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Ecclesiastes 8:9-11

Context

8:9 While applying 1  my mind 2  to everything 3  that happens in this world, 4  I have seen all this:

Sometimes one person 5  dominates 6  other people 7  to their harm. 8 

Contradictions to the Law of Retribution

8:10 Not only that, 9  but I have seen the wicked approaching 10  and entering the temple, 11 

and as they left the holy temple, 12  they

boasted 13  in the city that they had done so.

This also is an enigma. 14 

8:11 When 15  a sentence 16  is not executed 17  at once against a crime, 18 

the human heart 19  is encouraged to do evil. 20 

1 tn The term נָתוֹן (naton, Qal infinitive absolute from נָתַן , natan, “to give”) is a verbal use of the infinitive absolute, used with vav to indicate an action that took place simultaneous to the main verb (see IBHS 596-97 §35.5.2d). Thus, the clause וְנָתוֹן אֶת־לִבִּי (vÿnatonet-libbi, “while applying my mind…”) indicates contemporaneous action to the clause, “All this I have seen” (אֶת־כָּל־זֶה רָאִיתִי, ’et-kol-zeh raiti). This is view is taken by several translations: “All this I have seen, having applied my mind to” (NEB); “All this I observed while applying my mind to” (RSV); “All this I saw, as I applied my mind to” (NIV); “All this I saw, as thoughtfully I pondered” (Moffatt). On the other hand, the LXX vav is taken in a coordinating sense (“and”) and the infinitive absolute as an independent verb: Και συμπαν τουτο εἰδον, και ἐδωκα την καρδιαν μου εἰς (“I saw all this, and I applied my heart to”). This reading is adopted by other English versions: “All this I have seen, and applied my heart” (KJV); “All these things I considered and I applied my mind” (NAB); “All this have I seen, and applied my heart unto” (ASV); “All this I have seen and applied my mind to” (NASB); “All these things I observed; I noted” (NJPS).

2 tn Heb “my heart.”

3 tn Heb “every work”; or “every deed.”

4 tn Heb “that is done under the sun.” The phrase “that is done under the sun” (אֲשֶׁר נַעֲשָׂה תַּחַת הַשָּׁמֶשׁ, ’asher naasah takhat hashamesh) is an idiom for “what happens in this world” or “on the earth” (BDB 1039 s.v. שֶׁמֶשׁ 4.c). Moffatt renders this idiom, “what goes on within this world.”

5 tn Heb “the man.” The article on הָאָדָם (haadam, “the man”) can be taken in a particularizing sense (“one person”) or in a collective sense as humankind as a whole (“humankind”); see HALOT 14 s.v. I אָדָם 1; BDB 9 s.v. אָדָם 2. So LXX: “All the things in which man has power over [his fellow] man to afflict him.” This is adopted by the RSV (“man lords it over man to his hurt”); NJPS (“men still had authority over men to treat them unjustly”); Moffatt (“men have power over their fellows, power to injure them”); MLB (“man has mastery over another to harm him”); and YLT (“man hath ruled over man to his own evil”). On the other hand, 8:1-9 focuses on the absolute power of the king, so the referent of הָאָדָם is probably the king. The article functions in an individualizing, particularizing sense. The particularization of הָאָדָם is reflected in many English versions: “one man” (KJV, ASV, NEB, NAB, Douay), “a man” (NASB, NIV), and “one person” (NRSV).

6 tn The verb שָׁלַט (shalat) denotes “to domineer; to dominate; to lord it over” (HALOT 1522 s.v. שׁלט; BDB 1020 s.v. שָׁלַט). The English versions have: “rule over” (KJV, YLT, Douay), “have power over” (NEB, ASV), “lord it over” (RSV, NIV), “have authority over” (NJPS), “exercise authority over” (NASB, NRSV); “have mastery over” (MLB); “tyrannize” (NAB).

7 tn Heb “man.” The word “other” does not appear in the Hebrew text, but is supplied in the translation for clarity. The singular noun אָדָם (’adam, “man”) functions as a collective singular, connoting “men, people” (cf. HALOT 14 s.v. אָדָם 1; BDB 9 s.v. אָדָם 2). The absence of the article might suggest an indefinite rather than an individual, particular sense.

