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The title of t his short book reads: ' The Words of Qo helet h, son of David,
king in Je rusalem' . 'Qoheleth' , cf. 1:2 and 12 ; 7:27 ; 12:8-10, is not a proper
name but a common noun, somet imes preceded by t he definite article; though
feminine in form it is treated as a masculine. The most likely explanat ion is
t hat Qohelct h indi cates t he funct ion of one who speaks in the assem bly (qahal;
in Greek the ekk lcsia, hence the book's Latin a nd English tit le transliterated
from the Greek Bible) ; it cou ld t herefore be rendered: the Preacher. This
Preacher is called ' son of Davi d and ki ng in Jerusalem' , 1:12, an d there is no
doubt that he is identified with Solomo n to whom t he text makes clear refere nce,
1:16 (cf. I K 3:12 ; 5: 10-/1; 10:7) and 2:7-q (cf. I K 3: 13; 10:23), t hough t he
name is not mentioned. This, however, is no mor e than a convent ional literary
device; the author co mmends his t houghts to the public under the name of the
greatest sage in Israel. The boo k's vocab ulary a nd style, as also its doct rine
of which we shall speak lat er, make it imposs ible to da te it before t he Exile.
It has often been maintained t hat the aut hor is not one but man y, that two,
thr ee, fo ur or even eight hands ca n be detected . But there is a growing disl ike
fo r an y dissection that bet rays a misunders tand ing of the book' s lite rary form
and of its theme.
As wit h the ot her Wisd om Books such as Jo b and Ecclesias ticus, not to
mention the composite Boo k of Pro verbs, the t heme progresses fitfull y: the
idea is stat ed, repeated, amended. There is no defi ned plan here, rather vari at ions
on a singl e theme, the emptiness of th ings human , which is enunciat ed at the
beginning of the book , I:2, and at the end, 12:8. Kno wledge, wealth, love, life
itsel f, all t hese things are illusory. Life is no more t ha n a succession of unrelated
and meanin gless events, 3: I-I I, ending in senility, 12: I-7, and death befalli ng
wise a nd foo lish, rich and poor, man and beast alike, 3: 14-20. Qo helet h's
problem is the same as Job's: do virtu e a nd vice get t heir dese rts on thi s earth?
Bot h Qoheleth and Job answer: No. Experience gives the lie to t he co nvent ional
answer, 7:25-8: 14. But, unli ke Job who seeks a mea ning for his sufferi ngs,
Qoheleth enjoys good heal t h yet discover s that happi ness itself is an empty
t hing and consoles himsel f with t he limited joys t hat life has to offer, 3:12- 13;
8:15 ; 9:7-9. Or rathe r he t ries to co nso le himself, for indeed his fail ure is as
evident at the end as at the beginning. He taxes his bra in over t he problem of
a fut ure life, but in vain, 3:21; 9: 10; 12:7. And yet he has faith in God: the
ways of God to man may dismay him, but God, he says, does not need to
justify t hem, 3:11,14 ; 7:13, while man for his pa rt must resign hi mself to
accept ing the sor ro ws and joys t ha t God send s, 7: 14, in bad times and good
keeping t he commandments and obeying a God who reads the human heart,
12:13- 14, cf. 9: 1.
979 IN T ROD U C T ION TO E C CLE S I A S T ES
The doctrine as we have stated it is drawn from the whole book, including
the las t few ver ses which raise doubts even among those who maintain the
unity of authorship. And indeed its incoherency is obvious. Rather than explain
the self-corrections and self-contradictions by a plurali ty of authors, it would
seem preferable to attribute them to t he osc illation of one man's mind con-
fronted with a mystery of mysteries and lack ing the data for a solution. No
ans wer could satisfy either Qoheleth or Job but that of reward and punishment
beyond the grave, cf. Introduction to Wisdom Books.
This book has the characteristics of a per iod of tr ansition. The old conven-
tional convictions have been shaken and as yet nothing has taken their place .
Hebrew thought is here at the crossroad s and foreign influence on Qoheleth's
thi nking has been the object of recent study. Scholars have looked to Egypt
with its Dialogue of the Man weary of life with his soul and the Sad Songs of the
Harpists; they have seen the influence of Greece (exercised through the Egypt
of the hellen istic period) with its Stoic, Epi curea n, and Cynic philosophies.
No detailed comparison carries convi ction but all br eat he t he same at mos phere.
Qoheleth is a Palestinian Jew but, being a sage by profession, he is alive to
international thought and sensitive to foreign influence. We have here the first
t hough indirect contact with hellenism. This dates the book. It must ha ve been
writt en at some time in the 3rd cent ury B.C., dur ing the Greek per iod but
before the time of t he Maccabees when fresh faith and a new hope came to
Isra el. Palestme was then under the suzerai nty of the Ptol emies and therefore
orientated towards Alexandria.
Ecclesiastes represents only one stage in the religious development of Israel;
it cannot be assessed in isolation from what has gone befo re and what will
follow. By underlini ng the inadequacies of earl ier notions and by compelling
reconsideration of the human enigma, it exposes the need of a new revelat ion.
It warns aga inst attachment to the goods of thi s world and, by den ying t hat
the rich are happy, prepares the world for hearing that ' blessed are the poor' ,
8 1 ECCLE SIA ST E S 2:26
myself gardens and orchards, planting every kind of frui t tree in them. -I had 1 Ch 27:27
pools made for watering t he pla nta t ions; - bought me n slaves, wo men slav es;
had ho me-born slaves as well ; he rds and floc ks I had too, more t ha n anyone
in Je rusalem before me.• I amassed silver and gold, t he tre as ures of kings and 1 K 9:28: 10
provinces; acquired singing men and singing wo men and every human luxury,
9 chest on chest " of it. •So I gr ew great, great er t ha n anyo ne in Je rusalem before
10 me ; nor did my wisdom leav e me. -I denied my eyes no thing t hey desired, 1 K 10:23
refused my heart no plea sure, a heart t hat found all my ha rd work a pleasure ;
I I such was t he ret urn I got for all my efforts. -I then reflected on all t hat my hands
had achieved and on all t he effort I ha d put into it s achieving. What vanity it
all is, and chas ing of the wind ! T here is not hi ng to be gained under the sun.
