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


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After this prelude regarding the everlasting sameness of all that is done under the sun, Koheleth-Solomon unfolds the treasure of his life-experience as king.

Ecc. 1:12.

“I, Koheleth, have been king over Israel in Jerusalem.” That of the two possible interpretations of הָיִיתִי , “I have become” and “I have been,” not the former (Grätz), but the latter, is to be here adopted, has been already shown (p. 647). We translate better by “I have been” — for the verb here used is a pure perfect — than by “I was” (Ew., Elst., Hengst., Zöck.), with which Bullock (Speaker’s Comm., vol. IV, 1873) compares the expression Quand j’étois roi! which was often used by Louis XIV towards the end of his life. But here the expression is not a cry of complaint, like the “fuimus Troes,but a simple historical statement, by which the Preacher of the vanity of all earthly things here introduces himself, — it is Solomon, resuscitated by the author of the book, who here looks back on his life as king. “Israel” is the whole of Israel, and points to a period before the division of the kingdom; a king over Judah alone would not so describe himself. Instead of “king אַל (over) Israel,” the old form of the language uses frequently simply “king of Israel,” although also the former expression is sometimes found; cf. 1Sa. 15:26; 2Sa. 19:23; 1Ki. 11:37. He has been king, — king over a great, peaceful, united people; king in Jerusalem, the celebrated, populous, highly-cultivated city, — and thus placed on an elevation having the widest survey, and having at his disposal whatever can make a man happy; endowed, in particular, with all the means of gaining knowledge, which accorded with the disposition of his heart searching after wisdom (cf. 1Ki. 3:9-11; 5:9).

But in his search after worldly knowledge he found no satisfaction.
[[@Bible:Ecclesiastes 1:13]]
Ecc. 1:13.

“And I gave my heart to seek and to hold survey with wisdom over all that is done under the sun: a sore trouble it is which God has given to the children of men to be exercised therewith.” The synonyms דָּרַשׁ (to seek) and תּוּר (to hold survey over) do not represent a lower and a higher degree of search (Zöck.), but two kinds of searching: one penetrating in depth, the other going out in extent; for the former of these verbs (from the root-idea of grinding, testing) signifies to investigate an object which one already has in hand, to penetrate into it, to search into it thoroughly; and the latter verb (from the root-idea of moving round about)28 signifies to hold a survey, — look round in order to bring that which is unknown, or not comprehensively known, within the sphere of knowledge, and thus has the meaning of baÔkkeÝsh, one going the rounds. It is the usual word for the exploring of a country, i.e., the acquiring personal knowledge of its as yet unknown condition; the passing over to an intellectual search is peculiar to the Book of Koheleth, as it has the phraseנתַן לב ל , animum advertere, or applicare ad aliquid, in common only with Dan. 10:12. The beth of bahhochemah is that of the instrument; wisdom must be the means (organon) of knowledge in this searching and inquiry. With אַל is introduced the sphere into which it extends. Grotius paraphrases: Historiam animalium et satorum diligentissime inquisivi. But נעֲשׂה does not refer to the world of nature, but to the world of men; only within this can anything be said of actions, only this has a proper history. But that which offers itself for research and observation there, brings neither joy nor contentment. Hitzig refers הוּא to human activity; but it relates to the research which has this activity as its object, and is here, on that account, called “a sore trouble,” because the attainment and result gained by the laborious effort are of so unsatisfactory a nature. Regardingעניָן , which here goes back toענה בְ , to fatigue oneself, to trouble oneself with anything, and then to be engaged with it, vid., p. 194. The words עניַן רע would mean trouble of an evil nature (vid., at Psa. 78:49; Pro. 6:24); but better attested is the reading ענין רע “a sore trouble.” הוּא is the subj., as at 2:1 and elsewhere; the author uses it also in expressions where it is pred. And as frequently as he uses asher andשׁ , so also, when form and matter commend it, he uses the scheme of the attributive clause (elliptical relative clause), as here (cf. 3:16), where certainly, in conformity with the old style, נתָנוֹ was to be used.

[[@Bible:Ecclesiastes 1:14]]
Ecc. 1:14.

