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Ecclesiastes: 2:4-9

Your Humble Blogger returneth again according to his circuits, only not so quickly as one might hope.

Ecc 2:4-9 KJV I made me great works; I builded me houses; I planted me vineyards: I made me gardens and orchards, and I planted trees in them of all [kind of] fruits: I made me pools of water, to water therewith the wood that bringeth forth trees: I got [me] servants and maidens, and had servants born in my house; also I had great possessions of great and small cattle above all that were in Jerusalem before me: I gathered me also silver and gold, and the peculiar treasure of kings and of the provinces: I gat me men singers and women singers, and the delights of the sons of men, [as] musical instruments, and that of all sorts. So I was great, and increased more than all that were before me in Jerusalem: also my wisdom remained with me.

Before we get into the sense of it, I want to point out that the word orchards up there is properly paradises, a loan word, evidently, referencing here the plantations surrounding the palaces of the Persian kings. Which are post-Solomon. This is where all the analysts point at the word and say that it’s impossible for this to have been written by Solomon, who would not have known the word, and that’s an excellent point. Although they do not generally go on to ask, why use that word in that place, if Solomon would not have known it? Of all the places in this text, this is the one where the writer is talking in a Solomonic voice, as it were—all of these details of wealth aggregation have specific referents in Kings, as if the writer were familiar with that text and was choosing the details from it. Which, probably. Yes?

Only, then why not use that language as well? Why specifically use a Persian term here? Is it just an anachronism, a mistake? And if so, why there? Was the point specifically to reference the Persian kings, rather than some other monarch? I must say, having just read Esther, this bit reminds me rather forcibly of Ahasueros, rather than Solomon—or at least in addition to Solomon.

And then, another thing—when I see the Hebrew(ish) word paradise, I immediately think of the Four who Entered Paradise, a disturbing story that may well be about learning leading to destruction. Here we read it as an earthly orchard, not a place of madness and death, right? Or… well, when he says he built himself gannot v’fardasim, gardens and orchards, he is talking about gardens and orchards, but is he also talking about The Garden and That Paradise? Or at least planting (as it were) those troubling stories in the mind of the reader, to be troubled by?

OK, a second set of questions about a phrase: at the end of verse 8, there’s one of them hapax legomenon fellows. Or rather, it appears twice, but twice in that verse and nowhere else in Scripture. The word is shidah and the verse reads shidah v’shidot, or we might say shidah and shidahs, idiomatically shidahs and plenty of ’em. It’s after the singers (male and female) and the delights of the sons of Adam, the KJV translates it as musical instruments, and that of all sorts for no particular reason. The RSV translates them as concubines, following Strong (who follows Ibn Ezra); Rashi calls them chariots; the Septuagint calls them cup-bearers. Most modern translators and analysts go the women route, although coming up with different etymologies, my favorite of which is of course obscene.

R. Hiyya b. Nehemiah says that it’s a reference to judges, but then he takes the whole set of verses as referring not to the material wealth of Solomon but the wealth of learning—the houses are houses of learning, the vineyards are tiers of disciples, the trees are books of Talmud, and so on and so forth, and the shidah v’shidot are male and female judges, which (a) makes no grammatical sense, and (2) implies that female judges were not just outliers, which is interesting in itself. But my favorite one is from the Midrash right before R. Hiyya b. Nehemiah’s explanation, which says that the entire bit about wealth and comfort is to be taken literally, with some explication: the delights (or luxuries) of the sons of Adam are of course public baths and lavatories, and the shidah v’shidot of course numerous female demons, to heat the water.

… and I think I’ll leave that right there, and with luck write a different note about the meaning of the sentences rather than the words.

Tolerabimus quod tolerare debemus,
-Vardibidian.

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