25 Ecclesiastes

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  • 8/14/2019 25 Ecclesiastes


    I II



    The title of this shor t book reads: 'The Wo rd s o f Qo heleth, son of David,king in Je rusalem'. 'Qoheleth', cf. 1:2 and 12 ; 7:27 ; 12:8-10, is no t a propernam e but a common noun , sometimes preceded by the definite ar ticle; thoughfeminine in form it is treated as a masculine. The mos t likely explanat ion istha t Qohelct h indicates the funct ion of one who speaks in the assem bly (qahal;in Greek the ek k lcsia, hence the book's Latin a nd English tit le transliteratedfrom the Greek Bible) ; it cou ld therefore be rendered: the P re acher. ThisPreacher is called 'son of Davi d and king in Jerusalem' , 1:12, an d the re is nodoubt that he isidentified with Solomon to whom the text makes clear refere nce,1:16 (cf. I K 3:12 ; 5:10-/1; 10: 7) and 2:7-q (cf. I K 3:13; 10:23), though thename is not men tioned. Th is, however, is no more than a conventional literarydevice; the author commends his thoughts to the public under the name of thegreatest sage in Israel. The boo k's vocabulary and style, as a lso its doct rineof which we shall spea k later, make it impossible to da te it befo re the Exile.It has often been maintained that the author is not one but many, that two,three, fo ur or even eig ht hands ca n be detected. But there is a growing disl ikefo r an y dissection tha t bet rays a misunders tand ing of the book's lite rary formand of its theme.As with the other Wisd om Books such as Jo b and Ecclesiasticus, not to

    mention the composite Boo k of Proverbs, th e theme progresses fitfully: theidea is stated, repeated, amended. There is no defined plan here, rather variationson a single theme, the emptiness of th ings human , which is enunc iat ed at thebeginning of the book , I:2, and at the end, 12:8. Kno wledge, wealth, love, lifeitsel f, all these things are illuso ry . Life is no more than a succession of unr elatedand meaningless events, 3:I-I I, ending in sen ility, 12: I-7, and death befalli ngwise and foo lis h, rich and poor, man and bea st alike, 3:14-20. Qo heleth'sproblem is the same as Job's: do virtu e and vice get their dese r ts on thi s earth?Both Qoheleth and Job answer: No . Experien ce gives the lie to the co nventionalanswer, 7:25-8: 14. But, unl ike Job who seeks a mea ning for his sufferings,Qoheleth enjoys good heal t h yet d iscover s that h app iness itself is an emptything and consoles himsel f with the limited joys that life ha s to offer, 3:12-13;8:15 ; 9:7-9. Or rather he t ries to conso l e himsel f, for indeed his fail ure is asevident at the end as at the beginni ng. He taxes his bra in over the problem ofa future life, but in va in , 3:21; 9:10; 12:7. And yet he has fa ith in God : theways of God to man may dismay him, but God, he says, do es not need tojustify them, 3:11,14; 7:13, while man for his pa rt must resign himself toaccept ing the sorrows and joys tha t God send s, 7:14, in bad times and goodkeeping the commandments and obeying a God who rea ds the hum an heart,12:13-14, cf. 9:1.

    979 IN T ROD U C T IO N TO E C CLE S I A S T ESThe doc tr in e as we h av e s ta te d it is drawn from the whole book, including

    the las t few verses which raise doubts even among those who maint ain theunity of authorship . And indeed its incoherency is obvious. Rather than explainthe self-corrections and self-contradictions by a p lu ra li ty of authors, it wouldseem preferable to attribute them to the osc illation of one man's mind confronted with a mys te ry of mysteries and lack ing the data for a solution. Noans wer could satisfy either Qoheleth or Job but that of reward and punishmentbeyond the grave, cf. Introduction to Wisdom Books.This book has the characteristics of a per iod of transition. The old conven

