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Subjects (abstracts): A Gentle Cynic; The Song of Songs; The World of George Jean Nathan; The Meditations

from: A Gentle Cynic, Being a Translation of the Book of Koheleth, Commonly Known as Ecclesiastes, Its Origin, Growth and Interpretation, Morris Jastrow, Jr. [1861 -1921], Oriole Editions, 1972 (1919). [discovered 10/24/98]. ["Must See"!].

[See Biography: Encyc. Rel., V. 7, 558-559 (son of "Marcus Jastrow, the eminent rabbinic scholar" (558)) ("librarian and professor at the University of Pennsylvania" (558)) ("The weakness of his work may be that too many of the connections and interpretations he offered, however reasonable, rested on his own reasoning rather than on actual textual evidence." (559))].


This work is an endeavor to place before a general public, and in popular form, the results of the critical study of the Old Testament as applied to a single book in the collection. I [Morris Jastrow] have chosen the book commonly known as Ecclesiastes, because of the intensely human interest attaching to this specimen of the ANCIENT LITERATURE OF PALESTINE.

The designation "Ecclesiastes", to be taken in the sense of one who addresses an Ecclesia i.e., an assembly, is an attempt on the part of the Greek translator of the book to render the Hebrew word Koheleth (pronounced Ko-háy-leth), which is the name assumed by the author of the book, and the underlying stem of which means to "assemble." Since the author, however, wanted us to regard Koheleth as a proper name, why translate it at all? Ecclesiastes is a harsh and forbidding title for a book that is marked by a singular lightness of touch, and I have therefore retained throughout this work the name Koheleth for the book, and have chosen "A Gentle Cynic" as an appropriate designation to describe both the character of the book and the author, who has concealed his personality behind a nom de plume.1 ["1See p. 65." (see following)]' [7].

'Koheleth lived at a time when the author had begun to be a factor in the intellectual and social life, but still could hide himself under a nom de plume and reap an advantage from so doing. For Koheleth is a disguise and it is reasonable to suppose that in describing himself as a king over Jerusalem, who had amassed wealth, who possessed great power and who was also "wiser than all who were before me in Jerusalem" (i. 16), he [Koheleth] aimed to identify himself with Solomon whose name must, therefore, have already become at the time when Koheleth wrote [pause] a synonym for wisdom, glory and power. The device was successful. An uncritical tradition, accepting the implication in the disguise, attributed the book to Solomon....' [65].

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"The book is not only intensely human, it is also remarkably modern in its spirit. Koheleth belongs to the small coterie of books that do not grow old. It does not follow that such books are to be placed among the great classics of world literature, though in some instances they do enjoy this distinction, as in the case of the Book of Job and the Quatrains of Omar Khayyam, which are likewise remarkably modern. Nor is the reverse proposition true that all the great classics have a modern flavor. The spirit of Homer is that of antiquity, whereas that of Horace is modern. Molière is intensely human, but because he reflects so exclusively the foibles of his days, he does not make the strong appeal to the modern world as does Shakespeare, who is human and modern. Of two authors who are contemporaneous, one may remain modern and the other not, though both may be reckoned among the great. Witness Goethe and Schiller, the former speaking to the present age in a way that the latter does not." [8].

"Critical scholarship, as the result of the combined activity of many scholars of many lands during the past century, now recognizes that the book [Koheleth (Ecclesiastes)], as it stands in our Bible, consists of a kernel to which liberal additions have been made. These additions which were introduced, as we shall see, for the express purpose of counteracting the effect of Koheleth's unconventional views and to give a more orthodox turn to his thought are to be found in each one of the twelve chapters into which the book was arbitrarily divided.6 In some chapters, the additions consist merely of a phrase or of a sentence skillfully inserted here and there at a critical point in the discussion; in others, as in the eighth chapter, the additions are almost equal to the original section, while again in some, as in the seventh and tenth chapters, the supplementary material is in excess of the original portion of the chapter. 7 Besides these conspicuous additions, amounting in all to more than one-fourth of the book, there are little glosses and comments of a miscellaneous character, likewise interspersed throughout, which correspond to our foot-notes to a text. Now it is manifestly impossible to obtain a view of what the book was in its original form, unless in a translation we lop off all additions and insertions, as well as the glosses and little comments. To translate the book as it stands, as has hitherto been done, precludes the possibility of grasping the character that the author intended to give to his production." [29-30].

