Oct 25, 2009

Hebel in Ecclesiastes

I have been teaching on Ecclesiastes the last few weeks. As part of my preparation I read C. L. Seow’s article “Beyond Mortal Grasp: The Usage of Hebel in Ecclesiastes” Australian Biblical Review 48 (2000): 1–16. I thought I might share a couple of quotes from the article.

“The book of Ecclesiastes has a sullied reputation due in no small part to popular perceptions of its keyword, hebel, traditionally translated as “vanity.” No other work in the Bible is as readily identified, indeed, caricatured by perceptions of a single term. The word is not the most common in the book by any means, although its 39 occurrences-over half the total of 73 in the entire Hebrew Bible-is certainly considerable. It is the keyword in Ecclesiastes inasmuch as it appears in strategic places, frequently marking the beginning or the end of discrete units and sub-units” (p. 1).

"Throughout Ecclesiastes, then, one finds a picture of a world that is in every sense imprehensible-not apprehensible and/or not comprehensible. Nothing that human beings accomplish or possess or tries to grapple with is ultimately within mortal grasp. The only response for humanity - and it is a God-given response-is to enjoy life under the sun, whenever it is possible to do so” (p. 15).

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