French Jewish rite) or on the Shabbat
Shabbat
Shabbat is the seventh day of the Jewish week and a day of rest in Judaism. Shabbat is observed from a few minutes before sunset on Friday evening until a few minutes after when one would expect to be able to see three stars in the sky on Saturday night. The exact times, therefore, differ from...

 of the Intermediate Days of Sukkot
Sukkot
Sukkot is a Biblical holiday celebrated on the 15th day of the month of Tishrei . It is one of the three biblically mandated festivals Shalosh regalim on which Hebrews were commanded to make a pilgrimage to the Temple in Jerusalem.The holiday lasts seven days...

 (by Ashkenazim). If there is no Intermediate Sabbath of Sukkot
Sukkot
Sukkot is a Biblical holiday celebrated on the 15th day of the month of Tishrei . It is one of the three biblically mandated festivals Shalosh regalim on which Hebrews were commanded to make a pilgrimage to the Temple in Jerusalem.The holiday lasts seven days...

, even the Ashkenazim read it on Shemini Atzeret
Shemini Atzeret
Shemini Atzeret is a Jewish holiday. It is celebrated on the 22nd day of the Hebrew month of Tishrei. In the Diaspora, an additional day is celebrated, the second day being separately referred to as Simchat Torah...

 (or, for Ashkenazim in the Land of Israel, on the first Shabbat
Shabbat
Shabbat is the seventh day of the Jewish week and a day of rest in Judaism. Shabbat is observed from a few minutes before sunset on Friday evening until a few minutes after when one would expect to be able to see three stars in the sky on Saturday night. The exact times, therefore, differ from...

 of Sukkot). It is read on Sukkot as a reminder to not get too caught up in the festivities of the holiday, as well as to carry over the happiness of sukkot to the rest of the year by telling the listeners that without God, life is meaningless. When the listeners take this to heart, then true happiness can be achieved throughout the year.
The final poem of Qoheleth (12:1-8) has been interpreted in the Targum, Talmud, Midrash, Jerome, Rashi, Rashbamand Ibn Ezra as an allegory of old age.

Messianic interpretation in Christianity

Nicholas Perrin
Nicholas Perrin
Nicholas Perrin is a scholar of New Testament and early Christianity. He is currently Associate Professor of New Testament at Wheaton College, Illinois...

 has suggested that the framing device of Ecclesiastes was used to point to the Messiah
Messiah
A messiah is a redeemer figure expected or foretold in one form or another by a religion. Slightly more widely, a messiah is any redeemer figure. Messianic beliefs or theories generally relate to eschatological improvement of the state of humanity or the world, in other words the World to...

. The book is framed by two sets of verses: 1:1-11, and 12:9-14. Both these sets of verses contain messianic allusions, which makes the entire book a pronouncement of the sage Messiah. Eccles 1:1 reads “The words of the Preacher, the son of David, king in Jerusalem.” This person has often been identified with Solomon
Solomon
Solomon , according to the Book of Kings and the Book of Chronicles, a King of Israel and according to the Talmud one of the 48 prophets, is identified as the son of David, also called Jedidiah in 2 Samuel 12:25, and is described as the third king of the United Monarchy, and the final king before...

, but Perrin finds this inapt. He points out that “son of David” by itself, is never used in the Hebrew Bible to denote Solomon; when Solomon is intended, he is named. And calling him “king in Jerusalem”, without a reference to his kingdom (e.g. Israel or Judah), is more typical in the Old Testament of the Eschatological Jerusalem than of historical Davidic kings. This opens up the possibility of viewing the figure as the Messiah rather than as Solomon.

In the period Ecclesiastes was written, references to the Davidic Messiah were often found along with wisdom and Jerusalem. In the non-canonical Psalms of Solomon
Psalms of Solomon
One of the Pseudepigrapha, the Psalms of Solomon is a group of eighteen psalms that are not part of any scriptural canon...

, the Messiah is associated with wisdom; and Ben Sira
Ben Sira
Jesus ben Sirach , commonly known simply as ben Sirach or Sirach and also rendered "Jesus son of Sirach" or "Jesus Siracides", was the author of the deuterocanonical Wisdom of Sirach and possibly the rabbinical Alphabet of Sirach...

 associates Wisdom with Jerusalem. So in Eccles 1:1 both the (wise) Preacher and Jerusalem are references to the Messiah. The very opening verse of the book presents to the reader a messianic figure.

