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Literature / Book of Ecclesiastes

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"For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven: a time to be born, and a time to die..."

One of the Books of The Bible. This book focuses on a weary and wise writer, known as "The Preacher", often identified as King Solomon,note  lamenting on the one important question: what is the meaning of life if everything turns to dust?

Contrary to the identification of King Solomon as the author, scholars often assert that this book actually is the youngest book in the Old Testament, possibly written under Hellenistic influence as late as 200 BC. In any case, the Book has a bleak tone, focused on impermanence, that will jar those expecting it to be written like one of The Four Gospels.

Structure of the book:

  • Everything is meaningless (or "all is vanity") (Ecclesiastes 1:1-11)
  • The vanity of wisdom (Ecclesiastes 1:12-18)
  • The vanity of self-indulgence (Ecclesiastes 2:1-11)
  • The vanity of living wisely (Ecclesiastes 2:12-17)
  • The vanity of toil (Ecclesiastes 2:18-26)
  • To everything there is a season... (Ecclesiastes 3:1-8)
  • The God-given task (Ecclesiastes 3:9-15)
  • From dust to dust (Ecclesiastes 3:16-22)
  • Evil under the sun (Ecclesiastes chapter 4)
  • Guarding your steps (Ecclesiastes 5:1-7)
  • The vanity of wealth and honor (Ecclesiastes 5:8-6:12)
  • The contrast of wisdom and folly (Ecclesiastes chapter 7)
  • Keep the king's command (Ecclesiastes 8:1-9)
  • Those who fear God will do well (Ecclesiastes 8:10-13)
  • Man cannot know God's ways (Ecclesiastes 8:14-17)
  • Death comes to all (Ecclesiastes 9:1-6)
  • Enjoy life with the one you love (Ecclesiastes 9:7-10)
  • Wisdom is better than folly (Ecclesiastes 9:11-10:20)
  • Cast your bread upon the waters (Ecclesiastes chapter 11)
  • Remember your Creator (Ecclesiastes 12:1-8)
  • The final verdict (Ecclesiastes 12:9-14)


