Ecclesiastes

For everything there is a season and a time for every purpose under heaven.

– Ecclesiastes 3:1

Ecclesiastes (/ɨˌklziˈæstz/Greek: Ἐκκλησιαστής, EkklesiastesHebrew: קֹהֶלֶת, Qoheleth,Koheleth) is one of 24 books of the Tanakh or Hebrew bible, where it is classified as one of theKetuvim (or “Writings”). It is among the canonical Wisdom Books in the Old Testament of alldenominations of Christianity. The title Ecclesiastes is a Latin transliteration of the Greek translation of the Hebrew Koheleth (meaning “Gatherer”, but traditionally translated as “Teacher” or “Preacher”[1]), the eponymous author of the book.

Koheleth introduces himself as “son of David, king in Jerusalem“, perhaps implying that he isSolomon, but the work is in fact anonymous and was most probably composed in the last part of the 3rd century BC.[2] The book is in the form of an autobiography telling of his investigation of themeaning of life and the best way of life. He proclaims all the actions of man to be inherently hevel, meaning “vain”, “futile”, “empty”, “meaningless”, “temporary”, “transitory”, “fleeting” or “mere breath”, as the lives of both wise and foolish men end in death. While Koheleth 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 senselessness, 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).

Ecclesiastes has had a deep influence on Western literature: American novelist Thomas Wolfe wrote: “[O]f all I have ever seen or learned, that book seems to me the noblest, the wisest, and the most powerful expression of man’s life upon this earth — and also the highest flower of poetry, eloquence, and truth. I am not given to dogmatic judgments in the matter of literary creation, but if I had to make one I could say that Ecclesiastes is the greatest single piece of writing I have ever known, and the wisdom expressed in it the most lasting and profound.”[3]

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