The closing frame of Ecclesiastes again presents the Preacher, the messianic figure (12:9). The major messianic reference here is the “one shepherd” of verse 11. Most have interpreted the shepherd as God. This lends credence to the entire book, which is the aim of the epilogue. The authority of God and his Messiah are borrowed for the book of Ecclesiastes. The shepherd is also identified with the Messiah by Perrin. He shows that in the Hellenistic time of Ecclesiastes the “one shepherd” was a common messianic trope which is based on the Book of Ezekiel
Book of Ezekiel
The Book of Ezekiel is the third of the Latter Prophets in the Hebrew Bible, following the books of Isaiah and Jeremiah and preceding the Book of the Twelve....

. In chapters 34 and 37, Ezekiel describes the Davidic Messiah as the “one shepherd”: this wording is the same used in Eccles 12:11, and it is unique to these three passages. So the one shepherd is bound up with Nathan’s prophecy of the Davidic covenant of 2 Sam 7. Following the writing of Ezekiel, several works identified Davidic kings as being more than merely kings of Judah (e.g. 1 Chron 28:5) or as shepherd-Messiahs (Zech 11:7, 1 Enoch, Psalms of Solomon). Eccles 12:11 is one part of a messianic tradition spanning from Ezekiel up to Jn 10:16: “And I have other sheep, that are not of this fold; I must bring them also, and they will heed my voice. So there shall be one flock, one shepherd.”

Though a number of early Christian and medieval commentators understood this the text to be essentially eschatological, a portrayal of the end time, this view has received virtually no support among modern critics.
However, M.V. Fox has suggested that eschatological images may lie in the background of v. 2.

Final Verses

These are to be the lasting lessons of the book.

Firstly, to “fear God.” This point is made throughout Ecclesiastes (3:14, 5:6-7, 7:18, 8:12), though often with a hint of doubt. Here, it is made quite emphatically, with the idea being that one should have the correct relationship with God, where human is subservient to the deity. To “fear God” means to “respect, honor, and worship the Lord.”

Secondly, the narrator teaches that the reader should “keep [God’s] commandments.” This verse, in following “fear God,” suggests that one must be subservient to the eternal specifically by observing the commandments. The verse ends with two motive clauses, the first being: “for this is the whole duty of humanity” (Hebrew says ki zeh kol-ha’adam literally meaning “for this is the whole of humanity”). Rabbi Eleazar purports that this phrase suggests that, “the commands to fear and obey G-d were the most important things in life.” However, Ecclesiastes ends with a second clause, answering why we should fear and obey God. The answer is because “God will bring every deed into judgment” (12:14). Here, judgment and law are linked for the first time in Ecclesiastes. While judgment has been discussed earlier (3:16-22, 11:9), here it is correlated directly with obeying commandments. While Ecclesiastes had earlier suggested that the righteous suffer and the wicked prosper (7:15-18, 9:1-12), here there is a much more optimistic outlook; if one is faithful according to Qoheleth’s standards, one will be judged kindly.

Vanity

Qoheleth's stated aim is to find out how to ensure one's benefits in life, an aim in accord with the general purposes of wisdom literature
Wisdom literature
Wisdom literature is the genre of literature common in the Ancient Near East. This genre is characterized by sayings of wisdom intended to teach about divinity and about virtue...

. For Qoheleth, however, any possible advantage in life is destroyed by the inevitability of death
Death
Death is the permanent termination of the biological functions that sustain a living organism. Phenomena which commonly bring about death include old age, predation, malnutrition, disease, and accidents or trauma resulting in terminal injury....

. As such, Qoheleth concludes that life (and everything) is senseless. In light of this conclusion, Qoheleth advises his audience to make the most of life, to seize the day
Carpe diem
Carpe diem is a phrase from a Latin poem by Horace that has become an aphorism. It is popularly translated as "seize the day"...

, for there is no way to secure favorable outcomes in the future. Although this latter conclusion has sometimes been compared to Epicureanism
Epicureanism
Epicureanism is a system of philosophy based upon the teachings of Epicurus, founded around 307 BC. Epicurus was an atomic materialist, following in the steps of Democritus. His materialism led him to a general attack on superstition and divine intervention. Following Aristippus—about whom...

, for Qoheleth it comes about as the inevitable result of his failure to make sense of existence.

This conclusion is reflected in the refrain which both opens and closes Qoheleth's words:
The word translated senseless, הבל (hebel), literally means vapor, breath, but it could also mean "absurd". Qoheleth uses it metaphorically, and its precise meaning is extensively debated. Older English translations often render it vanity
Vanity
In conventional parlance, vanity is the excessive belief in one's own abilities or attractiveness to others. Prior to the 14th century it did not have such narcissistic undertones, and merely meant futility. The related term vainglory is now often seen as an archaic synonym for vanity, but...

