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Ecclesiastes, Hebrew Qohelet, (Preacher), a book of Old Testament wisdom literature that belongs to the third section of the biblical canon, known as the Ketuvim (Writings). In the Hebrew Bible, Ecclesiastes is found between the Song of Songs and Lamentations and with them belongs the Megillot, five scrolls that are read at various festivals of the Jewish religious year. 

Common translations into English Christian follow the Septuagint by placing Ecclesiastes between Proverbs and the Song of Songs, an order that reflects the ancient tradition that Solomon wrote all three. Two-page extension of the 42-line Bible by Johannes Gutenberg, c. 1450-55.

This ancient and fascinating document intrigues and disturbs its readers. Some Christians denigrate it so much that they have wondered why it is in the Bible. However, if you have read the French existentialists, you will find yourself in familiar territory. 

Certainly, the words of the Preacher, which means the word Ecclesiastes, are memorable and have enriched the English language with several well-known phrases, such as

  • Eat, drink and have fun … (8:15)
  • A fly in the ointment … (10: 1)
  • There is a time for everything … (3: 1)
  • Cast your bread upon the waters … (11: 1)
  • There is nothing new under the sun … (1: 9)

The text “under the sun” appears about 30 times in the scriptures becoming the key to its compression. It represents “our perception of the universe, excluding God from the picture. The book describes life without God; it digs into the ground and looks into the abyss. “The vanity of vanities,” says the preacher, “all is vanity” (1:2). In other words, everything is useless, everything is in vain; life is meaningless and absurd.

Ecclesiastes uses the Absurdity of Life to point out its Significance

We don’t know who wrote it. Tradition attributes it to Solomon, and it seems to have been written around that time, about 1000 years before Christ, about 500 years before Socrates, but we don’t know. 

As the writer says, there is nothing new under the sun, so it is read today with contemporary relevance and disturbing irony. There are two other keys to interpret this book. First, the writer is retreating from life and trying to gain a separate perspective from it.

However, when I examined everything that my hands had done and what I had worked to achieve, it was all meaningless, a chase of the wind; nothing was gained under the sun. (2:11)

Then he Records his Thoughts and Observations

I dedicated myself to study and explore with wisdom everything that is done under the sun. What a heavy burden God has placed on men. (1:13). Second, there is a humorous irony here, where one sees high expectations in light of the meaningless reality. There is also a Socratic irony, which works a bit like a fake pass in rugby soccer. 

Socrates would feign ignorance in his questions in order to mistreat his opponent. Ecclesiastes uses the absurdity of life to point out its meaning. So, he assumes an apparent objectivism, confusing those who read by pointing out the hidden implicit truths of life.

Taking the Wisdom of the World, he takes it to its Logical end Points

Then Ecclesiastes writes: The destiny of man is like that of animals; the same destiny awaits them both. As one dies, so the other dies. All have the same breath; man has no advantage over the animal. 

Everything has no sense. All go to the same place; all come from the dust, and to the dust all return. (3: 19-20). Life seems useless to animals, who are simply standing in a field; the problem is that it doesn’t bother them! It is the fact that we care about these things and ask questions about meaning that distinguishes us from all other animals.

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