12 My reflections t hen turned to wisdom, st upi dity, folly. b For instance, what 1:9
\) can t he succe ssor of a ki ng do ? What has bee n do ne already. - More is to be
had fro m wisdom than fro m folly, as from lig ht t han fro m darkness; t his , of
co urse, I see:
Jn 8:12 +
l Jn 2:10-1 1
1: 11 11l
51 11: 18f
3: 12-13.22 :
5: 17 : 8:
5i 14: 14
)b 27: 16- 17
Pr 1): 22
2 a . The meaning of t he word in po st- biblical Hebr.
Ot hers interpret ' a pri ncess, pri ncesses' or ' a conc ubi ne.
co ncubines' , alluding to Solomo n' s ha re m.
b. Wisdom a nd folly. of course . a rc o f mor e a nd
less wo rt h ; but wisdo m does not sec ure a progeny to
be proud of or a l ast tn g memor y; nor d ocs it absolve
fr om deat h. Hence, wh y should the wiscc man bot her
about e ither?
c . The ma xim. ep icur ean in flavo ur . is adduce d
for t he sake of at gument : th ou gh t he a uthor uses it as
a refr ain . 5: 17 : 8: 15: 9:7. it does not represent his who le
view of life : he is not rccommendlna pleasure. to the
exclusio n of du ty. as t he ult imat e mot ive of human acts .
d. Tex t co rr .
c. Suc h was the ex pla na tio n of t he sages for the
p rob lem of the prosper ou s wicked . d. Pr 11:8 : 13:22:
Jb 27: 16f. Qohelcth co mments ironica lly on the
i nsuffici ency of th is doctrine.
f . So lomon h i m ~ l f , for all his pomp. I K 10:4f.
a nd desp ite his wisdom. was nOI tr uly happy.
~ . I.e. useless effort , wast e of time .
1 a . ' Qoh clet h' or ' Eccl esiastes' ; t he pe rson age of t he
asse mb ly IHebr . aahat, Greek ekklesiat , i.e . t he
President or Preacher ; or possibly t he spokes ma n fo r
(he assembly. per so nifica tion of the Public which.
wea ried of co nve nt ional teachi ng, is no w it self goi ng
to cla im a hearing.
b. Li ter ar y fiction identif yin g [he au thor with
Solomon, model of sages. I K 5: 9- 14 .
c . T he tradit ional 'v a nity' is ret a ined he re : t he
He br . term mean s primarily ' mis t' , ' br ea th'. one of (he
tr adition al grou p of ima ges (wa ter, shadow. smo ke. e t c. )
used in Hebr. poetry to describe the t ra nsit ory natu re
of man. But in Qo the wo r d ha s lost th is sense and
shmifies on ly the ill usory nature of t hings a nd hence
t he de lusio ns to whic h they subject mankind.
d. The det er mi nism of the cosmos. the mono ton ou s
framework of human life. T his wea r ies Qo hel et h while
excit ing Job to wo nde r a nd a dor ati on (Jb 38-40 : a nd
d . Ps 104).
e. Or ' a ll is (more) wea r isome (t han) man ca n sa y':
t his would change the mean ing: of what foll ows: ' The
eyes have not seen e no ugh and the ear s ha ve not heard
their fill' .
T he wise man sees ahead,
t he fool walks in the dark.
IS No doubt! But I know, to o, that one fat e awaits them both. · ' The fool's fate'
I thought to myse lf 'will be my fat e too. Of what use my wisdom, then ? This,
16 too,' I thought 'is vanity.' -Since there is no last ing memory for wise ma n or
for fool, and in the days t o come both will be fo rgo tten; wise man, alas, no
17 less than fool must die.• Life I have co me t o hate, for what is do ne under the
I X sun disgusts me, since all is vanity and chasing of the wind. · AlI I have toiled
\'/ for and now bequeat h to my successor I have come to hate ; - who kn ows whether
he will be a wise man or a fool? Yet he will be master of all the work into whi ch
20 I have put my efforts and wisdom under t he sun. That , too, is vanity. -And
hence I have come to despair of all the efforts I have expended under the sun.
21 For so it is t hat a man who has la boured wisely, ski lfully and successfully must
leave what is his ow n to someon e who ha s not to iled for it at all. T his, too,
22 is vanity and great inj ust ice ; -Ior wha t does he gain for all the toil and strain
lJ t hat he has undergo ne under t he su n? •What of all hi s laborious days, his cares
of office, his restless ni ghts? This , t oo, is vanity .
24 There is no ha ppiness for man but to eat and dr ink and to be co ntent wi th
25 his work .c This , to o, I see as so me thing from God's hand, -si nce plenty and
2( , penury- both co me from God ; - wisdorn, knowledge, jo y, he gives to t he man
who pleases him ; on th e sinner lays t he task of gat her ing and stori ng up for
anot her wh o is pleasing to God.' T his, too, is van ity and chasing of the wi nd.
I, Qohclcth, have reigned in Jerusa lem ove r Israel. - Wit h t he hel p of wi sdom l j
I have bee n at pains to study all that is done under heaven ; oh , what a weary
task God has give n mank ind to labour at ! · 1 have seen everyt hing tha t is don e 14
under t he sun, a nd what va nity it al l is, what chas ing of t he wind! "
Wh at is twi st ed cannot be st ra ightened,
what is not t her e ca nno t be counted .
A gene rat ion goes, a ge nerat ion co mes, yet the ea rth sta nds firm for ever. 4
T he sun rises, the sun sets ; t hen to its pl ace it speeds and there it rises. - So ut hward ~
goe s t he wind , then tu rns to t he north ; it turns a nd tu rns aga in ; back t hen to its
circl ing goes t he wind . • Into the sea all the rivers go, and yet the sea is neve r
filled, a nd st ill to t heir goa l t he river s go. • All th ings are wea risome. No man
ca n sa y' t ha t eyes have no t had enough of seeing, ears their fill o f hea ring. •What
was will be aga in; what has been done will be done again; and ther e is not hi ng
new un der the sun.•Ta ke a nyt hing of which it may be said, ' Look now, t his 10
is new'. Already, lon g before our t ime, it exis ted . -Only no mem ory rema ins II
of ea rlier times, just as in t imes to come next year itself will not be remember ed .
