1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Ecclesiastes
ECCLESIASTES (Heb. קהלת, Kohelet, “Koheleth”; Sept. ἐκκλησιαστής; Jerome concionator), one of the Wisdom Books of the Old Testament (see Wisdom Literature). The book, as it stands, is a collection of the discourses, observations and aphorisms of a sage called Koheleth, a term the precise meaning of which is not certain. The Greek ecclesiastes means one who takes part in the deliberations of an assembly (ecclesia), a debater or speaker in an assembly (Plato, Gorgias, 452 E), and this is the general sense of the Hebrew word. Its form (singular feminine) has been supposed to be the adoption or imitation of the Arabic employment of a fem. sing. as the designation of a high official person, as is the case in the title caliph (whence the rendering in the margin of the Revised Version, “Great orator”); but the adoption of an Arabic idiom is not probable. This usage is not Hebrew; it is not found either in the Old Testament or in the later (Mishnaic) Hebrew. The form may have been suggested by that of the Hebrew word for “wisdom.” Koheleth, however, is employed in the book not as a title of wisdom (for “wisdom” is never the speaker), but as the independent name of the sage. It is intended to represent him as a member of an assembly (Kahal)—not the Jewish congregation, but a body of students or inquirers, such as is referred to in xii. 9-11, a sort of collegium, of which he was the head; and as instructor of this body he gives his criticism of life. The author begins, indeed, with identifying his sage with King Solomon (i. 12-ii. 11, 12b); but he soon abandons this literary device, and speaks in his own name. The rendering “preacher” has a misleading connotation.
In the book as we have it there is no orderly exposition of a theory; it rather has the appearance of a collection of remarks jotted down by a pupil (somewhat after the manner of Xenophon’s Memorabilia), or of extracts from a sage’s notebook. It is, however, characterized throughout (except in some scribal additions) by a definite thought, and pervaded by a definite tone of feeling. The keynote is given in the classic phrase with which the discussion opens and with which it closes: “Vanity of vanities (i.e. absolute vanity), all is vanity!” Life, says the author, has nothing of permanent value to offer. His attitude is one not of bitterness but of calm hopelessness, with an occasional tinge of disgust or contempt. He fancies that he has tried or observed everything in human experience, and his deliberate conclusion is that nothing is worth doing. He believes in an all-powerful but indifferent God, and is himself an observer of society, standing aloof from its passions and ambitions, and interested only in pointing out their emptiness.
This general view is set forth in a number of particular observations.
1. His fundamental proposition is that there is a fixed, unchangeable order in the world, a reign of inflexible law (i. 4-11, iii. 1-11, 14, 15, vii. 13, viii. 5-9): natural phenomena, such as sunrise and sunset, recur regularly; for everything in human experience a time has been set; birth and death, building up and destroying, laughing and weeping, silence and speech, love and hate, war and peace, are to be regarded not as utterances of a living, self-directing world, but as incidents in the work of a vast machine that rolls on for ever; there is an endless repetition—nothing is new, nothing is lost; if one thinks he has found something new, inquiry shows that it was in existence long ago; God, the author of all, seeks out the past in order to make it once more present; it is impossible to add to or take from the content of the world, impossible to change the nature of things, to effect any radical betterment of life; the result is unspeakable weariness—a depressing series of sights and sounds. No goal or purpose is discoverable in this eternal round; if the sun rises and goes on his journey through the sky, it is merely to come back to the place where he rose; rivers flow for ever into the sea without filling it. To what end was the world created? It is impossible to say. Such is Koheleth’s view of life, and it is obvious that such a conception of an aimless cosmos is thoroughly non-Jewish, if we may judge Jewish thought by the great body of the extant literature.