    tiona l convictions have been shaken and as yet nothing has taken their place .Hebrew thought is here at the c ross road s and foreign influence on Qoheleth'sthinking has been the object of recent study. Scholars have looked to Egyptwith its Dialogue of the Man weary of l if e wi th his s oul and the Sad Songs of theHarpis ts; they have seen the influence of Greece (exercised through the Egyptof the hellen istic period) with its Stoic , Epicurean, and Cynic philosophies.No detailed comparison carries conviction but all breathe the same at mosphere.Qoheleth is a Pal es ti ni an Jew but, b ein g a sage by profession, he is alive tointernational thought and sensitive to foreign influence. We have here the firstthough indirect contact with hellenism. Th is dat es the book. It must have beenwr itt en at some time in the 3rd century B.C., dur ing the Greek per iod butbefo re the t ime of t he Maccabees when fre sh faith an d a new hope came toIsrael. Palestme was then under the suzerainty of the Ptol emies and thereforeorientated towards Alexandria.Ecclesiastes represents only one stage in the relig ious development of Israel;

    it cannot be assessed in isolat ion from what has gone befo re a nd wha t willfollow. By underlining the inadequacies of earl ier not ion s and by compellingreconsideration of the human enigma, i t exposes the need of a new revelation.It warns aga inst attachment to the goods of thi s world and, by denying thatthe rich are happy , prepares the wor ld for hearing that ' blessed are the poor' ,Lk6:20.





  • 8/14/2019 25 Ecclesiastes


  • 8/14/2019 25 Ecclesiastes



    1:13: 8:17:11:5Ps 139:17Sl 11:4: 18:6I s55:89Rm 11:33

    Gn 2:7 ; 3:19J b 34:1512:7Jb 14:10Pr 15:24Si 16:29

    Lv 27:1 +Nb 30:3Dt 23:22-24Pr 20:25Si IB2 2

    Pr 1 0:19

    Si 7:14: IB:23M16:7

    Pr 18:19Si 6:14 '"k 10:1


    US1 1I:5 W

    Pr 6:9_11

    Jb 3:11-23:10:18-22

    3:16: 5:7

    6:3Jr 20:17,183:16

    th an the co mmon lo t ; moral considerat ions a rc Irr eleva nt. T he fate o f man and beast is identical. Evenin the realm of justice. migh t is the cr iterion of right.VV . 16,I H though God h imself sh ows p reference forthe weak , v, ISb.d. Th is pas s ing doub t is enough to invest deathwith terror. The concluding words of the bo ok are lesswild: th e life of man ret urn s to God who gave it , 12:7.4 a. Life in the so ci a l gro up: bru te for ce and [hedangers facing the friend less, 4:1-12. politi ca lano ma lies.4: 13-16, mechanical religion a nd th e a b u se of vows,4:17-5:6 : tyranny,5:78 .S a. Allusion to sins com mitted ' thr oug h inadverten ce'. Lv 4:2.22 ,27; Nb 15:22,29 . The ' angel'

    3 a. Half man 's occupations are ill-omencd , ha lf hisact ivities have LO do with sorrow. Dea th cast s its shadowon life. wh i ch is a ser ies of contradic tory acts, vv. I-S.wit ho u t any ot her goal. vv, 9- 13. than death, itsel fmea nt ngtcss. vv. 14-22.b. Or 'G o d has s et eternity in th ei r heart' . Thi sphr ase. however, is not to be taken in t he Christia nsens e ; it mea ns s imply: Go d has given th e h uman h eart(m ind) awar eness of

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    ' y6 E CCLES IA ST E S 984 985 E C C L ES IASTE S T I 2Si 34:1-5

    Ps62:9Si 14:3-9




    Si 27:13

    P r 1 4:13

    Pr 22:241m 1:19Si 39:16,33f

    Pr 2 1:1S14 1:12

    3:22: 8:133b8:9 : 14:2Ps 39:6:90:10:102: II :109:23Ws 2 :5

    7 a. Austere st r ictures o n ga ie ty.b. "laugh te r, merrimen t' carr. He br . ' op press ion .br ibe' .c. T he Law had enunciated the p ri ncip le of co llec tive re tribution : for Israel . pro spe r it y was co nt ingenton fide lit y, cf. Ot 7: 12f: 11:26-28 : 2R:I-68 : Lv 26,T he sages had app lied this pr-incipl e to the individ ua l:G o d renders to eac h as his works deserve, Pr 24:12 :Ps 62 :12 : Jb 34:11. Fr om thi s they in ferred tha t a man'spresent cond it io n wa s proportiona te to his deserts,Wh en expe rience contr ad tc ted th is. their answe r was:thc nro sncr i I } of the wicked and the misfortune s of thevir tuous arc neit her o f them las tin g, Thi s is Ihe thesisof Ps 37 a nd of the fr fend s of Jo b . Oohc leth refutes it.He co unters the conventi ona l so lut ion with scepticism.7:9-12 . Life mu st be tak en as it ce rnes. wi tho utseek ing e xp lanations. 7 1 3 5 If life a nd dea th areso cap riciously ord ain ed . 7:15. ther e is no point inmaki ng supe rhuma n ctfor ts. I Reputation mea nsno thing, 7: 2 The wor ld o f the senses is inexplicab le .Realit y is a fat homless myst ery . 7:23f (wi th a pa renthes is d irected against wome n. 7:25-28) . Fa te is b lind.pi tiless (no t spa ri ng k in gs, H 1-9) and e ven perverse .H 4 Conclusion : H 15.d. Lit , 'Wi sdo m is goo d as(with?) an inherita nce' .