The career of Solomon!
T he words of Qo hclct h« son of David, kin g in Jerusalem. " • Va nity of
va nities ,' Qohclct h says . Vanity of vanit ies. All is vanity! • Fo r all his t oil, his
to il unde r the sun, what does man ga in by it ?
I t ho ught to myself, 'Very well, , will t ry pleasure an d see what enj oyment
has to offer ' . And t he re it wa s: va nity aga in! -This la ughter, , reflected, is a 2
madn ess, th is pleasure no usc at all. · 1 resolved to ha ve my bod y cheered wit h
wine, my heart st ill devot ed to wisdom; I reso lved to embrace folly to see what
made ma nkind happy, and wha t men do under hea ven in the few days they
have to live. · 1 d id gr eat t hings: bui lt myself palaces, plan ted vi neya rds; - rnadc
, t ho ug ht t o myself, " have acquired a grea ter stoc k of wisdom t han a ny 16
of my predecessors in Je rusa lem. , have great experien ce of wisdom a nd learning.'
Wisdom has been my ca reful study ; st upid ity, too , and folly . And now I hav e 17
come to recogn ise that even thi s is chasing of t he wind.
Muc h wi sdom, mu ch gri ef ,
the more knowledge, the more sorrow.
Ws H: 16
2: 12: 3:15:
Si 40: 11
Si 14; 18
1 K 11: 1-3
I K 3:12 :
5:9- 10 :
10: 1-[ 3
Si 47: 14· 18
G n 3: 17· 19
1 K 3: 13: 7:
98 2 98] ECCLES I ASTES 5:5
1:13 : 8:17:
Sl 11:4: 18:6
Gn 2:7 ; 3:19
J b 34:15
Jb 14: 10
Lv 27:1 +
Si I B:22
Si 7:14 : IB:
S1 1I :5
Jb 3:11-23 :
th an the co mmon lot ; moral conside ra tions a rc Ir r ele-
va nt. T he fate of man and beast is identical. Even
in the realm of just ice. migh t is t he cr iteri on of ri ght.
VV. 16,I H. t ho ug h God h imself sho ws pr eference for
the weak , v, I Sb.
d. This pas sin g do ub t is en ou gh to invest death
with terror. The conclu di ng words of the book are less
wild: th e life of man ret urn s to God who ga ve it , 12:7.
4 a. Life in the soci al gro up: brute for ce and [he
dan ger s facing the friend less, 4: 1- 12. politi ca l anoma lies.
4: 13-16, mechanical religion a nd t he ab use of vows,
4: 17-5:6 : tyr a nny, 5:7·8 .
S a. Allusion to sins com mi tt ed ' through inadver-
ten ce'. Lv 4:2.22 ,27; Nb 15:22,29. The ' a ngel'
3 a. Half man's occupations are ill-omencd, ha lf his
act ivities have LO do with sorrow. Dea th cast s its shadow
on life. wh ich is a ser ies of contradictory acts, vv. I-S.
wit ho ut any ot her goal . vv, 9- 13. than deat h, itsel f
mea n tngtcss. vv. 14-22.
b. Or ' God has set eternity in thei r heart' . Thi s
phrase. however, is not to be taken in t he Christ ia n
sens e ; it mea ns simply: God has given the hu ma n heart
(m ind) awar eness of <dura tio n', he ha s endowed him
wit h the power of reflec ting on t he sequence of events
a nd t hus of co ntrolli ng the presen t. But, t he a ut hor
ad ds. t his awareness is de ceptive : it does not reveal the
mea nin g of life.
c. In the conventiona l the or y of retribution, death
is th e punishment of sin. For Qoheleth dea th is no more
1 4I come aga in to contemplate all the oppression that is committed under
the sun. Take for instance the tears of the oppressed, with no one to protect
2 them ; the power their oppressors wield. No one to prot ect them! -So, rather
than the living who still have lives to live, I salute the dead who have already
3 met death ; •hap pier tha n both of these is he who is yet unborn and has not seen
4 the evil things that are done under the sun. • I see that all effort and all
achievement spring from men' s mutual jealousy. This, too, is vanity and chasing
of the wind.
The fool folds his ar ms
and cats his own flesh away.
- Bett er one handful of repose
than two hands full of effort
in chasing the wind. •And I observe another vanity unde r the sun: -a man
is quite alone-no son, no bro ther ; and yet there is no end to his efforts, his
eyes can never have their fill of riches. For whom, then, do I work so hard
and grudge myself pleasure? This, too, is vanity, a sorry business.
Bett er two than one by himself, since t hus their work is really profitable.
10 If one should fall, the oth er helps him up; but woe to the man by himself with
11 no one to help him up when he falls down. -Agai n: they keep warm who sleep
12 two together, but how can a man keep warm alone? •Where one alone woul d be
overcome, two will put up resistance; and a threefold cord is not qui ckly broken.
13 Better a lad beggarl y yet wise,
than a king old yet foolish
14 who will no longer take advi ce. -The lad may well step from prison to the thron e,
15 or have been born a beggar in the kingdom he now owns. ·1 observe that all who
live and move under the sun side with that lad, the usurp er who has succeeded.
16 He takes his place at the head of innumerable subjects ; sad, if later no one has
cause to be glad of him. This too, most cer tainly, is vanit y and chasing of the
17 When you go to the Temple, be on your guard. Go near so that you can
hear ; the sacr ifice is more val uable than the offering of fools, even if they are
unaware of doi ng wrong .
Be in no hurry to speak; do not hast ily declare yoursel f befor e God ; for God
is in heaven, you on earth. Be spa ring, then , of speech:
Dreaming comes from much worryin g,
foolish talk from a multiplicity of wor ds.
