ECCLESIASTES: KOHELETH'S QUEST FOR LIFE'S MEANING

 

 

 

 

                                                     by

                         Weston W. Fields

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

                     Submitted in partial fulfillment of requirements

                             for the degree of Master of Theology in

                                       Grace Theological Seminary

                                                     May 1975

 

 

Digitized by Ted Hildebrandt and Dr. Perry Phillips, Gordon College, 2007.
                                       PREFACE

 

            It was during a series of lectures given in Grace

Theological Seminary by Professor Thomas V. Taylor on the

book of Ecclesiastes that the writer's own interest in the

book was first stirred. The words of Koheleth are remark-

ably suited to the solution of questions and problems which

arise for the Christian in the twentieth century. Indeed,

the message of the book is so appropriate for the contem-

porary world, and the book so cogently analyzes the purpose

and value of life, that he who reads it wants to study it;

and he who studies it finds himself thoroughly attached to

it: one cannot come away from the book unchanged.

            For the completion of this study the writer is

greatly indebted to his advisors, Dr. John C. Whitcomb, Jr.

and Professor James R. Battenfield, without whose patient

help and valuable suggestions this thesis would have been

considerably impoverished.

            To my wife Beverly, who has once again patiently

and graciously endured a writing project, I say thank you.

 


 

 

                             TABLE OF CONTENTS

GRADE PAGE                                                                                                          iii

PREFACE                                                                                                                  iv

TABLE OF CONTENTS                                                                                           v

Chapter

I. INTRODUCTION AND STATEMENT OF PURPOSE                                      1

II. THE TITLE                                                                                                            5

            Translation                                                                                                     5

            Meaning of tl,h,qo                                                                                         6

               Zimmermann's Interpretation                                                                    7

               Historical Interpretations                                                                          9

               Linguistic Analysis                                                                                    9

                   What did Solomon collect?                                                                   12

                   Why does Solomon bear this name?                                                    12

                   The feminine gender                                                                              13

               Conclusion                                                                                                 15

III. DATE, AUTHORSHIP, AND LINGUISTIC BACKGROUND                        16

            Introduction                                                                                                   16

            Authorship and Linguistic Background                                                       16

               The Traditional View                                                                                  16

               Arguments Against Solomonic Authorship                                             17

                  A literary device                                                                                     18

                  Aramaic background                                                                               22

                     Definition of "Aramaisms"                                                                  23

                     History of Aramaic                                                                              26

                     Late-dating by Aramaisms                                                                   30

                       Limited vocabulary                                                                            32

                       Later documents                                                                                 33

                       Reasons for Aramaisms                                                                     36

                       Noun formations                                                                                37

                       Reasons for non-routine terms                                                         38

                   Conclusion on Aramaisms                                                                    40

               An Aramaic original                                                                                   41

                  Introduction                                                                                             41

                  Proofs for an Aramaic original                                                              42

                      Ecclesiastes 7:12                                                                                42

                      Ecclesiastes 10:15                                                                              44

 


                                                                                                                                    vi

Chapter

                                    Ecclesiastes 11:1                                                                  45

                           Proofs for a Hebrew original                                                        47

                                    Two Hebrew dialects                                                            47

                                    Paronomasia                                                                         48

                                    Canaanite parallels                                                                49

                                    Ben Sira                                                                                  49

                                    Characteristics of a translation                                            50

                           Conclusion on an Aramaic original                                              52

                        Ecclesiastes 1:12                                                                              52

                        Ecclesiastes 1:16                                                                              54

                        The Sitz im Leben of the book                                                         55

            Arguments for Solomonic Authorship                                                        56

                        Phoenician background                                                                     56

                            Introduction                                                                                   56

                            Linguistic uniqueness                                                                   58

                            A literary genre                                                                             59

                            Dahood's arguments                                                                      63

                                    Ecclesiastes 1:10                                                                  63

                                    Ecclesiastes 1:16                                                                  64

                                    Ecclesiastes 2:2                                                                    64

                                    Ecclesiastes 2:24                                                                  65

                                    Other examples                                                                     65

                             Use of Ugaritic                                                                             71

                             Evaluation of Dahood                                                                  73

                          Building and commerce                                                                  74

                          Tradition                                                                                           75

                          Internal arguments                                                                           77

            Date                                                                                                                78

            Conclusion                                                                                                     80

IV. KOHELETH'S THEME AND DEVELOPMENT OF THOUGHT                   82

            Introduction                                                                                                   82

            Theme                                                                                                             83

                        Unsympathetic Interpretations                                                         83

                        Sympathetic Interpretations                                                             90

                        A Suggested Theme                                                                           91

            Development of Thought                                                                              94

            Conclusion                                                                                                     98

V. SELECTED DIFFICULTIES                                                                                100

            Introduction                                                                                                   100

            Vanity of Vanities                                                                                         101

            Definition                                                                                                      101

                        Usage of lb,h,                                     105

                        Relationship of the Name "Abel"                                                     108

                        Jewish Interpretations                                                                       109

                                                                                                                                    vii

Chapter

                        Conclusion on lb,h,                                 111

            Under the Sun                                                                                                111

                        Occurrences of the Phrase                                                               112

                        Definition of the Phrase                                                                   114

                        Significance of the Phrase                                                               115

                        The Relationship of Inspiration and Revelation                             116

                                    Introduction                                                                           116

                                    Definition of revelation and inspiration                              117

                                                Revelation                                                                  117

                                                Inspiration                                                                  117

                                    Correlation of inspiration and revelation                            118

                                    Koheleth's revelational teachings                                        120

                                    Conclusion on revelation and inspiration                           122

            The Meaning and Place of Pleasure                                                            127

                        Introduction                                                                                       127

                        Consideration of the Texts                                                               127

                                    Ecclesiastes 2:1-11                                                             127

                                                Description of the experiment                                 127

                                                Linguistic analysis                                                    128

                                                            Ecclesiastes 2:1                                            128

                                                            Ecclesiastes 2:3                                            130

                                                            Ecclesiastes 2:8                                            133

                                                Conclusion on 2:1-11                                               134

                                    Ecclesiastes 2:24-26                                                            135

                                                Description of the passage                                       135

                                                Linguistic analysis                                                    138

                                                            Ecclesiastes 2:24                                          138

                                                            Ecclesiastes 2:25                                          139

                                                Conclusion on 2:24-26                                            140

                                    Ecclesiastes 4:8                                                                    140

                                    Ecclesiastes 7:15-18                                                            142

                                                Description of the passage                                       142

                                                Linguistic analysis                                                    142

                                                            Oqd;ciB;                          142

                                                            Ecclesiastes 7:16                                          143

                                    Ecclesiastes 8:15                                                                  147

                                    Ecclesiastes 11:9, 10                                                           149

                        Conclusion                                                                                         150

            Death and Immortality                                                                                  152

                        Introduction                                                                                       152

                        Consideration of the Texts                                                               153

                                    Ecclesiastes 2:12-17                                                            153

                                    Ecclesiastes 3:15-22                                                            154

                                                Figures of speech                                                      154

                                                Psychology of man and animals                               155


                                                                                                                                    viii

Chapter

                                                Immortality                                                                162

                                    Ecclesiastes 4:1-3                                                                163

                                    Ecclesiastes 6:3, 12                                                             166

                                    Ecclesiastes 9:1-12                                                             168

                                                Old Testament doctrine of Sheol                             169

                                                Interpretation of the passage                                    173

                                                Word meanings                                                         174

                                                            hW,fEma                                                      174

                                                            NOBw;H,v;                                                           175

                                                            tfadav;                            176

                                                            hmAk;HA                                  177

                                                Conclusion on this passage                                     178

                                                A suggested translation of 9:10                               180

                                    Ecclesiastes 12:7, 13, 14                                                     180

VI. A SUMMARY OF THE THEOLOGICAL MESSAGE OF KOHELETH 181

            Introduction                                                                                                   181

            Consideration of the Topics                                                                         181

                        Insufficiency of Human Endeavor                                                   181

                                    The problem of knowledge                                                   181

                                    The emptiness of things                                                        183

                                    Unthinking materialism                                                        184

                                    Lack of personal importance                                               185

                                    Conclusion on human endeavor                                           186

                        God's Supply of Life's Needs                                                           186

                                    Stability                                                                                  186

                                    Time                                                                                       187

                                    Physical requirements                                                          188

                                    Moral requirements                                                             189

                                    Life's values                                                                           190

                                    Sovereignty of God                                                               191

            Conclusion                                                                                                     192

VII. NEW TESTAMENT PARALLELS                                                                   193

            Introduction                                                                                                   193

            The Parallels                                                                                                 193

            Summary                                                                                                        196

VIII. NEAR EASTERN PARALLELS                                                                      197

            Introduction                                                                                                   197

            Some Parallels                                                                                              197

                        Mesopotamia                                                                                     197

                        Hittite                                                                                                 198

                        Aramaic                                                                                              199

                        Egyptian                                                                                             200

                        Ugarit                                                                                                 201

            Summary                                                                                                        203


                                                                                                                            ix

Chapter

IX. SUMMARY AND CONCLUSION                                                                    204

BIBLIOGRAPHY OF WORKS CITED                                                                   211

 


 

 

                                       CHAPTER I

 

            INTRODUCTION AND STATEMENT OF PURPOSE

 

            Few books of the Bible have suffered in recent years

from so much neglect as the book of Ecclesiastes. Further-

more, a large portion of those who have studied it have

unsympathetically criticized and maligned both its author

and its message, until it has come to be all but ignored by

even those who accept its canonicity and inspiration. The

author of this book has been accused of scepticism, of

fatalism, and of Epicureanism. His words have been denounced

as "not revelation" and human only.1 It is contended that

"anyone who essays to explain Coheleth is doomed to failure;

it is vanity and a chase after wind."2 Another has called

it "the strangest book in the Bible."3 Suspected in days of

orthodoxy,4 neglected in periods of optimism, treasured in

 

            1E. Schuyler English, et al., eds., The New Scofield

Reference Bible (New York: Oxford University Press, 1967),

pp. 696, 702.

            2Roland E. Murphy, "The Penseés of Coheleth," The

Catholic Biblical Quarterly, 17 (1955), 314.

            3R. B. Y. Scott, Proverbs-Ecclesiastes (hereinafter

referred to as Ecclesiastes), in The Anchor Bible, ed. by

W. F. Albright and David Noel Freedman, et al. (New York:

Doubleday and Company, Inc., 1965), p. 191.

            4Robert Gordis, Poets, Prophets and Sages (Blooming-

ton, Ind.: Indiana University Press, 1971), p. 327.


                                                                                              2

days of frustration and disillusionment, the writings of

Koheleth have always drawn men, yet somehow eluded them.

Still, the enigmatic writing of the king of Jerusalem

endures, the symbol of the ache of disillusion and of the

peace that is possible afterwards. "Whoever has dreamt

great dreams in his youth and seen the vision flee, or has

loved and lost, or has beaten barehanded at the fortress of

injustice and come back bleeding and broken, has passed Kohe-

leth's door, and tarried awhile beneath the shadow of his

roof."1

            The book is unworthy of the abuse it has often

received at the hands of commentators, for it consists of,

as John Trapp said more than three hundred fifty years ago,

            golden words, weighty, and worthy of all acceptation;

            grave and gracious apophthegms, or rather oracles, meet

            to be well remembered . . . compiled and composed with

            such a picked frame of words, with such pithy strength

            of sentences, with such a thick series of demonstrative

            arguments, that the sharp wit of all the philosophers,

            compared with this divine discourse, seems to be utterly

            cold, and of small account.2

            It is not, and probably never will be, among the

most popular books in the Bible. Yet, after one has studied

this book, it is difficult for him to regard it with indif-

ference. It will either be distrusted and minimized, or it

 

            lIbid., p. 325.

            2John Trapp, A Commentary on the Old and New Testa-

ments, Vol. III (5 vols.: London: R. D. Dickinson, 1660,

reprinted, 1868), p. 155.


                                                                                                    3

will be accepted and utilized.1 It is from this book that

many Christians, though separated in time from its author by

several thousand years, and much richer than its author in

available theological knowledge, could gain a very needed

message: that a life lived for self and the world is "vanity"

and that nothing "under the sun" every really satisfies.2

            The book is not, however, without its problems and

obscurities, and the problems posed by Koheleth seem to take

on increased proportion as they cut across contemporary

concepts of thinking. But if the reader will approach the

book with an open mind, divest himself of unfavorable presup-

positions, and seek to understand the book for what Koheleth

meant it to be, he will see what he is being warned against,

and how wise that warning is for this age.3 All that is

needful is to read Koheleth himself with sympathy and imagi-

nation. "Then the dry bones will take on flesh and his

 

            lArthur Maltby, "The Book of Ecclesiastes and the

After-Life," The Evangelical Quarterly, XXXV:1 (January-

March, 1963), 39.

            2Ecclesiastes is included among the "Wisdom" litera-

ture of the Bible. For an excellent discussion of this

classification, see W. O. E. Oesterley, The Wisdom of Jesus

the Son of Sirach or Ecclesiasticus, in The Cambridge Bible

for Schools and Colleges (Cambridge: At the University

Press, 1912), p. xlvii.

            3Thomas V. Taylor, "Studies in Ecclesiastes" (unpub-

lished mimeographed material for lectures in Grace Theologi-

cal Seminary, March, 1972), p. 8. The page numbers of the

material were added by the writer of this thesis.


                                                                                               4

spirit will live again."1

            It is the purpose of this thesis to examine the book

of Ecclesiastes in order to determine the veracity of its

teachings and the cogency of its argument;  to understand its

outstanding teachings; and to explain some of the more prom-

inent difficulties. Included as necessary corollary discus-

sions are the problems of authorship and date (and the under

lying problem of the linguistic background of the book), the

theme and development of thought in the book, explanations

of significant problems, a summary of the prominent theolog-

ical teachings, New Testament parallels to the teachings of

Ecclesiastes, and parallels in other Near Eastern literature.

            Bible quotations are the writer's own translation,

unless otherwise annotated.

 

            1Gordis, Poets, Prophets, and Sages, p. 329.

 


 

 

                                 CHAPTER II

 

                                  THE TITLE

 

                                   Translation

 

            The English title, "Ecclesiastes," comes from the

first line of the book in the Septuagint:  [Rh<mata  ]Ekklhsi-

astou?  ui[ou? Dauid.1   ]Ekklhsiastou? is a translation of the

Hebrew tl,h,qo, the Hebrew title of the author which is also

used for the book, and usually transliterated, Koheleth or

Qoheleth. Both the derivation and the meaning of this word

are enigmatic. The word occurs seven times in the book:

three times in the first part (1:1, 2, 12). and three times

in the conclusion (12:8, 9, 10), with one occurrence in the

middle (7:27). It is not a proper name, but an appellative,

a fact evident both from its having the article in 12:8 and

its being construed with a feminine verb in 7:27.2 This fact

has been recognized by major translators over the centuries,

as evidenced in the LXX translation (meaning, "one who par-

ticipates in a popular assembly"), the title of Luther ("Der

 

            lAlfred Rahlfs, ed., Septuaginta, Vol. II (2 vols:

Stuttgart: Wüttembergische Bibelanstalt, reprint, 1972),

p. 238. This is the text of the LXX used throughout the

thesis.

            2Christian David Ginsberg, The Song of Songs and

Coheleth (hereinafter referred to as Coheleth) (2 vols. in

one: New York: Ktav Publishing House, Inc., reprint, 1970),

p. 1.

 


                                                                                               6

Prediger"),1 and Jerome's title "Concionator."2 Actually,

the English title "Ecclesiastes" is a direct carry-over from

the Vulgate, which merely transliterated the LXX.3

 

                           Meaning of hl,h,qo

            "The precise signification of this appelation has,

from time immemorial, been a matter of great contention, and

the occasion of numerous and most conflicting opinions."4

While some feel that the meaning of the name is truly lost

and will be forever unknown,5 others, notably Renan and

Zimmermann, have suggested ingenious solutions to the meaning

of the word. Renan's guess was that hl,h,qo is an abbreviation,

much as Mbmr is an abbreviation for Maimonides, but Gordis

contends that this "explains nothing."6 Jastrow suggests

that "Koheleth" is a nom de plume for Solomon and that the

 

            1H. C. Leupold, Exposition of Ecclesiastes (herein-

after referred to as Ecclesiastes) (Grand Rapids: Baker

Book House, 1974), p. 38

            2Ibid.

            3Robertus Weber, et al., eds., Biblia Sacra Iuxta

Vulgatam Versionem, Vol. II (2 vols.: Stuttgart: Württem-

bergische Bibelanstalt, 1969), p. 986.

            4Ginsburg, Coheleth, p. 1.

            5Gordis, Poets, Prophets and Sages, p. 326.

            6Idem., Koheleth, the Man and His World: A Study

of Ecclesiastes (hereinafter referred to as Koheleth) (New

York: Schocken Books, 3rd augmented edition, 1968), p. 203.

 


                                                                                                 7

word was arrived at by substituting the root lhaqA, "assem-

ble," for MlewA, "complete," and by having a t replace the h  

of hmolow;.1 This suggestion Gordis labels "too ingenious to

be convincing."2

 

                       Zimmermann's Interpretation

            Zimmermann has a much more involved argument for the

derivation of the word.3 He contends that the equivalent of

tl,h,qo in Aramaic is the feminine participle of hwAn;KA, since

wnaK; is a very frequent translation word for lhaqA in the Tar-

gumim.4 According to him, the writer of the book used this

pseudonym with dviDA-rBA to attract attention to his work. It

is assumed that he knew of the name rUgxA (Prov. 30:1) and

modeled his pseudonym upon it (rgx=wnk=gather).5 rUgxA is

regarded in rabbinic tradition as one of the names of Solo-

mon. It is fairly certain as well (according to Zimmermann)

 

            1Morris Jastrow, Jr., A Gentle Cynic: Being a Trans-

lation of the Book of Koheleth, Commonly Known as Ecclesias-

tes, Stripped of Later Additions (hereinafter referred to as

A Gentle Cynic) (Philadelphia: J. B. Lippincott Company,

1919), p. 68.

            2Gordis, Koheleth, p. 204.

            3Frank Zimmermann, "The Aramaic Provenance of Qohe-

leth," Jewish Quarterly Review, XXXVI:1 (July, 1945), 43-5.

            4Marcus Jastrow, A Dictionary of the Targumim, the

Talmud Babli and Yerushalmi, and the Midrashic Literature

(hereinafter referred to as Dictionary), Vol. I (2 vols.:

New York: Pardes Publishing House, Inc., 1950), pp. 651-2.

            5This would be the original according to Zimmer-

mann's theory.

 


                                                                                                       8

that hl,h,qo must mean "Solomon," perhaps cryptically, as Renan

long suspected. It is Zimmermann's hypothesis of an Aramaic

provenance of Koheleth which supplies his key here, for he

finds his answer to the cryptogram in numerology. hwAn;KA adds

up arithmetically to hmolow; (k=20; n=50; w=300; h=5; total,

375. w=300; l=30; m=40; h=5; total, 375).1

            While C. C. Torrey speaks of Zimmermann's hypothesis

as "convincing,"2 the writer is unconvinced not only because

such a theory presupposes an Aramaic original for the book,

which is doubtful enough in itself (and must preclude Solo-

monic authorship), but also because of the untenability of

such numerological interpretations generally.3 It must not

go unnoticed that Targum Jonathon uses tl,h,qo not hwAn;KA.5

 

            1Zimmermann, "The Aramaic Provenance of Qoheleth,"

43-4.

            2Charles C. Torrey, "The Question of the original

Language of Qoheleth," Jewish Quarterly Review, XXXIX:2

(October, 1948), 156-7. For the numerical value of all the

Hebrew letters, cf. J. Weingreen, A Practical Grammar for

Classical Hebrew (Oxford: At the Clarendon Press, second

edition, 1959), p. 1.

            3Cf. John J. Davis, Biblical Numerology (Grand

Rapids: Baker Book House, 1968).

