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Do you remember ever sitting down on the front porch on a late summer evening with an older relative? Do you remember the stories that he or she told you? Chances are that through this person s wisdom, your life was enriched, your views changed or maybe you just sat and smiled as you took it all in for later consideration of course. The Bible, in many ways, portrays that old soul full of wisdom and this is exemplified no better than by the Wisdom Books. The Wisdom literature found in the Bible is, for the most part, contained in 6 main books: Job, Psalms, Proverbs, Song Of Songs, Ecclesiasticus (or Sirach), and Ecclesiastes. Ecclesiastes has been dubbed by many as one of the most difficult to read, yet most fascinating books of the Bible. What makes Ecclesiastes such a literary phenomena? Its author, its many modern connections, its relationship to the book of Proverbs and its message contribute greatly to the stature of this fine work of art.

The author of the book of Ecclesiastes is called Qoheleth (or Koheleth). That is the Hebrew word for teacher or philosopher. This name acts as a label of occupation but it doesn t place a specific identity on the author. However, there are a number of clues in the book (and in others) that give us a pretty strong probability that the author was indeed King Solomon. First, the title Son of David (1:1) leads us to believe that Solomon could in fact be the author. Reading further in the same chapter, we find the quote King of Jerusalem . Solomon was king of Jerusalem at the time Ecclesiastes was written (971-931 BC). Earlier in the Bible, in 1Kings 3:12, we see that Solomon has bestowed upon him a wise and understanding heart . Obviously Qoheleth shares this trait with Solomon. Solomon is further shown to have great wisdom in 1Kings 4:29-34 and 10:23. Also, in 1Kings we find Solomon as an undertaker of great building projects. In Ecclesiastes 2:4-10, Qoheleth is said to have inaugurated a great public works program . Both Qoheleth of Ecclesiastes and Solomon of 1Kings are described as having great wealth. Clearly these common threads are too strong and too numerous to be mere coincidence. It is not far fetched to believe that Solomon could have written Ecclesiastes. He was responsible (in part or in full) for the Book of Proverbs and the Song of Songs. One main difference is evident between these books though: in Ecclesiastes he uses only his wisdom gained from experience and logic to examine things of this world. He bothers not with faith.

Many works of art have profound effects on society. Arguments over whether or not Pablo Picasso s paintings are or are not Art have plagued society since the mid-1900s. The 1980 s court cases on Heavy Metal music causing teenagers to kill themselves were monumental. However, the 1960 s were a hotbed of art affecting life. A popular group of that time, The Byrds, was one of the main proponents of this movement. They based their famous song Turn Turn Turn on an adapted form of the book of Ecclesiastes, particularly a part of section 1 entitled Man Cannot Hit on the Right Time To Act (3:1-8). Also, the common phrase we were made from dust and to dust we shall return is found in this section. The famous saying We can t take it with us when we go comes from this book. Chapter 2 entitled Study of Pleasure-Seeking explains that no matter how much one amasses in his or her life, in the end, none of it matters. Qoheleth explains that he has built numerous houses, vineyards, gardens and parks. He has slaves, cattle, sheep, gold, and silver in amounts that makes everyone in Jerusalem envious of him. However, he concludes the section by saying All is vanity and a chase after the wind , which is his anthem throughout the book: everything is vanity.

Upon initial study, you immediately see some similarities between Ecclesiastes and Proverbs. Because they are too numerous to list completely, these are but a few examples. When you dissect the book of Ecclesiastes and break it down into its parts, the first place you see a sign of Proverbs is in 2:26. Qoheleth states that God bestows wisdom, knowledge and joy upon the righteous, but instead of giving these qualities to the sinner, he makes the sinner give everything that comes from his work to the righteous. The roots of this observation come from Qoheleth’s study of classic Egyptian and Mesopotamian proverbial writings. This same message is stated more clearly in Proverbs 13:22, “a good man leaves an inheritance for his children’s children, but a sinner’s wealth is stored up for the righteous”. Another example of the similarity between the two books can be found in Ecc. 7:20 and Prv. 20:9. According to Qoheleth no man on earth is completely free of sin. The corresponding proverb states, “Who can say ‘I have made my heart clean, I am cleansed of sin’?” Yet another example can be found when you compare Ecc. 7:26 with Prv. 5:4. Ecclesiastes states that an unrighteous woman attracts only unrighteous men. Proverbs agrees with that statement: If you are unjust (or adulterous), you will get a befitting woman. Furthermore in Ecc. 8:14, Qoheleth explains that because God gave him wisdom when he was young, he knows that the people should listen to him. He tells them that God is not pleased when humans ask Him “what are you doing?” In Prv. 17:24, it is stated that intelligent people seek wisdom; fools seek material things. The relation is in that Qoheleth knows that he himself is a wise man because God gave him wisdom. He also knows that if the people don’t follow him in his seek for wisdom, God will see them as fools. Finally in Ecc. 9:16, 17, “the quiet words of the wise are better heeded than the shouts of a ruler of fools”. Similarly in Prv. 24:5, “a wise man is more powerful than a strong man, and a man of knowledge than a man of might”. This ties in with the previous example by showing that fool’s opinions mean nothing in God’s “scheme of things”. If Qoheleth’s people want to be heard and if they want to be seen as strong, they must not use power and might. They must use their intellect.

The first recurring message that one finds in Ecclesiastes is All is Vanity . Qoheleth begins the book with the phrase Vanity of vanities, all things are vanity . With this statement, Qoheleth is merely saying that trying to find meaning in anything that Humans do in this world is futile and vain. We matter not to this world for God has a master plan. Another recurring statement is that everything is fleeting. You first see this in 1:17 when Qoheleth says (speaking on seeking knowledge and wisdom) I learned that this also is a chase after wind . These two messages are the primary themes until the end of the book. In the epilogue, he speaks the overriding message of the entire book: Fear God! Now, traditionally, it has been thought that to be true to God, one truly has to FEAR Him, as if he were a monster or something horrible. The translation of the word fear in this context is actually respect or love . Qoheleth himself is believed to have made this last statement. He did so in a clearer, more humble state of mind (unlike his pessimistic tone throughout the rest of the book). Finally, Qoheleth wants the reader to realize that the only way to live a good life is to return to the proper covenant relationship with God, for that is the main purpose of life.


Not until later in life does one realize how important those late night chats were. The lessons learned from those casual conversations last a lifetime. Qoheleth does an excellent job of passing on his wisdom drawn from his experience, just as the old storyteller does for a young child. The secrecy of the author s identity, its numerous modern connections, the deep relation with Proverbs and the main themes of the book all go together to make this book one worth reading again and again. However, one should not read the book to gain understanding of Qoheleth s ways. One should read the book to gain understanding of what a human should do to live in a proper relationship with God.

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