    Bette r a good name than costly oil,the day of death than the day of birth .Better go to the house of mourningthan to the house of feastin g ;for to this end all men come ,let the living take this to heart.Better sadness tha n laughter,a severe face confe rs some benefit.The hea rt of the wise is in the hou se of mourn ing,the heart of foo ls in the hou se o f gaiety.Better attend to a wise man's rep rimandthan listen to a song sung by a fool.For like the crackling of thorns under the cauld ronis the laughte r of fools:thi s is vanity, to o.For laughter ma kes a foo l of the wise ma nand mer riment co rrupts the heart. "

    (messenger) may be the Dries t who witnesses thedi schargin g of th e v ow , bu t th e LX X rea d in g ( 'G od ')suggest s that ange l i s the righ t mea nin g her e, one oft he angelic func tion s being ( 0 give God a n account ofman ' s good works, Tb 12:12 + ; Ac lOA .b . Text cor rup t :we add ' cha s ing of th e wind' .c. Lit. 'T he pro fit of the ea rt h is for all, the kill Jis served by the field', These ar e common excuses fo rcorrupt ad ministrat ion . cf. I S H:12-14 : I K 2 1(Na both).d. A satire no ! (as in Pr ) o n the wicked pluto cratbut on money itself . ill or well acq u ired . il l o r well used.Money secures neither li fe nor happ iness. Thi seva luatio n prepar es t he ground fo r the gospel teac hin gon det a chment , M t 6 : 1 2 1 The sequen ceof id e as is a s fo llows: money is badl y d istributed. 5:9,squa ndere d. 5 :10. hard to come by. 5:11, painful tolose, 5:12- 16, Therefore, man ma y as well sp end it a sit co mes. 5:17- 19. Three examples of all t his : wealththat go es t o ano ther . 6:1-2. t he r ich man without a tomb.6:3-6. po vert y apin g plenty. 6:7-11. Co nclusio n: 6:12.e. Th e tra nslat ion follows the G reek.6 a. 'a hu ndred sons and as man y da ught e r s ' c c r r . :'3 hu ndr ed (so ns) and (l ivin g) ma ny years' Hebr .b. Lit. ' (why ch oose)on e ra ther th an the o ther?'c . LiL ' who knows how to wa l k before th e living'.





    PA R T TW O

    Sanctions-Better the end o f a matt er than its beginning,better patience than prid e.

    1& Do not be ha st y with yo ur resentmen t, for resentment is found in the heart~ of fools. Do not ask why earlie r days were bett er than these, for that is nota questio n prompted by wisdom . W isdom is a prec io us legacy," a boo n forg tho se on whom the su n shines. Fo r as moneyg ives protection, so doe s wisdom;and the good tha t kn owledge imparts is this: its possessor finds that wisdom

    keeps him sa fe.

    11 dispute with one s tr onge r t han himself. T he mo re wor ds, the greater thevanity of i t all ; and what doe s man get from it?

    11 Who knows what is good for ma n in his lifetime, in those few days he livesso vainly , days tha t like a shadow he spends? Who can tell a man what will happenunder the sun after his tim e?

    Fo r every dre am , a vanity to match ;too many words, a cha sing of the wind. bThere fore, fear God.

