Ecclesiastes

The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.

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 (2010). See also bibliography for Old Testament.

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