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Ecclesiastes
Ecclesiastes
(/ɪˌkliːziˈæstiːz/; Greek: Ἐκκλησιαστής, Ekklēsiastēs, Hebrew: קֹהֶלֶת‬, qōheleṯ) is one of 24 books of the Tanakh
Tanakh
or Hebrew Bible, where it is classified as one of the Ketuvim
Ketuvim
(or "Writings"). Originally written c. 450-180 BCE, it is also among the canonical Wisdom Books in the Old Testament
Old Testament
of most denominations of Christianity. The title Ecclesiastes
Ecclesiastes
is a Latin transliteration of the Greek translation of the Hebrew Kohelet, the pseudonym used by the author of the book. The book is a musing by a King of Jerusalem
Jerusalem
as he relates his experiences and draws lessons from them, often self-critical. The author, introducing himself as the son of David, discusses the meaning of life and the best way to live. He proclaims all the actions of man to be inherently hevel, meaning "vain" or "futile", ("mere breath"), as both wise and foolish end in death. Kohelet clearly endorses wisdom as a means for a well-lived earthly life. In light of this senselessness, 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. The book concludes with the injunction: "Fear God, and keep his commandments; for that is the whole duty of everyone" (12:13). Ecclesiastes
Ecclesiastes
has had a deep influence on Western literature. It contains several phrases that have resonated in British and American culture, and was quoted by Abraham Lincoln addressing Congress in 1862. American novelist Thomas Wolfe
Thomas Wolfe
wrote: "[O]f all I have ever seen or learned, that 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
Ecclesiastes
is the greatest single piece of writing I have ever known, and the wisdom expressed in it the most lasting and profound."[1]

Contents

1 Structure 2 Summary 3 Composition

3.1 Title, date and author 3.2 Genre and setting 3.3 Canonicity

4 Themes 5 Judaism 6 Catholicism 7 Influence on Western literature 8 See also 9 Citations 10 References 11 Further reading 12 External links

Structure[edit] Ecclesiastes
Ecclesiastes
is presented as an autobiography of "Kohelet" (or "Qoheleth", meaning "Assembler", but traditionally translated as "Teacher" or "Preacher"[2]). Kohelet's story is framed by voice of the narrator, who refers to Kohelet in the third person, praises his wisdom, but reminds the reader that wisdom has its limitations and is not man's main concern. Kohelet reports what he planned, did, experienced and thought. His journey to knowledge is, in the end, incomplete. The reader is not only to hear Kohelet's wisdom, but to observe his journey towards understanding and acceptance of life's frustrations and uncertainties: the journey itself is important.[3] Few of the many attempts to uncover an underlying structure to Ecclesiastes
Ecclesiastes
have met with widespread acceptance; among them, the following is one of the more influential:[4]

Title (1:1) Initial poem (1:2–11) I: Kohelet's investigation of life (1:12–6:9) II: Kohelet's conclusions (6:10–11:6)

Introduction (6:10–12) A: Man cannot discover what is good for him to do (7:1–8:17) B: Man does not know what will come after him (9:1–11:6)

Concluding poem (11:7–12:8) Epilogue (12:9–14)