3 If you make a vow to God, discharge it without delay, for God has no love for
4 fools. Dischar ge your vow. • Better a vow unmade than made and not discharged.
5 Do not allow your own words to bring guilt on you, nor tell your angel afterwards
it was uni ntent ional. " Why should a word of yours give God occasion to be
angry, and destroy what you r hands have worked for?
SilL45 : 3There is a seaso n for everyt hing, a time for every occupation under heaven: I
A time for giving birt h,
a time for dying;
a time for plant ing,
a time for uprooting what has been plan ted.
A time for killing,
a time for healing;
a time for knocking down,
a time for building.
A ti me for tears,
a time for laugh ter ;
a time for mourning,
a time for da ncing.
A time for throwi ng sto nes away,
a time for gathering them up;
a lime for embracing,
a time to refrai n from embracing.
A time for searching,
a time for losing;
a time for keepi ng,
a time for th rowing away.
A time for tearing,
a time for sewing;
a time for keeping silent,
a time for speaki ng.
A time for loving,
a time for hating;
a time for war ,
a time for peace.
What does a man gain for the efforts that he makes? -I contempl at e the task 15
that God gives mankind to labour at. · AlI that he docs is apt for its time ; but 11
though he has permitted man to consider time in its who leness, I, man cann ot
comprehend the work of God from beginni ng to end .
I know ther e is no happiness for man except in pleasure and enjoyment while 12
2:24 + he Jives. -And when man eats and dr inks and finds happiness in his work, thi s 13
is a gift from God.
~ 1 ~ U : I know that what God does he does consistently.« To this not hing can be 14
added, from this noth ing taken away; yet God sees to it that men fear him. • What 15
1:9 is, al ready was; what is to be, has been already ; yet God cares for the persecuted.
4:1.3 : 5:7 But I still observe that under the sun crime is where law should be, the cr iminal 16
where the good shoul d be. · 'God' I thought to myself ' will judge both virtuous 17
and cr iminal , because there is a time here for all that is purp osed or done.' .1 also 18
thought that mankind behaves like this so tha t God may show them up for what
Ps 49:12 ,20 they are, and expose them for the brute beasts they arc to each other. -I ndeed, 19
9:4 the fat e of man and beast is identical ; one dies, the other too, and both have
the selfsame breath ; man has no advantage over the beast, for all is vanity.
Both go to the same place; both originate from the dust and to the dust both 20
return. •Who knows if the spiri t of man mounts upward or if the spirit of the 2 1
beast goes down to the earth?«
I see there is no happiness for man but to be happy in his work, for thi s is 22
2 : 2 6 ~ i 2 the lot assigned him. Who then can bring him to sec what is to happen after
E CCLES IA ST E S
85 E C C L ES IASTE S T I 2
Si 34: 1-5
Si 27: 13
1m 1: 19
Pr 2 1:1
3b 8:9 : 14:2
7 a. Aus tere st r ictures o n ga ie ty.
b. "laughter, merri men t' ca rr. He br . ' oppress io n.
br ibe' .
c. T he Law had enunciated the p ri ncip le of co llec t-
ive retribution: for Isra el . prosper it y was co nt ingent
on fide lit y, cf. Ot 7: 12f: 11:26-28 : 2R: I-6 8 : Lv 26,
T he sages ha d a pplied t his pr-incipl e to t he ind ivid ua l:
God re nders to eac h as his wor ks deser ve, Pr 24: 12:
Ps 62: 12: Jb 34: 11. Fr om thi s they infer red that a man ' s
pr ese nt condit ion wa s proportionate to his deserts ,
Wh en experie nce cont radtcted th is. their answer was:
thc nrosncr i I }' of the wicked a nd the misf ortunes of t he
vi rt uo us arc neit her o f them lastin g, Thi s is Ihe thesis
of Ps 37 a nd of the fr fend s of Jo b. Oohc leth refut es it.
He co unters the conventiona l so lut ion wi th sce pt icism.
7:9- 12. Lif e mu st be tak e n as it ce r nes. wi thout
see k ing e xp la nations. If life a nd dea th are
so capriciously ord ained . 7: 15. t here is no point in
maki ng supe r huma n ctfor ts. Re p ut a tion mea ns
nothing, 7: Th e wor ld of t he senses is inexplicab le.
Realit y is a fat homless myst ery . 7:23f (wi th a pa re n-
thesis d irected aga inst wo me n. 7:25-28). Fa te is blind.
pi til ess (no t spa ri ng kin gs, H: 1-9) a nd e ven per verse.
H: Concl us ion: H: 15.
d. Lit , 'Wisd om is goo d as (wit h?) an inher ita nce' .
Bett er a good name than costly oil,
t he day of death than the day of birth.
Better go to t he ho use of mourni ng
t han to t he house of feastin g ;
for to this end all men come,
let the living take t his to hea rt.
Better sadness t han lau ght er,
a severe face confers some benefit.
The hea rt of the wise is in the hou se of mourning,
the hea rt of foo ls in the house of gaiety.
Better attend to a wise ma n's rep rimand
t ha n listen to a song sung by a fool.
For like the crackl ing of t horns under the cauldron
is the laught er of fool s:
thi s is va nity, to o.
For laughter ma kes a foo l of t he wise ma n
and merriment co rru pt s the heart. "
(messen ger ) may be the Driest who witnes ses t he
di scha r gin g of th e vow , but th e LX X rea din g (' God ')
sugges ts that a ngel is the ri gh t meaning here, one of
t he a nge lic func tion s being ( 0 give God a n ac count of
man ' s good works, Tb 12: 12 + ; Ac lOA .
b. Text cor rupt : we add ' chasing of th e wind' .
c. Lit. ' The pro fit of the ea rt h is for al l, the kill J.:
is served by t he field', These ar e common excuses fo r
corrupt ad min istrat ion . cf. I S H:12-14: I K 2 1
d. A satire no ! (as in Pr ) on t he wicked plutocrat
but on mo ney it self . ill or well acq u ired . il l or well used.
