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Ecclesiastes 1:10-11

Context

1:10 Is there anything about which someone can say, “Look at this! It is new!”? 1 

It was already 2  done long ago, 3  before our time. 4 

1:11 No one remembers the former events, 5 

nor will anyone remember 6  the events that are yet to happen; 7 

they will not be remembered by the future generations. 8 

1 tn Alternately, “[Even when] there is something of which someone might claim…” The terms יֵשׁ דָּבָר שֶׁיֹּאמַר (yesh davar sheyyomar) may be an interrogative clause without an introductory interrogative particle (GKC 473 §150.a). In questions, יֵשׁ often implies doubt about the existence of something (BDB 441 s.v. יֵשׁ 2.b). The LXX rendered it as a question, as do most English versions: “Is there anything of which it can be said…?” (KJV, ASV, RSV, MLB, NEB, NASB, NIV, NRSV). On the other hand, יֵשׁ is used elsewhere in the Book of Ecclesiastes as a predication of existence (“There is…”) to assert the existence of something (2:13, 21; 4:8, 9; 5:13[12]; 6:1, 11; 7:15; 8:6, 14; 9:4; 10:5). HALOT 443 s.v. יֵשׁ 2 renders יֵשׁ דָּבָר as “There is something….” This view is taken by several translations: “Even the thing of which we say…” (NAB), “Men may say of something …” (Moffatt), and “Sometimes there is a phenomena of which they say…” (NJPS).

2 tn The perfect tense verb הָיָה (hayah) refers to a past perfect situation: It describes an action that is viewed as a remote past event from the perspective of the past. This past perfect situation is brought out by the temporal adverb כְּבָר (kÿvar, “already”; HALOT 459 s.v. I כְּבָר; BDB 460 s.v. I כְּבָר; cf. 1:10; 2:12, 16; 3:15; 4:2; 6:10; 9:6-7). The expression כְּבָר + הָיָה connotes a past perfect nuance: “it has already been” (Eccl 1:10; see BDB 460 s.v.).

3 sn This does not deny man’s creativity or inventiveness, only the ultimate newness of his accomplishments. For example, there is no essential difference between the first voyage to the moon and the discovery of America (different point of arrival, different vehicles of travel, but the same essential action and results).

4 tn Heb “in the ages long ago before us.”

5 tn Heb “There is no remembrance of former things.” The term רִאשֹׁנִים (rishonim, “former things”) is the masculine plural form of the adjective רִאשׁוֹן (rishon,“former, first, chief”; BDB 911 s.v. רִאשׁוֹן). When used in a temporal sense, the singular denotes “former” in time (BDB 911 s.v. 1.a) or “first” in time (BDB 911 s.v. 2.a). The plural form is only used to denote “former” in time: “former persons,” i.e., ancestors, men of old (e.g., Lev 26:45; Deut 19:14; Job 18:20; Isa 61:4; Ps 79:8; Sirach 4:16) or “former things,” i.e., past events (e.g., Isa 41:22; 42:9; 43:9, 18; 46:9; 48:3). See BDB 911 s.v. 1.a, which suggests that this usage refers to “former persons.” This approach is adopted by several translations: “men of old” (NEB, NAB, NIV, Moffatt), “people of long ago” (NRSV), “earlier ones” (NJPS), and “former generations” (ASV). On the other hand, this Hebrew phrase may be nuanced “former things” or “earlier things” (HALOT 1168 s.v. ן(וֹ)רִאשֹׁ). This is adopted by some translations: “former things” (KJV, RSV) and “earlier things” (NASB). Although future generations are mentioned in 1:11, what they will not remember is the past events. The context of 1:3-11 focuses on human achievement, that is, former things.

6 tn The term “remember” is not in the Hebrew text, but has been supplied in the translation for clarity.

7 tn Heb “and also of the last things which will be.” The term אַחֲרֹנִים (’akharonim, “the future things”) is the masculine plural form of the adjective אַחֲרוֹן (’akharon) which means “coming after” (BDB 30 s.v. אַחֲרוֹן) or “at the back” (HALOT 36 s.v. אַחֲרוֹן). When used in a temporal sense, it may mean (1) “later one; (2) “in the future”; (3) “last”; or (4) “at the last” or “in the end” (HALOT 36 s.v. 2). The plural form may be used in reference to (1) future generations, e.g., Deut 29:21; Pss 48:14; 78:4, 6; 102:19; Job 18:20; Eccl 4:16, or (2) future events, e.g., Neh 8:18 (BDB 30 s.v.). BDB 30 s.v. b suggests that this usage refers to “future generations,” while HALOT 36 s.v. 2.c suggests future events. As mentioned in the previous note, it probably refers to future events rather than future generations.

sn The Hebrew terms translated former events and future events create a merism (two polar extremes encompass everything in between). This encompasses all secular achievements in human history past to future things yet to be done.

8 tn Heb “There will not be any remembrance of them among those who come after.”

sn According to Qoheleth, nothing new really happens under the sun (1:9). Apparent observations of what appears to be revolutionary are due to a lack of remembrance by subsequent generations of what happened long before their time in past generations (1:10-11a). And what will happen in future generations will not be remembered by the subsequent generations to arise after them (1:11b).



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