Christian D. (Christian David) Ginsburg.

Coheleth : commonly called The book of Ecclesiastes ; translated from the original Hebrew, with a commentary historical & critical online

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Solomon did not Bay this for himself, as the other words, but he repeat*
hero the words of the worldly fool, who says so. And what do they say'
That " the destiny of man and the destiny of beasts," Ac. They are fools
because they know not, nor do they enquire into wisdom ; they say that this
world goes on by chance, and the Holy One, blessed be He, takes no cog-
nisance of it; but that •■ the destiny of man and the destiny of the beast is
the same, and the same destiny happens to all." And as Solomon knew
these fools who spoke in this manner, he called them beasts, for they
degraded themselves into mere beasts by uttering such sentiments.'

This attempt to explain away the obnoxious passages, is sub-
stantially the same as the one mentioned by Ibn Ezra {vide

1 For the development of the Zohar see Jost, Geschichte des Judenthums, Ac,
vol. iii., p. 74 - 81. Preston's remark on Mendelssohn's Introduction (p. 76),' that
*' the Zohar is a most ancient Jewish commentary on the Pentateuch," is a mere
repptition of an impudent assertion of the Kabbalists, who palmed it upon Simeon
ben Jochai, which is now entirely exploded. Compare also Steinschneider's very
able w ( ;rk on Jewish Literature, London, Longman, <fcc, 1857, p. 11,1 &C.; flnc i
Die Religionsphilosophie des Sohar und ihr Verb all nias zur allgemeinen judischen
Theologie, von D. H. Joel, Leipzig, 1849.

HtfNT >MTDDTQT *fto p>W ITlM iJM fjQ p'H 1N1D3 'W30 NTJ? 'NHI TVJ7V T3H Hb *

ftenDo Mbi p?T vbi >NttjciD 'ui rranan mpoi m«n mpn o now > ND1 ^ ^ ON1
mpoi Dinn mpo vhn lrr^ row vh rfapi mpm Vm mo^ »»m now wrraam
prm noro )iro np mi ^mpi ^NtDcio pw tonDM note "Oi <ui inn mpai nnron
f* ffo pom pa rara rrana ittotj na» This passage is quoted by Mendelssohn
in his very elaborate Introduction to his Commentary on the Book of Ecclesiastes.
The biblical student will find a great mass of valuable information in this
Introduction, which has been translated by Preston in the work quoted in Note 2
of the preceding page, and in the foregoing note in this page.


upra, p. 57), only that there the heretical sentiments are ascribed
o the different disciples of Solomon, whereas here they are put
nto the mouth of unbelievers generally.

To the period of the Zohar we must ascribe the Midrash
Fhemurah, which is based upon Coheleth. The design of this
Midrash is to shew that all the opposites which exist upon this
forth) e.g., riches and poverty beauty and deformity <fec, con-
tribute to the harmony of the whokj and speak of the wisdom of
the Creator; and they must respectively be received with thank-
fulness and resignation. To enforce this lesson, the Midrash
especially expatiates upon chap. iii. 1-8, in connection with
Ps. cxxxvi. 1

1280-1350. — Joseph Ibn Caspi, a celebrated expositor and
philosopher, who flourished in the beginning of the fourteenth
century, wrote a commentary on this book, propounding,
according to his own assertion, quite a new theory of its import.
He maintains that the design of Coheleth is to teach man that his
occupations with the affairs of this world are to be as little as
possible, since they are all vain, and that he is to give himself up
to the study of the law and science. This Coheleth sets forth in
twenty-one arguments, which are first treated according to the
ten D^an in connection with the passages of Scripture, and
then according to their logical sequence. Whereupon he gives
some hints on the perfection of the soul, and on prophecy, as
connected with the active mind, and quotes ten verses from this
book, which, according to him, recommend the Aristotelian
medium between the two extremes. Caspi wrote this commen-
tary when he was fifty years old, and called it The. Seal of Life;
it has never been printed, but the MS. is at Oxford. Our
notice of it is taken from Steinschneider's very elaborate and
excellent article on Joseph Caspi, in Ersch and Gruber's
Encyclopedia, the remarks of which on this commentary we

1 This Midrash is comprised in the collection of small Midrashim edited by
Jellinek, to which reference has already been made, p. 38, note I



;r ; r

subjoin in the foot-note. 1 Ibn Caspi's extremely scarce com-
mentary on the Song of Songs we published in our " Intro-
duction to the Song of Songs," pp. 47-49, where the reader
will find the theory of active and passive mind largely