He adduces proof of the wearisomeness of this work of research: “I saw all the works that are done under the sun; and, behold, all is vanity and striving after the wind.” The point of the sentence lies in והִנּה = וארֶא והִי , so that thus raïthi is the expression of the parallel fact (circumst. perfect). The result of his seeing, and that, as he has said v. 13, of a by no means superficial and limited seeing, was a discovery of the fleeting, unsubstantial, fruitless nature of all human actions and endeavours. They had, as hevel expresses, not reality in them; and also, as denoted by reuth ruahh (the LXX render well by προαίρεσις πνεύματος), they had no actual consequences, no real issue. Hos. 12:2 [1] also says: “Ephraim feedeth on wind,” i.e., follows after, as the result of effort obtains, the wind, roeÔh ruahh; but only in the Book of Koheleth is this sentence transformed into an abstract terminus technicus (vid., under Re th, p. 640).

[[@Bible:Ecclesiastes 1:15]]
Ecc. 1:15.

The judgment contained in the words, “vanity and a striving after the wind,” is confirmed: “That which is crooked cannot become straight; and a deficit cannot be numerable,” i.e., cannot be taken into account (thus Theod., after the Syro-Hex.), as if as much were present as is actually wanting; for, according to the proverb, “Where there is nothing, nothing further is to be counted.” Hitzig thinks, by that which is crooked and wanting, according to 7:13, of the divine order of the world: that which is unjust in it, man cannot alter; its wants he cannot complete. But the preceding statement refers only to labour under the sun, and to philosophical research and observation directed thereto. This places before the eyes of the observer irregularities and wants, brings such irregularities and wants to his consciousness, — which are certainly partly brought about and destined by God, but for the most part are due to the transgressions of man himself, — and what avails the observer the discovery and investigation? — he has only lamentation over it, for with all his wisdom he can bring no help. Instead of לתְקֹן (vid., underתקן , p. 641), לתְקַן was to be expected. However, the old language also formed intransitive infinitives with transitive modification of the final vowels, e.g.,יבֹשׁ , etc. (cf.ישׁוֹן , 5:11).

Having now gained such a result in his investigation and research by means of wisdom, he reaches the conclusion that wisdom itself is nothing.
[[@Bible:Ecclesiastes 1:16]]
Ecc. 1:16-18.

