Copyright © 2001 by
WOMAN AS THE OBJECT OF
GEORGE M. SCHWAB
Erskine Theological Seminary
Qohelet 7:23-29 has elicited numerous approaches to explain why there
is a negative estimation of womanhood found on the lips of the wise. Below
it will be argued that the text picks up the narrative of the first two chapters
of Ecclesiastes and briefly continues the characterization of the life of
Solomon. Part and parcel of that life was the pursuit of women. This pursuit
had a negative effect on the reputation of Solomon. Some part of what it
means to be wise seemed to have eluded him; therefore, the relation between
"woman" and "wisdom" becomes an important hermeneutical approach to
the understanding of the text. Before turning to this approach, however, a
brief review of recent scholarship will be presented.
Various Approaches to Qohelet 7:23-29
Various hypotheses have been advanced to explain the passage in
question. Michael V. Fox reads the text as simple misogyny.1 Frank
Zimmermann envisions a sexually frustrated sage, who speaks of his own
embittered experience.2 Scholars such as Sinclair Ferguson see a male
perspective, that can easily be transposed into the female.3 A feminine
perspective might have read:
I find more bitter than death the man who is an iron fist and whose
heart is arrogant and whose feet are steel boots. The woman who fears
God will escape him, but the sinner he will crush. ...I have found one
woman among a thousand, but a man among all these I have not found.4
Kathleen Farmer claims that invokes a certain kind of woman,
1Michael V. Fox states: "The passage remains irreparably misogynistic," and 9:9 does
the sourness of the passage" (Qoheleth
and His Contradictions [
Almond Press, 1989],237-238).
2Frank Zimmermann, The Inner World of Qoheleth (New York: KTAV, 1973), 152.
4Duane A Garrett, "Ecclesiastes -29 and the Feminist Hermeneutic,"
Criswell Theological Review (1988): 318.
74 SEMINARY STUDIES 39 (SPRING 2001)
such as can be found in Prov 7; only the sinner is taken.5 This reading
leaves virtually all women morally flawed, since Qohelet did not find a
single (upright) woman among a thousand.6
Further analyses border on the esoteric. Klaus Baltzer finds a military
commentary in the text, as if Qohelet had written: "You have heard it was
said, 'More bitter than death is the woman,' but I have searched the death-
dealing Jl,x, ("military unit"), and I found no woman there." The tOnbow.;hi
of is a machine of war, as are other elements of the text: chains, nets,
and snares. The misogynistic meaning disappears and becomes a
testimonial to the female gender. God made the male upright, but he has
searched out machines of war.7
Thomas Kruger proposes that wisdom is personified; that is, the "sinner"
comes under the inevitable snares and nets (discipline) of the wisdom school,
but the good man escapes evil consequences.8 H. C. Leupold argued that the
woman symbolized heathen philosophy.9 Perhaps she is the proverbial Dame
Folly. Duane A. Garrett suggests that there is an echo of Gen 3 in these verses,
with the curse of the woman, who "will try to trap" her husband.10 It appears
that seems to have the Fall in view: "God made mankind upright, but
men have gone in search of many schemes." Ingrid Riesener proposes that
Qobelet's words are not his own, but are cited from "traditionelle Weisheit
Aussagen," of the sort one encounters in the book of Proverbs, where
warnings are given against the foreign woman.11 Chapter underlies the
traditional negative statement with a positive judgment from Creation in this
5Kathleen Farmer, Who Knows What Is Good? A Commentary on the Books of Proverbs
and Ec'clesiastes (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1991), 179. Her opinion is derived from the close
association she sees between Proverbs and Ecclesiastes.
Longman III, The Book of Ecclesiastes,
1998), 204. Longman argues from the lack of a single woman in a thousand that Qohelet had
all womanhood in mind, not just a certain kind of woman.
7Klaus Baltzer, "Women and War in Qohelet 7:23-8:1a," HTR 80 (1987): 127-132.
8Thomas Kruger,"'Frau Weisheit' in Koh 7,26?,"Biblica 73(1992): 394-403.Kruger argues
that the discussion is about wisdom, but that the disciplinary aspect of traditional wisdom,
erotically personified, had disillusioned Qoheleth, who came to regard it as bitterer als der Tod.
9H. C. Leupold, Exposition of Ecclesiastes (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1952), 173-177.
