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


THE NOT-FOUND, AND THE FOUND THE BITTEREST — A WOMAN, 7:23-29



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THE NOT-FOUND, AND THE FOUND THE BITTEREST — A WOMAN, 7:23-29

The author makes here a pause, looks back at the teaching regarding prudence, already given particularly from v. 15, and acknowledges wisdom as the goal of his effort, especially, however, that for him this goal does not lie behind him, but before him in the remote distance.



Ecc. 7:23.

“All this have I proved by wisdom: I thought, Wise I will become; but it remained far from me.” The ב in בַּחָכְמָה is, as at 1:13, that designating the organon, the means of knowledge. Thus he possessed wisdom up to a certain degree, and in part; but his purpose, comprehended in the one word אֶחְכְּמָה (vid., above, p. 641, § 2), was to possess it fully and completely; i.e., not merely to be able to record observations and communicate advices, but to adjust the contradictions of life, to expound the mysteries of time and eternity, and generally to solve the most weighty and important questions which perplex men. But this wisdom was for him still in the remote distance. It is the wisdom after which Job, Job. 28, made inquiry in all regions of the world and at all creatures, at last to discover that God has appointed to man only a limited share of wisdom. Koheleth briefly condenses Job. 28:12-22 in the words following:


[[@Bible:Ecclesiastes 7:24]]
Ecc. 7:24.

“For that which is, is far off, and deep, — yes, deep; who can reach it?” Knobel, Hitz., Vaih., and Bullock translate: for what is remote and deep, deep, who can find it? i.e., investigate it; but mah-shehayah is everywhere an idea by itself, and means either id quod fuit, or id quod exstitit, 1:9; 3:15; 6:10; in the former sense it is the contrast of mah-sheÔihyeÔh, 8:7; 10:14, cf. 3:22; in the latter, it is the contrast of that which does not exist, because it has not come into existence. In this way it is also not to be translated: For it is far off what it (wisdom) is (Zöckl.) [= what wisdom is lies far off from human knowledge], or: what it is (the essence of wisdom), is far off (Elst.) — which would be expressed by the wordsמַה־שֶּׁהִיא . And if מה־שׁחיה is an idea complete in itself, it is evidently not that which is past that is meant (thus e.g., Rosenm. quod ante aderat), for that is a limitation of the obj. of knowledge, which is unsuitable here, but that which has come into existence. Rightly, Hengst.: that which has being, for wisdom is τῶν ὄντων γνῶσις ἀψευδής, Wisd. 7:17. He compares Jud. 3:11, “the work which God does,” and 8:17, “the work which is done under the sun.” What Koheleth there says of the totality of the historical, he here says of the world of things: this (in its essence and its grounds) remains far off from man; it is for him, and also in itself and for all creatures, far too deep (עמֹק עמֹק, the ancient expression for the superlative): Who can intelligibly reach (ימְצָי, fromמָצָא , assequi, in an intellectual sense, as at 3:11; 8:17; cf. Job. 11:7) it (this all of being)? The author appears in the book as a teacher of wisdom, and emphatically here makes confession of the limitation of his wisdom; for the consciousness of this limitation comes over him in the midst of his teaching.


[[@Bible:Ecclesiastes 7:25]]
Ecc. 7:25.


