Volume 19 - Issue 3

The law of sin and death: Ecclesiastes and Genesis 1–3

By David M. Clemens

This article not only contributes to an understanding of the theological purpose of enigmatic Ecclesiastes, but also illustrates the fruitfulness of close comparative study of the biblical text. It needs to be read with Bible in hand!

The book of Ecclesiastes (E) has frequently been viewed as a conglomerate of unresolved contradictions, in view of its contrasting affirmation and rejection of such varying topics as life, wisdom, kingship, morality, divine justice and pleasure. Some recent commentators have admitted these contradictions as integral to the intent of the text, as reflecting the ambiguity of existence confronted by the author, Qoheleth (Q). More often, interpreters have sought to bring harmony into the contradictions, particularly by identifying supposed discrepancies as redactional additions. Underlying all such harmonizations is the search for a suitable temporal and conceptual framework within which to order Q’s statements: this framework ranges from the Solomonic to the Hellenistic period, from Ancient Near Eastern wisdom to Greek or existential philosophy.1 I propose in this article that E is best understood as an arresting but thoroughly orthodox exposition of Genesis 1–3: in both texts, the painful consequences of the fall are central.


The structure of 1:1–11; 11:7–12:14

The dominant motif in E is that of death. This is signalled by two corresponding structures that frame the book, identifying its author, its central conclusion, and the evidence upon which that conclusion is based:2



Author 1:1




12:9–14 Author A′








(12:10, 11)








(12:9, 10)




Conclusion 1:2




12:8 Conclusion B′




























Death 1:3–11




11:7–12:7 Death C′




(1:3, 5, 9)




(11:7, 12:2)




(1:4, 6, 7)


go, etc.


(11:9, 12:5)




(1:4, 5)


come, set, etc.


(11:8, 9, 12:1)














[for]ever, eternal






(1:5, 6, 7)


to, toward, into


(12:5, 6, 7)






turning, go about






(1:6, 7)


returns, again


(12:2, 7)






wind, spirit








remembrance, remember


(11:8, 12:1)


The obvious correspondence of A/A′ and B/B′ prepares the reader to find a comparable correspondence in C/C′. That this is indeed intended emerges from the repeated imagery of light and dark, coming and departure. Read in the light of C′, where death is explicit, it appears evident that C deals not simply with the monotony of nature’s cyclical patterns as a whole, but with death as nature’s most unrelenting cycle. Man returns to the enduring earth (1:4) as surely as the sun sets (1:5), the wind/spirit comes and goes (1:6), and the wadis die out on their way to the sea (1:7). He is unfulfilled (1:8) because his existence is cut short; thus he is lost to living memory, the victim of an inflexible pattern that brooks no innovation (1:9–11). This is the unchanging datum that reduces human existence to vanity. Q reverts to this evidence throughout the intervening chapters of the book;3 and it is human mortality that most commonly occasions his conclusion that all is vanity.4

Genesis 3:4, 19

The clearest correlation between 1:3–11 and 11:7–12:7 occurs in 1:4, 6 and 12:5b, 7, marked by repeated vocabulary concerning man’s going in death and the return of the wind/spirit (see below). This thematic vocabulary runs throughout the book.5 The most conspicuous example occurs in 3:20, which anticipates the vocabulary of 12:5–7 and thereby serves as a central link with 1:3–11. It seems obvious that 12:7 and especially 3:20 allude to Genesis 3:19 (cf. also Gn. 2:7, 17; 3:3f., 23):6



‘A generation goes1 and a generation comes, But the earth2 remains for ever3.’




Blowing1 toward4 the south, Then turning1a toward4 the north,




The wind5 continues1 swirling1a along1a;




And on its circular courses1a the wind5returns1b.’




‘All go1 to4 the same place. All came from the dust2a and all return1b to4 thedust2a




‘For man goes1 to4 his eternal3 home while mourners go about1a in the street.’




‘Then the dust2a will return1b to4a the earth2 as it was, and the spirit3 will return1b to4 God who gave it.’


(Gn. 3:19)


‘… Till you return1b to4 the ground2b, Because from it you were taken; For you are dust2a, And to4 dust2a you shall return1b.’