2. Further, says Koheleth, man is impelled to study the world, but under the condition that he shall never comprehend it (iii. 11, vii. 23, 24, viii. 16, 17). As to the meaning of the Hebrew term olam in iii. 11, there are various opinions, but “world” appears to be the rendering favoured by the connexion: “God has made everything beautiful in its time, and has put the olam into men’s minds, yet so that they cannot understand His work”: the olam, the sum of phenomena, is God’s work. The word is not found in this sense elsewhere in the Old Testament, but it so occurs in the Mishna (Pirke Aboth, iv. 7), and the vocabulary of Ecclesiastes is admittedly similar to that of the Mishna. Only here in the Old Testament does it stand as a simple isolated noun; elsewhere it is the definition of a noun (in “everlasting covenant,” &c.), or it is preceded by a preposition, in the phrases “for ever,” “of old,” or it stands alone (sing. or plur.) in the same adverbial sense, “for ever.” The word means first a remote point in past or future, then a future point without limit of time, then a period of history, and finally the world considered as a mass of human experiences (cf. αἰών). The renderings “eternity” and “future” in the present passage are unsatisfactory; the former has an inappropriate metaphysical connotation, and yields no distinct sense; the latter does not suit the connexion, though there is reference to the future elsewhere (ix. 1). God, the text here declares, has made the world an object of man’s thought, yet so that man can never find out the work that God has done (iii. 11). The reference seems to be not so much to the variety and complexity of phenomena as to the impossibility of construing them rationally or in such a way that man may foresee and provide for his future. Man is in the clutches of fate (ix. 11, 12): there is no observable relation between exertion and result in life: the race is not to the swift nor the battle to the strong; success does not attend wisdom, knowledge and skill; men are like fish taken in a net or birds caught in a snare.
3. Human life, Koheleth declares, is unsatisfying. He inquired, he says, into everything that is done by men under the sun (i. 12-16): God has inflicted on men a restless desire for movement and work, yet life is but a catalogue of fruitless struggles. He gives a number of illustrations. In his character of king he tried all the bodily pleasures of life (ii. 1-11): he had houses, vineyards, gardens, parks, ponds, forests, servants, flocks and herds, treasures of gold and silver, singers, wives; all these he set himself to enjoy in a rational way—indeed, he found a certain pleasure in carrying out his designs, but, when all was done, he surveyed it only to see that it was weary and unprofitable. Dropping the rôle of Solomon and speaking as an observer of life, the author declares (iv. 4) that the struggle for success is the result of rivalry among men, which has no worthy outcome. The securing of riches is a fallacious achievement, for often wealth perishes by some accident (v. 13 f.), or its possessor is unable to enjoy it (vi. 1-3a), or he has no one to whom to leave it, and he cannot keep it—naked man comes into the world, naked he goes out. He does not consider the possibility of deriving enjoyment from wealth by helping the poor or encouraging learning (this latter, indeed, he looks on as vanity), and in general he recognizes no obligation on the part of a man to his fellows. A noteworthy survival of an old belief is found in vi. 3: though a man have the great good fortune to live long and to have many children, yet, if he have not proper burial the blank darkness of an untimely birth is better than he: this latter is merely the negation of existence; the former, it appears to be held, is positive misfortune, the loss of a desirable place in Sheol, though elsewhere (ix. 5) existence in Sheol is represented as the negation of real life. It is not necessary to suppose that the writer has here any particular case in mind.
If wealth be thus a vain thing, yet a sage might be supposed to find satisfaction in wisdom, that is, practical good sense and sagacity; but this also the author puts aside as bringing no lasting advantage, since a wise man must finally give up the fruit of his wisdom to someone else, who may be a fool, and in any case the final result for both fools and wise men is the same—both are forgotten (ii. 12-23). A particular instance is mentioned (ix. 13-15) of a beleaguered city saved by a wise man; but the man happened to be poor, and no one remembered him. The whole constitution of society, in fact, seems to the sage a lamentable thing: the poor are oppressed, the earth is full of their cries, and there is no helper (iv. 1); strange social upheavals may be seen: the poor set in high places, the rich cast down, slaves on horseback, princes on foot (x. 5-7). He permits himself a sweeping generalization (vii. 25-28): human beings as a rule are bad: one may occasionally find a good man, never a good woman—woman is a snare and a curse. He (or an editor) adds (vii. 29) that this condition of things is due to social development: man was created upright (Gen. i. 27; Enoch lxix. 11), but in the course of history has introduced corrupting complications into life.
4. The natural outcome of these experiences of the author is that he cannot recognize a moral government of the world. He finds, like Job, that there are good men who die prematurely notwithstanding their goodness, and bad men who live long notwithstanding their badness (vii. 15), though long life, it is assumed, is one of the great blessings of man’s lot; and in general there is no moral discrimination in the fortunes of men (viii. 14, ix. 2).
