"Vanity of Vanities," Saith the Preacher

April 28, 2020

Tanakh and Old Testament

Vol. 44 pp. 335-341 of The Harvard Classics

Three hundred years before Christ, a preacher in Jerusalem complained that there was no new thing under the sun. Everything considered new had really existed in the time of the fathers. Sophisticated and modern is this writer of 2,300 years ago.


[1]  THE WORDS of the 1 Preacher, the son of David, king in Jerusalem.

[2]  Vanity of vanities, saith the Preacher; vanity of vanities, all is vanity.

[3]  What profit hath man of all his labor wherein he laboreth under the sun?

[4]  One generation goeth, and another generation cometh; but the earth abideth for ever.

[5]  The sun also ariseth, and the sun goeth down, and hasteth to its place where it ariseth.

[6]  The wind goeth toward the south, and turneth about unto the north; it turneth about continually in its course, and the wind returneth again to its circuits.

[7]  All the rivers 2 run into the sea, yet the sea is not full; unto the place whither the rivers go, thither they go again.

[8]  All 3 things are full of weariness; man cannot utter it: the eye is not satisfied with seeing, nor the ear filled with hearing.

[9]  That which hath been is that which shall be; and that which hath been done is that which shall be done: and there is no new thing under the sun.

[10]  Is there a thing whereof it may be said, See, this is new? it hath been long ago, in the ages which were before us.

[11]  There is no remembrance of the former generations; neither shall there be any remembrance of the latter generations that are to come, among those that shall come after.

[12]  I the Preacher was king over Israel in Jerusalem.

[13]  And I applied my heart to seek and to search out by wisdom concerning all that is done under heaven: it is a sore travail that God hath given to the sons of men to be exercised therewith.

[14]  I have seen all the works that are done under the sun; and, behold, all is vanity and a 4striving after wind.

[15]  That which is crooked cannot be made straight; and that 5 which is wanting cannot be numbered.

[16]  I communed with mine own heart, saying, Lo, I have gotten me great wisdom above 6all that were before me in 7 Jerusalem; yea, my heart hath 8 had great experience of wisdom and knowledge.

[17]  And I applied my heart to know wisdom, and to know madness and folly: I perceived that this also was a striving after wind.

[18]  For in much wisdom is much grief; and he that increaseth knowledge increaseth sorrow.

Note 1. Heb. Koheleth. 
Note 2. Or, torrents. 
Note 3. Or, All words are feeble. 
Note 4. Or, a feeding on wind (see Hos. 12. 1) Or, vexation of spirit and so elsewhere. 
Note 5. Heb. defect. 
Note 6. Or, yea, more than all. 
Note 7. Heb. over. 
Note 8. Heb. hath seen abundantly. 


[1]    I SAID in my heart, Come now, I will prove thee with mirth; therefore 1 enjoy pleasure: 2 and, behold, this also was vanity.

[2]  I said of laughter, It is mad; and of mirth, What doeth it?

[3]  I searched in my heart how to cheer my flesh with wine, my heart yet guiding 3 me with wisdom, and how to lay hold on folly, till I might see what it was good for the sons of men that they should do under heaven all 4 the days of their life.

[4]  I made me great works; I builded me houses; I planted me vineyards;

[5]  I made me gardens and parks, and I planted trees in them of all kinds of fruit;

[6]  I made me pools of water, to water therefrom the forest where trees were reared;

[7]  I bought men-servants and maid-servants, and had servants born in my house; also I had great possessions of herds and flocks, above all that were before me in Jerusalem;

[8]  I gathered me also silver and gold, and the treasure of kings and of the provinces; I gat me men-singers and women-singers, and the delights of the sons of men, musical 5instruments, and that of all sorts.

[9]  So I was great, and increased more than all that were before me in Jerusalem: also my wisdom remained 6 with me.

[10]  And whatsoever mine eyes desired I kept not from them; I withheld not my heart from any joy; for my heart rejoiced because of all my labor; and this was my portion from all my labor.

[11]  Then I looked on all the works that my hands had wrought, and on the labor that I had labored to do; and, behold, all was vanity and a striving after wind, and there was no profit under the sun.

[12]    And I turned myself to behold wisdom, and madness, and folly: for what can the mando that cometh after 7 the king? even that which hath been done long ago.

[13]  Then I saw that wisdom excelleth folly, as far as light excelleth darkness.

[14]  The wise man’s eyes are in his head, and the fool walketh in darkness: and yet I perceived that one event happeneth to them all.

[15]  Then said I in my heart, As it happeneth to the fool, so will it happen even to me; and why was I then more wise? Then said I in my heart, that this also is vanity.

[16]  For of the wise man, even as of the fool, there is no remembrance for ever; seeing that in the days to come all will have been long forgotten. And how doth the wise man die even as the fool!

[17]  So I hated life, because the work that is wrought under the sun was grievous unto me; for all is vanity and a striving after wind.

[18]    And I hated all my labor wherein I labored under the sun, seeing that I must leave it unto the man that shall be after me.

[19]  And who knoweth whether he will be a wise man or a fool? yet will he have rule over all my labor wherein I have labored, and wherein I have showed myself wise under the sun. This also is vanity.

[20]  Therefore I turned about to cause my heart to despair concerning all the labor wherein I had labored under the sun.

[21]  For there is a man whose labor is with wisdom, and with knowledge, and with skilfulness; 8 yet to a man that hath not labored therein shall he leave 9 it for his portion. This also is vanity and a great evil.

[22]  For what hath a man of all his labor, and of the striving 10 of his heart, wherein he laboreth under the sun?

[23]  For all his days are but sorrows, and his travail is grief; yea, even in the night his heart taketh no rest. This also is vanity.

[24]    There is nothing better for a man than that he should eat and drink, and make his soul enjoy good in his labor. This also I saw, that it is from the hand of God.

[25]  For who can eat, or who can have 11 enjoyment, more 12 than I?

[26]  For to the man that pleaseth him God giveth wisdom, and knowledge, and joy; but to the sinner he giveth travail, to gather and to heap up, that he may give to him that pleaseth God. This also is vanity and a striving after wind.

Note 1. Or, and thou shalt enjoy. 
Note 2. Or, good. 
Note 3. Or, holding its course. 
Note 4. Heb. the number of days of their life. 
Note 5. Or, concubines very many. The meaning of the Hebrew is very uncertain. 
Note 6. Or, stood by me. 
Note 7. Or, after the king, even him whom they made king long ago?Or, after the king, in those things which have been already done? 
Note 8. Or, success. 
Note 9. Heb. give. 
Note 10. Or, vexation. 
Note 11. Or, hasten thereto. 
Note 12. Acc. to Sept. and Syr. apart from him. 


[1]    FOR everything there is a season, and a time for every purpose 1 under heaven:

[2]  a time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up that which is planted;

[3]  a time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to break down, and a time to build up;

[4]  a time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance;

[5]  a time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones together; a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing;

[6]  a time to seek, and a time to lose; a time to keep, and a time to cast away;

[7]  a time to rend, and a time to sew; a time to keep silence, and a time to speak;

[8]  a time to love, and a time to hate; a time for war, and a time for peace.

[9]  What profit hath he that worketh in that wherein he laboreth?

[10]  I have seen the travail which God hath given to the sons of men to be exercised therewith.

[11]  He hath made everything beautiful in its time: also he hath set eternity 2 in their heart, yet so that man cannot find out the work that God hath done from the beginning even to the end.

[12]  I know that there is nothing better for them, than to rejoice, and to 3 do good so long as they live.

[13]  And also that every man should eat and drink, and enjoy good in all his labor, is the gift of God.

[14]  I know that, whatsoever God doeth, it shall be for ever: nothing can be put to it, nor anything taken from it; and God hath done it, that men should fear before him

[15]  That 4 which is hath been long ago; and that which is to be hath long ago been: and God seeketh again that which is passed 5 away.

[16]    And moreover I saw under the sun, in the place of justice, that wickedness was there; and in the place of righteousness, that wickedness was there.

[17]  I said in my heart, God will judge the righteous and the wicked; for there is a time there for every purpose 6 and for every work.

[18]  7 said in my heart, It is because of the sons of men, that God may prove them, and that they may see that they themselves are but as beasts.

[19]  For that which befalleth the sons of men befalleth beasts; even one thing befalleth them: as the one dieth, so dieth the other; yea, they have all one breath; 8 and man hath no preeminence above the beasts: for all is vanity.

[20]  All go unto one place; all are of the dust, and all turn to dust again.

[21]  Who knoweth the spirit of 9 man, whether 10 it goeth upward, and the spirit of the beast, whether 11 it goeth downward to the earth?

[22]  Wherefore I saw that there is nothing better, than that a man should rejoice in his works; for that is his portion: for who shall bring him back to see what shall be after him?

Note 1. Or, matter. 
Note 2. Or, the world. 
Note 3. Or, to get good. 
Note 4. Or, That which hath been is now. 
Note 5. Heb. driven away. 
Note 6. Or, matter. 
Note 7. Or, I said in my heart concerning the sons of men, It is that God &c. 
Note 8. Or, spirit. 
Note 9. Heb. of the sons of men. 
Note 10. Or, that goeth. 
Note 11. Or, that goeth. 


[1]    THEN I returned and saw all the oppressions that are done under the sun: and, behold, the tears of such as were oppressed, and they had no comforter; and on the side of their oppressors there was power; but they had no comforter.