3:18–22 is in fact a focal passage for the entire book, whose language and imagery pervade E in all the main passages concerning death (1:2–11; 2:12–26; 3:9–15; 5:13–20; 6:1–12; 8:1–15; 9:1–12; 11:7–12:7).7 Since the content of Genesis 3 and its immediate context form the background to Q’s perception of death in E 3:18–22 and 11:7–12:8/1:2–11, one may reasonably assume the same background for the rest of E, constructed as it is around these passages. Death in E, then, is not merely a random, arbitrary force: its inevitability derives from the sovereign judgment of God (e.g. E 3:14–22; 11:9; 12:14; cf. Gn. 2:17; 3:3, 19); its perversity is rooted in sin, which flouts that sovereignty and thereby infects the whole creation (e.g. E 7:15–29; 8:8–14; 9:3; cf. Gn. 3:4ff., compare Rom. 8:20–22); and the frustrating brevity of life reflects the restrictions imposed by God upon that sin (e.g. E 3:11; 5:18; 6:12; 8:16–17, and ‘vanity’ passim; cf. Gn. 6:3, compare Ps. 90:7–12).

It is also reasonable to infer that the remaining themes of these chapters should be viewed within the conceptual framework of Genesis 1–3, related as they are to the dominant preoccupation with death. This assumption appears especially apposite for the prominent topics of toil, (thwarted) knowledge of good and evil, sin, and the positive recommendations to eat and embrace toil as God’s assignment to humanity.8

Toil: Genesis 3:6, 17b–18

Genesis 3:19 describes the long-term effect of human sin. The immediate effect is the necessity to toil for food, 3:17b–18; and it is precisely the issue of human toil that Q addresses at the outset of E (1:3, 13; 2:3; 3:9–10) and with which he is most preoccupied in its early chapters.


The theme of food and eating is conspicuous in Genesis 1–3, and in E: *’kl, ‘eat’, appears 25 times in Genesis 1–3, 14 times in E. Humanity rejects God’s provision of abundant ‘trees’ that are ‘good for food’, choosing to make his own greedy choice in the matter (Gn. 2:9; 3:6). He is therefore given over by God to the consequences of his foolish independence: he shall continue to provide his own food (3:173, 18, 19), but it will entail lifelong pain, frustration and sweat (3:17b, 18a, 19a), and it will end only with his death. Eating in E often has the same characteristics as in Genesis 3: it may be greedy and inappropriate (5:12b; 10:16; cf. 7:2, 4), self-destructive (4:5), and frustrated (5:11; 6:2, 7); it is painful, and that pain endures to the day of his death (5:16–17); the frustration is specifically ascribed to the working of God in 6:2.9


*ʿml, ‘work, labour’, etc. ‘Labour’ addresses our need to eat in E 6:7, as in Genesis 3:17–19. Genesis represents work by the more neutral term ‘cultivate’ (2:5, 15), but it acquires strong negative undertones in the light of God’s judgment (3:23; 4:2, 12). The pain associated with it after the fall is expressed primarily by the noun ‘toil/sorrow’ (ʿissabôn, 3:17; so 3:16; 5:29). E expresses the same concept of painful toil most distinctively by *ml, of which nearly half the OT occurrences are in this book: it regularly denotes labour as our universal lot, rendered fruitless and painful by his finitude, in which it corresponds precisely to Genesis 3:17–19.10

*ʿśh, ‘do, make’, etc. The prominence of ‘work’ as a keyword gains further emphasis from its alternation with this and the following word having similar connotations in E.11

Two passages involving this root show specific parallels with Genesis. E 2:4–11 contains the most explicit description of Q’s investigation of work and of his verdict upon it. The language of this section evokes that of God’s creative activity, especially with reference to Eden.12 However, there is no tree of life: human labour cannot recreate Eden or reverse the curse—hence Q’s frustration (2:11, 15, 21, 23) and despair (2:17–20). Another significant difference is the predominance of first person singular forms in E 2:4–11 (37 times), including nine occurrences of , ‘for myself/by me’; unlike Genesis 1–2, this is depicted as an entirely self-centred enterprise. Secondly, E 4:1–3 appears to be an allusion to Genesis 5:29 (cf. 3:17): both deal with man’s toil in a context of pain and evil (cf. Gn. 6:5, 11, 12); both give emphasis to the need for a ‘comforter’, which is essentially unfulfilled—there can be no comfort until the sting of death is removed.13

