Virtually no topic related to the book of Ecclesiastes is accepted without significant scholarly debate, starting with the meaning of the Hebrew name or title of the book, Qohelet(h) (also spelled Kohelet[h]). The English title “Ecclesiastes,” derives from Greek Ekklēsiastēs, through Latin (Vulgate: Ecclesiastes), as a plausible “translation” of Hebrew qōhelet, a member of the qāhāl (congregation or community). However, the term might refer to one who addresses this congregation and, therefore, the word is often translated as the “Preacher.” Qōhelet might also refer to one who gathers together the congregation or the one who gathers the statements and aphorisms collected in the book (hence, for either of those roles sometimes called “The Convoker” or “The Gatherer”). Debate surrounds even whether the title is masculine (job descriptions appear on occasion using grammatically feminine forms, as in Ezra 2:55, 57; Neh 7:57, 59) or is actually feminine (as supposedly in 7:27, which is more likely nothing more than an incorrect division of words; cf. 12:8). One creative theory hypothesizes that the feminine form qōhelet resulted from an error in which a translator (see below) mistakenly understood an original Aramaic masculine noun with the determinate ending to be a feminine indeterminate noun, since both forms are indicated by a suffixed ā (Ginsberg 1950, pp. 31–33; Zimmerman 1973, pp. 85, 120). While the consensus is that the book's author is male, there is widespread disagreement over whether Qoheleth is the author's actual name, a pseudonym, a cipher for some other term, or even a job description and not a name at all.

Canonical Status and Location in Canon.

The canonical status of Qoheleth seems to have been the subject of rabbinic debate, although it is likely that the relevant talmudic passages (e.g., Šabb, 30b; Lev. Rab. 28:1) that challenge the book's inspired origin or canonical suitability are more about restricting its circulation by burial in a bibliocrypt than a proposal for formal revocation of the book's canonicity (see Leiman 1976, pp. 73, 105–106). Even so, it is clear that Qoheleth offers many challenges to orthodox thinking. Already in 1:3, Qoheleth questions one's benefits “under the sun.” The phrase means “during one's life” or even “on earth,” but the particular locution turned out to provide a way for Jewish traditionalists to minimize what they saw as Qoheleth's challenge because they were able to suggest that Qoheleth recognized the ultimate value of Torah, which was above, not under, the sun. Early Christian traditionalists like Jerome used a similar method to legitimate the book by interpreting it spiritually. Jerome took Qoheleth's pronouncement that “there is no good for a person but to eat and drink” (2:24) as referring to “the true bread and drink, i.e., Christ's body and blood” (Holm-Nielsen 1974, p. 176). In the end, Qoheleth was canonized, not even “hidden” with the apocryphal books and appears in the Hebrew Bible among the Writings. The classic talmudic discussion about the “order” of the canonical “books” (b. B. Bat. 14b–15a) positions Qoheleth between Proverbs and Song of Songs, since those were assumed to be the three works written by Solomon (see below), but current printed editions of the Hebrew Bible place Qoheleth among a series of the “five scrolls.” The order of those five reflects their liturgical usage in the Jewish calendar, beginning with the Song of Songs, which is recited on Passover, the beginning of the “national” calendar in the spring, and ending with Esther, which is read on Purim. Qoheleth, traditionally read during the fall Festival of Sukkot (Tabernacles), is therefore found as the fourth in the series, after Lamentations and before Esther. Thus, Qoheleth is generally the thirty-third book (of thirty-nine) books of the Hebrew Bible, although according to the traditional Jewish enumeration of twenty-four books it is found nineteenth or twentieth (since its earlier position within the Writings was fluid, as was true for much of that section of the Hebrew canon). In Christian traditions, Qoheleth appears in the Poetry/Wisdom section of the canon, usually as the twenty-fifth book in the Roman Catholic Old Testament or twenty-first according to the Protestant canonical order.

Authorship: Traditional and Modern Views.

