Book of Ecclesiastes


{ee - kleez' - ee - as' - teez}

General Information

Ecclesiastes is a book of wisdom writing in the Old Testament of the Bible. Its title is a Greek form of the Hebrew Koheleth ("preacher" or "speaker"). The author poses as Solomon, the archetype of the biblical wise man, but the book was not written before 350 - 250 BC.

Ecclesiastes is a philosophical essay on the meaning of human life. The author rejects all religious and ethical theories known to him, because they are contradicted by experience. He sees no divine plan in history, nature, or personal existence and argues that only relative satisfactions can be found in wealth, pleasure, family, friends, or work. The sole meaning of life is in living it fully by making the wisest possible choices. The few religious consolations expressed are widely attributed to a pious commentator.

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Book of Ecclesiastes

Brief Outline

  1. The futility of life
  2. The answer of practical Faith

Book of Ecclesiastes

General Information

Ecclesiastes is a book of the Old Testament, in Hebrew called Qoheleth. The English name is derived from a Greek term, roughly defined as "one who participates in or addresses an assembly," which appears in the title verse of the book in the earliest important Greek version of the Old Testament, the Septuagint. The Greek term is a rendering of the word Qoheleth, generally translated "preacher," although the precise meaning is not clear. Because Qoheleth identifies himself as "the son of David, king in Jerusalem" (1:1), by implication the Book of Ecclesiastes has been traditionally ascribed to the Israelite king Solomon.

Ecclesiastes consists of 12 chapters containing a series of generally pessimistic reflections on the purpose and nature of life. The conclusion, stated at the very beginning of the work, is that "all is vanity" (1:2). Pursue wisdom and wealth, cultivate pleasure, labor faithfully, deplore injustice and wickedness; the end is always the same, "vanity and a striving after wind" (4:4). The coupling of this recurrent theme with assumptions that natural phenomena are cyclic (1:4-7, 3:1-8), and even preordained (3:15), leads the author to hedonistic, cynical doctrines (8:15-9:10, 12:1-8) so antithetical to the spirit of the earlier Old Testament books that the rabbis originally sought to suppress the book. Its popularity and its ascription to Solomon, however, eventually secured Ecclesiastes a place in the third section, the Writings, of the Hebrew canon.

Modern scholarship now attributes the book to the 3rd century BC, at a time when the Jews were under the influence of various Greek philosophic systems, such as Epicureanism and Stoicism. Ecclesiastes is part of the Wisdom literature of the Old Testament, which includes the Books of Job and Proverbs.


Advanced Information

Ecclesiastes is the Greek rendering of the Hebrew Koheleth, which means "Preacher." The old and traditional view of the authorship of this book attributes it to Solomon. This view can be satisfactorily maintained, though others date it from the Captivity. The writer represents himself implicitly as Solomon (1:12). It has been appropriately styled The Confession of King Solomon. "The writer is a man who has sinned in giving way to selfishness and sensuality, who has paid the penalty of that sin in satiety and weariness of life, but who has through all this been under the discipline of a divine education, and has learned from it the lesson which God meant to teach him." "The writer concludes by pointing out that the secret of a true life is that a man should consecrate the vigour of his youth of God." The key-note of the book is sounded in ch. 1:2, "Vanity of vanities! saith the Preacher, Vanity of vanities! all is vanity!" i.e., all man's efforts to find happiness apart from God are without result.

(Easton Illustrated Dictionary)


Catholic Information

(Septuagint èkklesiastés, in St. Jerome also CONCIONATOR, "Preacher").

General survey

Ecclesiastes is the name given to the book of Holy Scripture which usually follows the Proverbs; the Hebrew Qoheleth probably has the same meaning. The word preacher, however, is not meant to suggest a congregation nor a public speech, but only the solemn announcement of sublime truths [hqhyl, passive nqhl, Lat. congregare, I (III) K., viii, 1, 2; bqhl, in publico, palam, Prov., v, 14; xxvi, 26; qhlh to be taken either as a feminine participle, and would then be either a simple abstract noun, præconium, or in a poetic sense, tuba clangens, or must be taken as the name of a person, like the proper nouns of similar formation, Esd., ii, 55, 57; corresponding to its use, the word is always used as masculine, except vii, 27]. Solomon, as the herald of wisdom, proclaims the most serious truths. His teaching may be divided as follows.


Everything human is vain (i, 1-11); for man, during his life on earth, is more transient than all things in nature (i, 1-7), whose unchangeable course he admires, but does not comprehend (i, 8-11).

Part I

Vanity in man's private life (i, 12-iii, 15): vain is human wisdom (i, 12-18); vain are pleasures and pomp (ii, 1-23). Then, rhetorically exaggerating, he draws the conclusion: "Is it not better to enjoy life's blessings which God has given, than to waste your strength uselessly?" (ii, 24-26). As epilogue to this part is added the proof that all things are immutably predestined and are not subject to the will of man (iii, 1-15). In this first part, the reference to the excessive luxury described in 1 Kings 10 is placed in the foreground. Afterwards, the author usually prefaces his meditations with an "I saw", and explains what he has learned either by personal observation or by other means, and on what he has meditated. Thus he saw:–