Leupold also argues that women "never produce constructive wisdom works or
systems of thought that are truly creative" (177). Commentators, perhaps, can also
10Duane A. Garrett, Proverbs Ecclesiastes, Song of Songs(Nashville: Broadman,1993), 325.
11Ingrid Riesener, "Frauenfeindschaft im Alten Testament? Zum Verstandnis von Qoh
7 ,25-29," in Jedes Ding hat seine Zeit. .., ed. A. Diesel (Berlin: Gruyter, 1996). See also
Norbe:t Lohfink, Kohelet (Wurzberg: Echter, 1980), 56.
WOMAN AS THE OBJECT OF QOHELET 's SEARCH 75
Recently Dominic Rudman has suggested that the woman of is
not evil, but is used by God as a tool to prevent the discovery of the sum
of human life. The woman per se is not the archetype of wickedness,"
since Qohelet refers only to her inevitable role as the thwarter of
discovery. Qohelet seeks to understand human motivation and actions
rather than abstract truths. Therefore, as one embarks on a search for
understanding, it would appear to be impossible not to be ensnared by a
woman, thus ending the search.12
The above synopsis illustrates the hermeneutical disparity among
interpreters. Below we will examine another possible approach, in which
7:23-29 is read as a synopsis of Qohelet’s search of chapters 1 and 2, and
as a commentary on the life of Solomon. It will be argued that Qohelet's
quest was, in part, for a female companion.
The Life Story of Qohelet
In Ecclesiastes, the "frame narrator" records the reflections of
Qohelet: summary of Qohelet's words (1:1-3), an evaluative epilogue
(12:8,14), and a third-person reference, "says Qohelet," (). The frame
narrator, rather than Qohelet, is the final author of Ecclesiastes.13
Qohelet himself speaks the first-person language, which is reminiscent
of King Solomon. He is the "son of David,
dedicated to the pursuit of wisdom (), engaged in great building
projects and the acquiring of a harem (2:4-10). He is the greatest king of
more effectively make his point.
In the first two chapters Qohelet records his story, thus setting the
stage for the argument presented in the subsequent material: Qohelet
claims that he was king in
and to "explore" (rvt) everything that is done under the sun ();14 to
“test” (hsn) and “explore” (rvt) mirth and pleasure (2:1-3); to know
wisdom, madness, and folly. Qohelet explored his world looking for that
which is good and profitable. To see what is good, he tried wine and
pleasure. He also built vineyards, gardens, ponds, and houses; he acquired
servants, concubines (2:8, the delights of the heart of man), gold, and
12Dominic Rudman, "Woman as Divine Agent in Ecclesiastes," JBL 116 (1997): 411-427.
13Since this is the case, Ecclesiastes seems somewhat distant from the historical Solomon.
Although the points of argumentation in this paper do not require a postexilic date for the
book, such date is assumed below where pseudepigraphic and Rabbinic sources are used to
define a postexilic understanding of Solomon.
14The only instance of wrd in Ecclesiastes.
76 SEMINARY STUDIES 39 (SPRING 2001)
silver. He became greater than "all who were before" him and denied
himself nothing that he desired ().
But Qohelet did not find what he was searching for. He excelled in
wisdom only to find that it brings great sorrow. He discovered that his
wisdom and his work would end existentially in his own death, thereby
giving him no advantage over the fool. He concluded:
A man can do nothing better than to eat and drink and find satisfaction in
his work. This too, I see, is from the hand of God, for without him, who
can eat or find enjoyment? To the man who pleases him, God gives
wisdom, knowledge and happiness, but to the sinner he gives the task of
gathering and storing up wealth to hand it over to the one who pleases
God. This too is meaningless, a chasing after the wind (Qoh -26, NIV).
The pleasure of the moment is all a man can expect from life. If God
is pleased he gives enjoyment; if not, he gives hardship (). All falls
under the censure of "meaningless" (lbh). After this conclusion, Qohelet
examines other fields of knowledge and experience and pronounces them
"meaningless" as well. But Qohelet's "experiment" as an ongoing endeavor
in the persona of Solomon is not mentioned again until -29.
The Summation of 7:23-29
The first two chapters are recalled in -29, where the only other
uses of the words "rvt" and "hsn” occur in and 2:1-3. The search for
"wisdom" and "folly" evokes and . Chapter 7:23-29 is an
evaluation and synopsis of the "experiment" of the first two chapters.