Authorship of the book, too, has been the topic of longstanding debate. Traditionally authorship was assigned to Solomon, based on several factors beginning with the book's superscription: “The words of Qohelet, the son of David, king in Jerusalem.” Solomon alone fulfills both criteria of being the biological son of David and a king in Jerusalem. (Some commentators cite 1:12 in support of Solomonic authorship while others cite it in demurral, depending on the analysis of the verb.) As further “evidence” that Solomon wrote the book, the author portrays himself, in at least early chapters of the book, as exceedingly wealthy and wise. Those attributes, accompanying the many proverbs and aphorisms found in the book, offer striking parallels to descriptions of Solomon found in 1 Kings 5:9–14. In fact, Jewish tradition attributes authorship of three biblical books (noted above) to Solomon. Talmudic disputants differ about which he wrote in his youth, which during his middle-age, and which in his later years, but all three viewpoints ascribe Qoheleth to Solomon's elder years, given the presumed negative outlook of the book and the final chapter, the so-called “allegory of old age.” However, the wording of the superscription is not straightforward, and one is right to ask why the verse doesn't make Solomonic authorship clear. Had that been its intention, the verse could easily have begun with a declaration that the book comprises “The words of Solomon, son of David.…” In fact the Aramaic translation does just that: “The prophetic sayings that Qoheleth, who is Solomon the son of David the king, who was in Jerusalem, prophesied…,” adding that the author's (that is, Solomon's) despair and anguish were based on prophetic visions of the impending split of the kingdom into Israel and Judah, the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple, and the people's exile. In fact, however, Solomonic authorship, despite its role in some Jewish sources, is entirely unlikely. As Franz Delitzsch explained, already in 1877, “If the Book of Koheleth were of Solomonic origin, then there is no history of the Hebrew language” (Delitzsch 1877, p. 190). Based on numerous linguistic criteria and the many similarities between the Hebrew of Qoheleth and several elements common to “Late Biblical Hebrew”—even as late as Mishnaic Hebrew—it has become increasingly clear that much of the language of Qoheleth reflects the Hebrew forms as late as the third to second centuries B.C.E., and no earlier than the fifth. Certainly, the overwhelming linguistic evidence precludes Solomonic authorship. (The putative role of “Solomon” in the early chapters of the book is considered below.) While linguistic arguments for dating the book are notoriously difficult, some scholars have attempted to demonstrate that the entire book was a translation from Aramaic (as early as Burkitt in 1922; see also Zimmerman 1975; Torrey 1978; Ginsberg 1950), but this view has not won a significant following. Even though many commentaries also make reference to Persian loanwords (e.g., pardēs [park], 2:5; pitgām [sentence, edict], 8:11) as a clue to dating the book, the mere appearance of such terms is insufficient to isolate a date of authorship. Pardēs, for example, develops a changed meaning, or at least a change in nuance, over time, and its particular connotation in Qoheleth must be taken into consideration. Similarly, one must consider whether pitgām or other “foreign” terms (or the alleged Graecism for “to do good,” in 3:12) entered Hebrew directly or through the medium of Aramaic.

At least two other external clues also help focus a plausible date for the completion or primary editing of Qoheleth. One is the appearance of Qoheleth fragments in Qumran texts dated from the mid-first century B.C.E. to early first century C.E., (although precisely how the Masoretic Text “is related to the original text of the book of Qoh is beyond our knowledge” [Krüger 2004 p. 37]). Another clue, though one that is not without its own interpretive difficulties, is the existence of Sirach (Ecclesiasticus or Ben Sira). Probably completed in the early second century B.C.E. (with 180 B.C.E. being a widely accepted date), Sirach appears to have been influenced by Qoheleth and, in turn, to serve as an influence for the slightly later Wisdom of Solomon.

In addition to the linguistic and textual arguments favoring a late date of authorship, several key themes of the book also seem to fit well a third century B.C.E. date, or within the larger time frame of fourth to second centuries B.C.E. With the linguistic argument as background for relatively late authorship, Bickerman's (1967) treatment of the book provided a socioeconomic rationale for Qoheleth that further enhanced the likelihood of composition during the latter centuries B.C.E. Bickerman took Qoheleth as reflecting a time during which a newly developing entrepreneurial class arose, one of the few early examples, if not the very first, for mercantile wealth and the establishment of an expanding class of successful, affluent “businessmen.” New-found wealth provided new opportunities and benefits of leisure, of course, but along with them came new-found complications and uncertainty. For Bickerman, the key themes of the book may be summed up by his chapter title for Qoheleth, the “Philosophy of an Acquisitive Society.”


What the book meant to its author (or authors: most scholars have assumed there were several additions to the base work) is a notion as widely debated as every other aspect of this brief work. The majority of modern interpreters see the book as an attempt to answer, or at least address, life's “big picture” issues, raising questions about the ultimate concerns of humanity, and “the meaning of life.” Exegetes often situate Qoheleth among at least one or another of the classical streams of ancient Hellenistic philosophical thought such as Stoicism, Sophism (including Skepticism), Epicureanism, or hedonism, or portray it as influenced by some aspect of Egyptian thought (see, e.g., Gammie 1985; Gordis 1968, pp. 51–58, 112–132; Hengel 1975, I, pp. 115–130; II, pp. 77–88; Rudman 2001; Burkes 1999). Others suggest that Qoheleth serves as a precursor to modern existentialism (Gordis 1968 pp. 112–121; Leithart 2008; Fox 1999). Nonetheless, whatever the purported place of Qoheleth among such intellectual traditions, astute commentators recognize that Qoheleth is to be distinguished from abstract philosophers, and that while his writing employs some syllogistic forms, his purpose is ultimately neither purely philosophical nor abstract. Qoheleth embodies the practical applications that typify both “strands” of wisdom literature throughout much of the ancient Near East including the Hebrew Bible. Both the so-called conventional wisdom traditions and the so-called skeptical wisdom traditions operate at the ground level, rather than as purely speculative and abstract philosophies.