Part II

Sheer vanity also in civil life (iii, 16-vi, 6). Vain and cheerless is life because of the iniquity which reigns in the halls of justice (iii, 16-22) as well as in the intercourse of men (iv, 1-3). The strong expressions in iii, 18 sqq., and iv, 2 sq., must be explained by the writer's tragic vein, and thus does credit to the writer, who, speaking as Solomon, deplores bitterly what has often enough happened in his kingdom also, whether through his fault or without his knowledge. The despotic rule of the kings was described in advance by Samuel and Solomon cannot be cleared of all guilt (see below). But even the best prince will, to his grief, find by experience that countless wrongs cannot be prevented in a large empire. Qoheleth does not speak of the wrongs which he himself has suffered, but of those which others sustained. Another of life's vanities consists in the fact that mad competition leads many to fall into idleness (iv, 4-6); a third causes many a man through greed to shun society, or even to lose a throne because his unwisdom forbids him to seek the help of other men (iv, 7-16). Qoheleth then turns once more to the three classes of men named: to those who groan under the weight of injustice, in order to exhort them not to sin against God by murmuring against Providence, for this would be tantamount to dishonouring God in His temple, or to breaking a sacred vow, or to denying Providence (iv, 17-v, 8); in the same way he gives a few salutary counsels to the miser (v, 9-19) and describes the misery of the supposed foolish king (vi, 1-6). A long oratorical amplification closes the second part (vi, 7-vii, 30). The immutable predestination of all things by God must teach man contentment and modesty (vi, 7-vii, 1, Vulg.). A serious life, free from all frivolity, is best (vii, 2-7, Vulg.). Instead of passionate outbreaks (vii, 8-15), he recommends a golden mean (vii, 16-23). Finally, Qoheleth inquires into the deepest and last reason of "vanity" and finds it in the sinfulness of woman; he evidently thinks also of the sin of the first woman, through which, against the will of God (30), misery entered the world (vii, 24-30). In this part, also, Qoheleth returns to his admonition to enjoy in peace and modesty the blessings granted by God, instead of giving oneself up to anger on account of wrongs endured, or to avarice, or to other vices (iii, 22; v, 17 sq.; vii, 15).

Part III

Part III begins with the question: "Who is as the wise man?" (In the Vulg. these words have been wrongly placed in chap. vii.) Qoheleth here gives seven or eight important rules for life as the quintessence of true wisdom. Submit to God's ("the king's") will (viii, 1-8). If you observe that there is no justice on earth, contain yourself, "eat and drink" (viii, 9-15). Do not attempt to solve all the riddles of life by human wisdom; it is better to enjoy modestly the blessings of life and to work according to one's strength, but always within the narrow limits set by God (viii, 16-ix, 12.–In the Vulgate ad aliud must be dropped). In this "siege" of your city (by God) seek help in true wisdom (ix, 13-x, 3). It is always most important not to lose your temper because of wrongs done to you (x, 4-15). Then follows the repetition of the adivce not to give oneself up to idleness; sloth destroys countries and nations, therefore work diligently, but leave the success to God without murmuring (x, 16-xi, 6). Even amid the pleasures of life do not forget the Lord, but think of death and judgment (xi, 7-xii, 8).

In the epilogue Qoheleth again lays stress upon his authority as the teacher of wisdom, and declares that the pith of his teaching is: Fear God and keep the Commandments; for that is the whole man.

In the above analysis, as must be expected, the writer of this article has been guided in some particulars by his conception of the difficult text before him, which he has set forth more completely in his commentary on the same. Many critics do not admit a close connection of ideas at all. Zapletal regards the book as a collection of separate aphorisms which form a whole only exteriorly; Bickell thought that the arrangement of the parts had been totally destroyed at an early date; Siegfried supposes that the book had been supplemented and enlarged in strata; Luther assumed several authors. Most commentators do not expect that they can show a regular connection of all the "sayings" and an orderly arrangement of the entire book. In the above analysis an attempt has been made to do this, and we have pointed out what means may lead to success. Several parts must be taken in the sense of parables, e.g. what is said in ix, 14 sqq., of the siege of a city by a king. And in viii, 2, and x, 20, "king" means God. It appears to me that iv, 17, is not to be taken literally; and the same is true of x, 8 sqq. Few will hestitate to take xi, 1 sqq., figuratively. Chap. xii must convince every one that bold allegories are quite in Qoheleth's style. Chap. iii would by very flat if the proposition, "There is a time for everything", carried no deeper meaning than the words disclose at first sight. The strongest guarantee of the unity and sequence of thoughts in the book is the theme, "Vanitas vanitatum", which emphatically opens it and is repeated again and again, and (xii, 8) with which it ends. Furthermore, the constant repetition of vidi or of similar expressions, which connect the arguments for the same truth; finally, the sameness of verbal and rhetorical turns and of the writer's tragic vein, with its hyperbolical language, from beginning to end.

In order to reconcile the apparently conflicting statements in the same book or what seem contradictions of manifest truths of the religious or moral order, ancient commentators assumed that Qoheleth expresses varying views in the form of a dialogue. Many modern commentators, on the other hand, have sought to remove these discrepancies by omitting parts of the text, in this way to obtain a harmonious collection of maxims, or even affirmed that the author had no clear ideas, and, e.g., was not convinced of the spirituality and immortality of the soul. But, apart from the fact that we cannot admit erroneous or varying views of life and faith in an inspired writer, we regard frequent alterations in the text or the proposed form of a dialogue as poor makeshifts. It suffices, in my opinion, to explain certain hyperbolical and somewhat paradoxical turns as results of the bold style and the tragic vein of the writer. If our explanation is correct, the chief reproach against Qoheleth–viz. that against his orthodoxy–falls to the ground. For if iii, 17; xi, 9; xii, 7, 14, point to another life as distinctly as can be desired, we cannot take iii, 18-21, as a denial of immortality. Besides, it is evident that in his whole book the author deplores only the vanity of the mortal or earthly life; but to this may be truly applied (if the hyperbolical language of the tragical mood is taken into consideration) whatever is said there by Qoheleth. We cannot find fault with his comparing the mortal life of man and his death to the life and death of the beast (in vv. 19 and 21 rwh must always be taken as "breath of life"). Again, iv, 2 sq., is only a hyperbolical expression; in like manner Job (iii, 3) curses in his grief the day of his birth. True, some allege that the doctrine of immortality was altogether unknown to early intiquity; but even the Saviour (Luke 20:37) adduced the testimony of Moses for the resurrection of the dead and was not contradicted by his adversaries. And ix, 5 sq. and 10, must be taken in a similar sense. Now, in dooming all things earthly to destruction, but attributing another life to the soul, Qoheleth admits the spirituality of the soul; this follows especially from xii, 7, where the body is returned to the earth, but the soul to God.

