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Books of Ketuvim
|Three Poetic Books|
|2. Book of Proverbs|
|3. Book of Job|
|4. Song of Solomon|
|5. Book of Ruth|
|6. Book of Lamentations|
|8. Book of Esther|
|9. Book of Daniel|
|10. Book of Ezra - Book of Nehemiah|
|11. Books of Chronicles|
Ecclesiastes, Kohelet in Hebrew, is a book of the Hebrew Bible. The title derives from the Greek translation of the Hebrew title: קהלת (variously transliterated as Qoheleth, Qohelethh, Kohelet, Koheleth, or even Coheleth).
The author represents himself as the son of David, and king over Israel in Jerusalem (1:1, 12, 16; 2:7, 9). The work consists of personal or autobiographic matter, largely expressed in aphorisms and maxims illuminated in terse paragraphs with reflections on the meaning of life and the best way of life. There is a long discourse on death.
"Kohelet" and "Ecclesiastes"Edit
The Hebrew קהלת is related to the root קהל meaning "to gather." Thus the nominal form קהל means "gathering, congregation." The Hebrew קהלת is probably a title (rather than a name) referring to one who gathers something. That something, given the context, is probably either aphorisms or a group of people for the purposes of instruction in wisdom.
The English title of the book, Ecclesiastes, comes from the Septuagint translation of Qoholet, Εκκλησιαστής. It has its origins in the Greek word Εκκλησία (originally a secular gathering, although later used primarily of religious gatherings, hence its New Testament translation as church).
The word Qoheleth has found several translations into English, including "the Preacher" (translating Jerome's ecclesiastes and Luther's der Prediger). Since preacher implies a religious function, and the contents of the book do not reflect such a function, this translation has largely been rejected by modern translations and scholars. A better alternative is teacher, although this also fails to capture the fundamental idea behind the Hebrew.
In the two opening chapters the author describes himself as the son of David, and king over Israel in Jerusalem, presenting himself as a philosopher at the center of a brilliant court. This could apply only to king Solomon, for his successors in Jerusalem were kings over Judah only. Consequently, the traditional Rabbinic and early Christian view attributed Ecclesiastes to king Solomon. This view has been abandoned by many modern critical scholars, who now assume that Qoheleth is a work in the pseudepigraphical tradition that borrowed weight for a new work by putting it in the mouth of a well-known sage. The modern critical view is that Ecclesiastes was written around 250 BC by a non-Hellenized intellectual in the milieu of the Temple in Jerusalem. The latest possible date for it is set by the fact that Ben Sirach (written cca 180 BC) repeatedly quotes or paraphrases it, as from a canonic rather than a contemporary writing.
Yet many modern conservative scholars today also recognize that Solomon is an unlikely author. Since this work is found within the Ketuvim, there must be some room for poetical treatment. There are two voices in the book, the frame-narrator (1.1-11; 12.8-14) and Qoheleth (1.12-12.8). Though this is not considered to be indicative of two authors, it does encourage the reader to place himself within the frame and see the pursuit of Wisdom from the perspective of Solomon. Thus, the author is probably a Hebrew poet who is using the life of Solomon as a vista for the Hebrews' pursuit of Wisdom (Ecc 1.13, 7.25 8.16; Job 28.12). This would place the book in the latter days of the canonical writings (see Josephus' claim for a closed cannon in the early post exilic age Against Apion 1.38-42) when wisdom seemed out of reach to the Hebrews (Ecc 1.17, 7.23; Pro 30.1-3)
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 Persian words. The influence of these two languages is characteristic of late Hebrew, and is thought to have occurred after Jerusalem was taken captive by Babylonian forces in 587 BC. However, the use of these languages could also be a reference by the author to the language skills Solomon would have accumulated through his development of international trade and industry, as well as from traveling dignitaries and other contacts with the outside world (1 Kings 4:30, 34; 9:26-28; 10:1, 23, 24).
Dominic Rudman, Determinism in the Book of Ecclesiastes (JSOTSup. 316; Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press, 2001, p. 13) cites the modern commentaries supporting this dating.
- Dominic Rudman. "A Note on Dating of Ecclesiastes". Catholic Biblical Quarterly vol. 61 no. 1 (1999) pp. 47-53 contains a discussion with C. L. Seow, "Linguistic Evidence and the Dating of Qohelet." in JBL vol. 115 (1996), pp. 653-54 - Seow supports a 4th century dating.