1298-1370.— Though the celebrated Bechinoth Olam (Trial
of the World), does not profess to be an exposition of our book,
yet there can be no doubt that the design of its author was to
propound, in a popular and attractive style, the doctrine of
Coheleth. Jedajah Penini, the Jewish Cicero, as he is called by
Christians, like Coheleth, shews, in the most striking manner, the
utter vanity of all earthly pursuits and pleasures, apart from a
future life and judgment. Like Coheleth, he finishes his intro-
ductory part — which forms the basis of the succeeding contem-
plations — with the appalling fact that man is a prey to death ;
whereupon he shews the unsatisfactory nature and vanity of all
human pursuits, and then, like Coheleth, concludes with setting
before man the fear of God and a future world. A few specimens
will shew the resemblance of the Bechinoth Olam to Coheleth.
After describing the transcendent powers of the human mind,
and the heavenly endowments of man (§1), and yet the evil to

1 5Der dommentat ju floyetet befinbet ftd) in $arma unb in Drforb. 3m
(Spigrapfc tfijmt 3ofef mm pa) bom tfnaben*bU gum (UretfenaUer (Ps, xxxvii.
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naa) ben 10 irkn audgeftiyrt, bann in logfftyer Dtbnung fur) jufammengefafjt.
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biefem gemiffetmafien polemlfcyen Jyeite ffigt er einige 3Inbeutungen fiber
gjoUfommenyelt ber ©eete, ^topyetie in it 3?ucffta)t ouf bie * actibe 3ntenigenj"
bet, ffiyrt je v n 93crfe au« tfofceletan, roetc$e bie (3trt(iotetifcye) SWitte jtt)ifa)en
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SWemanno in ber (Einteitung ju feinem Gommentat fiber bad $oyetieb. <5rf#
unb ©tuber, Hflgemeine (Encpttopa'bie, 3weite ©ection, vol. xxii., p. 64.




which this highly gifted man is exposed (§ 2), Jedajah says,
in §3 —

For a man of such capacities I am filled with sorrow and grief; this
Saphir masterpiece is exposed to chauce and misfortune, like a target to the
arrows; he is the object of disgrace and contempt, like the lower brutes;
he is weighed down with oppression and contumely, from his youth to his
hoary age. He who ought to sit in the counsels of wisdom, piues away in
solitude; he who is like a son of God, is doomed to silence. The shepherd
of truth must feed upon the wind ; the bearer of wisdom and morality must
succumb under bis burden. Wisdom denies help to him who trusted to his
intelligence for deliverance; the hands are weakened of him who holds fast
to his integrity; or if calamities befall man, he dies and is no more, as the
brute of the field and the beast of the forest; the sacred temple is mixed up
with clods, and thrown down under trees ; the body formed by compass of
God, is consigned by God to rest in darkness. This contemplation heavily
afflicts me, and I cannot be comforted. The masterwork of God loath-
somely disappears, and is no more ! Cedars planted by God's own hand are
felled down ! I studied man, I carefully examined his nature, and I found
no imperfection in him, except that he is a prey to death.

This is also the burden of the prologue in Coheleth, and in
both forms the basis of the argument. Having shewn that this
is the deplorable condition of man, R. Jedajah, like Coheleth,
goes on to shew that no human effort can pacify the disturbed
mind, apart from the fear of God and the belief in a future
existence ; that it is the prospect of travelling on to a life beyond
the grave, which reconciles us to the afflictions we have to pass
through on our way to it. Imitating Coheleth, Jedajah there-
fore counsels us, towards the end of his treatise —

Remember thy Creator, who has entrusted thee with a noble soul ! thou
hast taken her in as a stranger upon this earth ; thou givest ber shelter as a
guest. As long, therefore, as she sojourns in thy dark abode, she looks to
the place whence she came ; she thinks in her low estate of her former glory,
how she stood high in the holy place, and mourns! Pity her, and speak
comfortably to her, for none but thou canst save her. As long as she is
with thee, she is like a bird caught and imprisoned by a careless child ; she
sees many birds freely fly over her, right and left, about their nests, but has
no power to overcome the youth who holds her; and she is afflicted. If
thou dost not wish to lay violent hands on this thy trust, cultivate and
guard her. Why stir up evil ? why lose thyself in a maze of devices, and






s I wo L P V y nT 8 T ,ab ° Ur aDd t0il? Thou *»— * »o* J-™™.