Most analyses of Qoheleth, proceed from the premise that the book struggles to make sense of life and of the human condition in practical ways. That practical base stands in contrast to the idea that Qoheleth's grand quest was to explain life's ultimate meaning. A different understanding of the book—one accepted by fewer scholars whether past or present—suggests that the scope of Qoheleth is less grandiose and much more limited. In it, Qoheleth is involved primarily with answering the question of what one should do with wealth and possessions. And yet, even this “financial” perspective leaves Qoheleth cognizant of the frustration inherent in the human condition. For Qoheleth, human beings were created by God with an intrinsic inquisitive nature and the facility to wonder about questions beyond their ability to understand. If Bickerman is right, the book's appearance overlaps with the time of a newly developing wealthy class, and the formation of a cohort of (presumably) men with recently earned funds and the leisure to ponder their new status and their material goods. In those circumstances, this more limited interpretation of Qoheleth would have been desperately needed and would have been precisely the question that was—or, according to Qoheleth, that should have beenon the minds of the nouveaux riches. That perspective on the book also provides a context for the self-presentation of the author, at least in the early portion of the book, as an extremely wealthy individual. He saw himself, and portrayed himself to his readers, as someone trying several experiments to ascertain what his wealth could bring him and, no less important, to determine what it could not bring him. As has been noted in some commentaries, the author's intent was not to deceive the readers, but was rather to assume the Solomon-like persona for the first two chapters, after which that “guise” was dropped. (On using the Solomonic persona and then abandoning it, see, esp. Christianson 1998; Longman 1991.)

The debate about the book's fundamental purpose derives in large measure from any given exegete's interpretation of one of several key terms used by Qoheleth, ʿāmal (in its verbal form, or the nominal form derived from it). The term appears in a central question that Qoheleth poses repeatedly: “What is the ʿāmāl of one's life under the sun” (1:3; 3:9; see also 2:11, 18, 19, 20, 22; 5:17). Most scholars take the term to connote “toil” or “effort” or “exertion,” and, therefore, believe the question Qoheleth intends to answer is “What is the benefit (in a nonmaterial sense, that is to say, ‘what is the point’) of life's efforts?” However, there is another viewpoint about the connotation of ʿāmāl and, as a result, a radically different understanding of the question. Even more significantly, the change necessitates a vastly different perception of the book's overall meaning if ʿāmāl is taken—at least in certain specific passages—not as “effort” but as the consequence of one's effort, that is to say “benefit” (in the material sense, the “profit”). The clearest example is 2:18 which allows no meaning for ʿāmāl other than something material, since the author states that “I will leave it” (the suffixed form of the verb) “to the person who will come after me.” Moderns who interpret or translate ʿāmāl as “wealth” in that verse are preceded by the twelfth-century Rabbi Samuel ben Meir, who glossed ʿāmāl with a term for “money.” From that vantage point, the question of the book becomes “What is the benefit of one's profit under the sun?” As such, the book tries to answer “merely” the question of what one should do with one's wealth. Assuredly that question is not as sweeping or as imposing as the existential question, but it would be particularly relevant to a newly wealthy segment of society. It is also more answerable than the question “What is the meaning of life?” and is, in fact, actually answered in the book (whereas Qoheleth does not directly answer the existential question). Qoheleth's answer—given several times throughout the twelve chapters—is that one should use one's wealth before one dies, since there will be and can be no benefit from it after one's death (“you can't take it with you”). The certitude of Qoheleth's view about the need to use wealth to provide enjoyment for oneself—to the degree that one is able to enjoy things!—underscores another debated part of the book, the “refrain,” habēl habālîm hakkôl hābel.