PAGE 779

"The acceptance of Koheleth into the Canon was a gradual process. We know that as late as the first century before this era it was not generally regarded as on a par with the books of the collection of ancient Hebrew literature, which had to be handled with special reverence. Even then it would never have been admitted among sacred writings by the council of learned and pious Jews, who at Jamnia in Palestine fixed the Canon at the end of the first century of our era, had it not been for the additions which toned down the skeptical tenor of its teachings and controverted its bold defiance of accepted beliefs. The circumstance that the authorship was attributed to Solomon was a vital factor in leading to its inclusion in the Canon, but even this would not have secured its admission without the additions which constitute such a considerable part of the work in its present form, and which made it practically a different kind of a book. The question arises, how were these additions made, or, rather, first of all, how was it possible for anyone to conceive of making them?"



To us who are accustomed to think of a book as the work of a single individual, brought out with the seal of authenticity attached to it under the name of its author, it must indeed seem strange that the original form of a piece of writing should be altered by subsequent additions; but authorship in the modern sense was unknown in antiquity until we reach the flourishing period of Greek literature [apparently, era of AEschylus c. 525 - c. 456 B.C.E.; Sophocles c. 496 - 405 B.C.E.; and Euripides 480 or 484 - 406 B.C.E. (38)]. Up to that time, authorship was largely anonymous. A book might pass through many hands before receiving its final form; and in this form, two features which we naturally associate with a book, an author and a title, are conspicuous by their absence. Book writing was in the literal sense of the word com-position, that is, a putting together of documents which might date from various periods. A book involved a process of compilation in which various persons might take part. As a consequence, we have collective instead of individual authorship. A writer in the days of anonymous authorship laid no claim to special ownership to what he wrote—could lay no such claim. Everyone who could do so felt free to add to a manuscript that came into his hands. The person who wrote was of minor significance as against what he wrote, and if a piece of writing became popular by being circulated within a certain circle, it was destined to continual enlargement and modification. Indeed, this steady modification was an index of the popularity of a book. A book that had become definite in its form and that was no longer subject to change, was a dead book. The living book, which conveyed a message of real import to those who became acquainted with it, was one which had not yet become static.' [31-32].

"the Greeks appear to have been the first among the peoples of antiquity to have brought the author into the foreground. The Greeks created the author. In accord with the pronounced spirit of individualism, which is one of the distinguishing marks of Greek culture that manifests itself in art as well as in literature, the Greeks passed from anonymity in literary production to individualistic authorship." [39].

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"written lies far outnumber spoken untruths. It is a far simpler matter to print a wrong statement than to make one verbally. Writing cannot be said to have increased mankind's regard for the truth." [41].

"In the days of anonymous writing, plagiarism belongs to the virtues. It was an endorsement of a writer to use what he had written, an indication that his production had vitality, and was capable of being modified and elaborated...." [41-42].

"There is not a single book in that portion of the Old Testament devoted to the collections of the utterances and orations of the prophets which does not contain considerable additions...." [60].

"a scrupulous regard for handing down in authentic form the exact words of an author was never reached. The historical sense was lacking even in the first century of our era when the canon of the Old Testament was finally fixed by learned but entirely uncritical Rabbis, who looked upon tradition as the final court of appeal. The rise of this tradition, which we have seen, led to ascribing the authorship of many of the books of the sacred collections to certain figures of the past through incidental association of ideas with these men; or, on even more baseless grounds, is in itself a proof that these Rabbis were as yet not far removed from the age which considered itself justified in editing the literary remains of ancient prophets by inserting verses, sections, chapters and entire groups of chapters that belonged to a period other than the one in which the prophet flourished. Without a critical and historical sense, such as the Greeks alone among the peoples of antiquity possessed in so striking a degree, a complete sense of the significance of authorship could not arise. If we accept the other alternative, and assume that those who fixed the canon had such a sense, we should be forced to accuse them of willful deception, aye, of literary forgery when, for example, they claimed for Moses the authorship of the Pentateuch, and for David the authorship of the Psalms; or for Solomon the authorship of Proverbs, Song of Songs and Koheleth [Ecclesiastes]; and so on through the list. They are saved from this serious charge by their naïveté in accepting unreliable traditions [?]." [61-62].