*ʿnh, ‘be occupied, afflicted’, etc.; ‘task’ The noun ‘task’ appears in the OT only in E (eight times), as part of the first major focus of Q’s scrutiny (1:13; 2:23, 26; 3:10; 4:8; 5:3, 14; 8:16) and with uniformly negative connotations. It denotes toil assigned by God to the sinner, with which he is ‘afflicted’ (1:13; so 3:10, nasb, ‘occupy …’). As such, it perfectly reflects the bitter nature of toil in Genesis 3, the consequence of our rebellion.

Knowledge of good and evil: Genesis 3:5–6:22

Human disobedience secures a capacity to know good and evil that is not overtly negated in Genesis 3:17–19 (cf. 3:22); but its firstfruits are fear and shame (3:7–10), and there is no divine admission that man has become wise (cf. 3:6)—the knowledge of good and evil becomes an ambivalent, confusing acquisition after the fall. The related issues of vision, good and evil wisdom/knowledge and folly represent the second major preoccupation of the book of E, in which their ambivalence mirrors that of Genesis 3:7.


Vision is a significant source of temptation in Genesis 3:5–7; but the opening of Adam and Eve’s eyes does not produce god-like behaviour. The same disappointment attends human vision in E. Q’s ‘seeing’ (passim) is largely dominated by pain and evil, frustration, and vanity. Human ‘eyes’ are unfulfilled, being darkened by folly and death (e.g. 1:8; 2:13–14; 11:7/8; 11:9/12:2, 3); only evil fills man in a permanent way (8:8; 9:3).

Good and evil

The adjective ‘good’ is extremely frequent in E, with a wide range of meaning—its 52 occurrences correspond only to’ Genesis 1–3 in density of usage (15 times). Its antithesis (evil, bad’, etc.) occurs 31 times, comparable only to Jeremiah (121 times; cf. Gn. 2:9, 17; 3:5, 22). Apart from the phrase ‘good and evil’, Genesis 1–3 normally employs ‘good’ with the verb ‘see’ to denote God’s evaluation of his world (e.g. 1:4ff.; contrast 3:6). The usage in E is similar, in that these terms generally refer to Q’s attempt to evaluate his world from his own experience; ‘see occurs 24 times in this way with Q as first person subject. His stated goal is to determine what is ‘good’ for man in his work (2:3).14 He is able to define good upon a specific, comparative basis, in the repeated statement that X is better than Y (16 times; e.g. 4:3–13). However, his perception of what is inherently ‘good’ is stated in negative terms: ‘there is nothing good … except to eat …’ (8:15; similarly 2:24; 3:12, 22)—human finitude robs us of the capacity to know ‘good’ in absolute terms (6:12; 11:6; cf. 11:2). The book therefore concludes fittingly with the knowledge and judgment of ‘good and evil’ restored to God (12:14).


*ydʿ, ‘know; knowledge’ Humanity sins in Genesis by grasping a capacity for knowledge forbidden at that time by God (Gn. 2:9, 17; 3:52, 7, 22); from that point, therefore, human knowledge is tainted by sin, and curtailed by death (Gn. 3:22–24). Q turns to the subject of knowledge (1:16–18; 2:12–23) after surveying that of toil (1:3, 13–15; 2:1–11); toil then predominates in E 3:1–6:7, and knowledge in 6:8–11:6.15 As in Genesis, human knowledge is beset with pain (1:16–18): it is corrupted by sin and folly, the correlates of wisdom and knowledge in Q’s investigation (2:12/21; 7:25; 4:13; 5:1; 10:15); and it is stunted and eclipsed by death (2:14, 21; 6:5; 9:10, 11), which represents the most prominent factor in Q’s widespread denial of knowledge to man (cf. 2:19; 3:21; 6:12; 8:7/8; 8:15–9:1/9:2; 9:12). Death epitomizes the finitude which excludes us from knowing our origins (11:5), our ‘good’ (6:12), our future (8:7; 9:1, 12; 11:2, 6), our fate beyond death (3:21), and the designs of God in whose hand are our life-breath and our ways (8:16–17; 11:5). Contrary to expectation, we have not become like God in knowing good and evil. Q vindicates the word of God and refutes the serpent’s denial of death by making the reality of death his central theme; and he exposes the promise of knowledge comparable to God’s as equally spurious.16 The knowledge admitted by Q comes from God (2:26; 12:9/11) and submits to reality on his terms.

