In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Ecclesiastes/Qohelet

  • Introduction
  • Texts and Versions
  • Language
  • Composition and Structure
  • General Treatments
  • Literary-Rhetorical Studies
  • Social Location Hermeneutics
  • Theology and Ethics
  • Ancient Near East
  • History of Interpretation

Biblical Studies Ecclesiastes/Qohelet
Timothy J. Sandoval, Marcus Hayes
  • LAST REVIEWED: 21 March 2024
  • LAST MODIFIED: 21 March 2024
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195393361-0015


As Carol Newsom remarks in her review of scholarship on Ecclesiastes (Qohelet), in discussions of the history of research on this book it is almost impossible to resist quoting two of its most famous verses: “Of making many books there is no end” and “There is nothing new under the sun.” The huge number of publications that seek to interpret Qohelet verify the truth of the first statement. The second statement is also largely true, as scholars often rehearse and offer variations on lines of interpretation that have been well established for decades or even centuries. This is so whether the investigators are discussing anew Qohelet’s late dating in the Hellenistic period, and the nature of the text’s language that supports such a dating, or the influence of Greek philosophy on the sage and the likewise clear influence of ancient Near Eastern texts, or the book’s generally unorthodox flavor but very orthodox-sounding conclusion. Yet from ancient times, the enigmatic, multivalent text of Qohelet has never failed to evoke a range of responses that escape neat and simple categorization, so that there has, in fact, always been something at least relatively new in Qohelet scholarship, whether it be yet another proposal about Qohelet’s literary structure or the contention that Qohelet is best viewed as a “preacher of joy” rather than a gloomy pessimist or cynic. Although most studies of Qohelet are undertaken in the traditional historical-critical vein that has dominated modern biblical scholarship for most of the last two centuries, in the last decade or so there have been a number of studies that, although obviously informed by historical critical scholarship, have attempted to move beyond those categories with “new” forms of analysis. These (post)modern studies, published mostly in English, tend to emphasize hermeneutical issues, the role of readers, and the literary-rhetorical features of the text. They also tend to undertake what is sometimes called synchronic rather than diachronic analysis. Whatever label one chooses to apply to these works, they reflect a broader trend in biblical studies that welcomes newer and diverse approaches, methods, and questions. For scholars with sympathy to such approaches, it is perhaps only surprising that, with a few significant exceptions, serious study of Qohelet in this vein only began in the late 1990s. Indeed, Qohelet, which perhaps more than any other biblical book has defied scholarly attempts to wrest singular meaning from its pages, almost calls out for such analysis.

Texts and Versions

Biblia Hebraica Stuttgartensia (Elliger and Rudolph 1977) contains the standard critical edition of the Hebrew book of Qohelet (Ecclesiastes), although the Megillot fascicle of Biblia Hebraica Quinta is also available (see van der Schenker, et al. 2004–). Both BHS and BHQ present the text of a single manuscript, the Leningrad Codex, and they include a critical apparatus. F. W. Dobbs-Allsopp and Eunny P. Lee are preparing the eclectic text of the Megillot (versus presenting the text of a single manuscript) for the Oxford Hebrew Bible Project, which has yet to appear. Hendel 2008 outlines the rationale and method behind the production of the Oxford Hebrew Bible. The Septuagint book of Ecclesiastes is the most important of the ancient versions; it is a literalistic translation of the Hebrew in the style of Aquila, although most do not regard it to be the work of Aquila himself. The critical edition of the LXX of Qohelet in the Göttingen Septuagint Project has not appeared. However, the Greek text of Ecclesiastes in the Deutsche Bibelgesellschaft’s handbook edition of the LXX (Rhalfs and Hahnhart 2006) remains easily accessible. The Qumran manuscripts (see Ulrich 1992) are fragmentary and contain a few significant variants. According to Seow 1997 (p. 10; cited under Modern Commentaries Available in English, 1997–Present), the Syriac (see Lane 1979) is “probably a translation of the Hebrew,” although at points it is “dependent on the Greek,” while the Targum (see Sperber 1968 and Knobel 1991) is “both paraphrastic and interpretive.” The readings of the Latin Vulgate (see Weber and Fischer 1963) “generally coincide” with the Masoretic text.