            4tvlvdg tvxrqm reads: xUh tl,h,qo xBenat;xid; hxAUbin; ymegAtuPi

. . .  dvidA rBa hmolow; (tvlvdg tvxrqm, Vol. 1 [NewYork: Parses

Publishing House, Inc., 1951]). This is translated, "The

words of the prophecy which Koheleth who is Solomon, the son

of David, prophesied." Sperber also has tlhq, but does not

point it (rbrpw rdnsklx, ed., tymrxb wdqh ybtk, x-d jrk

[Ndyyl: lyrb . y . x, 1968), p. 150).

            5Jastrow states that the Targum thought of Solomon

as tl,h,qo (Jastrow, Dictionary, Vol. II, p. 1322).

 


                                                                                                      9

                      Historical Interpretations

            There have been numerous other explanations for the

word, including suggestions that the word means "preacher,"

"gatherer of wisdom," "collector," (as of a compiler of a

book), "eclectic" (because of his supposed skill in select-

ing and purifying the best of the systems of different philo-

sophers), "accumulated wisdom," "reunited soul" (describing

Solomon's readmission into the congregation of Israel in con-

sequence of his repentance), "penitent" (describing the con-

trite state of Solomon for his apostasy), "assembly," "acad-

emy," "old man," "exclaiming voice," "Sophist," "philo-

sopher," and "departed spirit."1 Most of these suggestions,

however, are better discarded. Perhaps the best explanation

is one which finds its roots in a linguistic and historical

explanation of the word within Hebrew itself.

 

                           Linguistic Analysis

            tl,h,qo is the Qal active participle, feminine singular,

from the root lhaqA, meaning "to assemble."2  This verb is

 

            1Ginsburg, Coheleth, pp. 3-7.

            2F. Brown, S. R. Driver, and C. A. Briggs, eds.,

A Hebrew and English Lexicon of the Old Testament (herein-

after referred to as BDB, Lexicon) (Oxford: At the Claren-

don Press, 1968), p. 874; cf. Ludwig Koehler and Walter

Baumgartner, Lexicon in Veteris Testamenti Libros (herein-

after referred to as KB, Lexicon) (Leiden: E. J. Brill,

1968), p. 829.

 


                                                                                              10

the root to which Albright traces the word lOq, "voice,"

rather than to the root lvq, since in the Siloam inscription

the word is written lq, not lvq.l  lhaqA can be compared with

the Arabic qalah, the Ethiopic kaleha, the Aramaic xlAqA, and

the Syriac all with the idea of "to call," from the

original idea of "sound."2 The ambiguity, however, is not

in the verbal root, but in the participle as used in the

context of the book. The feminine participle refers to the

author of the book, who is obviously masculine if Solomon is

meant, and who is to be construed as masculine in any case,

since the word is qualified by MilAwAUryBi j`l,m, dviDA-NB,.

            Some, in fact, trace the Hebrew word back to an

Aramaic original, most of those being adherents to the theory

of an Aramaic original for the book. One of the reasons for

supposing that tl,h,qo was originally an Aramaic term is that

the verb lhaqA is not used in the simple conjugation in Hebrew,

but is so used in Syriac, where it is supposed, "it can only

 

            1W. F. Albright, "The High Place in Ancient Pales-

tine," in Supplements to Vetus Testamentus, Vol. IV, ed.

by G. W. Anderson, et al. (Leiden: E. J. Brill, 1957), p.

256. Cf. Loren Fisher, ed., Ras Shamra Parallels, in Ana-

lecta Orientalia, 49 (Roma: Pontificium Institutum Biblicum,

1972), II 497 a-g, p. 329; II 94 g, p. 136. For the Siloam

inscription, see H. Donner and W. Röllig, Kanaanäische and

Aramaische Inschriften, Band I (3 Bände: Wiesbaden: Otto

Harrassowitz, 1971), text 183, line 3, p. 34.

            2BDB, Lexicon, p. 874; KB, Lexicon, p. 831. Cf.

also the discussion of lq in Charles-F. Jean and Jacob

Hoftijzer, Dictionnaire des Inscriptions Sémitiques de

l'Ouest (hereinafter referred to as DISO) (Leiden: E. J.

Brill, 1965), p. 258.

 


                                                                                                11

represent an old heritage once common to all Aramaic."1

Edward Ullendorff has likewise suggested that tl,h,qo is actu-

ally a translation of an Aramaic form, xlAhEqA. He blames the

translator for some of the confusion when he states that

"the translator was apparently not quite clear about the

function of the status emphaticus in Aramaic (hence tl,h,qo  

appears in Hebrew with or without the definite article)."2

He further states that in Aramaic-Syriac lhq not only

connotes "to summon an assembly" (=lyhqh [the Hiph'il]), but

also means "litigiosus, pertinax."3 "It would be hard to

imagine a more suitable name for the putative author of the

book of Ecclesiastes than the 'arguer.'"4 tl,h,qo is variously

defined among the lexicons as "a collector" (of sentences)

or "a preacher,"5 as well as "speaker (in an assembly)."6

Since the verb means primarily "to gather together into an

assembly," or "to assemble," it is doubtless best to relate

it directly to the meaning, "collecting" or "assembling."

If this definition is accepted, then there are three ques-

tions about this collecting which must be answered: (1)

 

            1H. L. Ginsberg,"Ecclesiastes," Encyclopaedia

Judaica, 1971 ed., VI, 353.

            2Edward Ullendorff, "The Meaning of tl,h,qo," Vetus

Testamentum, 12 (April, 1962), 215. The status emphaticus,

however, is most elemental in Aramaic, and it is incredible

that any translator worthy of the name should be "unfamiliar"

with it.

            3Ibid.                                       4Ibid.

            5BDB, Lexicon, p. 875.         6KB, Lexicon, p. 829.

 


                                                                                                 12

What did Solomon collect? (2) Why does he bear this name 

here?1 (3) Why is the word in the feminine gender?

 

What did Solomon collect?

            An examination of the passages in which the verb lhaqA

is used, either in the Niph'al or the Hiph'il, reveals that

the word is invariably used for collecting or gathering

persons, especially for religious purposes. Likewise, its

derivatives, lhAqA, hl.Ahiq;, Myliheq;ma, and tOlheq;ma, without excep-

tion denote assemblies or gatherings of people.1 "The

natural signification of tl,h,qo therefore is, an assembler of

scattered people into the more immediate presence of God; a

gatherer of those afar off unto God."2

 

Why does Solomon bear this name?

            The historical event which gave rise to the name is

probably that recorded in 1 Kings 8 (cf. 2 Chr. 5), where

the writer records that Solomon gathered all Israel together

for the dedication of the temple, that epoch-making assembly

which was among the most important in all the history of

Israel.3 On this occasion, Solomon not only called the

 

            1KB, Lexicon, p. 829; BDB, Lexicon, pp. 874-5.

            2Ginsburg, Coheleth, p. 2."

            3C. H. H. Wright, The Book of Koheleth, Commonly

Called Ecclesiastes (hereinafter referred to as Koheleth)

(London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1883), p. 85.


                                                                                             13

people together, but he also preached to them indirectly

through the prayer in which he consecrated the temple, and

directly through his blessing and exhortation of the people.

It is not without significance that the root lhaqA appears in

this chapter no less than 5 times (1 Ki. 8:1, 2, 14, 22, and

55). It is entirely possible that Solomon was named tl,h,qo as

a result of this temple dedication.1

 

The feminine gender

            There have been numerous explanations for the femi-

nine gender of tl,h,qo. Wright explains it on the analogy of

Arabic formations as an intensive feminine formation.2

Others have suggested that there is really no problem in-

volved in this usage since there are other instances in

which an individual occupying a post of honor is designated

by a name descriptive of the functions he discharges or the

dignity he enjoys.3 Some examples are tr,p,so, "scribe" (Neh.

7:57), and tr,k,po in the compound name MyibAc;.ha tr,k,Po, "hunter of

 

            1Franz Delitzsch, Commentary on the Song of Songs

and Ecclesiastes (hereinafter referred to as Ecclesiastes),

trans. by M. G. Easton (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans

Publishing Company, reprint, 1970), p. 202.

            2W. Wright, ed. and trans. from the German of

Caspari, A Grammar of the Arabic Language, revised by.W. R.

Smith and M. J. de Goeje, Vol. I (2 vols.: Cambridge: At

the University Press, 1955), p. 137, sect. 233.

            3Duncan H. Weir, "Ecclesiastes," Fairbairn's Impe-

rial Standard Bible Encyclopedia, reprint, 1957, II, 184.

 


                                                                                               14

gazelles" (Ezra 2:47).1 Apparently these names were first

extended to people holding the office and finally became

personal names.2 A further parallel can be seen in Arabic

nomenclature where the feminine form of the word may be used

to denote an activity, office or function. Thus, Friday is

known as the Yaum al-Jum'ah, the Day of Gathering (for

prayer). The word Khalīfah is used for the supreme ruler of

the Islamic world. It is only in transliteration that the

word has been "masculinized" into "Caliph." "Here is an

invariable use of the feminine to indicate a masculine of-

fice Similarly, for the leading divine or a first-rate

scholar, the feminine 'Allamāh is employed."3

            On the other hand, Ginsburg maintains that the femi-

nine gender is employed because Solomon personifies wisdom,

a view which he feels finds confirmation in Ecclesiastes

7:27, where tl,h,qo is used with a feminine verb (tl,h,qo hrAm;xA), a

usage even Rashi and Ibn Ezra, though interpreting tl,h,qo dif-

ferently, explained by the fact that "wisdom is being spoken

of."4  Yet, the explanation offered for the word in

 

            lWright, Koheleth, p. 279.

            2Georg Fohrer, Introduction to the Old Testament,

trans. by David E. Green (Nashville: Abingdon Press,1968),

p. 336.

            3Eric F. F. Bishop, "A Pessimist in Palestine

(B.C.)," Palestine Exploration Quarterly, 100 (January-June,

1968), 33.

            4Ginsburg, Coheleth, p. 7.

 


                                                                                                   15

connection with the feminine gender as used in other Semitic

languages seems to have the most force.1

 

                                  Conclusion

            It is the conclusion of the writer, therefore, that

the translation "assembler" is probably most accurate. Any-

one who assembles will probably also speak to the assembly,

and therefore the meaning "preacher" is logical by exten-

sion. Throughout this thesis, however, the writer prefers

to follow the example of most authors by simply transliter-

ating the word "Koheleth."2

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

            1For further examples see E. Kautzsch, ed., Gesenius'

Hebrew Grammar, ed. and trans. by A. E. Cowley (hereinafter

referred to as GKC, Grammar) (Oxford: At the Clarendon

Press, 1970), p. 393, sect. 122r.

            2The precise transliteration would be qōhelet, but

initial K and C are so widely used in place of Q, that the

most common transliteration, Koheleth, is employed.

 


 

 

                                    CHAPTER III

 

DATE, AUTHORSHIP, AND LINGUISTIC BACKGROUND

 

                                     Introduction

 

            The matter of the date and authorship of Ecclesiastes

is an extremely complex subject, not only because the date

and authorship are inevitably interrelated, but also because

one's view of the linguistic background of the book also

determines the boundaries for fixing the authorship and the

date. These three subjects are therefore considered togeth-

er in this chapter.

 

               Authorship and Linguistic Background

                             The Traditional View

            Ecclesiastes has traditionally been ascribed to

Solomon. This tradition finds its basis in a number of

indications in the book, not the least of which is that Solo-

mon was the only immediate dviDA-NB, who was lxerAW;yi-lfa j`l,m,

MilAwAUryBi (Eccl. 1:1, 12).1 The significance of this fact

should not be overlooked, for this categorical statement

 

            1This tradition is evidenced in the title of the

book in the Targum and the Syriac Peshitta. For the rela-

tionship of the Targumim and the Peshitta, cf. R. K.

Harrison, Introduction to the Old Testament (hereinafter

referred to as Introduction) (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans

Publishing Company, 1969), pp. 240-42.


                                                                                                 17

must be honestly explained by any who attempt to circumvent

Solomonic authorship. Such Solomonic authorship has, begin-

ning with Luther and accelerating in the last century, been

almost universally abandoned. Liberal and orthodox alike

have concluded that it is a late document, and therefore

could not have been composed by Solomon toward the end of

the tenth century B.C.

 

                 Arguments Against Solomonic Authorship

            It is said that one of the first to question the

Solomonic authorship of Ecclesiastes was Luther, who in his

Table-Talk explained the book as one of the more recent of

the Old Testament. He supposed that the book was written by

Sirach rather than Solomon, and that it might be "a Talmud,

collected from many books, perhaps from the library of King

Ptolemy Euergetes, in Egypt."1 In his rejection of the

Solomonic authorship he was followed by Hugo Grotius (1644),

who based his argument of lateness on the language of the

book. Finally, in the present, many scholars have complete-

ly discarded Solomonic authorship. Scott, for example,

states: "It is quite out of the question that the king

 

            1Delitzsch, Ecclesiastes, p. 204. Though the writer

was unable to find the edition of Table-Talk which included

this statement, it is well to note that Luther seems to sup-

port Solomonic authorship in "Defense and Explanation of All

the Articles" (in Luther's Works, Vol. 32, ed. by George W.

Forell [Philadelphia: Muhlenberg Press, 1958], p. 84).

 


                                                                                                 18

[Solomon] was in fact the composer of the whole book of

Proverbs, of Ecclesiastes and Wisdom . . . .”1

 

A literary device

            It is first of all suggested that Solomon was

intended

            to be a mere artistic device designed to present more

            effectively the message of the unknown late author.

            Since Solomon was known to have experienced the satis-

            faction of every human ambition and had drunk to the

            full every possibility of earthly pleasure, he would

            serve as an admirable test case in evaluating hedonistic

            enjoyment and intellectual achievement as over against a

            life entirely devoted to God.2

            Fohrer, accordingly, states that "actual Solomonic

authorship is out of the question. The association with

Solomon is a mere literary form, only slightly disguised and

not carried out systematically."3

            While Muilenburg contends that "a Solomonic origin

has been given up by all modern scholars, and it [Ecclesias-

tes] has subsequently been dated as early as the fourth cen-

tury B.C. and as late as the time of Herod,"4 it appears

 

            1R. B. Y. Scott, "Solomon and the Beginnings of Wis-

dom in Israel," in Wisdom in Israel and in the Ancient Near

East, Vol. III of Supplements to Vetus Testamentum (Leiden:

E. J. Brill, 1969), p. 262.

            2Gleason L. Archer, Jr., A Survey of Old Testament

Introduction (hereinafter referred to as Introduction)

(Chicago: Moody Press, revised ed., 1974), pp. 478-9.

            3Fohrer, Introduction to the Old Testament, p. 336.

            4James Muilenburg, "A Qoheleth Scroll From Qumran,"

Bulletin of the American Schools of Oriental Research, 135

(October, 1954), 20-21.

 


                                                                                            19

that the sequence of events was just the opposite. On the

basis of its language, it was dated later than the time of

Solomon;. consequently, Solomonic authorship was given up.

Scott is among the most adamant in his denial of the Solo-

monic authorship. He glibly assures his readers that "there

is of course no possibility that the Solomon of history com-

posed this book; to claim this is like claiming that a book

about Marxism in modern English idiom and spelling was writ-

ten by Henry VIII."1 He feels so certain that the role of

Solomon is assumed for literary effect that he states that

"no-observant reader could suppose otherwise."2

            Appeal is often made to other books where such a

literary device is apparently used. The most notable is the

apocryphal book known as the Wisdom of Solomon. It is gen-

erally believed that this book was written in Greek during

the first century B.C., even though the superscription of

the book claims for it Solomonic authorship.3 The appeals

 

            1Scott, Ecclesiastes, pp. 95-6.                     2Ibid., p. 96.

            3Cf. Rahlfs, Septuaginta, Vol. II, p. 345, where the

title reads SOFIA SALWMWNOS. The Peshitta extended the

superscription to "The Book of the Great Wisdom of Solomon,

the Son of David" (W. O. E. Oesterley, An Introduction to

the Books of the Apocrypha [London: Society for Promoting

Christian Knowledge, 1935], p. 196). Also see W. J. Ferrar,

The Uncanonical Jewish Books (London: Society for Promoting

Christian Knowledge, 1918), p. 33; and especially, R. H.

Charles, The Apocrypha and Pseudepigrapha of the Old Testa-

ment, Vol. I (Oxford: At the Clarendon Press, 1913), p.

519.

 


                                                                                                20

to such a book, however, are not valid, for this apocryphal

book is not inspired and whatever falsehoods it might perpe-

trate are really of little concern.1 On the other hand,

Ecclesiastes is inspired, and while Wright is certain that

"the authority and trustworthiness of the book of Ecclesias-

tes are not imperilled by the denial of its Solomonic au-

thorship,"2 such a denial appears, in fact, to be accom-

plishing that very peril. The book states that the author

was (1) a son of David, and (2) King over (in) Jerusalem.

No one fits this description except Solomon. Therefore, a

denial of Solomonic authorship necessarily involves a denial

of the integrity of at least two verses in Ecclesiastes

(1:1, 12), for there could not be a more explicit descrip-

tion of Solomon, unless his name were used. Only if one

concedes that such a literary idiom is legitimate can it be

concluded that "its author was not Solomon, but one of 'the

wise' whose name can no longer be recovered;"3 and that it

was written "not in the time of Solomon, i.e. about 930

 

            1Zimmermann argues that most of the Apocryphal books,

including the Wisdom. of Solomon, were originally written in

Hebrew or Aramaic (Frank Zimmermann, The Inner World of Qo-

heleth [New York: Ktav Publishing House, Inc., 1973], pp.

98-100).

            2Wright, Koheleth, p. 110.

            3Samuel Cox, The Book of Ecclesiastes in The Exposi-

tor's Bible, ed. by W. Robertson Nicoll (London: Hodder and

Stoughton, 1903), p. 19.


                                                                                                    21

 

B.C., but some five or six centuries later."1 Only then can

one agree with Wright that

            the author had not the slightest idea of committing any

            fraud whatever, but simply sought to assert in the

            strongest manner possible that the views he advocated,

            in direct opposition to the Jewish sensualist school of

            Alexandria were in full accordance with the utterances

            of that heavenly wisdom which had been bestowed upon the

            great Solomon.2

            Barton, for instance, is so certain about the non-

Solomonic authorship that he makes this asseveration: "The

fact that Solomon is not the author, but is introduced in a

literary figure, has become such an axiom of the present day

interpretation of the book, that no extended argument is

necessary to prove it."3 He further asserts that upon the

basis of the book's linguistic features, Solomonic author-

ship is "unthinkable. "4

            There are other arguments against Solomonic author-

ship of the book which shall be taken up below. All who

deny his authorship would agree with Ginsburg, who, after

enumerating several other proofs against it, proposed that

 

            lIbid.

            2Wright, Koheleth, p. 80.

            3George Aaron Barton, A Critical and Exegetical Com-

mentary on the Book of Ecclesiastes (hereinafter referred to

as Ecclesiastes), in The International Critical Commentary,

ed. by S. R. Driver, et al. (Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark,

1908), p. 68.

            4Ibid., p. 59. Also cf. Otto Eissfeldt, The Old

Testament, An Introduction, trans. by Peter A. Ackroyd (New

York: Harper and Row, 1965), p. 493.


                                                                                                     22

"the strongest argument, however, against the Solomonic

authorship of this book, is its vitiated language and

style."1 There is, however, little agreement about these

phenomena, consisting of many supposed Aramaisms and affini-

ties with other books which are late and/or partly Aramaic,

such as Nehemiah, Daniel, Ezra, and Malachi.2 But it is

primarily out of respect for these linguistic features of the

book that the date of composition is lowered, and Solomon's

authorship is denied. The linguistic background of the book

is therefore considered next.

 

Aramaic background

            Those who argue that the language of Koheleth can be

explained upon the basis of Aramaic influence can be divided

into two groups. There are those, first of all, who view

the language of the book as a reflection of post-exilic

times, when the Jews were speaking Aramaic increasingly, and

when Hebrew began to be influenced as a consequence. Many

contend that the Hebrew of Koheleth bears strong resemblances

to the Hebrew of the later Mishnah.3 The second group asserts

that the book was originally written in Aramaic.

 

            1Ginsburg, Coheleth, p. 253.

            2E. J. Young, An Introduction to the Old Testament

(Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1952),

pp. 339-40.

            3Ibid., p. 40.


