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Ecclesiastes, Fleeting and timeless


Biblical Philosophy

Kohelet is disillusioned with life because he believes it is all in vain; he abhors the idea of leaving his life’s work behind for someone else to enjoy or to squander. Whereas all the great emperors and kings of old strove to achieve eternal life by erecting grand monuments to themselves, Kohelet understands that such attempts are illusory. He is therefore forced to pose the elementary question: If I die anyway, why does anything matter?


Kohelet’s first word, however, is not his last.  For there are numerous passages in Ecclesiastes that move in the opposite direction. They affirm, for example, the positive value of a joyful life.3 The same Kohelet who appears to say so often that “all is vanity” also exclaims that “there is nothing better than man rejoicing,”4 and that “nothing is better for man under the sun than to eat, drink, and be joyful.”5 Kohelet also exhorts his fellow man to “Go, eat your bread with joy, drink your wine with a content mind; for God has already graced your deeds.”6 These bold affirmations of life echo almost word for word the maxim of Solomon’s days, that brief flowering of Jewish renaissance: “ Judah and Israel were as numerous as the sand by the sea in multitude; eating and drinking and rejoicing.”7 Similar verses can also be found that affirm the importance of action in this world, as well as the acquisition of wisdom—verses that do not square well with the belief that all is vanity

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