do it IZ I a T, ^ tlW 80Ul ' aDd h °" 8hort «™ tb « days of o U r life to

ft the di "J V° hTe , a th ° U8and year9 twice told . » wo"" ^ too short

Indevi d ft H / J6Ct 'I'" 08 '' but theda y 80f our «*>««> h-e a, ft'
and evil, and do not suffice to accomplish even little things. Attend there

hZZ^ZloZ' 71 from eartb,jr thiDg8 as rauch - » nec <*°«y

of the bTtt.T ,' ^°) MDn0t be ne « ,ected with ° ut «***»*'. take

of he best fruits of the land, of its spices for the preservation of thy health

beasts of the field, and the men who are like them; leave consuming

otwSu" J? ^ ea T 9,tha r ani8h «*. a dream! the interprTZ
of wh eh is the body will soon decay before its time, and the spirit .roes

JrJJt v e D r ° tbe b ; ast . after death " m > hear <- »* <£*z

dream of thy persecutors, and its interpretation for thy enemies ! Take mv
counsel, wh ,,st thy branches are still green, whilst thy sun is not clo^eY
and thou art young and cheerful, and hast strength to run the race with the
wiftness of the hart, to obtain the prize, and to rouse others from thei
lethargy and earth,, leasures by thy 8weet gavour> ^ ^

of thy light. Why, then, sleepest thou ? why delay to tear off the delusive
ma 8 k and escftpe from infatuationa ? Arige jnvoke ^^ ^^ ^

of ev,l come, before the many infirmities of old age draw nigh, and strength
is changed into weakness, and hope into despair.

We need hardly remind the reader of the relationship which
this paragraph sustains to the twelfth chapter of Coheleth. It
will be seen that Jedajah, like the sacred writer, whilst setting
before us the bright prospect of the life to come, also recommends
the cheerful but moderate enjoyment of the blessings of the life
that now is. This imitation is still more striking when we
compare the concluding remarks of the two books. Coheleth
towards the end, praises "the words of the wise," and admonishes
that all heed should be paid to them (xii. 11, 12). Jedajah
finishes by urging that all attention be given to the thirteen
articles of belief written by Maimonides, who was greatly
attacked in those days —

Finally, turn neither to the left nor right from all that the wise men have
believed, the chief of whom was the distinguished teacher Rambam, of
blessed memory, with whom no one can be compared from among all the
wise men of Israel who lived since the conclusion of the Talmud; then I



shall be sure that thou, enriched with all the knowledge of religion and
philosophy, wilt fear the Lord thy Qod.

The BechinotJi Olam has always occupied a very high position
among the Jews, and has been a source of comfort to many, who
looked upon Coheleth as a sealed book. 1

1399. — The Nitzachon of R. Jomtob Lipmann Mtihlhausen
has also taken up some of the hard sayings of Coheleth. This
Nitzachon, or Victory^ is a polemical work against Christianity,
written in Cracow about 1399, according to a MS. note. It
consists of seven parts, according to the seven days of the week,
and three hundred and fifty-four sections, ten of which are
devoted to what the author regards the most difficult passages of
Coheleth. The following are the first three sections : —

§ 811. Chup. i. t, 2, Vanity of vanities, <£c. — Forbid it that such a
thought should ever enter into the heart, that the works of the blessed God
in the creation of the world are vanity ! for he has created all things for his
glory (comp. my Comment. § 3). The meaning is, that all the labour
wherewith one labours to acquire and enjoy the things which are under the
sun is utterly vain and profitless; all the exertions which man makes in
this world which is under the rotation of the sun, for his aggrandisement,
gratification, and enjoyment, and which are not for the glory of God. The
" under the sun" is mentioned, because most of the pursuits of man in this
lower world consist in growing fruit and other things which depend upon
the sun ; whereas, all the work ought to be for the glory of God, who is
above the sun. Comp. § OB. And thus King Solomon, peace be upon
him, concludes this book by saying, " Finally, all is heard, fear God and
keep his commandments, for for this all is man" (sii. 13), i.e., for this was
man created. And in this sense the Rabbins, of blessed memory, have
explained it, viz., Man has no advantage from that wherein he labours
under the sun, but he has an advantage from his labours in the law which
is before the sun.