PAGE 781

'Prince Eugène Troubetzkoy, who holds a chair in the University of Moscow, in an article in the Hibbert Journal for January, 1918 (page 179), concludes, from the everlasting repetition in nature, as does Koheleth, the absence of a purpose in life. "Life," he says, "is always repeating the same vicious circle." It would appear indeed that Koheleth by his observation of the endless and monotonous repetition in nature has hit upon the real basis of pessimistic philosophy wherever we encounter it—whether in India, or in the West, in the ideas of Schopenhauer [Arthur Schopenhauer 1788 - 1860], as in those of Nietzsche [Friedrich Nietzsche 1844 -1900], concerning the eternal cycle.

Koheleth is, of course, aware of the obvious objection to all this, that whereas nature is constantly repeating herself, and the experiences of life pass along in a circle of endless repetition, yet the repetition is never precisely the same, neither in nature nor in history. No two trees are exactly alike, no human experiences are completely copies of one another. The history of one people differs considerably from that of another. New discoveries are constantly being made that change the aspects of existence. Koheleth's answer would be that the variations in the repetition do not affect essentials, either in nature or in life. In contrast to Amiel who says that in order to avoid fastidium through the eternal repetition of nature, we must lay stress "upon the small differences which exist, and then by learning to enjoy repetition," Koheleth would claim that such differences as, e.g., the difference between the course of the sun in summer and its course in winter is a negligible quantity. The sun rises and sets in constant succession—that is the essential fact; and so one generation succeeds another and passes through the same general experiences. The general is the essential, which is not affected by any specific variation, either in the life of individuals or of peoples. Besides, what guarantee have we that even the variations had not occurred endless times in the remote and forgotten past? The individual is constantly forgetting what he once knew. The acquisition of knowledge is counterbalanced by the accompanying process of dropping the contents of one's memory; and so the collective memory of mankind loses by the wayside facts and experiences which later crop up anew. Discovery is rediscovery. Perhaps nature herself shares in this weakness of having forgotten what she did in the past.' [122-123].

PAGE 782

'To the general refrain that all is vanity, he frequently adds the corollary that life is a game of "chasing after wind"—a most picturesque phrase to illustrate the foolishness of ambition, which is as unsatisfactory as the attempt to catch the wind. Wisdom is chosen as the first illustration to prove that life is an empty bubble. What does one gain by being as wise as Solomon, by acquiring knowledge in excess of anyone else? The ambition itself is a mischievous impulse that God has implanted in the human breast merely to worry and torture men (i. 13), for the more one knows, the unhappier one becomes on recognizing through one's wisdom how unsatisfying are all the fleeting pleasures of this world. When you come to examine them, sport and mirth become synonymous with folly and madness (ii. 2). The thought in Koheleth's mind seems to be that the man who becomes wise and who attains to real knowledge inevitably recognizes that the pursuit of happiness must end in ennui. One grows tired of life, as nature becomes tired of everlastingly doing the same things. Monotony in nature is paralleled by ennui in human life.

Ah, but perhaps the reason why happiness does not satisfy one is because one does not get enough of it. On the contrary, says Koheleth, the more one gets, the less does it satisfy; and, as an illustration, he sets forth in detail all the possible pleasures that a man could have....' [126-127].


This thought that there is a common fate in store for all—oblivion—is a corollary to the view which declares that life must end in ennui. There is no goal to death any more than to life. If death led to anything further, Koheleth's system, so far as he has one, would fall to pieces. He dwells upon this common end to all alike and goes so far as to question (iii. 19-21) whether man's spirit has a destiny superior to that of the beast. Accepting the point of view which is also orthodox doctrine (Genesis iii.19), that man is of the dust and to dust returns, Koheleth sees no reason why this does not also hold good of animals. So he concludes of man as of beasts that "all go to one place" (iii. 20). Our author thus shares the belief which was common to Semites, that the dead are gathered in the earth. From many sources74 we know that this gathering place was conceived of as a great cavern in which the dead lie huddled together—conscious but inactive. The contribution that Koheleth makes to the time-honored conception lies in the corollary that man's end is not superior to that in store for the beast. And yet the question which he poses (iii.21)—"Who knows whether the spirit of the children of men mounts up and the spirit of the beast goes down"—is an indication that the author lived in an age which had passed beyond the primitive conception and had advanced to an attempt to differentiate between the fate in store for the dead. The thought of a heavenly abode for at least some human souls must have been current, or the question would be an idle one.' [129-130].

