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Ecclesiastes 9:2-10

Context

9:2 Everyone shares the same fate 1 

the righteous and the wicked,

the good and the bad, 2 

the ceremonially clean and unclean,

those who offer sacrifices and those who do not.

What happens to the good person, also happens to the sinner; 3 

what happens to those who make vows, also happens to those who are afraid to make vows.

9:3 This is the unfortunate fact 4  about everything that happens on earth: 5 

the same fate awaits 6  everyone.

In addition to this, the hearts of all people 7  are full of evil,

and there is folly in their hearts during their lives – then they die. 8 

Better to Be Poor but Alive than Rich but Dead

9:4 But whoever is among 9  the living 10  has hope;

a live dog is better than a dead lion.

9:5 For the living know that they will die, but the dead do not know anything;

they have no further reward – and even the memory of them disappears. 11 

9:6 What they loved, 12  as well as what they hated 13  and envied, 14  perished long ago,

and they no longer have a part in anything that happens on earth. 15 

Life is Brief, so Cherish its Joys

9:7 Go, eat your food 16  with joy,

and drink your wine with a happy heart,

because God has already approved your works.

9:8 Let your clothes always be white,

and do not spare precious ointment on your head.

9:9 Enjoy 17  life with your beloved wife 18  during all the days of your fleeting 19  life

that God 20  has given you on earth 21  during all your fleeting days; 22 

for that is your reward in life and in your burdensome work 23  on earth. 24 

9:10 Whatever you find to do with your hands, 25 

do it with all your might,

because there is neither work nor planning nor knowledge nor wisdom in the grave, 26 

the place where you will eventually go. 27 

1 tn Heb “all things just as to everyone, one fate.”

2 tc The MT reads simply “the good,” but the Greek versions read “the good and the bad.” In contrast to the other four pairs in v. 2 (“the righteous and the wicked,” “those who sacrifice, and those who do not sacrifice,” “the good man…the sinner,” and “those who make vows…those who are afraid to make vows”), the MT has a triad in the second line: לַטּוֹב וְלַטָּהוֹר וְלַטָּמֵא (lattov vÿlattahor vÿlattame’, “the good, and the clean, and the unclean”). This reading in the Leningrad Codex (ca. a.d. 1008) – the basis of the BHS and BHK publications of the MT – is also supported by the Ben Asher text of the First Rabbinic Bible (“the Soncino Bible”) published in a.d. 1488-94. On the other hand, the Greek version in B (Aquila) has two pairs: τῷ ἀγαθῷ καὶ τῷ κακῷ, καὶ τῷ καθαρῷ καὶ τῷ ἀκαθάρτῳ (“the good and the bad, and the clean and the unclean”). Either Aquila inserted καὶ τῷ κακῷ (kai tw kakw, “and the bad”) to fill out a pair and to create six parallel pairs in v. 2, or Aquila reflects an early Hebrew textual tradition tradition of לַטּוֹב וְלַרָע (lattov vÿlara’, “the good and the bad”). Since Aquila is well known for his commitment to a literal – at times even a mechanically wooden – translation of the Hebrew, with no room for improvisation, it is more than likely that Aquila is reflecting an authentic Hebrew textual tradition. Aquila dates to a.d. 130, while the Leningrad Codex dates to a.d. 1008; therefore, the Vorlage of Aquila might have been the original Hebrew textual tradition, being much earlier than the MT of the Leningrad Codex. The alternate textual tradition of Aquila is also seen in the Syriac and Latin versions (but these are dependent upon the Greek = Aquila). On the other hand, the editors of BHK and BHS suggest that the presence of the anomalous לַטּוֹב was an addition to the Hebrew text, and should be deleted. They also suggest that the Greek pair τῷ ἀγαθῷ καὶ τῷ κακῷ (tw agaqw kai tw kakw, “the good and the bad”) does not reflect an alternate textual tradition, but that their Vorlage contained only לַטּוֹב: the Greek version intentionally added καὶ τῷ κακῷ (kai tw kakw, “and the bad”) to create a pair. The English versions are divided. Several follow the Greek: “the good and the bad, the clean and the unclean” (NEB, NAB, RSV, NRSV, NIV, Moffatt, NLT). Others follow the Hebrew: “the good and the clean and the unclean” (KJV, ASV, MLB, NJPS). None, however, delete “the good” (לַטּוֹב) as suggested by the BHK and BHS editors. If the shorter text were original, the addition of καὶ τῷ κακῷ would be intentional. If the longer text were original, the omission of וְלַרָע (“and the bad”) could have caused by unintentional homoioarcton (“similar beginning”) in the three-fold repetition of לט in וְלַרָע וְלַטָּהוֹר וְלַטָּמֵא לַטּוֹב (lattov vÿlaravÿlattahor vÿlattame’, “the good and the bad, the clean and the unclean”). The term וְלַרָע (“and the bad”) was accidentally omitted when a scribe skipped from the first occurrence of לט in לַטּוֹב to its second occurrence in the word וְלַטָּהוֹר (“the clean”).