5. There is no sacredness or dignity in man or in human life: man has no pre-eminence over beasts, seeing that he and they have the same final fate, die and pass into the dust, and no one knows what becomes of the spirit, whether in man’s case it goes up to heaven, and in the case of beasts goes down into Sheol—death is practically the end-all; and so poor a thing is life that the dead are to be considered more fortunate than the living, and more to be envied than either class is he who never came into existence (iv. 2, 3). It is a special grievance that the wicked when they die are buried with pomp and ceremony, while men who have acted well are forgotten in the city (viii. 10).
6. That the author does not believe in a happy or active future life appears in the passage (iv. 2, 3) quoted above. The old Hebrew view of the future excluded from Sheol the common activities of life and also the worship of the national god (Isa. xxxviii. 18); he goes even beyond this in his conception of the blankness of existence in the underworld. The living, he says, at least know that they shall die, but the dead know nothing—the memory of them, their love, hate and envy, perishes, they have no reward, no part in earthly life (ix. 5, 6); there is absolutely no knowledge and no work in Sheol (ix. 10). His conclusion is that men should do now with all their might what they have to do; the future of man’s vital part, the spirit, is wholly uncertain.
7. His conception of God is in accord with these views. God for him is the creator and ruler of the world, but hardly more; he is the master of a vast machine that grinds out human destinies without sympathy with man and without visible regard for what man deems justice—a being to be acknowledged as lord, not one to be loved. There can thus be no social contact between man and God, no communion of soul, no enthusiasm of service. Moral conduct is to be regulated not by divine law (of this nothing is said) but by human experience. The author’s theism is cold, spiritless, without influence on life.
If now the question be asked what purpose or aim a man can have, seeing that there is nothing of permanent value in human work, an answer is given which recurs, like a refrain, from the beginning to the end of the book, and appears to be from the hand of the original author: after every description of the vanity of things comes the injunction to enjoy such pleasures as may fall to one’s lot (ii. 24, 25, iii. 12, 13, 22, v. 18, 19, viii. 15, ix. 7-10, xi. 7-xii. 7). Elsewhere (ii.), it is true, it is said that there is no lasting satisfaction in pleasure; but the sage may mean to point out that, though there is no permanent outcome to life, it is the part of common-sense to enjoy what one has. The opportunity and the power to enjoy are represented as being the gift of God; but this statement is not out of accord with the author’s general position, which is distinctly theistic. All the passages just cited, except the last (xi. 7-xii. 7), are simple and plain, but the bearing of the last is obscured by interpolations. Obviously the purpose of the paragraph is to point out the wisdom of enjoying life in the time of youth while the physical powers are fresh and strong, and the impotency of old age has not yet crept in. Omitting xi. 8c, 9b, 10b, xii. 1a, the passage will read: “Life is pleasant in the bright sunshine—however long a man may live, he must be cheerful always, only remembering that dark days will come. Let the young man enjoy all the pleasures of youth, putting away everything painful, before the time comes when his bodily powers decay and he can enjoy nothing.” To relieve the apparent Epicureanism of this passage, an editor has inserted reminders of the vanity of youthful pleasures, and admonitions to remember God and His judgment. The author, however, does not recommend dissipation, and does not mean to introduce a religious motive—he offers simply a counsel of prudence. The exhortation to remember the Creator in the days of youth, though it is to be retained in the margin as a pious editorial addition, here interrupts the line of thought. In xii. 1a some critics propose to substitute for “remember thy Creator” the expression of xi. 9, “let thy heart cheer thee”; but the repetition is improbable. Others would read: “remember thy cistern” (Bickell), or “thy well” (Haupt), that is, thy wife. The wife is so called in Prov. v. 15-19 in an elaborate poetical figure (the wife as a source of bodily pleasure), in which the reference is clear from the context; but there is no authority, in the Old Testament or in other literature of this period, for taking the term as a simple prose designation of a wife. Nor would this reference to the wife be appropriate in the connexion, since the writer’s purpose is simply to urge men to enjoy life while they can. The paragraph (and the original book) concludes with a sustained and impressive figure, in which the failing body of the old man is compared to a house falling into decay: first, the bodily organs (xii. 3, 4a): the keepers of the house (the arms and hands) tremble, the strong men (the legs and perhaps the backbone) are bent, the grinding women (the teeth) cease to work, those that look out of the windows (the eyes) are darkened, the street-doors are shut, the sound of the mill being low (apparently a summary statement of the preceding details: communication with the outer world through the senses is cut off, the performance of bodily functions being feeble); the rest of v. 4 may refer to the old man’s inability to make or hear music: in the house there is no sound of birds or of singers, there are none of the artistic delights of a well-to-do household; further (v. 5a) the inmates of the house fear dangers from all powerful things and persons (the old man is afraid of everything), the almond tree blossoms (perhaps the hair turns white). The two next clauses are obscure. Then comes the end: man goes to his everlasting home; the dust (the body) returns to the earth whence it came (Gen. ii. 7), and the breath of life, breathed by God into the body, returns to him who gave it. This last clause does not affirm the immortality of the soul; it is simply an explanation of what becomes of the vital principle (the “breath of life” of Gen. ii. 7); its positive assertion is not in accord with the doubt expressed in iii. 21 (“who knows whether the spirit of man goes upward?”), and it seems to be from another hand than that of the author of the original book.