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'all achievements and all pleasures end in ennui. Since, moreover, there is a common fate to all—to the wise and the foolish alike—(ii. 16; ix. 2) the more logical corollary would be to regard life itself as useless. Koheleth actually says so in one place (ii. 17), "I hated life, for all that happened under the sun seemed evil to me, since all was vanity and chasing after wind," but it is the only passage in the book in which this thought is expressed. As a matter of fact, Koheleth loves life, and this inconsistency, of which there are other examples, adds to the charm of the book. "As a living dog," runs a passage that has become famous, "one is better off than a dead lion" (ix. 4). His reason for giving the preference to the dog is, to be sure, not very comforting—nor complimentary to the dog—"for the living"—he adds—"at least know that they will die, whereas the dead know absolutely nothing." His pessimism, however, is only skin deep and, like most pessimists, he clings to life. Job, who is not a pessimist, for a moment may think of suicide as a means of putting an end to his sufferings. The suggestion is made to him by his wife,81 but he rejects it. Koheleth may talk about hating life. He may praise the dead as better off than those who are alive and add "better than both is the one who has not yet been, who has not seen the evil happenings under the sun" (iv. 3), but he does not really think this. Pessimists talk that way, but there are few instances of pessimists deliberately shuffling off the mortal coil against which they rail. They get rid of any suicidal tendencies by writing long disquisitions on the uselessness of life. Schopenhauer [Arthur Schopenhauer 1788 - 1860], the most eminent of modern pessimists, is a notable example of the care which pessimists take to preserve their health.82 In reality, the pessimist believes with Koheleth (xi. 7) "Light is sweet and it is pleasant for the eyes to see the sun." The real Koheleth reveals himself in this sentiment, as in the advice to "eat, drink, and be merry" which repeated half a dozen times forms83 the supplement to the constant refrain, "All is vanity and chasing after wind."

To hate all ambition, however, is consistent with the conclusion that finds in enjoyment the solace for life's misery. Accordingly Koheleth emphasizes the reason for "hating" all his toil (ii. 18). Why make work the aim and content of life, since all that you obtain in return for your trouble and vexation is the doubtful privilege of leaving what you have acquired to someone who will enjoy it without having worked for it (ii. 19)? You may be wise, but the chances are that your heir will be a fool; and at all events your days of pain and nights of worry are all to no purpose....' [136-138].

Excursus: from: From Autothanasia to Suicide, Self-killing in Classical Antiquity, Anton J. L. van Hooff, Routledge, 1990. [a Classic!].

"St. Augustine [354 - 430] speaks about his 'aversion to life', taedium vitae, dominating his mind when he had lost 'his soul's half', his best friend5." [5"Augustine, Confessiones 4, 6, 11...."]. [5].

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Koheleth and Greek Thought

....No doubt Greek thought, as a significant phase of Greek culture, must have made its influence felt in Palestine where Koheleth lived, with the influx of Greek ideas, with the adoption of Greek forms of government and the imitation of Greek modes of life throughout the Orient after the conquests of Alexander the Great [356 - 323 B.C.] (334-323 B.C.)....." [147-148].

"The spirit of Greek philosophy was at all times hostile to the prevailing beliefs among the Greeks. Plato [c. 427 - c. 347 B.C.E.] alone appears to have made an attempt to save some fragments out of the wreck of Greek mythology, through the rise of systems which found no place for the gods of ancient Greece [?]. The tone of Koheleth when he deals with the naïve conception of divine government that marked the pious adherents of Judaism is not unlike the somewhat patronizing attitude of Greek philosophers towards the conventional religion, which they hardly regarded as of sufficient moment to warrant an energetic campaign against it. The old structure, they felt, was shaken in its foundations and was destined to give way without any direct attack. Koheleth is too good-natured to oppose the theology that arose from the new conception of religion brought forward by the prophets. He tolerates it, but he shows by insinuation rather than by any polemical disposition how insufficient it is as a means of explaining the actual conditions of life. His skepticism is of an easy-going character, as his cynicism is always [sic] gentle, with only an occasional sting." [150].