. Because in modern usage this word has often come to mean "self-pride," losing its Latinate connotation of emptiness, some translators have abandoned it. Other translations include empty, futile, meaningless, absurd, fleeting, evanescent, or senseless. Some translations use the literal rendering vapor of vapors and so claim to leave the interpretation to the reader.

Ultimately, the author of Ecclesiates comes to this conclusion in the second to last verse of the last chapter:
"Vanity
Vanity
In conventional parlance, vanity is the excessive belief in one's own abilities or attractiveness to others. Prior to the 14th century it did not have such narcissistic undertones, and merely meant futility. The related term vainglory is now often seen as an archaic synonym for vanity, but...

 of vanities" is a Hebrew grammatical construction (idiom
Idiom
Idiom is an expression, word, or phrase that has a figurative meaning that is comprehended in regard to a common use of that expression that is separate from the literal meaning or definition of the words of which it is made...

) denoting the superlative
Superlative
In grammar, the superlative is the form of an adjective that indicates that the person or thing modified has the quality of the adjective to a degree greater than that of anything it is being compared to in a given context. English superlatives are typically formed with the suffix -est In...

; that is, it attests to an extreme degree of the quality, similar to "the lord of lords", "the king of kings" or "holy of holies
Holy of Holies
The Holy of Holies is a term in the Hebrew Bible which refers to the inner sanctuary of the Tabernacle and later the Temple in Jerusalem where the Ark of the Covenant was kept during the First Temple, which could be entered only by the High Priest on Yom Kippur...

" (used of the inner sanctuary of the Jerusalem temple).

Other translations of Ecclesiastes 1:2 include:
  • "Vanity of vanities, all is vanity."
  • "Futility of futilities, all is futile."
  • "Absolutely pointless! Everything is pointless." An American Translation
  • "Merest breath, said Qoheleth, merest breath. All is mere breath."

Classic English translation (King James Version) of the last two verses (12:13-14):

"Let us hear the conclusion of the whole matter: Fear God, and keep his commandments: for this is the whole duty of man. For God shall bring every work into judgment, with every secret thing, whether it be good, or whether it be evil."

See also

  • Bible
    Bible
    The Bible refers to any one of the collections of the primary religious texts of Judaism and Christianity. There is no common version of the Bible, as the individual books , their contents and their order vary among denominations...

  • Vanitas
    Vanitas
    In the arts, vanitas is a type of symbolic work of art especially associated with Northern European still life painting in Flanders and the Netherlands in the 16th and 17th centuries, though also common in other places and periods. The word is Latin, meaning "emptiness" and loosely translated...

  • Tanakh
    Tanakh
    The Tanakh is a name used in Judaism for the canon of the Hebrew Bible. The Tanakh is also known as the Masoretic Text or the Miqra. The name is an acronym formed from the initial Hebrew letters of the Masoretic Text's three traditional subdivisions: The Torah , Nevi'im and Ketuvim —hence...

  • Turn! Turn! Turn! by Pete Seeger
    Pete Seeger
    Peter "Pete" Seeger is an American folk singer and was an iconic figure in the mid-twentieth century American folk music revival. A fixture on nationwide radio in the 1940s, he also had a string of hit records during the early 1950s as a member of The Weavers, most notably their recording of Lead...

  • A Rose for Ecclesiastes
    A Rose for Ecclesiastes
    "A Rose for Ecclesiastes" is a science fiction short story by American author Roger Zelazny, first published in the November 1963 issue of The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction with a special wraparound cover painting by Hannes Bok...

     by Roger Zelazny
    Roger Zelazny
    Roger Joseph Zelazny was an American writer of fantasy and science fiction short stories and novels, best known for his The Chronicles of Amber series...

  • Tripping Billies
    Tripping Billies
    "Tripping Billies" is a song by the Dave Matthews Band, released as the fifth single from the album Crash. It originally debuted on their independent release Remember Two Things. It reached #18 on the Modern Rock Tracks chart...

     by Dave Matthews Band
    Dave Matthews Band
    Dave Matthews Band, sometimes shortened to DMB, is a U.S. rock band formed in Charlottesville, Virginia in 1991. The founding members were singer-songwriter and guitarist Dave Matthews, bassist Stefan Lessard, drummer/backing vocalist Carter Beauford and saxophonist LeRoi Moore. Boyd Tinsley was...

  • Wisdom of Sirach (also called Ecclesiasticus)
  • Q (novel)
    Q (novel)
    Q is a novel by Luther Blissett first published in Italian in 1999. The novel is set in Europe during the 16th century, and deals with Protestant reformation movements....

  • Alter, Robert. The Wisdom Books: Job, Proverbs, and Ecclesiastes: A Translation with Commentary. W. W. Norton & Company, 2010.

External links



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