*hkm, ‘wise; wisdom’ This word is also dominant in E (53 times; compare Proverbs—102 times, Job—28 times); its connotations and distribution are parallel to those of ‘know’, with which it is frequently correlated.17Q acknowledges the benefits of wisdom within this life (e.g. 9:16–18); but it operates in a world dominated by sin and death which constantly, and successfully, threaten to undermine it. It is therefore inaccessible to us in our finitude (7:232; 8:16, 17), and must be received as the gift of God (2:26; cf. 12:9, 11).



The fall. Few, if any, other OT texts provide so succinct and precise an account of the fall as E 7:29;18 and the ramifications of the fall echo in 9:18b (cf. Rom. 5:12–19, ‘one’) and 10:1. The supposed misogyny expressed in 7:26, 28, which seems at ‘variance with the commendation of 9:9, can be interpreted more harmoniously against this background of the fall. The archetypal woman envisaged in 7:26 is Eve, whose hands picked the fruit (Gn. 3:6, cf. 22) and whose snares bring deception and ‘death to herself and Adam alike (cf. E 9:12; 2 Cor. 11:3; 1 Tim. 2:14).19 The repeated reference to a ‘serpent’ in 10:8, 11 gains significance in the light of the other Genesis allusions.20


Universal sin. The spread of sin from Adam infects his descendants and rapidly reaches universal, catastrophic proportions (e.g. Gn. 4:7–11; 6:5–13; cf. Rom. 5:12). The universality of sin is stated several times in E (7:20 (compare 1 Ki. 8:46); cf. 7:16, 22; 7:29; 8:11; 9:3); and it is implicit in the universality of death, and of toil.21

Sin and death. Genesis clearly associates sin with death (Gn. 2:17; 3:3, 17–19; cf. Rom. 5:12–21). A similar connection emerges, in the course of E; it is stated most clearly in 9:3, where ‘evil’ and ‘insanity’ eventuate in death; similarly 7:17; 8:8; 8:11/13.


Pride. Genesis 3:5–8 portrays men and women in their pride as overreaching themselves, desiring to be like God yet unable to face him (cf. Is. 14:13–14; Ezk. 28:2–6, 12–17). They are therefore humbled by God through pain, toil, brevity of life and death, which force them to face their finitude (cf. Gn. 6:3; Ps. 90:10; Is. 14:15; Ezk. 28:7–11, 17–19). The same processes are central in E: humanity is humbled by God through toil (e.g. 1:13), through ignorance and weakness (e.g. 3:11), through a fleeting life and imminent death (e.g. 3:18–20). The wise man responds in the ‘fear’ of God (cf. Ps. 111:10; Prov. 1:7); he submits to God, acknowledging both his claim upon him (E 8:12; 12:13) and his own frailty and finitude in the face of that claim (3:14; 5:7/9:2; 7:16–18); and he is therefore fitted to recognize and cope with, although not to remove, the vicissitudes of life (e.g. 2:13–16; 8:1–8). The fool is the antithesis of the wise man, and the embodiment of pride: he asserts himself in the face of God’s claims, rejecting or ignoring the varied limitations to which he is subject and denying the distance which separates him from God (e.g. 4:13; 5:1–6; 7:2–17; 10:12–14); in his pride, he is not merely a victim of the fall but an active perpetuator of its ravages (e.g. 9:18–10:1).22

Greed. Not content with ‘every tree that is pleasing to the sight and good for food’, Eve and Adam must grasp for one more, only to lose them all (Gn. 2:9; 3:6, 23–24; cf. 1 Jn. 2:16). In E as in Genesis, greed is a correlate of pride, and unfulfilment is its consequence (4:4–8; 5:10–17; 6:1–9; cf. 1:8).

