Ecclesiastes: koheleth's quest for life's meaning by


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Weston W. Fields

Submitted in partial fulfillment of requirements

for the degree of Master of Theology in

Grace Theological Seminary

May 1975

Digitized by Ted Hildebrandt and Dr. Perry Phillips, Gordon College, 2007.

It was during a series of lectures given in Grace

Theological Seminary by Professor Thomas V. Taylor on the

book of Ecclesiastes that the writer's own interest in the

book was first stirred. The words of Koheleth are remark-

ably suited to the solution of questions and problems which

arise for the Christian in the twentieth century. Indeed,

the message of the book is so appropriate for the contem-

porary world, and the book so cogently analyzes the purpose

and value of life, that he who reads it wants to study it;

and he who studies it finds himself thoroughly attached to

it: one cannot come away from the book unchanged.

For the completion of this study the writer is

greatly indebted to his advisors, Dr. John C. Whitcomb, Jr.

and Professor James R. Battenfield, without whose patient

help and valuable suggestions this thesis would have been

considerably impoverished.

To my wife Beverly, who has once again patiently

and graciously endured a writing project, I say thank you.








Translation 5

Meaning of tl,h,qo 6

Zimmermann's Interpretation 7

Historical Interpretations 9

Linguistic Analysis 9

What did Solomon collect? 12

Why does Solomon bear this name? 12

The feminine gender 13

Conclusion 15


Introduction 16

Authorship and Linguistic Background 16

The Traditional View 16

Arguments Against Solomonic Authorship 17

A literary device 18

Aramaic background 22

Definition of "Aramaisms" 23

History of Aramaic 26

Late-dating by Aramaisms 30

Limited vocabulary 32

Later documents 33

Reasons for Aramaisms 36

Noun formations 37

Reasons for non-routine terms 38

Conclusion on Aramaisms 40

An Aramaic original 41

Introduction 41

Proofs for an Aramaic original 42

Ecclesiastes 7:12 42

Ecclesiastes 10:15 44



Ecclesiastes 11:1 45

Proofs for a Hebrew original 47

Two Hebrew dialects 47

Paronomasia 48

Canaanite parallels 49

Ben Sira 49

Characteristics of a translation 50

Conclusion on an Aramaic original 52

Ecclesiastes 1:12 52

Ecclesiastes 1:16 54

The Sitz im Leben of the book 55

Arguments for Solomonic Authorship 56

Phoenician background 56

Introduction 56

Linguistic uniqueness 58

A literary genre 59

Dahood's arguments 63

Ecclesiastes 1:10 63

Ecclesiastes 1:16 64

Ecclesiastes 2:2 64

Ecclesiastes 2:24 65

Other examples 65

Use of Ugaritic 71

Evaluation of Dahood 73

Building and commerce 74

Tradition 75

Internal arguments 77

Date 78

Conclusion 80


Introduction 82

Theme 83

Unsympathetic Interpretations 83

Sympathetic Interpretations 90

A Suggested Theme 91

Development of Thought 94

Conclusion 98


Introduction 100

Vanity of Vanities 101

Definition 101

Usage of lb,h, 105

Relationship of the Name "Abel" 108

Jewish Interpretations 109



Conclusion on lb,h, 111

Under the Sun 111

Occurrences of the Phrase 112

Definition of the Phrase 114

Significance of the Phrase 115

The Relationship of Inspiration and Revelation 116

Introduction 116

Definition of revelation and inspiration 117

Revelation 117

Inspiration 117

Correlation of inspiration and revelation 118

Koheleth's revelational teachings 120

Conclusion on revelation and inspiration 122

The Meaning and Place of Pleasure 127

Introduction 127

Consideration of the Texts 127

Ecclesiastes 2:1-11 127

Description of the experiment 127

Linguistic analysis 128

Ecclesiastes 2:1 128

Ecclesiastes 2:3 130

Ecclesiastes 2:8 133

Conclusion on 2:1-11 134

Ecclesiastes 2:24-26 135

Description of the passage 135

Linguistic analysis 138

Ecclesiastes 2:24 138

Ecclesiastes 2:25 139

Conclusion on 2:24-26 140

Ecclesiastes 4:8 140

Ecclesiastes 7:15-18 142