                                                                                                    23

Definition of "Aramaisms"

            The use of "Aramaisms" for dating a book is one of

the most tenuous procedures in biblical linguistic study.

For many years such arguments were proposed to support a

late date for such books as Daniel, Jonah, and Chronicles.

However, in recent times such a position has generally been

abandoned, for from the earliest times Hebrews and Arameans

were in constant and intimate contact.1 Yet, Wright, Gins-

burg, Delitzsch, and others of their era, though not des-

tructively critical, felt that the Aramaisms of Ecclesiastes

indisputably rendered it late.2  Lamentably, Gordis is

correct when he states that "one still encounters the sim-

plistic argument that the existence of an alleged 'Aramaism'

is evidence of a late date for the document."3 On the other

hand, a more balanced and sophisticated analysis of Arama-

isms has been recently emerging, as evidenced by Barr's di-

vision of Aramaisms into four categories:

            1. "Aramaism" may mean a statistical displacement

towards what is more frequent in Aramaic, and more

 

            1Raymond A. Bowman, "Arameans, Aramaic, and the Bi-

ble," Journal of Near Eastern Studies, VII:2 (April, 1948),

70.

            2Cf. Wright, Koheleth, p. 120; Ginsburg, Coheleth,

p. 253; and Delitzsch, Ecclesiastes, pp. 210-17.

            3Robert Gordis, "On Methodology in Biblical Exege-

sis," The Jewish Quarterly Review, XLI:2 (October, 1970),

105.


                                                                                                   24

infrequent in Hebrew. It is common knowledge, for instance,

that xtAxE is the normal Aramaic word for the verb "come."

This word does occur, however, in the Hebrew of the Old

Testament in about twenty instances, mostly in poetry. But

if xtAxE is found to occur more frequently for "come" in a

certain text, and especially outside a poetical context,

then "the situation in this regard is more like that which

exists in Aramaic, and someone may say that this is an 'Ara-

maism."'1 This is a most unfortunate circumstance in termi-

nology, for there is no question that the phenomenon itself

is real Hebrew; "the only difference is in the distribution

and frequency."2 It is of incalculable importance that any

discussion of such phenomena distinguishes between what is

not normal Hebrew, and what is only statistically unusual.

            2. "Usage may be identified by means of an appeal

to Aramaic, where this usage has not previously been recog-

nized as existing in Hebrew though it is well known in Ara-

maic."3 This is meant to be an identification of a normal,

if uncommon usage in Hebrew, not an identification of an

Aramaic word which does not appear in Hebrew. Here, too,

the term "Aramaism" is unfortunate. In such cases, the

 

            1James Barr, Comparative Philology and the Text of

the Old Testament (hereinafter referred to as Philology)

(Oxford: At the Clarendon Press, 1968), p. 121.

            2Ibid.                                      

            3Ibid., p. 122.


                                                                                                 25

usage is a native Hebrew one, inherited from earlier Semit-

ic, but when it is called an "Aramaism" this only means that

the sense was discovered in Aramaic, because through its

sparse usage in extant Hebrew literature, its meaning had

been lost.1

            3. "'Aramaism' may mean that an expression of Ara-

maic type was deliberately used, or that, if not deliberate-

ly, at least in fact, the existence of an Aramaic phenomenon

is actually affecting the choice and the character of Old

Testament usage."2 It is possible, for instance, to explain

unusual locutions by northern Israelite speakers such as

Hosea on this basis,3 and it might also be possible to ex-

plain many of Koheleth's unusual expressions upon the basis

of all the contact he had with foreign, Semitic-speaking

peoples such as the Arameans, the Moabites, and especially,

the Phoenicians.

            4. Lastly, the term "Aramaism" is sometimes "used

when scholars hold that a text was originally written in one

language and then translated into another, and that the

characteristics of the diction of the former state have been

carried over into the latter."4 This has been argued for

both Job and Ecclesiastes, but, as Barr and Gordis point out,

 

            1Ibid.              

            2Ibid., pp. 122-3.      

            3Ibid., p. 123.

            4Ibid.


                                                                                        26

if they were translations, they were rather poor ones.1

            Gordis characterizes Aramaisms in a slightly differ-

fashion:

            (1) examples of the North-West Semitic vocabulary and

            usage indigenous to both Aramaic and Hebrew, which be-

            came frequent in Aramaic but remaining rare (or poetic)

            in Hebrew. Such forms are generally early and cannot be

            invoked for a late date and are not really "Aramaisms"

            at all; (2) Hebrew borrowings from nearby Aramaic during

            the pre-Exilic period, especially during the heyday of

            the Syrian Kingdom; (3) later Hebrew borrowings during

            the Babylonian Exile and the early post-Exilic period,

            when Aramaic became the lingua franca of the Near East;

            (4) idioms and morphological forms introduced into He-

            brew and patterned after Aramaic usage, with which the

            Hebrew writer or speaker was familiar, because Aramaic

            had become the vernacular of the Jewish community.2

 

History of Aramaic

            Old Aramaic is the language (with some dialectical

variants) of the most ancient inscriptions from Damascus,

Hama, Arpad, Šam'al, and Assyria. Aramaic forms a consider-

able and widespread group whose earliest manifestations (in

extant inscriptions) go back to at least the first millen-

nium, and survives in a few places to the present.3 It is no

doubt true that "l'araméen fortement influencé par le

 

            1Ibid.; cf. Gordis, Koheleth, p. 414.

            2Gordis, "On Methodology in Biblical Exegesis," 107.

            3Sabatino Moscati, ed., An Introduction to the Com-

parative Grammar of the Semitic Languages in Porta Linguarum

Orientalium, Neue Serie, VI, ed. by Bertold Spuler and Hans

Wehr (hereinafter referred to as Comparative Grammar)

(Wiesbaden: Otto Harrassowitz, 1969), pp. 10-11.


                                                                                                 27

cananéen."1 Old Aramaic, was, essentially, an unknown lan-

guage before the end of the 19th century. Then several in-

scriptions were discovered at Zinčirli: the Panammu II In-

scription in 1888, the Panammu I in 1890, and the Bir-RKB in

1891. In 1891 the inscriptions of Sin-zer-ibni were dis-

covered at Nerab, and in 1898 Peiser published the enigmatic

inscription on a stele from Ördek-burnu. In 1908 Pognon

published the important Zakir Stele, which he had previously

discovered.2

            Because of its affinities with contemporary Canaanite,

            and its considerable divergences from later Aramaic,

            the language of these inscriptions was regarded by most

            scholars as an artificial mixture of some kind. The two

            Panammu Inscriptions, moreover, presented so many spe-

            cial problems in orthography and morphology when com-

            pared with the other inscriptions, that it became neces-

            sary to suppose a separate Zincirli dialect.

                        With the discoveries of more recent years, suffi-

            cient data accumulated to classify the language of the

            inscriptions as Old Aramaic.3

            The relationship of Aramaic to the Hebrew of the

Bible is not always clear. It is known that from the very

beginning of the Hebrew nation (Abraham) there was a relation-

ship with the Arameans (Abraham's stay in Haran, Gen.

 

            1Henri Fleisch, Introduction a 1'Étude des Langues

Sémitiques (Paris: Librairie d'Amérique et d'Orient, 1947),

p. 71.

            2Frank M. Cross and David N. Freedman, Early Hebrew

Orthography in American Oriental Series, ed. by James B.

Pritchard, Vol. 36 (New Haven: American Oriental Society,

1952), p. 21.

            3Ibid., p. 22.


                                                                                          28

11:31). Laban, of course, used Aramaic in his encounter

with Jacob, recorded in Genesis 31:47. From the time of

David forward there was widespread contact with Arameans.

David married an Aramean (Maacah, 2 Sam. 3:3; 1 Chr. 7:14),

and Solomon ruled over much of Northern Syria (1 Kings

4:21).1 It is not to be supposed strange, therefore, that

there should be cultural (and therefore linguistic) inter-

changes. "The mutual influence of the two languages [Hebrew

and Aramaic] reaches back to early times: Aramaisms occur

in the earliest part of the Old Testament."2 Driver has

argued that Hebrew is not pure Canaanite, but a mixed lan-

guage in which traces of the original Aramaic substratum are

still perceptible.3 Even in "Old Aramaic" several cultural

strains are observable.

                        Syria has always been a melting-pot in which the

            diverse cultures, Semitic and non-Semitic, of the adja-

            cent areas have blended into curious mixtures. It is

            thus with the so-called "Old Aramaic" of the region,

            which is almost completely Canaanite rather than Ara-

            maic. In the Kilamwa inscription it is only the word

            "son" (bar), used in the royal genealogy, that can be

            recognized as Aramaic. Syntax and vocabulary are

 

            1For the extent of Solomon's kingdom, see the maps

in Yohanan Aharoni and Michael Avi-Yonah, Macmillan Bible

Atlas (New York: Macmillan Publishing Company, Inc., 1973),

p. 74, maps 113 and 115.

            2R. H. Pfeiffer, Introduction to the Old Testament

(New York: Harper and Row, Publishers, 1941), p. 687. Cf.

also GKC, Grammar, pp.. 16-17, sect. 2u, w.

            3G. R. Driver, "Hebrew Language," Encyclopaedia

Britannica, 1972, XI, 279-80.


                                                                                           29

            usually Canaanite; there are even instances of the waw-

            consecutive usually associated with Hebrew. The spel-

            ling of words manifests the defective short forms fre-

            quently encountered in Phoenician. The alphabet too is

            distinctly Canaanite; the letters are quite similar to

            those of contemporary Phoenician but with the odd dif-

            ference that the characters are not incised but carved

            in relief and in such fat and pudgy shape that the gen-

            eral appearance of such writing resembles Hittite hiero-

            glyphs. In some instances even the shape of the monu-

            ment suggests a Hittite prototype. Indeed, such royal

            names as Quril, Kilamwa, and Panamwa, found in these in-

            scriptions are non-Semitic, apparently Anatolian. Thus,

            in most "Old Aramaic writing, several cultural strains

            are observable, and there is almost nothing distinctly

            Aramaic.1

            These characteristics of the "Old Aramaic" are ex-

tremely important to the discussion of the Solomonic author-

ship, because the period from which these apparently very

homogeneous inscriptions date, is approximately the time in

which Solomon lived.

            It may also be that the language of Ecclesiastes

differs somewhat from other biblical literature because the

style most of the books were written in was apparently a

"specialized literary genre which was studied and cultivated

by the artists and writers of that period."2 According to

Chomsky, furthermore, it may be

            safely announced that the classical models of the bibli-

            cal language are not typical of the daily conversational

            language employed by "the butcher, the baker, and the

            candlestick maker." Undoubtedly, the conversational

 

            1Bowman, "Arameans, Aramaic and the Bible," 70.

            2William Chomsky, Hebrew: The Eternal Language

(Philadelphia: The Jewish Publication Society of America,

1969), p. 48.


                                                                                              30

            language was simpler, more flexible, and lacking the

            artistry characteristic of the biblical style. It had

            more in common with the so-called mishnaic or post-bib-

            lical Hebrew. It made up in simplicity, flexibility,

            and dynamic qualities for what it lacked in grandeur

            and elegance.1

            Chomsky concludes that there seems to have existed

in pre-exilic Palestine two distinct linguistic traditions.

Side by side there were the literary or classical tradition

and the popular or conversational tradition.

            The first tradition followed generally the Canaanitic or

            Ugaritic literary models, which date back to the pre-

            biblical days. In its poetic style, its parallelisms,

            vocabulary, metaphors, and locutions, the Bible fre-

            quently evinces a striking resemblance to these ancient

            documents. The second tradition had its roots, appar-

            ently, in the vernacular, which the early Hebrew ances-

            tors had brought with them from their native homeland in

            Mesopotamia, namely, Aramaic. These two linguistic tra-

            ditions admitted, on occasion, of free intercrossing and

            mutual influence, as will be pointed out in Chapter IX

            of this volume. It is nonetheless quite probable, as

            will be indicated later, that the Canaanite influence

            was prevalent in literary Hebrew, while the Aramaic in-

            fluence was preponderant in the vulgar or conversational

            Hebrew.2

            The possible influence of Canaanite on the language

of Koheleth is taken up below. For the present, however,

the reader should notice that at least part of the linguis-

tic peculiarities of the book may be a reflection of a more

conversational than literary Hebrew.

 

Late-dating by Aramaisms

            In his commentary on Ecclesiastes, Wright compiled

 

            lIbid., pp. 48-9.         

            2Ibid., p. 49.


                                                                                                31

at least 98 expressions which he said were "worthy of notice

as belonging mainly to the modern period of the Hebrew lan-

guage,"1 and which, therefore, supported the contention that

the Aramaisms of the book make a late date certain. Others,

such as Hengstenberg, who allowed only ten Aramaisms in the

book, are much more modest.2 It is, unfortunately, beyond

the scope of this thesis to discuss each of these instances

individually, but the methodology of such procedures must be

carefully scrutinized.

            When one speaks of "Aramaisms" he must first of all

define which of the types of Aramaisms he means.3 If it is

an "Aramaism" so named because it is statistically unusual,

but perfectly normal Hebrew, its bearing on the date of the

book is negligible. If an Aramaism is used to date Ecclesi-

astes, it must be proven that (1) the word was borrowed at

a time subsequent to Solomon, and that (2) Hebrew did not

have and would not have used such an expression. These two

criteria seem reasonable enough, but they make it very

 

            1Wright, Koheleth, pp. 488 ff.

            2Ernest W. Hengstenberg, A Commentary on Ecclesi-

astes (n.p.: Sovereign Grace Publishers, 1960), p. 9.

            3Cf. the distinctions of Barr and Gordis above. On

the relationship of Hebrew and Aramaic, cf. Zellig S. Harris,

Development of the Canaanite Dialects, Vol. 16 in the Ameri-

can Oriental Series, ed. by W. Norman Brown (New York:

Kraus Reprint Corporation, reprint, 1967), pp. 1-28.


                                                                                             32

difficult for the late-date theory of Ecclesiastes, predi-

cated upon the language of the book, to stand. This is for

several reasons.

            Limited vocabulary.--While it is true that there is

presently extant a vast Hebrew vocabulary, it is not true

that the Hebrew of the Bible represents all the Hebrew words

which must have been in use in ancient times. It is true,

for example, that the word hfAwA does not appear in biblical

Hebrew, though it does appear in biblical Aramaic and in

modern Hebrew.1 One must nevertheless be very cautious in

pronouncing on these grounds that it did not exist in Hebrew

during biblical times, for the word appears as a Canaanite

gloss in the Amarna letters.2 One here reaches the limits

which are set for linguistic assertions about a dead lan-

guage which has left only a very restricted body of litera-

ture. There are numerous objects and realities of Hebrew

life for which biblical Hebrew has no known name. The non-

occurrence of the word in the literature presently extant is

not proof that it was unknown.3 The same applies to

 

            lBDB, Lexicon, p. 1116.

            2It is listed as "šêtu, Stande [hour], kanaan.?

[canaanite?]" in J. A. Knudtzon, Herausgegeber, Die El-Amar-

na-Tafeln, Band II (zwei Bände: Aallen: Otto Zeller

Verlagsbuchhandlung, Neudruck, 1964), p. 1521; 138:76.

            3James Barr, Biblical Words for Time (Naperville,

Ill.: Alec R. Allenson, Inc., revised, 1969), p. 107.


                                                                                                33

instances of hapax legomena, whose only parallels can be

found in Aramaic. It is almost inconceivable

            that the seven or eight vocables found in the Hebrew

            Bible constituted all the words that were current in

            the language during that period, just as it would be ab-

            surd to assume that the 25,000 words used by Shakespeare

            or the 12,000 words employed by Milton represent the

            total vocabulary in vogue in their respective periods.l

            Later documents.--Furthermore, one may not legiti-

mately maintain that a document is late merely because it

contains words which do not occur in the earlier ones pres-

ently extant. Wilson could assert in 1926 that "every new

find of Egyptian Aramaic papyri gives us words not known be-

fore--except, if at all, in documents written hundreds of

years later."2 Wilson felt that it was "obvious that a kind

of proof that will prove almost everything to be late, and

especially the parts considered late to be early, is absurd

and inadmissable as evidence in a case designed to prove

that some documents are later than others because they con-

tain words of this kind."3 By statistical analysis of the

books of the Old Testament he demonstrated that some of the

later books (Ezra 1-6, Malachi, Ezekiel) have a far smaller

 

            1Chomsky, Hebrew: The Eternal Language, p. 209.

            2Robert Dick Wilson, A Scientific Investigation of

the Old Testament (hereinafter referred to as Investigation)

(Philadelphia: The Sunday School Times Co., 1926), p. 132.

            3Ibid., p. 133.


                                                                                                34

percentage of words occurring 5 times or less, and also oc-

curring in the Talmud, than do some of the earlier writings

("J," "E," Sam. --Kings, "P," and the "Deuteronomist").1 The

presence of "rare" words in a document is no proof of its

relative lateness. Many of these "rare" words were labeled

"Aramaisms" in previous years because they were more common

in Aramaic than in Biblical Hebrew, but the argument is not

valid.2

            H. L. Ginsberg alleges that the Hebrew of Koheleth

must represent "the latest stage in the evolution of bibli-

cal Hebrew"3 because the root JqaTA (4:12; 6:10) "can only be

borrowed from Aramaic; and not before the seventh century

B.C.E., since the initial consonant represents a Proto-Se-

mitic t which was only shifted to t in Aramaic in the sev-

enth century B.C.E."4 He also argues that the nouns MysiDer;Pa

and MgAt;Pi must be late because they are borrowed from Persian

and "Persia only emerged from obscurity in the middle of the

sixth century B.C.E."5

            In these statements, however, he has made some basic

 

            lIbid., p. 135.

            2But see GKC, Grammar, where upon this basis these

are late-dated: Joshua, Ruth, Jonah, Ecclesiastes, Job, et

al. (p. 16, sect 2u).

            3Ginsberg, "Ecclesiastes," p. 350.

            4Ibid.

            5Ibid.


                                                                                                 35

methodological errors. He has assumed that the word JqeTA

could not have been known earlier than the Aramaic inscrip-

tions in which it is now extant (the word originated only

just prior to the inscription?) and he assumes that the pre-

cise date of the phonetic shift of which he speaks is known

(it originated just prior to the inscriptions?). As to the

"Persian" words, Ginsberg again assumes too much. He not

only supposes that the words could not have been adopted

earlier than the period of Persian domination, he also sup-

poses that they could not have been shared by Hebrew as

words common to both. From a purely linguistic standpoint,

there is nothing about the words which is necessarily

strange or foreign. It is true that the usual Hebrew pat-

tern is formed with a triconsonantal root, but

            forms are attested over the entire Semitic area on the

            pattern C1aC2C3aC4u: e.g. Heb. 'aqrāb, Syr. ‘əqarbā,

            (Eth. 'aqrab "scorpion." Examples of other four-radical

            patterns are Akk. humsīru "mouse," Heb. 'akkabīš "spi-

            der," Syr. 'uqbərā "mouse," Ar. qunfud "hedgehog," Eth.

            hanbāl "saddle."1

            It is one thing to make assertions like Ginsberg's;

it is another to substantiate them. In view of the very

scanty inscriptional evidence available for Aramaic from the

early part of the first millennium B.C., it seems better to

resist generalizations about what words were or were not in

the language, and when they originated.

 

            1Moscati, Comparative Grammar, p. 84.


                                                                                                    36

            Reasons for Aramaisms.--There are yet other factors

in deciding the impact of the supposed Aramaisms of Ecclesi-

astes. A Hebrew writer could have used an Aramaic word to

denote a thing, or to express a thought,"either because

there was no Hebrew word that he could equally well employ

[at least from his own vocabulary], or because he was him-

self strongly under Aramaic influence, or because he wanted

to show off his acquaintance with foreign tongues."1 Both

the former and the latter of these are distinct possibili-

ties for Solomon. Certainly they are just as possible as

the overworked second one.

            It should not escape the reader's notice that Solo-

mon had every opportunity to imbibe foreign expressions. As

was previously pointed out, he had a step-mother who was an

Aramean, Maacah (2 Sam. 3:3), of which union with David were

born Tamar and Solomon's notorious brother Absalom (2 Sam.