"It is not necessary to pass outside of a Jewish environment in order to explain either the trend of Koheleth's thought or his conclusions, beyond the initial impulse towards independent thought which through the spread of Greek culture in the Orient had become part of the spirit of the age. Koheleth was caught by the Zeitgeist, but without becoming an adherent of any particular school—Greek or otherwise."

[End of "XX"] [152].

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'Above all do not imagine as you grow old that things were better in former days. Koheleth has no use for the laudatores temporis acti, who are constantly decrying the present and idealizing the past. The man who suggests that "the former days were better than these" (vii. 10) is not betraying superior wisdom. He is merely suffering from mental arteriosclerosis. The processes of his mind have grown sluggish with age, as the blood courses less freely through the veins, and he is unable to keep pace with the more rapidly moving age. Koheleth hits hard at the conservatism of advancing years, which he thus mercilessly analyzes as not due to increasing wisdom but to increasing age, heralding the approach of the time when, as he says in the last chapter, one loses the zest for life, "the evil days of which thou shalt say, I have no pleasure in them" (xii. I).

Nor need we assume outside influence to account finally for Koheleth's mistrust of women. The pleasures of youth and manhood are largely taken up with sensual delights in which feminine charms naturally play a large part. As a frank observer, Koheleth declines to take a prudish view of the "eternal feminine" that lures us on. But as all pleasures pall in time, so a time comes when the attractions of woman no longer arouse the senses, and when this moment comes one discovers that of all things that are vain and empty woman takes the lead. The main attraction of woman according to Koheleth lies in her charm, not in her character. When that charm goes or when we are no longer sensitive to it, the illusion is "more bitter than death." (vii. 26.) "Her mind is all snares and nets, her hands are fetters" is merely the Oriental way of phrasing "the lure of the feminine," with a touch of bitterness that suggests an outburst due to personal experience. Renan [Joseph Ernest Renan 1823 - 1892]93 was probably not the first to suspect that Koheleth was a bachelor, but the very vehemence of his indictment that he has failed to find a decent woman among a thousand (vii. 28) points to his having been not altogether insensible to female charms. The large number need not be taken literally, and one feels that Koheleth is bent upon having his little joke—now grown somewhat stale by incessant repetition for over two thousand years—at the expense of woman. Koheleth could be certain also of finding an appreciative audience for his joke, for in the ancient as in the modern Orient woman plays a prominent part in the life of man, though more as his tool than as his partner.' [161-162].

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'One should feast and play at the proper time. Enjoyment should be for recreation "for strength and not for guzzling" (x. 17). His picture of a land badly ruled is one governed by a mere puppet with "princes feasting in the morning," in contrast to a country governed by a real king "with princes feasting at the proper time." Koheleth tells us in more specific terms what kind of enjoyment he has in mind,

"Go, eat they bread with joy,

And drink thy wine with a merry heart,

For God has already given His approval to thy deeds.

At all times be thy garments white,

And let oil not be lacking for thy head,

Enjoy life with the woman of thy love." (ix. 7-9)

The passage is particularly interesting because of a remarkable parallel to it that has been found in Babylonian literature, with so close a resemblance, indeed, as to raise the question whether Koheleth may not be quoting from some earlier work, which may in turn have reverted to a Babylonian prototype. The parallel occurs in the story of the adventures of a hero who was known as Gish104 or Gilgamesh. This epic—for such it is—forms the most important literary production of ancient Babylonia. With constant additions, it passed down the ages to Assyria, and we find echoes of this epic in the Greek tale of Hercules and in the legends that gathered around Alexander [Alexander the Great 356 - 323 B.C.E.]. Of the entire story, which in its final form was told on twelve tablets of some 250 lines each, not much more than one-half has up to the present been recovered.105 The particular tablet in which the parallel to the passage in Koheleth occurs dates from about 2000 B.C. and is therefore about 1800 years earlier [note, dating of Koheleth] than Koheleth! ....' [172-173].


Where then shall we place Koheleth among the many philosophers of earlier and later days who have set forth their attitude towards life? We have seen that he is not Mephistopheles, though he shows something of the spirit of that grim cynic. He is not a follower of Epicurus [341 - 270 B.C.E. (Greek philosopher)], any more than he is an adherent of Stoic philosophy. He is not unlike Lucian [c. 117 - c. 180 (Greek satirist)] in his frankness and in his sense of humor. Not quite so irreverent as Lucian, he lacks the latter's biting sarcasm, but one can well understand that the more gentle cynicism of Koheleth was as distasteful to those who did not favor the disturbance of the status quo, as was the sharper irony in Lucian's flings at the gods as pictured in the current myths in which the intelligent public no longer believed in the second century of our era when Lucian wrote.