Mon ey secures neither li fe nor happiness. Thi s
evalua tio n prepares the gro und fo r the gospel teachin g
on det ach ment, Mt 6: The sequence
of ideas is as follows: money is ba dl y d istribut ed. 5:9,
squa ndered . 5: 10. hard to come by. 5:11, painful to
lose, 5: 12- 16, Therefore , man ma y as well sp end it as
it co mes. 5: 17- 19. Three examples of all t hi s: wealth
that goes to a not her. 6: 1-2. t he r ich man without a tomb.
6:3-6. po vert y apin g plen ty. 6:7-11. Concl usio n: 6: 12.
e. Th e trans la tion foll ows the Greek.
6 a. ' a hu ndred sons and as ma ny da ught er s' cc r r. :
'3 hu ndr ed (so ns ) a nd (l ivin g) ma ny years' Heb r.
b. Lit. ' (why ch oose) on e ra ther th an the ot her?'
c. LiL ' who knows ho w to wa lk bef or e th e li ving' .
Better the end of a matter than its begi nn ing,
bett er patience t han prid e.
1& Do not be hasty with yo ur resentmen t, for resentment is found in t he heart
of fools. • Do not ask why earli er days were bett er than t hese, for that is not
a question prompted by wisdom . •Wisdom is a prec ious legacy," a boon for
g those on whom t he su n shines. • Fo r as money gives protect ion , so does wisdo m;
and the goo d that kn owledge imparts is this: its possessor finds t hat wisdom
keeps hi m sa fe.
11 dispute wit h one stronger than hims elf. •The more words, the greater the
va nity of it all ; and what doe s man get fro m it ?
Wh o knows what is good for man in his lifetime, in those few days he lives
so vainly, days t hat like a shado w he spends? Who can tell a man what will happen
under the sun after his time?
Fo r every dre am, a vanity to match ;
too many words, a cha sing of the wind. b
There fore, fear God.
If in a province yo u see the poor oppressed, right and justice violated, do not
be surprised. You will be to ld that officials are under the supe rvision of superiors,
who a re supervised iri turn ; •you will hear talk of 'the co mmo n good' and ' the
service of t he king'. c
He who loves money never has money enough,
he who loves wealth never has enough profi t ;
t his, too is van ity.
Where goods abound, 10
parasites abound ;
a nd wha t is the good of t hem to t heir owner? That he can feast his eyes on
t hem. •The labourer ' s sleep is sweet, whether he has ea ten litt le or much; but II
t he rich man 's weal th will not let him sleep at all. -There is a great injustice 12
t ha t I obser ve under the sun: riches stored and tu rn ing to loss for t heir owner.
One unlucky venture, and t hose riches are lost ; a son is born to him, a nd he has 13
noth ing to leave him. • Naked from his mother's womb he ca me, as naked as 14
he came he will depart again; nothin g to ta ke with him after a ll his efforts.•This 15
is a grievous wrong, t ha t as he came, so must he go; what profit can he sho w
after to iling to earn the wind, 'as he spe nds the res t of his days in da rkness, 16
grief, worry, sickness a nd resent ment? '
This, t hen, is my co nclusion: t he right hap piness for man is to eat a nd dr ink 17
a nd be content wit h a ll t he work he has to do und er the sun, during t he few
days God has given him to live, si nce thi s is t he lot ass igned him. •And whenever 18
God gives a man riches and property, wit h the ab ility to enjoy them a nd to find
content ment in his work, t his is a gift from God . • He will not need to brood, 19
at least, over the durat ion of his life so long as God keeps his hea rt occupied
wit h joy.
There is an evil I obs erve under the sun, that weighs men down: 'suppose
a man has received from God riches , property, honours- not hing at a ll left
him to wish for. Yet God does not give him t he chance to enjoy them, but some
str anger enjo ys t hem. Ther e is vanit y here, and grievous suffering. •Or perha ps
a man has had a hundred so ns and as many da ughters" a nd lived for many
years, and t hen derives no benefit from his esta te, not even a tom b to ca ll his
own. Why t hen I say, bett er the untimely-born than he:
In darkness arriving,
in darkness depart ing ;
even his na me is wrapped in darkness .
Never seei ng the sun,
never knowi ng rest;
the one no more than the other. b • Even if the ma n had lived a thousand years
twice over, wit ho ut deriving profit from his estate, do not both alike go to the
same pla ce?
Man toils but to eat,
yet his belly is never filled.
Wha t advantage has t he wise ma n over the foo l? And what about the pa uper
who keeps up appearances before his fellow mcn? « •Do a ppearances cou nt more
than t he co ndi tion of the belly? This, too, is vanity and chas ing of t he wi nd.
What has been already has a name ; an d wha t man is, is known ; he cannot 10
3:16 : 4: 1
lb 3:1 I
1 Tm 6:7
SI 14:3- 19
Consider the wor k of God ; who can set straight what he has made crooked? g
When times are prosperous, enjoy your happiness ; when times are bad, consider )1
t his: the one is God' s doing, as is the ot her, in order that man may know
nothing of his destiny.' -I n this fleeting life of mine I have seen so much: the
vir tuous man perishing for all his virtue, for all his god lessness the godless
Si 40:5- 6
Jb 9:22 ; 21.
P5 115: 11
7:15: 9: 2
Hol y Place; while those who had done good were
f org ot ten in the cnv' .
9 a. Hcbr . repea ts ' all this'. 'I hav e come to under-
stand ' cor r. (Lit. 'my hear! saw') . 'all they do' lit.
"t hei r work s', Iullowi ng Syr .
h. He exncr lcnccs these e mot ions but fails to
unde rstand them . Like death and dest iny love is bli nd
c . ' vanity' corr. : ' evervuu na' Hebr .
d. Apparent ly refe rr-ing to cx travagunt presents to
the living and (by bultdlne elaborate to mbs) to the dead.
