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Ecclesiastes 2:11

Context

2:11 Yet when I reflected on everything I had accomplished 1 

and on all the effort that I had expended to accomplish it, 2 

I concluded: 3  “All these 4  achievements and possessions 5  are ultimately 6  profitless 7 

like chasing the wind!

There is nothing gained 8  from them 9  on earth.” 10 

Ecclesiastes 2:15

Context

2:15 So I thought to myself, “The fate of the fool will happen even to me! 11 

Then what did I gain by becoming so excessively 12  wise?” 13 

So I lamented to myself, 14 

“The benefits of wisdom 15  are ultimately 16  meaningless!”

1 tn Heb “all my works that my hands had done.”

2 tn Heb “and all the toil with which I had toiled in doing it.” The term עָמַל (’amal, “toil”) is repeated to emphasize the burden and weariness of the labor which Qoheleth exerted in his accomplishments.

3 tn Heb “Behold!”

4 tn The term הַכֹּל (hakkol, “everything” or “all”) must be qualified and limited in reference to the topic that is dealt with in 2:4-11. This is an example of synecdoche of general for the specific; the general term “all” is used only in reference to the topic at hand. This is clear from the repetition of כֹּל (kol, “everything”) and (“all these things”) in 2:11.

5 tn The phrase “achievements and possessions” does not appear in the Hebrew text, but is supplied in translation for clarity.

6 tn The term “ultimately” does not appear in the Hebrew text, but is supplied in the translation for clarity.

7 tn The parallelism with יִתְרוֹן (yitron), “profit; advantage; gain”) indicates that הֶבֶל (hevel) should be nuanced as “profitless, fruitless, futile” in this context. While labor offers some relative and temporal benefits, such as material acquisitions and the enjoyment of the work of one’s hands, there is no ultimate benefit to be gained from secular human achievement.

8 tn The noun יִתְרוֹן (yitron, “profit”) has a two-fold range of meanings: (1) “what comes of [something]; result” (Eccl 1:3; 2:11; 3:9; 5:8, 15; 7:12; 10:10) and (2) “profit; advantage” (Eccl 2:13; 10:11); see HALOT 452–53 s.v. יִתְרוֹי. It is derived from the noun יֶתֶר (yeter, “what is left behind; remainder”; HALOT 452 s.v. I יֶתֶר). The related verb יָתַר (yatar) denotes “to be left over; to survive” (Niphal) and “to have left over” (Hiphil); see HALOT 451–52 s.v. יתר. When used literally, יִתְרוֹן refers to what is left over after expenses (gain or profit); when used figuratively, it refers to what is advantageous or of benefit. Though some things have relative advantage over others (e.g., light over darkness, and wisdom over folly in 2:13), there is no ultimate profit in man’s labor due to death.

9 tn The phrase “from them” does not appear in the Hebrew text, but is supplied in the translation for clarity.

10 tn Heb “under the sun.”

11 tn The emphatic use of the 1st person common singular personal pronoun אֲנִי (’ani, “me”) with the emphatic particle of association גַּם (gam, “even, as well as”; HALOT 195–96 s.v. גַּם) appears to emphasize the 1st person common singular suffix on יִקְרֵנִי (yiqreni) “it will befall [or “happen to”] me” (Qal imperfect 3rd person masculine singular + 1st person common singular suffix from קָרָה, qarah, “to befall; to happen to”); see GKC 438 §135.e. Qoheleth laments not that the fate of the wise man is the same as that of the fool, but that even he himself – the wisest man of all – would fare no better in the end than the most foolish.

12 tn The adjective יוֹתֵר (yoter) means “too much; excessive,” e.g., 7:16 “excessively righteous” (HALOT 404 s.v. יוֹתֵר 2; BDB 452 s.v. יוֹתֵר). It is derived from the root יֶתֶר (yeter, “what is left over”); see HALOT 452 s.v. I יֶתֶר. It is related to the verbal root יתר (Niphal “to be left over”; Hiphil “to have left over”); see HALOT 451–52 s.v. I יתר. The adjective is related to יִתְרוֹן (yitron, “advantage; profit”) which is a key-term in this section, creating a word-play: The wise man has a relative “advantage” (יִתְרוֹן) over the fool (2:13-14a); however, there is no ultimate advantage because both share the same fate, i.e., death (2:14b-15a). Thus, Qoheleth’s acquisition of tremendous wisdom (1:16; 2:9) was “excessive” because it exceeded its relative advantage over folly: it could not deliver him from the same fate as the fool. He had striven to obtain wisdom, yet it held no ultimate advantage.

13 tn Heb “And why was I wise (to) excess?” The rhetorical question is an example of negative affirmation, expecting a negative answer: “I gained nothing!” (E. W. Bullinger, Figures of Speech, 949).

14 tn Heb “So I said in my heart.”

15 tn Heb “and also this,” referring to the relative advantage of wisdom over folly.

16 tn The word “ultimately” does not appear in the Hebrew text, but is supplied in the translation for clarity.



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