Description of the passage 142

Linguistic analysis 142

Oqd;ciB; 142

Ecclesiastes 7:16 143

Ecclesiastes 8:15 147

Ecclesiastes 11:9, 10 149

Conclusion 150

Death and Immortality 152

Introduction 152

Consideration of the Texts 153

Ecclesiastes 2:12-17 153

Ecclesiastes 3:15-22 154

Figures of speech 154

Psychology of man and animals 155



Immortality 162

Ecclesiastes 4:1-3 163

Ecclesiastes 6:3, 12 166

Ecclesiastes 9:1-12 168

Old Testament doctrine of Sheol 169

Interpretation of the passage 173

Word meanings 174

hW,fEma 174

NOBw;H,v; 175

tfadav; 176

hmAk;HA 177

Conclusion on this passage 178

A suggested translation of 9:10 180

Ecclesiastes 12:7, 13, 14 180


Introduction 181

Consideration of the Topics 181

Insufficiency of Human Endeavor 181

The problem of knowledge 181

The emptiness of things 183

Unthinking materialism 184

Lack of personal importance 185

Conclusion on human endeavor 186

God's Supply of Life's Needs 186

Stability 186

Time 187

Physical requirements 188

Moral requirements 189

Life's values 190

Sovereignty of God 191

Conclusion 192


Introduction 193

The Parallels 193

Summary 196


Introduction 197

Some Parallels 197

Mesopotamia 197

Hittite 198

Aramaic 199

Egyptian 200

Ugarit 201

Summary 203






Few books of the Bible have suffered in recent years

from so much neglect as the book of Ecclesiastes. Further-

more, a large portion of those who have studied it have

unsympathetically criticized and maligned both its author

and its message, until it has come to be all but ignored by

even those who accept its canonicity and inspiration. The

author of this book has been accused of scepticism, of

fatalism, and of Epicureanism. His words have been denounced

as "not revelation" and human only.1 It is contended that

"anyone who essays to explain Coheleth is doomed to failure;

it is vanity and a chase after wind."2 Another has called

it "the strangest book in the Bible."3 Suspected in days of

orthodoxy,4 neglected in periods of optimism, treasured in
1E. Schuyler English, et al., eds., The New Scofield

Reference Bible (New York: Oxford University Press, 1967),

pp. 696, 702.

2Roland E. Murphy, "The Penseés of Coheleth," The

Catholic Biblical Quarterly, 17 (1955), 314.

3R. B. Y. Scott, Proverbs-Ecclesiastes (hereinafter

referred to as Ecclesiastes), in The Anchor Bible, ed. by

W. F. Albright and David Noel Freedman, et al. (New York:

Doubleday and Company, Inc., 1965), p. 191.

4Robert Gordis, Poets, Prophets and Sages (Blooming-

ton, Ind.: Indiana University Press, 1971), p. 327.


days of frustration and disillusionment, the writings of

Koheleth have always drawn men, yet somehow eluded them.

Still, the enigmatic writing of the king of Jerusalem

endures, the symbol of the ache of disillusion and of the

peace that is possible afterwards. "Whoever has dreamt

great dreams in his youth and seen the vision flee, or has

loved and lost, or has beaten barehanded at the fortress of

injustice and come back bleeding and broken, has passed Kohe-

leth's door, and tarried awhile beneath the shadow of his


The book is unworthy of the abuse it has often

received at the hands of commentators, for it consists of,

as John Trapp said more than three hundred fifty years ago,

golden words, weighty, and worthy of all acceptation;

grave and gracious apophthegms, or rather oracles, meet

to be well remembered . . . compiled and composed with

such a picked frame of words, with such pithy strength

of sentences, with such a thick series of demonstrative

arguments, that the sharp wit of all the philosophers,

compared with this divine discourse, seems to be utterly

cold, and of small account.2

It is not, and probably never will be, among the

most popular books in the Bible. Yet, after one has studied

this book, it is difficult for him to regard it with indif-

ference. It will either be distrusted and minimized, or it

lIbid., p. 325.

