Ambivalence, Ambiguity, and Multi-Vocality in Ecclesiastes

Translations of key phrases

Utter futility

There is nothing truly new under the sun

Is Ecclesiastes depressing, consoling, something else?

Many people find Ecclesiastes depressing, others consoling, or maybe another word would be better. What seems right to you? What particular verses would you interpret as examples of a message that is depressing, consoling, or something else? What sayings, slogans, lyrics do you find analogous?

For my generation a few come to mind, but it will be more helpful to use examples from your generation. Examples from my generation: “It don’t get no better than this.” “There is a crack in everything. That’s how the light gets in.” “The best that you can hope for is to die in your sleep.” “One of us will bury the other” said at a wedding.

If you´re interested in musicology, listen to the arrangement by the Byrds, “Turn, Turn, Turn.” The lyrics are straight from Ecclesiastes, but what interpretation is the music suggesting? What context are they leaving out?

Traditional Jewish accounts suggest that Solomon wrote the Song of Songs in his youth, Proverbs at his peak, and Ecclesiastes as a grumpy old man. This comedy sketch from Israel suggests rather an emotional adolescent.

What does Ecclesiastes say about God?

Gracious in a good way

Gratuitous in bad way

Unknowable in a good way

Absent, unknowable in a bad way


Additions by later authors and editors to change/subvert/moderate uncomfortable meanings.

A “school” of like-minded but different authors who have different emphases, as we might see today in documents written by committees.

Refutations of the words of others or previous errors, as we might use quotation marks or inflection.

Juxtaposition of competing ideas, as we might use “On the one hand... on the other hand...”

Ideas that are mutually exclusive using our definitions and categories that may not have been contradictions to the original authors. (The idea that a person should never contradict oneself or think contradictory thoughts is not universal.)