There are other sayings in the book that appear to be at variance with its fundamental thought. Wisdom is praised in a number of passages (iv. 13, vii. 5, 11, 12, 19, viii. 1, ix. 16, 17, x. 2, 3), though it is elsewhere denounced as worthless. It may be said that the author, while denying that wisdom (practical sagacity and level-headedness) can give permanent satisfaction, yet admits its practical value in the conduct of life. This may be so; but it would be strange if a writer who could say, “in much wisdom is much grief,” should deliberately laud wisdom. The question is not of great importance and may be left undecided. It may be added that there are in the book a number of aphorisms about fools (v. 3, vii. 5, 6, x. 1-3, 12-15) quite in the style of the book of Proverbs, some of them contrasting the wise man and the fool; these appear to be the insertions of an editor. Further, it may be concluded with reasonable certainty that the passages that affirm a moral government of the world are additions by pious editors who wished to bring the book into harmony with the orthodox thought of the time. Such assertions as those of ii. 26 (God gives joy to him who pleases him, and makes the sinner toil to lay up for the latter), viii. 12 (it shall be well with those that fear God, but not with the wicked), xii. 13 f. (man’s duty is simply to obey the commands of God, for God will bring everything into judgment) are irreconcilable with the oft-repeated statement that there is no difference in the earthly lots of the righteous and the wicked, and no ethical life after death.
Many practical admonitions and homely aphorisms are scattered through the book: iv. 5, quiet is a blessing; iv. 9-12, two are better than one; iv. 17 (Eng. v. 1), be reverent in visiting the house of God (the temple and the connected buildings)—to listen (to the service of song or the reading of Scripture) is better than to offer a foolish (thoughtless) sacrifice; v. 1 (2), be sparing of words in addressing God; v. 1-5 (2-6), pay your vows—do not say to the priest’s messenger that you made a mistake; vii. 2-4, sorrow is better than mirth; vii. 16-18, be not over-righteous (over-attentive to details of ritual and convention) or over-wicked (flagrantly neglectful of established beliefs and customs); here “righteous” and “wicked” appear to be technical terms designating two parties in the Jewish world of the 2nd and 1st centuries B.C., the observers and the non-observers of the Jewish ritual law; these parties represent in a general way the Pharisees and the Sadducees; viii. 2-4, x. 20, it is well to obey kings and to be cautious in speaking about them, for there are talebearers everywhere; vii. 20, no man is free from sin; vii. 21, do not listen to all that you may overhear, lest you hear yourself ill spoken of; ix. 4, a living dog is better than a dead lion; xi. 1-6, show prudence and decision in business; do not set all your goods on one venture; act promptly and hope for the best. At the close of the book (xii. 9-12) there are two observations that appear to be editorial recommendations and cautions. First, Koheleth is endorsed as an industrious, discriminating and instructive writer. Possibly this is in reply to objections that had been made to what he had written. There follows an obscure passage (v. 11) which seems to be meant as a commendation of the teaching of the sages in general: their words are said to be like goads (inciting to action) and like nails driven in a building (giving firmness to character); they issue from masters of assemblies, heads of academies (but not of the Sanhedrin). The succeeding clause “they are given from one shepherd” may refer to a collection or revision by one authoritative person, but its relevancy is not obvious. The “shepherd” cannot be God (Gen. xlix. 24; Ps. xxiii. 1); the poetical use of the word would not be appropriate here. The clause is possibly a gloss, a comment on the preceding expression. A caution against certain books is added (v. 12), probably works then considered harmful (perhaps philosophic treatises), of which, however, nothing further is known.