2John Trapp, A Commentary on the Old and New Testa-

ments, Vol. III (5 vols.: London: R. D. Dickinson, 1660,

reprinted, 1868), p. 155.


will be accepted and utilized.1 It is from this book that

many Christians, though separated in time from its author by

several thousand years, and much richer than its author in

available theological knowledge, could gain a very needed

message: that a life lived for self and the world is "vanity"

and that nothing "under the sun" every really satisfies.2

The book is not, however, without its problems and

obscurities, and the problems posed by Koheleth seem to take

on increased proportion as they cut across contemporary

concepts of thinking. But if the reader will approach the

book with an open mind, divest himself of unfavorable presup-

positions, and seek to understand the book for what Koheleth

meant it to be, he will see what he is being warned against,

and how wise that warning is for this age.3 All that is

needful is to read Koheleth himself with sympathy and imagi-

nation. "Then the dry bones will take on flesh and his
lArthur Maltby, "The Book of Ecclesiastes and the

After-Life," The Evangelical Quarterly, XXXV:1 (January-

March, 1963), 39.

2Ecclesiastes is included among the "Wisdom" litera-

ture of the Bible. For an excellent discussion of this

classification, see W. O. E. Oesterley, The Wisdom of Jesus

the Son of Sirach or Ecclesiasticus, in The Cambridge Bible

for Schools and Colleges (Cambridge: At the University

Press, 1912), p. xlvii.

3Thomas V. Taylor, "Studies in Ecclesiastes" (unpub-

lished mimeographed material for lectures in Grace Theologi-

cal Seminary, March, 1972), p. 8. The page numbers of the

material were added by the writer of this thesis.


spirit will live again."1

It is the purpose of this thesis to examine the book

of Ecclesiastes in order to determine the veracity of its

teachings and the cogency of its argument; to understand its

outstanding teachings; and to explain some of the more prom-

inent difficulties. Included as necessary corollary discus-

sions are the problems of authorship and date (and the under

lying problem of the linguistic background of the book), the

theme and development of thought in the book, explanations

of significant problems, a summary of the prominent theolog-

ical teachings, New Testament parallels to the teachings of

Ecclesiastes, and parallels in other Near Eastern literature.

Bible quotations are the writer's own translation,

unless otherwise annotated.
1Gordis, Poets, Prophets, and Sages, p. 329.



The English title, "Ecclesiastes," comes from the

first line of the book in the Septuagint: [Rh

astou? ui[ou? Dauid.1 ]Ekklhsiastou? is a translation of the

Hebrew tl,h,qo, the Hebrew title of the author which is also

used for the book, and usually transliterated, Koheleth or

Qoheleth. Both the derivation and the meaning of this word

are enigmatic. The word occurs seven times in the book:

three times in the first part (1:1, 2, 12). and three times

in the conclusion (12:8, 9, 10), with one occurrence in the

middle (7:27). It is not a proper name, but an appellative,

a fact evident both from its having the article in 12:8 and

its being construed with a feminine verb in 7:27.2 This fact

has been recognized by major translators over the centuries,

as evidenced in the LXX translation (meaning, "one who par-

ticipates in a popular assembly"), the title of Luther ("Der

lAlfred Rahlfs, ed., Septuaginta, Vol. II (2 vols:

Stuttgart: Wüttembergische Bibelanstalt, reprint, 1972),

p. 238. This is the text of the LXX used throughout the


2Christian David Ginsberg, The Song of Songs and

Coheleth (hereinafter referred to as Coheleth) (2 vols. in

one: New York: Ktav Publishing House, Inc., reprint, 1970),

p. 1.