IIcbr. li t. ' Madness is in their hearts while they live
and afte rwards for the dead ', We insert 'tow ards the
living ' before 'in th ei r lifeti me' .
e. ' is li nked' ce re and versions: ' is chosen' ket ib,
r. Sor row a t the deat h of those once loved moder-
ales the fo llow ing invitatio n to enjo y life, vv,
d. 2:24 1-, by a recommendation to cons tancy, v. 9,
unti l the final pani ng, v, 10.
8 a. 'This (I) say' added.
h. The king wiel ds a sacred authori ty. The 'oat h
of G od' rnuy be the pr omi se given by G od to the ki ng,
2 S 7; Ps or else t he oa th sworn \0 God eit her by
the king or by his subje cts.
c . Probable mea ni ng, Hcbr. obscure : lit. 'for the
miser y of man is great on hi m' ,
d. Lit. 'because they act ed thus' , The who le verse
is obscu re and has been cor rec ted here follow ing the
<ired. ':1'. JI) 2 1:27-34. Other translations 'The n, 100.
I have see n th cwicked carried to the grave ; th ey used
to go to rt b from the holv place and were honoured in
the city": or 'Then, to o, I have see n the wic ked
ap proac hing and entering, but the y went away from the
c. Lit. 'may find no thi ng after him', Or possib ly
und ersta nd ' fi nd no created thing reliable".
f. ' to t hc God-fearing man' wit h Greek.
1!,. Text cor r.
h. Lit. 'in all these '
12 heart s are intent on doin g wron g. -The sinner who does wrong a hundred time s
survives even so. I know very well tha t happi ness is reser ved for those who fear
13 God, because t hey fear him; -that the re will be no hap piness for the wicked ma n
and t hat he will only eke out his day s like a shadow, because he does not fear God.
14 But there is a van ity found on earth; the good, I mean , receive t he treatment the
wicked dese rve; an d the wicked t he t reatment the good deserve. This, too,
I say, is vanity.
15 Joy, then , is the object of my praise, since under t he sun there is no happiness
for man except in eat ing, dr inking and pleasure. This is his standby in his toil
through the days of life God has given him under t he sun.
16 Wisdom having been my careful study, I ca me to observe the business that
goes on here on earth. And certai nly the eyes of man never rest, day and night.
17 And I loo k at a ll t he work of God: plain ly no one can discover what the work
is t hat goes on under the sun or explain why man should toil to seek yet never
discover. Not even a sage can discover it, t hough he may claim to know.
1 9 For I have reflected on all thi s and come to understand that the virtuous
and the wise with all they do are in the hand of God. "
Man do es not know wha t love is, or hate, " and both of these in his eyes -are
Just as one fate comes to al l, to virtu ous as to wicked, to clean and unclean,
to him who sacrifices and him who doe s not sacrifice, so it is with t he good man
and t he sinner, wit h him who tak es an oath and hi m who shri nks from it. -This
is the evil that inheres in all t hat is done unde r t he su n: that one fate comes to all ;
further, that the hea rts of men shou ld be full of mal ice; t hat they sho uld practise
4 such extravagances towards t he living in t heir lifetime and t he dead the reafter."
For anyone who is linked with all that live st ili has some hope,' a live dog being
5 better t han a dead lion.•The living know at least that they will die, the dead
know not hing ; no more reward for them, their memory has passed out of mind .
6 Their loves, their hat es, t heir jeal ousies, these all have perished, nor will the y
ever again ta ke part in wha tever is done under the sun . "
Go, eat your bread with j oy
and drink your wine wit h a glad heart ;
for what you do God has approved beforehand.
Wea r white all the time,
do not stint your head of oil.
Spend your life with the woman you love, through all the fleeting days of the life Pr 5:15+
t hat God has given you under t he sun; for this is the lot assigned to you in life
Do not be over-vi rtuous
nor play too much the sage;
why drive yourself too hard?
Do not be wicked to excess,
a nd do not be a fool;
why die before your time? -The best thin g is to hold the one and not let go the
othe r, for both of these will happen to the God-feari ng man . "
Wisdom lend s more st rength to the wise than ten rulers in a city . •There
is no virt uous man on earth who, doing good, is ever free of sin. • Anot her
th ing: pay no att ention to tellt ales; you may hear that yo ur serva nt has reviled
you ; ' your own heart knows how often you have reviled others. 33
I have pu t all th is to the test by wisdom, claiming to be wise; but wisd om has
been beyo nd my reac h. • Reality lies beyond my grasp; a nd deep, so deep, who 31
can discover it?
Once again I was at pai ns to study wisdom a nd retribution, «to see wickedness
as folly, a nd foo lishness as ma dness. ·1 find woman mo re bitter than death ;
she is a sna re, her hear t a net, her a rms arc chains ;
He who is pleasing to God eludes her ,
but the sinner is her capti ve.
This then you must know, says Qohelet h, is the sum of my investi gation, putt ing 3.;
thi s and t hat toget her. ·1 have made ot her resea rches too, wit hout result.
One man in a t housand 1 may find,
but never a woma n better t ha n t he rest."
This, however, you must know: I find that God made man simple; man' s co mplex
problems are of his own devising.
Who is like the sage?
Who else can solve a problem?
The wisdo m of a man lends brightness to his face;
his face, once grim, is altered.
This 1 say:" Obey the comma nd of t he king, for the sake of the oa t h of God; /, 2
do not ras hly transgress it ; do not be stubborn when the cause is not a good
one, since he acts as he t hinks fit; -for the word of the king is paramount, a nd 4
who dare say to him, 'W hy do that?'
He who obey s the command will come to no harm,
and the wise man knows t here will be a time of ju dgement.
For there is a ti me of j udgement for everything ; and man runs gr ave risks, '
since he does not know wha t is going to happen ; and who can tell him when 7
it will happen? • No man can master the wind so as to hold it back, nor co ntrol 8
the day of death. There is no discharge in time of war; no more can wickedness
set its author free. · AIl this I observe as I consider all that is done under t he 9
sun, whe never man tyrannises over man to his hurt.
