It’s funny: for a guy who went to a Catholic school, I really don’t remember much about the Bible. We had religion classes once a day during my entire tenure there, but I never cottoned to my school’s limp-wristed, social justice interpretation of Christianity, and I doubt anyone else in my class did either. It was like an unwritten agreement between the students and the school: we’d pretend to take the God stuff seriously, and in exchange we’d get a diploma from a high school that would impress every employer within a 90-mile radius. The only part of the Bible I ever liked was the Song of Songs.
So I took a greater than normal amount of pleasure from reading Ecclesiastes.
One of the newest releases from OVO impresario Trevor Blake, an e-book version of a book from the Bible seems an odd thing for an ardent atheist to release, at least if you know nothing about Ecclesiastes. One of the most celebrated books of the Bible, Ecclesiastes is a meditation on the nature of our world, its trials and tribulations, and the daily grind that human beings go through to survive. As one of the most interesting chapters of arguably the most influential book in human history, Ecclesiastes is a worthy buy.
What makes this edition of Ecclesiastes a good purchase is the convenient features Trevor has built into it. Ecclesiastes includes both Spanish and German translations (from the 1569 Antigua Sagradas Escrituras Version and the 1534 Luther Bible, respectively; the English version is from the 1611 King James Bible), giving you added value for your money. Additionally, Trevor has made this an interlinear volume by including links to the other translations beside each verse, letting you jump between the different versions at will. For example, here’s a verse from the English version:
[ES][EN][DE] 1:6 The wind goeth toward the south, and turneth about unto the north; it whirleth about continually, and the wind returneth again according to his circuits.
The “[ES]” and “[DE]” link to the Spanish and German versions of Ecclesiastes 1:6, respectively, making this edition of Ecclesiastes a great buy for the multilingual. Trevor’s use of the King James Bible edition for the English version was also a smart move, as its Shakespearian style will appeal to those who are unfamiliar with the Bible.
But more than that, Ecclesiastes is one of the classic philosophical texts of Western civilization for a reason.
Ecclesiastes is narrated by Koheleth, introduced as one of the kings of Jerusalem, and the book purports to be his wisdom on life. Koheleth expounds that human affairs are inherently unreliable, with death and time working to unmake everything that men create. Ultimately, the only thing we can do is enjoy life while we still have it:
10:12 The words of a wise man’s mouth are gracious; but the lips of a fool will swallow up himself.
10:13 The beginning of the words of his mouth is foolishness: and the end of his talk is mischievous madness.
10:14 A fool also is full of words: a man cannot tell what shall be; and what shall be after him, who can tell him?
Returning to the Bible after nearly a decade out of high school, what struck me about Ecclesiastes was how un-Christian it reads, or at the very least how un-Christian it sounds compared to mainstream Christianity. Indeed, in Koheleth’s conception of the world, God barely figures at all, except as an authority figure beyond death’s grip, something that is ultimately unknowable. Ecclesiastes is focused on the here and now, on making the most of the moment before death comes to claim us all.
Not only that, even by Biblical standards, Ecclesiastes is unusually pessimistic, even misanthropic.
Koheleth is consistently doubtful of humanity’s ability to learn from its mistakes. No one ultimately knows the end goal of wisdom and what is best for men, and anyone who does claim to know is arrogant beyond belief and dangerous. Do you really need me to point out the relevance of this assertion? Look around us; the people who claim to know what’s best for humanity are the ones driving it to extinction. Presidents launching pointless wars; communists forcibly redistributing crops at gunpoint; social justice warriors who think children as young as five should be allowed to get sex change operations; the list goes on.
If my teachers had pointed me to Ecclesiastes, I probably would have paid more attention in class.
I have two problems with Trevor’s edition of Ecclesiastes, both relatively minor. The first is that like with his compilation of Raoul Vaneigem’s works, he fails to include an introduction of any kind. While this isn’t as big a deal considering that there’s plenty of scholarship on the Bible already, it makes the book seem somewhat incomplete. Additionally, for some reason, the Spanish-language volume comes before the English version, despite the fact that the primary audience of Ecclesiastes is native English speakers. Again, it’s not a big deal considering you can just skip to the English version using the Table of Contents, but it seems odd.
Aside from these two dings, Ecclesiastes is a great buy. If you’re not familiar with the Bible, you need to read it so you can better understand Western philosophy and thought. If you are familiar with the Bible, Trevor’s take on Ecclesiastes makes for a nice addition to your collection.
Click here to buy Ecclesiastes.