  • All for Nothing: One of the author's greatest fears. No matter what he builds or accomplishes in his life, he can't take it with him or maintain control over it when he dies. His legacy will be in the hands of people who might just undo it all for their own reasons... and because he'll be dead he can't stop them.
  • Always a Bigger Fish: "If you see the oppression of the poor, and the violent perversion of justice and righteousness in a province, do not marvel at the matter; for high official watches over high official, and higher officials are over them." (Ecclesiates 5:8)
  • Anti-Nihilist: A rare theistic example, although justified as it is from an ancient Jewish source. The author seems to spend large amounts of time going through the whole of human experience and showing how meaningless it all is, and how we can barely fathom the way of things, or of God, the evils that occur, and how no matter what you do we all die anyway; yet he still finds time to point out that some things are better than others, and to tell readers to make the most of life and above all to remember God.
  • Big Brother Is Watching: Ecclesiastes 10:20 is a warning to those who would do, say, or think ill against those who are in high authority. One interpretation is that the king happens to be God Himself.
  • Carpe Diem: Ecclesiastes 9:7-10 (New International Version):
    Go, eat your food with gladness, and drink your wine with a joyful heart, for God has already approved what you do. Always be clothed in white, and always anoint your head with oil. Enjoy life with your wife, whom you love, all the days of this meaningless life that God has given you under the sun—all your meaningless days. For this is your lot in life and in your toilsome labor under the sun. Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with all your might, for in the realm of the dead, where you are going, there is neither working nor planning nor knowledge nor wisdom.
  • Desperately Looking for a Purpose in Life: Lack of purpose is what The Preacher laments, finding that all is vanity. However, he eventually comes to this conclusion:
    Revere God and observe His commandments! For this applies to all mankind
  • Dumb Is Good: The Preacher muses over this trope and concludes that smart may be good but it sure is sad and it is temporary as we all die anyway.
  • The Eeyore: The Preacher, throughout.
  • Eternal Recurrence: Ecclesiastes 1:9-14 (New International Version):
    "What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun. Is there anything of which one can say, 'Look! This is something new'? It was here already, long ago; it was here before our time. There is no remembrance of men of old, and even those who are yet to come will not be remembered by those who follow. I, the Teacher, was king over Israel in Jerusalem. I devoted myself to study and to explore by wisdom all that is done under heaven. What a heavy burden God has laid on men! I have seen all the things that are done under the sun; all of them are meaningless, a chasing after the wind."
  • Feeling Their Age: The first several verses of Ecclesiastes chapter 12 warn people to "remember your Creator in the days of your youth" before the days come when they start feeling their age in the various metaphorical descriptions mentioned in those verses: when their lose their sight, their teeth, their hearing, their physical strength, and their sexual desire.
  • The Greatest Story Never Told: From Ecclesiastes 9:13-16:
    I have also seen this wisdom under the sun, and it seemed great to me: There was a small city with a few men in it; and a great king came and surrounded it, and he built up great siege works against it. But a poor, wise man was found there, and he himself in his wisdom delivered the city, but no one remembered that poor man. Then I said, “Wisdom is better than strength; yet the poor man’s wisdom is despised, and his words are not heard.”
  • Greed: Ecclesiastes 5:10-12 says that those who love money will never have enough, so chasing wealth is meaningless. "The sleep of a laborer is sweet, whether they eat little or much, but as for the rich, their abundance permits them no sleep."
  • Hair-Trigger Temper: "Be not quick in your spirit to become angry, for anger lodges in the bosom of fools." (Ecclesiastes 7:9)
  • Hard Work Hardly Works: "One handful with peace and quiet is better than two handfuls with hard work. Working too hard is like chasing the wind." (Ecclesiastes 4:6, New International Readers' Version)
  • Hoist by His Own Petard: This is a consequence of a fool who tends to say the wrong things in Ecclesiastes 10:12.
  • Incorruptible Pure Pureness: Ecclesiastes 7:20 refutes this in regard to humans:
    For there is not a righteous man on earth who only does good and refrains from sin.
  • Intimate Healing: Not exclusively about this trope, but Ecclesiastes 4:11 says, "Also if two lie down together, then they will keep warm; but how can one keep warm by himself?"
  • It's Been Done: The book says quite a lot that there's nothing new under the sun.
  • Karma Houdini: "There is a righteous man who perishes in his righteousness, and there is a wicked man who prolongs his life in his evildoing." Also, "There is a vanity that takes place on earth, that there are righteous people to whom it happens according to the deeds of the wicked, and there are wicked people to whom it happens according to the deeds of the righteous." (Ecclesiastes 7:15 and 8:14, English Standard Version)
  • List of Transgressions: According to the 12th and last verse of Ecclesiastes 12, God will judge every works, even in secret, regardless whether it's good or bad.
  • Lonely at the Top: What one king of Israel (presumably Solomon) was lamenting about the vanity in his life.
  • Market-Based Title: Ecclesiastes has nothing to do with ecclesiastical matters (i.e. how to organize a church). Its original name was Koheleth, which means "one who holds an assembly", often translated as "The Preacher" or "The Teacher".
  • Mono no Aware: This book contains the Biblical equivalent of the concept. The author claims that everything created by human hands is doomed to be forgotten, but at the same time, the world isn't actually getting worse so you should make peace with it and enjoy the simple pleasures of life. In fact, in the original Hebrew the famous "all is vanity" is actually more like "Vapor, vapor, all is vapor!"
  • Nostalgia Filter: From Ecclesiastes 7:10:
    "Say not, 'Why were the former days better than these?' For it is not from wisdom that you ask this."
  • The Nothing After Death: Solomon, calling upon his life experiences, reasons that even "a live dog is better than a dead lion," because while the dog may be weaker than a lion, the dog can at least hope to God while the dead lion can do nothing, since death obliterates all memory and knowledge in Ecclesiastes 9:4-6. The whole things fits with the somber nature of the Jewish afterlife of Sheol.
  • The Philosopher King: The author. He says he "was king over Israel in Jerusalem," and he writes philosophically about his experiences.
  • Polyamory: In his pursuit of pleasure, Solomon mentions that he "acquired a harem"; elsewhere in The Bible it's stated he had 700 wives and 300 concubines. And still, he admits his harem, like nearly everything he had acquired, was a vanity that did not profit him in the least. Also the Teacher says, "I have found an upright man among a thousand, but I have not found a woman among these."
  • The Power of Friendship: Ecclesiastes 4:9-12 assures that friendship is valuable and that things won't suit well for those who work alone.
  • Riches to Rags: The Teacher says, in Ecclesiastes 5:13-14:
    There is a grave misery that I have seen under the sun:
    when riches were kept by an owner to his hurt,
    and those riches were lost in a misfortunate business deal;
    and although he has a son,
    there is nothing at all to put in his hand.
  • Right Way/Wrong Way Pair: The contrast of the wise man and the fool is invoked in some passages.
  • Screw the Rules, I Have Money!: "A feast is made for laughter, wine makes life merry, and money is the answer for everything." (Ecclesiastes 10:19)
  • The Sons and the Spears: Ecclesiastes 4:12 — "Though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves. A cord of three strands is not quickly broken." Sometimes used at weddings where God is implied to be "the third strand in the cord" that binds marriages between man and woman together.
  • The Vamp: "I discovered that a seductive woman is a trap more bitter than death. Her passion is a snare, and her soft hands are chains. Those who are pleasing to God will escape her, but sinners will be caught in her snare." (Ecclesiastes 7:26, New Living Translation)
  • Wise Beyond Their Years: In Ecclesiastes 4:13, a poor and wise child is better to have than an old and foolish king who won't be admonished anymore.
  • You Talk Too Much!: "Wise people say gracious things. But foolish people are destroyed by what their own lips speak. At first what they say is foolish. In the end their words are very evil. They talk too much." (Ecclesiastes 10:12-14, New International Readers' Version)