3 tn Heb “As is the good (man), so is the sinner.”

4 tn Heb “evil.”

5 tn Heb “under the sun.”

6 tn The term “awaits” does not appear in the Hebrew text, but is supplied in the translation for smoothness and stylistic reasons.

7 tn Heb “also the heart of the sons of man.” Here “heart” is a collective singular.

8 tn Heb “and after that [they go] to [the place of] the dead.”

9 tn The consonantal text (Kethib) has “is chosen, selected.” The translation follows the marginal reading (Qere), “is joined.” See BDB 288 s.v. חָבַר Pu.

10 tn Heb “all the living.”

11 tn Heb “for their memory is forgotten.” The pronominal suffix is an objective genitive, “memory of them.”

12 tn Heb “their love.”

13 tn Heb “their hatred.”

14 tn Heb “their envy.”

15 tn Heb “under the sun.”

16 tn Heb “your bread.”

17 tn Heb “see.”

18 tn Heb “the wife whom you love.”

19 tn As discussed in the note on the word “futile” in 1:2, the term הֶבֶל (hevel) has a wide range of meanings, and should not be translated the same in every place (see HALOT 236–37 s.v. I הֶבֶל; BDB 210–11 s.v. I הבֶל). The term is used in two basic ways in OT, literally and figuratively. The literal, concrete sense is used in reference to the wind, man’s transitory breath, evanescent vapor (Isa 57:13; Pss 62:10; 144:4; Prov 21:6; Job 7:16). In this sense, it is often a synonym for “breath; wind” (Eccl 1:14; Isa 57:13; Jer 10:14). The literal sense lent itself to the metaphorical sense. Because breath/vapor/wind is transitory and fleeting, the figurative connotation “fleeting; transitory” arose (e.g., Prov 31:30; Eccl 6:12; 7:15; 9:9; 11:10; Job 7:16). In this sense, it is parallel to “few days” and “[days] which he passes like a shadow” (Eccl 6:12). It is used in reference to youth and vigor (11:10) or life (6:12; 7:15; 9:9) which are “transitory” or “fleeting.” In this context, the most appropriate meaning is “fleeting.”

20 tn Heb “he”; the referent (God) has been specified in the translation for clarity.

21 tn Heb “under the sun”

22 tc The phrase כָּל יְמֵי הֶבְלֶךָ (kol yÿme hevlekha, “all your fleeting days”) is present in the MT, but absent in the Greek versions, other medieval Hebrew mss, and the Targum. Its appearance in the MT may be due to dittography (repetition: the scribe wrote twice what should have been written once) from כָּל יְמֵי חַיֵּי הֶבְלֶךָ (kol yÿme khayye hevlekha, “all the days of your fleeting life”) which appears in the preceding line. On the other hand, its omission in the alternate textual tradition may be due to haplography (accidental omission of repeated words) with the earlier line.

23 tn Heb “in your toil in which you toil.”

24 tn Heb “under the sun.”

25 tn Heb “Whatever your hand finds to do.”

26 tn Heb “Sheol.”

27 tn Or “where you are about to go.”



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