Only wisdom has ultimately eluded Qohelet: He "found" (xcm) no
wisdom and no NOBw;H,. (It will be argued below that NOBw;H, may be glossed
"intrigue.") But the exploration of wisdom and folly did reveal three
salient facts. First, he "found" (xcm) an hw.Axi ("woman"), who is a snare and
a trap. Second, he "found" (xcm) one man among a thousand, but no
woman. Third, he "found" (xcm) that God made man upright and that
they seek tOnbow.;Hi.
An Odd Thing to Find
While searching for wisdom, Qohelet found a dangerous woman. His
statement about the "one man in a thousand" serves to highlight his
inability to find any other woman than that which he found.15 If 7:23-29
15The section of 7:23-29 is tied together in part by a seek-and-find motif. This being the
case, even if were proverbial it would have served to reinforce Qohelet's argument that to
seek after a satisfying intrigue with a woman is a dangerous undertaking with small chance of
WOMAN AS THE OBJECT OF QO T'S SEARCH 77
evaluates the "test" of chapters 1 and 2, then why is this new element (his
encounter with a woman) introduced? Qohelet did not seem to be
searching for a woman in the earlier chapters.
In 9:9-10 there is some evidence that in Qohelet's mind the search for
a woman and the search for wisdom are equated. The relevancy of these
verses will be presented below.
The Equation of the Woman and Wisdom
Enjoy life with the woman whom you love, all of the days of your
meaningless life that he has given you under the sun, all your
meaningless days. For this is your portion in life and in your laborious
toil under the sun. Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with your
might, for there is no doing nor intrigue nor knowledge nor wisdom in
the grave, where you are going (9:9-10, author's translation).
Here the reader is not called upon to enjoy his wife as a facilitator of
pleasure. The man is not told to "enjoy your wife," but rather "enjoy life with
the wife whom you love." There seems to be an element of companionship
and togetherness in the verse in the spirit of (RSV): "If two lie together,
they are warm; but how can one be warm alone?" The woman is not lumped
together with white garments, oil, food, and drink.16 The man and the
woman, whom he loves, should enjoy good things together.
NOBw;H, and the hw.Axi
NOBw;H, (“intrigue") is set parallel to tfada ("knowledge"), hmAk;HA("wisdom”),
and hW,fEma (“doing, activity”) in 9:10. Together these should be enjoyed in
life, since they do not exist in the grave. These terms are set parallel to
enjoying good things with the woman one loves in 9:9. Qohelet did not
say: “Enjoy life with your wife, since there is no enjoyment in the grave,"
or "Enjoy life with her, since there is no marriage there." Rather, he says:
"Enjoy life with your wife," because there is no NOBw;H,, wisdom, doing, or
knowledge in the grave. Qohelet equates enjoyment with wisdom,
knowledge, and activity. Enjoy life with her now, since there will be no
wisdom then. Therefore, Qohelet equates enjoying the good things of life
with one's beloved with having knowledge and wisdom.
What was the object of Qohelet's search as he presented wisdom and
knowledge in the first two chapters? Do "wisdom" and "knowledge"
mean a philosophical understanding of how things add up? When he asks,
"Where is the profit?" is this a philosophical question? He notes in 9:9-10
16Contra Kruger, who states: " ...nennt er doch die Frau 'in einer Reihe mit guten
Speisc und sii~em Wein, mit frischer Wasche und duftendem Haaro1"'("Frau Weisheit," 394-
78 SEMINARY STUDIES 39 (SPRING 2001)
that enjoying life with one's beloved is synonymous with wisdom,
knowledge, and activity. Perhaps this explains why Qohelet searched for
the one, but found the other. Rudman asserts that Qohelet sought to
discover what resides in the hearts of individuals, and it is this kind of
knowledge that he labels NOBw;H,.17
There is an association between the hw.Axi ("wife") and the NOBw;H,
("intrigue") throughout Ecclesiastes. The words are found in alternate
verses in -29 and are found together again in 9:9-10. The words occur
only in these passages in the book. If they are intentionally linked, then
NOBw;H, may denote a particular kind of knowledge, activity, or wisdom that
involves personal interaction.