8 tn Heb “a man exercises power over [another] man to his harm” [or “to his own harm”]. The 3rd person masculine singular singular pronominal suffix לוֹ (lo, “to his”) may refer to the antecedent אָדָם (’adam, “man” or “men”), being understood either in a singular sense (so NEB, RSV, NRSV, NAB, ASV, NASB) or in a collective sense (Moffatt, NJPS, NIV margin). However, the antecedent might be הָאָדם (haadam, “[one] man” = the king) with the suffix functioning reflexively: “to his own harm” (KJV, ASV margin, YLT, Douay, NIV).

9 tn Heb “Then…” The construction בְכֵן (vÿkhen) means “then; thereupon; on this condition” (cf. Eccl 8:10; Esth 4:16; Sir 13:7; see GKC 384 §119.ii; BDB 486 s.v. כֵּן 3.b; HALOT 483 s.v. כֵּן 8.c). The line could be rendered, “It is was then that I saw.”

10 tc There are three textual options: (1) The MT reads קְבֻרִים וָבָאוּ וּמִמְּקוֹם (qÿvurim vavau umimmÿqom, “they were buried, and they came, and from the place”). קְבֻרִים is a Qal passive participle mpl from קָבַר, qavar, “to bury.” The MT reading is retained by most translations: “[And so I saw the wicked] buried, who had come and gone from the place [of the holy]” (KJV); “[Then I saw the wicked] buried; they used to go in and out of the [holy] place” (RSV, NRSV); “[I saw how the wicked] were buried, who had gone in and out from the [holy] place” (MLB); “[I have seen the wicked] buried, those who used to go in and out from the [holy] place” (NASB); “[Then too, I saw the wicked] buried – those who used to come and go from the [holy] place” (NIV); and “[And then I saw] scoundrels coming from the [Holy] Site and being brought to burial” (NJPS). (2) The LXX reflects the reading קְבָרִים מוּבָאִים וּמִמְּקוֹם (qÿvarim muvaim umimmÿqom, “to the tombs they are brought, and from the place”). The LXX reflects the consonantal text of קברים but τάφους (tafous, “tombs”) reflects a vocalization tradition of קְבָרִים (“tombs”). (3) Several scholars suggest emending the text to קרבים ובאים וממקום (“approaching and coming to the place”). The emendation involves קרבִים (Qal active participle mpl from קרב “to approach; to draw near”). The emendation is adopted by several English versions: “I saw wicked men approach and enter…the sacred place” (NAB); “I saw wicked men approaching and even entering the holy place” (NEB). The emendation makes good sense because קָרַב (qarav, “to approach; to draw near”) is a synonym to בּוֹא (bo’, “to enter”), and is often used in reference to a person approaching the Lord at the tabernacle or temple. The textual corruption would be due to transposition of ב (bet) and ר (resh) in קָרַב (qarav, “to approach”) and קָבַר (qavar, “to bury”). See D. Barthélemy, Preliminary and Interim Report on the Hebrew Old Testament Text Project, 3:584.

11 tn The phrase “the temple” does not appear in the Hebrew text, but is supplied in the translation for clarity and smoothness. Note the reference to the sanctuary in the next line.

12 tn Heb “the holy place.”