Prediger"),1 and Jerome's title "Concionator."2 Actually,

the English title "Ecclesiastes" is a direct carry-over from

the Vulgate, which merely transliterated the LXX.3

Meaning of hl,h,qo

"The precise signification of this appelation has,

from time immemorial, been a matter of great contention, and

the occasion of numerous and most conflicting opinions."4

While some feel that the meaning of the name is truly lost

and will be forever unknown,5 others, notably Renan and

Zimmermann, have suggested ingenious solutions to the meaning

of the word. Renan's guess was that hl,h,qo is an abbreviation,

much as Mbmr is an abbreviation for Maimonides, but Gordis

contends that this "explains nothing."6 Jastrow suggests

that "Koheleth" is a nom de plume for Solomon and that the
1H. C. Leupold, Exposition of Ecclesiastes (herein-

after referred to as Ecclesiastes) (Grand Rapids: Baker

Book House, 1974), p. 38


3Robertus Weber, et al., eds., Biblia Sacra Iuxta

Vulgatam Versionem, Vol. II (2 vols.: Stuttgart: Württem-

bergische Bibelanstalt, 1969), p. 986.

4Ginsburg, Coheleth, p. 1.

5Gordis, Poets, Prophets and Sages, p. 326.

6Idem., Koheleth, the Man and His World: A Study

of Ecclesiastes (hereinafter referred to as Koheleth) (New

York: Schocken Books, 3rd augmented edition, 1968), p. 203.


word was arrived at by substituting the root lhaqA, "assem-

ble," for MlewA, "complete," and by having a t replace the h

of hmolow;.1 This suggestion Gordis labels "too ingenious to

be convincing."2
Zimmermann's Interpretation

Zimmermann has a much more involved argument for the

derivation of the word.3 He contends that the equivalent of

tl,h,qo in Aramaic is the feminine participle of hwAn;KA, since

wnaK; is a very frequent translation word for lhaqA in the Tar-

gumim.4 According to him, the writer of the book used this

pseudonym with dviDA-rBA to attract attention to his work. It

is assumed that he knew of the name rUgxA (Prov. 30:1) and

modeled his pseudonym upon it (rgx=wnk=gather).5 rUgxA is

regarded in rabbinic tradition as one of the names of Solo-

mon. It is fairly certain as well (according to Zimmermann)
1Morris Jastrow, Jr., A Gentle Cynic: Being a Trans-

lation of the Book of Koheleth, Commonly Known as Ecclesias-

tes, Stripped of Later Additions (hereinafter referred to as

A Gentle Cynic) (Philadelphia: J. B. Lippincott Company,

1919), p. 68.

2Gordis, Koheleth, p. 204.

3Frank Zimmermann, "The Aramaic Provenance of Qohe-

leth," Jewish Quarterly Review, XXXVI:1 (July, 1945), 43-5.

4Marcus Jastrow, A Dictionary of the Targumim, the

Talmud Babli and Yerushalmi, and the Midrashic Literature

(hereinafter referred to as Dictionary), Vol. I (2 vols.:

New York: Pardes Publishing House, Inc., 1950), pp. 651-2.

5This would be the original according to Zimmer-

mann's theory.


that hl,h,qo must mean "Solomon," perhaps cryptically, as Renan

long suspected. It is Zimmermann's hypothesis of an Aramaic

provenance of Koheleth which supplies his key here, for he

finds his answer to the cryptogram in numerology. hwAn;KA adds

up arithmetically to hmolow; (k=20; n=50; w=300; h=5; total,

375. w=300; l=30; m=40; h=5; total, 375).1

While C. C. Torrey speaks of Zimmermann's hypothesis

as "convincing,"2 the writer is unconvinced not only because

such a theory presupposes an Aramaic original for the book,

which is doubtful enough in itself (and must preclude Solo-

monic authorship), but also because of the untenability of

such numerological interpretations generally.3 It must not

go unnoticed that Targum Jonathon uses tl,h,qo not hwAn;KA.5

1Zimmermann, "The Aramaic Provenance of Qoheleth,"


2Charles C. Torrey, "The Question of the original

Language of Qoheleth," Jewish Quarterly Review, XXXIX:2

(October, 1948), 156-7. For the numerical value of all the

Hebrew letters, cf. J. Weingreen, A Practical Grammar for

Classical Hebrew (Oxford: At the Clarendon Press, second

edition, 1959), p. 1.

