Bible Overview: Ecclesiastes

Ecclesiastes (/ɪˌklziˈæstz/; Hebrew: קֹהֶלֶתqōheleṯ, Greek: Ἐκκλησιαστής, Ekklēsiastēs) is one of 24 books of the Tanakh (Hebrew Bible), where it is classified as one of the Ketuvim (Writings). Originally written c. 450–200 BCE, it is also among the canonical Wisdom literature of the Old Testament in most denominations of Christianity. The title Ecclesiastes is a Latin transliteration of the Greek translation of the Hebrew Kohelet (also written as KohelethQoheleth or Qohelet), the pseudonym used by the author of the book.

In traditional Jewish texts and throughout church history (up to the 18th and 19th centuries), King Solomon is named as the author, but modern scholars reject this. Textually, the book is the musings of a King of Jerusalem as he relates his experiences and draws lessons from them, often self-critical. The author, who is not named anywhere in the book, or in the whole of the Bible, introduces a “Kohelet” whom he identifies as the son of David (1:1). The author does not use his own “voice” throughout the book again until the final verses (12:9–14), where he gives his own thoughts and summarises what “the Kohelet” has spoken. It emphatically proclaims all the actions of man to be inherently “hevel” (a word meaning “vapor” or “breath”, but often interpreted as “insubstantial”, “vain”, or “futile”) […] as the lives of both wise and foolish men end in death. While Qoheleth clearly endorses wisdom as a means for a well-lived earthly life, he is unable to ascribe eternal meaning to it. In light of this perceived senselessness, he suggests that one should enjoy the simple pleasures of daily life such as eating, drinking, and taking enjoyment in one’s work, which are gifts from the hand of God. The book concludes with the injunction: “Fear God, and keep his commandments; for that is the whole duty of everyone” (12:13).

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