New English Translation
15 So I thought to myself, “The fate of the fool will happen even to me![a]
Then what did I gain by becoming so excessively[b] wise?”[c]
So I lamented to myself,[d]
“The benefits of wisdom[e] are ultimately[f] meaningless!”
16 For the wise man, like[g] the fool, will not be remembered for very long,[h]
because[i] in the days to come, both will already have been forgotten.[j]
Alas,[k] the wise man dies—just like[l] the fool!
17 So I loathed[m] life[n] because what
happens[o] on earth[p] seems awful to me;
for all the benefits of wisdom[q] are futile—like chasing the wind.
- Ecclesiastes 2:15 tn The emphatic use of the first person common singular personal pronoun אֲנִי (ʾani, “me”) with the emphatic particle of association גַּם (gam, “even, as well as”; HALOT 195-96 s.v. גַּם) appears to emphasize the first person common singular suffix on יִקְרֵנִי (yiqreni) “it will befall [or “happen to”] me” (Qal imperfect third person masculine singular plus first person common singular suffix from קָרָה, qarah, “to befall; to happen to”); see GKC 438 §135.e. Qoheleth laments not that the fate of the wise man is the same as that of the fool, but that even he himself—the wisest man of all—would fare no better in the end than the most foolish.
- Ecclesiastes 2:15 tn The adjective יוֹתֵר (yoter) means “too much; excessive,” e.g., 7:16 “excessively righteous” (HALOT 404 s.v. יוֹתֵר 2; BDB 452 s.v. יוֹתֵר). It is derived from the root יֶתֶר (yeter, “what is left over”); see HALOT 452 s.v. I יֶתֶר. It is related to the verbal root יתר (Niphal “to be left over”; Hiphil “to have left over”); see HALOT 451-52 s.v. I יתר. The adjective is related to יִתְרוֹן (yitron, “advantage; profit”) which is a key-term in this section, creating a word-play: The wise man has a relative “advantage” (יִתְרוֹן) over the fool (2:13-14a); however, there is no ultimate advantage because both share the same fate, i.e., death (2:14b-15a). Thus, Qoheleth’s acquisition of tremendous wisdom (1:16; 2:9) was “excessive” because it exceeded its relative advantage over folly: it could not deliver him from the same fate as the fool. He had striven to obtain wisdom, yet it held no ultimate advantage.
- Ecclesiastes 2:15 tn Heb “And why was I wise (to) excess?” The rhetorical question is an example of negative affirmation, expecting a negative answer: “I gained nothing!” (E. W. Bullinger, Figures of Speech, 949).
- Ecclesiastes 2:15 tn Heb “So I said in my heart.”
- Ecclesiastes 2:15 tn Heb “and also this,” referring to the relative advantage of wisdom over folly.
- Ecclesiastes 2:15 tn The word “ultimately” does not appear in the Hebrew text, but is supplied in the translation for clarity.
- Ecclesiastes 2:16 tn The preposition עִם (ʿim, “with”) may occasionally function in a comparative sense, meaning “together with; even as; like” (e.g., Eccl 1:11; 2:16; 7:11; Job 9:26; 1 Chr 14:10: 20:6; 25:8; see HALOT 839 s.v. עִם 2). When used to describe a common lot, it connotes “together with” (Gen 18:23, 25; 1 Chr 24:5; Job 3:14, 15; 30:1; Pss 26:9; 28:3; 69:29; Isa 38:11), hence “like” (Pss 73:5; 106:6; Eccl 2:16; see BDB 767-68 s.v. עִם 1.e).
- Ecclesiastes 2:16 tn As HALOT 798-99 s.v. עוֹלָם and BDB 762-64 s.v. עוֹלָם note, עוֹלָם (ʿolam) has a wide range of meanings: (1) indefinite time: “long time; duration,” (2) unlimited time: “eternal; eternity,” (3) future time: “things to come,” and (4) past time: “a long time back,” that is, the dark age of prehistory. The context here suggests the nuance “a long time.”
- Ecclesiastes 2:16 tn The preposition ב (bet) on בְּשֶׁכְּבָר (beshekkevar, the adverb כְּבָר [kevar, “already”] plus relative pronoun שֶׁ [she] plus preposition ב) is probably best classified as causal: “Because…already.”
- Ecclesiastes 2:16 tn The verb נִשְׁכָּח (nishkakh) is a future perfect—it describes an event that is portrayed as a past event from the perspective of the future: “they will have been forgotten.” The emphasis of the past perfect is not simply that the future generations will begin to forget him, but that he will already have been forgotten long ago in the past by the time of those future generations. This past perfect situation is brought out by the emphatic use of the temporal adverb כְּבָר (kevar) “already” (HALOT 459 s.v. I כְּבָר; BDB 460 s.v. I כְּבָר); see, e.g., Eccl 1:10; 2:12, 16; 3:15; 4:2; 6:10; 9:6-7.
- Ecclesiastes 2:16 tn The particle אֵיךְ (ʾekh, “Alas!”) is an exclamation of lamentation and mourning (e.g., 2 Sam 1:19; Isa 14:4, 12; Jer 2:21; 9:18; Ezek 26:17; Mic 2:4); see HALOT 39 s.v. אֵיךְ 5; BDB 32 s.v. אֵיךְ 2; also E. W. Bullinger, Figures of Speech, 955.
- Ecclesiastes 2:16 tn The preposition עִם (ʿim, “with”) may occasionally function in a comparative sense, meaning “together with; even as; like” (e.g., Eccl 1:11; 2:16; 7:11; Job 9:26; 1 Chr 14:10: 20:6; 25:8); see HALOT 839 s.v. עִם 2. When used to describe a common lot, it connotes “together with” (Gen 18:23, 25; 1 Chr 24:5; Job 3:14, 15; 30:1; Pss 26:9; 28:3; 69:29; Isa 38:11), hence “like” (Pss 73:5; 106:6; Eccl 2:16); see BDB 767-68 s.v. עִם 1.e.
- Ecclesiastes 2:17 tn Or “I hated.”
- Ecclesiastes 2:17 tn The term הַחַיִּים (hakhayyim, “life”) functions as a metonymy of association, that is, that which is associated with life, that is, the profitlessness and futility of human secular achievement.
- Ecclesiastes 2:17 tn Heb “the deed that is done.” The root עָשָׂה (ʿasah, “to do”) is repeated in הַמַּעֲשֶׂה שֶׁנַּעֲשָׂה (hammaʿaseh shennaʿasah, “the deed that is done”) for emphasis. Here, the term “deed” does not refer to human accomplishment, as in 2:1-11, but to the fact of death that destroys any relative advantage of wisdom over folly (2:14a-16). Qoheleth metaphorically describes death as a “deed” that is “done” to man.
- Ecclesiastes 2:17 tn Heb “under the sun.”
- Ecclesiastes 2:17 tn Heb “all,” referring here to the relative advantage of wisdom.