"Most current commentators e.g., R. N. Whybray, Ecclesiastes [NCB Commentary; Grand Rapids: Eerdmans; London: Marshall, Morgan & Scott, 1989] 4-12) argue for a mid-to-late-third-century date. Others, among them N. Lohfink (Kohelet [NEchtB; Wurzburg: Echter Verlag, 1980] 7) and C. E Whitley (Koheleth: His Language and Thought [BZAW 148; Berlin/ New York: de Gruyter, 1979] 132-46), have suggested an early- or mid-second-century background."
Placement in canonEdit
The book of Ecclesiastes uses the expression haelohim, "the God", 32 times. Clarke’s Commentary, Volume III, page 799, states: The book, entitled Koheleth, or Ecclesiastes, has ever been received, both by the Jewish and Christian Church, as written under the inspiration of the Almighty; and was held to be properly a part of the sacred canon.
Ecclesiastes also appears in harmony with other Scriptures where they treat the same subjects. It agrees with Genesis on man’s being made up of a body composed of the dust of the ground and having the spirit (or life-force) from God and the breath that sustains it (Ecclesiastes 3:20, 21; 12:7; Genesis 2:7; 7:22; Isaiah 42:5). Ecclesiastes also affirms the Bible teaching that man was created perfect and upright but willfully chose to disobey God (Ecclesiastes 7:29; Genesis 1:31; 3:17; Deuteronomy 32:4, 5). Ecclesiastes also acknowledges God as the Creator (Ecclesiastes 12:1; Genesis 1:1). Also, Ecclesiastes concurs with the rest of the Hebrew Bible as to the state of the dead (Ecclesiastes 9:5, 10; Genesis 3:19; Psalms 6:5; 115:17).
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. For Qoheleth, however, any possible advantage in life is destroyed by the inevitability of death. 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, for there is no way to secure favorable outcomes in the future. Although this latter conclusion has sometimes been compared to Epicureanism, 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:
- "Utterly senseless" says Qoheleth, "Utterly senseless, everything is senseless!"
The word translated senseless, הבל (hebel), literally means vapor, breath. Qoheleth uses it metaphorically, and its precise meaning is extensively debated. Older English translation often render it vanity, but in modern usage this word has come to mean "self-pride" and lost its Latinate connotation of emptiness and is thus no longer appropriate. Other translations include meaningless, absurd, fleeting 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:
- "The end of the matter; all has been heard. Fear God, and keep his commandments; for that is the whole duty of everyone."
Some argue that these two last verses are an addition to the original script since they stand in contrast to all of the previous statements made. Others argue that it actually completes the message by saying that nothing is of as high importance as the work of God.
- Few certain allusions to "Ecclesiastes" arise in the New Testament. Romans 8:20 is the most commonly cited allusion: "For the creation was subjected to futility..." (where futility renders the Greek word used in the Septuagint to render the Hebrew hebel as discussed above).
- The poem about times in Eccl. 3:1-8 is also well known as the inspiration for the Pete Seeger song, "Turn, Turn, Turn", recorded by The Byrds.
- In Ray Bradbury's 1953 novel, Fahrenheit 451, the protagonist, Guy Montag, represents the back-up copy of the Book of Ecclesiastes for the Book People.
- The protagonist in Roger Zelazny's 1963 Hugo award-nominated short story A Rose for Ecclesiastes uses quotations from Ecclesiastes to great emotional effect.
- In John Updike's novel, Rabbit, Run, Ecclesiastes is alluded to in the character of the minister, Reverend Eccles.
- The House of Mirth is a 1905 novel by Edith Wharton. The title is taken from Ecclesiastes 7:4: "The heart of the wise is in the house of mourning; but the heart of fools is in the house of mirth.”
- The title of Ernest Hemingway's The Sun Also Rises is taken from Ecclesiastes 1:5: "The sun also ariseth, and the sun goeth down, and hasteth to the place where he arose..."
- Jewish translations:
- Jewish Encyclopedia Ecclesiastes (Kohelet)
- Free audiobook of "Ecclesiastes (ASV) — Book 21 of the Holy Scriptures" from LibriVox
This article was forked from Wikipedia on April 1, 2006.
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