There are some striking points of resemblance between Koheleth and Hesiod [8th century B.C.E. (Greek poet)]...." [186-187].

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'Koheleth goes his own way and separates himself from both Hesiod and Genesis, in suggesting that the purpose of work is to save man from ennui and that enjoyment, coming as leisure after the heat and burden of the day, is apt to last longer and will endure at all events until the time comes when life itself ceases to be a joy and when, as described in the last chapter (xii, 3-7)--perhaps the finest in the book--strength fails and the faculties decline. "The guardians of the house"--by which Koheleth means the hips--tremble; "the grinding maidens"--the teeth--cease; "those that peer through the windows"--by which the eyes are meant--are darkened; "the sound of the mill"--the hearing--is low; and so on through the list to "the snapping of the silver cord"--the spine--and the "shattering of the golden bowl"--the brain--till at last,

"sans teeth, sans eyes, sans taste, sans everything,"

"man goes to his eternal home and the wailers go about the street." Work as long as you can, says Koheleth. Sow your seed in the morning and rest not until the evening of life comes. In this way, by enjoying also your leisure, you will get as much happiness out of life as it can furnish. Hesiod, like Koheleth, urges man to look upon work from the brighter side, but, more conventional in his [Hesiod] attitude towards prevailing customs and beliefs, he cautions man against offending the gods by not performing prescribed rites of sacrifice and worship. On the other hand, Hesiod again joins with Koheleth in giving practical advice for the conduct of life, including the suggestion not to trust all one's goods in one venture and to live happily with one's wife and to provide for offspring--though not, he adds, in too large numbers.' [188-189].

[Note (2/23/99): the following 3 poems (page 789), attributed to Omar Khayyam, are (I have discovered) the "translations", liberties, etc., of [the Victorian] Edward FitzGerald [1809 - 1883], fourth edition.

Apparently, much romance, etc., pertains to Omar Khayyam (his biography, poems, etc.).

To begin to engage the complexities (% truths?), see:

A. Omar Khayyám, a New Version Based Upon Recent Discoveries, Arthur J. Arberry, Sir Thomas Adam's Professor of Arabic (Cambridge), sometime Professor of Persian (London), Yale, "1952".

B. The Romance of the Rubáiyát, Edward FitzGerald's First Edition Reprinted with Introduction and Notes, A.J. Arberry, Allen & Unwin, 1959.

See: Addition 20, 1067].

PAGE 788

'Koheleth reminds one most of Omar Khayyam [died 1123 (Persian poet & mathematician)], who represents the natural reaction against a stern Islamic environment, as Koheleth marks a reaction against the unbending ecclesiasticism and conventional piety of his Jewish surroundings. The touch of irony in Omar Khayyam's immortal quatrains is singularly like that which we encounter in Koheleth.

"With them the seed of Wisdom did I sow,

And with mine own hand wrought to make it grow;

And this was all the harvest that I reap'd—

I came like Water, and like Wind I go."

In their attitude towards life, both are free from any real bitterness. Their cynicism is without any sting, or if occasionally there is a sting it is gentle; it pricks a little but does not bite. Both are enamored of life, despite its sorrows and its imperfections. To both life means joy—joy for joy's sake, with perhaps this distinction, that Omar Khayyam has no fear of ennui resulting from joy [indication of a "harder" life than Koheleth? [LS]], whereas Koheleth advocates as a preventive the combination of toil with joy, so that the enjoyment may be more lasting. The undertone of sadness, too, is common to both, suggested by the brevity of life and by the approach of old age, devoid of enjoyment, with the shadow of death thrown across one's path.

"Alike for those who for To-day prepare,

And those that after some To-morrow stare,

A Muezzin from the Tower of Darkness cries:

'Fools! your Reward is neither Here nor There.'"

Both writers are worldly in their spirit and their outlook; and this is the severest indictment—if it be one—to be preferred against their productions. Carpe diem! is the motto of Koheleth and of Omar Khayyam alike.