[2]  Wherefore I praised the dead that have been long dead more than the living that are yet alive;

[3]  yea, better 1 than them both did I esteem him that hath not yet been, who hath not seen the evil work that is done under the sun.

[4]    Then I saw all labor and every skilful 2 work, that for 3 this a man is envied of his neighbor. This also is vanity and a striving after wind.

[5]  The fool foldeth his hands together, and eateth his own flesh.

[6]  Better is a handful, with 4 quietness, than two handfuls with 5 labor and striving after wind.

[7]    Then I returned and saw vanity under the sun.

[8]  There is one that is alone, and he hath not a second; yea, he hath neither son nor brother; yet is there no end of all his labor, neither are his eyes satisfied with riches. For whom then, saith he, do I labor, and deprive my soul of good? This also is vanity, yea, it is a sore travail.

[9]  Two are better than one, because they have a good reward for their labor.

[10]  For if they fall, the one will lift up his fellow; but woe to him that is alone when he falleth, and hath not another to lift him up.

[11]  Again, if two lie together, then they have warmth; but how can one be warm alone?

[12]  And if a man prevail against him that is alone, two shall withstand him; and a threefold cord is not quickly broken.

[13]    Better is a poor and wise youth than an old and foolish king, who knoweth not how to receive admonition any more.

[14]  For out of prison he came forth to be king; yea, even in his kingdom he was born poor. I saw all the living that walk under the sun, that they were with the youth, the second, that stood up in his stead.

[15]  There 6 was no end of all the people, even of all them over whom he was: yet they that come after shall not rejoice in him. Surely this also is vanity and a striving after wind.

Note 1. Or, better than they both is he that &c.
Note 2. Or, successful.
Note 3. Or, it cometh of a man’s rivalry with his neighbor.
Note 4. Or, of.
Note 5. Or, of.
Note 6. Or, There is no end, in the mind of all the people, to all that hath been before them; they also &c.


[1]    KEEP thy foot when thou goest to the house of God; for to draw nigh to hear is better than to give the sacrifice of fools: for they know not that they do evil. Be not rash with thy mouth, and let not thy heart be hasty to utter anything  before God; for God is in heaven, and thou upon earth: therefore let thy words be few.

[2]  For a dream cometh with a multitude of business, 2 and a fool’s voice with a multitude of words.

[3]  When thou vowest a vow unto God, defer not to pay it; for he hath no pleasure in fools: pay that which thou vowest.

[4]  Better is it that thou shouldest not vow, than that thou shouldest vow and not pay.

[5]  Suffer not thy mouth to cause thy flesh to sin; neither say thou before the angel, 3 that it was an error: wherefore should God be angry at thy voice, and destroy the work of thy hands?

[6]  For in the multitude of dreams there are vanities, and in many words: but fear thou God.

[7]    If thou seest the oppression of the poor, and the violent taking away of justice and righteousness in a 4 province, marvel not at the matter: for one higher than the high regardeth; and there are higher than they.

[8]  Moreover 5 the profit of the earth is for all: the king himself is served by the field.

[9]    He that loveth silver shall not be satisfied with silver; nor he that loveth abundance, with increase: this also is vanity.

[10]  When goods increase, they are increased that eat them; and what advantage is there to the owner thereof, save the beholding of them with his eyes?

[11]  The sleep of a laboring man is sweet, whether he eat little or much; but the fulness of the rich will not suffer him to sleep.

[12]    There is a grievous evil which I have seen under the sun, namely, riches kept by the owner thereof to his hurt:

[13]  and those riches perish by evil adventure; 6 and if he hath begotten a son, there is nothing in his hand.

[14]  As he came forth from his mother’s womb, naked shall he go again as he came, and shall take nothing for his labor, which he may carry away in his hand.

[15]  And this also is a grievous evil, that in all points as he came, so shall he go: and what profit hath he that he laboreth for the wind?

[16]  All his days also he eateth in darkness, and he is sore vexed, and hath sickness and wrath.

[17]    Behold, that 7 which I have seen to be good and to be comely is for one to eat and to drink, and to enjoy good in all his labor, wherein he laboreth under the sun, all 8 the days of his life which God hath given him: for this is his portion.

[18]  Every man also to whom God hath given riches and wealth, and hath given him power to eat thereof, and to take his portion, and to rejoice in his labor—this is the gift of God.

[19]  For he shall not much remember the days of his life; because God answereth him in the joy of his heart.

Note 1. Or, a word.
Note 2. Or, travail.
Note 3. Or, messenger of God. See Mal. 2. 7.
Note 4. Or, the state.
Note 5. Or, But the profit of a land every way is a king that maketh himself servant to the field (or, is a king over the cultivated field).
Note 6. Or, travail.
Note 7. Or, that which I have seen: it is good and comely for one &c.
Note 8. Heb. the number of the days.

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