Sometimes Qoheleth also seems to be given to fatalism; for in his peculiar manner he lays great stress on the immutability of the laws of nature and of the universe. But he considers this immutability as dependent on God's will (iii, 14; vi, 2; vii, 14 sq.). Nor does he deny the freedom of man within the limits set by God; otherwise his admonitions to fear God, to work, etc. would be meaningless, and man would not have brought evil into the world through his own fault (vii, 29, Heb.) Just as little does he contest the freedom of God's decrees, for God is spoken of as the source of all wisdom (ii, 26; v, 5). His views of life do not lead Qoheleth to stoical indifference or to blind hatred; on the contrary he shows the deepest sympathy with the misery of the suffering and earnestly deprecates opposition against God. In contentment with one's lot, in the quiet enjoyment of the blessings given by God, he discerns the golden mean, by which man prevents the vagaries of passion. Neither does he thereby recommend a kind of epicurism. For the ever-recurring phrase, "Eat and drink, for that is the best in this life", evidently is only a typical formula by which he recalls man from all kinds of excesses. He recommends not idle, but moderate enjoyment, accompanyied by incessant labour. Many persist in laying one charge at Qoheleth's door, viz., that of pessimism. He seems to call all man's efforts vain and empty, his life aimless and futile, and his lot deplorable. It is true that a sombre mood prevails in the book, that the author chose as his theme the description of the sad and serious sides of life but is it pessimism to recognize the evils of life and to be impressed with them? Is it not rather the mark of a great and profound mind to deplore bitterly the imperfection of what is earthly, and, on the aother hand, the peculiarity of the frivolous to ignore the truth? The colours with which Qoheleth paints these evils are indeed glaring, but they naturally flow from the poetical-oratorical style of his book and from his inward agitation, which likewise gives rise to the hyperbolical language in the Book of Job and in certain psalms. However, Qoheleth, unlike the pessimists, does not inveigh against God and the order of the universe, but only man. Chap. vii, in which he inquires into the last cause of evil, closes with the words, "Only this I have found, that God made man right, and he hath entangled himself with an infinity of questions [or phantasms]". His philosophy shows us also the way in which man can find a modest happiness. While severely condemning exceptional pleasures and luxury (chap. ii), it counsels the enjoyment of those pleasures which God prepares for every man (viii, 15; ix, 7 sqq.; xi, 9). It does not paralyze, but incites activity (ix, 10; x, 18 sq.; xi, 1 sq.). It stays him in his afflictions (v, 7 sqq.; viii, 5; x, 4); it consoles him in death (iii, 17; xii, 7); it discovers at every step how necessary is the fear of God. But Qoheleth's greatest trouble seems to be his inability to find a direct, smooth answer to life's riddles; hence he so frequently deplores the insufficiency of his wisdom; on the other hand, besides wisdom, commonly so called, i.e. the wisdom resulting from man's investigations, he knows another kind of wisdom which soothes, and which he therefore recommends again and again (vii, 12, 20; Heb. viii, 1; ix, 17; xii, 9-14). It is true, we feel how the author wrestles with the difficulties which beset his inquiries into the riddles of life; but he overcomes them and offers us an effective consolation even in extraordinary trials. Extraordinary also must have been the occasion which led him to compose the book. He introduces himself from the beginning and repeatedly as Solomon, and this forcibly recalls Solomon shortly before the downfall of the empire; but we know from the Scriptures that this had been prepared by various rebellions and had been foretold by the infallible word of the prophet (see below). We must picture to ourselves Solomon in these critical times, how he seeks to strengthen himself and his subjects in this sore trial by the true wisdom which is a relief at all times; submission to the immutable will of God, the true fear of the Lord, undoubtedly must now appear to him the essence of human wisdom.

As the inspired character of Ecclesiastes was not settled in the Fifth Œcumenical Council but only solemnly reaffirmed against Theodore of Mopsuestia, the faithful have always found edification and consolation in this book. Already in the third century, St. Gregory Thaumaturgus, in his metaphrase, then Gregory of Nyssa, in eight homilies, later Hugh of St. Victor, in nineteen homilies, set forth the wisdom of Qoheleth as truly celestial and Divine. Every age may learn from his teaching that man's true happiness must not be looked for on earth, not in human wisdom, not in luxury, not in royal splendour; that many afflictions await everybody, in consequence either of the iniquity of others, or of his own passions; that God has shut him up within narrow limits, lest he become overweening, but that He does not deny him a small measure of happiness if he does not "seek things that are above him" (vii, 1, Vulg.), if he enjoys what God has bestowed on him in the fear of the Lord and in salutary labour. The hope of a better life to come grows all the stronger the less this life can satisfy man, especially the man of high endeavour. Now Qoheleth does not intend this doctrine for an individual or for one people, but for mankind, and he does not prove it from supernatural revelation, but from pure reason. This is his cosmopolitan standpoint, which Kuenen rightly recognized; unfortunately, this commentator wished to conclude from this that the book originated in Hellenistic times. Nowack refuted him, but the universal application of the meditations contained therein, to every man who is guided by reason, is unmistakable.