“I have communed with mine own heart, saying: Lo, I have gained great and always greater wisdom above all who were before me over Jerusalem; and my heart hath seen wisdom and knowledge in fulness. And I gave my heart to know what was in wisdom and knowledge, madness and folly — I have perceived that this also is a grasping after the wind.” The evidence in which he bears witness to himself that striving after wisdom and knowledge brings with it no true satisfaction, reaches down to the close of v. 17; ידַעְתִּי is the conclusion which is aimed at. The manner of expression is certainly so far involved, as he speaks of his heart to his heart what it had experienced, and to what he had purposely directed it. The אֲנִי leads us to think that a king speaks, for whom it is appropriate to write a capital I, or to multiply it into we; vid., regarding this “I,” more pleonastic than emphatic, subordinated to its verb, § 3, p. 642. It is a question whetherעם־לִבִּי , after the phrase (את)דִּבֶּר עם , is meant of speaking with any one, colloqui, or of the place of speaking, as in “thou shalt consider in thine heart,” Deut. 8:5, it is used of the place of consciousness; cf. Job. 15:9, (עמָּדִי) היה עמִּי = σύνοιδα ἐμαυτῷ and what is said in my Psychol. p. 134, regarding συνείδησις, consciousness, and συμμαρτυρεῖν.בִּלִבִּי , interchanging withעם־לִבִּי , 2:1, 15, cf. 15:1, commends the latter meaning: in my heart (LXX, Targ., Jerome, Luther); but the cogn. expressions, mêdabbeÔreÔth aÔl-libbah, 1Sa. 1:13, and lêdabbeÝr eÔl-libbi, Gen. 24:45, suggest as more natural the former rendering, viz., as of a dialogue, which is expressed by the Gr. Venet. (more distinctly than by Aquila, Symm., and Syr.):διείλεγμαι ἐγω ξὺν τῆ καρδία μου. Alsoלאֹמר , occurring only here in the Book of Koheleth, brings it near that the following oratio directa is directed to the heart, as it also directly assumes the form of an address, 2:1, afterבלבי . The expression,הִגְי הכי , “to make one’s wisdom great,” i.e., “to gain great wisdom,” is without a parallel; for the words,הגי תוי , Isa. 28:29, quoted by Hitzig, signify to show and attest truly useful (beneficial) knowledge in a noble way. The annexed והוֹי refers to the continued increase made to the great treasure already possessed (cf. 2:9 and 1Ki. 10:7). The al connected therewith signifies, “above” (Gen. 49:26) all those who were over Jerusalem before me. This is like the sarraÑni aÑlik mahårija, “the kings who were my predecessors,” which was frequently used by the Assyrian kings. The Targumist seeks to accommodate the words to the actual Solomon by thus distorting them: “above all the wise men who have been in Jerusalem before me,” as if the word in the text wereבירושלם ,29 as it is indeed found in several Codd., and according to which also the LXX, Syr., Jerome, and the Venet. translate. Rather than think of the wise (חַכִּימַיָּא), we are led to think of all those who from of old stood at the head of the Israelitish community. But there must have been well-known great men with whom Solomon measures himself, and these could not be such dissimilarly great men as the Canaanitish kings to the time of Melchizedek; and since the Jebusites, even under Saul, were in possession of Zion, and Jerusalem was for the first time completely subdued by David (2Sa. 5:7, cf. Jos. 15:63), it is evident that only one predecessor of Solomon in the office of ruler over Jerusalem can be spoken of, and that here an anachronism lies before us, occasioned by the circumstance that the Salomo revivivus, who has behind him the long list of kings whom in truth he had before him, here speaks.
Regardingאשׁר היה , qu’il y uet, forאשׁר היו , qui furent, vid., at 1:10b . The seeing here ascribed to the heart (here = νοῦς, Psychol. p. 249) is meant of intellectual observation and apprehension; for “all perception, whether it be mediated by the organs of sense or not (as prophetic observing and contemplating), comprehends all, from mental discernment down to suffering, which veils itself in unconsciousness, and the Scripture designates it as a seeing” (Psychol. 234); the Book of Koheleth also uses the word ראה of every kind of human experience, bodily or mental, 2:24; 5:17; 6:6; 9:9. It is commonly translated: “My heart saw much wisdom and knowledge” (thus e.g., Ewald); but that is contrary to the gram. structure of the sentence (Ew. § 287c). The adject. harbeÝh30 is always, and by Koheleth also, 2:7; 5:6, 16; 6:11; 9:18; 11:8; 12:9, 12, placed after its subst.; thus it is here adv., as at 5:19; 7:16f. Rightly the Venet.: η καρτία μου τεξέαται κατα πολυ σοφίαν και γνῶσιν. Chokma signifies, properly, solidity, compactness; and then, like πυκνότης, mental ability, secular wisdom; and, generally, solid knowledge of the true and the right. DaÔaÔth is connected with chokma here and at Isa. 33:6, as at Rom. 11:33, γνῶσις is with σοφία. Baumggarten-Crusius there remarks that σοφία refers to the general ordering of things, γνῶσις to the determination of individual things; and Harless, that σοφία is knowledge which proposes the right aim, and γνῶσις that which finds the right means thereto. In general, we may say that chokma is the fact of a powerful knowledge of the true and the right, and the property which arises out of this intellectual possession; but daÔaÔth is knowledge penetrating into the depth of the essence of things, by which wisdom is acquired and in which wisdom establishes itself.
[[@Bible:Ecclesiastes 1:17]]
Ecc. 1:17.