NOBw;H, and Its Meaning in Ecclesiastes
bwH is usually glossed "devise" or "reckon." Often the verb deals with
court intrigue or politics (1 Sam ; 2! Sam 14:15; Esth 8:3; Neh 6:2).
bwH also commonly indicates an evaluation or scrutinizing of a person (1
Sam , Job , Neh , Prov 17J28; see also, "My maids reckon
me a stranger" [Job ]). The word also can mean skillful and clever
designing (2 Chron , 26:15). The noun hbAwAHEma can be glossed
"thoughts" or "devisings" (Prov 16:3). The form NOBw;H, however, is found
in Ecclesiastes in the context of discussions of wisdom and women. In
we find hOnbow.;Hi to be the plural form of a "synonymous variant" NObw.AHo.18 It
occurs once elsewhere in the Hebrew Scriptures in the plural form, where
it is glossed "siegeworks" (2 Chron 26:15).19 If one would devise (bwH) a
political or amorous strategy, that devising would be called an
17Rudman, "Woman as Divine Agent," 425.
18T. A. Perry, Dialogues With Qohelet (Penn State Press, 1993), 132. Perry glosses
"strategy" for NOBw;H, and "stratagems" for the plural of NObwA.Hi. He suggests that the terms do not
refer to "totaling up his experiences," but to an aspect of wisdom that plans for the future by
anticipating danger. But if this were its meaning, then humans have no access to it (8:7), and
Qohelet would hardly imply that living persons might possess it (). Perry also sees the
plural form indicating a shift from a positive to a negative nuance; the wise begin by seeking
a wise strategy, but end by devising mere trickery.
19Most commentators see little, if any, difference in meaning between the two forms
distinguished only by number and vocalization. The NObwA.Hi of has been compared to the
NOBw;H, of-previous verses along these lines: "The word points to the futility of the attempt-of
which [Qohelet's] own experiment recorded in these verses is an example-to discover by
the 'sum of things'" (R. N. Whybray, Ecclesiastes,
1989],128). "This is clearly self-directed irony. ...Such cogitation, he says here, is contrary
to the way man was created" (Fox, Qoheleth and His Contradictions, Biblical and Literature
Series 18, ]SOT
Supplement Series 71 [
discernable difference in the uses of the two variants by Qohelet.
WOMAN AS THE OBJECT OF QOHELET'S SEARCH 79
“intrigue.”20 Qohelet uses the term to associate wisdom and hw.Axi. The
connection of wisdom with the devising of amorous intrigue has examples
in Scripture. Jonadab was “wise” (MkH) in devising a way for Ammon "to
do" (tOWfl) something to Tamar (2 Sam 13:2-3). The Queen of Sheba was
attracted by Solomon's wisdom, so she "tested" (hsn) him (1 Kgs 10:1; 2
Chron 9:1). The word used to describe the queen's testing of Solomon is
that used by Qohelet to describe his own exploration of mirth and good
things (2:1). Her response in part was to proclaim: "Happy are your
wives!' (1 Kgs 10:8)!21 1 Kings 11, then, delineates Solomon's many wives.
He loved these women and they "turned his heart (vbbl-tx UF.h) after other
gods" (1 Kgs 11:4). In Proverbs, the youth who is enticed by the adulteress
lacks “sense” (bl, Prov 7:7). The wise youth knows that the end of all who
follow her is death, and that life is found in the embrace of one's "loving doe,
graceful deer," whose breasts always satisfy (Prov 5:1-23). In the first nine
chapters of the Proverbs of Solomon folly and wisdom are represented as
women, who seek to engage the young man. In the end of the book, to
possess the virtuous wife is also to possess wlsdom.22
There does seem to be a connection in sapiential tradition between
wisdom and the ability to handle the venereal appetite. Since NOBw;H, occurs
only in close proximity to Qohelet's discussions of women, it appears to
be a particularly nuanced term that refers to that aspect of Qohelet's
exploration of wisdom. The NOBw;H,, then, seems to be a term that involves
a fitting and appropriate amorous relationship with a woman. It is a
dangerous, yet rewarding, facet of the path of wisdom that the sage
enjoys. Assuming that wisdom and women are related in Qohelet's (and
Solomon's) story, a fresh look at -29 will be discussed below.