    If in a province you see the poor oppressed , r ight and ju stice violated, do notbe surprised. You will be to ld that officials are under the supervision of super iors,who a re supervised iri turn ; you will hear talk of 'the common good ' and ' theservice of the king'. cMoney"

    He who loves money never has money enough,he who loves wealth never has enough profit ;

    this, too is van ity.Where goods abound , 10parasites abound ;

    and what is the good of them to their owner ? That he can feast his eyes onthem. T he labourer ' s sleep is sweet, whe ther he has ea ten litt le or much ; but IIthe rich man 's weal th will no t let him sleep at all. -There is a great injustice 12tha t I ob serve under the sun: riches stored and tu rning to loss for their owner.One un lucky venture , and those riches are lost ; a son is born to him, and he has 13noth ing to leave him . Naked from his mother's womb he came, as naked as 14he cam e he will depa rt aga in; nothing to take with him a ft er a ll his efforts. This 15is a grievous wrong, tha t as he came, so must he go; what profit can he showafter to iling to earn the wind , 'a s he spe nds the res t of his days in da rkness, 16grief, wor ry, sickness and resentment?'This, the n, is my conclusion: the right happiness fo r man is to eat and dr ink 17and be content with a ll the work he has to do und er the sun, during the fewdays God has given him to live, since this is the lot assigned him. And whenever 18God gives a man riches and pro perty, with the ab ility to enjoy them and to findcontentment in his work, this is a gift fro m God . He will not need to brood, 19a t least , over the durat ion of his life so long as God keeps his heart occupiedwit h joy .6There is an evil I observe und er the su n, that weighs men down: 's upposea man has received from God riches , pro per ty , honours- nothing a t a ll lefthim to wish for. Yet G od does not give him the chance to enjoy them, but somestra nger enjoys them. There is vanity here, and grievous suffering. Or perhapsa man has had a hundred so ns and as many da ughters" and lived for manyyears, and then derives no benefit from his esta te , not even a tom b to ca ll hisown. Why then I say, better the untimely-born than he:

    In darkne ss arriving,in darkness dep art ing ;even his name is wrapped in darkness.

    Never seei ng the sun,never knowing rest;

    the one no more than the other. b Even if the man had lived a thousand yearstwice ove r, without der iving profit from his estate, do not both ali ke go to thesame place?Man toils but to eat,yet his bel ly i s never filled.

    Wha t advantage has the wise ma n over the foo l? And what abou t the pauperwho keeps up appearances before his fellow mcn? Do appearances cou nt morethan the co ndition of the belly? This, too , is vanity and chasing of the wind .What has been already has a name ; an d wha t man is, is known ; he cannot 10

    Pr 1 3:8

    2:24 +

    Pr 19:6Si 13:6

    12:133:16 : 4:1

    4:2lb 3:1 IP s58:8



    1:9-11Jb 9:32

    3b 1:211 Tm 6:7

    P r 27:20

    SI 14:3-192:18-19Lk 12:20


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    1:15 Consider the wor k of God ; who can set straight what he has made crooked? gWhen times are prosperous, enjoy your happiness ; when times are bad, consider )1this: the one is God 's doing, as is the ot her, in o rd er t hat m an may knownothing of his destiny.' -In this fleeting life of mine I have seen so much: thevir tuous man perishing for all his v ir tue, for all his god lessness the godlessliving on.

    Si 40:5- 63:11 -;-

    Dt 33:3Pr 16:11'.'57 :16Jb 9:22 ; 21.26 Ullil7:15: 8:14

    rn;:3:19-21 UJb 21:21 w1'.'52:4Si 101:19

    2:24 +Jg 9:13



    7:15: 9:2Ps73Jr 12:lf

    6:12 +1'.'52:5

    Holy Place; while those who had done good weref o r g o t t e n in the cnv .9 a . Hcbr . repea ts 'all this'. 'I have come to understand' corr. (Lit. 'my hear! saw'). 'all they do' lit."thei r work s', Iullowing Syr .

    h. He ex ncrlcnccs these emotions but fa ils tounderstand them . Like dea th and dest in y l ove is blindand capricious.c . 'van ity' corr. : 'evervuu na' Hebr .d . Apparent ly refe rr-ing to cx travagu nt presents tothe living and (by bultd lne elaborate tombs) to the dead.IIcbr. li t. 'Mad ness is in their hearts while they liveand afterwards for the dead ', We insert 'towards theliving' before 'in th eir lifetime' .e. ' is linked' cere and versions: 'is chosen' ketib ,r. Sorrow a t the death o f those once loved moderales the fo llow ing in vi ta tio n t o enjo y life , vv,

    d. 2:24 1, by a recommendation to cons tancy, v. 9,until thefinal pani ng, v, 10.

