A question about Qohelet

Kirk Lowery KirkLowery at xc.org
Thu Jul 2 15:01:08 EDT 1998

David Humpal 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?

I'd opt for Pere's suggestion of "sense of history," or the idea that
time has an ultimate end or goal. Qohelet's point seems to be that at
the same time that God created man with a sense that life ought to make
sense (theologically perhaps originating in the image of God?), he
paradoxically frustrates that sense by limiting man in time and space so
that he cannot know either the beginning or end of things. This gives
us, I believe, an understanding of the intended meaning of the poem on
time at the beginning of chapter 3, emphasizing the inevitability of
life's cycle and man's inability to control it. NIV's "eternity" isn't
necessarily a bad translation, if by that we understand "looking at life
from the perspective of Eternity."


Kirk E. Lowery, Ph.D.      "A scholar is just a library's way of making
516 Argyle Ave.               another library."
Ambler, PA  19002            --Daniel Dennett, "Darwin's Dangerous Idea"

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