13:2). When difficulties beset him in Jerusalem, it was to

his Aramean grandfather in Geshur that Absalom fled for pro-

tection.2 A certain close relationship is therefore as-

sumed, and it is not improbable that Solomon himself may

have at times visited this step-grandfather as a child, not

to speak of the contact he probably had with the Aramaic-

 

            1Wilson, Investigation, p. 140.

            2Bowman, "Arameans, Aramaic, and the Bible," 70.


                                                                                                37

speaking Maacah. Furthermore, Solomon himself married an

Aramean (1 Kings 3:1, 11:3). He also had other wives from

the Ammonite, Moabite, Hittite, Phoenician, and Egyptian

kingdoms.1 He even occupied Damascus during his reign2 and

built store-towns in Hamath.3 Consequently, one would not

be surprised that he might choose to write something spiced

with foreign expressions and words. This is only a conjec-

ture, but it is a possibility.

            Noun formations.--It has also been alleged that

nouns ending in N are Aramaisms. The same is argued for

many of those ending in tU. However, it has been demon-

strated that such nouns are found throughout Semitic lan-

guages at all stages of their development.4

 

            1Heinrich Graetz, History of the Jews, Vol. I (Phil-

adelpia: The Jewish Publication Society of America, re-

print, 1967), p. 161. Also see Charles Foster Kent, The

Founders and Rulers of United Israel (New York: Charles

Scribner's Sons, 1908), p. 1.

            2Theodore H. Robinson, A History of Israel, Vol. I

(2 vols.: Oxford: At the Clarendon Press, reprint, 1934),

p. 256.

            3Merrill F. Unger, Israel and the Arameans of Damas-

cus (London: James Clarke and Co., Ltd., 1957), p. 54.

            4Moscati, Comparative Grammar, pp. 82-3; 96 ff. Cf.

also Wilson, Investigation, p. 202, where he says, "The

lists of Thutmes [sic.] III have seventeen nouns ending in

n out of 119 all told. The Sendscherli Inscriptions have no

nouns in n but the Sachau papyri have scores. They are

found also in the Sabean and Minean Inscriptions and are

common in Arabic and Syriac. There are 14 in the code of

Hammurabi alone and 26 in the Babylonian of the Amarna

Letters."


                                                                                         38

            Exclusive of proper names, about one hundred and forty

            nouns ending in n are found in Biblical Hebrew. Sixty-

            three of these are met with in the Pentateuch. Of the

            sixty-three, the Targum of Onkelos renders twelve by the

            same nouns ending in n, and fifty-one by other nouns,

            most of them ending in n. It will thus be seen that

            where the subject-matter is exactly the same, the Hebrew

            original and the Aramaic version have exactly the same

            number of words ending in n. Judging from this fact, it

            is left to our readers to determine, if they can, wheth-

            er the ending n is more characteristic of Aramaic than

            of Hebrew.1

            There are several specific instances of supposed

Aramaisms in Ecclesiastes which Wilson discusses. While it

is true that the word NOFl;wi is found only in Ecclesiastes

(8:4, 8), it is also true that its root occurs in Akkadian,

as well as in Hebrew, Arabic, Aramaic, and Syriac.2 Some-

times "rare" words are "rare" only in the sense that they

appear few times in the biblical text. This does not mean

that they were not common in the Hebrew language.

            Reasons for non-routine terms.--Besides the fact

that some of the terms in Ecclesiastes may be strange only

because such a small amount of literature from Solomon's

time is presently extant, there are other reasons which can

 

            1Wilson, Investigation, pp. 147-8. It is also in-

teresting that in the Mesha inscription, the plural ending

in is consistently used, instead of the more Hebraic im.

Yet, in many respects the Mesha inscription is very similar

to Hebrew (Chomsky, Hebrew: The Eternal Language, p. 67;

cf. Cross and Freedman, Early Hebrew Orthography, pp. 39,

43; A. H. Van Zyl, The Moabites [Leiden: E. J. Brill,

1960], p. 171-2).

            2Wilson, Investigation, p. 151.


                                                                                              39

be adduced for their peculiarity. One may be that the char-

acter of the subject matter, rather than the lateness of the

time of composition, has made the language somewhat differ-

ent.1 Furthermore, it is difficult to see why it would be

more likely that the thoughts of the unconventional writer

would find expression in the language of every day, or the

language of the historian or prophet. Koheleth was a so-

phisticated writer who may have written for learned readers

and, who, in any event, wrote for some audience who would be

able to understand and appreciate his language.2 Moreover,

if Solomonic authorship is accepted for Ecclesiastes, and

Davidic authorship for many of the Psalms, Solomon would

certainly have had an exceedingly rich literary heritage

from his father, which may have had the effect of making his

own writing (especially if he chose to let it) singularly

distinctive. Who, having translated the Psalms can gainsay

David's vocabulary?

            In addition, the task of the writer of Ecclesiastes

was rendered difficult by two other facts. The Hebrew lan-

guage has rather simple structure, and only a relatively few

syntactic devices are available to express all possible nu-

ances of meaning. Moods of verbs must be inferred from the

 

            lIbid., p. 150.

            2Mitchell J. Dahood, "Canaanite-Phoenician Influence

in Qoheleth," (hereinafter referred to as "Qoheleth")

Biblica, 33:1 (1952), 31, note 1.


                                                                                              40

context, and subordinate clauses of all varieties are exter-

nally indistinguishable from coordinate clauses. These fac-

tors obviously complicate the understanding where precision

is essential.1 Yet another difficulty in the understanding

of Koheleth, his modes of expression, and his vocabulary, is

that he was struggling to use Hebrew for philosophic pur-

poses, a use to which the language was not normally applied.

A millennium and a half later, "medieval translators still

found that Hebrew had not yet fully developed the flexibili-

ty, precision and vocabulary necessary for the treatment of

philosophic themes."2 Koheleth's comparative success in

this respect is a tribute to his literary skill.

 

Conclusion on Aramaisms

            It is, therefore, the conclusion of the writer that

the date, and the limits it places upon the authorship, must

be decided by means other than inferences drawn from the

literary style or linguistic peculiarities of the book.

Aramaisms may be used to prove or to disprove Solomonic

authorship, depending upon one's presuppositions and biases.

In any event, one cannot but agree with Harrison, who af-

firms that "the presence of Aramaisms is no necessary

 

            1Gordis, Poets, Prophets and Sages, p. 343.

            2Ibid.

 

 


                                                                                             41

indication of late date."1

 

An Aramaic, original

            In addition to those who view the language of Ec-

clesiastes as heavily influenced by Aramaic, and therefore

late, there are those who argue strongly for an Aramaic

original for the book, of which the presently extant Hebrew

Koheleth is apparently a rather poor translation. This

theory was first raised as a question by Burkitt, has been

maintained by Zimmermann, and vigorously defended by H. L.

Ginsberg.2 Burkitt published his brief analysis of the

style of Ecclesiastes in 1921, in which he concluded that

the style was neither natural nor correct, and therefore

must be a translation from Aramaic.3 There are numerous

arguments from the Aramaic offered as solutions to the vari-

ous enigmas of the book. Representative samples will suf-

fice to demonstrate the methodology.

 

Introduction

            There are many verses which those who propose an

 

            1Harrison, Introduction to the Old Testament, p.

1075.

            2Gordis, Koheleth, pp. 374, 413. Cf. F. C. Burkitt,

"Is Ecclesiastes a Translation?" Journal of Theological

Studies, 22 (1921), 23 ff.; F. Zimmermann, "The Aramaic

Provenance of Koheleth," 17-46; and H. L. Ginsberg, Studies

in Koheleth in Texts and Studies of the Jewish Theological

Seminary of America, Vol. XVII (New York: The Jewish Theo-

logical Seminary of America, 1950), pp. 16-40.

            3Dahood, "Qoheleth," 31.


                                                                                                   42

Aramaic original feel are much more easily translated upon

the basis of that theory. Following is a discussion of

three of them.

            Ecclesiastes 7:12.--The NASB translation of this

verse is "wisdom is protection just as money is protection."

The margin is, "lit., in a shadow." The Hebrew reads: yKi

Js,KAha lceB; hmAk;HAha lcEB;. Rowley says, in reviewing the reasons

for an Aramaic original, that "the strongest individual ar-

gument [for such an original] in the reviewer's opinion, is

the claim [of Ginsberg and Zimmermann] that lceB; in 7:12 goes

back to the Aramaic tlaFiB; in the first case and lFeB; in the

second, and that these were wrongly taken to be nouns when

they should have been regarded as verbs, yielding the sense

‘when the wisdom goes, the money goes.’"1

            There are several problems with this argument, how-

ever. First of all, if the "original Aramaic" had lFEB; in

7:12, why did the translator not use the same Hebrew word

for it (lFaBA) as he did in 12:3. To be sure, this is the

only occurrence of the word in the Hebrew Old Testament, but

it appears to have a legitimate Hebrew usage, attested in

Akkadian as batâlu.2 It is passing strange that the

 

            1H. H. Rowley, "The Problems of Ecclesiastes," The

Jewish Quarterly Review, XLII (1951-2), 88.

            2KB, Lexicon, p. 119. Cf. also Riekele Borger,

Babylonisch-Assyrische Lesestücke, Heft I (3 Hefte: Roma:

Pontificium Institutum Biblicum, 1963), p. LI.


                                                                                                 43

supposed translator would have used another word, when the

Hebrew and Aramaic words were identical both in spelling

and meaning. It is true that c and F are both emphatic

phonemes and therefore closely akin, something which, no

doubt, points to two related proto-Semitic roots.1 This

fact does not, however, support the Aramaic original hypoth-

esis. It should also be noticed that Symmachus, the Peshit-

ta, Jerome, and the Vulgate seem to support another reading:

lceK; hmAk;HA lceK;, while the LXX and others support a variant of

this: lck hmkH lcb.2 The word lceK; would consist of the

inseparable preposition K and lce, from the verbal root III.

llacA, meaning "to be or grow dark."3 lce here would mean

"shadow."4 The targum seems to support the NASB translation

above, rather than the one based on an Aramaic original.

            While it is true that the written targum material

is rather late, it is also true that it preserves a

tradition, probably dating at least to the time from which

the supporters of the Aramaic original hypothesis would

say that the book of Ecclesiastes should be dated (third or

 

            1Cf. several other Semitic languages which have a

cognate beginning with t in KB, Lexicon, p. 804.

            2Rudolf Kittel, ed., Biblia Hebraica (Stuttgart:

Wurttembergische Bibelanstalt, 1966), p. 1220.

            3KB, Lexicon, p. 804; cf. BDB, Lexicon, 853.

            4KB, Lexicon, p. 803.


                                                                                       44

fourth centuries B.C.). The targum seems to be much easier

to explain in terms of an original written in Hebrew, rather

than one written in Aramaic. One wonders why the targum

would differ so much from what the Aramaic original was

supposed to have been. Is one to suppose that the Aramaic

was translated into Hebrew, and then the Hebrew was trans-

lated back into Aramaic for the targum? If Ginsberg's and

Zimmermann's hypothesis were correct, for instance, one

would have expected to have found lFeBA, "to be void,

abolished, suspended; to cease to exist" in the present

verse.1

            Finally, the translation of this verse suggested

by Ginsberg and Zimmermann does not fit the context. Such

a circumstance makes any suggested translation very doubt-

ful. The Aramaic original hypothesis does not seem to offer

a valid solution to the problems of this verse.

            Ecclesiastes 10:15.--Perhaps the most striking ex-

ample of the difficulties created by the Aramaic original

hypothesis of Zimmermann is to be found in this verse,

translated, "the toil of a fool tires him so that he does

not know to go to a city." It reads in Hebrew:  MyliysiK;ha lmafE

ryfi-lf, tk,l,lA fdayA-xlo rw,xE Unf,G;yaT;.

 

            1Jastrow, Dictionary, Vol. I, p. 157.


                                                                                        45

            He [Zimmermann] confesses that he cannot solve the last

            part of the verse, but undertakes to explain the changes

            of gender and number in the first half. The Aramaic

            reads hnyhlwt xyFwd xtvHfF. The translator rendered

            xtvHrF by lmf. The next moment, in translating hnyFlwt,

            he forgot that his Hebrew read lmf, a masculine noun,

            and so he mechanically wrote the verb in the feminine

            fgyt. But his lapses were not yet at an end. He mis-

            read xyFwd as a plural and rendered it Mylyskh, but, at

            the very next word, forgot that he had rendered it thus

            and recognized it as a singular, hence the singular suf-

            fix in vxfgyt.

                        That this passage is difficult is clear. That this

            explanation meets the situation seems considerably less

            certain. The illustration is only one of many indicat-

            ing the depths of stupidity and incompetence which must

            be assumed for the translator who, judging by Chapter  

            XII, was not as inept as the theory cheerfully assumes.1

            Again, this observation by Gordis seems to be sup-

ported by the targum.2 Even though the actual composition

of Targum Onkelos is somewhat later than the Aramaic original

was written, one would have expected in the targum a reflec-

tion of a good deal more of the reconstructed Aramaic origi-

nal than one finds.

 

            Ecclesiastes 11:1.--It is also suggested that this

verse, translated in the NASB, "Cast your bread upon the

surface of the waters, for you will find it after many days,"

is an instance in which an Aramaic original explains an

otherwise inexplicable enigma. Zimmermann's argument is

 

            1Robert Gordis, "The Original Language of Qoheleth,"

The Jewish Quarterly Review, XXXVII:l (July, 1946), 70-1.

            2Cf. the text of rbrpw, tymrxb wdqh ybtk, d jrk,

p. 165.


                                                                                          46

that the translators confused the "original Aramaic" I. srp

(spread, as a sail, garment, etc.) and II. srp (break, as in

breaking bread).1 Thus, the Hebrew "translators" rendered

the phrase MyimAha yneP;-lfa j~m;H;la Hla.wa (according to II. srp), us-

ing the word MH,l,. Again, however, the roots for both I and

II srp appear in Hebrew (although Aramaic I. sraP; is Hebrew

wraPA.2 Why would a translator have used words other than

those completely cognate, however, especially when the re-

sultant sense of his translation in Hebrew is apparently so

strange? A good translator would have used Hebrew sraPA,

which has the same meaning as Aramaic sraP;. There must have

been a reason for this circumstance, and the explanation one

finds most satisfying is that which posits a Hebrew original,

which, when written had a clear meaning, but which now is

lost. The targum interprets the verse in the sense of

giving MHal; (alms, help) to the poor, for which one would

eventually be rewarded. Perhaps the explanation is to be

 

            1Zimmermann, "The Question of Hebrew in Qoheleth,"

92. Cf. also Frank Zimmermann, The Inner World of Qoheleth

(New York: Ktav Publishing House, Inc., 1973), pp. 111-12.

            2BDB, Lexicon, pp.828, 831. This same root is found

in relation to food in Ugaritic. Cf. Cyrus H. Gordon, Ugar-

itic Textbook (Rome: Pontifical Biblical Institute, 1965),

p. 470, #2110. DISO gives a meaning for I. MHl of "as-

siéger," ("to beseige, to dun"), found in the Mesha inscrip-

tion, but this does not seem to help much (p. 137). Dalman

suggests "Unterhalt," ("support") and "Masse," ("assets"),

which would fit this context (Gustaf H. Dalman, Aramäisch-

Neuhebräisches Handwörterbuch zu Targum, Talmud and Midrasch

(Hildesheim: Georg Olms Verlagsbuchhandlung, 1967), p. 216.


                                                                                                 47

found in such a different shade of meaning for the word MH,l,,

as the targum has done.1

 

Proofs for a Hebrew original

            Besides the failure of the Aramaic original hypoth-

esis in these specific instances to account for completely

cognate Hebrew words which could have been used, and were

not, there are several other difficulties which seem to make

a Hebrew original more probable.

            Two Hebrew dialects.--Chomsky makes an interesting

observation about different dialects in Hebrew, which may

not always have been reflected in the biblical style:

            It must therefore be assumed, as has already been point-

            ed out, that alongside the literary classical style

            there existed a simple conversational style, employed

            especially by the peasants and simple folk of the back-

            woods, particularly in the northern part of Palestine,

            where these erotic pastoral idylls [i.e. the Song of

            Songs] must have been in vogue. It is inconceivable

            that even in Jerusalem, the average man in the street,

            even during the heyday of the classical period, spoke

            the noble and majestic prose typical of Amos and Isaiah,

            or even of Genesis and Deuteronomy. More probably, men

            like Amos and Isaiah, after writing down or delivering

            their lofty and noble messages in the classical style,

            addressed their acquaintances or members of their family

            in the simple conversational dialect, including col-

            loquialisms and slang, current among the rest of the

            people. This non-classical style must have gained cur-

            rency during the exilic and post-exilic periods, owing

            especially to the unsettled and transmigratory condi-

            tions of the people of those days. It often takes cen-

            turies for a new word-coinage to take root and be widely

 

            lrbrpw, tymrxb wdqh ybtk, x-d Jrk, p. 166.


                                                                                          48

            employed. Little wonder, then, that many of the so-

            called mishnaic words, grammatical forms and syntactical

            constructions, are already in evidence in the Bible, to

            a greater or lesser degree.1

            It has already been suggested that Solomon may have

been influenced by his Aramean relatives, as well as his

foreign wives. Both the intended recipients and the con-

tents of the book may also have affected his style. It will

also be suggested below that he may have been influenced by

a Phoenician literary genre of the philosophic discourse.

Finally, his style may have been influenced by the common

conversational language of the people. It is easily seen,

therefore, that no one solution may totally solve the prob-

lems with the peculiarities of the language of Ecclesiastes.

The best solution seems to be one which finds a number of

different influences at work upon the author.

           

            Paronomasia.--The phenomenon of paronomasia, which

exist in the present Hebrew text, and which would not have

existed in an Aramaic text, also argues against an Aramaic

original. "Thus in 7:1, the play on šem and šemen would be

lost in the Aramaic sum and misha."2 This same paronomasia

occurs in Song of Solomon 1:3: j~m,w; qraUT Nm,w,. Other in-

stances of paronomasia in the book are "7:6, hassīrīm,

 

            1Chomsky, Hebrew: The Eternal Language, p. 161.

            2Gordis, Koheleth, p. 413.


                                                                                              49

'thorns,' and hassīr, 'pot'; and 9:5 zēkher, 'remember,' and

sākhār, 'reward' (rather than the usual yithrōn)."1 Gins-

berg counters by offering an example of a supposed parono-

masia in the "alleged Aramaic of 3:4, raqed, 'dance,' and

arqed, 'mourn,’”2 but as Gordis states, "this rhetorical

usage among fourteen pairs of verbs in the Catalogue of

Seasons is hardly impressive."3

            Canaanite parallels.--The vocabulary of Koheleth

reflects a very ancient Canaanite literary background.

"That the singularly inept translator whom the theory [of an

Aramaic original] creates would render the Aramaic original

into Hebrew, using words and phrases derived from a very

ancient Northwest Semitic literary tradition, is another

extreme coincidence difficult to accept."4

            Ben Sira.--Ben Sira's verbal dependence on Ecclesi-

astes also strengthens the case for the Hebrew original.

"It would surely be remarkable that Ben Sira (c. 190 B.C.E.)

could use the Aramaic 'original' of Koheleth and translate

its phraseology into Hebrew which resembles the independent

translation of Koheleth, not produced until much later!"5

 

            lIbid.               2lbid.               3Ibid.               4Ibid., p. 414.

            5Ibid. Later, that is, according to their theory.


                                                                                                    50

            Characteristics of a translation.--There is a very

fundamental objection to the widely-held theory that a dif-

ficult text ipso facto presupposes a translation from anoth-

er language. When faced with a difficult original a trans-

lator may misread it for lack of an adequate knowledge of

the vocabulary, and he may misconstrue the grammar. He may

tacitly emend the text, fail to penetrate its meaning, and

add irrelevant thoughts to it. But ultimately he decides

upon some view of the passage, which he then expresses in

his own idiom. "His version may be incorrect, but it will

be clear and intelligible far more so than the original, all

the difficulties and alternatives of which will have been

ignored or obscured in the process."1

            Other things being equal, it may therefore be maintained

            that a difficult text may be presumed to be the original

            rather than a translation. In general, the translation

            hypothesis may be described as visiting the sins, real

            or imaginary, of the author, upon an unlucky translator.

