The Book of Ecclesiastes translated by m. G. Easton introduction


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The concluding section, 7:1-14, is now followed by I -sections, i.e., advices in the form of actually experienced facts, in which again the I of the author comes into the foreground.

Ecc. 7:15-18.

The first of these counsels warns against extremes, on the side of good as well as on that of evil: “All have I seen in the days of my vanity: there are righteous men who perish by their righteousness, and there are wicked men who continue long by their wickedness. Be not righteous over-much, and show not thyself wise beyond measure: why wilt thou ruin thyself? Be not wicked overmuch, and be no fool: why wilt thou die before thy time is? It is good that thou holdest thyself to the one, and also from the other withdrawest not thine hand: for he that feareth God accomplisheth it all.” One of the most original English interpreters of the Book of Koheleth, T. Tyler (1874), finds in the thoughts of the book — composed, according to his view, about 200 B.C. — and in their expression, references to the post-Aristotelian philosophy, particularly to the Stoic, variously interwoven with orientalism. But here, in vv. 15-18, we perceive, not so much the principle of the Stoical ethics — τῇ φύσει ὁμολογουμένως ζῆν — as that of the Aristotelian, according to which virtue consists in the art μέσως ἔχειν, the art of holding the middle between extremes.79

Also, we do not find here a reference to the contrasts between Pharisaism and Sadduceeism (Zöckl.), viz., those already in growth in the time of the author; for if it should be also true, as Tyler conjectures, that the Sadducees had such a predilection for Epicurism, — as, according to Josephus (Vit. c. 2), “the doctrine of the Pharisees is of kin to that of the Stoics,” — yet צדקה and רשְׁעה are not apportioned between these two parties, especially since the overstraining of conformity to the law by the Pharisees related not to the moral, but to the ceremonial law. We derive nothing for the right understanding of the passage from referring the wisdom of life here recommended to the tendencies of the time. The author proceeds from observation, over against which the O.T. saints knew not how to place any satisfying theodicee. ימי הֶבְלִי (vid., 6:12) he so designates the long, but for the most part uselessly spent life lying behind him. אֶת־הַכֹל is not “everything possible” (Zöckl.), but “all, of all kinds” (Luth.), which is defined by 15b as of two kinds; for 15a is the introduction of the following experience relative to the righteous and the unrighteous, and thus to the two classes into which all men are divided. We do not translate: there are the righteous, who by their righteousness, etc. (Umbr., Hitzig, and others); for if the author should thus commence, it would appear as if he wished to give unrighteousness the preference to righteousness, which, however, was far from him. To perish in or by his righteousness, to live long in or by his wickedness (מַאֲרִיךְ, scil.ימִים , 8:13, as at Pro. 28:2), is = to die in spite of righteousness, to live in spite of wickedness, as e.g., Deut. 1:32: “in this thing” = in spite of, etc. Righteousness has the promise of long life as its reward; but if this is the rule, it has yet its exceptions, and the author thence deduces the doctrine that one should not exaggerate righteousness; for if it occurs that a righteous man, in spite of his righteousness, perishes, this happens, at earliest, in the case in which, in the practice of righteousness, he goes beyond the right measure and limit. The relative conceptions הַרְבּה and יוֹתר have here, since they are referred to the idea of the right measure, the meaning of nimis. הִתְחַכּם could mean, “to play the wise man;” but that, whether more or less done, is objectionable. It means, as at Ex. 1:10, to act wisely (cf. Psa. 105:25,הִתְי , to act cunningly). And חֹשְׁי , which is elsewhere used of being inwardly torpid, i.e., being astonished, obstupescere, has here the meaning of placing oneself in a benumbed, disordered state, or also, passively, of becoming disconcerted; not of becoming desolate or being deserted (Hitz., Ginsburg, and others), which it could only mean in highly poetic discourse (Isa. 54:1). The form תִּשּׁוֹמם is syncop., likeתִּכּי , Num. 21:27; and the question, withלמָּה , here and at 17b, is of the same kind as 5:5; Luther, weakening it: “that thou mayest not destroy thyself.”
[[@Bible:Ecclesiastes 7:17]]
Ecc. 7:17.

