A question about Qoheleth
ben.crick at argonet.co.uk
Mon Jun 29 17:10:15 EDT 1998
On Sun 28 Jun 98 (22:13:02), ebedyah at elite.net wrote:
> In Ecclesiastes 3:11 the word ha'olam is translated "eternity" in many
> translations. NIV -- "He has also set eternity in the hearts of men."
> But this idea seems to contradict the usual assumption that Qoheleth
> was a cynic. Other suggestions have been made such as world, desire,
> darkness, or even emended to labor. Isn't eternity the only sensible
> meaning for 'olam in this context?
Dear "`eBheDh-YaHuW" David,
QoHeLeTh is strictly the "Convenor" of the "QaHaL": the Convention or
Assembly of God's people. In the LXX, EKKLHSIASTHS, the Caller-out of the
Philosophically, I would not describe him as a Cynic in the Greek tradition,
but as an Existentialist of the 19th/20th century ahead of his time. The
Cynic school was founded by the Athenian Antisthenes, 444-371 BC, and his
pupil Diogenes. The name Cynic derives from Antisthenes' dog Cynosarges, the
name he gave to his gymnasium in Athens. Virtue is the only good, the
essence of virtue is self-control, and pleasure is an evil if sought for
its own sake. They affected an ostentatious contempt for riches, arts,
science, and amusements. Not so Solomon, our wise QoHeLeTh. Solomon's
trouble was that he would not heed his own good advice! Don't do as I do;
do as I say!
Ecclesiastes is an edited work, not straight from the pen of Solomon. "The
son of David, king of Jerusalem" (1:1) could be any King of Judah. Some
wish to date Ecclesiastes in the Greek period, but no direct citations of
Greek thought or philosophy can be found. Some wish to date it in the
Babylonian period, but the Pessimism of Ecclesiastes is unlike the ancient
"pessimism" literature of Babylon such as the 14th century /Dialogue of
Pessimism/ wherein suicide is the only hope of release; nor is it like
the Babylonian /Epic of Gilgamesh/ where the god Shamash says "The life you
pursue you shall not find". QoHeLeTh echoes ancient pessimism, but holds
out a real answer to the young man who will seek it (Eccl 11:9 to 12:14).
Eccl 1:1-11 is an opening statement of the pessimistic mechanistic view of
the Universe as a machine, in which man is but a cog (4). In verses 5-7
we have a remarkably accurate view of the rotation of the earth, the
planetary wind system, and the cycle of precipitation. There is no pre-
scientific talk here of "windows in heaven" to let the "waters above the
earth" fall through to join the "waters below the earth". Verses 8-11 are
a statement of the pessimism of modern man: man cannot alter his world.
He passes through like a stone falling into a pond without making a ripple.
This mechanical view of the universe must lead to pessimism and loss of
any significance for human activity.
Madern man has turned to the occult to find "meaning" in the universe.
Like Arthur Koestler he looks for /The Ghost in the Machine/; against all
rationality he takes a "leap of faith". This desire for meaning and
life-after-death is expressed by QoHeLeTh as GaM 'eTh-Ha`oLaM NaThaN
BeLiBBaM. There is a time to be born, and a time to die. Between these
markers, life is just a meaningless procession of mutually self-cancelling
trivial details. God alone is eternal, from the beginning MeRo'Sh to the
end We`aDh-SoWPh. This "from the Beginning to the End" is elsewhere
expressed as Me`oLaM 'aDh-`oLaM, from Everlasting to Everlasting. Compare
the formula in Psalms 41:14; 90:2; 103:17; 106:48. Compare in the NT "I
am the Alpha and the Omega".
That seems to me to be the significance of Ha`oLaM in Ecclesiastes 3:11.
Revd Ben Crick, BA CF
<ben.crick at argonet.co.uk>
232 Canterbury Road, Birchington, Kent, CT7 9TD (UK)
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