Ecclesiastes

Derivation

  • Greek: ekklesiastes, member of the assembly

Article

The protocanonical book of the Old Testament, called in Hebrew Qoheleth (Koheleth), in Latin, Concionator (Saint Jerome), or in English “The Preacher.” In the Vulgate this book follows Proverbs and was formerly almost unquestioned as the work of Solomon. Now even Catholic scholars admit the theory of an unknown author presenting the teachings of Solomon at a later age. Although no Catholic will admit the modernistic view ascribing it to the period of Herod the Great (40 B.C.), some place it in the 3rd century before the Christian era. Its Palestinian origin is certain. It is rather short, comprising 12 chapters and 222 verses. The theme may be stated as the transient character of earthly goods and pleasures compared with true wisdom which is the fear of the Lord and in which alone may be found true contentment and happiness. The manner of development is oriental and specifically ancient; it is Semitic, i.e., by apothegms and proverbs rather than by logical analysis. Notwithstanding its somber tone, it is not pessimistic since hope for happiness is held out to those who direct their lives according to reason and the will of God.

It is divided into:

  • the prologue (1:1-11), which shows the vanity of the search for human happiness
  • part I (1:12 to 7:1), which emphasizes the vanity of all things apart from God
  • part II (7:2 to 12:8), which comprises the precepts of true wisdom

The style varies between pithy sententiousness and soliloquy, and is at times rhetorical, depicting evil in glaring colors, which are not exaggerated in the light of our knowledge of the moral depravity of the Orient in pre-Christian times. The teaching of the book is not at variance with Christian belief. It is not true that the author inveighs against God. He does speak against sinful men. Immortality is not denied in 3:19 sqq., because this passage should be regarded as a rhetorical question expressive of the author’s grief that so few men realize the difference between themselves and animals. Besides God did not reveal much of the future state before the Incarnation, and Heaven was not opened till after the death of Christ. Hence we should not expect the same precision in expressions concerning the life to come in the Old Testament that is found in the new. Its canonicity as divine is accepted from the beginning in the Synagogue as well as the Christian Church. Striking passages are: 1:1-11, the vanity of earthly striving; 3:10-15, how to rejoice in the gifts of God; 4:17, obedience; and 12:1-7, correct training of youth. Many sentences are apt maxims for our daily lives and the author of the “Imitation” has utilised them, especially in Book I. Breviary lessons for the second week of August are taken from Ecclesiastes. The abbreviation Eccles. distinguishes this book from Ecclesiasticus (Ecclus.).

MLA Citation

  • “Ecclesiastes”. New Catholic Dictionary. Saints.SQPN.com. 11 June 2010. Web. 11 July 2014. <http://saints.sqpn.com/ecclesiastes/>