Ecclesiastes at Intellectual and Historical Crossroads

For the lot of human beings and the lot of beasts is the same lot: The one dies as well as the other.
Both have the same life breath. Human beings have no advantage over beasts, but all is vanity.
Both go to the same place; both were made from the dust, and to the dust they both return.
Who knows if the life breath of mortals goes upward and the life breath of beasts goes earthward?
And I saw that there is nothing better for mortals than to rejoice in their work; for this is their lot.
Who will let them see what is to come after them?
(Ecclesiastes 3:19-22 NABRE adapted toward consistency)


Sheol, Psalm 49

At his death he will not take along anything,
his glory will not go down after him.
During his life his soul uttered blessings;
“They will praise you, for you do well for yourself.”
But he will join the company of his fathers,
never again to see the light.
In his prime, man does not understand.
He is like the beasts—they perish.

Plato, Gorgias 523-527

Death, I think, is actually nothing but the separation of two things from each other, the soul and the body...
When a man who has lived a just and pious life comes to his end, he goes to the Isles of the Blessed, to make his abode in complete happiness, beyond the reach of evils.
But when one who has lived in an unjust and godless way dies, he goes to the prison of payment and retribution, the one they call Tartarus.

Epicurus, Letter to Menoeceus

Accustom yourself to believe that death is nothing to us, for good and evil imply awareness, and death is the privation of all awareness; therefore a right understanding that death is nothing to us makes the mortality of life enjoyable, not by adding to life an unlimited time, but by taking away the yearning after immortality. For life has no terror; for those who thoroughly apprehend that there are no terrors for them in ceasing to live. Foolish, therefore, is the person who says that he fears death, not because it will pain when it comes, but because it pains in the prospect. Whatever causes no annoyance when it is present, causes only a groundless pain in the expectation. Death, therefore, the most awful of evils, is nothing to us, seeing that, when we are, death is not come, and, when death is come, we are not.

Deep Incarnation

And the Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us.
(John 1:14 NABRE)
For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life.
For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through him.
(John 3:16-17 NABRE)
by the Holy Spirit was incarnate of the Virgin Mary, and became man
(Nicene Creed)

The Incarnation is the Christian teaching that God became flesh and in so doing demonstrated that flesh can be godly. In recent decades Christians have become more aware of humanity’s connectedness with our ecosystem. So the question becomes, how deep is the incarnation? The following options might be considered, ranked from shallowest to deepest.

  1. Christ became a man with no significance for any other flesh. (No Christians teach this. It is listed here to illustrate exteme shallowness.)
  2. Christ became man, as in male. Women do not fully share in the implications of the Incarnation. (Theologians do not teach this, but it may underly some popular misogyny.)
  3. Christ became human. (This is the mainstream teaching for most Christians today.)
  4. Christ became flesh, including animals. If all are one in Christ Jesus, we should consider with that our interconnectedness with animals.
  5. Christ became the world, including the ecosystem, air, oceans, everything. What we do to the world we are doing to Christ.


All human toil is for the mouth,
yet the appetite is never satisfied.
What profit have the wise compared to fools,
or what profit have the lowly in knowing how to conduct themselves in life?
“What the eyes see is better than what the desires wander after.”
This also is vanity and a chase after wind.
(Ecclesiastes 6:7-9 NABRE)

Four Noble Truths

  1. Life is suffering (dukkha)
  2. Suffering arises from desire/craving/attachment
  3. The cessation of suffering is the cessation of desire/craving/attachment
  4. The eightfold path leads to the cessation of desire/craving/attachment

Views of time

One generation departs and another generation comes, but the world forever stays.
The sun rises and the sun sets; then it presses on to the place where it rises.
Shifting south, then north, back and forth shifts the wind, constantly shifting its course.
All rivers flow to the sea, yet never does the sea become full.
To the place where they flow, the rivers continue to flow.
All things are wearisome, too wearisome for words.
The eye is not satisfied by seeing nor has the ear enough of hearing.
What has been, that will be; what has been done, that will be done.
Nothing is new under the sun!
(Ecclesiastes 1:4-9 NABRE)
  1. Linear – Time can be thought of as a time line. It has a beginning, middle, and end with an even progression and no regression or repeating.
  2. Cyclical – Time can be thought of as a circle. It repeats like the seasons of the year, and beyond. The world is constantly being created and destroyed, or going through cycles of destruction and creation.
  3. The Movie “Arrival” based on Ted Chiang, “Story of Your Life.” (Explanation with spoilers here.)
  4. Jeremy Bearimy


Similarities can be explained in a number of ways, ranging from direct influence to independent conclusions based on similar contexts. It is very likely that Ecclesiastes was written after Greek ideas had spread to Jerusalem following Alexander the Great. Influence from Buddhism to Jerusalem is more difficult to argue as at all direct.