§ 312. iii. 19, For the destiny of man, dc. — Let not thy heart lead thee
astray to think that Coheleth speaks here of the soul, since he says himself
that " the spirit shall return to God" (xii. 7), see § 120. Now, the end of
this verse shews his meaning, whore he says, *' As the one dies, so dies the
other," i.e , it is with regard to the dying of the animal's spirit that he says

1 A sketch of R. Jedajah's life will be found in Stern's beautiful edition of the
Beckinoth Olam, Wien, 1847. See also Jost, Oeschichte des Judenthums und
seiner Sekten, vol. iii., p. 28, &c.




which 2 T* 8Plnt ' f ° r thi3 8 P irit d0CB diG - 8iD «e it is of the wind
l^iZV^ (C ° mP ' V } ; bUt ° f tbe °»~ **"" "«* -tTns
in §320 8By 8 °' thi8 C ° DtinUeS to liVe ' M l 6hftU 8be *

I 312 that the spirit returns to God, and that it has an essential and *reat
advantage. The advantage, therefore, which is here denied, ref rs to tha

£?£ It , * I 6 " 011 that C0he,eth d068 not here «• ^e wVrd
S-STtl. GXP T d ,D § 5 ' ADd the meanin * "> *■* « ^gards
the body, there is no advantage in it over the body of the beast, for all !ame
from he earth and return to the earth again; but as regards he J iS?
there is an advantage in it. Comp. §§ 76 and 312 '

hT«n r> f ' 18 7 0rlhy ' ,6t him take these ™ ds t0 heart, thft

the spm of man goes up, for this is its nature (comp. my Comment. 76),

and must give an account; and the spirit of the beast goes naturally down

In !h 8P I i u ea8t l8 fr ° m the eIements * frora ^e wind which blow
upon the earth, and has no reward or punishment. 1

^ R. Lipmann has been quite as successful in refuting Chris-
tianity, as he has here shewn himself to be in removing the
.difficulties from Coheleth. In justice, however, to this Rabbi, it
must be said that he always makes a distinction in his polemics
between Christianity and Christians; and whilst he attacks the
former, he endeavours to prove, from Isa. lxvi. 23 and the con-
cluding words of Psalm cxlv., that all conscientious and pious
non-Israelites will be saved.' When we bear in mind the state
of Christianity in his days, the bitter sufferings which were then
inflicted upon the Jews in the name of Christ, and the awful
curses pronounced by the heads of the Church against all those
who were out of its pale, instead of being surprised that
R. Lipmann wrote against such a system, we wonder at his-

1644 Liber NiZttCh ° n Hftbbi u P mftnn5 » *«•> curwfc. Theod. Hackspan, Norinberg,

» Comp. mo »w report na ra'm a™ : wn tta* p*m ort «• otort mow «n* D3
tfwn mm Trto mpa <m dd"w rA maoo ro >n, % 265. See also § 333
nww yis nova •» rrra mS» aton rjvpV rmo m p* to uto* nyy Dw wa te ^



1490. — It is difficult to gather from the Michlal Yophi (Per-
fection of Beauty) what the author took the design of this book
to be. As far as it can be stated with any definiteness, it seems
to be that Solomon examined in this book the various conflicting
opinions which he gathered together {hence the name Jwtjp)
respecting the affairs of this worlds and the destiny of man, and
came to the conclusion that the best thing fir man is to fear God)
and to remember tJiat there is a future judgment 1

The Biblical student will always feel grateful to R. Solomon
ben Melech for this very useful manual, which is a compilation
of grammatical and critical notes on the whole Old Testament
from the best Jewish commentators, such as Rashi, Ibn Ezra,
Kimchi, &c.

1475 - 1530. — So numerous and conflicting were the opinions
about this book in the fifteenth century, that R. Isaac Aramah,
who was desirous of making himself master of the subject, was
perfectly astonished to find that both the ancient and more
modern commentators were so greatly divided. Some forcing
upon it a strange and far-fetched literal sense ; others, a philoso-
phical meaning, too mysterious and profound to be understood ;
and others, again, interpreting it according to the Midrash, find
in it laws and statutes full of piety. The point in which all of
them have erred alike is, that they alter the sense of the book into
palatable sentiment ; and yet not one of them has put such sense
into it as to be able to boast, with reason^ that they have drawn
from this rock wholesome food, or elicited sweetness from this flint
(i.e., from this difficult book). Rejecting, therefore, all these
different views, R. Aramah came to the conclusion, that every
statement in this book is perfectly plain and consistent with ortho-
doxy, that it contains the svhlimest of all contemplations, and
teaches the highest order of heavenly wisdom. Rabbi A. was
therefore amazed how it could ever enter into the minds of com-
mentators to think that the sages, of blessed memory, wanted to
put such a book among the apocrypha, and that the only reason
1 *ov Vj3d with the nnaw opV of Abendaua, Amsterdam! 1601, p. 47.





why they left it in the canon was, that the first and last words of
it were consistent with the law.

