Ecclesiastes is presented as an autobiography of “Kohelet” (or “Qoheleth”). Kohelet’s story is framed by the voice of the narrator, who refers to Kohelet in the third person, praises his wisdom, but reminds the reader that wisdom has its limitations and is not man’s main concern. Kohelet reports what he planned, did, experienced and thought. His journey to knowledge is, in the end, incomplete. The reader is not only to hear Kohelet’s wisdom but to observe his journey towards understanding and acceptance of life’s frustrations and uncertainties: the journey itself is important.
The book dates from c.450–180 BC and is from the Middle Eastern tradition of the mythical autobiography, in which a character, describing himself as a king, relates his experiences and draws lessons from them, often self-critical. The author, introducing himself as “son of David, king in Jerusalem” (i.e., Solomon) discusses the meaning of life and the best way to live. He proclaims all the actions of man to be inherently evil, meaning “vain” or “futile”, (“mere breath”), as both wise and foolish end in death. Kohelet clearly endorses wisdom as a means for a well-lived earthly life. In light of this senselessness, one should enjoy the simple pleasures of daily life, such as eating, drinking, and taking enjoyment in one’s work, which are gifts from the hand of God. The book concludes with the injunction: “Fear God, and keep his commandments; for that is the whole duty of everyone” (12:13).
Ecclesiastes has had a deep influence on Western literature. It contains several phrases that have resonated in British and American culture and was quoted by Abraham Lincoln addressing Congress in 1862.
Book of Eccleasiates: