Book of Ecclesiastes

Ecclesiastes

Ecclesiastes (ēklē´zēăs´tēz), book of the Bible, the name of which is a latinized derivation of the Hebrew Qohelet [the Preacher]. Although traditionally ascribed to Solomon (who is identified as the author in the text), it was clearly written much later (c.300 BC). Like Job, the book takes issue, it would seem, with the confident assertions of the Wisdom tradition exemplified by Sirach (Ecclesiasticus) and Proverbs, both of which stress the possibility of leading a life in harmony with cosmic order. For the author of Ecclesiastes, life bears no order and no meaning. Omnipresent wickedness and death are realities which mock all effort to find meaning and purpose in life. Moreover, the purposes of God cannot be fathomed. It opens with the theme that, since "all is vanity," life should be enjoyed. This is followed by passages in praise of wisdom and mercy, with increasing emphasis on the universality of death; there is a brief epilogue on the fear of God's judgment. Despite the devout and ill-fitting conclusion of the work, the apparent cynicism of the book as a whole is said to have distressed the ancient rabbis; some scholars ascribe to pious correctors a number of nonpessimistic observations. Ecclesiastes is one of the biblical examples of wisdom literature (see Wisdom of Solomon).

See J. L. Crenshaw, Ecclesiastes (1987); R. Alter, The Wisdom Books, Job, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes: A Translation with Commentary (2010). See also bibliography for Old Testament.

The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright© 2013, The Columbia University Press.

Selected full-text books and articles on this topic

FREE! A Gentle Cynic: Being a Translation of the Book of Koheleth, Commonly Known as Ecclesiastes, Stripped of Later Additions: Also Its Origin, Growth, and Interpretation
Morris Jastrow Jr.
Lippincott, 1919
The Burden of Prophecy: Poetic Utterance in the Prophets of the Old Testament
Albert Cook.
Southern Illinois University Press, 1996
Librarian’s tip: Chap. 6 "Self-Reference, Prophetic Recursion, and Image in Ecclesiastes"
Symbol and Rhetoric in Ecclesiastes: The Place of Hebel in Qohelet's Work
Douglas B. Miller.
Brill, 2002
The Philosophy of the Old Testament
Charles H. Patterson.
Ronald Press, 1953
Librarian’s tip: "The Book of Ecclesiastes" begins on p. 373
The Hebrew Philosophical Genius: A Vindication
Duncan Black MacDonald.
Princeton University Press, 1936
Librarian’s tip: Chap. V "Ecclesiastes"
The Story of the Bible
Edgar J. Goodspeed.
University of Chicago Press, 1936
Librarian’s tip: "Book of Ecclesiastes" begins on p. 155
Rituals of Conflict: Religion, Politics, and Public Policy in Israel
Ira Sharkansky.
Lynne Rienner, 1996
Librarian’s tip: "The Doubts of Ecclesiastes" begins on p. 58
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