Verse 1:1 is a superscription, the ancient equivalent of a title page: it introduces the book as "the words of Kohelet, son of David, king in Jerusalem."[5] Most, though not all, modern commentators regard the epilogue (12:9–14) as an addition by a later scribe. Some have identified certain other statements as further additions intended to make the book more religiously orthodox (e.g., the affirmations of God's justice and the need for piety).[6] Summary[edit] The ten-verse introduction in verses 1:2–11 are the words of the frame narrator; they set the mood for what is to follow: Kohelet's message is that all is meaningless.[5] After the introduction come the words of Kohelet. As king he has experienced everything and done everything, but nothing is ultimately reliable. Death levels all. The only good is to partake of life in the present, for enjoyment is from the hand of God. Everything is ordered in time and people are subject to time in contrast to God's eternal character. The world is filled with injustice, which only God will adjudicate. God and humans do not belong in the same realm and it is therefore necessary to have a right attitude before God. People should enjoy, but should not be greedy; no-one knows what is good for humanity; righteousness and wisdom escape us. Kohelet reflects on the limits of human power: all people face death, and death is better than life, but we should enjoy life when we can. The world is full of risk: he gives advice on living with risk, both political and economic. Mortals should take pleasure when they can, for a time may come when no one can. Kohelet's words finish with imagery of nature languishing and humanity marching to the grave.[7] The frame narrator returns with an epilogue: the words of the wise are hard, but they are applied as the shepherd applies goads and pricks to his flock. The original ending of the book was probably the words: "The end of the matter" (12:13) but the text we have continues: "Fear God" (a phrase used often in Kohelet's speech) "and keep his commandments" (which he never uses), "for God will bring every deed to judgement."[8] Composition[edit] Title, date and author[edit] The book takes its name from the Greek ekklesiastes, a translation of the title by which the central figure refers to himself: Kohelet, meaning something like "one who convenes or addresses an assembly".[9] According to rabbinic tradition, Ecclesiastes
Ecclesiastes
was written by Solomon in his old age.[10] (An alternative tradition that " Hezekiah
Hezekiah
and his colleagues wrote Isaiah, Proverbs, the Song of Songs
Song of Songs
and Ecclesiastes" probably means simply that the book was edited under Hezekiah.)[11] Nevertheless, critical scholars have long rejected the idea of a pre-exilic origin.[12][13] The presence of Persian loan-words and Aramaisms points to a date no earlier than about 450 BCE,[2] while the latest possible date for its composition is 180 BCE, when another Jewish writer, Ben Sira, quotes from it.[14] The dispute as to whether Ecclesiastes
Ecclesiastes
belongs to the Persian or the Hellenistic periods (i.e., the earlier or later part of this period) revolves around the degree of Hellenization
Hellenization
(influence of Greek culture and thought) present in the book. Scholars arguing for a Persian date (c. 450–330 BCE) hold that there is a complete lack of Greek influence;[2] those who argue for a Hellenistic date (c. 330–180 BCE) argue that it shows internal evidence of Greek thought and social setting.[15] Also unresolved is whether the author and narrator of Kohelet are one and the same person. Some scholars have argued that the third-person narrative structure is an artificial literary device along the lines of Uncle Remus, although the description of the Teacher in 12:8–14 seems to favour a historical person whose thoughts are presented by the narrator.[16] The question, however, has no theological importance,[16] and one scholar (Roland Murphy) has commented that Kohelet himself would have regarded the time and ingenuity put into interpreting his book as "one more example of the futility of human effort".[17] Genre and setting[edit] Ecclesiastes
Ecclesiastes
has taken its literary form from the Middle Eastern tradition of the fictional autobiography, in which a character, often a king, relates his experiences and draws lessons from them, often self-critical: Kohelet likewise identifies himself as a king, speaks of his search for wisdom, relates his conclusions, and recognises his limitations.[3] It belongs to the category of wisdom literature, the body of biblical writings which give advice on life, together with reflections on its problems and meanings—other examples include the Book
Book
of Job, Proverbs, and some of the Psalms. Ecclesiastes
Ecclesiastes
differs from the other biblical Wisdom books in being deeply skeptical of the usefulness of Wisdom itself.[18] Ecclesiastes
Ecclesiastes
in turn influenced the deuterocanonical works, Wisdom of Solomon
Solomon
and Sirach, both of which contain vocal rejections of the Ecclesiastical philosophy of futility. Wisdom was a popular genre in the ancient world, where it was cultivated in scribal circles and directed towards young men who would take up careers in high officialdom and royal courts; there is strong evidence that some of these books, or at least sayings and teachings, were translated into Hebrew and influenced the Book
Book
of Proverbs, and the author of Ecclesiastes
Ecclesiastes
was probably familiar with examples from Egypt and Mesopotamia.[19] He may also have been influenced by Greek philosophy, specifically the schools of Stoicism, which held that all things are fated, and Epicureanism, which held that happiness was best pursued through the quiet cultivation of life's simpler pleasures.[20] Canonicity[edit] The presence of Ecclesiastes
Ecclesiastes
in the Bible
Bible
is something of a puzzle, as the common themes of the Hebrew canon—a God who reveals and redeems, who elects and cares for a chosen people—are absent from it, which suggests that Kohelet had lost his faith in his old age. Understanding the book was a topic of the earliest recorded discussions (the hypothetical Council of Jamnia
Council of Jamnia
in the 1st century CE). One argument advanced then was that the name of Solomon
Solomon
carried enough authority to ensure its inclusion, but other works which appeared with Solomon's name were excluded despite being more orthodox than Ecclesiastes.[21] Another was that the words of the epilogue, in which the reader is told to fear God and keep his commands, made it orthodox; but all later attempts to find anything in the rest of the book which would reflect this orthodoxy have failed. A modern suggestion treats the book as a dialogue in which different statements belong to different voices, with Kohelet himself answering and refuting unorthodox opinions, but there are no explicit markers for this in the book, as there are, for example in the Book
