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Books of Ketuvim
Song of Solomon
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Ecclesiastes, Kohelet in Hebrew, is a book of the Hebrew Bible known to Jews as the Tanakh and to Christians as the Old Testament. The title derives from the Greek translation of the Hebrew title: קהלת (variously transliterated as Qoheleth, Qohelethh, Kohelet, Koheleth, or even Coheleth).

The Hebrew קהלת is related to the root קהל meaning "to gather." Thus the nominal form קהל means "gathering, congregation." The Hebrew קהלת is probably a title (rather than a name) referring to one who gathers something. That something, given the context, is probably either aphorisms or a group of people for the purposes of instruction in wisdom. Kohelet is probably the name of King Solomon, as he was also nicknamed Kohelet.

The English title of the book (Ecclesiastes) comes from the Septuagint translation of Qoholet, Εκκλησιαστής. It has its origins in the Greek word Εκκλησία (originally a secular gathering, although later used primarily of religious gatherings, hence its New Testament translation as church).

The word Qohelethh has found several translations into English, including "the Preacher" (from Jerome and Luther's der Prediger). Since preacher implies a religious function, and the contents of the book do not reflect such a function, this translation has largely been rejected by modern translations and scholars. A better alternative is teacher, although this also fails to capture the fundamental idea behind the Hebrew.

The traditional view of the authorship of this book attributes it to Solomon largely based on associations made in the first two chapters of the work. There are, however, problems with this view: the text implies that there were many generations of rulers in Jerusalem prior to Solomon (Eccl. 1:16) and that Qoheleth was no longer king, whereas Solomon was not known to have abdicated. What is more, if Solomon, it is strange that the text does not explicitly make the identification. Finally, many modern scholars argue believe that it dates from the later period of the Babylonian captivity.

The book's distinguishing feature is its comparatively cynical outlook, which stands in stark contrast to the rest of the Bible. The central theme is reflected in the refrain which both opens and closes Qoheleth's words:

''"Utterly senseless" says Qoheleth, "Utterly senseless, everything is senseless!"

The word translated senseless, הבל, literally means vapor, breath. Qoheleth uses it metaphorically, and its precise meaning is extensively debated. Older English translation often render it vanity, but in modern usage this word means "self-pride" rather than emptiness and is thus inappropriate. Other translations include meaningless, absurd, fleeting or senseless.

The poem about times in Eccl. 3 is also well known as the inspiration for the Pete Seeger song, "Turn! Turn! Turn!", recorded by the Byrds.

See also: Bible, Tanakh.

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