            To him no folly or stupidity is deemed impossible. Thus

            Dr. Zimmermann asks us to believe that in 9:1 the "trans-

            lator slipped, thoughtlessly incorporating the Aramaic

            Mhydbf into the text instead of the usual hWfm" (p. 20).

            But the word hWfm occurs in the book sixteen times be-

            fore this passage, and four times thereafter, all with-

            in 222 verses. This would be a remarkable lapse of

            memory, since the translator had rendered it correctly

            in the verse immediately preceding and had then rapidly

            recovered, nine verses later.2

            A translator is always conscious of the distinctions

between the two languages on which he is engaged, for that

 

            lIbid., p.. 69.  

            2Ibid., p. 70.


                                                                                               51

is, after all, the purpose of his task. He is trying to

take a document written for the speakers of one language and

render it in a language and idiom intelligible to the speak-

ers of another language. If it were really a Hebrew trans-

lation of an Aramaic original, it is not unreasonable to

suppose that in such a case the supposed Aramaisms would

have been Hebraized as well.1

            On the other hand, a creative writer, familiar with

two closely related languages, and "struggling to express

his original thought, might unconsciously [or consciously]

employ a word or even a usage from the other language."2

Such has been a common practice in every age, even up to

the present time, in which scholarly English writers employ

especially descriptive and concise foreign terms from Latin,

French, and German quite frequently.

            Finally, no one suggests why such a Hebrew transla-

tion world have been made in the first place. Other canoni-

cal works were left in Aramaic. Moreover, if the book does

date from the post-Exilic period (which the Aramaic original

theory assumes), in which Aramaic had become the lingua

franca, why would a translation have been made away from

the language of the people?

 

            1Fohrer, Introduction to the Old Testament, p. 338.

            2Gordis, "'The original Language of Koheleth," 83.


                                                                                                       52

Conclusion on an Aramaic original

            On the basis of the above evidence, it is the con-

clusion of the writer that the theory of an Aramaic original

for Koheleth invents more problems than it solves. It seems

best to view the present Hebrew Koheleth as the original.1

 

Ecclesiastes 1:12

            It is generally argued by those rejecting Solomonic

authorship that the words j`l,m, ytyyihA tl,h,qo ynixE should be

translated, "I, Koheleth, was king." In this statement, the

writer is allegedly reflecting on a time when he was mon-

arch, but is not at the time of his statement.2 The Talmud

has joined to this verse a fable in which Solomon is com-

pelled to descend from his throne on account of his sins.

An angel bearing his likeness takes his place upon the

throne and Solomon wanders throughout the land, claiming

that he is really the king, but is disbelieved and belittled

by the people. While he goes about begging, this is what he

says: "I, Koheleth, was king in Jerusalem." Finally, upon

 

            1Cf. Robert Gordis, "The Translation Theory of Qo-

heleth Re-Examined," The Jewish Quarterly Review, XL:1

(July, 1949), 116..

            2Delitzsch, Ecclesiastes, pp. 205-6.


                                                                                                           53

his repentance, he is reinstated.1

            There is no proof from Scripture for this story, and

some of its details are ludicrous. It does demonstrate,

however, the difficulty some have seen in maintaining Solo-

monic authorship in the face of Ecclesiastes 1:12. De-

litzsch argues at length that such a statement could not

have been made by a man who was still king.2  ytiyyihA is the

Qal perfect, first person, common, singular, of hyAhA. Archer

has suggested that a fitting translation might be, "I became

king,"3 but one would have expected to find a l; following

hyAhA for this translation, though the translation is not pre-

cluded by its absence. The NASB translates it I "have been"

king, while the ASV translates it "was." But the problem is

not really the translation; it is the interpretation of the

translation which presents the ambiguity. It is helpful in

this instance to compare Jonah 3:3, where the perfect of hyAhA  

is used to describe the state of Nineveh as Jonah found it.4

"Nineveh was [and still is] an exceeding great city" is the

sense of the verse. The verse cannot mean, "Nineveh was

 

            1Louis Ginzberg, Legends of the Jews, Vol. 4 (4

vols: Philadelphia: The Jewish Publication Society of

America, 1913), pp. 165-72.

            2Delitzsch, Ecclesiastes, pp. 205-6.

            3Archer, Introduction, pp. 485-6.

            4Young, An Introduction to the Old Testament, p. 255.


                                                                                                        54

[and is no longer] a great city," for such a statement would

be meaningless for Jonah. Likewise, the meaning of Ecclesi-

astes is: "I, Koheleth, was [and still am] king over Israel

in Jerusalem." This seems to be a perfectly legitimate un-

derstanding of the verse.

 

Ecclesiastes 1:16

            Another objection to the Solomonic authorship is

that 1:16, "Behold I have magnified and increased wisdom

above all who were over Jerusalem before me," is an anach-

ronism and is inexplicable in terms of Solomonic author-

ship.l This objection is apparently grounded in the sup-

position that the author is here referring only to former

kings, and since David and Solomon had been the only Isra-

elite kings in Jerusalem, the remark seems to be somewhat

misplaced. There are two answers to this, however. First

of all, if Solomon were speaking only of kings, he could

have been referring to the long line of non-Israelite kings

which had preceded him, two of the most notable of which

were Melchizedek (Gen. 14:18) and Adonai-Zedek (Josh. 10:1,

 

            lOtto Zöckler, "Ecclesiastes," trans. by William

Wells, in vol. V of Commentary on the Holy Scriptures, ed.

by John P. Lange (12 vols., reprinted: Grand Rapids: Zon-

dervan Publishing House, 1971), p. 13.


                                                                                                     55

26).1 But the best explanation is probably that Solomon is

referring to all (i.e., anyone and everyone), not just

kings, who had preceded him in Jerusalem. The remark is

therefore completely proper and understandable. 1 Kings

4:31 speaks of Solomon's superiority and draws a comparison

with Heman, Chalcol, and Darda, who may very well have been

sages in pre-Davidic Jerusalem.2

 

The Sitz im Leben of the book

            It has been contended that whereas Ecclesiastes

seems to reflect a time when misfortune, misery, and oppres-

sion prevailed, the time of Solomon was one of prosperity

and happiness. Nevertheless, it is questionable whether the

book really does reflect a period of dissatisfaction and

oppression. In any event, it is difficult to make general-

izations about the state of the common people, when so lit-

tle is told about the period in the Bible, and when most of

what is told is concerned with the monarchy. It is, however,

a misconception to maintain that Solomon's period was one of

prosperity and happiness. It may very well not have been,

 

            1Cf. the letters of 'Abdu-Heba, prince of Jerusalem,

requesting Egyptian assistance in his struggles with the

'Apiru (W. F. Albright, trans., "The Amarna Letters," in

Ancient Near Eastern Texts Relating to the Old Testament,

ed. by James B. Pritchard [hereinafter referred to as ANET]

[Princeton: Princeton University Press, third ed., 1969],

pp. 487-9).

            2Archer, Introduction, p. 485.


                                                                                                     56

considering the taxes necessary to support Solomon's extrav-

gances, and considering Solomon's institution of "compulsory

or statute labor."1 Furthermore, prosperity does not equal

happiness, and this is the very point that the author of

Ecclesiastes seems to be arguing. There is nothing in the

tone of the book which precludes its being written during

Solomon's time.

                   Arguments for Solomonic Authorship

Phoenician background

Introduction

            Mitchell Dahood is the primary advocate of the view

that Koheleth was written in the fourth century B.C. in He-

brew, but using Phoenician orthography, and that it shows

heavy Canaanite-Phoenician literary influence.2 The essen-

tial difference between Hebrew and Phoenician orthography, a

difference which became more pronounced in the post-exilic

era, was the use of final and medial vowel letters by the

Hebrew and the total lack of them in standard Phoenician

 

            1Martin Noth, The History of Israel, trans. by Stan-

ley Godman (London: Adam and Charles Black, revised ed.,

1958), p. 209.

            2By "literary influence" is meant the morphological,

syntactical, and lexical phases of the author's style. Cf.

Dahood, "Qoheleth," 22. Cf. the many points of similarity

in Zellig S. Harris, A Grammar of the Phoenician Language

in the American Oriental Series, ed. by W. Norman Brown, et

al., Vol. 8 (New Haven, Conn.: American Oriental Society,

reprint, 1971).


                                                                                                      57

orthography.1 According to Dahood, the medial matres lec-

tiones were introduced into Biblical Hebrew about the sixth

century B.C. under Aramaic influence.2 The use of matres

lectiones became more and more common until by the time of

the Dead Sea Scrolls (first and second centuries B.C.) even

short vowels were represented sometimes by vowel letters.

            Thus, while a work composed in Hebrew in the fourth-

third centuries would have been amply supplied with final

and internal matres lectiones, a work composed in the stan-

dard Phoenician orthography of the corresponding period

would not have had these vowel letters, and the possibility

of confusing the singular and the plural of nouns in the

construct chain, unless the context unambiguously determined

the meaning, would have been much greater.3 Dahood's thesis

arises from the fact that the variant readings in Qoheleth

reveal that they are mostly of the type which would have

arisen from the editing or copying of an original text which

 

            1Ibid., 35-6. Cf. GKC, Grammar, p. 5, sect. 2k; and

E. Arbez, "Notes on the New Hebrew Manuscripts," The Catho-

Biblical Quarterly, 12:1 (January, 1950), 173-8. Also cf.

Cross and Freedman, Early Hebrew Orthography, pp. 11-20.

            2Dahood, "Qoheleth," 35. On the development of

matres lectiones in Aramaic, cf. Cross and Freedman, Early

Hebrew Orthography, pp. 31-4.

            3Dahood, "Qoheleth," 36. For an extensive discus-

sion of the Phoenician script of the later periods, see J.

Brian Peckham, The Development of the Late Phoenician Scripts

(Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1968).


                                                                                       58

lacked all vowel letters.

            If this is proven correct, there are two choices

which may be made about the origin of Koheleth. One may

either say that (1) the book is still to be late-dated, but

that the variants and problems are to be explained on the

basis of Phoenician orthography, as it would have been cur-

rent in the third or fourth centuries B.C., or (2) that the

book was written at a much earlier time in the history of

the Hebrew language when normal Hebrew orthography would not

have included matres lectiones.

 

Linguistic uniqueness

            It is important to recognize that "linguistically

the book [of Ecclesiastes] is unique."1 All the linguistic

data, including vocabulary, morphology, syntax, and style of

the book have convinced Archer that the text of Ecclesiastes

fits into none of the periods of the history of the Hebrew

language. He states that

            no significant affinities may be traced between this

            work and any of those canonical books which rationalis-

            tic higher criticism has assigned to the Greek period

            (Daniel, Zechariah II, Joel, and portions of Deutero-

            Isaiah). So far as the early post-Exilic period is con-

            cerned, the Heb. of Ecclesiastes is quite as dissimilar

            to that of Malachi, Nehemiah, Ezra and Esther as to any

            of the pre-Exilic books. This raises insuperable diffi-

            culties for the theory of Delitzsch and Young, who date

           

            1Gleason L. Archer, Jr., "The Linguistic Evidence

for the Date of Ecclesiastes," Journal of the Evangelical

Theological Society, XII:3 (Summer, 1969), 167.


                                                                                                 59

it around 430 B.C., and of Beecher in the ISBE, who

makes it 400.1

            Furthermore, the linguistic problem is not solved by

moving the date forward to the Greek period or the Intertes-

tamental period. There are "absolutely no affinities be-

tween the language of Ecclesiastes and that of the Qumran

sectarian literature."2 An actual comparison of this text

with the Hebrew of the Talmud and the Midrash shows fully as

great a dissimilarity as to any book of the Old Testament

Canon. "No truly objective or scientific examination of

these linguistic data can come out to any other result than

that present evidence fails to establish the contemporaneity

of Ecclesiastes with any period whatever in the history of

Hebrew literature, on the basis of the documents now ex-

tant."3

 

A literary genre

            Gordis asserts that "the concept of a ‘normal lit-

erary Hebrew’ has little or no meaning except within the

context of specific literary genres."4 It is the feeling of

Archer that Ecclesiastes belongs to a particular literary

genre, that of the philosophic discourse. There is increas-

ing evidence that in the Near East differing styles can

 

            lIbid., 168.     

            2Ibid.  

            3Ibid., 169.

            4Robert Gordis, "Qoheleth and Qumran--A Study of

Style," Biblica, 41:4 (1960), 402.


                                                                                                 60

often be classified according to differing literary genres.

"Modern discovery makes completely justifiable the position

that the ancient Semitic cultures cultivated differing

styles and choices of vocabulary according to the conven-

tions of each genre such as demonstrably obtained in the an-

cient Hellenic culture."1

            Just as in Akkadian literature, legal codes and con-

tract tablets present a great contrast to each other both in

technique and style, and these in turn differ from the epis-

tolary or historical prose coming from about the same peri-

od, so also in Hebrew a conventional language in style came

to be used, which was felt to be peculiarly fitting for each

literary genre.2 This same phenomenon can be observed in

Greek literature, where it is found that once a genre was

developed in a particular locality or city-state, the dia-

lect and lexical stock of the original perfecters of this

genre became standard for all subsequent composers in it

from that time forward, regardless of the idiom and style

 

            lArcher, "The Linguistic Evidence for the Date of

Ecclesiastes," 169.

            2Idem, Introduction, p. 482. For examples of the

style of a legal code, cf. Codex Hammurabi in Borger,

Babylonisch-Assyrische Lesestücke, Hefte II, III; and G. R.

Driver and John C. Miles, eds., The Babylonian Laws, Vol. II

(2 vols.: Oxford: At the Clarendon Press, 1955). For an

English translation of Akkadian prose, cf. A. Leo Oppenheim,

trans., "Babylonian and Assyrian Historical Texts," in ANET,

pp. 265-271.

 

 


                                                                                                61

prevailing in the composer's own area. "Thus, since it was

Homer who first brought the epic to its classical perfection

and did so in the Old Ionic dialect (with some admixtures of

other dialects spoken in his locality), it became the con-

vention from then on for all composers of epics to employ

his Old Ionic, regardless of what their own native tongue

might be."1 Likewise, the Dorian Greeks were the perfecters

of choral poetry, so all choral poetry from that time for-

ward had to be in Doric, even in the midst of Attic dramas.

The same held true for lyric love poetry, which was written

in the Aeolic dialect.2

            It is, therefore, not impossible that Ecclesiastes

belonged to a special genre just as distinct as the Psalm,

the Historical Narrative, and the Levitical Code. It had,

consequently, a distinct literary tradition behind it, which

was apparently derived from a segment of the Canaanite cul-

ture which had first developed it as a literary form.

            This was the genre of the philosophical treatise, a type

            of literature with which a genius of wide-ranging inter-

            ests like Solomon would undoubtedly have encountered in

            Phoenician circles. During his reign there were close

            commercial and political relations with King Hiram of

            Tyre, and Solomon's keen interest in literature and wis-

            dom would naturally incline him in this direction. As a

            careful observer of literary form and tradition, it is

            only to be expected that he preserved a distinct style

 

            1Archer, "The Linguistic Evidence for the Date of

Ecclesiastes," 169.

            2Ibid.


                                                                                           62

            and vocabulary for a love poem like Canticles and a

            collection of apothegms like Proverbs. This variety of

            treatment and style is no more striking than that ob-

            servable in the later prophets, such as Hosea and Isa-

            iah, when they shifted from oratorical prose to emotion-

            ally charged poetry, with its omission of the definite

            article and its adoption of parallelistic structure.1

            One of the first to point out the foreign nature of

the Hebrew of Ecclesiastes was Professor Margoliouth of

Oxford.2 He offered a rebuttal to those who were explaining

the linguistic peculiarities of Koheleth on the basis of Ara-

maic or Mishnaic traits. He pointed to the frequency of the

participial present, the unintelligibility of certain

phrases which are apparently not garbled in transmission,

the lack of sharpness in some of the aphorisms, the complete

omission of the name hvhy, the utter lack of reference to

distinctive Jewish matters as pointing to foreign Hebrew,

and yet he asserted a late date (about 400. B.C.), though not

as late as some of his contemporaries were proposing.3

            It is possible that the "philsophical discourse

genre" used a dialect more similar to conversational Hebrew,

the Hebrew Chomsky argues was ultimately the foundation of

Mishnaic Hebrew.4

 

            lIbid., 170.

            2David Samuel Margoliouth, "Ecclesiastes," The Jew-

ish Encyclopaedia, V, 32-4.

            3Ibid., 33.

            4Chomsky, Hebrew: The Eternal Language, pp. 49, 161.


                                                                                                   63

Dahood's arguments

            As stated previously, Dahood's hypothesis is that

the book was originally composed by an author who wrote in

Hebrew, but who employed Phoenician orthography, and whose

composition shows heavy Canaanite--Phoenician influence.1 He

is supported in this opinion by W. F. Albright.2 The cases

he lists in support of his arguments are too numerous to

cite exhaustively. However, several of them are discussed

so that his theory as a whole may be evaluated.

            Ecclesiastes 1:10.--This verse affords an example

characteristic of several textual problems, which Dahood

cites as originating in scripto defectiva. The Massoretic

text reads: Unn,pAl;mi hyAhA rw,xE MymilAfol; while several other

manuscripts read: UnnepAl;.mi UyhA rw,xE MymilAfol;. Though some have

attempted to justify the singular verb on the ground that

the Hebrew Bible is not always exact in the agreement be-

tween the subject and the verb, even when the subject comes

 

            1Dahood, "Qoheleth," 32. These ideas were original-

ly formulated by Dahood in his doctoral dissertation at the

Johns Hopkins University, entitled, "Canaanite-Phoenician

Influence in Qoheleth." Cf. also Mitchell Dahood, "Phoeni-

cian Elements in Isaiah 52:13-53:12," in Near Eastern

Studies in Honor of William Foxwell Albright, ed. by Hans

Goedicke (Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins Press, 1971), p. 73.

            2"[Ecclesiastes] betrays Phoenician influence in

spelling, morphology, syntax, vocabulary and content" (W. F.

Albright, "Some Canaanite-Phoenician Sources of Hebrew

Wisdom," in Wisdom in Israel and in the Ancient Near East,

in Supplements to Vetus Testamentum, Vol. III [Leiden: E. J.

Brill, reprint, 1969]), p. 6.


                                                                                                 64

first, Dahood feels that there are too many discrepancies of

this kind to ascribe them to the grammatical imprecision of

the author. He feels that it is much more reasonable to

suppose that the original reading was a purely consonantal

yh, which could have been taken as the singular, or as the

plural.1 In the same manner Dahood explains most of the

variants in the book.

            Ecclesiastes 1:16.--The Massoretic text reads:  -lKA

hyAhA-rw,xE, while several other manuscripts read: UyhA-rw,xE-lKA,2

though this is not reflected in Kittel's apparatus.3 This

would have been a very easy mistake to make, for a copyist,

who would probably have been inclined to write the simplest

form of the consonants yh.

            Ecclesiastes 2:2.--The Massoretic text reads: hzo.,

while some other manuscripts have txz and vz,4 though,

again, this is not reflected in Kittel's apparatus.     It

would have been difficult for these variants to have arisen

 

            1Dahood, "Qoheleth," 43. By the time of the Siloam

inscription (c. 700 B.C.) , the word appears as (hyh)

(cf. Donner and Röllig, Kanaanäische: und Aramäische

Inschriften, Band I, text 189, p. 134.

            2Dahood, "Qoheleth," 37.

            3Rudolf Kittel, ed., Biblia Hebraica (Stuttgart:

Wurttembergische Bibelanstalt, 1966), p. 1212.

            4Dahood, "Qoheleth." Cf. Harris, A Grammar of the

Phoenician Language, p. 53.


                                                                                             65

had Koheleth been composed in the scriptio plena of the

fourth century Hebrew orthography; but in Phoenician spel-

ling (and possibly in Solomon's time) the masculine and the

feminine demonstrative pronoun "this" was spelled merely by

the letter z.1

            Ecclesiastes 2:24.--The Massoretic text reads xyhi,

while many other manuscripts read xUh. In Phoenician spel-

ling both the feminine and masculine third person pronouns

are written xh.2 Since in this context either gender is

grammatically justifiable, the present differences resulted.