But, on the other side, he can bear testimony to himself that he has honestly exercised himself in seeking to go to the foundation of things: “I turned myself, and my heart was there to discern, and to explore, and to seek wisdom, and the account, and to perceive wickedness as folly, and folly as madness.” Regarding sabbothi, vid., under 2:20: a turning is meant to the theme as given in what follows, which, as we have to suppose, was connected with a turning away form superficiality and frivolity. Almost all interpreters — as also the accentuation does — connect the two wordsאֲנִי ולִבִּי ; but “I and my heart” is so unpsychological an expression, without example, that many Codd. (28 of Kennicott, 44 of de Rossi) read בִּלִבִּי [with my heart]. The erasure of the vav (as e.g., Luther: “I applied my heart”) would at the same time require the change of סבותי intoהֲסִבּוֹתִי . The Targ., Jerome, and the Venet. render the wordבלבי ; the LXX and Syr., on the contrary,וילבי ; and this also is allowable, if we place the disjunctive on אני and take ולבי as consequent: my heart, i.e., my striving and effort, was to discern (Aben Ezra, Herzf., Stuart), — a substantival clause instead of the verbalונָתַתִּי אֶת־לבִּי , 1:13; 1:17. Regarding tur in an intellectual sense, vid., 1:13. HheÔshbon (vid., above, p. 638), with hhochmah, we have translated by “Rechenschaft” [account, ratio ]; for we understand by it a knowledge well grounded and exact, and able to be established, — the facit of a calculation of all the facts and circumstances relating thereto; נתן חשׁבין is Mishnic, and = the N.T. λόγον ἀποδιδόναι. Of the two accus. 25b followingלדַאַת , the first, as may be supposed, and as the determination in the second member shows, is that of the obj., the second that of the pred. (Ewald, § 284b): thatרשַׁע , i.e., conduct separating from God and from the law of that which is good, is keÔseÔl, Thorheit, folly (since, as Socrates also taught, all sinning rests on a false calculation, to the sinner’s own injury); and that hassichluth, Narrheit, foolishness, stultitia (vid., sachal, p. 639, and 1:17), is to be thus translated (in contradistinction toכֶּסֶל ), i.e., an intellectual and moral obtuseness, living for the day, rising up into foolery, not different from holeloth, fury, madness, and thus like a physical malady, under which men are out of themselves, rage, and are mad. Koheleth’s striving after wisdom thus, at least is the second instance(ולדעת) , with a renunciation of the transcendental, went towards a practical end. And now he expresses by ומוצא one of the experiences he had reached in this way of research. How much value he attaches to this experience is evident from the long preface, by means of which it is as it were distilled. We see him there on the way to wisdom, to metaphysical wisdom, if we may so speak — it remains as far off from him as he seeks to come near to it. We then see him, yet not renouncing the effort after wisdom, on the way toward practical wisdom, which exercises itself in searching into the good and the bad; and that which has presented itself to him as the bitterest of the bitter is — a woman.
[[@Bible:Ecclesiastes 7:26]]
Ecc. 7:26.

“And I found woman more bitter than death; she is like hunting- nets. and like snares is her heart, her hands are bands: he who pleaseth God will escape from her; but the sinner is caught by them.” Asושַׁי אֲי , 4:2, so here וּמי אֲי (vid., above, p. 641, 1, and 642, 3) gains by the preceding וסִבּוֹתִי אני a past sense;82 the particip. clause stands frequently thus, not only as a circumstantial clause, Gen. 14:12f., but also as principal clause, Gen. 2:10, in an historical connection. The preceding pred.מַר , in the mas. ground-form, follows the rule, Gesen. § 147. Regarding the construction of the relative clause, Hitzig judges quite correctly: “ הִיאis copula between subj. and pred., and precedes for the sake of the contrast, giving emphasis to the pred. It cannot be a nomin., which would be taken up by the suff. inלבָהּ , since if this latter were subject also toמצי , היא would not certainly be found. Also asher here is not a conj.” This(הִיא) הוּא , which in relative substantival clauses represents the copula, for the most part stands separated from asher, e.g., Gen. 7:2; 17:12, Num. 17:5, Deut. 17:15; less frequently immediately with it, Num. 35:31; 1Sa. 10:19; 2Ki. 25:19; Lev. 11:26; Deut. 20:20. But this asher hu (hi) never represents the subj., placed foremost and again resumed by the reflex. pronoun, so as to be construed as the accentuation requires: quae quidem retia et laquei cor ejus = cajus quidem cor sunt retia et laquei (Heiligst.). מָצוֹד is the means of searching, i.e., either of hunting: hunting-net (mitsodah, 9:12), or of blockading: siege-work, bulwarks, 9:14; here it is the plur. of the word in the former meaning.חרֶם , Hab. 1:14, plur. Eze. 26:5, etc. (perhaps fromחרם , to pierce, bore through), is one of the many synon. for fishing-net.אֲסוּרִים , fetters, the hands (arms) of voluptuous embrace (cf. above, p. 637). The primary form, after Jer. 37:15, isאסוּר ,אֱסוּר ; cf.אבוּס ,אֲבי , Job. 39:9. Of the three clauses following asher, vav is found in the second and is wanting to the third, as at Deut. 29:22, Job. 42:9, Psa. 45:9, Isa. 1:13; cf. on the other hand, Isa. 33:6. Similar in their import are these Leonine verses:


Femina praeclara facie quasi pestis amara, Et quasi fermentum corrumpit cor sapientum.”
That the author is in full earnest in this harsh judgment regarding woman, is shown by 26b: he who appears to God as good (cf. 2:26) escapes from her (the fut. of the consequence of this his relation to God); but the sinner (וחוֹטא, cf. above, p. 682, note) is caught by her, or, properly, in her, viz., the net-like woman, or the net to which she is compared (Psa. 9:16; Isa. 24:18). The harsh judgment is, however, not applicable to woman as such, but to woman as she is, with only rare exceptions; among a thousand women he has not found one corresponding to the idea of a woman.
[[@Bible:Ecclesiastes 7:27]]
Ecc. 7:27, 28.

“Behold what I have found, saith Koheleth, adding one thing to another, to find out the account: What my soul hath still sought, and I have not found, (is this): one man among a thousand have I found; and a woman among all these have I not found.” It is the ascertained result, “one man, etc.,” which is solemnly introduced by the words preceding. Instead ofאָמְי קֹהֶי , the words אָמַר הַקֹּהֶי are to be read, after 12:8, as is now generally acknowledged; errors of transcription of a similar kind are found at 2Sa. 5:2; Job. 38:12. Ginsburg in vain disputes this, maintaining that the name Koheleth, as denoting wisdom personified, may be regarded as fem. as well as mas.; here, where the female sex is so much depreciated, was the fem. self-designation of the stern judge specially unsuitable (cf. above, p. 646). Hengst. supposes that Koheleth is purposely fem. in this one passage, since true wisdom, represented by Solomon, stands opposite to false philosophy. But this reason for the fem. rests on the false opinion that woman here is heresy personified; he further remarks that it is significant for this fem. personification, that there is “no writing of female authorship in the whole canon of the O. and N.T.” But what of Deborah’s triumphal song, the song of Hannah, the magnificat of Mary? We hand this absurdity over to the Clementines! The woman here was flesh and blood, but pulchra quamvis pellis est mens tamen plean procellis; and Koheleth is not incarnate wisdom, but the official name of a preacher, as in Assyr., forחַזָּנִים , curators, overseers, håazanaÑti83 is used.זה , 27 a, points, as at 1:10, to what follows.אַחַת לי , one thing to another (cf. Isa. 27:12), must have been, like summa summarum and the like, a common arithmetical and dialectical formula, which is here subordinate toמָצָי , since an adv. inf. such as לקוֹחַ is to be supplemented: taking one thing to another to find out theחֶשְׁבּוֹן , i.e., the balance of the account, and thus to reach a facit, a resultat.84