The Author of the Book

Most modern commentators are of the opinion that Qoheleth's style points not to Solomon, but to a later writer. About this the following may be said:–

(1) As a matter of fact, the language of this book differs widely from the language of the Proverbs. Some think that they have discovered many Aramaisms in it. What can we say on this point?–It cannot be gainsaid that Solomon and a great, if not the greatest part of his people understood Aramaic. (We take the word here as the common name of the dialects closely related to the Biblical Hebrew.) Abraham and Sara, as well as the wives of Isaac and Jacob, had come from Chaldea; it is therefore probable that the language of that country was preserved, beside the language of Palestine, in the family of the Patriarchs; at any rate, in Moses' time the people still used Aramaic expressions. They exclaim (Exodus 16:15) mn hwa while Moses himself once substituted the Hebrew mh-hwa; the name of the miraculous food, however, remained mn. A large portion of David's and Solomon's empire was peopled by Arameans, so that Solomon reigned from the Euphrates to Gaza [I (III) K., v, 4, Heb.; II Sam. (K.), x, 19; cf Gen., xv, 18]. He was conversant with the science of the "sons of the East" and exchanged with them his wisdom (1 Samuel 5:10-14, Hebrew). But, as Palestine lay along the commercial routes between the Euphrates and Phœnecia, the Israelites, at least in the north of the country, must have been well acquainted with Aramaic. At the time of King Ezechias even the officials of Jerusalem understood Aramaic (Isaiah 36:11; 2 Samuel 18:26, Hebrew). Solomon could therefore assume, without hesitation, a somewhat Aramaic speech, if reason or mere inclination moved him. As a skilful writer, he may have intended, especially in his old age, and in a book whose style is partly oratorical, partly philosophical, partly poetical, to enrich the language by new turns. Goethe's language in the second part of "Faust" differs greatly from the first, and introduces many neologisms. Now Solomon seems to have had a more important reason for it. As it lay in his very character to remove the barriers between pagans and Israelites, he may have had the conscious intention to address in this book, one of his last, not only the Israelites but his whole people; the Aramaic colouring of his language, then, served as a means to introduce himself to Aramaic readers, who, in their turn, understood Hebrew sufficiently. It is remarkable that the name of God, Jahweh, never occurs in Ecclesiastes, while Elohim is found thirty-seven times; it is more remarkable still that the name Jahweh has been omitted in a quotation (5:3; cf. Deuteronomy 23:22). Besides, nothing is found in the book that could not be known through natural religion, without the aid of revelation.

(2) The Aramaisms may perhaps be explained in still another way. We probably possess the Old Testament, not in the original wording and orthography, but in a form which is slightly revised. We must unquestionably distinguish, it seems, between Biblical Hebrew as an unchanging literary language and the conversational Hebrew, which underwent constant changes. For there is no instance anywhere that a spoken language has been preserved for some nine hundred years so little changed in its grammar and vocabulary as the language of our extant canonical books. Let us, for an instance, compare the English, French, or German of nine hundred years ago with those languages in their present form. Hence it seems exceedingly daring to infer from the written Hebrew the character of the spoken language, and from the style of the book to infer the date of its composition. In the case of a literary language, on the other hand, which is a dead language and as such essentially unchangeable, it is reasonable to suppose that in the course of time its orthography, as well as single words and phrases, and, perhaps, here and there, some formal elements, have been subjected to change in order to be more intelligible to later readers. It is possible that Ecclesiastes was received into the canon in some such later edition. The Aramaisms, therefore, may also be explained in this manner; at any rate, the supposition that the time of the composition of a Biblical book may be deduced from its language is wholly questionable.

(3) This is a fact admitted by all those critics who ascribe Ecclesiastes, the Canticle of Canticles, portions of Isaias and of the Pentateuch, etc., to a later period, without troubling themselves about the difference of style in these books.

(4) The eagerness to find Aramaisms in Ecclesiastes is also excessive. Expressions which are commonly regarded as such are found now and then in many other books. Hirzel thinks that he has found ten Aramaisms in Genesis, eight in Exodus, five in Leviticus, four in Numbers, nine in Deuteronomy, two in Josue, nine in Judges, five in Ruth, sixteen in Samuel, sixteen in the Psalms, and several in Proverbs. For this there may be a twofold explanation: Either the descendants of Abraham, a Chaldean, and of Jacob, who dwelt twenty years in the Land of Laban, and whose sons were almost all born there, have retained numerous Aramaisms in the newly acquired Hebrew tongue, or the peculiarities pointed out by Hitzig and others are no Aramaisms. It is indeed astonishing how accurately certain critics claim to know the linguistic peculiarities of each of the numerous authors and of every period of a language of which but little literature is left to us. Zöckler affirms that almost every verse of Qoheleth contains some Aramaisms (Komm., p. 115); Grotius found only four in the whole book; Hengstenberg admits ten; the opinions on this point are so much at variance that one cannot help noticing how varying men's conception of an Aramaism is. Peculiar or strange expressions are at once called Aramaisms; but, according to Hävernick, the Book of Proverbs, also, contains forty words and phrases which are often repeated and which are found in no other book; the Canticle of Canticles has still more peculiarities. On the contrary the Prophecies of Aggeus, Zacharias, and Malachias are without any of those peculiarities which are supposed to indicate so late a period. There is much truth in Griesinger's words: "We have no history of the Hebrew language".

(5) Even prominent authorities adduce Aramaisms which are shown to be Hebraic by clear proofs or manifest analogies from other books. There are hardly any unquestionable Aramaisms which can neither be found in other books nor regarded as Hebraisms, which perchance have survived only in Ecclesiastes (for a detailed demonstration cf. the present writer's Commentary, pp. 23-31). We repeat here Welte's words: "Only the language remains as the principal argument that it was written after Solomon; but how fallacious in such cases is the merely linguistic proof, need not be mentioned after what has been said."