It is reasonable, therefore, that the Vorlage may not have

been provided with vowel letters.

            Other examples.--Dahood lists many more examples.

While it is, regrettably, beyond the scope of this thesis to

be more specific, it should be noted that Dahood also finds

Phoenician parallels in several other areas. Koheleth em-

ploys the masculine plural suffix: Mh,- for a feminine ante-

cedent no less than five times, and the feminine plural

suffix  Nh,- is not to be found in the book at all. The femi-

nine demonstrative pronoun is hz, instead of the normal

 

            lA form Nz is found only on an inscription from Ur,

but it is not known which Phoenician dialect this repre-

sents (Harris, A Grammar of the Phoenician Language, p. 53).

            2Ibid., p. 47.


                                                                                                    66

Hebrew txzo.1

            Dahood also finds a parallel in the relative pronoun

w, often used in Ecclesiastes instead of rwAxE. w is probably

closely related to Phoenician wx and Akkadian ša.2  It   

occurs, in fact, as early as the ninth century B.C. in the

Nora inscription from Sardinia.3 It occurs in the Song of

Deborah (yTim;q.awa, Jud. 5:7), and in several other pieces of

literature, all, including the  song of Deborah, associated

with northern Israel. The discussion of w by Segal is espe-

cially helpful:

            Now, whatever the relation of the two forms to each

            other, there can be no doubt that w, is just as old as

            rw,xE, if not older. Its confinement in the earlier books

            of the Bible to North Israelitish documents would prove

            that its use must have been common in the colloquial

            speech of Northern Palestine, under the influence, to

            some extent at least, of the Phoenician wx, w, the As-

            syrian ša, and, perhaps, also the Aram. yz, yd. The

            scarcity of its occurrence even in these documents must

            be explained by the assumption that it was regarded as a

            vulgarism which the literary language had to avoid. Its

            use gradually extended to Southern Palestine, and being

            the shorter and more pliable form, it must in the course

            of time have entirely supplanted the longer rw,xE in the

            language of the common people, and from this it de-

            scended directly to MH. But the literary prejudice

 

            lIbid., p. 54. Cf. Dahood, "Qoheleth," 38.

            2Harris says: “One can only guess at the origin of

its initial x” (Harris, A Grammar of the Phoenician Lan-

guage, p. 55). He also notes, however, that in some indi-

vidual Semitic and  especially Phoenician words, a prothetic

x is used before a sibilant followed by a consonant (Ibid.,

note 21).

            3Donner and Röllig, Kanaanäische and Aramäische

Inschriften, Band II, p. 63; cf. Band III, p. 23.


                                                                                               67

 

            against it seems to have remained even after BH had

            ceased to be a living speech. Hence its nonoccurrence

            in Esther, its scarcity in Chronicles, and the anxiety

            to avoid it which is displayed by a studious imitator of

            the ancients like Sirach, and even by such an indepen-

            dent mind as the author of Qoheleth.l

            Yet another similarity Dahood finds is the use of

the indefinite pronoun. The development of the indefinite

pronominal combination w hm is peculiar to Koheleth, but is

attested in the Kilamuwa inscription (ninth century B.C.),

which contains the "etymologically identical compound wxm,

which has the meaning 'that which.'"2

            Further similarities which Dahood adduces include

the non-syncopated use of the article, nominal formations,

the use of prepositions, the use of adverbs, and the use of

conjunctions. Syntactical similarities include the use of

the infinitive absolute followed by the independent personal

pronoun, the periphrastic future, the accusative of time,

and the accusative of place.3

 

            1M. H. Segal, A Grammar of Mishnaic Hebrew (Oxford:

At the Clarendon Press, 1958), p. 43.

            2Dahood, "Qoheleth," 45. Cf. Donner and Röllig,

Kanaanäische and Aramäische Inschriften, Band I, p. 5,

Inscription 24, line 4; Band II, p. 32.

            3For an excellent summary of Dahood's arguments, cf.

Archer, "Linguistic Evidence for the Date of Ecclesiastes."

For the complete arguments see Mitchell Dahood, "Canaanite-

Phoenician Influence in Qoheleth," Biblica 33:2 (1952), 191-

201. This is a continuation of his first article, and is

differentiated hereinafter only by the page numbers, since

it is cited as "Qoheleth" as well.


                                                                                           68

            There are also a number of lexical borrowings. For

instance, the term MdAxA, normally the generic term for man-

kind or for the population of a locality, is the predominant

word in Koheleth (49 times; 7 times for wyxi ), a ratio of

preference which cannot be duplicated in any other book of

the Old Testament.1 In some instances the word is even used

where an individual man is intended (2:18 21). Such a ratio

of preference can, however, be roughly duplicated in the

ninth century Phoenician Azitawadda inscription.2

            It is particularly significant that the key phrase

of the book, wm,w.,ha tHaTa (under the sun), which occurs 27 times

in Ecclesiastes, has, in all of ancient Northwest Semitic

literature thus far discovered, been found only in Phoeni-

cian, in the inscriptions of Tabnit and Eshmun'azar of

Sidon.3 There are many other instances of parallels with

 

            1Solomon Mandelkern, Veteris Testamenti Concordan-

tiae, Vol. I (2 vols.: Graz: Akademische Druck-U. Verlags-

anstalt, 1955), pp. 12, 13, 51-2.

            2Dahood,"Qoheleth," 202-3. Cf. Donner and Röllig,

Kanaanäische and Aramäische Inschriften, Band I, pp. 5-6,

text 26; Band II, pp. 35-43. Azitawadda is the prominent

person of the inscription. It is also known as "Karatepe,"

after the place where it was found. Cf. also Cyrus H. Gor-

don, "Azitawadda's Phoenician Inscription," Journal of Near

Eastern Studies, VIII:2 (April, 1949), 108-115.

            3Cf. Donner and Röllig, Kanaanäische and Aramäische

Inschriften, Band I, p. 3, text 14; pp. 3-4, text 13; Band

II, pp. 17-19, 19-23. Cf. also Franz Rosenthal, trans.,

"Canaanite and Aramaic Inscriptions," in ANET, pp. 653-4;

Tabnit and Eshmun'azar are translated in Ibid., p. 662.


                                                                                                 69

Phoenician words, and even cases of attestations of words in

Ugaritic (fifteenth to twelfth centuries B.C.), which had

formerly been called Aramaisms.1

            Because of the great similarity between the vocabu-

lary of Koheleth and Phoenician and Ugaritic, Dahood de-

Glares that "lexically, the book of Ecclesiastes stands

alone in the old Testament."2 Of the 29 Aramaisms claimed

by Kautzsch (Die Aramaismen im AT), for example, Dahood

feels that at least a dozen of them can be shown to be not

direct Aramaic borrowings at all, but "derived from the rich

Canaanite-Phoenician vocabulary in use along the eastern

Mediterranean seaboard."3 Dahood also cites 29 commercial

terms which are used throughout the book, showing that who-

ever the author was, he was probably very acquainted with

the business world, and very interested in commerce.4

            Gordon also sees Ugaritic parallels in Ecclesiastes,

though he would not draw from them the same inferences that

Dahood does. For example, the phrase Js,KAha lceB; (Eccl. 7:12),

is also found in Ugaritic, in Text 51:II:27:5

(zl ksp). Gordon suggests the translation "shade" for zl,

 

            1Dahood, "Qoheleth," 203-4.            2Ibid., 201.

            3Ibid., 202.                                         4Ibid., 221.

            5Gordon, Ugaritic Textbook, p. 170.


                                                                                                  70

and "shelter, house," for a derived form, mzll.l This com-

pares favorably with the NASB translation, "money is protec-

tion."

            Gordon further points out that not only are northern

idioms to be found in Ecclesiastes, but also northern gram-

matical and lexical features. He feels that the northern

character of Ecclesiastes should be stressed rather than its

reputed "very late" or "Greek" character.2

            There is a further Ugaritic parallel in Ecclesiastes

which should be considered:

(hlh tšpl hlh trm). This is translated by Dahood, "Behold

it is slack, behold it is erect" (Text 52:32).3 The pairing

špl // rm equals the balance found in Ecclesiastes 10:6.4

 

            lIbid., p. 407, #1052; cf. p. 422, #1284.

            2Ibid. Since he dates the book late, he attributes

the northernisms to "the impact of northern exiles on the

Hebrew language" (p. 99, note 1). He also attributes such

things as the Ny masculine plural suffix, so common in post-

biblical Hebrew, "normal in Moabite and dialectal in non-

Judean O.T. compositions such as Prov. 31:3 (Nyklm) and Job

18:2; 26:4; 34:3; 38:2 etc. (Nylm)” not to Aramaic, but to

dialectal Canaanite (Ibid.).

            3Mitchell Dahood, "Northwest Semitic Philology and

Three Biblical Texts," Journal of Northwest Semitic Lan-

guages, II (1972), 19, note 3.

            4Ibid.


                                                                                         71

This, of course, neither proves dependence, nor interrela-

tionship, but it is well at least to notice the similarity.1

 

Use of Ugaritic

            It is, perhaps, well to say a word about the use of

Ugaritic. Some have objected, for instance, that the use of

Ugaritic to help illumine the biblical text is invalid be-

cause Ugaritic word meanings are so often uncertain. But

Dahood is correct when he contends that "Cartesian clarity

is not demanded of a Ugaritic text before it can be called

upon to elucidate in some manner a biblical verse."2 The

Ras Shamra materials bear upon the present problem, because

they have revealed that Hebrew poetry (Ecclesiastes in-

cluded) is more archaic, sophisticated, subtle, and complex

than earlier generations of scholars could have imagined.3

            It is true that one must exercise great caution in

comparative studies. Often a scholar will see the whole

field of Near Eastern studies through the lenses of his

 

            1Cf. Psalms 113:6-7 and 138:6. It is difficult to

fix the date of Psalm 113, since it is ascribed to no one.

Psalm 138, however, is ascribed to David. lpw is also found

in the Aramaic proverbs of Ahiqar (A. Cowley, Aramaic Papyri

of the Fifth Century B.C. [Oxford: At the Clarendon Press,

1923], p. 217, col. X, lines 149, 150; translated on p.

225); cf. DISO, p. 317.

            2Dahood, "Northwest Semitic Philology and Three

Biblical Texts," 19.

            3Idem, "Hebrew-Ugaritic Lexicography V," Biblica,

48:3 (1967), 423.


                                                                                             72

particular specialty. Thus, in some ways Dahood is justly

criticized for relating too much to Northwest Semitic.

Gordis has reacted very strongly against this, and complains

that "today it is Pan Ugariticism which holds the field.

The uncertainties of interpretation with regard to the ex-

tra-biblical texts being adduced are all too often ignored."1

He further asserts that little or no attention is being paid

to the problem of channels of communication, which are as-

sumed to have existed between fifteenth century Syria and

the Hebrew psalmists and Wisdom sages, which, he says, were

nearly a millennium later. He is assuming, however, that

they were really that much later (when there is good evi-

dence they were not), and he is forgetting that there is

good evidence that at least in the time of Solomon such

intercourse was extensive. Gordis greatly overstates his

case when he declares that in some quarters the Bible has

become "little more than a poorly transmitted corpus of

Ugaritic literature, which for two millennia has been mis-

understood at hundreds of points by those unfamiliar with

the 'original' language."2

 

            1Gordis, "On Methodology in Biblical Exegesis,"

94-5. For similar sentiments see P. Wernberg-Møller, review

of Zephanja. Versuch einer Neuübersetzung mit philologischem

Kommentar, by L. Sabottka, in Journal of Semitic Studies,

XIX:l (Spring, 1974), 105-7.

            2Gordis, "On Methodology in Biblical Exegesis,"

94-5.


                                                                                              73

            Rainey, while preferring to reject the main points

of Dahood's work on Ecclesiastes, nevertheless finds some

validity to it in certain particulars. He states, for exam-

ple, that Dahood has drawn a good parallel with reference to

the absolute infinitive followed by a personal pronoun to

express a past action, something which is shared by Eccles-

iastes only with Esther in biblical literature, but which is

a common feature in Ugaritic and Phoenician. He also feels

that the phrase mentioned above, "shadow of silver," which

occurs in Ugaritic and therefore obviates what was once la-

beled an Aramaism, is a valid parallel.1

 

Evaluation of Dahood

            Gordis remains totally unconvinced by Dahood's work.

He feels that his arguments from orthography are overdrawn,

and that the problem is better solved by assuming continued

mixed orthography down to the second century A.D. It does

not appear, however, that he musters sufficient evidence to

overthrow the fact that the text of Koheleth is most easily

explained on the basis of original consonantal spellings.

Gordis feels that the primary weakness of the theory is that

it postulates Phoenician influence where the Hebrew literary

 

            1A. F. Rainey, "A Study of Ecclesiastes," Concordia

Theological Monthly, XXXV:3 (March, 1964), 149.


                                                                                          74

tradition itself offers a thoroughly satisfactory explana-

tion.1 He prefers to explain the phenomena of the text on

the basis of the various elements of Koheleth's style as he

sees them: (1) biblical; (2) proto-Mishnaic; and (3) Ara-

maic influence. The writer is inclined, however, to agree

with Archer's estimation of Gordis' criticisms of the Phoe-

nician theory: "If this, then, is the ablest rebuttal that

can be brought against the theory of a Phoenician background

for Ecclesiastes, it is only reasonable to conclude that it

stands confirmed and vindicated."2 This statement is not

meant, either by Archer or by the writer, to include the

totality of Dahood's argument (late date, etc.), but to show

the validity of his main point: that many of the textual

variants and difficulties can be explained on the basis of a

Vorlage written defectively, and on the basis of the book's

reflection of a Canaanite literary genre. Unknowingly,

Dahood offers arguments which substantiate both an early

date for the book, and, consequently, Solomonic authorship.

 

Building and commerce

            If there is one activity which characterized the

reign of Solomon, it was building.  It is doubtless as a

 

            1Gordis, Koheleth, pp. 416-17.

            2Archer, "Linguistic Evidence for the Date of

Ecclesiastes," 180.


                                                                                            75

builder that Solomon himself would probably have desired to

be known.1 He spent seven years building the Temple (1

Kings 6:38), and thirteen years building his own house (7:

1). He built stables, fortresses and cities. A reading of

1 Kings 1-13 gives one the impression that Solomon's chief

occupation was building and commerce. When he was not

building, he was sending convoys distant points of the

world. It is not without significance, therefore, that the

book of Ecclesiastes abounds with references to building,

labor, and commerce. Dahood's long list of commercial terms

occurring in the book constitutes a most compelling evidence

in favor of Solomonic authorship.2 Building was Solomon's

life, and it is not surprising that building, labor, and

commerce are often the main backdrop against which Koheleth

discusses the real value of life.

 

Tradition

            It is often overlooked that tradition is itself an

historical phenomenon with which the true historian must

grapple. Tradition should not be believed just because it

is tradition; but neither should it for that reason be re-

jected. It is true that from the standpoint of biblical

 

            1Theodore H. Robinson, A History of Israel, Vol. I

(2 vols.: Oxford: At the Clarendon Press, reprint, 1934),

p. 248.

            2Dahood, "Qoheleth," 221.


                                                                                               76

scholarship, tradition is inferior in trustworthiness, since

it is not inspired as the Bible is. It is also true that

much of Jewish tradition is ridiculous and extravagant. Yet

uninspired history and tradition cannot be ipso facto dis-

carded. The universal ascription of Solomonic authorship to

the book of Ecclesiastes cannot, therefore, be precipitately

dismissed.1

            It was taught by Jewish tradition "that Solomon

wrote Canticles, with its stress on love, in his youth; Pro-

verbs, with its emphasis upon practical problems, in mid-

life; and Ecclesiastes, with its characteristic pessimism,

in old age."2 It was the general opinion of the church,

based upon many of the sayings of Ecclesiastes, that Solomon

repented in later life of many sins he had committed, and

that before he died he left this book as a memorial to the

folly of sin.3 Though there is no specific indication else-

where in Scripture about such a repentance, the book of

Ecclesiastes makes such a thing possible. It is true that

if he did repent, it is a matter of surprise that there is

 

            1Such authorship is assumed, for instance, in I. Ep-

stein, ed., The Hebrew-English Edition of the Babylonian

Talmud, trans. by H. Freedman, Vol. I (New York: The Son-

cino Press, 1972), tractate Shabbath, pp. 30a-30b.

            2Harrison, Introduction to the Old Testament, p.

1073.

            3George Gilfillan, The Bards of the Bible (New York:

Harper and Brothers, 1851), p. 133.


                                                                                              77

not the least intimation of so interesting and important a

circumstance, either in the books of Kings and Chronicles,

or in Josephus.1 Yet such an argument ex silentio is not

conclusive. It would be little wonder if Solomon were

finally brought to his senses in the last days of his reign.

He had lived as high as any--and as sinfully--and had dis-

covered that life lived only for self and possessions is in

the end nothing but utter futility. Could not Ecclesiastes

be the recording of his turning to God in the end?

 

Internal arguments

            There are also several strong indications within the

book that it is Solomonic. These are the references to: (1)

unrivaled wisdom (1:16); (2) unequaled wealth (2:8); (3) a

tremendous retinue of servants (2:7); and (4) opportunities

for carnal pleasure (2:3). "No other descendant of David

 

            lJosephus, Antiquities of the Jews, in vol. V of 9

vols. of Josephus in the Loeb Classical Library, trans. by

Ralph Marcus (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1937),

Book VIII, Chapters 1-7. Josephus does, however, give an

interesting insight into the relationship between Solomon

and Hiram of Tyre: "In return Solomon, among many other

gifts, made him a present of land in Galilee in the district

called Chabulon. But the main bond of friendship between

them was their passion for learning. They used to send each

other problems to solve; in these Solomon showed the greater

proficiency, as in general, he was the cleverer of the two.

Many of the letters they exchanged are preserved at Tyre to

this day" (Josephus, Against Apion, in vol. I of 9 vols. of

Josephus in the Loeb Classical Library, trans. by H. St. J.

Thackeray [London: William Heinemann, 1926], p. 207, 1:17).


                                                                                                78

measures up to these specifications"1 as well as does Solo-

mon. The book's reflection of the practice of polygamy (2:

8) also argues for at least a pre-Exilic date. It is very

doubtful that a post-Exilic book would have reflected such

a practice, for it had fallen, by that time, into disrepute,

and largely, therefore, into disuse.2

 

                                        Date

            One's view of the date is, as with the authorship of

the book, closely connected with one's estimate of the lin-

guistic features of the book. Pfeiffer confidently main-

tained in 1934 that "Ecclesiastes wrote his book sometime

between 250 B.C. and 150 B.C."3 Others were even bolder and

asserted that the book showed "Sadducean influence" and thus

would have dated from a time closer to Christ.4 Cyrus Gor-

don discerns in the book Babylonian influence, and would

date it late in post-Exilic times. He says that it was

 

            1Archer, "The Linguistic Evidence for the Date of

Ecclesiastes," 168.

            2Paul Heinisch, Theology of the Old Testament,

trans. by William Heidt (Collegeville, Minn.: The Liturgi-

cal Press, 1950), p. 191. Cf. the discussion of Eccl. 2:8

below.

            3Robert H. Pfeiffer, "The Peculiar Skepticism of

Ecclesiastes," Journal of Biblical Literature, LIII (March-

December, 1934), 100.

            4Hermann Schultz, Old Testament Theology, Vol. I

(2 vols.: Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1892), p. 434.


                                                                                                79

written in "Achaemenian Babylonia before Alexander's con-

quest."1 Most contemporary scholars, however, now set the

lower limit for the book's date in the third century, a pos-

ition virtually forced upon them by the discovery of part of

a copy of Ecclesiastes at Qumran. Muilenburg declares that

            the upshot of our comparison with 4Q, DSIa, and the

            Manual [of Discipline], on the one hand, and the Edfu

            papyri, on the other, makes it clear that 4Q lies be-

            tween the former and the latter. From a paleographic

            standpoint, therefore, one must date our fragments about

            the middle of the second century B.C. This gives the

            coup de grâce to earlier views of the date of composi-

            tion, such as those of Graetz, Renan, Leimdorfer, Konig,

            and others, and makes unlikely a dating in the second

            century.2

            One must assume that the book had been written and

had been in circulation for some time, and that it was ei-

ther accepted as Scripture, or had at least attained some

degree of respect, to have been copied and preserved at Qum-

ran at this early date. Thus, from this standpoint alone,

third century date is as late as one may legitimately date

it.