"Now, it was not because thinking men found it difficult to
discover the good sense of it that the sages wanted to hide this
book, but for fear of the multitude, who waste the riches of the
law. But as it is the habit of these ignorant people to look
merely at the beginning and the end of a book, and these por-
tions unmistakeably contain the fear of God, therefore the wise
men at last determined not to hide it from these people."

Such, then, is the forced interpretation which this Rabbi gives
of the plain words of the sages, entirely ignoring what they
distinctly say, that « the book contains sentiments tending to
infidelity;" that "it utters Solomon's own wisdom," &c. (vide
supra, pp. 14-16). Yet Aramah exclaims against the far-fetched
explanations of others.

1548. —As grammatical exegesis was comparatively little
pursued in the sixteenth century, the difficulties of Coheleth
occasioned no trouble, and the book was regarded by its com-
mentators as surpassing all other books of Scripture in heavenly
lessons. Thus Elisha Galicho, or Galiko, who flourished in the
second half of the sixteenth century, 1 tells us, in the preface to
his commentary on Coheleth —

Since aU the pursuits of this world and its lusts cling to the creature in
consequence of his earthliness and desire, and the soul of man covets these
things, and is in danger of being inextricably ensnared by them many
lessons are given in the Law, Prophets, and Hagiographa, to point out the
way to the tree of life. Hence both the earlier and latter sages carefully
composed encouragement and admonitions, parables and proverbs, to teach
man wisdom by moral sayings, the fear of God, and the fear of sin', making
hedges and fences for the benefit of the multitude. And Solomon excelled
all in his moral Proverbs, which are as numerous as the advantages which
accrue to man when he inclines his ears to them. Now, to surpass even
these, he wrote Coheleth, the whole of which, from beginning to end,
is perpetually turning round the same point, and that is, to expose the*

1 The first edition of this Commentary, said to have been published in
Venice, J 548, is extremely scarce. I have never seen it; the one I possess
was published in Venice, 1578, 4to, Giov. di Gara.


vanity of all earthly pursuits, and to teach man to know that bis happiness
is no happiness at all, and that his wishes and desires are vain and delusive,
and will not bear examination ; that the great object of life in this world is
to attain to the perfection of the soul, and its immortality ; to acquire that
light which will shine in the light of the countenance of the Eternal King
in the world to come. This is the design of this holy book, whioh is a guide
whereunto all must look.

Having thus given the design of the book, B. Galicho divides
it into twenty-seven sections, according to the number of letters
in the Hebrew alphabet, including the five final letters, and
gives a minute analysis of the contents of each section.

The first section (chap. i. 1-11) speaks in general terms of
the affairs of this world, and of the dignity of the human soul,
shewing that it is in the nature of the soul to cling to things
which tend to its perfection.

The second section (chap. i. 12 -ii. 11) speaks more particu-
larly of the pursuits of this world, such as wisdom, pleasure,
mirth, riches, covetousness, &c, and Bets forth their respective

The third section (chap. ii. 12-24) gives the distinction
between wisdom and folly, shewing that man ought to despise
the pursuit after mammon, and lay hold of that which will
elevate the soul.

The fourth section (chap. iii. 1-9) speaks of the allotted times
of adversity and prosperity, being intimately connected with
what precedes, thereby shewing either that Israel is not subjected
to chance, or that we are not to relinquish our hope, when in
adverse circumstances, for the coming of better days, or that
there is certainty in times or seasons, or that an apparently bad
time may really be good, and vice versa.

The fifth section (chap. iii. 10-17) speaks of the design and
use of our afflictions ; of the fact that the righteous sometimes
suffer, whilst the wicked prosper; and shews why man is created
in a state of depravity, and what human nature was before its

The sixth section (chap. iii. 18-22) refutes the opinion of the










iNTBODueriON. 69

wicked respecting their prosperity and the sufferings of the
nghteous, as well as the opinion of those who believe that the
world is under chance, and not Providence, and deny the im-
•nortahty of the soul; and then dwells upon the happiness of the
soul m a future state.

The seventh section (chap. iv. 1-8) takes up again the exist-
ence of Providence; the good of sufferings, which are sent to
awaken to repentance, to make one active who has the power of
dimmishmg crime, but does not exercise it in consequence of
bemg unscrupulously engrossed in the affairs of this life out of
jealousy; speaks of those who, despite all sufferings, continue in
sin; of a pious and God-serving man, but withal not too self-
confident, whose example ought to be imitated, yet is shunned
and despised; of the punishment of him who refuses to get

Online LibraryChristian D. (Christian David) GinsburgCoheleth : commonly called The book of Ecclesiastes ; translated from the original Hebrew, with a commentary historical & critical → online text (page 7 of 65)