The book is framed by, and punctuated by, Qoheleth's mantra that everything is hebel. The most common translation of the phrase, “all is vanity,” while not incorrect, is misleading. Many readers accept the term “vanity” as implying a sense of worthlessness. Therefore, the refrain is deemed to be an answer of sorts to the existential question, in an imagined dialogue proceeding as follows: Question: “What is the meaning of life?” Answer: “There is no meaning, since everything is worthless.” While that exchange is intelligible, it is likely not the one Qoheleth envisions. Nearly all appearances of the term hebel in the book, despite the term being widely debated and variously translated, emphasize the temporary nature of life, not its worth or worthlessness. For Qoheleth, life, relatively speaking, is fleeting and short-lived, which well suits the primary meaning of the word hebel, which is “breath.” The point is thus not that life is meaningless because it has no substance, or even that it is “absurd,” as hebel is often translated. This may well be true, although it is not part of Qoheleth's calculation. Instead, the point is rather that life is finite. Therefore, Qoheleth says, every person is challenged to make use of the short time available because life ends for all beings, sinful and righteous, human and animal. That knowledge makes the message of 3:19 irrefutable: “For the fate of human beings and the fate of beasts is the same fate: just as the one dies, so the other dies. Both have the same life force, so any (ultimate) advantage human beings have over beasts is nothing—since both are fleeting.” To oversimplify matters, pessimists who view life as being hebel often find that to be determinative: there is nothing to be done about it. Optimists who recognize the nature of life as being hebel find that to be motivational: carpe diem!

Structure and Contents.

No less debated than the goal of Qoheleth's writing is the way in which Qoheleth structures his argument. In fact, there is widespread disagreement regarding whether the book even has a cohesive and discernible structure, whether it reflects the meandering and vacillating thoughts of its author, or whether it is a compilation of discrete lectures and arguments never intended to be seen as a unified whole. What is widely recognized is that the book does have an overall framing device: the refrain noted above serves as an opening marker in 1:2 (immediately after the superscription) and is repeated, albeit in shorter form, as a “closing” statement in 12:8. Debate ensues, however, when scholars consider the relationship between 12:8 and the book's concluding six verses. There is widespread disagreement over whether these final verses are integral to the book, the work of a later epilogist (or several epilogists), and whether the additional material—whatever its origin—is compatible with the rest of the book or whether (as may be the case, as well, for 11:9b) it is antithetical to the rest of the book and actually undermines its message.

One structure suggested initially by Ginsberg (1955) is that the book has two main thematic sections, followed by a pericope refining each of those sections, followed ultimately by the epilogue (12:9–14). Section A (1:2—2:26) and its refinement A′ (4:4—6:9) recognize that everything is futile; section B (3:1—4:3) and its enhancement B′ (6:10—12:8) recognize that human experience is repetitious. Ginsberg further notes that “the substance of A and A′ is included in B and B′, but not vice versa” (1963, p. 48). Many other attempts to define the structure of Qoheleth discern, or impose, a relatively linear outline, although some studies also focus on Qoheleth's use of opposites (Horton 1972) or polarities (Loader 1979). A safe way to portray the structure of the book is Krüger's generic division: Title (1:1); Motto (1:2); Corpus of the book (1:3–12:7); Motto (12:8); Epilogue (12:9–11). (In his commentary, Krüger treats the epilogue through 12:14, comparing the overall structure and content of 12:9–14 to Sir 50:27–29.) He then correctly notes that “[w]hether and to what extent the corpus of the book in 1:3—12:7 also exhibits a planned structure” is debated (p. 5). Next, Krüger summarizes the views of Galling (1969) (26 or, previously, 36 “units”); Wright (1968, 1980) (chs. 1–6, everything is futile and chasing after the wind; chs. 7–8 and 9–11, on the limitations of human abilities of comprehension); Rendtorff (1986) (with a further refinement of Wright's breakdown); and Seow (Ecclesiastes 1997), whose division warrants further mention. Between the superscription and the conclusion, which comprises the epilogue and additional material, Seow envisions two parts to Qoheleth, each conceptually subdivided into a section of “reflection” and a section of “ethics.” Part I extends from 1:2—6:9 and is a reflection on ephemerality and unreliability in 1:2—4:16 and ethics of coping with uncertainty in 4:17—6:9; Part II runs from 6:10 to 12:8 and is a reflection on the elusive nature of things in 6:10—8:17 and ethics of coping with risk and death in 9:1—12:8. Seow's pattern harkens back in some essential ways to that of Ginsberg.