Qohelet Tested One Woman after Another
All this I tested with wisdom. I said, “I will be wise!" --but it was far
from me. Whatever wisdom may be, it is far off and very deep, who can
find it? I turned my heart to know and to explore and to seek wisdom
and an intrigue, and to know wickedness and folly and the foolishness
of madness. And I found more bitter than death the woman whose heart
is snares and nets and whose hands are chains. He who is pleasing to
God escapes her, but she will capture the sinner. Look, this I have found
[says Qohelet!], testing one woman after another to find an intrigue,
20See Rudman, Woman as Divine Agent, 426. "The tOnbow;..Hi of the MT has the
general idea of 'intrigues.'"
21Following the Old Greek.
22See Thomas McCreesh, "Wisdom as Wife: Proverbs 31:10-31," Revue Biblique 92
80 SEMINARY STUDIES 39 (SPRING 2001)
which my passion still pursues, but I have not found. One man among
a thousand I have found, but a woman in all these I have not found.
Except-Look, this I have found: God made mankind upright, but they
have sought many an intrigue (-28, author's translation).
In Ecclesiastes, wp,n, always occurs with the meaning "appetite."23 It is
very rare in the Hebrew Scriptures to have wp,n, as subject with wqb as
verb.24 The only examples of a wp,n, "seeking" (wqb) something are in Lam
11:19, where the people seek food to fill their wp,n,, and in Cant 3:1-3 and
5:6, where the girl seeks him "whom my soul loves."25 wp,n, can be
understood in to indicate sexual desire, glossed "passion" above.
In 7:23-29 the same parallels are being drawn as in 9:9-10. An
"intrigue" is again parallel with "wisdom" (and in antithetical relation to
"folly" and "madness"). Again, one's relations with a woman are
intertwined with wisdom: "I searched for wisdom and an intrigue" (),
but "I found a woman more bitter than death" (). One might
paraphrase it with the words of : "More bitter than the grave." "I
found this [says Qohelet!] one to one to find an intrigue" (); "I found
one man, but no woman" ()--"I found that men go after intrigues"
(). Perhaps the "one to one" that Qohelet was searching for were
people, not facts. tHaxa is feminine and may indicate "one woman after
another."26 Qohelet tested one woman after another to find an intrigue,
but could find only a woman worse than death.
In 9:9-10 Qohelet claims that there is no intrigue in the grave, so one
should enjoy pleasures with one's beloved now; he commends intrigue,
wisdom, knowledge, and activity, which may be found in a companion,
especially a woman. But in -29, he complains that what he discovered was
the opposite; the women he explored made his life more bitter than death.
Women in Ecclesiastes
If Qohelet's search was for a companion, why does he elsewhere
show little interest in love? He does acknowledge that there is a time for
it (3:8). In 4:8-12 he claims that the horror of life is mitigated somewhat
if one is not alone (4:8-12). But the word hw.Axi is found nowhere in his
search, except in his account of how women (hDwi, “woman,” probably
23 See ; 4:8; 6:2-3; 6:7; 6:9; and .
24 A soul "seeks" (wrd) in Deut .
25 See Riesener, “Frauenfeindschaft im Alten Testament?,” 201.
26 The language of "one" to depict "one person" is found also in each verse of
4:8-12. See also Isa 27:12, dHAx, dHaxal; “one by one.” For instance, In 1 Kings 3:25,
Solomon says, “Divide the living child in two, and give half to one [tHxal;] and half to
WOMAN AS THE OBJECT OF QOHELET'S SEARCH 81
related to dwa, "breast") were to him objects of pleasure (2:8). Although
chapters 1 and 2 do not seem to allude to a search for companionship,
7:23-29 reads into it the aspect of a NOBw;H,. Later in his positive statement
about a wife (9:9), Qohelet claims the grave and meaninglessness" Is the
end of any NOBw;H,. He comments on love, hate, and jealousy (a word closely
associated with marriage) immediately before he comments about this
wife (9:6, 9). Love, hate, and Jealousy27 seem to be related to "madness"
(9:3)-a rare word in Ecclesiastes that seems to be a synonym for "folly,"
and an antonym for "wisdom" (). But in 9:3-6 "madness" seems to
have relational connotations. If all along his search was for a companion,
why has he not been more specific about It? The following is a
speculative attempt to answer this question.
Woman as the Instrument of lb,h,
Qohelet speaks as Solomon. In 7:23-29 his "test" of aspects of life
recalls the first chapters; in the middle verse of this sequence the editor
interjected "says Qohelet," reminding the reader that the text recounts
Qohelet's experiences the statements concerning the woman and the
intrigue are Qohelet's (i.e., Solomon's) idiosyncratic judgments.
