|dc.description.abstract||This thesis is a close reading of Ecclesiastes 1.1-11 in the BHS edition of the MT of Qohelet.
Its main contention is that Ecclesiastes 1.3-11 is an exposition of the collocation that ends
1.2, of hakkol hevel, and that consequently, the best way to begin to understand hevel in
Ecclesiastes is to understand 1.3-11. Chapter 1 presents the scholarly conversation this
project enters while presenting some of the unresolved problems the primary text creates.
Answers to these problems are suggested, anticipated contributions enumerated. It has
not been shown to satisfaction how the first eleven verses of this book cohere or how its
various strands―involving Davidic Israel, Qohelet himself, and all creation―tie together.
This thesis aims to help remedy that situation. It shows Ecclesiastes not to be the black
sheep of the Hebrew Bible but in line with its whole corpus. Chapter 2 reads Ecclesiastes
1.1 as forming an allusive-inclusio with verse 11 which echoes the regnal history of Israel
from David to exile, thereby initiating the process of folding the story of Qohelet and Israel
into the creation account which follows. It is thus a primer for the two-word judgment
hakkol hevel which is summarised in verse 2 and unpacked in verses 3-11 and which
folds all things (hakkol) into one thing (hevel). Chapter 3 is a reading of Ecclesiastes 1.2
that discerns its final two words, hakkol hevel, as encapsulating the verse and determining
the verses that directly follow, namely Ecclesiastes 1.3-11. These two words carry the verbal
freight of hevel into the creation of 1.3-11 and suggest that if we want to understand hevel
we must understand the words that immediately follow and first explain it, verses 3-11.
Lastly, the way in which hevel appears in verse 2 suggests what verse 1 did, that Qohelet is
drawing on the sordid history of Israel to explain the state of all things in what follows.
Chapters 3-6 are a close reading of Ecclesiastes 1.3-11 that traces the dynamic of hakkol
hevel as it unfolds within creation, speaking both to the corrupt condition of creation and
of Israel, thus tying the two together. Chapter 4 reads Ecclesiastes 1.3-4 as showing man
and nature as distinct, connected by man’s painful toil, and thus characterised in their relationship
by a subtle animosity. Chapter 5 reads Ecclesiastes 1.5-7 as showcasing nature
as something characterised by man’s profitless toil but in its own way, through its endurance
as opposed to man’s transience. Chapter 6 reads Ecclesiastes 1.8 as the convergence-
point of the prologue, as the place where all creation becomes one, wearying thing
and thus succinctly reflects hakkol hevel, whose highly antithetical meaning is something
like everything is nothing. Verse 8 also hints at the reason for this cosmic fusion and dissolution:
it is man’s idolatry, something hevel often speaks to in the Hebrew Bible. Chapter 7
reads Ecclesiastes 1.9-11 as the consummation of this cosmic fusion and dissolution: in
these verses all time and space converge into one, wearying, forgettable and forgotten
thing. The process mimics the process of death and tells us about what hevel means, for
creation, and through Qohelet, for his people, Israel. This homogenisation of time and
space polemicises the Latter Prophets through allusion and counters the hope for Israel
and creation they proclaim. This is what hakkol hevel means for Qohelet. It means the
end of all things, including Israel, in death, and owing to idolatry. Even so, through echo
of the Hebrew Bible and in line with it, this prologue may hold out a glimmer of hope for
Israel and all things.||en