Book
of Job. Yet another suggestion is that Ecclesiastes
Ecclesiastes
is simply the most extreme example of a tradition of skepticism, but none of the proposed examples match Ecclesiastes
Ecclesiastes
for a sustained denial of faith and doubt in the goodness of God. "In short, we do not know why or how this book found its way into such esteemed company," summarizes Martin A. Shields in his 2006 book The End of Wisdom: A Reappraisal of the Historical and Canonical Function of Ecclesiastes[22] Themes[edit] Scholars disagree about the themes of Ecclesiastes. Is it positive and life-affirming, or deeply pessimistic?[23] Is Kohelet coherent or incoherent, insightful or confused, orthodox or heterodox? Is the ultimate message of the book to copy Kohelet, the wise man, or to avoid his errors?[24] At times Kohelet raises deep questions; he "doubted every aspect of religion, from the very ideal of righteousness, to the by now traditional idea of divine justice for individuals."[25] Some passages of Ecclesiastes
Ecclesiastes
seem to contradict other portions of the Old Testament, and even itself.[23] One suggestion for resolving the contradictions is to read the book as the record of Kohelet's quest for knowledge: opposing judgments (e.g., "the dead are better off than the living" (4:2) vs. "a living dog is better off than a dead lion" (9:4)) are therefore provisional, and it is only at the conclusion that the verdict is delivered (11–12:7). On this reading, Kohelet's sayings are goads, designed to provoke dialogue and reflection in his readers, rather than to reach premature and self-assured conclusions.[26] The subjects of Ecclesiastes
Ecclesiastes
are the pain and frustration engendered by observing and meditating on the distortions and inequities pervading the world, the uselessness of human deeds, and the limitations of wisdom and righteousness. The phrase "under the sun" appears thirty times in connection with these observations; all this coexists with a firm belief in God, whose power, justice and unpredictability are sovereign.[27] History and nature move in cycles, so that all events are predetermined and unchangeable, and life has no meaning or purpose: the wise man and the man who does not study wisdom will both die and be forgotten: man should be reverent ("Fear God"), but in this life it is best to simply enjoy God's gifts.[20] Judaism[edit] In Judaism, Ecclesiastes
Ecclesiastes
is read either on Shemini Atzeret
Shemini Atzeret
(by Yemenites, Italians, some Sepharadim, and the mediaeval French Jewish rite) or on the Shabbat
Shabbat
of the Intermediate Days of Sukkot
Sukkot
(by Ashkenazim). If there is no Intermediate Sabbath of Sukkot, even the Ashkenazim
Ashkenazim
read it on Shemini Atzeret
Shemini Atzeret
(or, for Ashkenazim
Ashkenazim
in the Land of Israel, on the first Shabbat
Shabbat
of Sukkot). It is read on Sukkot
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
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 Kohelet ( Ecclesiastes
Ecclesiastes
12:1–8) has been interpreted in the Targum, Talmud and Midrash, and by the rabbis Rashi, Rashbam and ibn Ezra, as an allegory of old age. Catholicism[edit] Ecclesiastes
Ecclesiastes
has been cited in the writings of past and current Catholic Church
Catholic Church
leaders. For example, doctors of the Church have cited Ecclesiastes. St. Augustine of Hippo
Augustine of Hippo
cited Ecclesiastes
Ecclesiastes
in Book
Book
XX of City of God.[28] Saint Jerome
Saint Jerome
wrote a commentary on Ecclesiastes.[29] St. Thomas Aquinas
St. Thomas Aquinas
cited Ecclesiastes
Ecclesiastes
("The number of fools is infinite.") in his Summa Theologica.[30] The book continues to be cited by recent popes, including Pope
Pope
John Paul II and Pope
Pope
Francis. Pope
Pope
John Paul II, in his general audience of October 20, 2004, called the author of Ecclesiastes
Ecclesiastes
"an ancient biblical sage" whose description of death "makes frantic clinging to earthly things completely pointless."[31] Pope
Pope
Francis cited Ecclesiastes
Ecclesiastes
on his address on September 9, 2014. Speaking of vain people, he said, "How many Christians live for appearances? Their life seems like a soap bubble."[32] Influence on Western literature[edit] Ecclesiastes
Ecclesiastes
has had a deep influence on Western literature. It contains several phrases that have resonated in British and American culture, such as "eat, drink and be merry," "nothing new under the sun," "a time to be born and a time to die," and "vanity of vanities; all is vanity."[33] Abraham Lincoln
Abraham Lincoln
quoted Ecclesiastes
Ecclesiastes
1:4 in his address to the reconvening Congress on December 1, 1862, during the darkest hours of the American Civil War: "'One generation passeth away, and another generation cometh: but the earth abideth for ever.'...Our strife pertains to ourselves—to the passing generations of men; and it can without convulsion be hushed forever with the passing of one generation."[34] American novelist Thomas Wolfe
Thomas Wolfe
wrote: "[O]f all I have ever seen or learned, that 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
Ecclesiastes
is the greatest single piece of writing I have ever known, and the wisdom expressed in it the most lasting and profound."[1] The opening of William Shakespeare's Sonnet 59
Sonnet 59
references Ecclesiastes 1:9–10. Leo Tolstoy's Confession describes how the reading of Ecclesiastes affected his life. Robert Burns' "Address to the Unco Guid" begins with a verse appeal to Ecclesiastes
Ecclesiastes
7:16. The title of Ernest Hemingway's first novel The Sun Also Rises
The Sun Also Rises
was taken from Ecclesiastes
Ecclesiastes
1:5. The title of Edith Wharton’s novel House of Mirth
House of Mirth
was taken from Ecclesiastes
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 main character in George Bernard Shaw's novel The Adventures of the Black Girl in her Search for God[35] meets Koheleth
Koheleth
"known to many as Ecclesiastes". The title and theme of George R. Stewart's post-apocalyptic novel Earth Abides
Earth Abides
is from Ecclesiastes
Ecclesiastes
1:4. In the dystopian novel "Fahrenheit 451," Ray Bradbury's main character, Montag, memorizes much of Ecclesiastes
Ecclesiastes
and Revelation in a world where books are forbidden and burned. In the cautionary song "Turn!, Turn!, Turn!" by Pete Seeger. See also[edit]

