08 March 2013

Giving Ecclesiastes too much credit

In previous posts I've said that Ecclesiastes is the best book (and pretty much the only good book) in the Bible. And I still think that's true.

But I may have given it too much credit. There's a lot of crazy stuff that I passed over when highlighting Ecclesiastes. (Once you decide that a biblical book is "good" it's easy to read it like a believer and ignore the bad stuff.)

Here, for example, are some verses that were previously unmarked in the SAB that Steve Weeks recently pointed out to me.  (I've since added them to absurdity.)

The fool foldeth his hands together, and eateth his own flesh. 4:5
Let thy garments be always white; and let thy head lack no ointment. 9:8
A wise man's heart is at his right hand; but a fool's heart at his left. 10:2
Give a portion to seven, and also to eight; for thou knowest not what evil shall be upon the earth. 11:2
So take another look at the Bible's best book and see what you find. Are there other verses that you think should be highlighted? If so, let me know in the comments.

15 comments:

Stephen said...

I have to confess that it was the first time I actually read the entire book, being as I am no biblical scholar. I'm sure Ecclesiastes is a good book, and better than its occasional absurdities make it seem. After all, it inspired at least one pretty good song! (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=W4ga_M5Zdn4)

I found something good in Proverbs:

3:13 Happy is the man that findeth wisdom, and the man that getteth understanding.
3:14 For the merchandise of it is better than the merchandise of silver, and the gain thereof than fine gold.
3:15 She is more precious than rubies: and all the things thou canst desire are not to be compared unto her.
3:16 Length of days is in her right hand; and in her left hand riches and honour.
3:17 Her ways are ways of pleasantness, and all her paths are peace.
3:18 She is a tree of life to them that lay hold upon her: and happy is every one that retaineth her.


If I interpret this correctly, it is about the benefits of wisdom and understanding. All good. Too bad there is a previous contradiction in 3:5 (already annotated for "Science/History" and "Absurdity").

Steve, thanks for getting me started. I'm liking this learning experience. Of course, there *is* that apologists' web site that always ends up with "There is no contradiction." ;-)
Steve Weeks

Steve Wells said...

Thanks Steve.

I've added the nice verses about wisdom (Proverbs 3:13-18)

Nathan said...

I'm using the NLT because to me it's the closest translation to modern English. 2:7 is an injustice? And 2:8 in the KJV is "I gat me men singers and women singers, and the delights of the sons of men, as musical instruments, and that of all sorts." but in the NLT 2:8 translates that to having concubines? I see in the New International Version 2:8 translates "and the delights of the sons of men" to "a harem".

New Living Translation
Ecclesiastes 2:7 I bought slaves, both men and women

2:8
I hired wonderful singers, both men and women, and had many beautiful concubines.

Nathan said...

End of 5:6 an injustice/cruelty?

5:6 (NLT) Don’t let your mouth make you sin. And don’t defend yourself by telling the Temple messenger that the promise you made was a mistake. That would make God angry, and he might wipe out everything you have achieved.

5:6 (KJV) Suffer not thy mouth to cause thy flesh to sin; neither say thou before the angel, that it was an error: wherefore should God be angry at thy voice, and destroy the work of thine hands?

Nathan said...

If a labouring man eats little he still has a sweet time sleeping? And rich people seldom get a good night's sleep?

5:12 (NLT) People who work hard sleep well, whether they eat little or much. But the rich seldom get a good night’s sleep.

5:12 (KJV) The sleep of a labouring man is sweet, whether he eat little or much: but the abundance of the rich will not suffer him to sleep.

Nathan said...

There are a lot of absurdities in other translations, particularly the NLT. But sometimes when you look at the KJV the translation is completely different. Here are some absurdities from the NLT that are either way different or not as funny in the KJV. (NOTE: 4:2 is actually pretty absurd in the KJV! 4:11 is also absurd. The rest are only funny in the NLT)

3:15 (NLT) What is happening now has happened before, and what will happen in the future has happened before, because God makes the same things happen over and over again.

3:19 (NLT) For people and animals share the same fate—both breathe and both must die. So people have no real advantage over the animals.

4:1-2 (NLT) Again, I observed all the oppression that takes place under the sun. I saw the tears of the oppressed, with no one to comfort them. The oppressors have great power, and their victims are helpless. 2 So I concluded that the dead are better off than the living.

