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


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After Koheleth has shown, 1:12ff., that the striving after wisdom does not satisfy, inasmuch as, far from making men happy, its possession only increases their inward conflicts, he proposes to himself the question whether or not there is a difference between wisdom and folly, whether the former does not far excel the latter. He proceeds to consider this question, for it is more appropriate to him, the old much-experienced king, than to others.

Ecc. 2:12.

“And I turned myself to examine wisdom, and madness, and folly: for what is the man who could come after the king, him whom they have made so long ago!” Mendelssohn’s translation, 12a: “I abandoned my design of seeking to connect wisdom with folly and madness,” is impossible, because for such a rendering we should have had at least מִלִּרְאוֹת instead ofלרְאוֹת . Hitzig, otherwise followed by Stuart: “I turned myself to examine me wisdom, and, lo, it was madness as well as folly.” This rendering is impossible also, for in such a case והִנּה ought to have stood as the result, afterחכמה . The pasage, Zec. 14:6, cited by Hitz., does not prove the possibility of such a brachyology, for there we read not veqaroth ve qeppayon, but êqaroth iqêppauÝn (the splendid ones, i.e., the stars, will draw themselves together, i.e., will become dark bodies). The two vavs are not correlative, which is without example in the usage of this book, but copulative: he wishes to contemplate (Zöckler and others) wisdom on the one side, and madness and folly on the other, in their relation to each other, viz., in their relative worth. Hitzig’s ingenuity goes yet further astray in 12b: “For what will the man do who comes after the king? (He shall do) what was long ago his (own) doing, i.e., inheriting from the king the throne, he will not also inherit his wisdom.” Instead of aÝsuÝhuÝ, he reads aÔsoÝhuÝ, after Ex. 18:18; but the more modern author, whose work we have here before us, would, instead of this anomalous form, use the regular form עשׂוֹתוֹ ; but, besides, the expression eÝth asher-kêvar ÿasotho, “(he will do) what long ago was his doing,” is not Heb.; the words ought to have been keasotho kevar khen i’sah, or at least ÿasaÝhuÝ. If we compare 12b with 18b, the man who comes after the king appears certainly to be his successor.37

