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Ecclesiastes, Fleeting and timeless

 

Biblical Philosophy

The search for meaning is an eternal one, but the use of Solomonís voice carries special importance for the modern reader.1 Unlike other biblical Jewish leaders, Solomon lived in a time of unparalleled prosperity and freedom.  As opposed to the quest of Job, Solomonís search for wisdom did not arise from a desire to make sense of either personal misfortune or national catastrophe.  Indeed, his was a life of unrepentant indulgence: He tempted himself with wine, entertained himself with male and female performers, and amassed untold treasures and hundreds of wives and concubines.

 

Rather, Kohelet sets out on his inquiry from the perspective of a life replete with fortune and opportunity. He takes as his starting point not revelation, but manís personal need for meaning. In other words, Ecclesiastes is not about what God wants of us, but about what we want for ourselves. This approach may resonate especially strongly with Western readers of today, since few Westerners appreciate doing things simply because they are told, regardless of who does the telling.  We moderns are thus in a unique position to identify with Koheletís quest.

 

To all appearances, however, it would seem that this search is doomed from the start. Already in the opening passages, Kohelet despairs over what he sees as the futility of lifeís labors:

 

Therefore I hated life, because the deeds that are done under the sun were depressing to me, for all is vanity and grasping for the wind. Then I hated all my work, which I work at under the sun, because I must leave it to the man who will come after meóand who knows whether he will be wise or a fool? Yet he will rule over all my work which I worked at, and contrived, under the sun.Ö This also is vanity, and a great evil

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