            Furthermore, it has been demonstrated that there is

every possibility that the book represents a literary genre

dating back to the tenth century. Since there are so many

 

            1C. H. Gordon, "North Israelite Influence on Post-

exilic Hebrew," Israel Exploration Journal, 5:2 (1955), 87.

            2James Muilenburg, "A Qoheleth Scroll from Qumran,"

Bulletin of the American Schools of Oriental Research, 135

(October, 1954), 23-4.


                                                                                         80

other convincing proofs for Solomonic authorship, a tenth

century date is chosen. The book was probably written dur-

ing the later part of Solomon's life, and reflects his view

of life after having departed from the Lord and indulged in

many sins. If it was written by Solomon in later life, it

reflects a repentant heart--something anyone who reads the

narratives of his life must surely hope he had.

 

                                    Conclusion

            The purpose of the rather detailed discussion of the

linguistic background of Ecclesiastes has been to find what

limits that puts on authorship and date. It was shown that

the supposed Aramaisms are mostly non-existent, and, at all

events, are insignificant. The hypothesis of an Aramaic

original was likewise rejected. The close relationship Da-

hood shows between the Ugaritic literature of Moses' time

and the language of Ecclesiastes leads one to deduce that it

may reflect a literary genre cultivated among Phoenician-

speaking peoples and adopted from them by the gifted author

of the Hebrew Koheleth, whose style was also affected by

other dialectical influences.1 It is the writer's opinion

that the best solution is one which explains the linguistic

peculiarities of the book on the basis of several factors,

 

            1Archer, "Linguistic Evidence for the Date of Eccles-

iastes," 181.

 

 


                                                                                          81

the most important of which are: (1) a Canaanite literary

genre; (2) tenth century defective Hebrew orthography; and

(3) Northern Israelite dialectical influence.

            This seems to be a most reasonable deduction to make

from the linguistic evidence presently at hand. The gram-

mar, language, and style of Koheleth cannot support an argu-

ment for the spuriousness of the book as a work of Solomon.

Koheleth, then, was Solomon.

 


 

 

 

                                   CHAPTER IV

 

KOHELETH'S THEME AND DEVELOPMENT OF THOUGHT

 

                                     Introduction

            Opinions concerning the theme, aim, development of

thought, and value of Ecclesiastes are almost as varied as

its interpreters. The estimations of it have ranged all the

way from Luther, who thought it was so worthwhile that it

should be read every day1 to Hartmann, who said, "This book

which contains almost as many contradictions as verses, may

be regarded as the Breviary of the most modern materialism

and of extreme licentiousness."2 One would expect little

more than the above conclusion from what Hengstenberg has

labeled "soulless, spiritless, vulgar rationalism,"3 but for

the student who has presupposed before examination of the

book, that by virtue of its inclusion in Scripture it must

certainly be more than "the work of a morose Hebrew philoso-

pher, composed when he was in a dismal mood, and in places

 

            1Hengstenberg, A Commentary on Ecclesiastes, pp.

32-3.

            2Hartmann, Das Lied vom Ewigen (St. Galle, 1859),

p. 12, cited by Delitzsch, Ecclesiastes, p. 183.

            3Hengstenberg, A Commentary on Ecclesiastes, p. 33.


                                                                                                83

thoroughly tedious,"1 a higher and more noble estimation

must of necessity be sought and found ("All Scripture is

. . . profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction,

for training in righteousness," 2 Tim. 3:16). It is only

upon the basis of a correct understanding of Koheleth's

theme and development of thought that the book can be right-

ly understood.

 

                                       Theme

            Almost every commentator on the book of Ecclesiastes

has proposed a theme for Koheleth different from every other

commentator,2 but in general, these commentators may be di-

vided into two large groups: those unsympathetic with the

book, and those who are sympathetic.

 

                         Unsympathetic Interpretations

            It is the opinion of some that Koheleth was facing a

problem on which he did not have sufficient light to solve.

He saw great injustice in the world; he saw the wicked go

unpunished and the righteous unrewarded. The author of this

book, it is alleged, speaks only from the standpoint of one

who is observing the world, and what is done "under the

 

            lIbid.

            2For the most thorough summary of all the interpret-

ers of Koheleth up through the middle of the nineteenth cen-

tury, cf. Ginsburg, Coheleth, pp. 27-243.


                                                                                             84

sun,"1 for that is all he knows.2 This position is sum-

marized in the New Scofield Reference Bible, which states

that "Ecclesiastes is the book of man 'under the sun' rea-

soning about life. The philosophy it sets forth, which

makes no claim to revelation, but which inspiration records

for our instruction represents the view of one of the wisest

of men . . . . "3 In another publication Scofield makes his

view clear when he states:

            The student should notice that it is not at all the will

            of God which is developed, but that of man "under the

            sun" forming his own code. It is, therefore, as idle

            to quote such passages as ii.24, iii.22, etc., as ex-

            pressions of the divine will as it would be to apply

            Job ii.4, 5 or Gen. iii.4. The constant repetition of

            such expressions as "I perceived," "I said in my heart,"

            "then I saw," etc., sufficiently indicate that here the

            Holy Spirit is showing us the workings of man's own wis-

            dom and his reaction in weariness and disgust.4

           

            1Cf. the discussion of this phrase below.

            2John Howard Raven, Old Testament Introduction (New

York: Fleming H. Revell Co., 1910), pp. 304-5.

            3English, The New Scofield Reference Bible, p. 696.

It is noteworthy that most of the revisers felt that the ap-

proach of the book was rather pessimistic. Gaebelein, in

fact, said that there was "no hope of immortality in this

book. It's a cynical volume, and is sometimes entitled 'The

Gentle Cynic.' . . . it is human earthly philosophy, and I

feel that it is here by inspiration to show us the best that

natural man can do." (Transcript of the Proceedings of the

New Scofield Reference Bible Committee, Trans. G., #155,

Rev. 1, Eccl. #lA, SRB 696, Disc 23a [examined by the writer

in the rare book room of Grace Theological Seminary Library,

Nov., 1973]). Cf. also J. Sidlow Baxter, Explore the Book

(Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1966), p. 143.

            4C. I. Scofield, The Scofield Bible Correspondence

School, Vol. I (Los Angeles: Bible Institute of Los Ange-

les, 1907), p. 111.


                                                                                         85

            Another contends that "Coheleth would be the first

to admit that he has not presented a finished Weltanschauung

[world view]. He is groping through the conflicting facts

of experience and belief."1 Another asserts that "Ecclesi-

astes is not only a skeptic with reference to the philosoph-

ical systems of his day, but also with reference to the pur-

suit of a summum bonum of abiding truth."2 Pfeiffer feels

that the concept of divine revelation is totally foreign to

Ecclesiastes. Koheleth refuses to accept anything on faith.

"He tests the validity of doctrines and value judgments and,

like Bertrand Russell, he thinks 'that it is undesirable to

believe a proposition when there is no ground whatever for

supposing it true.'"3 Another maintains that "L'auteur se

demande si 1'homme retire un profit réel de toute sa peine

(1:3). La méthode employée pour élucider ce problème est

cele de la sagéese humaine (5:13)."4 Skehan says that a man

for whom prophecy was apparently no more, for whom the king-

doms of Israel were dead (supposing, as he does, that the

 

            1Roland E. Murphy, "The Pensées of Coheleth," 306.

            2Pfeiffer, "The Peculiar Skepticism of Ecclesias-

tes," 108.

            3Ibid., 101.

            4René Paché, ed., Nouveau Dictionnaire Biblique

(Lausanne: Editions Emmaüs, 1961), p. 205. The translation

is: "The author asks himself if man derives a real profit

from all his work. The method employed to elucidate this

problem is that of human wisdom."


                                                                                               86

book is post-Exilic), and for whom the Christian message to

the individual soul did not exist, should have said what Ko-

heleth did say: "vanity of vanities, all is vanity."1 Von

Rad rather cavalierly dismisses the book as a "sceptical

marginal note on the tradition of the wise men, although of

course it is a very bitter one."2 He further states that

when it is so taken, one is "delivered from the hopeless

task of understanding its content as a consistent unity of

thought, because it rests wholly upon the traditional themes

of the Wisdom literature, though freely glossing them."3

Yet another feels that the doubts expressed in it are no

mere dialectic show, but doubts that are honestly felt.4

Stadelmann asserts that the author of the book views the

world as moving aimlessly and human activity as advancing

similarly, in a perpetual cycle, without producing anything

with meaning. The author of` Ecclesiastes is disillusioned

with the world and feels that it lacks specific purpose. He

 

            1Patrick W. Skehan, Studies in Israelite Poetry and

Wisdom (Washington, D. C.: The Catholic Biblical Associa-

tion of America, 1971), p. 237.

            2Gerhard von Rad, Old Testament Theology, Vol. I

(2 vols.: New York: Harper & Row, Publishers, 1962), p.

455.

            3Ibid.

            4Schultz, Old Testament Theology, Vol. I, p. 434.


                                                                                             87

therefore views the world with a certain skepticism.l John

Bright also takes a similar "low" view of the book.2 Still

another commentator feels that Ecclesiastes shares with Job

a rather deep pessimism with regard to man's knowing and

understanding the nature and purposes of God. "This posi-

tion, representing late Jewish thought, contrasts sharply

with the earlier prophetic conviction that God is known di-

rectly and fully in vision and the spoken word."3

            Another author avers that Koheleth can find no mean-

ing in life, that life to him is empty, vain, and profit-

less. "Neither material possessions, human friendship, nor

religious devotion alter the fact that nature is oppressive,

that death is the negation of all good, that God is there-

fore untouched by the plight of creatures."4 Koheleth's ad-

vice, therefore, is a form of Epicureanism.5 It is asserted

that the God of Koheleth is a completely transcendent God,

remote, inscrutable, unknowable. This God, it is said,

 

            1Luis I. J. Stadelmann, The Hebrew Conception of the

World (Rome: Pontifical Biblical Institute, 1970), p. 8.

            2John Bright, The Authority of the Old Testament

(New York: Abingdon Press, 1967), pp. 136, 152, 157-8.

            3J. Stanley Chesnut, The Old Testament Understanding

of God (Philadelphia: The Westminster Press, 1968), p. 17.

            4J. L. Crenshaw, "Popular Questioning of the Justice

of God in Ancient Israel," Zeitschrift fur die Alttestament-

liche Wissenschaft, 82:3 (1970), 389.

            5Ibid.


                                                                                                 88

"deliberately withholds from man knowledge of his ways in

order to keep man in his place."1 With this estimation

Scott agrees when he maintains that "in Ecclesiastes God is

not only unknown to man through revelation; he is unknowable

through reason, the only means by which the author believes

knowledge is attainable."2 The mood of the writer, he fur-

ther asserts, is one of disillusionment and resignation.

"His ethic has no relationship to divine commandments, for

there are none."3 He further states that the only satisfac-

tion open to man is the enjoyment of being alive. The au-

thor, Scott boldly asserts, is a rationalist, an agnostic,

a skeptic, a pessimist, and a fatalist. "In most respects

his views run counter to those of his fellow Jews. The

title of a modern autobiography, Treadmill to oblivion,

seems to sum up most (though not quite all) of his conclu-

sions about life."4 Though not quite so radical in his view

of the book, Driver also feels that the primary assertion of

the book is that life under all its aspects is unsatisfying

and disappointing and that the most man can do is enjoy it--

 

            1Charles C. Forman, "Koheleth's Use of Genesis,"

Journal of Semitic Studies, 5 (July, 1960), 262.

            2Scott, Ecclesiastes, p. 191.                         3Ibid.

            4Ibid., p. 192.


                                                                                                     89

though in moderation.1 Some Jews, in fact, misunderstanding

the inherent balance of the book, "tried to store away the

book because they found in it words they felt tended to

heresy."2

            Many more such opinions could be gathered; their

number is almost limitless, especially among those inclined,

in accordance with their basic working presuppositions, to

treat the Bible with less respect.3 Yet such estimations of

Ecclesiastes are not the only ones which have been made, and

they are not to be supposed to be the correct ones. It is

the opinion of the writer that when each of Koheleth's

statements are taken in their context, and understood ac-

cording to the avowed purpose of the author of the book,

these statements are true, and applicable even to the con-

temporary Christian who has the advantage of much more reve-

lation than Koheleth had.

 

            1S. R. Driver, An Introduction to the Literature of

the Old Testament (New York: Charles Scribner's Sons,

1923), p. 470.

            2C. G. Montefiore and H. Loewe, A Rabbinic Anthology

(New York: Schocken Books, 1974), p. 206.

            3Cf. W. O. E. Oesterley, and Theodore H. Robinson,

Hebrew Religion: Its Origin and Development (London: Soci-

ety for Promoting Christian Knowledge, 1931), p. 332; and

George A. F. Knight, A Christian Theology of the Old Testa-

ment (London: SCM Press Ltd., 1959), pp. 87, 337.

 


                                                                                                       90

                    Sympathetic Interpretations

            One writer suggests that the book is a sermon de-

scriptive of Solomon's fall into great sin, his discovery of

the absolute uselessness of a sinful and self-centered life,

and his subsequent recovery of his fear of God.l Leupold at

least partially supports Oehler and others who believe that

the aim of the book is to inculcate resignation, a "resigna-

tion coupled with a clear and intelligent faith."2 Another

sees the theme of the book in the form of a question: "What

is the chief good?"3 Hendry suggests that

            Qoheleth writes from concealed premises, and his book

            is in reality a major work of apologetic or "eristic"

            theology. Its apparent worldliness is dictated by its

            aim: Qoheleth is addressing the general public whose

            view is bounded by the horizons of this world; he meets

            them on their own ground, and proceeds to convict them

            of its inherent vanity.4

            Of all the commentaries written on Koheleth, perhaps

the one of Ginsburg is the most thorough, and in many re-

spects, the best. There is much truth in his view of the

 

            1Matthew Henry, Matthew Henry's Commentary on the

Whole Bible, Vol. III (6 vols.: New York: Fleming H.

Revell Co., n.d.), pp. 979-80.

            2Leupold, Ecclesiastes, p. 20.

            3Baxter, Explore the Book, p. 143.

            4G. S. Hendry, "Ecclesiastes," The New Bible Commen-

tary, ed. by F. Davidson (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans

Publishing Company, 1968), p. 538.


                                                                                           91

theme of the book, which he feels is

            to gather together the desponding people of God from the

            various expediences to which they have resorted, in con-

            sequence of the inexplicable difficulties and perplexi-

            ties in the moral government of God, into the community

            of the Lord, by shewing them the utter insufficiency of

            all human efforts to obtain real happiness, which cannot

            be secured by wisdom, pleasure, industry, wealth, &c.,

            but consists in the calm enjoyment of life, in the

            resignation to the dealings of Providence, in the ser-

            vice of God, and in the belief in a future state of re-

            tribution, when all the mysteries in the present course

            of the world shall be solved.1

            Eichrodt urges that "the author of Ecclesiastes, by

the relentless use of reductio ad absurdum demolished all

attempts to make the divine power manageable by the cate-

gories of human reason, and taught men to worship the incom-

prehensible greatness of God their Creator by humble resig-

nation to the relativity of human existence."2

 

                                  A Suggested Theme

            In each of these sympathetic statements there is

some truth. Assuming that Solomon is the author, the book

does, indeed, describe some of his past sins and it does

record his personal faith in God. It is true that underly-

ing the entire book is the question: "What is the chief

good?" At the end of his life (which seems to be the

 

            1Ginsburg, Coheleth, pp. 16-17.

            2Walther Eichrodt, Theology of the Old Testament,

Vol. I, translated by J. A. Baker (Philadelphia: The West-

minster Press, 1961), p. 263.


                                                                                                 92

perspective of the author), he is asking an open question to

any who may answer: what is most worthwhile for a man to do

while yet on the earth? It is true, as well, that he coun-

sels resignation to the will of God, for, as he wisely

states, in such a resignation to and reliance on the fact

that God is sovereign there is to be found true consolation

and peace. "We are anything but masters of our fate, and

God has decreed it so."1 It cannot be disputed, moreover,

that he does in some instances bound his comments by the

world of the seen, but great caution should be used in ap-

plying this generalization to every particular in the book.

He does not limit every statement by the world of the seen.

Most of all, it must be remembered that the writer is not,

as some have imagined, a gloomy misanthrope, who looks on

everything with a jaundiced eye; but a believer in God who

is striving to behold everything in the light of God, and

who seeks to lead men to the true good by leading them to a

life of faith in God.

            Among those who have best apprehended the message of

the book are Thomas Taylor and J. Stafford Wright. Taylor

summarizes the theme of the book in terms of what it claims

itself to be. He feels that the book aims to present

 

            1Derek Kidner, "Wisdom Literature of the Old Testa-

ment," in New Perspectives on the Old Testament, ed. by J.

Barton Payne (Waco, Tex.: Word Books, 1970), p. 126.


                                                                                                  93

            --an empirical analysis (1:13, 17; 2:1-8; 2:12; 4:1;

               7:15, etc.)

            --of the affairs (1:17; 2:1-8; 4:1, etc.)

            --that most interest man as executed by one

            --thoroughly capable (1:16; 2:9-10; etc.)

            --of full indulgence and guided in the conclusionary

               processes

            --by the wisdom of God (3:14; 12:11)1

            Wright most ably discusses all the divergent opin-

ions about the theme of Ecclesiastes, and lands on a very

sympathetic, and in the estimation of the writer, a very

correct one. He is careful to remind his readers that when

one is trying to understand any book or composition, it is

first of all important to survey the preface or introduction

and the conclusion.2

            The conclusion of Ecclesiastes is found in 12:13,

14: The conclusion, when all has been heard is: fear God

and keep his commandments, because this applies to every

person; for God will bring every work into judgment, every-

thing which is hidden, whether it is good or evil."

 

            1Taylor, "Studies in Ecclesiastes," p. 8.

            2J. Stafford Wright, "The Interpretation of Eccles-

iastes," (hereinafter referred to as "Ecclesiastes" and to

be carefully distinguished from Wright, Koheleth), in Clas-

sical Evangelical Essays in Old Testament Interpretation,

ed. by Walter C. Kaiser, Jr. (Grand Rapids: Baker Book

House, 1972), p. 137.


                                                                                             94

            The orthodoxy of this statement is beyond question.

Matthew 19:17 records Christ's statement that "if you wish

to enter into life, keep the commandments." 1 Corinthians

3:13 says, "and the fire itself will test the quality of

every man's work." It is very important to understand the

significance of this conclusion, for

            if the book is a unity, it stands to reason that no

            statement elsewhere in the book can be interpreted as a

            final conclusion if it contradicts the statement at the

            end of the book. Or, to put it from another angle, if

            any statement in the course of the book is given as a

            final conclusion, it must be interpreted in the light of

            the ultimate conclusion at the end. This is not a mat-

            ter of inspiration or non-inspiration; it is the treat-

            ment that we should give to any book written by a rea-

            sonable man.1

            The phrase, "vanity of vanities, all is vanity," and

its variations, for instance, must be interpreted in light

of the entire book, and in light of the conclusion. Because

the theme of the book is best understood by a proper recog-

nition of the development of thought by the writer, this

topic is considered before a conclusion regarding the theme

is drawn.

                            Development of Thought

            One of the difficulties that the book of Koheleth

presents, particularly to the occidental mind, is its devel-

opment of thought. The book is not organized as one might

 

            1Ibid., p. 138.