A I searched for an intrigue
B 7:2 I found a woman more bitter than death
C I tried to find an intrigue ("says Qohelet!")
B 7:2 I found no woman
A Men search for intrigues
Although Qohelet (in the guise of Solomon) enjoyed pleasurable
women in great numbers, there is no hint in chapters 1 and 2 of a
particular woman who was a companion in the sense of 9:9-10 or 4:8-12.
1 Kings 3 records the first and noteworthy marriage of Solomon with the
daughter of Pharaoh. Solomon also loved other "foreign" women (1 Kings
11:1-12), who seduced him to idolatry. 2 Chronicles ignores this part of
Solomon's history, regarding king as faultless. The Chronicler seems
to have influenced later Rabbinic evaluations of Solomon. R. Joseph
suggested that the daughter of Pharaoh was converted by Solomon. R.
Papa argued that Solomon did not actually marry foreign women (Yeb.
76); Solomon failed only to control his wives (Shab. 56). However, the 1
Kings record did mar the king's reputation. Even in the Rabbinic
justifications, the women are censored as having been a poor influence.
The Targum to Ecclesiastes relates how his marriages to these women.
27 The use of the word xnq in 4:3 and 9:6 (and nowhere else) demonstrates the
affinity between these sections. 4: 1-12 is the most extensive section on the subject
82 SEMINARY STUDIES 39 (SPRING 2001)
angered God, who drove the king from his throne.28 The Testament of
Solomon (first-to-third century A.D.) portrays Solomon as out of his
senses with love for the "Shummanite," finally serving Jebusite gods for
her.29 R. Hiyya b. Ammi used Solomon's marriage with Pharaoh's
daughter to illustrate the loss of restraint (Ber. 8). Therefore, from before
the postexilic period a very stable tradition can be demonstrated of
Solomon the wise king, who was seduced to idolatry by his passion for
women. It is reasonable to anticipate that this regard for Solomon also
characterizes the book of Ecclesiastes.
Qohelet's perennial complaint is that all of life is "meaningless" or
"absurd" (lbh). Isaiah and Jeremiah dismissed idols as lb,h, (Isa 57:13; Jer
10:3,15; 51:18). It is not hard to imagine the Jewish mind connecting
Solomon's idolatry with Qohelet's ascription of his own works and
wisdom as lb,h,. The idol-worshiping daughter of Pharaoh was the
instrument of Solomon's lb,h,, of his life cursed with meaninglessness.
Companionship and Wisdom
Companionship is an important theme in Ecclesiastes. Chapter 4
emphasizes leaving an inheritance to one's sons, having a brother to help one,
and so forth. But love for a woman in marriage is not made explicit (e.g.,
4:11.). It seems to be consciously avoided. Perhaps what is not explicit earlier
in tile book is made explicit in the summation of Qohelet's quest in -29
and in 9:9-10, where Qohelet speaks of something elusive to himself (9:9-10),
yet important to understand his search (-29). So important, in fact, that
finding a beloved woman is an "intrigue" and "wisdom," the opposite of
"madness" and "folly," the best summation of life under the sun.
In the first nine chapters of Proverbs, folly and wisdom are
represented as women, who seek to engage the young man; and in the end
of the book, to possess the virtuous wife (Prov. 31) is also to possess
wisdom. In Ecclesiastes, to enjoy life with one's beloved is to test and
explore wisdom, the very thing Qohelet sought but did not find.
Solomon was a lover of women, but his women became snares into a life
of meaninglessness and idolatry for him.30
28 P.S. Knobel, “Targum Qoheleth: A Linguistic and Exegetical Inquiry” (Ph.D.
dissertation, Yale, 1976),28.
29 D.C. Duling, “Testament of Solomon,” in The Old Testament Pseudepigrapha,
ed. John H. Charlesworth (New York: Doubleday, 1983), 986-987.
30 In Prov 31:30, the book ends with a tension between the woman who ”fears
Yahweh,” and qualities which are lb,h,.