But by this supposition it is impossible to give just effect to the relation (assigning a reason or motive) of 12b to 12a expressed byכִּי . When I considered, Knobel regards Koheleth as saying, that a fool would be heir to me a wise man, it appeared strange to me, and I was led to compare wisdom and folly to see whether or not the wise man has a superiority to the fool, or whether his labour and his fate are vanity, like those of the fool. This is in point of style absurd, but it is much more absurd logically. And who then gave the interpreter the right to stamp as a fool the man who comes after the king? In the answer: “That which has long ago been done,” must lie its justification; for this that was done long ago naturally consists, as Zöckler remarks, in foolish and perverse undertakings, certainly in the destruction of that which was done by the wise predecessor, in the lavish squandering of the treasures and goods collected by him. More briefly, but in the same sense, Burger: Nihil quod a solita hominum agendi ratione recedit. But in v. 19, Koheleth places it as a question whether his successor will be a wise man or a fool, while here he would presuppose that “naturally,” or as a matter of course, he will be a fool. In the matter of style, we have nothing to object to the translation on which Zöckler, with Rabm., Rosenm., Knobel, Hengst., and others, proceeds; the supplying of the verb יעֲשׂה to meh haÝaÝdaÝm [= what can the man do?] is possible (cf. Mal. 2:15), and the neut. interpret. of the suffix of עשׂוּהוּ is, after 7:13, Am. 1:3, Job. 31:11, admissible; but the reference to a successor is not connected with the course of the thoughts, even although one attaches to the plain words a meaning which is foreign to them. The words אֶת ... עשׂוּהוּ are accordingly not the answer to the question proposed, but a component part of the question itself. Thus Ewald, and with him Elster, Heiligst., construes: “How will the man be who will follow the king, compared with him whom they made (a king) long ago, i.e., with his predecessor?” Butאת , in this pregnant sense, “compared with,” is without example, at least in the Book of Koheleth, which generally does not use it as a prep.; and, besides, this rendering, by introducing the successor on the throne, offends against the logic of the relation of 12b to 12
aThe motive of Koheleth’s purpose, to weigh wisdom and folly against each other as to their worth, consists in this, that a king, especially such an one as Solomon was, has in the means at his disposal and in the extent of his observation so much more than everyother, that no one who comes after him will reach a different experience. This motive would be satisfactorily expressed on the supposition that the answer begins withאת , if one should read עשׂהוּ forעשׂוּהוּ : he will be able to do (accomplish) nothing but what he (the king) has long ago done, i.e., he will only repeat, only be able to confirm, the king’s report. But if we take the text as it here stands, the meaning is the same; and, besides, we get rid of the harsh ellipsis meÔh haÝaÝdaÝm for meÔh yaÔaÔseÔh haÝaÝdaÝm. We translate: for what is the man who might come after the king, him whom they have made so long ago! The king whom they made so long ago is Solomon, who has a richer experience, a more comprehensive knowledge, the longer the time (viz., from the present time backwards) since he occupied the throne. Regarding the expression eth asher = quem, instead of the asher simply, vid., Köhler under Zec. 12:10.עשׂוּהוּ , with the most general subj., is not different fromנעֲשׂה , which, particularly in the Book of Daniel (e.g., 4:28f.), has frequently an active construction, with the subject unnamed, instead of the passive (Gesen. § 137, margin). The author of the Book of Koheleth, alienated from the theocratic side of the kingdom of Israel, makes use of it perhaps not unintentionally; besides, Solomon’s elevation to the throne was, according to 1Ki. 1, brought about very much by human agency; and one may, if he will, think of the people in the word ‘asuhu also, according to 1Ki. 1:39, who at last decided the matter. Meh before the letters hheth and ayin commonly occurs: according to the Masora, twenty-four times; before other initial letters than these, eight times, and three of these in the Book of Koheleth before the letter he, 2:12, 22; 7:10. The words are more an exclamation than a question; the exclamation means: What kind of a man is that who could come after the king! cf. “What wickedness is this!” etc., Jud. 20:12, Jos. 22:16, Ex. 18:14, 1Ki. 9:13, i.e., as standing behind with reference to me — the same figure of extenuatio, as mah adam, Psa. 144:3; cf. 8:5.
There now follows an account of what, on the one side, happened to him thus placed on a lofty watch-tower, such as no other occupied.
[[@Bible:Ecclesiastes 2:13]]
Ecc. 2:13, 14a.

“And I saw that wisdom has the advantage over folly, as light has the advantage over darkness. The wise man has eyes in his head; but the fool walketh in darkness.” In the sacred Scriptures, “light” is generally the symbol of grace, Psa. 43:3, but also the contrast of an intellectually and morally darkened state, Isa. 51:4. To know a thing is equivalent to having light on it, and seeing it in its true light (Psa. 36:10); wisdom is thus compared to light; folly is once, Job. 38:19, directly called “darkness.” Thus wisdom stands so much higher than folly, as light stands above darkness.יתְרוֹן , which hitherto denoted actual result, enduring gain, signifies here preference (vid., p. 638); along withכִּיתֲרוֹן 38 there is also found the form39 כְּיִתְרוֹן (vid., Pro. 30:17). The fool walks in darkness: he is blind although he has eyes (Isa. 43:8), and thus has as good as none, — he wants the spiritual eye of understanding (Ecc. 10:3); the wise man, on the other hand, his eyes are in his head, or, as we also say: he has eyes in his head, — eyes truly seeing, looking at and examining persons and things. That is the one side of the relation of wisdom to folly as put to the test.

The other side of the relation is the sameness of the result in which the elevation of wisdom above folly terminates.
[[@Bible:Ecclesiastes 2:14]]
Ecc. 2:14b,15.