However one envisions Qoheleth's overall structure, three sections of the book clearly stand out from the rest by virtue of their own stylistic devices. The poem in 3:1–8, often called the “catalogue of times,” lists events or phenomena that span the range of human activities. There is a time, apparently an “appropriate” time for each of them. That has led many readers to construe this pericope as evidence for Qoheleth's presumption of complete determinism. However, reading the “catalogue” not as a definition of (determined) events that occur to any particular individual but, rather, as a summary of the types of events occurring to humanity as a whole, a different message emerges. This may be understood less as a statement of determinism than as still another rationale that the only good a person may have is to enjoy whatever one can during one's lifetime (3:12). The highly structured poetic form, carefully balancing “positive” and “negative” actions, although sometimes difficult to know which is which, further confirms Qoheleth's hypothesis that everything adds up to be “nothing” or “zero” (Garfinkel 2007). It is important to observe, as Qoheleth himself notes several times, that such behavior is not at all a selfish act; it is rather, a gift from God. For those blessed with the ability to enjoy themselves, it is, in fact, a religious obligation! Chapter 7, presented in a series of comparisons using the so-called “ṭōb-Spruch” form (a is better than b), allows us to bring several points to the fore. The first of these is Qoheleth's use of a common form used elsewhere in the wisdom literatures. This is important since it highlights a struggle embodied throughout the book—namely, the author's wrestling with forms, beliefs, and traditions of “conventional wisdom” even as he eschewed much of an approach in which he was presumably trained. Further, the use of the comparative form was fitting for Qoheleth, since he knew his advice could provide only a relative answer to the large questions he posed, not an absolute answer. Nothing he could offer would change the facts: every individual's existence was short-lived, and everyone would die. Given those undeniable realities, he was able to posit, at most, a relative good. The “better than” form also allowed Qoheleth to keep a traditional, proverbial form, while adding his own contradictory voice as rationale. The passage 7:2 offers a clear example: “It is better to go to a house of mourning than a party-house” (7:2a). This is guidance that certainly sounds like a traditional viewpoint. Qoheleth even seems to endorse a conventional explanation, “since that [death, mourning] is the end of every person” (7:2b). Yet, Qoheleth then undercuts the traditional view, with his brief continuation (7:2c): “And, so, those living will take it [viz., the message of mortality] to heart.” Why is it better to mark death at a bereavement house than to go to a feast? Simply because that reminds one—paradoxically even more than a party—that life is short, that death is certain, and one must enjoy the time one has “under the sun”!

Chapter 12: 1–7, also a poetic unit, warns or reminds the reader that in old age the body becomes decrepit. In recognition of the eventual breakdown of one body part after another—or perhaps alluding to the breakdown of society as a whole, according to Seow (1999)—one must appreciate the vigor and health of one's youth, before the painful days of old age arrive.

Part of the difficulty in establishing a clear pattern to the book is that it contains what appear as numerous inconsistencies, sometimes with one pericope contradicting the immediately preceding section. Commentators have addressed that phenomenon with one of several proposed solutions Qoheleth may be reflecting his uncertain or fluctuating views, first presenting one opinion and then, later, a different opinion. As such, perhaps, his views reflect and express the complexities of life. A different “solution” proffers that at times Qoheleth quotes one perspective, perhaps that of so-called “conventional” wisdom, only then to present his own, conflicting view. As Gordis expresses it, “The term ‘quotations,’ as used here, refers to words which do not reflect the present sentiments of the author…but have been introduced by the author to convey the standpoint of another person or situation” (p. 96, italics original). Perry (1993) takes this idea to the extreme by converting the entire book of Qoheleth into a dialogue between a “Presenter” (whose words are shown in one typeface) and “Kohelet” (whose words are shown in a different font). Although Perry's approach is extreme, it seems true that in some cases Qoheleth may quote and refute a conventional wisdom perspective or, at other times, that Qoheleth may use conventional terminology in unconventional ways in an ever more subtle refutation. In so doing, Qoheleth may be placating unsuspecting traditionalists while simultaneously undermining the message they believe they are reading. Ginsberg (1950), for instance, suggests that Qoheleth uses the term ṣaddîq to mean someone favored by God—that is, someone lucky, rather than someone righteous (who would be favored by God as a result of his righteousness). To this example, one may add Qoheleth's use of additional terms such as ḥōṭēʾ, rāšāʿ, kĕśîl, and even mīšpāṭ on occasion (Gordis, pp. 87–94).

One further example of an internal contradiction in the book may be found in Qoheleth's views of women, particularly if 7:26–29 is actually as misogynistic as appears. (Perhaps Qoheleth demeans only women who exhibit these negative attributes, though this is by no means certain.) Then again, the pericope in chapter 7 contradicts Qoheleth's advice in 9:9 about women only if 9:9 is seen as a positive statement about women or even one's wife, and even that is uncertain. The interpretation of Qoheleth's thoughts about women in chapter 7 is unclear, as is the interpretation of his remarks in chapter 9. It is therefore difficult to confirm these verses as contradictory, a difficulty not atypical in this difficult book. As numerous scholars have explained, Qoheleth's views are often difficult to establish both because one hopes to minimize apparent contradictions within such a relatively short book and because it is difficult to define with precision certain key terms he uses.