    8 a. 'This (I) say' added.h. The king wiel ds a sacred authority. The 'oath

    of G od' rnuy be the pr omise given by G od to the ki ng,2 S 7; Ps H or else the oa th sworn \0 God e it her bythe ki ng or by h is subje cts.

    c . Probab le meaning, Hcbr . obscure: lit. 'for them isery of man is gre at on him ',

    d. Lit. 'beca us e they acte d thus' , The who le verseis obscu re and has been corrected here fo llow ing the

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    I9:10 ECCLE S I ASTES 988 989 E CC L ES I AS TE S 12:3




    Jb 17:1Ps90:10


    Ps 139:14-16In 3:83:11 +2 M 7 :22

    Lk 12:2-3


    11 a. Som e ta ke th is to mean bait th r own i n the waterby the fishe rman and recovered in the fo rm of hiscatch: o thers inte rpret 'bread' as merc han dise, shippedabroad and bringing home a pro fit. This passage onlaking chances th rows ligh t o n the att itude Qohelethwishes to instil in to h is di sciple. He doe s not wish tod iscourage him for discou ragemen t's sake , b ut to robhim of his illus io ns and thu s sa ve h im from error .After al l . r isks do have to be taken .b. Lon g life was the rew a rd prom ised to the Israe lit es in the dis cou r s es of D t (5:16.33 ; 11:9,21;22:7. e tc .). and was the grea test happiness th e sageshad to o ffer the virtuous . For Oo he teth , o ld age is no thapp iness but fear o f death , 11:8. regrets for yo uth ,11:8- 12:2, th e slow ing-down of l if e, 1 2:35b, a wa itingfor the ir remediab le. 12:5c-7.

    c . A maxim on youth which Oohe leth emendswith sober advice.12 a . Pic tu re of old age and its weakness .b. ' day ' corr .; 't he women who look out' Hebr.f. Also translated ' in sleep'.

    lit. A le ss c oherent sec t io n t han those p recedin g:Qoheleth her e assemb les sayingsa nd illustr ations on thesubiect of cha nce . Cha nce ignores merits . 9:11-12 .Ma ny th ing s fail or succeed for t rivial c auses. 9:1310:20 . Life is a game of chance: risk is an esse nua l partof it . 11:1-6.h. 'evil' cor r., cr. 5:12 ; 6:1; 9:3 . 'a (piece of) wisdom'Hebr.

    i . 'mis take' corr.; 'si n ne r' Hebr .10 a . 'a bow l' Svr.b. Lit. 'T he wise man 's heart is on his right hand.the foo l' s on his left ' .c . The word s 'w isdom' and ' success' have beenintercha nged for the sa ke of the sense .d. Te xt of th is line do ubtful ; we inser t 't he wayca nnot ' ,

    e. V. 19re fers back to vv , 16-17. representi ng theemp tyexcuse o f t he c aro us ing pr inces,

    20 Do not curse the king, even in thought ;"do not curse the rich, even in your bedroom,for a bi rd of the air will carry the news;indiscretion sprouts wings.11 Cast your bread on the water ; at long las t you wi ll f ind i t again." -Sharewith seven, yes with eight, for you never know what disaster may occur

    3 on earth. When clouds are ful l of ra in, they empty i t out on the ear th. Le t thet ree fall south or north, where the tree falls there it l ies.4 Keep watching the wind and you wi ll never sow,

    stare at the c louds and you will never reap.5 Just as you do not know the way of the wind or the mysteries of a woman withchild, no more can you know the work of God who is beh ind it all.

    In the morning sow your seed,do not le t your hands l ie idle in the evening.Fo r which will prove successful, this or t ha t, you cannot tell; and it may be thatbo th wil l turn out well together.Old age"

    Light issweet; at sight of the sun the eyesa re glad . However great the numberof the years a man may l ive, let him enjoy them all, and yet remember that darkdays will be many. All that is to come is vanity.

    Rejoice in your youth, you who are young;'le t your heart give you joy i n your young days.Fo llow the promptings of your heartand the desires of your eyes.But this you must know : for all these things God will bring you to judgement.

