“The race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong.”
Ecclesiastes is one of 24 books of the Tanakh or Hebrew Bible, where it is classified as one of the Ketuvim (or “Writings”). It is among the canonical Wisdom Books in the Old Testament of most denominations of Christianity.
- The title Ecclesiastes is a Latin transliteration of the Greek translation of the Hebrew Kohelet (meaning “Gatherer”, but traditionally translated as “Teacher” or “Preacher”) the pseudonym used by the author of the book.
- The book dates from c.450–180 BC and is from the Middle Eastern tradition of the mythical autobiography, in which a character, describing himself as a king, relates his experiences and draws lessons from them, often self-critical.
- The author, introducing himself as “son of David, king in Jerusalem” (i.e., Solomon) discusses the meaning of life and the best way to live. He proclaims all the actions of man to be inherently hevel, meaning “vain” or “futile”, (“mere breath”), as both wise and foolish end in death.
- Kohelet clearly endorses wisdom as a means for a well-lived earthly life. In light of this senselessness, one should enjoy the simple pleasures of daily life, such as eating, drinking, and taking enjoyment in one’s work, which are gifts from the hand of God.
- The book concludes with the injunction: “Fear God, and keep his commandments; for that is the whole duty of everyone” (12:13).
Ecclesiastes has had a deep influence on Western literature.
- It contains several phrases that have resonated in British and American culture, and was quoted by Abraham Lincoln addressing Congress in 1862.
- American novelist Thomas Wolfe wrote: “[O]f all I have ever seen or learned, that book seems to me the noblest, the wisest, and the most powerful expression of man’s life upon this earth—and also the highest flower of poetry, eloquence, and truth. I am not given to dogmatic judgments in the matter of literary creation, but if I had to make one I could say that Ecclesiastes is the greatest single piece of writing I have ever known, and the wisdom expressed in it the most lasting and profound.”