                                                                                              95

organize a similar work in his own contemporary culture, and

it does not pursue a format even remotely similar to that of

present Western literature. Many suggestions about Kohe-

leth's development of thought have been offered. One writer

states that he is "convinced that the golden key and the

Ariadne-thread through this seeming labyrinth is to be found

in the assumption that the author is conducting a dialogue

with himself, just as the book of Job contains dialogues be-

tween Job and his friends."1 Ginsburg, in his characteris-

tically elegant style, states that the development of

thought

            which the sacred writer adopts to carry out this design

            is most striking and effective. Instead of writing an

            elaborate metaphysical disquisition, logically analysing

            and refuting, or denouncing ex cathedra, the various

            systems of happiness which the different orders of minds

            and temperaments had constructed for themselves, Solomon

            is introduced as recounting his painful experience in

            all these attempts. Thus, by laying open, as it were,

            to the gaze of the people the struggles of a man of like

            feelings with themselves, who could fully sympathise

            with all their difficulties, having passed through them

            himself, and found the true clue to their solution, the

            sacred writer carries out this design far more touching-

            ly and effectively than an Aristotelian treatise, or the

            Mount Ebal curses upon the heads of the people, would

            have done.2

            Another suggests that Koheleth's purpose was merely

to collect current proverbs, and mold them into some sort of

 

            1S. DuToit, "Ecclesiastes," Christianity Today, 5:21

(July 17, 1961), 32-3.

            2Ginsburg, Coheleth, p. 17.


                                                                                          96

a pattern, citing 12:9, 10, and. 11 as proof.l  While it is

virtually certain that Koheleth did employ some aphorisms

current in his own day, the book certainly is not only a

collection of wise sayings. A simple reading of the book

will demonstrate that. Maltby affirms that the seeming con-

tradictions of the book can be resolved in one of the fol-

lowing ways, by assuming:

            (a) that the author was including objections to his own

            ideas and endeavouring to answer them, [or] (b) that the

            book reflects the struggle between his higher and lower

            nature, [or] (c) that the work reveals the development

            of his own outlook and philosophy, beginning at the

            start of his quest and leading us through to the end.2

He accepts the last view. There is a certain attraction to

this view, but it is not, in the opinion of the writer, com-

pletely correct. Furthermore, if one precisely apprehends

the development of the book, there are no contradictions.

            Another suggestion is made by Zockler, who says that

Koheleth first places man in a dilemma by stating something

favorable to the world, and then balancing his statement

with the biblical view in order to show the "vanity, unrest,

and joylessness of a consciousness detached from God and de-

voted solely to the impressions of worldly vanity."3

 

            1Cox, The Book of Ecclesiastes, p. 23.

            2Arthur Maltby, "The Book of Ecclesiastes and the

After-Life," The Evangelical Quarterly, XXXV:1 (January-

March, 1963), 39-44.

            3Zockler,"Ecclesiastes," p. 23.


                                                                                             97

            Certainly, one of the most remarkable features of

the book is the way in which one statement is balanced by

another, and in which any one statement cannot be separated

from the context of the thrust of the entire book, if it is

to be rightly understood. Hendry has termed this phenomenon

"counterpoint."1

            While the writer hesitates to agree completely with

Zockler in saying that a number of statements are made by

Koheleth which are favorable to the world, he agrees that

the most important aspect of the development of the book is

that of balance. Isolated from their context, and thus from

their inherent balance, some passages seem, indeed, to be

little more than reflections of worldly thinking. Taken in

their context, however, and thus modified by all other

statements in the book, all of Koheleth's statements are

found to be completely true in the context in which he made

them, and in the sense in which he meant them. Examples of

this balance are demonstrated below in the discussion of

selected difficulties.

            This concept of "balance" is, after all, only the

principle of interpreting a verse in its context. It is

most unreasonable to extricate verses from a book like

Ecclesiastes, interpret them devoid of their literary envi-

ronment, and expect to arrive at a legitimate

 

            1Hendry, "Ecclesiastes," p. 539.


                                                                                       98

interpretation.1

 

                                 Conclusion

            If one remembers, then, what the book of Ecclesias-

tes aims to be: "an empirical analysis . . . by one . . .

guided in the conclusionary processes by the wisdom of

God,"2 and what is the outstanding characteristic of its

method: balance, he will find much less difficulty in Kohe-

leth's words and will not have to resort to interpretations

which seem to circumvent supposed problems by a completely

unwarranted discarding of Koheleth's words as merely human

and non-revelatory. It "does not seem worthy of God to oc-

cupy valuable space in the Bible with the arguments of the

skeptic and of the natural man . . . . That is the diffi-

culty with Scofield's theory."3

            Based on a proper understanding of the development

of thought of the book, it can be seen that Solomon's theme

is to show his readers the total and unmitigated insuffi-

ciency of every human effort to obtain real and lasting hap-

piness, which cannot be secured by wisdom, pleasure,

 

            1Cf. A. Berkeley Mickelsen, Interpreting the Bible

(Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1970), pp.

99-113; Bernard Ramm, Protestant Biblical Interpretation

(Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1969), pp. 135-8; and

Milton S. Terry, Biblical Hermeneutics (Grand Rapids: Zon-

dervan Publishing House, 1966), pp. 182-210.

            2Taylor, "Studies in Ecclesiastes," p 3.

            3Wright, "Ecclesiastes," p. 137.


                                                                                              99

industry, wealth, success, or any other human endeavor

(though there is nothing sinful in them), but consists in

the calm enjoyment of life (itself a gift from God to be

enjoyed), in the resignation to the dealings of a Sovereign

God, in a life spent in serving God, and in a belief in a

future state and retribution, when not only shall all the

mysteries in the present world be solved, but all the wrongs

shall be righted.1

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

            1Ginsburg, Coheleth, pp. 16-17.


 

 

                                  CHAPTER V

                       SELECTED DIFFICULTIES

 

                                   Introduction

            To any reader of Ecclesiastes who is also familiar

with the other parts of Scripture, it is immediately appar-

ent that Koheleth says things, which upon a cursory examina-

tion, appear to be difficult to harmonize and explain. For

this reason it was for many years among those books whose

place in the canon was disputed: it was an "antilegomen-

on."1 Some have suggested that the work was originally a

book of unrelieved pessimism, and that the original has now

been interpolated and adorned "with orthodox allusions to

God and judgment, and a happy conclusion, in order to bring

it into harmony with the canon of Scripture."2 Morris Jas-

trow, in fact, in his A Gentle Cynic, has as his last chap-

ter one which he entitles "The Words of Koheleth in Their

Original Form, Stripped of Subsequent Interpolations, Maxims

and Comments."3 In an appendix he includes: "I. additions

by the 'pious' commentators; II. additions by the 'maxim'

 

            1Delitzsch, Ecclesiastes, p. 189.

            2Minos Divine, Ecclesiastes (London: Macmillan and

Company, Ltd., 1916), p. 208.

            3Jastrow, A Gentle Cynic, p. 197.

                                       100

 


                                                                                                     101

commentators, and III. miscellaneous comments and glosses."1

In the light of such abuse, it is the purpose of this chap-

ter to examine selected difficulties with a view to gaining

a more complete knowledge of and a better appreciation for

the teachings of Ecclesiastes.

 

                            Vanity of Vanities

            No discussion of Ecclesiastes would be complete

without an investigation into the meaning of the phrase,

profusely used by Koheleth, and perhaps most characteristic

of the general impression most have of the book, MylibAhE lbehE.

It is not surprising that the word lb,h, appears more times in

Ecclesiastes (40 times) than in the entire remainder of the

Old Testament (33 times).2

 

                                    Definition

            lb,h, is a masculine noun whose basic meaning is "va-

pour, breath, vanity."3 It is used in Isaiah 57:13 to de-

scribe what will carry away idols--a breath. It is used

"elsewhere always . . . [as] figurative of what is evanes-  

cent, unsubstantial, worthless, vanity, as . . . of the

 

            lIbid., p. 243.

            2Mandelkern, Veteris Testamenti Concordantiae, Vol.

I, p. 307. Cf. F. N. Jasper, "Ecclesiastes: A Note for Our

Time," Interpretation, 21 (July, 1967), 262.

            3BDB, Lexicon, p. 210.


                                                                                          102

fruitlessness of all human enterprise and endeavour . . .”1

A meaning of "exhalation, damp" is also suggested.2 The

Syriac is   a also translated "vanity, emptiness."3

The word apparently does not occur in extant Ugaritic and

Phoenician texts.4

            lbehE is the construct of lb,h, which can be traced to

verb lbahA, "to steam, exhale, to breath."5    Gordis has

suggested that as used in Ecclesiastes the word has two nu-

ances of meaning: the breath (lb,h,) is (a) unsubstantial and

(b) transitory.6 These two nuances are added to by Meek,

who suggests that in the context of the book at least five

are discernible: (1) futile (1:2); (2) empty (6:12); (3)

sorry (6:4); (4) senseless (8:14); and (5) transient (11:

10).7 It is extremely important that the interpreter of the

book recognize the possibility of different connotations for

the word in different contexts within the book.

 

            1Ibid.                                       2KB, Lexicon, p. 223.

            3J. Payne Smith, ed., A Compendious Syriac Dictio-

nary (Oxford: At the Clarendon Press, 1903), p. 99.

            4Cf. Richard E. Whitaker, A Concordance of the Ugar-

itic Literature (Cambridge: Harvard University Press,

1972), p. 210; Donner and Röllig, Kanaanäische and Ara-

mäische Inschriften, p. 7; and DISO, p. 62.

            5Ginsburg, Coheleth, p. 259.

            6Gordis, Koheleth, p. 205.

            7Theophile J. Meek, "Transplanting the Hebrew

Bible," Journal of Biblical Literature, 79 (1960), p. 331.


                                                                                               103

            For example, in 11:10, "So remove vexation from your

heart and put away pain from your body, for childhood and

the prime of life are" lb,h, the translation "vanity" in the

sense of "unsubstantial" gives a very wrong impression. But

if lb,h, is understood in the sense of transitory, then the

verse is once again comprehensible. It is well translated

in the NASB: "fleeting."

            It is common, for the superlative sense, to use a

substantive in the construct state before the plural of the

same word. Such is the case with MylibAhE lbehE.1 Other in-

stances of this idiomatic construction are found in Exodus

26:33, MywidAq<ha wd,qo, "The most holy place," and Song of Solo-

mon Myriyw.iha rywi, "the most excellent song."2 One vi-

able translation of this phrase in Ecclesiastes, therefore,

might be "utter futility--all is futile."3 This expression

also involves several figures of speech. Ecclesiastes 1:2

is an example of "mesarchia," or repetition of the same

word or words at the beginning and middle of successive sen-

tences.4 It is also a case of "polyptoton,"5 or repetition

 

            1GKC, Grammar, p. 431, sect. 133i.          2Ibid.

            3H. L. Ginsberg, ed. , hnvy rpsv tvlgm wmH (Philadel-

phia: The Jewish Publication Society of America, 1969), p.

57.

            4E. W. Bullinger, Figures of Speech Used in the            

Bible (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, reprint, 1970), p.

260.

            5Ibid., p. 284.


                                                                                              104

of the same part of speech in different inflections, from

the Greek polu<ptwton.1

            The Septuagint translation of this phrase is, matai-

o<thj mataioth<twn. This can be compared with Romans 8:20,

which reads, t^? ga>r mataio<thti h[ kti<sij u[peta<gh . . . ,  "for

the creation was subjected to futility. . . .”  The Greek

word, as used in the New Testament, seems to contain all the

nuances that the Hebrew lb,h, does, "emptiness, futility, pur-

poselessness, transitoriness."2 For the LXX usages of the

word as a translation of lb,h,, Liddell and Scott suggest the

translations "vanity, purposelessness."3 Greek translators

of the Old Testament sometimes used the word a[tmi<j,4 meaning

"steam,." "vapor."5 In the New Testament the suggested

 

            lIbid., p. 267.

            2W. F. Arndt and F. W. Gingrich, A Greek-English

Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Lit-

erature (hereinafter referred to as Lexicon) (a translation

and adaptation of Walter Bauer's Griechisch-Deutsches Wor-

terbuch zu den Schriften des Neuen Testaments and der ubrig-

en urchristlichen Literatur, fourth revised and augmented

edition, 1952) (Chicago: University of Chicago Press,

1969), p. 496.

            3Henry George Liddell and Robert Scott, A Greek-

English Lexicon (hereinafter referred to as Lexicon), re-

vised and augmented by H. S. Jones and R. McKenzie (Oxford:

At the Clarendon Press, 1968), p. 1084.

            4Aquila and Theodotion translated the phrase, "a]tmi>j

a]tmi>dwn ta> pa<nta a]tmi>j" (Fridericus Field, Origenis Hexa-

plorum, Tomus II [2 vols.: Oxonii: E. Typographeo Claren-

doniano, 1875], p. 380).

            5Liddell and. Scott, Lexicon, p. 271.


                                                                                                105

meanings are "mist," "vapor," "smoky vapor," or "steam that

rises from a pot," and used typically of nothingness.1 New

Testament uses which may be compared are Acts 2:19: ai$ma kai

pu?r kai a]tmi<da kapnou?, "blood and fire and smoky vapor"; and

James 4:14: a]tmi<j ga<r e]ste, "For you are a vapor."2

            H. L. Ginsberg suggests the translation, "all is

zero." He connects this with 1:3, "What advantage does man

have in all his work" by translating "Since everything is

zero ('vanity') what plus ('profit') is there in the goods

one acquires?"3 Scott translates 1:2, "Breath of a breath!

(says Qoheleth). The slightest breath! All is a breath."4

 

                                  Usage of lbh

            There are ten areas of life which Koheleth pronounc-

es lb,h,. They have been listed as follows:5

 

            1Arndt and Gingrich, Lexicon, p. 120.

            2For more New Testament comparisons, see J. M. Ful-

ler, ed. and abridger, Ecclesiastes, in The Bible Commentary,

ed. by F. C. Cook and part of Baker Book House's set,

Barnes' Notes on the Old & New Testaments (Grand Rapids:

Baker Book House, 1974), p. 91.

            3H. L. Ginsbu:rg, "The Structure and Contents of the

Book of Koheleth," in Wisdom in Israel and in the Ancient

Near East, ed. by M. Noth and D. Winton Thomas, Supplements

to Vetus Testamentum, Vol. III (Leiden: E. J. Brill, 1969),

pp. 138-9.

            4Scott, Ecclesiastes, p. 209.

            5Baxter, Explore the Book, p. 163.


                                                                                           106

2:15-16 The "vanity" of human wisdom                  Wise and fool-

                                                                                    ish alike have

                                                                                    one end, death

2:19-21 The "vanity" of human labor                       Worker no bet-

                                                                                    ter than the

                                                                                    shirker in the end

2:26    The "vanity" of human purpose                     Altho' man pro-

                                                                                    poses, it is

                                                                                    God who disposes

4:4      The "vanity" of human rivalry                        Much success

                                                                                    brings envy

                                                                                    more than joy

 

4:7      The "vanity" of human avarice                       "Much" feeds

                                                                                    lust for "more"

                                                                                    yet oft eludes

 

4:16    The "vanity" of human fame              Is brief, un-

                                                                                    certain, and

                                                                                    soon forgotten

 

5:10    The "vanity" of human insatiety                    Money does

                                                                                    not satisfy.

                                                                                    Increase only

                                                                                    feeds others

 

6:9      The "vanity" of human coveting                    Often gain

                                                                                    cannot be en-

                                                                                    joyed, despite

                                                                                    desire

 

7:6      The "vanity" of human frivolity                     It only cam-

                                                                                    ouflages the

                                                                                    inevitable sad end

 

8:10, 14 The "vanity" of human awards                    Bad often hon-

                                                                                    oured. Good

                                                                                    and bad get

                                                                                    wrong deserts


                                                                                                   107

            "Futility of futilities, all is futile." "Fear God,

and keep his commandments . . . God shall bring every work

into judgment." The first is Koheleth's verdict on all life

and the second is his counsel in view of the verdict. But

is the verdict true? That is what Koheleth examines for his

readers, turning life over and over in his hands so that it

is seen from every perspective. He forces his readers to

admit, that from a purely human standpoint, and without

inclusion of God and cognizance of his commandments and en-

suing judgment, life is, indeed, vain, futile, empty, in a

word, zero. Yet he does not mean that it is so in the sense

that it is not worth living. Koheleth's use of lb,h, de-

scribes something vastly greater than that. All life is

vanity in this sense, namely, that it is unable to give us

the key to itself, and it is unsubstantial.

            The book is the record of a search for the key to life.

            It is the endeavor to give a meaning to life, to see it

            as a whole. And there is no key under the sun. Life

            has lost the key to itself. "Vanity of vanities, all is

            vanity." If you want the key you must go to the lock-

            smith who made the lock. "God holds the key of all un-

            known." And He will not give it to you. Since then you

            cannot get the key, you must trust the locksmith to open

            the doors.1

            One must acquiesce to the sovereignty of God. Only

then does life gain perspective and meaning. Only then do

the things Koheleth pronounces "zero" begin to add up. All

things are bl,h, only for those who do not enthrone God at the

 

            1Wright,"Ecclesiastes," p. 140.


                                                                                             108

center of their existence as absolute Sovereign.

            Thus, while the recurring phrase MylibAhE lbeHE might at

first glance seem to be the utterance of a spirit sunk in

the abyss of despair, yet,

            looking into the treatise more narrowly, we find that we

            have misapprehended its true character--that a principle

            aim of its author is evidently to inculcate contentment

            and the quiet enjoyment of the blessings which God has

            bestowed--that throughout the whole are scattered pre-

            cepts and exhortations which are by no means in harmony

            with the dark meaning we have attached to the opening

            words.1

 

                            Relationship of the Name "Abel"

            Some have connected the word "Abel," the name of the

second son of Adam, with the word under discussion, for they

consist of the same consonants (lbh). It is suggested that

when Adam and Eve named their son they underscored the re-

ality of the fall of man and the resultant curse upon the

world,2 the same truth under discussion by Paul in Romans

8:20, "the creature was subjected to vanity." One writer

suggested that Adam and Eve were apparently so overcome by

the discovery of the vanity of earthly life under the curse

that they named their second son lb,h,.3  C. C. Forman makes

an interesting conjecture about the use of the word:

 

            1Weir, "Ecclesiastes," p. 186.

            2Leupold, Ecclesiastes, p. 42.

            3H. Carl Shank, "Qoheleth's World and Life View As

Seen in His Recurring Phrases," Westminster Theological

Journal, XXXVII:1 (Fall, 1974), 66-7.


                                                                                             109

            Not only is man of the substance of the ground but his

            second born is significantly called Abel, a name derived

            from the Hebrew stem lbh, meaning "breath of wind," "va-

            pour," "vanity," and the like. The significant point

            here is that Abel is the personification of the nomad,

            and therefore, according to ancient Hebrew notions, the

            representative of the ideal life. Yet the first nomad

            whose way of life was the most acceptable to God bore

            in his name this telling description of the essential

            nature of life even in its most favorable manifestation.

            Life, at best, is a transitory thing of no substance--it

            is lb,h,: "Abel's brief life is the life of Everyman."1

            In the opinion of the writer, however, such infer-

ences as those cited above about the name Adam and Eve gave

to their son rest on a tenuous assumption, namely, that the

name "Abel" in whatever language Adam spoke would have meant

the same as its Hebrew counterpart, and would have had the

same affinities with the name for "vanity" in Adam's lan-

guage. It is, perhaps, best not to draw any inferences from

Abel's name, especially since the text does not specify any

reason for that particular name (Gen. 4:2).

 

                           Jewish Interpretations

            Several interesting ancient Jewish traditions about

lb,h, are extant. They serve to show the ridiculous extrava-

gances possible, rather than to illuminate the text. One

such comment from the Midrash on Ecclesiastes 1 states:

                        Solomon used the word "vanity" seven times, to

            correspond with the seven stages which man goes through.

            In his infancy he is like a king, fondled, kissed, and

            made much of. At the age of two or three years he is

           

            1Forman, "Koheleth's Use of Genesis," 257-8.


                                                                                      110

            more like a pig rolling in the mud, etc. When about ten

            years of age he is somewhat like a little kid, jumping

            about and skipping. About the age of twenty he resem-

            bles the wild horse in his lusts and desires. When mar-

            ried he is not unlike the ass in his dulness and cheer-

            lessness and sleepiness. Becoming a parent, he becomes

            bold like the dog in his anxiety to obtain sustenance

            for his family. And in his old age, with his furrows

            and wrinkles, he is not unlike an ape.l

            Not quite so extravagant is this quotation from Mid-