The Ecclesiastes in the Bible Encyclopedia - ISBE

LITERATURE 1. Structure of the Book: Reading this book one soon becomes aware that it is a discussion of certain difficult problems of human life. It begins with a title Eccl (1:1), followed by a preface (1:2- 11). It has a formal conclusion (12:8-13). Between the preface and the conclusion the body of the book is made up of materials of two kinds--first a series of "I" sections, sections uttered in the 1st person singular, a record of a personal experience; and second, an alternating series of gnomic sections, sections made up of proverbs (say 4:5,6,9- 12; 5:1-12; 7:1-14,16-22; 8:1-8; 9:7-10; 10:1-4; 10:8 through 12:7). These may be called the "thou" sections, as most of them have the pronoun of the 2nd person singular. The idea of the vanity of all things characterizes the record of experience, but it also appears in the "thou" sections (e.g. 9:9). On the other hand the proverb element is not wholly lacking in the "I" sections (e.g. 4:1-3). 2. The Contents: In the preface the speaker lays down the proposition that all things are unreal, and that the results of human effort are illusive Eccl (1:2,3). Human generations, day and night, the wind, the streams, are alike the repetition of an unending round (1:4-7). The same holds in regard to all human study and thinking (1:8-11). The speaker shows familiarity with the phenomena which we think of as those of natural law, of the persistence of force, but he thinks of them in the main as monotonously limiting human experience. Nothing is new. All effort of Nature or of man is the doing again of something which has already been done. After the preface the speaker introduces himself, and recounts his experiences. At the outset he had a noble ambition for wisdom and discipline, but all he attained to was unreality and perplexity of mind (Eccl 1:12-18). This is equally the meaning of the text, whether we translate "vanity and vexation of spirit" or "vanity and a striving after wind," ("emptiness, and struggling for breath"), though the first of these two translations is the better grounded. Finding no adequate satisfaction in the pursuits of the scholar and thinker, taken by themselves, he seeks to combine these with the pursuit of agreeable sensations-- alike those which come from luxury and those which come from activity and enterprise and achievement Eccl (2:1-12). No one could be in better shape than he for making this experiment, but again he only attains to unreality and perplexity of spirit. He says to himself that at least it is in itself profitable to be a wise man rather than a fool, but his comfort is impaired by the fact that both alike are mortal (2:13-17). He finds little reassurance in the idea of laboring for the benefit of posterity; posterity is often not worthy (2:18-21). One may toil unremittingly, but what is the use (2:22,23)?...

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