Bible Q, novel by Luther Blissett A Rose for Ecclesiastes Tanakh Turn! Turn! Turn! Vanitas Vier ernste Gesänge Wisdom of Sirach The Song

Citations[edit]

^ a b Christianson 2007, p. 70. ^ a b c Seow 2007, p. 944. ^ a b Fox 2004, p. xiii. ^ Fox 2004, p. xvi. ^ a b Longman 1998, pp. 57–59. ^ Fox 2004, p. xvii. ^ Seow 2007, pp. 946–57. ^ Seow 2007, pp. 957–58. ^ Gilbert 2009, pp. 124–25. ^ Brown 2011, p. 11. ^ Smith 2007, p. 692. ^ Fox 2004, p. x. ^ Bartholomew 2009, pp. 50–52. ^ Fox 2004, p. xiv. ^ Bartholomew 2009, pp. 54–55. ^ a b Bartholomew 2009, p. 48. ^ Ingram 2006, p. 45. ^ Brettler 2007, p. 721. ^ Fox 2004, pp. x–xi. ^ a b Gilbert 2009, p. 125. ^ Diderot, Denis (1752). Canon. pp. 601–04.  ^ Shields 2006, pp. 1-5. ^ a b Bartholomew 2009, p. 17. ^ Enns 2011, p. 21. ^ Hecht, Jennifer Michael (2003). Doubt: A History. New York: Harper Collins. p. 75. ISBN 978-0-06-009795-0.  ^ Brown 2011, pp. 17–18. ^ Fox 2004, p. ix. ^ Augustine, The City of God, Book
Book
XX. Accessed 2015-06-28. ^ Jerome, Commentary on Ecclesiastes. Accessed 2015-09-09. ^ Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologica. Accessed 2015-09-09. ^ Manhardt, Laurie (2009). Come and See: Wisdom of the Bible. Emmaus Road Publishing. p. 115.  ^ Pope
Pope
Francis, " Pope
Pope
Francis: Vain Christians are like soap bubbles". Accessed 2015-09-09. ^ Hirsch, E.D. (2002). The New Dictionary of Cultural Literacy. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. p. 8.  ^ Foote, Shelby (1986). The Civil War, a narrative, vol. 1. Vintage Books. pp. 807–08.  ^ 1856-1950., Shaw, Bernard, (2006). The adventures of the black girl in her search for God. London: Hesperus. ISBN 1843914220. OCLC 65469757. 