Injustice. The early effects of the fall are alienation and enmity (Gn. 3:8–16), as a result of which righteous Abel dies while Cain continues to live and perpetuate his line (4:3–17; cf. 1 Jn. 3:12–13). The themes of isolation and injustice are not especially distinctive in E, although they certainly fit the Genesis context.23However, the inverted fate of the righteous and wicked finds an archetype in Genesis 4 (E 7:15; 8:14; cf. 3:16–17; 10:5–7); the same is true of delayed judgment (3:17; 8:9–13), and of death as the unpredictable but common fate of righteous and wicked alike (9:1–3, 11–12).


hebel, ‘vanity’, expresses Q’s final verdict upon human existence, as indicated by its concentration in the summary inclusio (1:2/12:8) and by its recurrence as a refrain punctuating Q’s individual observations. Its concrete OT meaning of ‘vapour, breath’ (Prov. 21:6?; Is. 57:13) lends itself to the main derived ideas of transience and insubstantiality, exemplified in human mortality (e.g. Job 7:16; Ps. 39:5, 6, 11[6, 7, 12]; 62:92[102]; cf. Jas. 4:14); and in ineffective, futile activity (e.g. Job 9:29; 21:34), of which idolatry and sin are the epitome (e.g. Dt. 32:21). The concrete meaning is evoked in E by the repeated association with the ‘wind’, as in Isaiah 57:13. This association also reinforces its varied implications of transience and insubstantiality, since ‘wind’ is sometimes used similarly (e.g. Job 6:26; 8:2; Is. 26:18; 41:29); and it particularly emphasizes the theme of human mortality, ‘wind’ referring to the transience of the ‘spirit’ as well (e.g. E 1:6; 3:19, 21; 11:5; 12:7; Job 7:7; 12:10; 27:3; Ps. 78:39; 104:29). Death is in fact the main factor in Q’s assertion that all is vanity (see n. 4). Other factors include work (e.g. 1:14) and false motives in work (e.g. 4:4, 7, 8); the vicissitudes of wisdom (2:15; 4:16); folly (5:7[6]; 6:11) and foolish pleasure (2:1; 7:6); injustice (8:10?, 142; cf. 7:15). hebelrefers, in fact, to the same nexus of toil/sin/folly eventuating in death that is introduced in Genesis 3 and which finds its first outworking in Genesis 4:1–17. It can scarcely be coincidence, then, that the name of the first victim of this process is Abel (Hebrew hebel)! All is vanity because, like Abel, it is scarred by the madness of sin and swept away without warning by death. The term is so loaded with meaning that it virtually defies a unitary English translation; but perhaps ‘fallen’ (i.e., expressive of and/or destroyed by the fall) can capture most of its connotations within E (cf. Rom. 1:21; 8:20).24

Qoheleth’s conclusions

Q has concluded that there is no ‘advantage, profit’ in human activities under the sun: nothing is ‘left over’ by death; and the purchase of a spurious independence at the expense of life represents an unprofitable investment. There is, however, a small residue of ‘good’, to which Q reverts throughout the course of the book as he surveys the ruins of our fallen condition (2:24–26; 3:12–13; 3:22; 5:18–20; 8:15; 11:7–12:1; also 9:7–10, without specific reference to ‘good’). It is a deceptively unpretentious residue: to eat and to drink; to find good and joy in life, in activity and labour, and in marriage; to receive these things as a gift and allotment of God (cf.12:7).25 These are precisely the themes that predominate in Genesis 1–2: the goodness of God’s creation (14 times; note 1:31; 2:9, 18; life (14 times, especially 2:72, 9); food (7 times; note 1:29; 2:9, 16) and woman (2:18–25; cf. E 4:9–12) as God’s gifts; the allocation of work (2:5, 15; 3:23; cf. 1:26, 28).

Each of these elements of creation has been soured by the fall, as is reflected in E. The proliferation of what is good has been checked by the spread of evil; good is expressed in comparative or negative rather than absolute terms. Food is consumed in darkness, and frustration, and folly. Joy and toil are subject to frustration (1:14; 2:1, 2; 7:4). Life is a source of despair (e.g. 2:17; 4:2). Woman is more bitter than death (7:26). God gives man toil and limitations to humble him (e.g. 1:13; 2:26b; 3:10, 11; 6:2).