It is alleged that the conditions as described in Ecclesiastes do not agree with the time and person of Solomon. True, the author, who is supposed to be Solomon, speaks of the oppression of the weak by the stronger, or one official by another, of the denial of right in the courts of justice (iii, 16; iv, 1; v, 7 sqq.; viii, 9 sq.; x, 4 sqq.). Now many think that such things could not have happened in Solomon's realm. But it surely did not escape the wisdom of Solomon that oppression occurs at all times and with every people; the glaring colours, however, in which he describes them originate in the tragic time of the whole book. Besides, Solomon himself was accused, after his death, of oppressing his people, and his son confirms the charge [I (III) K., xii, 4 and 14]; moreover, long before him, Samuel spoke of the despotism of the future kings [I Sam. (K.), viii, 11 sq.]. Many miss in the book an indication of the past sins and the subsequent repentance of the king or, on the other hand, wonder that he discloses the mistakes of his life so openly. But if these readers considered vii, 27-29, they could not help sharing Solomon's disgust at women's intrigues and their consequences; if obedience towards God is inculcated in various ways, and if this (xii, 13) is regarded as man's sole destination, the readers saw that the converted king feared the Lord; in chap. ii sensuality and luxury are condemned so vigorously that we may regard this passage as a sufficient expression of repentance. The openness, however, with which Solomon accuses himself only heightens the impression. This impression has at all times been so strong, precisely because it is the experienced, rich, and wise Solomon who brands the sinful aspirations of man as "vanity of vanities". Again, what Qoheleth says of himself and his wisdom in xii, 9 sqq., cannot sound strange if it comes from Solomon, especially since in this passage he makes the fear of the Lord the essence of wisdom. The passages iv, 13; viii, 10; ix, 13; x, 4, are considered by some as referring to historical persons, which seems to me incorrect; at any rate, indications of so general a nature do not necessarily point to definite events and persons. Other commentators think they have discovered traces of Greek philosophy in the book; Qoheleth appears to be now a sceptic, now a stoic, now an epicurean; but these traces of Hellenism, if existing at all, are nothing more than remote resemblances too weak to serve as arguments. Cheyne (Job and Solomon) sufficiently refuted Tyler and Plumptre. That iii, 12, is a linguistic Græcism, has not been proved, because the common meaning of ‘sh twb is retained by many commentators; moreover, in II Sam. (K.), xii, 18, ‘sh r‘h means "to be sorry"; the verb, therefore, has about the same force as if we translated ‘sh twb by eû práttein.

As all the other internal proofs against the authorship of Solomon are not more convincing, we must listen to the voice of tradition, which has always attributed Ecclesiastes to him. The Jews doubted not its composition by Solomon, but objected to the reception, or rather retention, of the book in the canon; Hillel's School decided definitely for its canonicity and inspiration. In the Christian Church Theodore of Mopsuestia and some others for a time obscured the tradition; all other witnesses previous to the sixteenth century favour the Solomonic authorship and the inspiration. The book itself bears testimony for Solomon, not only by the title, but by the whole tone of the discussion, as well as in i, 12; moreover, in xii, 9, Qoheleth is expressly called the author of many proverbs. The ancients never so much as suspected that here, as in the Book of Wisdom, Solomon only played a fictitious part. On the other hand, the attempt is made to prove that the details do not fit Solomon, and to contest his authorship with this single internal argument. The reasons adduced, however, are based upon textual explanations which are justly repudiated by others. Thus Hengstenberg sees (x, 16) in the king, "who is a child", an allusion to the King of Persia; Grätz, to Herod the Idumæan; Reusch rightly maintains that the writer speaks of human experiences in general. From ix, 13-15, Hitzig concludes that the author lived about the year 200; Bernstein thinks this ridiculous and opines that some other historical event is alluded to. Hengstenberg regards this passage as nothing more than a parable; on this last view, also, the translation of the Septuagint is based (it has the subjunctive; -élthe basile&ús, "there may come a king"). As a matter of fact, Qoheleth describes only what has happened or may happen somewhere "under the sun" or at some time; he does not speak of political situations, but of the experience of the individual; he has in view not his people alone, but mankind in general. If internal reasons are to decide the question of authorship, it seems to me that we might more justly prove this authorship of Solomon with more right from the remarkable passage about the snares of woman (vii, 27), a passage the bitterness of which is not surpassed by the warning of any ascetic; or from the insatiable thirst of Qoheleth for wisdom; or from his deep knowledge of men and the unusual force of his style. Considering everything we see no decisive reason to look for another author; on the contrary, the reasons which have been advanced against this view are for the greatest part so weak that in this question the influence of fashion is clearly discernible.

The time of the composition of our book is variously set down by the critics who deny the authorship of Solomon. Every period from Solomon to 200 has been suggested by them; there are even authorities for a later time; Grätz thinks that he has discovered clear proof that the book was written under King Herod (40-4 B.C.). This shows clearly how little likely the linguistic criterion and the other internal arguments are to lead to an agreement of opinion. If Solomon wrote Ecclesiastes towards the end of his life, the sombre tone of the book is easily explained; for the judgments of God (1 Kings 11) which then came upon him would naturally move him to sorrow and repentance, especially as the breaking up of his kingdom and the accompanying misery were then distinctly before his eyes (see vv. 29 sqq.; 40). Amid the sudden ruin of his power and splendour, he might well exclaim, "Vanity of vanities!". But as God had promised to correct him "in mercy" (2 Samuel 7:14 sq.), the supposition of many ancient writers that Solomon was converted to God becomes highly probable. Then we also understand why his last book, or one of his last, consists of three thoughts: the vanity of earthly things, self-accusation, and emphatic admonition to obey the immutable decrees of Providence. The last was well suited to save the Israelites from despair, who were soon to behold the downfall of their power.

There is an unmistakable similarity between Ecclesiastes and the Canticle of Canticles, not only in the pithy shortness of the composition, but also in the emphatic repetition of words and phrases, in the boldness of the language, in the obscure construction of the whole, and in certain linguistic peculiarities (e.g. the use of the relative s). The loose succession of sententious thoughts, however, reminds us of the Book of Proverbs, whence the epilogue (xii, 9 sqq.) expressly refers to Qoheleth's skill in parables. In the old lists of Biblical books, the place of Ecclesiastes is between Proverbs and the Canticle of Canticles: Sept., Talmud (Baba Bathra, xiv, 2), Orig., Mel., Concil. Laodic., etc., also in the Vulgate. Its position is different only in the Masoretic Bible, but, as is generally admitted, for liturgical reasons.

