There are many widely different interpretations of the biblical book Ecclesiastes in Hebrew Kohelet. Here is another one. A non-traditional one. It sees the book telling readers how they should behave.
The root kahal in Hebrew means “assembly. The Latin Ecclesiastes has the same meaning. Tradition claims that King Solomon wrote the book. There is no proof of this. We do not know who wrote it. Whoever wrote it may have assumed the fictitious name Kohelet to inform readers that despite the book’s claim that the author is brilliant, wealthy, and buys whatever he or she desires, the author is just like everyone else in the world, rich and poor, religious and non-religious, good or bad, as the author makes clear in the volume’s twelve chapters.
Actually, we are even the same as animals
“That which happens to men happens to animals; as one dies so does the other…. Man has no preeminence over the beast, all is vanity. All go to one place, all are dust and all return to dust” (3:19-20).
I simply do not understand anything
Kohelet tried to understand what he saw and heard, “but it was far from me” (7: 23-29). Trying to find value or the truth is futile. “In much wisdom is much vexation” (1:18). He saw that all was “vanity of vanities” (1:2), no visible substance, just like air.
He was like Socrates
Greek legend states that the famed philosopher Socrates was the wisest man because he, like Kohelet, realized that he understood nothing. This bothered the Athenians, who could not deal with the idea that they knew nothing. They forced Socrates to commit suicide in 399 BCE.
So, how do we deal with this problem?
Kohelet offers two possible solutions to the realization that humans cannot fully understand the world, how it acts and why it does so. We can select either one. Or one he does not mention.
The ancients recognized that it was impossible to tell uneducated people the truth. They could not understand it. Therefore the Greek Plato, Socrates’ pupil, and many others suggested telling them “noble lies.” Maimonides agreed but called it “essential truths.” An example is that God, who, of course, has no emotions, gets angry if we do not obey divine commands. The idea is “essential” because it helps control people from destructive behaviors.
Kohelet offers two solutions to the wise and the general population.
(1) “Behold what I saw: it is good, yes, it is proper for one to eat and to drink, and to enjoy pleasures from all his work under the sun, all the days that God gives him; for this is his portion…. This is the gift of God” (6:17-19).
(2) “Fear God, and keep His commands; this is man’s duty. God will judge all work.”
The first is based on the idea that God created everything for people to enjoy as long as they enjoy it properly. This is obvious to the wise person because it explains why God created all these things. People who refuse to enjoy the divine gifts reject what God wants.
The second is designed for people who cannot imagine God is so generous, and we must treat God as a self-centered despot who demands that we obey as we obey a king and our parents and restrain our behaviors.
I think the author is misunderstood. I believe the meaning of *everything is vanity* to mean that no matter what path we choose in life, the end is the same for us all, which is mentioned elsewhere and that end is death. I don’t know who wrote what anymore with so much misinformation spreading around, so I look inside of myself for the truth. I’ve learned to trust my gut instincts because they seem to know this place better than I do. I’m finished trying to understand things that are obviously outside of my realm of understanding. I’ll search for the truth everywhere because even within a tale of lies a morsel of truth exists and I’ll depend upon discernment to illuminate that for me. Interesting article!
I agree. Truth can be found in many places. That is why I also enjoy fiction, not only books on philosophy.
I agree. Elements of truth is evenin lies.
A brilliant analysis. Although I do not agree with Ecclesiastes that everything is vanity. That’s an expression of a nihilistic view. It’s possible to adopt a time frame that makes everything you do irreverent. Why bother doing anything when the sun is going to envelop the earth in 4 billion years? The answer is: don’t pick time frames that make everything you do irrelevant. If you find an infant crying you should attend it and not think that in 4 billion years the sun is going to envelop the earth. Guided by principles manifested in the intrinsic meaningfulness of the moment. But, there is wisdom in Ecclesiastes. For example, I agree to enjoy the world and the gifts of God. It is what God wants.
Thanks for the complement. We agree.