Composition of the Book.—If the analysis given above is correct, the book is not a unit; it contains passages mutually contradictory and not harmonizable. Various attempts have been made to establish its unity. The hypothesis of “two voices” is now generally abandoned; there is no indication of a debate, of affirmations and responses. A more plausible theory is that the author is an honest thinker, a keen observer and critic of life, who sees that the world is full of miseries and unsolved problems, regards as futile the attempts of his time to demonstrate an ethically active future life, and, recognizing a divine author of all, holds that the only wise course for men is to abandon the attempt to get full satisfaction out of the struggle for pleasure, riches and wisdom, and to content themselves with making the best of what they have. This conception of him is largely true, as is pointed out above, but it does not harmonize the contradictions of the book, the discrepancies between the piety of some passages and the emotional indifference toward God shown in others. Other of the Biblical Wisdom books (Job, Proverbs) are compilations—why not this? It is not necessary to multiply authors, as is done, for example, by Siegfried, who supposes four principal writers (a pessimistic philosopher, an Epicurean glossator, a sage who upholds the value of wisdom, and an orthodox editor) besides a number of annotators; it is sufficient to assume that several conservative scribes have made short additions to the original work. Nor is it worth while to attempt a logical or symmetrical arrangement of the material. It has been surmised (by Bickell) that the sheets of the original codex became disarranged and were rearranged incorrectly; by other critics portions of the book are transferred hither and thither; in all cases the critic is guided in these changes by what he conceives to have been the original form of the book. But it is more probable that we have it in the form in which it grew up—a series of observations by the original author with interspersed editorial remarks; and it is better to preserve the existing form as giving a record of the process of growth.
Date.—As to the date of the book, though there are still differences of opinion among scholars, there is a gradual approach to a consensus. The Solomonic authorship has long since been given up: the historical setting of the work and its atmosphere—the silent assumption of monotheism and monogamy, the non-national tone, the attitude towards kings and people, the picture of a complicated social life, the strain of philosophic reflection—are wholly at variance with what is known of the 10th century B.C. and with the Hebrew literature down to the 5th or 4th century B.C. The introduction of Solomon, the ideal of wisdom, is a literary device of the later time, and probably deceived nobody. The decisive considerations for the determination of the date are the language, the historical background and the thought. The language belongs to the post-classical period of Hebrew. The numerous Aramaisms point to a time certainly not earlier than the 4th century B.C., and probably (though the history of the penetration of Aramaic into Hebrew speech is not definitely known) not earlier than the 3rd century. More than this, there are many resemblances between the dialect of Koheleth and that of Mishna. Not only are new words employed, and old words in new significations, but the grammatical structure has a modern stamp—some phrases have the appearance of having been translated out of Aramaic into Hebrew. By about the beginning of our era the Jews had given up Hebrew and wrote in Aramaic; the process of expulsion had been going on, doubtless, for some time; but comparison with the later extant literature (Chronicles, the Hebrew Ecclesiasticus or Ben-Sira, Esther) makes it improbable that such Hebrew as that of Koheleth would have been written earlier than the 2nd century B.C. (for details see Driver’s Introduction). The general historical situation, also, presupposed or referred to, is that of the period from the year 200 B.C. to the beginning of our era; in particular, the familiar references to kings as a part of the social system, and to social dislocations (servants and princes changing places, x. 7), suggest the troublous time of the later Greek and the Maccabean rulers, of which the history of Josephus gives a good picture.
The conception of the world and of human life as controlled by natural law, a naturalistic cosmos, is alien not only to the prophetic and liturgical Hebrew literature but also to Hebrew thought in general. Whether borrowed or not, it must be late; and its resemblance to Greek ideas suggests Greek influence. The supposition of such influence is favoured by some critics (Tyler, Plumptre, Palm, Siegfried, Cheyne in his Jewish Religious Life after the Exile, and others), rejected by some (Zeller, Renan, Kleinert and others). This disagreement comes largely from the attempts made to find definitely expressed Greek philosophical dogmas in the book; such formulas it has not, but the general air of Greek reflection seems unmistakable. The scepticism of Koheleth differs from that of Job in quality and scope: it is deliberate and calm, not wrung out by personal suffering; and it relates to the whole course and constitution of nature, not merely to the injustices of fortune. Such a conception has a Greek tinge, and would be found in Jewish circles, probably, not before the 2nd century B.C.