WOMAN AS THE OBJECT OF QOHLET'S SEARCH 83
As the laborer has some benefit that the rich does not have (), and
as riches do not satisfy (), so also the man with one wife may have an
advantage over the man with a palace filled with "breasts." Qohelet
claimed that his “reward” was to enjoy his labor of building and searching
while he was doing it (). Could. It have been said that Qohelet also
enjoyed his work with a companion? Given the known history of
Solomon, it would have been inappropriate to include the aspect of how
"Solomon" also gained satisfaction with his own beloved (which is
perhaps celebrated m the Song of Songs), since she was to him an
instrument of meaninglessness. She instead became an obstacle to the fear
of God-the very thing the epilogue presents as the sum of human life.31
Knowing how Pharaoh's daughter reduced Solomon to idolatry, Qohelet
could not have said: "I found pleasure and delight with my beloved as I
searched for what is good.” This would have undermined his thesis. In
other words, Solomon s search in chaps. 1 and 2 for something which
profits might have explicitly included his search for a woman to be a
companion; the "second" to Solomon's "being alone" (-11), except
that in his case the very thing that is the essence of a wise life reduced him
The frame narrator introduces Qohelet's words as a commentary
upon, or as a notable companion piece for, the known life history of King
Solomon. The king was certainly wise, but his amatory fascinations led
him to worship vain idols. Traditional sagacity renders a wise life as that
which is able to control the venereal appetite. In fact, the blessed life of a
sage with a virtuous woman is the culmination of a life of wisdom (Prov
31). The desire to know this aspect of wisdom led Solomon to futility and
folly. His downfall, however, is not explored in chapters 1 and 2, but is
reserved for later in the book.
Qohelet is presented in the persona of Solomon to argue that no
human endeavor yields satisfaction. The only enjoyment one may
reasonably expect out of life is to enjoy the actual doing of the creative
labor. Although the contented life of a sage with his wife is touched upon
in Ecclesiastes, it does not seem to be a factor in the portrayal of
Solomon's experiences until 7:23-29. A dimension of his story is explored
that was all but absent in the first two chapters-Solomon's desire for
such a relationship. The component of wisdom that Solomon
pursued-the amorous intrigue-is given its own terminology, the NOBw;H,.
31To indicate the sum of the matter, the editor did not use NOBw;H,, but MrAxAhA-lKA hz,-yKi.
84 SEMINARY STUDIES 39 (SPRING 2001)
The word depicts a judicious relation with a woman. While Solomon
continued his landscaping and construction activities of , we
know from -29 that he also sought a satisfying intrigue. In the king's
case, however, the intrigues that his passion pursued led quickly to his
own reduction to lb,h,. Traditional wisdom argues that the pursuit of a
woman can be dangerous. However, this is not at issue in . The
futility of trying to find lasting significance in any human interest is
highlighted. The dangerous and ensnaring aspect of this is postponed until
Solomon's story is revisited in -29.
In -29 Qohelet speaks again of Solomon's pursuit of wisdom. But
this time the pursuit takes the form not of architectural projects, but of
seeking after an intrigue. A sage can successfully embrace a wife in love
and find blessing and honor; the historic Solomon failed at this test of
wisdom. His failure was worse than any disappointment of ,
since it reduced him to futile idolatry. In 7:23-29 we see Qohelet, speaking
as Solomon, lamenting over the fact that he had become so ensnared.
The frame narrator called the reader's attention to the fact that -
29 reflects Qohelet's (Solomon's) particular experience. Love is an
important part of sagacity and thus is mentioned elsewhere (9:9-10). The
composition is designed such that Solomon's personal failure does not
discredit the astute observations of human life (cf. ). In addition
the pursuit of love is an extremely important aspect of wisdom, worthy
of its own separate treatment. For these reasons the recounting of the
downfall of the king is reserved until -29. Thus one may read -29
as a recounting of how Qohelet (Solomon) was ensnared by a dangerous
aspect of wisdom. This is told in a way so as not to denigrate or
discourage the wise man from seeking his own intrigue. To enjoy good
things with one's wife is part of the enjoyable aspect of life that Qohelet
commends. But 7:23-29 also warns the reader to take care when pursuing
such an intrigue, so that the temptations that ensnared Solomon may be
avoided. In combination with and 9:9-10, Qohelet may be
paraphrased: "Do not seek to find with the wife that you love more than
the moment-by-moment enjoyment of loving. To try to get more than
this out of your intrigue can lead to the worst lb,h, of all."
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