What/Who on earth is Qohelet?

*This post was originally published bilingually in English as well as Korean back in 2017. Now the post is separated in each language. For the Korean version, see  this.

Qohelet is the protagonist of the book of Ecclesiastes in the Hebrew Bible. In some (older) English translations, including ESV, KJV, ASV, RSV, and WEB, the word “Qohelet” is translated as “the Preacher.” In some other translations, such as NIV and NRSV, the word appears as “the Teacher.” Additionally and unusually, Good News Bible (GNB) takes the word as the “Philosopher,” and Common English Bible (CEB) as “the Teacher of Assembly.” Among the translations, the most well-known designation is the “Preacher.” But Qohelet is not really a preacher or a teacher in the sense that we usually understand the terms. Perhaps, Qohelet could be seen as a teacher, since his writing, known as Ecclesiastes, is edifying after all. But the Hebrew word, “Qohelet,” does not mean “teacher.” Also, we do not call every speaking subject who provides moral and intellectual lessons teacher.

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Ecclesiastes Translation Series (10): “your creator” (Eccl 12:1)

Remember your creator in the days of your youth

NRSV Eccl 12:1

According to Gen 1:1, God created the heavens and the earth. Christians and Jews all believe that God is the creator of the universe. So, there seem to be no substantial problems or issues to discuss on the term “your creator” in Eccl 12:1. But if you read the Hebrew text of the verse, there certainly are some issues. 

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Ecclesiastes Translation Series (9): Qohelet’s Gender (Eccl 7:27)

Tim Mossholder님의 사진: https://www.pexels.com/ko-kr/photo/1722196/

The Hebrew language has a well-developed system of gender differentiation. English also distinguishes gender in some cases, such as the third person pronouns, but they don’t require gender-specific verbs when functioning as a subject. In Hebrew, however, the verb’s gender should agree with its subject, not to mention its number.

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ECCLESIASTES TRANSLATION SERIES (6): “to put the world in their heart” (Eccl 3:11)

*note: No English versions of (3) to (5) in the series is available as those posts deal with problems with Korean translations.

Intro

The text of Ecclesiastes 3:11 is enigmatic, not just because the sentence itself is ambiguous but also because English translations render the sentence quite differently as if they translate the different words.

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ECCLESIASTES TRANSLATION SERIES (2): Vanity of vanities

  • In the previous post, I indicated that “the Preacher” is better designated as “Qohelet.” So I will call the main speaker of the text “Qohelet,” but it seems more convenient to call the title of the text Ecclesiastes for the sake of convenience.

A Grammatical Issue

Image by Kollakolla from Pixabay

This featured phrase “vanity of vanities” (הבל הבלים habel habalim) that Qohelet repeatedly cries out is considered to be a Hebrew expression of the superlative, which is structured as “~ of ~.” But its exact wording is not typical. Normally, the superlative form is <singular noun + definite article + plural noun>. For example, <king + the kings> is translated as “king of kings,” meaning the highest king. (Note: Hebrew simply juxtaposes two nouns without a possessive preposition to form a possessive phrase.) By the same token, if the phrase “vanity of vanities” is the superlative, we would expect <vanity + the + vanities>, but the article is missed here. That is, this expression might not be superlative.

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