And then I see t he wicked brough t to burial a nd people come from the Temple 10
to honour them in t he city for hav ing been t he men t hey were." This, too, is
vanity. -Since the sentence on wrong-doing is not carried out at once, men's inmost II
J b 28: / 2
8: 14: 9:2
1 K 8:46
Jb 14:4 ·/
Rm 13: lf
Jg / 6
"Jr 5:3-4; 7:
s: 42: 14
9:10 ECCLE S I ASTES
E CC L ES I AS TE S 12:3
2 M 7:22
11 a. Some t ak e th is to mean ba it th rown in t he water
by the fisherm an and recovered in t he fo rm of his
catch: ot her s inte rp re t 'bread ' as merchandise, shipped
a broad and bringing home a profit. Th is passage on
lak ing chances th ro ws li ght o n t he att it ude Qoheleth
wishes to instil into hi s di sci pl e. He does not wish to
disco ura ge him for disco uragement's sake, b ut to rob
him of hi s illusions a nd thus sa ve h im fr om error.
After all . ri sks do have to be taken .
b. Lon g life was the rewa rd promised to the Is-
rae lit es in the di scou rses of Dt (5:16.33 ; 11:9,21;
22:7. e tc .). and was the grea test happiness th e sages
had to offer the virtuou s . For Oo he teth , old age is no t
happiness but fear of death, 11:8. re gret s for yo ut h,
11:8-12:2, th e slow ing-down of life, 12:3·5 b, a wa iti ng
for the ir remediab le. 12:5c-7.
c. A maxim on yo uth which Ooheleth emends
with sober advice.
12 a . Pic ture of old age a nd its weakness .
b. ' day' corr.; 't he wo men who lo ok out' Hebr.
f. Also translated ' in sleep'.
lit. A less co he rent sec t ion th an those p receding:
Qoheleth her e asse mbles sa yin gs and illu str ations on the
subiect of c ha nce . Cha nce ign ores merits. 9: 11-12.
Ma ny things fail or succeed for trivial causes. 9: 13-
10:20. Life is a game of cha nce: ri sk is a n esse nua l part
of it . 11:1-6.
h. 'evil' cor r., cr. 5:12 ; 6: 1; 9:3 . ' a (piece of) wisdom'
i . ' mistake' corr.; 'si nne r' Heb r.
10 a . 'a bow l' Svr.
b. Li t. 'The wise man' s heart is on hi s right han d .
the foo l' s on his left ' .
c. The words 'w isdo m' and ' success' have been
int erch anged for the sa ke of the se nse .
d. Te xt of th is line doub tf ul ; we insert 't he way
ca nnot' ,
e. V. 19 re fers back to vv , 16-17. representing the
emp ty excu se of the ca r ousin g pr inces,
20 Do not curse the king, even in thought ;"
do not curse the rich, even in your bedroom,
for a bird of the air will carry the news ;
indiscretion sprouts wings.
Cast your bread on the water; at long last you will find it again." -Share
with seven, yes with eight, for you never know what disaster may occur
3 on ear th. •When clouds are full of rain, they empty it out on the earth. Let the
tree fall south or north, where the tree falls there it lies.
4 Keep watching the wind and you will never sow,
stare at the clouds and you will never reap.
5 Just as you do not know the way of the wind or t he mysteries of a woman with
child, no more can you know the work of God who is behind it all.
In the morning sow your seed,
do not let your hands lie idle in the eveni ng.
Fo r which will prove successful, this or that, you cannot tell; and it may be that
both will turn out well together.
Light is sweet; at sight of the sun the eyes are glad.• However great the number
of the years a man may live, let him enjoy them all, and yet remember that dark
days will be many. All that is to come is vanity.
Rejoice in your youth, you who are young;'
let your heart give you joy in your young days.
Follow the promptings of your heart
and the desires of your eyes.
But this you must know: for all these things God will bring you to judgement.
10 Cast worry from your heart,
shield your flesh from pain.
Yet youth, the age of dark hair, is vanity. 12 And remember your creator in
the days of your youth, before evil days come and the years approach when
2 you say, ' These give me no pleasure', -before sun and light and moon and sta rs
grow dark, and the clouds return after the rain;
the day when thos e who keep the house tremble"
and str ong men are bowed;
when the women grind no longer at the mill,
because day " is darkening at the windows
Of the words he speaks folly is the beginning, sheer mad ness the end . ·A fool li
is a great spender of words; man does not know the future; so who can tell him
what is to happen after his time?
Fools find hard work irksome ;
he who does not know the way cannot go to town."
A bad outlook for you, country with a lad for king, and where princes f east 16
in the morning. •Happy the country whose king is nobly born, where princes 17
eat at a respectable hour to keep themselves str ong, not to make themselves
and in the efforts you exert under the sun. •Whatever work you propose to 10
do, do it while you can, for there is neither achi evement, nor planning, nor
knowledge, nor wisdom in Sheol where you ar e going.
I see this too under the sun: the race does not go to t he swift, nor the battle 11
to the strong; ther e is no bread for the wise, wealth for the intelligent, nor favour
for the learned ; all are subject to time and mischance.•Man does not know his 12
hour; like fish caught in the treacherous net, like birds taken in the snare, so
is man overtaken by misfort une suddenly falling on him.
I observe another evil- under the sun, to me a grave one. -There was a li
small town, with only a few inhabitants; a mighty king marched against it,
laid siege to it and built great siege-works round it. •But a poverty-str icken sage 15
confronted him and by his wisdom saved the town. No one remembered this
poor man afterwards.•Now I say: wisdom is better t han strength, but a poor 16
man's wisdom is never valued and his words are disregarded. •The gentle words 17
of the wise are heard above the shout s of a king of fools.
Better wisdom than warlike weapons, but one mistake' undoes a deal of 18
good. 10 Dead flies spoil a bowla of perfumed oil; a litt le folly is stronger t han 1
wisdom and honour.
The wise man's heart leads him ar ight , 2
the fool's heart leads him astray. b
A fool has only to walk along the road and , havi ng no sense, he makes plain
to all what a fool he is.