A precise indication of date has been sought in certain supposed references or allusions to historical facts. The mention of persons who do not sacrifice or take oaths (ix. 2) is held by some to point to the Essenes; if this be so, it is not chronologically precise, since we have not the means of determining the beginning of the movement of thought that issued in Essenism. So also the coincidences of thought with Ben-Sira (Ecclesiasticus) are not decisive: cf. iii. 14 with B.S. xviii. 6; v. 2-6 (3-7) with B.S. xxxiv. 1-7; vii. 19 with B.S. xxxvii. 14; x. 8 with B.S. xxvii. 26a; xi. 10 with B.S. xxx. 21; xii. 10, 11 with B.S. xxxix. 2 ff., xii. 13 with B.S. xliii. 27; if there be borrowing in these passages, it is not clear on which side it lies; and it is not certain that there is borrowing—the thoughts may have been taken independently by the two authors from the same source. In any case, since Ben-Sira belongs to about 180 B.C., the date of Koheleth, so far as these coincidences indicate it, would not be far from 200 B.C. The contrast made in x. 16 f. between a king who is a boy and one who is of noble birth may allude to historical persons. The antithesis is not exact; we expect either “boy and mature man” or “low-born and high-born.” The “child” might be Antiochus V. (164 B.C.), or Ptolemy V., Epiphanes (204 B.C.), but the reference is too general to be decisive. The text of the obscure passage iv. 13-16 is in bad condition, and it is only by considerable changes that a clear meaning can be got from it. The two personages—the “old and foolish king” and the “poor and wise youth”—have been supposed (by Winckler) to be Antiochus Epiphanes (175-164 B.C.) and Demetrius (162-150 B.C.), or (by Haupt) Antiochus and the impostor Alexander Balas (150-146 B.C.), or (by others) Demetrius and Alexander; in favour of Alexander as the “youth” it may be said that he was of obscure origin, was at first popular, and was later abandoned by his friends. Such identifications, however, do not fix the date of the book precisely; the author may have referred to events that happened before his time. The reign of Herod, a period of despotism and terror, and of strife between Jewish religious parties, is preferred by some scholars (Grätz, Cheyne and others) as best answering to the social situation depicted in the book, while still others (as Renan) decide for the reign of Alexander Jannaeus (104-78 B.C.). The data are not numerous and distinct enough to settle the question beyond determining general limits: for reasons given above the book can hardly have been composed before about 200 B.C., and if, as is probable, a Septuagint translation of it was made (though the present Septuagint text shows the influence of Aquila), it is to be put earlier than 50 B.C. Probably also, its different parts are of different dates.
Of the author nothing is known beyond the obvious fact that he was a man of wide observation and philosophic thought, of the Sadducean type in religion, but non-Jewish in his attitude toward life. He was, doubtless, a man of high standing, but neither a king nor a high-priest, certainly not the apostate priest Alcimus (1 Macc. vii. ix.); nor was he necessarily a physician—there are no details in ch. xii. or elsewhere that any man of good intelligence might not know. The book is written in prose, some of which is rhythmical, with bits of verse here and there: thus i. 2-11 is balanced prose, 12-14 plain prose, 15 a couplet, i. 16-ii. 25 simple prose, vii. contains a number of poetical aphorisms, and so on. Some of the verses are apparently from the author, some from editors.
The fortunes of the book are not known in detail, but it is clear that its merciless criticism of life and its literary charm made it popular, while its scepticism excited the apprehensions of pious conservatives. Possibly the Wisdom of Solomon (c. 50 B.C.) was written partly as a reply to it. The claim of sacredness made for it was warmly contested by some Jewish scholars. In spite of the relief afforded by orthodox additions, it was urged that its Epicurean sentiments contradicted the Torah and favoured heresy. Finally, by some process of reasoning not fully recorded, the difficulties were set aside and the book was received into the sacred canon; Jerome (on Eccl. xii. 13, 14) declares that the decisive fact was the orthodox statement at the end of the book: the one important thing is to fear God and keep His commandments. The probability is that the book had received the stamp of popular approbation before the end of the 1st century of our era, and the leading men did not dare to reject it. It is not certain that it is quoted in the New Testament, but it appears to be included in Josephus’ list of sacred books.