4:11 (NLT) Likewise, two people lying close together can keep each other warm. But how can one be warm alone?

10:3 (NLT) You can identify fools just by the way they walk down the street!

Steve Wells said...

Thanks Nathan for the suggestions.

I added Ecclesiastes 3:15 to the absurdities. (God makes everything happen over and over.)

But I'm not sure about the other verses. It's probably because Ecclesiastes sounds profound even when it says silly things.

Stephen said...

Here is a puzzlement. Ecclesiastes 3:3 says there is a time to kill and a time to heal. This seems almost to straddle the two columns on the page in the SAB "Is it OK to kill?" (http://skepticsannotatedbible.com/contra/kill.html )
Of course, "Looking Unto Jesus/Answering the Atheist" says there is no contradiction because not all killing is "murder", and it's OK for god to kill. :lol:
(http://www.lookinguntojesus.net/ata20020512.htm)
Steve Weeks

Steve Wells said...

Yeah, I skipped over that one because I like the song so much.

But I've added it to the contradictions. (To kill or not to kill)

Stephen said...

The song stands on its own merits... I'll bet more people have been exposed to Ecclesiastes by Pete Seeger and the Byrds than by church types. I remember when I was in high school being impressed that a rock band would sing a song whose lyrics came from the bible. That was, mercifully, before I had heard of "christian rock".

But... doesn't the same verse also belong in the "Don't Kill" column? "A time to heal" would seem to contradict "a time to kill". IMO, this doesn't invalidate Ecclesiastes... it's a sort of "situational ethics" approach which is a refreshing change from the normal "business as usual: death" modus operandi of the god of the old testament.
Steve Weeks

573f6c22-8ddc-11e2-a512-000bcdcb8a73 said...

I've read some interesting things at this site, but this is the first stuff I've seen which appears to be plain silly. Below I'm adding text from my old New English Bible for comparison purposes.

The fool foldeth his hands together, and eateth his own flesh. 4:5 vs. NEB "The fool folds his arms and wastes away."

Let thy garments be always white; and let thy head lack no ointment. 9:8 vs NEB "Always be dressed in white and never fail to annoint your head"

A wise man's heart is at his right hand; but a fool's heart at his left. 10:2 vs NEB "The mind of the wise man faces right, but the mind of the fool faces left"

Give a portion to seven, and also to eight; for thou knowest not what evil shall be upon the earth. 11:2 vs NEB "Divide your merchandise among seven ventures, eight maybe, since you do not know what disasters may occur on earth"

IMO the "crazy" disappears entirely. The context is also important, for in that last verse what the author is saying is the same as "don't put all your eggs in one basket". Sea transport in those days wasn't quite the sure thing it is today.

Stephen said...

573f6c22-8ddc-11e2-a512-000bcdcb8a73 said...


NEB "The fool folds his arms and wastes away."
"Being foolish gives you cancer"

NEB "Always be dressed in white and never fail to annoint your head"
"Brylcreem... a litle dab'll do ya"

NEB "The mind of the wise man faces right, but the mind of the fool faces left"
"Democrats are fools"


IMO the "crazy" disappears entirely.
Well... not entirely.
Steve Weeks

Stephen said...

Here are the instructions for annointing your hair:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=o6F4GtyRfto
Steve Weeks

573f6c22-8ddc-11e2-a512-000bcdcb8a73 said...

Context really does matter.

4 Again, I considered all the acts of oppression here under the sun; I saw the tears of the oppressed, and I saw that there was no one to comfort them. Strength was on the side of their oppressors, and there was no one to avenge them. I counted the dead happy because they were dead, happier than the living who are still in life. More fortunate than either I reckoned the man yet unborn, who had not witnessed the wicked deeds done here under the sun. I considered all toil and all achievement and saw that it comes from rivalry between man and man. This too is emptiness and chasing the wind. The fool folds his arms and wastes away. Better one hand full and peace of mind, than both fists full and toil that is chasing the wind.

~~~~

Regarding the annointing, that appears to have been a cultural thing which isn't much practiced anymore. But then again, we bath a lot in these modern times, and a few hundred years ago the practice was almost unheard of.

Cultural.

Steve Wells said...

I've added 2:7; 5:6, 12; 4:2, 11; 10:3 to the absurdity, injustice, etc.

Thanks Nathan! And let me know if you find others.