With the anger of the ruler mounting against you, do not leave your post; 4
composure avoids many a fault. •There is an evil I observe under t he sun, 5
the type of misjudgement to which rulers are pro ne: -folly promoted to high 6
dignities, rich men taki ng the lowest place. -Slaves I see on horseback, princes 7
going on foot like slaves.
He who digs a pit may fall into it;
a man saps a wall , the serpent bites him.
He who quarries stones may be hurt by them;
he who chops wood takes a risk.
If for want of sharpening the axe is blunt, you have to stri ke very hard, but the 10
reward given by wisdom is success.' •If the snake bites before it is charmed, 11
what is the use of the charmer?
Words from a wise man's mouth are pleasing,
but a fool' s lips procure his own ruin.
0 . 5:9
Pe 19: 10;
2 Ch 22:4
Owing to neglect the roof-tree gives way ;
for want of care the house lets in the rain.
p / I g ~ : g -But meals are made for laughter. Wine gives j oy to life. Money is t he answer 19
to everything. e
Pr 1:5: 24:5
12=4 ECCLESIAS TES
THE SONG OF SONGS
The Song of Songs, tha t is to say 'the greatest of all songs' , is a series of love
poems in whic h lover and loved are now united, now div ided , now scught, now
found. The lover is called 'king' , 1:4 and 12, and 'Solomon', 3:7 and 9; his
beloved is called 't he Shulamrni te', 7: I, which tit le, it is tho ught, is related to
the 'Shunammite' of David's time and Solomon's, I K 1:3; 2:21-22. That
Solomon was a writer of songs Hebrew tradition was aware, I K 5: 12: for this
reason 'the greatest of all songs' was attributed to him (hence the title. 1:1);
in the same way as Proverbs, Ecclesiastes and Wisdom were credited to Solomon
in his capacity of sage. Th is titular attribution caused t he Song to be placed
among the Wisdom Books, after Ecclesiastes in the Greek Bible, between
Ecclesiastes and Wisdom (two ' Solornonic' books) in the Vulgate . In the Hebrew
Bible it is the first of t he five megillo th, or ' rolls' , which were recited at the
great feasts ; the Song was read at Passover.
People have fou nd it surprising that a book that makes no mention of God
and whose vocabulary is so passionate should figure in the sacred canon. The
do ubts in Jewish circles of the 1st century A.D. were, however, settled by an
appeal to tradition. On these same grounds the Christian Church has always
accepted t he Song as part of holy scr ipture.
Of all the Old Testa ment books t his has been most variou sly interpreted.
Only two of these int erpretati on s are acceptabl e. The Jewish rabbis understood
it allegorically ; t he relationship of lover and beloved is that between God and
Israe l, the tr aditional prophetic marri age met aphor dating from Hosea. The
writers of the early Church, with the exception of Theodore of Mop suestia,
adopted the same explanation, though with them the allegory beco mes one of
Chri st an d his Churc h. This allegorical interpretation is accepted, unde r vario us
forms, by t he maj ority of Catholic commen tators today. Some are co ntent
with the general theme , the elaborati on being purely literary, of God t he
bridegroom ofIs rael. Ot hers see in the sequence of t he Song the story of Israel's
cha nging sea sons of conversion, hope, disillusionment. This last int er pretation
is full y explained in the footnotes given here.
Other scholars prefer the more obvious meani ng. For them the Song is a
collec ti on of hymns to true love sanctified by union. And since God has given
his blessing to marriage , the theme is of t he religious and not merely of the
phys ical or der. Other book s of the Old Testament touch upon th is same subject
of human love, Prover bs and Ecclesiasticus for exa mple; t he approach is the
same as that of the Song and, at times, the ver y ph rases. It is a noble t heme an d
the prophets rightly saw in it an apt image of God ' s love for Israel. The topic
is not unworthy of a book that was to be received into the sacred canon and
recognised as inspired.
but also his greatne ss. by showing that thi s world is not
worthy of him. It incit es the reader to disinterested
religion and to that kind of prayer in which a creat ure.
aware of its noth ingness . adores the mystery o f Go d.
er. Ps 39.
g. Commendatory epil o gue : eulogy of Oo heleth,
vv. s-tt, hardships of writing book s. v. 12. advice for
a Quiet mind. vv. 13-14.
h. Meaning doub tful. text corr.
i. Defective phrase ; we insert 'duty' .
Besides being a sage, Qoheleth also taught his knowledge to the people, 9
having weighed, studied and amended a great many proverbs. -Qoheleth tried 10
to write in an attractive style and to set down truthful thoughts in a stra ight-
forwa rd manner.
The words of the sages are like goads, like pegs driven deep; a shepherd uses II
these for the good of his flocks."
One last thing, my son, be warned that writing books involves endless hard 12
work, and that much study wearies the body.
To sum up the whole matter: fear God, and keep his commandments, since 13
this is the whole duty of man.i 0 For God will call all hidden deeds, good or bad, 14
to judge ment.
12 c. ' the voice of the bird is silenced (ceases)' corr.
d. Here agai n. cf. 1:4f. indifferent nature forms the
backcloth for human death. The old man dies at the
very mo ment that nature revi ves with the spring. 'is
heavy with food', ' hears its rruu' , corr.
c. The earthly part of man returns [0 earth. But
since no thing on this eart h can satisfy him. no t all of
him originates from earth. and that which is of God .
returns to God .
C. The book ends as it began but has covered much
ground in between. It has taught man his wretchedness
and the street doors are shut;
when the sound of the mill is faint,
when the voice of the bird is silenced,«
and song notes are stilled,
when to go uphill is an ordeal
and a walk is somethi ng to dread .
Yet the almond tree is in flower,
the grasshopper is heavy with food
and the caper bush bears its fruit,"
Ps49:11 while man goes to his everlasting home. And the mourners are already walking
to and fro in the street
before the silver cord has snapped,
or the golden lamp been broken,
or the pitcher shattered at the spr ing,
or the pulley cracked at the well,
or before the dust returns to the earth as it once came from it, and the breath 7
to God who gave it.'
Vanity of vanities, Qoheleth says. All is vanity/
Ps 104:29 :
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