Reception History.

Ironically, although Qoheleth is a complex and perplexing book about which there is much controversy and little agreement, it is a book often cited and even “quoted” in subsequent history. The book of Qoheleth echoes in music, too. The beginning of chapter 3, is doubtless one of the better-known passages of the Hebrew Bible, even if not one of the better understood. Its renown was significantly enhanced by the raging popularity of “Turn, Turn, Turn,” a song recorded in 1965 by The Byrds (based on versions recorded previously by a folk-singing group, The Limeliters in 1962 and soon thereafter by Pete Seeger who wrote the music and added the recurring phrase “turn, turn, turn” as well as a closing line “I swear it's not too late” after “a time for peace,” the last line in the biblical poem). Another popular song, “Dust in the Wind,” recorded in 1977 by the rock band Kansas, is seldom linked directly with Qoheleth. However, several of the lyrics (“all we are is dust in the wind”; “same old song, just a drop of water in an endless sea”; “nothin’ lasts forever but the earth and sky; it slips away and all your money won't another minute buy”) may well be playing off the themes and terms of Qoheleth. Looking at several media, Christianson (2007) has gathered and excerpted sources ranging from Gregory of Nyssa's fourth-century Homilies of Ecclesiastes to Charles Schultz's humorous typifying Qoheleth's popular usage in his twentieth-century comic strip “Peanuts.” After quoting “A living dog is better than a dead lion” (9:4), Charlie Brown asks “What does that mean?” to which Snoopy, the dog, responds: “I don't know, but I agree with it!

Louis Untermeyer's 1928 first-person poem “Koheleth” builds on Qoheleth with the stanza “That a wise man goes grieving/Even in Zion,/While any dog living/Outroars a dead lion” (p. 210). Qoheleth's influence extends from William Thackeray's 1885 edition of Vanitas Vanitatum to Paul Tillich's references (1963, 168) to “the Preacher” in the 1950s to the Cambridge conference on Reel Spirituality: Cinematic Wisdom and the Book of Ecclesiastes held in 2000. Johnston's Useless Beauty: Ecclesiastes through the Lens of Contemporary Film also links Qoheleth with any number of modern films featuring individuals who try to “figure out life” (2004, p. 157). Such works return to the notion that Qoheleth explores “the meaning of life,” since that is still the widespread assumption about the book's theme. However, for the last example of reverberations of the book of Qoheleth in modern times, we return to the view that Qoheleth's primary concern was to offer guidance about the best uses of one's wealth. Harold Kushner's 1985 volume When All You Ever Wanted Isn't Enough counsels that the mere exercise of amassing wealth doesn't lead to a life of satisfaction or joy. Rather, as Qoheleth would advocate, since death awaits all, each person who is able should “eat, drink, and provide joy for himself” with his, or her, profits.



Introductory / Bibliographic Resources

  • Crenshaw, James L. “Ecclesastes, Book of.” In Vol. 2 of Anchor Bible Dictionary, edited by David Noel Freedman, pp. 271–280. New York: Doubleday. 1992.
  • Gianto, Agustinus. “Ecclesiastes, Book of.” In Vol. 2 of New Interpreter's Dictionary of the Bible, edited by Katharine Doob Sakenfeld, pp. 178–185. Nashville: Abingdon, 2006–2009.
  • Ginsberg, Harold Louis, and Michael V. Fox “Ecclesiastes.” In Vol. 6 of Encyclopaedia Judaica, 2d ed., edited by Fred Skolnik, et al., pp. 88–90. Detroit: Macmillan in association with Keter, 2007.
  • Hengel, Martin. Judaism and Hellenism. Translated by J. Bowden. Philadelphia: Fortress, 1974.
  • Leiman, Sid Z. The Canonization of Hebrew Scripture: The Talmudic and Midrashic Evidence. Hamden, Conn.: Archon, 1976.
  • Rendtorff, R. The Old Testament: An Introduction. Philadelphia: Fortress, 1986.
  • Williams, James G. “Proverbs and Ecclesiastes.” In The Literary Guide to the Bible, edited by R. Alter and F. Kermode, pp. 263-282. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1987.