As to the contents, the critics attack the passages referring to the judgment and immortality: iii, 17; xi, 9; xii, 7; furthermore the epilogue, xii, 9 sqq., especially verses 13, 14; also some other passages. Bickell expressed the opinion that the folios of the original, while being stitched, were deranged and completely confused; his hypothesis found few advocates, and Euringer (Masorahtext des Qoheleth, Leipzig, 1890) maintains, in opposition to him, that books had not at that early date taken the place of rolls. There is not sufficient evidence to assume that the text was written in verse, as Zapletal does.

Owing to its literalism, the translation of the Septuagint is frequently unintelligible, and it seems that the translators used a corrupt Hebraic text. The Itala and the Coptic translation follow the Septuagint. The Peshito, though translated from the Hebrew, is evidently also dependent on the text of the Septuagint. This text, with the notes of Origen, partly forms the Greek and Syriac Hexapla. The Vulgate is a skilful translation made by Jerome from the Hebrew and far superior to his translation from the Greek (in his commentary). Sometimes we cannot accept his opinion (in vi, 9, he most likely wrote quid cupias, and in viii, 12, ex eo quod peccator). (See the remnants of the Hexapla of Origen in Field, Oxford, 1875; a paraphrase of the Greek text in St. Gregory Thaumaturgus, Migne, X, 987.) The Chaldean paraphrast is useful for controlling the Masoretic text; the Midrash Qoheleth is without value. The commentary of Olympiodorus is also serviceable (seventh century, M., XCIII, 477) and Œcumenius, "Catena" (Verona, 1532). A careful translation from the Hebrew was made about 1400 in the "Græca Veneta" (ed. Gebhardt, Leipzig, 1875).

Publication information Written by G. Gietmann. Transcribed by WGKofron. With thanks to St. Mary's Church, Akron, Ohio The Catholic Encyclopedia, Volume V. Published 1909. New York: Robert Appleton Company. Nihil Obstat, May 1, 1909. Remy Lafort, Censor. Imprimatur. +John M. Farley, Archbishop of New York


In the Latin Church important commentaries were written, after the time of Jerome on whom many depend, by BONAVENTURA, NICOL, LYRANUS, DENYS THE CARTHUSIAN, and above all by PINEDA (seventeenth cent.), by MALDONATUS, CORNELIUS A LAPIDE, and BOSSUET.

Modern Catholic commentaries: SCHÄFER (Freiburg im Br., 1870); MOTAIS (Paris, 1876); RAMBOUILLET (Paris, 1877); GIETMANN (Paris, 1890); ZAPLETAL (Fribourg, Switzerland, 1905).

Protestant commentaries: ZÖCKLER, tr. TAYLOR (Edinburgh, 1872); BULLOCK, in Speaker's Comment. (London, 1883); Cambridge Bible (1881); WRIGHT, (London, 1883); LEIMDÖRFER, (Hamburg, 1892); SIEGFRIED (Göttingen, 1898); WILDEBOER (Freiburg im Br., 1898).

Book of Ecclesiastes

Jewish Perspective Information


Name and Authorship.



Name and Authorship.

The name "Ecclesiastes"-literally, "Member of an Assembly," often thought to mean (after Jerome) "Preacher"-is the Septuagint rendering of the Hebrew "Ḳohelet," apparently as an intensive formation from the root "ḳahal," with which such forms as the Arabic "rawiyyah" (professional reciter) have been compared. The Hebrew word is given by the author of the book as his name, sometimes with the article (xii. 8, and probably vii. 27), but ordinarily without it: similar license is allowed in Arabic in the case of some common nouns used as proper names. The author represents himself as the son of David, and king over Israel in Jerusalem (i. 1, 12, 16; ii. 7, 9). The work consists of personal or autobiographic matter, with reflections on the purpose of life and the best method of conducting it. These, the author declares, were composed by him as he increased in wisdom, were "weighed," studied" corrected, expressed in carefully chosen phrases, and correctly written out (xii. 9, 10), to be taught to the people.

The fact of the author describing himself in the foregoing style, together with his statements concerning the brilliancy of his court and his studies in philosophy (i. 13-17, ii. 4-11), led the ancients to identify him with Solomon; and this identification, which appears in the Peshiṭta, Targum, and Talmud (compare 'Er. 21b; Shab. 30a), passed unquestioned till comparatively recent times. The order of the Solomonic writings in the canon suggested that Ecclesiastes was written before Canticles (Rashi on B. B. 14b); whereas another tradition made their composition simultaneous, or put Ecclesiastes last (Seder 'Olam Rabbah, ed. Ratner, p. 66, with the editor's notes). The fact that Kohelet speaks of his reign in the past tense (i. 12) suggested that the book was written on Solomon's death-bed (ib.). Another way of accounting for it was to suppose that Solomon composed it during the period in which he was driven from his throne (Giṭ. 68b), a legend which may have originated from this passage. The canonicity of the book was, however, long doubtful (Yad. iii. 5; Meg. 7a), and was one of the matters on which the school of Shammai took a more stringent view than the school of Hillel; it was finally settled "on the day whereon R. Eleazar b. Azariah was appointed head of the assembly." Endeavors were made to render it apocryphal on the ground of its not being inspired (Tosef., Yad. ii. 14; ed. Zuckermandel, p. 683), or of its internal contradictions (Shab. 30b), or of a tendency which it displayed toward heresy-that is, Epicureanism (Pesiḳ., ed. Buber, viii. 68b); but these objections were satisfactorily answered (see S. Schiffer, "Das Buch Ḳohelet," Frankfort-on-the-Main, 1884). It was assumed that Solomon had taken the name "Ḳohelet," just as he had taken the name "Agur" (Prov. xxx. 1), as a collector (see, further, Eppenstein, "Aus dem Ḳohelet-Kommentar des Tanchum Jeruschalmi," Berlin, 1888); and probably the Septuagint rendering represents a theory that the name contained an allusion to I Kings viii. 1, where Solomon is said to have gathered an assembly.