“And I myself perceived that one experience happeneth to them all. And I said in my heart, As it will happen to the fool, it will happen also to me; and why have I then been specially wise? Thus I spake then in my heart, that this also is vain.” Zöckler gives to גּם an adversative sense; but this gam (= ὅμως, similiter) stands always at the beginning of the clause, Ewald, § 354a. Gam-ani corresponds to the Lat. ego idem, which gives two predicates to one subject; while et ipse predicates the same of the one of two subjects as it does of the other (Zumpt, § 697). The second gam-ani serves for the giving of prominence to the object, and here precedes, after the manner of a substantival clause (cf. Isa. 45:12; Eze. 33:17; 2Ch. 28:10), as at Gen. 24:27; cf. Gesen. § 121. 3. MiqreÔh (fromקָרָה , to happen, to befall) is quiquid alicui accidit (in the later philosoph. terminol. accidens; Venet. συμβεβηκός); but here, as the connection shows, that which finally puts an end to life, the final event of death. By the word ידַי the author expresses what he had observed on reflection; byאָמַי ... בִּלִי , what he said inwardly to himself regarding it; and byדִּבַּי בְלִי , what sentence he passed thereon with himself. Lammah asks for the design, as maddu’a for the reason. אָז is either understood temporally: then when it is finally not better with me than with the fool (Hitz. from the standpoint of the dying hour), or logically: if yet one and the same event happeneth to the wise man and to the fool (Eslt.); in the consciousness of the author both are taken together. The זה of the conclusion refers, not, as at 1:17, to the endeavouring after and the possession of wisdom, but to this final result making no difference between wise men and fools. This fate, happening to all alike, isהֶבֶל , a vanity rendering all vain, a nullity levelling down all to nothing, something full of contradictions, irrational. Paul also (Rom. 8:20) speaks of this destruction, which at last comes upon all, as a ματαιότης.

The author now assigns the reason for this discouraging result.
[[@Bible:Ecclesiastes 2:16]]
Ecc. 2:16.

“For no remembrance of the wise, as of the fool, remains for ever; since in the days that are to come they are all forgotten. And how dieth the wise man: as the fool!” As in 1:11, so here זכְרוֹן is the principal form, not different fromזכָּרוֹן . Having no remembrance forever, is equivalent to having no eternal endurance, having simply no onward existence (Ecc. 9:6). עם is both times the comparat. combin., as at 7:11; Job. 9:26; 37:18; cf. יחַד , Psa. 49:11. There are, indeed, individual historically great men, the memory of whom is perpetuated from generation to generation in words and in monuments; but these are exceptions, which do not always show that posterity is able to distinguish between wise men and fools. As a rule, men have a long appreciating recollection of the wise as little as they have of the fools, for long ago (vid., beshekvar, p. 640) in the coming days (הַיָּי הַבָּי, accus. of the time, like the ellipt.הבי , Isa. 27:6) all are forgotten; הַכֹל is, as at Psa. 14:3, meant personally: the one as the other; and נשְׁכָּח is rendered by the Masora, like 9:6,כְּבָי אָבָי , as the pausal form of the finite; but is perhaps thought of as part., denoting that which only in the coming days will become too soon a completed fact, since those who survive go from the burial of the one, as well as from that of the other, to the ordinary duties of the day. Death thus sinks the wise man, as it does the fool, in eternal oblivion; it comes to both, and brings the same to both, which extorted from the author the cry: How dieth the wise man? as the fool! Why is the fate which awaits both thus the same! This is the pointed, sarcastic איךְ (how!) of the satirical Mashal, e.g., Isa. 14:4, Eze. 26:17; and ימוּת is = moriendum est, as at 2Sa. 3:3, moriendum erat. Rambach well: איך est h. l. particula admirationis super rei indignitate.

What happened to the author from this sorrowful discovery he now states.
[[@Bible:Ecclesiastes 2:17]]
Ecc. 2:17.

“The life became hateful to me; for the work which man accomplsihes under the sun was grievous to me: because all is vain and windy effort.” He hated life; and the labour which is done under the sun, i.e., the efforts of men, including the fate that befalls men, appeared to him to be evil (repugnant). The LXX translate: πονηρὸν ἐπ’ ἐμε; the Venet.: κακὸν ἐπ’ ἐμοι; and thus Hitzig: as a woeful burden lying on me. But רע עלי is to be understood after tov al, Est. 3:9, etc., cf. Psa. 16:6, and as synon. with בִּעינַי or לפָנַי (cf. Dan. 3:32), according to which Symmachus: κακὸν γάρ μοι ἐφάνη. This al belongs to the more modern usus loq., cf. Ewald, § 217i . The end of the song was also again the grievous ceterum censeo: Vanity, and a labour which has wind as its goal, wind as its fruit.

[[@Bible:Ecclesiastes 2:18]]

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