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The JPS Bible Commentary


Authored by Michael V. Fox PhD

Publication Year: 2004

The Book of Ecclesiastes is part of the "wisdom literature" of the Bible. It concerns itself with universal philosophical questions, rather than events in the history of Israel and in the Hebrews' covenant with God. Koheleth, the speaker in this book, ruminates on what -- if anything -- has lasting value, and how -- if at all -- God interacts with humankind. Koheleth expresses bewilderment and frustration at life's absurdities and injustices. He grapples with the inequities that pervade the world and the frailty and limitations of human wisdom and righteousness. His awareness of these discomfiting facts coexists with a firm believe in God's rule and God's fundamental justice, and he looks for ways to define a meaningful life in a world where so much is senseless. Ecclesiastes is traditionally read on the Jewish holiday Sukkot, the harvest festival.

Published by: Jewish Publication Society

title page

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pp. vii

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pp. viii

I have benefited greatly from the contributions of two learned and rigorous editors. Professor Michael Fishbane's erudition and exegetical powers helped me shape and enrich my interpretation. Rabbi David Sulomm Stein's interpretive sensitivity and keen sense of English style helped me clarify...

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pp. ix-xxxvi

Ecclesiastes is a strange and disquieting book. It gives voice to an experience not usually thought of as religious: the pain and frustration engendered by an unblinking gaze at life's absurdities and injustices. The man speaking in Ecclesiastes, "Koheleth," sees things that are distressing...


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pp. xxxvii-xxxviii

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pp. 3-11

1:1 The words of Koheleth son of DavidJ king in Jerusalem On the identity of Koheleth, see Title and Author in the introduction. Since the word can appear with the article, ha-kohelet ("the Koheleth"; 7:27 [see Comment] and 12:8), it is a title, not a personal name. The word means, approximately, "one who does something in the assembly (kahal}." Compare the usages in Ezra 2:55, 57 and Neh. 7:57, 59. Bickermann likens the word to the street-preachers of Ptolemaic...

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Reflections and Meditations

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pp. 11-31

Chapter 2 follows a single train of thought but has three major components: pleasure and toil (vv. I-II); wisdom and folly (vv. 12-17); and toil and pleasure, wisdom and folly (vv. 18-26). KOHELETH ON PLEASURE The terms that Koheleth uses in referring to pleasure, namely simhah ("pleasure," "enjoyment") and tov ("good,"...

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Counsels and Teachings

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pp. 32-74

Until now, Koheleth has offered mostly reflections and meditations on life and its problems. Now he begins to provide practical advice on getting along in the world, and teachings of this sort will occupy much of the remainder of the book. The main theme of the present unit is caution in making vows. The remarks about going to the Temple, offering sacrifices, avoiding rash speech, and fearing God are all organized around this theme and should be interpreted...

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pp. 74-82

7. Just to be alive is good, even though life's taste is often bitter. 8. even if a man lives many years, let him enjoy himself in all of them. We should not take time for granted, Koheleth teaches, however much of it we seem to have. Since we do not know in advance how long we will live, we must begin enjoying ourselves while young and continue throughout...

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pp. 82-85

In the epilogue, a different voice speaks, and it is of an anonymous teacher. This voice addresses the reader as "my son," in typical Wisdom fashion, and spealcs about Koheleth in the third person. Koheleth is treated as a personage of the past, whose teachings are admired but viewed with a....


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pp. 86-87

E-ISBN-13: 9780827609655
Print-ISBN-13: 9780827607422

Publication Year: 2004