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Sukkot, Study, something

It happened like this: somebody said on Facebook that there wasn’t anything new in the universe, and somebody said that it had been said before, and I said it was from Ecclesiastes. And it turns out that Ecclesiastes (a) is something that I have a great deal of difficulty typing, such that it often comes out Ecclesiasters; and (2) is one of the Five Scrolls that are liturgically assigned to five holidays, and is in fact assigned to Sukkot, the holiday that is pretty much starting Right Now.

And I was thinking that I had read Ecclesiastes once or twice, and been assigned to study it in college, but hadn’t ever really studied it. And as I had been waiting for inspiration to strike regarding what sort of Scripture Study to do here on this Tohu Bohu of mine, well, that seemed like inspiration enough. So I’m going to be going through Ecclesiastes more or less like I did Pirke Avot or the Song of Songs (except I never finished Song of Songs) or the Haftarahs. I suspect I won’t go verse-by-verse, as much of the poetry appears to work in stanzas of sorts, but then once I get actually get into the text I may get carried away. As I do.

In fact, I’m already worrying at the first question of what to call the book. In Hebrew it’s called קֹהֶ֣לֶת, kohelet, a word that is only used in this book and only to identify the first-person-speaker. It appears to be derived from the root khl, to congregate or assemble, so the kohelet could well be the person who causes a congregation to assemble, such as a preacher might do, so the KJV called him The Preacher. On the other hand, the root doesn’t involve talking at all, speechifying, addressing the crowd, or, you know, preaching, so I feel that is a little misleading. In English we call the book by the transliteration of the Septuagint Greek Ἐκκλησιαστοῦ, which they used as a translation of kohelet, because, er, something to do with congregations? I have no Greek at all. It’s kind of a troublesome name for the book—it’s not an English word at all, and if it connotes anything to us, it’s a vague connection to the Church all the same as ecclesiastical courts.

Some recent translations have just used the transliteration of the Hebrew for the name (or title or name-like thing) of the writer—oh, and it’s more complicated because that first-person writer is associated with Solomon. Historically, that’s nonsense, but in the tradition, this one and Song of Songs and the Proverbs are all Solomon’s work. So the name/title/appellation kohelet (in 1:1 it’s kohelet ben David is taken to refer to the person Solomon. It’s always tricky to decide whether to translate names, isn’t it? I think the usual way these days is to use Ecclesiastes for the book and kohelet for the person. I guess that’s what I’ll do, then, but I reserve the right to change my mind partway through.

All of which is to say: Happy Sukkot, Gentle Readers all, and if you have interest in joining me for the study of Ecclesiasters, time to get out the book. With any luck, I’ll be starting soon.

Tolerabimus quod tolerare debemus,


couldn't you call it The Book of the Preacher or something? (or is that too long?) (And too badly translated?)
I'm looking forward to see you go through it--I studied it a few years ago and found it mixed, but overall rather cynically depressing. But I have a sneaking suspicion there were some parts that I rather liked. ;)

I don't like translating kohelet as Preacher, is the thing. Not that I have a better word for it… I guess the connotation of Preacher as a professional homiletics practitioner—a bible-thumper, a barn-burner, a stem-winder—bothers me. And then, well, it's called Ecclesiastes in English, so that's what it's called. I could complain about 'Numbers' or 'Leviticus' or 'Deuteronomy', neither of which are particularly good names for the books, but that's what they are called, so that's how the language works.


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