Ecclesiastes - Introduction
This book stands alone in the Hebrew Bible, both in theology and style. It asserts that God and divine ways are inscrutable, and that this recognition is the only valid intellectual stance for humankind, who cannot comprehend why the same fate befalls the good and the bad, people and beasts. Since death ignores all distinctions, life in the long run is futile, profitless.
As in Egyptian royal instructions, the style depends on frequent references to personal experience and reflection. Despair over existence is expressed in repeated refrains and phrases, brief stories and maxims. In service of a basic pessimistic outlook, the author's favorite expressions are “futility,” “under the sun,” “labor and toil,” “chasing the wind,” “one's portion.”
The book predates the entrance of vivid views of afterlife into Jewish thought. However, the Hebrew employed here is a late type (fourth or third century B.C.E.). The ascription of the book to Solomon is, therefore, unlikely; yet Solomon's name may have opened the way for its inclusion in the canon, while at the same time reinforcing the theme of life's absurdity.
The noun applied to the author, Hebrew Qoheleth, here rendered “Speaker,” is taken by some to be a proper name. But the noun seems related to a root which means “to assemble,” and the Greek name Ecclesiastes derives from the idea of someone addressing an assembly (see 1.1 n. ). The place of composition was probably Palestine.
The book moves a step beyond Job in attacking overconfidence in excessive wisdom; yet it encourages people to enjoy life while they have the strength to do so. Glosses which relieve the gloom (and, indeed, the impiety) of the book seem to have been added in later times at 3.17; 7.18; 8.12–13; 11.9b; 12.9–14 .