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Ecclesiastes, Fleeting and timeless

Biblical Philosophy

If a man fathers a hundred children and lives many years, so that the days of his years are many, but gains no pleasure from his riches, nor proper burial for himself, I say that a stillborn child is better off than he—for in transience it comes (behevel), in oblivion it departs, in the dark a lid is cast over its name. Though it has not seen or known of the sun, it has more peace than that man. Even if he lives a thousand years twice—but has not seen goodness. Do not all go to one place?41


Again we see that the word hevel holds the key to interpreting the passage. For if the stillborn child comes in “futility” or “vanity,” how could his situation in any way be described as better off? If, however, we understand behevel to mean “in transience,” the passage instead becomes a somber acceptance of the objective fact of mortality. Kohelet teaches that, indeed, temporal existence is not an end in itself. The attitude of this stage is in some sense reminiscent of the afterlife-centered attitudes of Christianity and Eastern thought: A long, successful existence in the world, without merit, is worse than no physical life at all

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