13 tc The MT reads וְיִשְׁתַּכְּחוּ (vÿyishtakkÿkhu, “and they were forgotten”; Hitpael imperfect 3rd person masculine plural from שָׁכַח, shakhakh, “to forget”). Apart from the MT reading here, the verb שָׁכַח “to forget” never occurs elsewhere in the Hitpael (HALOT 1490 s.v. I שׁכח; BDB 1013 s.v. שָׁכַח). Many medieval Hebrew mss read וישׁתבּחו “and they boasted” (Hitpael imperfect 3rd person masculine singular from שָׁבַח, shavakh, “praise, boast”). This alternate textual tradition is reflected in the Greek versions, e.g., Old Greek: και ἐπῃνέθησαν (kai ephneqhsan, “and they were praised”), Aquila and Theodotion: και ἐκαυχήσαντο (kai ekauchsanto, “and they boasted”), and Symmachus: και ἐπαινούμενοι (kai epainoumenoi, “and they were praised”). This is also reflected in the Vulgate. The English versions are divided; several follow the MT and translate “they were forgotten” (KJV, ASV, NASB, MLB, NJPS), but a good number adopt the alternate textual tradition and translate either “they were praised” or “they boasted” (NEB, RSV, NAB, NIV, NRSV). The context of 8:10-17, which focuses on the enigmatic contradictions in divine retribution (sometimes the wicked are not punished), favors the alternate tradition. The wicked boast that they can come and go as they please in the temple, flaunting their irreligion without fearing divine retribution (8:10). This thought is continued in v. 11: failure to execute a sentence against a criminal emboldens the wicked to commit more crimes, confident they will not suffer retribution. It is likely that the original reading of וישׁתבחו was confused for וישׁתכחו because the root שָׁבַח (“to praise; to boast”) is much rarer than the common root שָׁכַח (“to forget”). The phrase is best rendered “they boasted” (NEB: “priding themselves”) rather than “they were praised” (NAB, RSV, NRSV, NIV) – the verb שָׁבַח means “to praise” in Piel, but “to boast” in Hitpael (Ps 106:47; 1 Chr 16:35; HALOT 1387 s.v. I שׁבח; BDB 986 s.v. שָׁבַח). This approach is adopted by the committee for the Jerusalem Hebrew Bible Project: see D. Barthélemy, ed., Preliminary and Interim Report on the Hebrew Old Testament Text Project, 3:584–85.

14 tn The term הֶבֶל (hevel) here means “enigmatic,” that is, difficult to grasp mentally. This sense is derived from the literal concept of breath, vapor or wind that cannot be seen; thus, the idea of “obscure, dark, difficult to understand, enigmatic” (HALOT 236–37 s.v. I הֶבֶל; BDB 210–11 s.v. I הֶבֶל). It is used in this sense in reference to enigmas in life (6:2; 8:10, 14) and the future which is obscure (11:8, 10).

15 tn The particle אֲשֶׁר (’asher) is used as a conjunction in a conditional/temporal clause to introduce the protasis (“when” or “if”), and עַל־כֵּן (’al-ken) introduces the apodosis (“then”); cf. BDB 83 s.v. אֲשֶׁר 8.d.

16 tn The noun פִתְגָם (fitgam, “decision; announcement; edict; decree”) is a loanword from Persian patigama (HALOT 984 s.v. פִּתְגָם; BDB 834 s.v. פִּתְגָם). The Hebrew noun occurs twice in the OT (Eccl 8:11; Esth 1:20), twice in the Apocrypha (Sir 5:11; 8:9), and five times in Qumran (11QtgJob 9:2; 29:4; 30:1; 34:3; 1QapGen 22:27). The English versions consistently nuance this as a judicial sentence against a crime: “sentence” (KJV, NEB, NAB, ASV, NASB, RSV, NRSV, MLB, YLT), “sentence for a crime” (NIV), “sentence imposed” (NJPS), “sentence on a crime” (Moffatt).

17 tn Heb “is not done.” The verb עָשַׂה (’asah, “to do”) refers to a judicial sentence being carried out (HALOT 892 s.v. 2). The Niphal can denote “be executed; be carried out” of a sentence (Eccl 8:11) or royal decree (Esth 9:1; BDB 795 s.v. 1.a). Similarly, the Qal can denote “to execute” vengeance (Judg 11:36) or judgment (1 Sam 28:18; Isa 48:14; Ezek 25:11; 28:26; Ps 149:7, 9; BDB 794 s.v.).

18 tn Heb “the evil.”

19 tn Heb “the heart of the sons of man.” The singular noun לֵב (lev, “heart”) is used collectively. The term לֵב is often used figuratively (metonymy) in reference to inclinations and determinations of the will (BDB 525 s.v. 4), moral character (BDB 525 s.v. 6), and as a synecdoche for the man himself (BDB 525 s.v. 7).

20 tn Heb “is full to do evil.” The verb מָלֵא (male’, “to fill”) is used figuratively (metonymy): the lack of swift judicial punishment only emboldens the wicked to commit more crimes without fear of retribution. Most English versions translate the term literally: “are filled” (NIV, MLB, YLT), “is fully set” (KJV, ASV, RSV, NRSV). However, several versions nuance it figuratively: “emboldened” (ASV, NJPS) and “boldly” (NEB). Moffatt renders the line, “Because sentence on a crime is not executed at once, the mind of man is prone to evil practices.”



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