[Buddha-l] Koheleth

Dan Lusthaus vasubandhu at earthlink.net
Fri Jun 11 04:17:01 MDT 2010

Subject: [Buddha-l] Koheleth

> You warm the cockles of my heart, Franz, by your reference
> I've been reading this book in Hebrew for a decade now
> & am amazed it even "made the cut" for inclusion ...
> [you might have fun considering the word translated as vanity
> really means more like a vapor (no thing) ... ]
> Gary

Zalman Schachter calls Koheleth the "Daoist" book of the Bible. The "Vanity" 
translation is a legacy from the King James version, when apparently English 
speakers thought of the word "vanity" in the light of its root -- "to be in 
vain" -- rather than the narcissistic self-love that the word has acquired.

The Hebrew, HeVeL, can mean steam, and can apply to speech in the sense that 
we would say "hot air".

Koheleth (Ecclesiastes) 1:2 reads:

הֲבֵל הֲבָלִים אָמַר קֹהֶלֶת, הֲבֵל הֲבָלִים הַכֹּל הָבֶל

King James:
ECCLESIASTES 1:2 Vanity of vanities, saith the Preacher, vanity of vanities; 
all [is] vanity.

The key word, hevel, is defined thus in one of the better Hebrew-English 
online dictionaries:

הבל   (literary) steam, vapor ; breath ; (flowery) speech, utterance (esp. 
related to Torah, learned)

foolishness, nonsense, absurdity ; (flowery) for nothing, uselessly (as 

Morfix Dictionary:

Alternatively, Google dictionary:
   1. Vanity
   2. Vapor
   3. Futility
   4. Steam
   5. Folly
   6. Emptiness
   7. Blether

The Alcalay Dictionary offers similar definitions but stresses "in vain" in 
various forms and idioms, e.g. hevlei ha-olam hazeh = "the vain pleaures of 
this world".

As Shakespeare has Macbeth say: Life's but a walking shadow, a poor player 
who struts and frets his hour upon the stage and then is heard no more; it's 
a tale told by idiots, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.


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