Literature.—For the older works see Zöckler (in Lange’s Comm.); for Jewish commentaries see Zedner, Cat. of Heb. books in Libry. of Brit. Mus. (1867), and for the history of the interpretations, C. D. Ginsburg, Coheleth (1861). Introductions of A. Kuenen, S. R. Driver, Cornhill, König. Articles in Herzog-Hauck, Realencykl. (by P. Kleinert); Hastings, Dict. Bible (by A. S. Peake); T. K. Cheyne,
Encycl. Bibl. (by A. B. Davidson); Jew. Encycl. (by D. S. Margoliouth). Commentaries: F. Hitzig (1847); C. D. Ginsburg (1861); H. Grätz (1871); Tyler (1874); Delitzsch (1875); E. H. Plumptre (1881); C. H. H. Wright (1883); Nowack, revision of Hitzig (1883); Volck (in Strack u. Zöckler’s Kurzgef. Komm., 1889); Wildeboer (in Marti’s Kurzer Hand-Comm., 1898); C. Siegfried (in W. Nowack’s Handkomm., 1898); Oort (in De Oude Test., 1899). Other works: C. Taylor, Dirge of Koh. (1874); Wünsche, Midrash on Koh. (in his Biblioth. rabbin., 1880); E. Renan, L’Ecclésiaste (1882); Bickell, Der Prediger (1884) and Kohel.-Untersuchungen (1886; Engl. by, Sceptics of Old Test., 1895); Schiffer, Das Buch Koh. nach d. Auffass. d. Weisen d. Talmuds, &c. (1884); A. Palm, Qoh. u. d. nach-aristotel. Philosophie (1885) and Die Qoh.-Lit. (1886); E. Pfleiderer, Die Phil. d. Heraklit, &c. (1886); Cheyne, Job and Solomon (1887) and Jew. Relig. Life, &c. (1898); W. Euringer, Der Masorahtext d. Koh. (1890); W. T. Davison, Wisdom-Lit. of Old Test. (1894); H. Winckler, in his Altorient. Forschungen (1898); J. F. Genung, Words of Koh. (Boston, Mass., 1904); P. Haupt, Ecclesiastes (Baltimore, 1905). The rabbinical discussions of the book are mentioned in Shabbath, 30b; Megilla, 7a; Eduyoth, v. 3; Mishna Yadaim, iii. 5, iv. 6; Midrash Koheleth (on xi. 9), Aboth d’ Rab. Nathan, i.
- The Hebrew has the definite article, “the whole,” τὸ πᾶν.
- In fact, he suggests, a curse, as in Gen. iii. 17-19, though with a wider sweep than that passage has in mind.
- The text has “folly,” but the parallelism and v. 7 point to social, not intellectual, conditions, and a slight change (מסכן for הסכל) gives the sense “poor.”
- The Septuagint has less well: “They (the wicked) are praised in the city.”
- The clause is obscure; literally “he (or, one) rises at (?) the voice of the bird,” usually understood to refer to the old man’s inability to sleep in the morning; but this is not a universal trait of old age, and besides, a reference to affairs in the house is to be expected; the Hebrew construction also is of doubtful correctness. A change of the Hebrew text seems necessary; possibly we should read ישפל קול, “low is the voice,” instead of יקום לקול “he rises up at the voice.”
- The second is perhaps to be read: “the caper-berry blooms” (white hair); usually “the caper-berry loses its appetizing power”; Eng. Auth. Vers. “desire shall fail.” For the meaning of the word abyona (“caper-berry,” not “desire” or “poverty”), see art. by G. F. Moore in Journ. of Bibl. Lit. x. 1 (Boston, Mass., 1891).
- This is the Talmudic understanding of the Hebrew expression (Jerus. Sanhed. 10, 28a, cf. Sanhed. 12a; see Ecclus. xxxix. 2). There is no good authority for the renderings “collectors of maxims,” “collections of maxims.”
- It is not certain that the codex form was in use in Palestine or in Egypt as early as the 2nd or the 1st century B.C.