"Come, fill the Cup, and in the fire of Spring

Your Winter-garment of Repentance fling;

The Bird of Time has but a little way

To flutter—and the Bird is on the Wing."' [189-191].

"Let us be frank and recognize that there is no spiritual uplift—to use a term that is much overworked in modern days—in Koheleth, as little as in the Islamic poet [Omar Khayyam]. Koheleth in its original form was not a religious book, and had no place in a sacred canon. It lacks edification, so essential to a religious production. But neither is it irreligious, as the pious commentators believed who tried to give to Koheleth's utterances an orthodox turn. Koheleth is not a scoffer, and he is certainly not atheistically inclined. He takes the existence of God for granted. He has thrown off the beliefs common to all Semites and indeed to all peoples in an early stage of culture, who, because unable to conceive of life coming to a complete stop, imagined a great gathering place where the dead lie conscious but inactive, but he has not advanced to any faith in a real immortality...." [191].

PAGE 789

'Perhaps it is fairest to say in summing up Koheleth's relationship to the religious current of his age, that he is unwilling to go further than the evidence of his senses warrants. He will not shrink from a recognition of facts and, therefore, he appears in the light of an uncomfortable interrogation mark. He questions everythingquestions the conventions of the day, questions the basis of beliefs, questions the belief in a genuine immortality in the new sense, questions the motives of men and the sincerity of woman, questions all aims and ambitions and at times he seems to question also the value of life. He takes a certain pleasure in exposing the foibles of mankind and the hollowness of most things....

Fortunately, he is not bent upon building up a system of thought, and, therefore, he can afford to be inconsistent. His bonhomie never deserts him....He is a dilettante in philosophy and a free lance in religion. He has no especial interest in Judaism, except as the religion which he sees around him. "Work and Play"—may be taken as the motto of the book. Do both as well as you can, but do not regard either as the aim of life. There is no aim. There is merely life, and life is there to be enjoyed or it is entirely wasted. Retain your sense of humor so that you may not grow morose when you contemplate the ills and sorrows in the world. When you get into a particularly pessimistic mood—smile at the world, not with a bitter smile, but with a suggestion of irony.' [193-195].

'Renan [Joseph Ernest Renan 1823 - 1892 (French historian & essayist], whose own nature found a response in Koheleth and who was fascinated by the book as everyone must be who penetrates its spirit, goes so far as to say that it [Koheleth (Ecclesiastes)] is the only amiable book written by a Jew. That is hardly correct, for we have a modern analogy to Koheleth (as Renan himself suggests) in Heine [Heinrich Heine 1797 - 1856 (German poet & essayist)], who looks upon the world in the same smiling manner. While thoroughly assimilating the culture and surroundings of his age, Heine's humor and general type of mind are characteristically Jewish. Heine is a nineteenth-century Koheleth; and he possesses the same irresistible charm. His pen, though trenchant, is never dipped in venom; his irony, thought pointed, is tempered with pathos. Even his satire, when most biting, betrays his amiability. The analogy between the two might be carried further, for their skepticism is much of the same order: they are both "gentle cynics." We can imagine Koheleth as he bids farewell to the world, and in the contemplation of his life recalls, perhaps, the utterances in his book which offended the orthodox and the pious, murmuring with a smile on his dying lips, as did Heine, "Dieu me pardonnerac'est son métier [God will forgive me—it's his job]." [195] [End of text].

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"xii. 8b All is vanity.192" [240].

[footnote] '192This represents the close of the original book. The balance of chapter xii., verses 8-14, is taken up with a series of no less than eleven comments and further endeavors to remove the heterodox taint. First, a commentator or reader added to "all is vanity" a note to complete the summing up of the teachings of the book (verse 8), "Koheleth says, vanity of vanities." To this another commentator adds a biographical note (verse 9), "And furthermore Koheleth was a wise man [i.e., a philosopher] who in other ways instructed people, by composing and searching." A third hand explains this by asserting that "he compiled many proverbs." Another reader sums up an apologetic view of Koheleth (verse 10) as follows: "Koheleth aimed at a pleasant style [literally, agreeable words] with straightforward expression"; and by way of explanation for the latter phrase, someone added "truthful words," i.e., in order to understand Koheleth, one must bear in mind that his aim was to be perfectly sincere and that, while writing gracefully, he spoke the truth. See further above p. 95. There follows a final insertion in the style of the "maxim" commentator (verse II):