References[edit]

Bartholomew, Craig (2009). Ecclesiastes. Baker Academic Press. ISBN 9780801026911.  Brettler, Mark Zvi (2007). "The Poetical and Wisdom Books". In Coogan, Michael D. The New Oxford Annotated Bible
Bible
(3rd ed.). Oxford University Press. ISBN 9780195288803.  Brown, William P. (2011). Ecclesiastes: Interpretation: A Bible Commentary for Teaching and Preaching. Westminster John Knox Press. ISBN 9780664238247.  Christianson, Eric S. (2007). Ecclesiastes
Ecclesiastes
Through the Centuries. Wiley-Blackwell. ISBN 9780631225294.  Coogan, Michael D. (2008). The Old Testament: A Very Short Introduction. Oxford University Press. ISBN 9780199719464.  Diderot, Denis (1752). Canon.  Eaton, Michael (2009). Ecclesiastes. IVP Academic.  Enns, Peter (2011). Ecclesiastes. Eerdmans. ISBN 9780802866493.  Fredricks, D.C. (2010). Ecclesiastes
Ecclesiastes
and Song of Songs. IVP Academic.  Fox, Michael V. (2004). The JPS Bible
Bible
Commentary: Ecclesiastes. Jewish Publication Society. ISBN 9780827609655.  Gilbert, Christopher (2009). A Complete Introduction to the Bible: A Literary and Historical Introduction to the Bible. Paulist Press. ISBN 9780809145522.  Hecht, Jennifer Michael (2003). Doubt: A History. New York: HarperCollins. ISBN 978-0-06-009795-0. 

Ingram, Doug (2006). Ambiguity in Ecclesiastes. Continuum.  Krüger, Thomas (2004). Qohelet: A Commentary. Fortress.  Longman, Tremper (1998). The Book
Book
of Ecclesiastes. Eerdmans. ISBN 9780802823663.  Miller, Adam S. (2016). Nothing Under the Sun. CreateSpace. ISBN 978-1530872800.  Rudman, Dominic (2001). Determinism in the Book
Book
of Ecclesiastes. Sheffield Academic Press. ISBN 9780567215635.  Seow, C.L. (2007). "Ecclesiastes". In Coogan, Michael D. The New Oxford Annotated Bible
Bible
(3rd ed.). Oxford University Press. ISBN 9780195288803.  Shields, Martin A. (2006). The End of Wisdom: A Reappraisal of the Historical and Canonical Function of Ecclesiastes. Eisenbrauns. ISBN 9781575061023.  Smith, James (1996). The Wisdom Literature and Psalms. College Press. ISBN 9780899004396. 

Further reading[edit]

Ranston, Harry (1925). Ecclesiastes
Ecclesiastes
and the Early Greek Wisdom Literature. First ed. Epworth Press.

External links[edit]

Wikisource
Wikisource
has original text related to this article: Ecclesiastes
Ecclesiastes
(Bible)

Wikiquote has quotations related to: Ecclesiastes

Wikimedia Commons has media related to Book
Book
of Ecclesiastes.

Translations

Kohelet – Ecclesiastes
Ecclesiastes
(Judaica Press) translation [with Rashi's commentary] at Chabad.org Ecclesiastes: New Revised Standard Version Ecclesiastes: Douay Rheims Bible
Bible
Version Ecclesiastes
Ecclesiastes
at Wikisource
Wikisource
(Authorised King James Version) Ecclesiastes
Ecclesiastes
at United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (New American Bible) Ecclesiastes
Ecclesiastes
at Bible
Bible
Gateway (New King James Version) A Metaphrase of the Book
Book
Of Ecclesiastes
Ecclesiastes
by Gregory Thaumaturgus. Introduction to Ecclesiastes
Ecclesiastes
a Forward Movement
Forward Movement
publication Ecclesiastes
Ecclesiastes
public domain audiobook at LibriVox
LibriVox
– Various versions

Ecclesiastes Wisdom literature

Preceded by Lamentations Hebrew Bible Succeeded by Esther

Preceded by Proverbs Christian Old Testament Succeeded by Song of Songs

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