  • Elliger, K., and W. Rudolph, eds. Biblia Hebraica Stuttgartensia. Stuttgart: Deutsche Bibelstiftung, 1977.

    The most widely used critical edition of the Hebrew Bible, including Ecclesiastes, produced by the Deutsche Bibelgesellschaft. Biblia Hebraica Stuttgartensia (BHS) reproduces the text of the Leningrad Codex and includes a critical apparatus, which for Ecclesiastes was prepared by F. Horst.

  • Hendel, Ronald. “The Oxford Hebrew Bible: Prologue to a New Critical Edition.” Vetus Testamentum 58.3 (2008): 324–351.

    DOI: 10.1163/156853308X302006

    Outlines the rationale and method of the Oxford Hebrew Bible as well as the nature of its critical apparatus and its relation to other critical editions of the Hebrew Bible (e.g., the Biblia Hebraica of the Deutsche Bibelgesellschaft and the Hebrew University Bible).

  • Knobel, P., ed. The Aramaic Bible: The Targums. Vol. 15, The Targum of Job/The Targum of Proverbs, John F. Healey and Céline Mangan; The Targum of Qohelet, Peter S. Knobel. Edinburgh: T & T Clarke, 1991.

    Offers an English translation of the Targum of Qohelet; includes an introduction and notes.

  • Lane, D. J. “Qoheleth.” In The Old Testament in Syriac. Vol. 2.5. Edited by S. P. Brock and M. J. Mulder. Leiden, The Netherlands: Brill, 1979.

    The standard critical edition of the Peshitta (Syriac) of Qohelet, with introduction and critical notes.

  • Rhalfs, Alfred, and Robert Hahnhart, eds. Septuaginta, id est Vetus Testamentum graece iuxta LXX interpretes. Stuttgart: Deutsche Bibelgesellschaft, 2006.

    Until the Göttingen Septuagint Project’s edition of Ecclesiastes becomes available, Rhalfs’s semicritical handbook edition remains available. Hahnhart has preserved Rhalfs’s work from the 1935 edition, but corrects numerous errors.

  • Sperber, Alexander, ed. The Bible in Aramaic. Vol. 4a, The Hagiographa: Transition from Translation to Midrash. Leiden, The Netherlands: Brill, 1968.

    Presents the Hebrew text of the Targum of Qohelet.

  • Ulrich, Eugene. “Ezra and Qoheleth Manuscripts from Qumran (4QEzra, 4QQohA,B).” In Priests, Prophets and Scribes: Essays on the Formation and Heritage of Second Temple Judaism in Honour of Joseph Blenkinsopp. Edited by E. Ulrich, Philip R. Davies, Robert P. Carroll, and John W. Wright, 139–157. Sheffield, UK: JSOT Press, 1992.

    Presents and evaluates the Qohelet manuscripts from Qumran. The larger of the two manuscripts, 4QQohA, was originally published by James Muilenburg.

  • van der Schenker, Godman, A. Shenker, Yohanan A. P. Goldman, and G. J. Norton, eds. Biblia Hebraica Quinta. Stuttgart: Deutsche Biblegesellschaft, 2004–.

    Biblia Hebraica Quinta (BHQ) is the still-incomplete fifth critical edition of the Hebrew Bible published by the Deutsche Bibelgesellschaft that will succeed BHS. Like BHS, BHQ reproduces the Leningrad Codex and includes a critical apparatus. The Megillot fascicle is available; Qohelet was edited by Yohanan A. P. Goldman.

  • Weber, R., and Bonifatius Fischer, eds. Biblia Sacra iuxta Vulgatam Versionem. 3d ed. Vol. 2. Stuttgart: Deutsche Bibelgesellschaft, 1963.

    Contains the (Latin) Vulgate of Ecclesiastes with critical apparatus.

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