By the consecutive modus ואֶתְּנָה (aor. with ah, like Gen. 32:6; 41:11, and particularly in more modern writings; vid., p. 198, regarding the rare occurrence of the aorist form in the Book of Koheleth) he bears evidence to himself as to the end which, thus equipped with wisdom and knowledge, he gave his heart to attain unto (cf. 13a), i.e., toward which he directed the concentration of his intellectual strength. He wished to be clear regarding the real worth of wisdom and knowledge in their contrasts; he wished to become conscious of this, and to have joy in knowing what he had in wisdom and knowledge as distinguished from madness and folly. After the statement of the object laÝdaÔaÔth, stands vedaath, briefly forולדעת . Ginsburg wishes to get rid of the words holeÝloth vêsikluth, or at least would read in their stead תְּבוּניֹת ושִׂכְלוּת (rendering them “intelligence and prudence”); Grätz, after the LXX παραβολὰς και ἐπιστήμην, readsמְשָׁלוֹת ושׂכלות . But the text can remain as it is: the object of Koheleth is, on the one hand, to become acquainted with wisdom and knowledge; and, on the other, with their contraries, and to hold these opposite to each other in their operations and consequences. The LXX, Targ., Venet., and Luther err when they render sikluth here by ἐπιστήμη, etc. As sikluth, insight, intelligence, is in the Aram. written with the letter samek (instead of sin), so here, according to the Masora סכלות , madness is for once written withשׂ , being everywhere else in the book written withס ; the word is an ἐναντιόπωνον,31 and has, whether written in the one way or in the other, a verb, sakal (חכל,סכל ), which signifies “to twist together,” as its root, and is referred partly to a complication and partly to a confusion of ideas.הֹללוֹת , from הָלַל , in the sense of “to cry out,” “to rage,” always in this book terminates in oÑth, and only at 10:13 in uÑth (vid., p. 637); the termination uÑth is that of the abstr. sing.; but oÑth, as we think we have shown at Pro. 1:20, is that of a fem. plur., meant intensively, like bogdoth, Zep. 2:4; binoth, chokmoth, cf. bogdim, Pro. 23:28; hhovlim, Zec. 11:7, 14; toqim, Pro. 11:15 (Böttch. § 700g E). Twice ve sikluth presents what, speaking to his own heart, he bears testimony to before himself. By yaÝdaÔÿti, which is connected with dibbarti (v. 16) in the same rank, he shows the facit. זה refers to the striving to become conscious of the superiority of secular wisdom and science to the love of pleasure and to ignorance. He perceived that this striving also was a grasping after the wind; withרעוּת , 14 b, is here interchanged רעְיוֹן (vid., p. 640). He proves to himself that nothing showed itself to be real, i.e., firm and enduring, unimpeachable and imperishable. And why not?

[[@Bible:Ecclesiastes 1:18]]
Ecc. 1:18.

“For in much wisdom is much grief; and he that increaseth knowledge increaseth sorrow.” The German proverb: “Much wisdom causeth headache,” is compared, 12:12b, but not here, where כַּאַס and מַכְאוֹב express not merely bodily suffering, but also mental grief. Spinoza hits one side of the matter in his Ethics, IV 17, where he remarks: “Veram boni et mali cognitionem saepe non satis valere ad cupiditates coercendas, quo facto homo imbecillitatem suam animadvertens cogitur exclamare: Video meliora proboque, deteriora sequor.” In every reference, not merely in that which is moral, there is connected with knowledge the shadow of a sorrowful consciousness, in spite of every effort to drive it away. The wise man gains an insight into the thousand-fold woes of the natural world, and of the world of human beings, and this reflects itself in him without his being able to change it; hence the more numerous the observed forms of evil, suffering, and discord, so much greater the sadness (כַּאַס, R.כס , cogn.הס , perstringere) and the heart- sorrow (מַכְאוֹב, crève-cour) which the inutility of knowledge occasions. The form of 18a is like 5:6, and that of 18b like e.g., Pro. 18:22a . We change the clause ve yosiph daath into an antecedent, but in reality the two clauses stand together as the two members of a comparison: if one increaseth knowledge, he increaseth (at the same time) sorrow. “יוֹסִיף, Isa. 29:14; 38:5, Ecc. 2:18,” says Ewald, § 169a, “stands alone as a part. act., from the stem reverting from Hiph. to Kal with ִ–י instead of הני יוֹסִף ni ;delellarapnu ton si siht tuB "- ~.>GIB/<]~GNE=GNAL["@ the verb יוסף is fin., in the same manner asיסַּד , Isa. 28:16;תּוֹמִיךְ , Psa. 16:5, is Hiph., in the sense of amplificas, fromימַךְ ; יפְיחַ , Pro. 6:19 (vid., l.c.), is an attribut. clause, qui efflat, used as an adj.; and, at least, we need to suppose in the passage before us the confusion that the eÝ of kaÝteÝl (from kaÝtil, originally kaÝtal), which is only long, has somehow passed over into •Ñ. Böttcher’s remark to the contrary, “An impersonal fiens thus repeated is elsewhere altogether without a parallel,” is set aside by the proverb formed exactly thus: “He that breathes the love of truth says what is right,” Pro. 12:17.

[[@Bible:Ecclesiastes 2]]

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