Translator’s Handbook – Ecclesiastes

What then is the real message of Ecclesiastes? To decide this issue we must look to the text itself. Despite the lack of a tightly organized structure or progression of ideas, there is an amazing number of repeated expressions and refrains that characterize this book. Among the most important are:

ā€” the word ”vanity” (hevel) and the longer ”vanity” refrain ”vanity of vanities” (hevel hevalim); this key word occurs 38 times.

ā€” the ”calls to enjoyment” (2.24; 3.12, 22; 5.18; 8.15; 9.7-10): ”There is nothing better for a man than that he should eat, drink, and find enjoyment in his toil.”

ā€” the thematic question (1.3; 3.9; 5.16): ”What does man gain by all the toil at which he toils under the sun?” along with other occurrences of the word ”gain” (yithron) in 2.11, 13, 15; 3.19; 6.8, 11.

By examining these expressions, their use and occurrence in detail, we can hope to find a unified message.

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