    10 Cast worry from your heart ,shield your flesh from pain.Yet youth , the age of dark hair, is vanity. 12 And remember your creator inthe days of you r youth, before evil days come and the years approach when

    2 you say, 'These give me no pleasure', -before sun and light and moon and sta rsgrow dark, and the clouds return after the rain;

    t he day when those who keep the house tremble"and strong men are bowed;when the women grind no longer at the mill,because day " is dar kening at the windows




    Of the words he speaks fol ly is the beginning, sheer madness the end . A fool lii s a great spender of words ; man does not know t he future; so who can tell himwhat is t o happen a ft er hi s time?Fools find hard work irksome ;he who does not know the way canno t go to town."

    A bad outlook for you , country with a lad for ki ng, and where princes feast 16in the morni ng. Happy the country whose king is nob ly born, where princes 17eat at a respectable hour to keep themselves strong, not to make themselvesdrunk.

    and in the efforts you exert under the sun. Whatever work you p ropose to 10do , do it while you can, for t he re is neither achievement, nor p lanning, norknowledge, nor wisdom in Sheol where you are going.Chance-

    I see this too under the sun: the race does not go to the swift, nor the battle 11to the strong; there is no bread for the wise, wealth for t he intelligent, nor favourfor the learned ; all are subject to time and mischance. Mandoes not know his 12hour; like fi sh caugh t i n the treacherous net, like birds taken in the snare, soi sman overtaken by misfortune suddenly fallingon him.

    I observe another evil- u nd er the sun, to me a grave one. -There was a lismall town, with only a few inhabitants; a mighty king marched aga ins t i t,lai d si ege t o it and built great siege-works round it. But a poverty-stricken sage 15conf ron ted him and by his wisdom saved the town. No one remembered thispoo r man afterwards. Now I say: wisdom is bet te r than strength, but a poor 16man's wisdom is never valued and his words are disregarded. The gentle words 17of the wise are heard above the shout s o f a ki ng of fools.Be tt er wisdom than warlike weapons , but one mistake' undoes a deal of 18good. 10 Dead flies spoil a bowla of perfumed oil; a little folly is stronger than 1wisdom and honour.

    The wise man 's heart leads him ar ight, 2the fool's heart leads him astray.bA fool has only to walk along t he road and , having no sense, he makes plainto all what a fool he is.Wi th the anger of the ruler mount ing aga inst you, do not leave your post; 4composure avoids many a fault . There is an evil I observe under the sun, 5the type of misjudgement t o whi ch rulers are prone: -folly promoted to high 6dignities, rich men taking the lowest place. -Slaves I see on horseback, princes 7goi ng on foot like slaves.

    He who digs a pit may fall into it;a ma n saps a wall, the serpent bites him.He who quarries stones may be hurt by them;he who chops wood takes a risk.I f for want of sharpening the axe is blunt, you have to st rike very hard, but the 10reward given by wisdom is success.' If the snake bites before i t i s charmed, 11what is the use of the charmer?

    Words from a wise man's mouth are pleasing,but a fool ' s l ips procure hi s own ruin.


    Pe 13:16

    Pe 10:32;15:2


    Is 32:68:7

    0 . 5:9

    Pe 19:10;30:22Si 11:5

    Est 6:3Pe 21:22

    Pe 14:17

    Lk 12:20Pr 7:23

    2 Ch 22:4Pe 31:4-7Is 3:4

    Owing to neglect the roof-tree gives way ;for want of care the house lets in the rain.p -Bu t meals are made for laughter. Wine gives joy to life. Money is the answer 19to everything.e

    Ps 7:15Pe 26:27Si 27:26-27

    7:19Pr 1:5: 24:5


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    Ij12=4 ECCLESIAS TES 99


    il l



    The Song of Songs, tha t is to say 'the greatest of all songs', is a series of lovepoems in which lover and loved are now united, now div ided , now scught, nowfound . The lover is ca lled 'king' , 1:4 and 12, and 'Solomon', 3:7 and 9; hisbeloved is cal led ' the Shulamrnite', 7: I , which t it le, it is tho ught, is related tothe 'Shunammite' of Dav id's time and Solomon's, I K 1:3; 2:21-22. ThatSolomon was a wri ter of songs Hebrew tradition was aware, I K 5:12: for thisreason 'the greatest of all songs ' was attributed to him (hence the title. 1:1);in the same way as Proverbs, Ecclesiastes and Wisdom were creditedto Solomonin his capacity of sage. Th is titular attribution caused the Song to be placedamong the Wi sdom Book s, after Ecc lesi as te s in the Greek Bible, betweenEcclesiastes and Wisdom (two 'Solornonic' books) in the Vulgate . In the HebrewBible it is the first of the five megillo th, or ' ro ll s' , which were recit ed at thegreat feasts ; the Song was read at Passover.People have fou nd it surprising that a book that makes no mention of God