As to the age of the work, there is an indication of the latest date at which it could have been written in the fact that Ben Sira repeatedly quotes or imitates it (Ecclus. [Sirach] xxvii. 26, from Eccl. x. 8, verbatim [comp. LXX.]; xviii. 5, from Eccl. iii. 14, inverted, probably for metrical reasons; xxx. 21, from Eccl. xi. 10; xxxiv. 5b, from Eccl. v. 9; xiii. 21, 22, after Eccl. ix. 16; xxxvii. 14, after Eccl. vii. 19; xxxiv. 1, after Eccl. v. 11; comp. "The Wisdom of Ben Sira," ed. Schechter and Taylor, Introduction, pp. 13 et seq., and p. 26, note 2). Since Ben Sira declares himself a compiler from the Old Testament (xxiv. 28), whereas Ecclesiastes claims originality (xii. 9, 10), it seems certain, in the case of close agreement between the two books, that Ben Sira must be the borrower. This fact gives some date about 250 or 300 B.C. as the latest possible for the composition of the book in its present form; for this repeated borrowing implies that Ben Sira regarded it as part of his canon, which would scarcely contain any works that had been produced in his lifetime. With this fact the nature of Ben Sira's language, as preserved in Talmudic quotations, agrees; for such decided Neo-Hebraisms as ("business"), ("lest"), and ("authorize") are not found in Ecclesiastes, though, had they been in vogue in the author's time, he would have had constant occasion to employ them. He uses instead (vii. 16, 17; also used in the Phenician Eshmunazar inscription), and . Though allusions to Ecclesiastes arenot common in the New Testament, Matt. xxiii. 23, R. V., "These ye ought to have done, and not to have left the other undone," seems clearly a reminiscence of Eccl. vii. 18. It is therefore necessary to reject all theories that bring the book down to a date later than 250 B.C., including that of Graetz, who regarded it as Herodian - in which he is followed by Leimdörfer (Erlangen, 1891), who makes Simeon ben Shetaḥ the author - and that of Renan, who places it somewhere before 100 B.C. These theories are largely based on conjectural interpretations of historical allusions, which, though often attractive, are not convincing. The Grecisms supposed to be found in the book are all imaginary (for instance, has no connection with the phrase "under the sun," which occurs so frequently, is also found in the Eshmunazar and Tabnith inscriptions, not later than 300 B.C., as the equivalent of "on earth"), and the suppositions as to borrowings from Greek philosophy which some have professed to detect are all fallacious (See Ad. Lods; "L'Ecclésiaste et la Philosophie Grecque," 1890). On the other hand, there is much in the language which, with the present knowledge of Hebrew, one should be disposed to regard as characteristic of a comparatively late period. H. Grotius, in the sixteenth century, collected about a hundred words and phrases of this sort occurring in the book; but several apparent modernisms may represent usages which must have been introduced into Palestine at an early period (e.g., for , and the abstracts in , both from Assyrian), or words which may have been largely used in ancient times (e.g., "to correct," also Assyrian); and even in the case of some idioms which seem especially characteristic of late Hebrew, the likeliest account is that they were preserved through long ages in remote dialects (so "kebar," "already," occurring only in this book-apparently an old verb, "kabur," "it is great"; i.e., "it is a long time since"; comp. the Arabic "ṭalama"); certain Persisms, however (, "account" [viii. 11], Persian "payghām"; , "park" [ii. 5], Zend "pairidaeza," Armenian "partez"), seem to provide a more certain clue; and that the book is post-exilic may be asserted with confidence, though how near the latest possible limit the date can be brought down can not be fixed with precision. Hence the Solomonic authorship (which few now hold) may be dismissed; nor indeed could the second king of the dynasty have spoken of "all which were in Jerusalem before me."

Beyond the fact that Ḳohelet was uncritically identified with Solomon, it seems impossible to discover any connection between the two names. The interpretation of the word "Ḳohelet" as a substantive is purely conjectural; and though the phrase rendered "masters of assemblies," but more probably signifying "authors of collections," lends some color to the rendering "collector," it is not free from grave difficulty. As a proper name, however, it might be derived from "ḳahal" in one of the Arabic senses of that root, though its use with the article would in that case constitute a difficulty; finally, it might be a foreign word. The Talmud seems rightly to call attention to the importance of the past tense in i. 12; for one who says "I was king" implies that his reign is over: he must be speaking either as a dead man or as one who has abdicated. Ḳohelet is then either a fictitious person or an adaptation of some monarch, like Al-Nu'man of Arabic mythology (Ṭabari, i. 853), who, becoming conscious of the instability of the world, abandons his throne and takes to devotion. Similarly, Ḳohelet appears to pass from king to preacher, though it is not actually stated that he abandons his throne. The references to kings in all but the earliest chapters rather imply that the author is a subject; but this may be unintentional. The author's idea of a king would seem to be modeled on the monarchs of Persia, with kings and provinces subject to them (ii. 8); and the gardens with exotics (ii. 5) and irrigated parks (ii. 6) are likely to belong to the same region.