Thus, it is not possible to return to Eden (cf. 2:4–11). However, it is possible to return to the commands given in Eden, and this is the intent of 2:24–26 and its parallels: God has already approved our eating and work (9:7), because they were prescribed in Eden; our only sure knowledge derives, not from independent evaluation of good and evil, but from the revealed will of God. More fundamentally, it is possible to return to the God who created Eden—to remember him after forgetfulness (12:1), and to fear him after disobedience (5:6; 7:18; 8:122; 12:13). This, and not arbitrary cruelty, is the true intent of the restrictions he places upon humanity (3:14; cf. Gal. 3:23–24); and it is this which differentiates each activity recommended by Q from its darkened counterpart, because they are embraced as from the hand of God (cf. 2:24; 9:1). Joy is the reward and evidence of these attitudes—a reward which is never manifested in Genesis 1–3, where sin enters and snatches it away so quickly.26

Q Qoheleth

1 A review of the history of interpretation may be found in most recent commentaries and surveys: e.g., James L. Crenshaw, ‘Qoheleth in Current Research’, Hebrew Annual Review 7 (1983), pp. 41–56; idem, Ecclesiastes. A Commentary (Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1987), pp. 34–49; M.A. Eaton, Ecclesiastes: An Introduction and Commentary (Leicester: Inter-Varsity Press, 1983), pp. 36–43, 48f; Graham S. Ogden, Qoheleth(Sheffield: JSOT Press, 1988), pp. 9–12; Michael V. Fox, Qoheleth and His Contradictions (Sheffield: The Almond Press, 1989), pp. 19–28, 155–163; R.N. Whybray, Ecclesiastes (Grand Rapids: W.B. Eerdmans, 1989), pp. 17–28. Extensive bibliographies are given by Crenshaw, Ecclesiastes, pp. 11–22; Fox, Qoheleth, pp. 349–366; Diethelm Michel, Untersuchungen zur Eigenart des Buches Qohelet (Berlin: Walter de Gruyter, 1989), pp. 290–322.

E Ecclesiastes

2 Structural correlations are based upon repetition of the identical root or form. Discussion of structure is included in the preceding bibliographical references (n. 1); also, for instance, in François Rousseau, ‘Structure de Qohelet I 4–11 et plan du livre’, Vetus Testamentum 31 (1981), pp. 200–217, and Diethelm Michel, Qohelet(Darmstadt: Wissenschaftliche Buchgesellschaft, 1988), pp. 9–45. Biblical quotations in this article normally derive from the New American Standard Bible (nasb), since this version together with its marginal readings is sufficiently literal to reflect the underlying Hebrew vocabulary that is often a clue to the structure and intent of a passage. I follow nasb in using ‘man’ in its non-gender-specific meaning of ‘mankind’, in which it corresponds precisely to the Hebrew term ’adam.

3 Explicitly in 2:14–16, 18, 21; 3:2–4, 19–22; 4:2–3; 5:15–16; 6:3–6, 12; 7:1–4, 15–17; 8:8, 10, 13; 9:2–6, 10–12; 10:1.

4 2:15, 17, 19, 21; 3:19; 4:7, 8 (no heir); 6:2, 4; 6:12/9:92; 7:15/8:142; 8:10. Of the remaining 12 usages, at least six are related structurally or lexically to the same topic: 2:11, 23; 4:16; 6:9, 11; 7:6.

5 Going:


1:4, 62, 73;






5:152, 16;


6:4, 6; 9:10;












(cf. 6:8, 9; 7:22; 8:10; 11:9);




1:6, 7;










12:2, 72;








3:19, 212;








cf. the recurring phrase ‘striving after wind’).



6 The superscript numbers refer to single Hebrew words or roots: 1—*hlk, 1a—*sbb, 1b—*šwb; 2—‘eres, 2aʿāpār, 2b—’adāmāh; 3ʿôlām; 4—’el; 4aʿal; 5—rûaaḥ. The keyword ‘dust’ is found only in these texts within E; and no other OT uses of this noun are so clearly modelled upon the language of Genesis (cf. Job 10:9; 34:14–15/Ps. 104:29; Ps. 90:3). Within this frame of reference, it is also obvious that the common origin and destiny of man and beast in E 3:18–21 as a whole reflect the Genesis account: ‘breath’ (E 3:19, 212; Gn. 7:22 (cf. 2:7); 6:17; 7:15); ‘beast(s)’ (E 3:18, 192, 21 (only here in E); Gn. 1:24–26; 2:20; cf. 2:7/19); ‘die’ (E 3:192; Gn. 2:17; 3:3–4); and the term ‘man’ itself (E 3:18, 192, 21, 22 and a total of 46 times in E, 26 times in Gn. 1–3, 26 times in 4–9 (higher densities than in any other OT book or section)).