    and whose vocabulary is so passionate shou ld figure in the sacred canon. Thedoubts in Jewish circles of the 1st century A.D . were, however, s ett le d by anappeal to tradition . On these same grounds the Christian Church has alwaysaccepted the Song as part of holy scr ipture.Of all the Old Testament books this has been most variously interpreted.

    Only two of thes e interpretation s a re acceptable. T he Jewish rabb is understoodit allegorically; the relationship of lover and beloved is that between God andIsrae l, the traditional prophetic marriage metaph or dating fr om Hosea. Thewriters of the e ar ly Church, with the exception of Theodore of Mopsuestia,ad op ted the same explanation, though with them the allegory becomes one ofChrist an d his Church. This allegorical interpretation is accepted, under variousform s, by the maj o rity o f Catholic commentators to day. Some are contentwith the gene ra l theme , the elaboration bein g purely li terary, o f God thebridegroom ofI s rael. Others see in the sequence of the Songthe story of Israel'schanging seasons of conversion, hope, d isillusionment. T h is last interpretationis fully explained in the footnotes given here.Other scholars prefer the more obvious meaning. Fo r them the Song is a

    collection of hymns to true love sanctified by union . And since God has givenhis blessing to marriage, the theme is of the religious a nd not merely of thephys ical order. Other book s of the Old Testament touch upon th is same subjectof human love, Proverbs and Ecclesiasticus fo r example; the app roach is thesame as that of the Song and, at t imes, the very ph rases. It is a nob le theme andthe prophets rightly saw in it an apt image of God's love for Israel. T he topicis not unworthy of a book that was to be r eceived into the sacred canon andrecognised as inspired.


    but also his greatness. by showingthat this wor ld is notworthy of him. It incit es the reader to disinterestedreligion and to that kind of prayer in which a creature.aware of i ts noth ingness . adores the mystery o f Go d.er. Ps 39.g. Commendatory epilogue: eu lo gy of Oo heleth,vv. s-t t , hardsh ips of writing book s. v. 12. advice fora Quiet mind. vv. 13-14.h. Meaning doubtful. text corr .i. Defective phrase ; we insert 'duty' .

    Epilogue"Besides being a sage, Qohe leth also taught his knowledge to the people, 9having weighed, studied and amended a grea t many proverbs. -Qoheleth tried 10to write in an att ractive style and to set down truthful thoughts in a straight

    forwa rd manner.The words of the sages are like goads, like pegs dr iven deep; a shepherd uses IIthese for the good of hisflocks."One last thing, my son, be warned that writing books involves endless hard 12work, and that much study wearies the body.To sum up the whole matter: fear God, and keep his commandments, since 13this is the whole duty of man. i 0 For God will call a ll hidden deeds, good or bad, 14to judgement.

    12 c. 'the voice of the bird is silenced (ceases)' corr.d. Here again. cf. 1:4f . indifferen t nature forms thebackcloth for human dea th . T he old man dies at thevery moment that nature revives with the spring. 'isheavy wi th food', 'hears its rruu', corr .c . The earthly part of man returns [0 earth. Butsince nothing on this earth can sati sf y him. not all ofhim originates from earth. and that wh ich is of God .returns to God .

    C The book ends as it began but has covered muchground in between. It has taught man his wretchedness


    5:6Si 1:1J

    and the street doors are shut;when the sound of the mill is faint,when the voice of the bird is silenced,and song notes are stilled,when to go uphill is an ordealand a walk is something to dread .Yet the almond tree is in flower,the grasshopper is heavywith foodand the caper bush bears its fruit ,"

    Ps49 :11 while man goes to his everlasting home. And the mourners are already walkingto and fro in the street

    before the silver cord has snapped,or the golden lamp been broken,or the pitcher shattered at the spr ing,or the pulley cracked at the well,or before the dust returns to the earth as it once came from it , and the breath 7to God whogavei t. 'Vanity of vanities, Qohe leth says. All is vanity/

    3:20-21 l-Ps 104:29 :146:4