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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Solomon or Qohelet?

Solomon or Qohelet?

*This post was originally posted in two languages (Korean and English) back in 2017, and now I separated it into two. For a Korean version of the post, see this

Ecclesiastes. . . . A problematic biblical text that entails many intriguing questions. Among them, the real identity of the protagonist of the book is, perhaps, the reader’s very first task that should be carried on to understand the text. If you have learned that the main speaker of the book is Solomon if you believe it with no doubt whatsoever, and if you have never been curious about the identity of the protagonist of the book, you might probably have never thought how many intriguing questions the text generates. If you are like this type of reader, this article may be able to open your eyes to see very different or maybe shocking aspects of the book. But don’t be afraid. We are simply going one step closer to this text’s historical aspects.

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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 (1): The Preacher, Ecclesiastes


For many reasons, Ecclesiastes is a difficult text to translate. For instance, the designation for the main speaker of the text, “the Preacher,” ordinarily indicates leaders in local churches, whose job includes supervising everything in the church, especially conducting worship services and giving sermons. The main speaker of Ecclesiastes has nothing to do with such a person. Perhaps one of the most memorable expressions in the Bible, “vanity of vanities,” is another example that demonstrates why Ecclesiastes is difficult to translate. Its Hebrew words use הבל(hevel/hebel); its literal meaning is “breath,” “vapor,” and the like. The term “vanity” carries only the figurative force of the original, restricting the word’s multivalency. These words require explanations why such translations happened, what the problems are, and what the alternatives can be. In fact, Ecclesiastes is permeated with such issues. So in this translation series, I will introduce translation issues in Ecclesiastes and explain them or suggest alternatives.

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전도서 번역 시리즈(1): 전도서, 전도자

들어가는 말

전도서는 여러 가지 이유로 번역하기 까다로운 책이다. 예컨대 전도서의 주 화자를 지칭하는 ‘전도자’라는 말은 개신교의 ‘전도사’라는 직책명과 유사하고, 의미상 도리나 진리를 전파하는 사람과 관련이 있어 보이지만, 실제 전도서의 내용은 ‘전도’라는 말이 가진 기독교에서의 의미나 혹은 일반적인 의미와도 연결시키기 어렵다. 따라서 이 번역이 어떤 단어를 옮긴 것인지, 혹은 왜 이렇게 번역한 것인지, 나아가 더 나은 대안은 없는지에 대한 논의가 필요하다. 전도서를 특징짓는 대표적인 표현인 ‘헛되고 헛되다’라는 『개역개정』의 번역도 문자적으로는 ‘호흡’이나 ‘수증기’를 뜻하는 히브리어 הבל(헤벨)을 은유적 표현으로 받아 ‘헛됨’이라는 의미로 옮긴 것이다. 그러나 이 어휘를 문자 그대로(호흡, 수증기)가 아니라 은유를 반영한 구체적 번역어(헛됨)로 옮기는 경우 그 어휘가 가질 수 있는 은유적 의미의 확장성을 제한하고, 심지어 우리 같은 동양의 독자들에게는 사자성어 ‘일장춘몽’(一場春夢)을 연상하게 되기까지 한다. 이런 이유로 הבל(헤벨)의 대응어로 ‘헛됨’을 선택한 것에 대한 논평과 이를 대체할 표현에 대한 논의도 필요하다. 이처럼 전도서는 책의 가장 핵심이 되는 표현들부터 이미 해석과 번역의 문제를 안고 있으며, 이런 문제는 본문 전체에 산재해 있다. 그래서 나는 이 연재를 통해 전도서의 여러 번역 난제들을 두루 제시하고, 이에 대해 간단하게 설명하거나 대안을 제시하고자 한다. 

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