The Israelitish name for God is nowhere employed, nor does there appear to be any reference to Judaic matters; hence there seems to be a possibility that the book is an adaptation of a work in some other language. This supposition would agree with the fact that certain of the idioms found in it are not so much late Hebrew as foreign Hebrew (e.g., vii. 24, viii. 17, xii. 9); with the frequent use of the participial present (e.g., viii. 14); with the unintelligible character of several phrases which are apparently not corrupt (e.g., iv. 17, x. 15, much of xii. 4-6); and with the want of sharpness that characterizes some of the aphorisms (e.g., x. 9). Further, the verb (xii. 9), which describes a process to which the author says he subjected his proverbs, should, on the analogy of the Arabic "wazan," refer to the numbering of syllables; and the following phrases, apparently meaning "searched out and corrected" or "carefully straightened," have the appearance of referring to metrical correctness, though their exact import is not easy to fix. Of any such formal technicality the verses of Ḳohelet bear no trace in their existing form; yet there are places where the introduction of words would be more intelligible if the author had a fixed number of syllables to make up (e.g., xii. 2, "while the sun or the light or the moon or the stars be not darkened"). If this be so, the character of the idioms noticed (e.g., xii. 9, "the wiser Ḳohelet became, the more did he teach") renders it probable that the language of the model was Indo-Germanic; and the introduction of the names "David," "Israel," and "Jerusalem," as well as the concealment of all names in the case of the anecdotes which the author introduces (e.g., iv. 13-15, ix. 14-16), is with the view of accommodating the work to Jewish taste.


In Ecclesiastes there are some continuous sections of considerable length: (1) Ḳohelet's autobiography, i. 12-ii. 26; (2) a statement of the doctrines of determinism and Epicureanism, ix. 1-12; (3) a description of death, xii. 1-8. The rest of the book is in short paragraphs or isolated aphorisms; and the author in xii. 11, 12 declares that the aphoristic style is superior to the continuous discourse-a doctrine which in modern times has been associated with the name of Bacon. In the autobiography the author states that he experimented with various forms of study, pleasure, and enterprise, in the hope of finding the meaning of the endless chain of phenomena, but that heabandoned them in disgust. The morals that he draws, however, appear to be inconsistent; since, while some verses encourage the theory that pleasure is the summum bonum, others seem to warn youth against any such view. This inconsistency, which could probably be paralleled from the works of Oriental pessimists like Omar Khayyam and Abu al-'Ala of Ma'arrah, attracted attention, as has been stated, in early times; but the various attempts that have been made to bring the author into harmony with himself are too subjective to be convincing. Thus some would regard all the edifying passages as interpolations (so Haupt, "Oriental Studies," pp. 243 et seq.); others would regard the Epicurean passages as to be read with interrogations (so some rabbis), while it has also been suggested (by Bickell, "Der Prediger") that the sheets of the book have been displaced. None of these opinions can be received without external evidence. It seems more probable, therefore, that the author expresses the varying sentiments of different moods, just as the second of the writers mentioned above alternates between orthodoxy and blasphemy.

After his personal history the author proceeds to give illustrations of more general experiences. In these he speaks as a subject rather than as a king; he cites the prevalence of injustice in the world, for which he had some tentative solutions (iii. 17, 18); later, however, he relapsed into the Epicurean conclusion (iii. 22), accentuated by further observation into pessimism (iv. 1-4). At this point he proceeds to introduce a variety of maxims, illustrated by anecdotes, leading up to the conclusion (vii. 17) that the plan of the universe is incomprehensible. Chapter ix. formulates the doctrine that men's actions and motives are all foreordained, and advises gaiety on the ground that whatever is to happen is already fixed, and that there will be no room for activity in the grave. This is emphasized by anecdotes of the unexpected happening (11-16). There follows another series of maxims leading up to a poetical description of death, and, after some observations on the value of the aphorism, to the assertion that the substance of the whole matter is "Fear God and keep his commandments, . . . for God shall bring every work into judgment" (xii. 13-14).

The felicity, wisdom, and profundity of many of the aphorisms probably endeared the book to many who might have been displeased with the Epicurean and pessimistic passages. Yet without the idea that Ḳohelet was Solomon one could scarcely imagine the work ever having been included in the canon; and had it not been adopted before the doctrine of the Resurrection became popular, it is probable that the author's views on that subject would have caused his book to be excluded therefrom. Mystical interpretation of the book began fairly early (see Ned. 32b); and the work was a favorite source of citation with those rabbis who, like Saadia, were philosophers as well as theologians.

Morris Jastrow Jr., David Samuel Margoliouth

Jewish Encyclopedia, published between 1901-1906.


See, besides the commentaries of Hitzig, Delitzsch, Volck-Oettli, Siegfried, and Wildeboer, the following: Ewald, Poetische Schriften des Alten, Testaments, iv.; Renan, L'Ecclésiaste, Paris, 1882; Graetz, Koheleth, Breslau, 1871; C. H. H. Wright, The Book of Kohelet, London, 1883; Bickell, Kohelet, 1886; Plumptre, Ecclesiastes, Cambridge, 1881; Tyler, Ecclesiastes, London, 1874; Wünsche, Bibliotheca Rabbinica, Midrash, Koheleth, 1880; Cheyne, Job and Solomon, London, 1887; also the following monographs on special points: Haupt, The Book of Ecclesiastes (Oriental Studies of the Philadelphia Oriental Club), 1894; Euringer, Der Masoratext des Kohelet, Leipsic, 1890; Köhler, Ueber die Grundanschauungen des Buches Kohelet, Erlangen, 1885; Bickell, Der Prediger über den Wert des Daseins, Innsbruck, 1884; Schiffer, Das Buch Kohelet Nach der Auffassung der Weisen des Talmuds und Midrasch, 1884; Renan, Histoire du Peuple d'Israel, vol. v., ch. xv.; Piepenbring, Histoire du Peuple d'Israel. For further bibliography consult Palm, Die Qoheleth Litteratur, Tübingen, 1888; and Siegfried, Commentary, pp. 25-27.J. Jr. D. S. M.

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