"The words of the wise are as goads,

And collections are as nails, driven with a mace,"

i.e., the aim of sayings is to act as an incentive to man, while collections of such sayings skillfully put together are like nails driven into the proper place. Our "maxim" commentator, in order to justify his interspersion of sayings throughout the book, wants us to look upon the book as merely a collection of miscellaneous proverbs strung together in skillful fashion. At the close of the eleventh verse appears an addition "given by one shepherd," which is obscure. "Shepherd" has been taken in the sense of "teacher," and the phrase interpreted to mean that the collection is by one author—so McNeile, "Introduction to Ecclesiastes," p. 24, and Haupt, 1, c., p. 278—but this is hardly satisfactory. The phrase may be simply a comment to "goads," to explain that the word refers to the staff with which a shepherd drives his flock. Then another apologetic commentator has his say by warning us against taking Koheleth too seriously. He indulges in a general fling at the unceasing production of literature (verse 12):

"Furthermore, beware, my son, of the writing [literally, making] of many books without end,

And much discussion [?] [brackets, with question mark, from Morris Jastrow (author)] is a weariness of the flesh."

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Last of all, the pious commentator, as his parting shot, in his usual fashion gives expression to the orthodox view (verse 13):

(a) "Fear God, and keep His commandments," to which a super-commentator adds, (a) "for this [applies to] every man"; and (b) (verse 14), "since for every deed God will bring into judgment," to which again a super-commentator adds (c) "for every hidden act, whether good or bad."' [End of footnote 192] [240-"242"].

• • •

from: The Song of Songs Being a Collection of Love Lyrics of Ancient Palestine, Morris Jastrow, Lippincott, 1921.








'When, on June 21, my husband laid down his facile pen forever, the manuscript of the Song of Songs was practically in the shape in which it now appears....

It is a great satisfaction to me to feel that the Trilogy to which my husband had devoted so many years of ardent and joyful study, should have been so nearly completed,—in his [Morris Jastrow] own words—"Job, the most philosophical, Ecclesiastes [Book of Koheleth], the most fascinating, and the Song of Songs the most charming book of the Old Testament." ....

Helen B. Jastrow

October, 1921' ["6"].

• • •

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from: The World of George Jean Nathan, Charles Angoff, Knopf, 1952.

[See: George Jean Nathan [1882 - 1958], in Living Philosophies, 1931].

"But, you ask, why fool yourself with women? I ask, in turn, why fool yourself with the whiskey you drink or the God you believe in? The temporary effect is good enough, and it all will not matter a damn after you are dead.

[From Monks Are Monks, 1929, pp. 120–1.]" [151].

• • •

from [my time "in the desert", San Francisco, 1964]: The Meditations of the Emperor Marcus Aurelius Antoninus [121 - 180], Tr. George Long, George Bell and Sons, 1910.

"Many grains of frankincense on the same altar: one falls before, another falls after; but it makes no difference." [IV, 15] [97].

"Do not act as if thou wert going to live ten thousand years. Death hangs over thee. While thou livest, while it is in thy power, be good." [IV, 17] [97].

"Think continually how many physicians are dead after often contracting their eyebrows over the sick; and how many astrologers after predicting with great pretensions the deaths of others; and how many philosophers after endless discourses on death or immortality; how many heroes after killing thousands; and how many tyrants who have used their power over men's lives with terrible insolence as if they were immortal; and how many cities are entirely dead, so to speak, Helice* and Pompeii and Herclanum [Herculaneum], and others innumerable. Add to the reckoning all whom thou hast known, one after another. One man after burying another has been laid out dead, and another buries him: and all this in a short time. To conclude, always observe how ephemeral and worthless human things are, and what was yesterday a little mucus, to-morrow will be a mummy or ashes. Pass then through this little space of time conformably to nature, and end thy journey in content, just as an olive falls off when it is ripe, blessing nature who produced it, and thanking the tree on which it grew." [IV, 48] [104].

"Altogether the interval is small [between birth and death] [not my (LS) brackets]; and consider with how much trouble, and in company with what sort of people and in what a feeble body this interval is laboriously passed. Do not then consider life a thing of any value.(†) For look to the immensity of time behind thee, and to the time which is before thee, another boundless space...." [IV, 50] [105].

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