That which presented itself to him in this way now follows. It was, in relation to woman, a negative experience: “What my soul sought on and on, and I found not, (is this).” The words are like the superscription of the following result, in which finally the זה of 27a terminates. Ginsburg, incorrectly: “what my soul is still seeking,” which would have requiredמְבַקֶשֶׁת . The pret. בִּקְשָׁה (with קְ without Dagesh,85 as at v. 29) is retrospective; andעוֹד , fromעוּד , means redire, again and again, continually, as at Gen.. 46:29. He always anew sought, and that, as biqshah naphshi for בקשׁתי denotes, with urgent striving, violent longing, and never found, viz., a woman such as she ought to be: a man, one of a thousand, I have found, etc. With right, the accentuation gives Garshayim to adam; it stands forth, as at v. 20, as a general denominator — the sequence of accents, Geresh, Pashta, Zakef, is as at Gen. 1:9. “One among a thousand” reminds us of Job. 33:23, cf. 9:3; the old interpreters (vid., Dachselt’s Bibl. Accentuata), with reference to these parallels, connect with the one man among a thousand all kinds of incongruous christological thoughts. Only, here adam, like the Romanic l’homme and the like, means man in sexual contrast to woman. It is thus ideally meant, like ish, 1Sa. 4:9; 46:15, and accordingly also the parall.אשָּׁה . For it is not to be supposed that the author denies thereby perfect human nature to woman. But also Burger’s explanation: “a human being, whether man or woman,” is a useless evasion. Man has the name adam κατ’ ἐξ. by primitive hist. right: “for the man is not of the woman, but the woman of the man,” 1Co. 11:8. The meaning, besides, is not that among a thousand human beings he found one upright man, but not a good woman (Hitz.), — for then the thousand ought to have had its proper denominator,בני אדם , — but that among a thousand persons of the male sex he found only one man such as he ought to be, and among a thousand of the female sex not one woman such as she ought to be; “among all these” is thus = among an equal number. Since he thus actually found the ideal of man only seldom, and that of woman still seldomer (for more than this is not denoted by the round numbers), the more surely does he resign himself to the following resultat, which he introduces by the word לבַד (only, alone), as the clear gain of his searching:
[[@Bible:Ecclesiastes 7:29]]
Ecc. 7:29.


“Lo, this only have I found, that God created man upright; but they seek many arts.” Also here the order of the words is inverted, sinceזה , belonging as obj. to מָצָי (have I found), which is restricted by לבַד (vid., above, p. 638), is amalgamated with ראה (Lo! see!). The author means to say: Only this (solummodo hocce) have I found, that...; the ראה is an interjected nota bene. The expression: God has made manישָׁר , is dogmatically significant. Man, as he came from the Creator’s hand, was not placed in the state of moral decision, nor yet in the state of absolute indifference between good and evil; he was not neither good nor bad, but he wasטוב , or, which is the same thing,ישׁר ; i.e., in every respect normal, so that he could normally develope himself from this positively good foundation. But by the expressionעשׂה ישׁר , Koheleth has certainly not exclusively his origin in view, but at the same time his relative continuation in the propagation of himself, not without the concurrence of the Creator; also of man after the fall the words are true,עשׂה ישׁר , in so far as man still possesses the moral ability not to indulge sinful affections within him, nor suffer them to become sinful actions. But the sinful affections in the inborn nature of weak sinful man have derived so strong a support from his freedom, that the power of the will over against this power of nature is for the most part as weakness; the dominance of sin, where it is not counteracted by the grace of God, has always shown itself so powerful, that Koheleth has to complain of men of all times and in all circles of life: they seek many arts (as Luther well renders it), or properly, calculations, inventions, devices (hhishshe vonoth,86 as at 2Ch. 26:15, from hhishshevon, which is as little distinguished from the formation hheÔshbon, as hhizzayon from hheÔzyon), viz., of means and ways, by which they go astray from the normal natural development into abnormities. In other words: inventive refined degeneracy has come into the place of moral simplicity, ἁπλότης (2Ch. 11:3). As to the opinion that caricatures of true human nature, contrasts between the actual and that which ought to be (the ideal), are common, particularly among the female sex, the author has testimonies in support of it from all nations. It is confirmed by the primitive history itself, in which the woman appears as the first that was led astray, and as the seducer (cf. Psychol. pp. 103-106). With reference to this an old proverb says: “Women carry in themselves a frivolous mind,” Kiddushin 80b .87 And because a woman, when she has fallen into evil, surpasses a man in fiendish superiority therein, the Midrash reckons under this passage before us fifteen things of which the one is worse than the other; the thirteenth is death, and the fourteenth a bad woman.88 Hitzig supposes that the author has before him as his model Agathoclea, the mistress of the fourth Ptolemy Philopator. But also the history of the Persian Court affords dreadful examples of the truth of the proverb: “Woe to the age whose leader is a woman;”89 and generally the harem is a den of female wickedness.
[[@Bible:Ecclesiastes 8]]


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