7 The first theme common to all of these passages, and stated most fully and compactly in 3:18–21, 22b, is that man dies under the sovereign decree of God: unable to transcend or master his limited existence, regardless of his personal attainments and status, he is cut off from the past and the future and ultimately from life itself. The central concepts are God; fate, death, spirit; advantage, vanity; all go to one place; come from/return to dust; man’s ignorance. The second theme is stated in 3:22a and its parallels: it is therefore good and wise to embrace life—with joy, because it is sweet, and with urgency, because it is fleeting. The prominent elements are the ‘nothing-better’ formula; eat/drink; joy; activity; lot; and God’s gift.

8 The principal exponents of such a connection have been Charles C. Forman, ‘Koheleth’s Use of Genesis’, Journal of Semitic Studies 5 (1960), pp. 256–263, and Hans Wilhelm Hertzberg, Der Prediger (Gütersloh: Verlagshaus Gerd Mohn, 1963), pp. 46, 111f., 227–231. Cf. also Robert Gordis, Koheleth, the Man and His World: A Study of Ecclesiastes, 3rd (augmented) edn (New York: Schocken Books, 1968), p. 43 (unchanged from the 1951 edn); Hagia Witzenrath, Süss ist das Licht (St. Ottilien: EOS Verlag, 1979), pp. 40–43; Eaton, Ecclesiastes, p. 46; and Whybray, Ecclesiastes, pp. 28–30. Virtually all commentators recognize that E 3:20 and 12:7 allude to Gn. 3:19; 2:7. For a detailed critique of Forman and Hertzberg, see Michel, Qohelet, pp. 68–72; cf. Crenshaw, Ecclesiastes, pp. 25, 38. The interpretation advanced here was stimulated in part by Hertzberg’s insights, but it develops the connections more systemically and comprehensively; I therefore consider it less vulnerable to Michel’s often telling criticisms of the isolated connections proposed by Forman and Hertzberg.

9 Hertzberg draws a number of parallels between Gn. 3:17–19 and E 5:15–17, Prediger, p. 229.

10 e.g. E 1:3; 2:18–22, where it is found 10 times; 4:4–9; 5:15, 16; 6:7; 8:17; 9:92 (30 times in E, 36 times throughout the rest of the OT). Its most prominent connotations elsewhere are those of pain (e.g. Job 5:6–7; Ps. 90:10) and sin (e.g. Job 4:8; Ps. 107:12), which would explain Q’s choice of this term over ‘labour’. Cf. Fox, Qoheleth, pp. 53–77.

11 For instance, 3:9 (cf. 1:3); 1:9, 1:14, and 2:11, 17 (cf. 2:18–19, 2:20–21); 4:1–4, 8:9–12 (associated with sin); 1:92, 142, 2:113, 172, 8:143, 9:3 (with pain and frustration).

12 Cf. ‘make, etc.’: 12 times in Gn. 1–3 of God, 6 times in E 2:4–11, of Q; ‘plant’: Gn. 2:8, E 2:4, *5; ‘garden’: 13 times in Gn. 1–3, E 2:5; ‘tree’: 20 times in Gn. 1–3, E 2:5, 6; ‘fruit’: 7 times in Gn. 1–3, E 2:5; ‘water’: 10 times in Gn. 1 (cf. 2:10–14), E 2:6; ‘to water’: Gn. 2:6, 10, E 2:6; ‘sprout, grow’: Gn. 2:5, 9 (cf. 3:18), E 2:6; ‘gold’: Gn. 2:11, 12, E 2:8.

13 The term ‘comfort’ (E 4:12) recurs in Gn. 5:29, ‘give … rest’, and 6:6, 7, ‘sorry’. Note also the form ‘rest’ in the next, related section on toil (E 4:6), from the same root as ‘Noah’ (Gn. 5:29).

nasb New American Standard Bible

14 Compare the different term ‘advantage, profit’ in 1:3; 3:9; 5:16; 6:8, 11.

15 The root appears in 1:16, 17, 18; 2:14, 19, 21; 26 times in 6:8–11:6; elsewhere in E 9 times. On knowledge and wisdom, cf. Fox, Qoheleth, pp. 79–120.