3Cf. John J. Davis, Biblical Numerology (Grand

Rapids: Baker Book House, 1968).

4tvlvdg tvxrqm reads: xUh tl,h,qo xBenat;xid; hxAUbin; ymegAtuPi

. . . dvidA rBa hmolow; (tvlvdg tvxrqm, Vol. 1 [NewYork: Parses

Publishing House, Inc., 1951]). This is translated, "The

words of the prophecy which Koheleth who is Solomon, the son

of David, prophesied." Sperber also has tlhq, but does not

point it (rbrpw rdnsklx, ed., tymrxb wdqh ybtk, x-d jrk

[Ndyyl: lyrb . y . x, 1968), p. 150).

5Jastrow states that the Targum thought of Solomon

as tl,h,qo (Jastrow, Dictionary, Vol. II, p. 1322).


Historical Interpretations

There have been numerous other explanations for the

word, including suggestions that the word means "preacher,"

"gatherer of wisdom," "collector," (as of a compiler of a

book), "eclectic" (because of his supposed skill in select-

ing and purifying the best of the systems of different philo-

sophers), "accumulated wisdom," "reunited soul" (describing

Solomon's readmission into the congregation of Israel in con-

sequence of his repentance), "penitent" (describing the con-

trite state of Solomon for his apostasy), "assembly," "acad-

emy," "old man," "exclaiming voice," "Sophist," "philo-

sopher," and "departed spirit."1 Most of these suggestions,

however, are better discarded. Perhaps the best explanation

is one which finds its roots in a linguistic and historical

explanation of the word within Hebrew itself.

Linguistic Analysis

tl,h,qo is the Qal active participle, feminine singular,

from the root lhaqA, meaning "to assemble."2 This verb is
1Ginsburg, Coheleth, pp. 3-7.

2F. Brown, S. R. Driver, and C. A. Briggs, eds.,

A Hebrew and English Lexicon of the Old Testament (herein-

after referred to as BDB, Lexicon) (Oxford: At the Claren-

don Press, 1968), p. 874; cf. Ludwig Koehler and Walter

Baumgartner, Lexicon in Veteris Testamenti Libros (herein-

after referred to as KB, Lexicon) (Leiden: E. J. Brill,

1968), p. 829.


the root to which Albright traces the word lOq, "voice,"

rather than to the root lvq, since in the Siloam inscription

the word is written lq, not lvq.l lhaqA can be compared with

the Arabic qalah, the Ethiopic kaleha, the Aramaic xlAqA, and

the Syriac all with the idea of "to call," from the

original idea of "sound."2 The ambiguity, however, is not

in the verbal root, but in the participle as used in the

context of the book. The feminine participle refers to the

author of the book, who is obviously masculine if Solomon is

meant, and who is to be construed as masculine in any case,

since the word is qualified by MilAwAUryBi j`l,m, dviDA-NB,.

Some, in fact, trace the Hebrew word back to an

Aramaic original, most of those being adherents to the theory

of an Aramaic original for the book. One of the reasons for

supposing that tl,h,qo was originally an Aramaic term is that

the verb lhaqA is not used in the simple conjugation in Hebrew,

but is so used in Syriac, where it is supposed, "it can only

1W. F. Albright, "The High Place in Ancient Pales-

tine," in Supplements to Vetus Testamentus, Vol. IV, ed.

by G. W. Anderson, et al. (Leiden: E. J. Brill, 1957), p.

256. Cf. Loren Fisher, ed., Ras Shamra Parallels, in Ana-

lecta Orientalia, 49 (Roma: Pontificium Institutum Biblicum,

1972), II 497 a-g, p. 329; II 94 g, p. 136. For the Siloam

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