  • Alter, Robert. The Wisdom Books: Job, Proverbs, and Ecclesiastes: A Translation with Commentary. New York: W.W. Norton, 2010.
  • Bartholomew, Craig G. Ecclesiastes. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Academic, 2009.
  • Christianson, Eric S. Ecclesiastes through the Centuries. Malden, Mass, and Oxford: Blackwell, 2007.
  • Fox, Michael V. Ecclesiastes: The Traditional Hebrew Text with the New JPS Translation. The JPS Bible Commentary. Philadelphia: The Jewish Publication Society, 2004.
  • Fox, Michael V. A Time to Tear Down & a Time to Build Up: A Rereading of Ecclesiastes. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 1999.
  • Galling, K., and M. Haller. “Der Prediger.” In Die Fünf Megilloth, 2d ed., pp. 73–125. Handbuch zum Alten Testament 18. Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 1969.
  • Ginsberg, H. L. קוֹהֶלֶת [Hebrew]. Tel Aviv: M. Newman, 1961.
  • Gordis, Robert. Koheleth: The Man and His World. 3d ed. New York: Schocken, 1968.
  • Graham Ogden. Qoheleth. Sheffield, U.K.: Sheffield Academic/JSOT, 1987.
  • Japhet, Sara, and Robert B. Salters, eds. and trans. The Commentary of Rabbi Samuel Ben Meir (Rashbam) on Qohelet. Jerusalem: Magnes, 1985.
  • Kamano, Naoto. Cosmology and Character: Qoheleth's Pedagogy from a Rhetorical-Critical Perspective. Beihefte zur Zeitschrift für die alttestamentliche Wissenschaft 312. Berlin and New York: de Gruyter, 2002.
  • Krüger, Thomas. Qoheleth: A Commentary. Translated by O. C. Dean, Jr. Hermeneia. Minneapolis: Fortress, 2004.
  • Perry, T. A. Dialogues with Kohelet. University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press, 1993.
  • Seow, Choon-Leong. Ecclesiastes. Anchor Bible 18c. Garden City, N. Y.: Doubleday, 1997.
  • Torrey, C. C. “The Question of the Original Language of Kohelet.” Jewish Quarterly Review 39 (1948/49): 151–160.
  • Wright, Addison G. Ecclesiastes (Qoheleth). In The New Jerome Biblical Commentary, edited by Raymond E. Brown, Joseph A. Fitzmyer, and Roland E. Murphy, pp. 489–495. Upper Saddle River, N.J.: Prentice Hall, 1990 [1968].
  • Zar-Kavod, Mordecai. קוֹהֶלֶת [in חמש מגילות ,דעת מקרא series] [Hebrew]. Jerusalem: Mosad Harav Kook, 1973.