Up to this point all is clear: righteousness and wisdom are good and wholesome, and worth striving for; but even in these a transgressing of the right measure is possible (Luther remembers the summum just summa injuria), which has as a consequence, that they become destructive to man, because he thereby becomes a caricature, and either perishes rushing from one extreme into another, or is removed out of the way by others whose hatred he provokes. But it is strange that the author now warns against an excess in wickedness, so that he seems to find wickedness, up to a certain degree, praiseworthy and advisable. So much the stranger, since “be no fool” stands as contrast to “show not thyself wise,” etc.; so that “but also be no wicked person” was much rather to be expected as contrast to “be not righteous over-much.” Zöckler seeks to get over this difficulty with the remark: “Koheleth does not recommend a certain moderation in wickedness as if he considered it allowable, but only because he recognises the fact as established, that every man is by nature somewhat wicked.” The meaning would then be: man’s life is not free from wickedness, but be only not too wicked! The offensiveness of the advice is not thus removed; and besides, 18a demands in a certain sense, an intentional wickedness, — indeed, as 18b shows, a wickedness in union with the fear of God. The correct meaning of “be not wicked over-much” may be found if for תרשׁע we substituteתֶּחֱטָא ; in this form the good counsel at once appears as impossible, for it would be immoral, since “sinning,” in all circumstances, is an act which carries in itself its own sentence of condemnation. Thus רשׁע must here be a setting oneself free from the severity of the law, which, although sin in the eyes of the over-righteous, is yet no sin in itself; and the author here thinks, in accordance with the spirit of his book, principally of that fresh, free, joyous life to which he called the young, that joy of life in its fulness which appeared to him as the best and fairest reality in this present time; but along with that, perhaps also of transgressions of the letter of the law, of shaking off the scruples of conscience which conformity to God-ordained circumstances brings along with it. He means to say: be not a narrow rigorist, — enjoy life, accommodate thyself to life; but let not the reins be too loose; and be no fool who wantonly places himself above law and discipline: Why wilt thou destroy thy life before the time by suffering vice to kill thee (Psa. 34:22), and by want of understanding ruin thyself (Pro. 10:21)?80

[[@Bible:Ecclesiastes 7:18]]
Ecc. 7:18.

“It is good that thou holdest fast to the one,” — viz. righteousness and wisdom, — and withdrawest not thy hand from the other, — viz. a wickedness which renounces over-righteousness and over-wisdom, or an unrestrained life; — for he who fears God accomplishes all, i.e., both, the one as well as the other. Luther, against the Vulg.: “for he who fears God escapes all.” But what “all”? Tyler, Bullock, and others reply: “All the perplexities of life;” but no such thing is found in the text here, however many perplexities may be in the book. Better, Zöckler: the evil results of the extreme of false righteousness as of bold wickedness. But that he does not destroy himself and does not die before his time, is yet only essentially one thing which he escapes; also, from v. 15, only one thing,אֲבֹד , is taken. Thus either: the extremes (Umbr.), or: the extremes together with their consequences. The thought presents a connected, worthy conclusion. But if eÔth-kullam, with its retrospective suffix, can be referred to that which immediately precedes, this ought to have the preference. Ginsburg, with Hitzig: “Whoso feareth God will make his way with both;” but what an improbable phrase! Jerome, with his vague nihil negligit, is right as to the meaning. In the Bible, the phraseיצָא ... הָי , egressus est urbem, Gen. 44:4, cf. Jer. 10:20, is used; and in the Mishna,יצָא אֶת־יְדי הוֹבָתוֹ , i.e., he has discharged his duty, he is quit of it by fulfilling it. For the most part, יצא merely is used: he has satisfied his duty; andלא יצא , he has not satisfied it, e.g., Berachoth 2:1. Accordingly יצא — since eÔth- kullam relates to, “these ought he to have done, and not to leave the other undone,” Mat. 23:23 — here means: he who fears God will set himself free from all, will acquit himself of the one as well as of the other, will perform both, and thus preserve the golden via media.

[[@Bible:Ecclesiastes 7:19]]

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