16 The participial form used in Gn. 3:5 (‘knowing’) occurs most frequently within the OT in E (14 times). Whereas it is positive in Gn. 3:5, it is usually negated in E.

17 E.g. 1:13, 16–18; 2:3, 12; 7:7, 16, 25; 8:16–17; 9:13–10:1.

18 The verb ‘made’ is regularly applied to God’s creation of man in Gn. 1–3 (e.g. 1:26; 2:18). While Q applies the adjective ‘good’ to man and his activities, 7:29 represents the only occasion in E where man is described as ‘upright’ or ‘straight, level’; since Adam’s fall, man and his world are rendered ‘crooked’ by sin and decay (1:15, 7:13; so 12:3—‘stoop’).

19 The ‘one man’ of 7:28 appears to be one who is not a ‘sinner’ (7:26). Within the context of Genesis, this might imply the isolated individuals of different generations who are chosen and accepted by God (4:4; 5:24; 6:8–9/9:1; 15:6; etc.). Within the context of the fall, this verse foreshadows the second Adam, who was in reality without sin (Rom. 5:14–15; 1 Cor. 15:21–22, 45).

20 The term is not especially common (31 times): apart from Gn. 3 (5 times) and this passage, only Num. 21 (5 times) and Is. 27:1 (2 times) show a similar density of repetition.

21 The sinner’s ‘task’ is previously assigned to all men (2:26; 1:13, 2:23, 3:10). The specific activity of ‘gathering’ and ‘collecting’ in 2:26 ironically, alludes to that of Q in 2:8, the only other use of either of these verbs in E; and Q, like all men, is equated with the ‘sinner’ in that what he has accomplished is ‘given’ to his successors after his death (2:21, 26). In E, the clear demarcation between wise and foolish, righteous and sinner, ultimately breaks down: even the wise man concludes his life in ‘darkness’ (2:13, 14; cf. 6:4; 11:8; 12:2, 3); even the ‘good’ are flawed, die and relinquish their property to others (2:262; 7:20; 9:2).

22 The correlation of good with wisdom (cf. 2:26) and of evil with folly (cf. 7:25; 9:3; 10:13) is suggested by the statistical occurrence of these concepts (*tôb, 52 times; *hkm, 53 times; raʿ, 31 times; *s/skl, *ksl, 31 times).

23 Particularly 4:1–3, treated above; cf. 4:8–12, 5:2, 8–9. The abuse and loss of authority evoke man’s failed dominion over creation (Gn. 1:26, 28; 2:15; 3:17–19; E 4:13; 7:7; 8:8–9; 9:17; 10:4–8, 16). On justice and theodicy in E, cf. Fox, Qoheleth, pp. 121–150.

4 2:15, 17, 19, 21; 3:19; 4:7, 8 (no heir); 6:2, 4; 6:12/9:92; 7:15/8:142; 8:10. Of the remaining 12 usages, at least six are related structurally or lexically to the same topic: 2:11, 23; 4:16; 6:9, 11; 7:6.

24 The equivalence of Abel/hebel has often been noted, but seldom as part of the Genesis pattern. On hebel in general, see Fox, Qoheleth, pp. 29–51.

25 The significance of the recurring theme of joy has been stressed by a number of scholars, and it is no longer usual to regard it as an invitation to hedonism; e.g. Étienne Glasser, Le procès du bonheur par Qohelet (Paris: Éditions du Cerf, 1970), pp. 179–190, 201–206; Rousseau, ‘Structure’, pp. 209–213; Ogden, Qoheleth, pp. 11–14.

26 The term ‘joy; rejoice’ is most widely associated with man’s proper response to God, in his worship and in his activities (e.g. Dt. 12:7, 12, 18; Ps. 4:7[8]; 5:11[12]; 30:11[12]; 32:11; and passim); cf. Rom. 14:17; Gal. 5:22; Phil. 4:4; 1 Pet. 1:18; etc.

David M. Clemens