Special Studies

  • Bartholomew, Craig G. Reading Ecclesiastes: Old Testament Exegesis and Hermeneutical Theory. Analecta Biblica 139. Rome: Pontificio Instituto Biblico, 1998.
  • Berlejung, Angelika, and P. Van Hecke. The Language of Qohelet in Its Context: Essays in Honour of Prof. A. Schoors on the Occasion of his Seventieth Birthday. Orientalia lovaniensia analecta 164. Leuven: Peeters, 2007.
  • Bianchi, Francesco. “The Language of Qohelet: A Bibliographical Survey.” Zeitschrift für die alttestamentliche Wissenschaft 105 (1993): 210–223.
  • Bickerman, Elias. “Koheleth.” In Four Strange Books of the Bible, pp. 139–167. New York: Schocken, 1967.
  • Burkes, Shannon. Death in Qoheleth and Egyptian Biographies of the Late Period. Society of Biblical Literature Dissertation Series 170. Atlanta, Ga.: SBL, 1999.
  • Burkitt, J. “Is Ecclesiastes a Translation?” Journal of Theological Studies 23 (1922): 22–26.
  • Christianson, Eric S. A Time to Tell: Narrative Strategies in Ecclesiastes. Journal for the Study of the Old Testament: Supplement Series 280. Sheffield, U.K.: Sheffield Academic, 1998.
  • Delitzsch, Franz. Commentary on the Song of Songs and Ecclesiastes. Translated by M. G. Easton. Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1877.
  • Fox, Michael V. “Aging and Death in Qohelet 12.” Journal for the Study of the Old Testament 42 (1988): 55–77.
  • Fox, Michael V. “The Meaning of Hebel for Qohelet.” Journal of Biblical Literature 105 (1986): 409–427.
  • Fox, Michael V. Qohelet and His Contradictions. Sheffield, U.K.: Almond, 1989.
  • Gammie, John. “Stoicism and anti-Stoicism in Qoheleth.” Hebrew Annual Review 9 (1985): 169–187.
  • Garfinkel, Stephen. “Qoheleth: The Philosopher Means Business.” In Bringing the Hidden to Light: Studies in Honor of Stephen A. Geller, edited by K. Kravitz and D. Sharon, pp. 51–62. Winona Lake, Ind.: Eisenbrauns and Jewish Theological Seminary, 2007.
  • Ginsberg, H. L. “The Quintessence of Koheleth.” In Biblical and Other Studies, edited by A. Altmann, pp. 47–59. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1963.
  • Ginsberg, H. L. “Structure and Content of the Book of Koheleth.” Supplements to Vetus Testamentum 3 (1955): 138–149.
  • Ginsberg, H. L. Studies in Koheleth. New York: The Jewish Theological Seminary of America, 1950.
  • Ginsberg, H. L. “Supplementary Studies in Koheleth.” Proceedings of the American Academy of Jewish Research 21 (1952): 35–62.
  • Greenstein, Edward L. “Aramaisms in the Bible.” In Encyclopedia of the Bible and Its Reception, edited by Hans-Josef Klauck, et al., vol. 2, columns 630–634. Berlin and New York: de Gruyter, 2009.
  • Holm-Nielsen, Svend. “On the Interpretation of Qoheleth in Early Christianity.” Vetus Testamentum 24 (1974): 168–177.
  • Horton, Ernest, Jr. “Koheleth's Concept of Opposites.” Numen 19 (1972): 1–21.
  • Ingram, Doug. Ambiguity in Ecclesiastes. London: T. & T. Clark, 2006.
  • Johnston, Robert K. Useless Beauty: Ecclesiastes through the Lens of Contemporary Film. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker, 2004.
  • Jong, Stephan de. “God in the Book of Qohelet: A Reappraisal of Qohelet's Place in Old Testament Theology.” Vetus Testamentum 47 (1997): 154–167.
  • Koh, Yee-Von. Royal Autobiography in the Book of Qoheleth. Beihefte zur Zeitschrift für die alttestamentliche Wissenschaft 369. Berlin and New York: De Gruyter, 2006.
  • Kushner, Harold. When All You Ever Wanted Isn't Enough. New York: Schocken, 1985.
  • Leithart, Peter. Solomon Among the Postmoderns. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Brazos, 2008.
  • Loader, J. A. Polar Structures in the Book of Qohelet. Beihefte zur Zeitschrift für die alttestamentliche Wissenschaft 152. Berlin: De Gruyter, 1979.
  • Longman, Tremper. Fictional Akkadian Autobiography: A Generic and Comparative Study. Winona Lake, Ind.: Eisenbrauns, 1991.
  • Machinist, P. “Fate, miqreh, and Reason: Some Reflections on Qohelet and Biblical Thought.” In Biblical, Epigraphic, and Semitic Studies in Honor of Jonah C. Greenfield, edited by Z. Zevit, et. al. Winona Lake, Ind.: Eisenbrauns, 1995.
  • Miller, Douglas B. Symbol and Rhetoric in Ecclesiastes: The Place of Hebel in Qohelet's Work. Academia Biblica 2. Atlanta, Ga.: SBL, 2002.
  • Mills, Mary E. Reading Ecclesiastes: A Literary and Cultural Exegesis. Heythrop Studies in Contemporary Philosophy, Religion & Theology. Burlington, Vt.: Ashgate, 2003.
  • Rudman, Dominic. Determinism in the Book of Ecclesiastes. Journal for the Study of the Old Testament: Supplement Series 316. Sheffield, U.K.: Sheffield Academic, 2001.
  • Schoors, Antoon. Qohelet in the Context of Wisdom. Bibliotheca ephemeridum theologicarum lovaniensium 136. Leuven: Leuven University Press, 1998.
  • Seow, C. L. “Qohelet's Eschatological Poem.” Journal of Biblical Literature 118 (1999): 209–234.
  • Shields, Martin A. The End of Wisdom: A Reappraisal of the Historical and Canonical Function of Ecclesiastes. Winona Lake, Ind.: Eisenbrauns, 2006.
  • Tillich, Paul. The New Being. New York: Scribner, 1963.
  • Wright, A. G. “The Riddle of the Sphinx: The Structure of the Book of Qoheleth.” Catholic Biblical Quarterly 30 (1968): 313–334.
  • Wright, A. G. “The Riddle of the Sphinx Revisited: Numerical Patterns in the Book of Qoheleth.” Catholic Biblical Quarterly 42 (1980): 38–51.
  • Zimmerman, Frank. Biblical Books Translated from the Aramaic. New York: KTAV, 1975.
  • Zimmerman, Frank. The Inner World of Qohelet. New York: KTAV, 1973.

Stephen Garfinkel