February 7, 2011

Ecclesiastes

Ecclesiastes is a philosophical book that deals with the "ignorance is bliss" issue that many of us that are lucky enough to be able to educate ourselves often end up pondering. The author (King Solomon according to my Bible) essentially says that while it is better to be wise than foolish, wisdom alone won't make you any better off than a fool because both the fool and the wise man will end up in the dirt anyway. The happy find a happy-medium.

I was kind of taken aback by this book to be perfectly honest. I even  had to reread certain parts of it. I was surprised because despite being an atheist, the message from Ecclesiastes sort of mirrors my own philosophical sense of what the meaning of life is. We're all going to die. There is no afterlife, so let's make the most of our time here on earth.

Needless to say I really agree with the outlook in this book of the Bible. Yet, I feel perplexed. It just doesn't sound very Bible-esque. On a couple of occasions it says in pretty clear terms that there isn't an afterlife. I'm pretty curious to see how this is clarified by that Jesus guy when I get to the New Testament.

Since this is a book that emphasizes the importance of being happy in your life and with what you do in it, I'd like to leave you with Ecclesiastes 9.7:
Go, eat your bread with enjoyment, and drink your wine with a merry heart; for God has long ago approved what you do.
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I decided to read the Bible a few years ago. Not as an angry atheist with an ax to grind, nor as a crazed evangelical looking to spread the word of God. I'm reading it from the perspective of a level-headed man that's curious what the most influential book in history has to say. These are some of my thoughts on the experience. Click here to read some previous entries.

13 comments:

  1. Having read the bible, I feel no better for it. I'll be honest, it's a tough read because of the number of contradictions. I had to read it for school once, and while the stories are incredible in the way an Aesops fableis, some of it doesn't make sense.

    Come on, you had to scratch your head when you got to Leviticus.

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  2. Well, I'm no Jesus guy, but I think as with all reads, the Bible is entirely your interpretation of its stories. It's so subjective. I don't think anyone can walk you through it and tell you precisely what it means. Someone may be able to lay the groundwork for you, may be able to shed a little light historically speaking, but the truth is yours alone to discover.
    So you see, I think in 9.7, you're kind of being told the same thing: Eat, drink and be merry; don't read into it too much; don't sweat the small stuff.
    The Bible's great because it covers all ground. You don't need to be of any particular religious persuasion to relate to it.
    I like this one:
    "To everything there is a season, a time for every purpose under heaven..." Ecclesiastes 3:1
    Doesn't that make it all so much better? ;)

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  3. Interesting. Must admit, I'm not familiar with this chapter. I grew up in the church and studied parts of the Bible, but not all of it. Revelations freaks me out!

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  4. Cool… I’m not as familiar with Ecclesiastes as I am with many other parts of the Bible.

    Maybe I’ll go have another look now.

    I will say a couple things about your great observations, though:

    1) The idea of an afterlife was… mostly undeveloped at the time Ecclesiastes was written. The ancient Hebrews at most probably only had a vague notion of a place called Sheol where people just sort of… half-existed after death. Christianity probably borrowed the whole “judgment” concept from Zoroastrianism, not Judaism.

    2) Old Testament books were often attributed to legendary figures. Moses, for instance, was said to have written the Pentateuch even though he DIES in it. King Solomon probably didn’t write this one...

    I’m going to have to go check out your prior entries about the Bible. I’d like to see what people get out of the Book of Daniel…

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  5. Ecclesi-what mate? I am a bit out of touch with the Bible but this sounds like interesting reading.

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  6. Yeah, one of the many contradictory little (or huge) things 'the book' espouses, especially Ecclesi-blah blah.
    Katydid has hit it right on the noggin in stating that the ancient Hebrews only had a vague kinda understanding of the concept of an 'afterlife' whatever that means.
    On a totally different tangent I was thinking about the 'book' the other day and entertained the thought, 'what if was written in 2011 and that type of stuff was bought in to the editorial gang? They would go nuts.
    'Hang on buddy, your story is all over the shop, firstly you are saying this, then Ishmael starts doing that, then Leviticus pipes up and comes up with a completely different story. Don't get us started on all the crazy talk about seven headed beasts, the pigs jumping off the cliff, the ban on women entering the temple when they have their period and that crazy story about Sodom....'

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  7. I'd love to read the bible from a purely literary viewpoint. During our lectures on Pullman and Milton it was pointed out to us that it was written and re-written by a bunch of different authors over a long period of time. This point was illustrated with the different writing styles evident in the first book of Genesis.

    P.S.
    Thank you! It needs an ending and some polish before it sees paper, but it's an ok rough.

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  8. LOL, I'm so glad you added the end note in there, because the whole time I read your post I was distracted by the "why the heck is an athiest reading the bible?" thought. :D

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  9. YAY! God wants me to eat my bread! YAY!

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  10. K. Syrah: There have been a ton of head-scratchers. Particularly the first 5 books where they lay down the laws. It's a very tough read, I agree. I've been at it since 2006, quite the project.

    Jayne: There were a lot of verses I really enjoyed in this book to be honest. I actually enjoy the more subjective parts, everything that isn't subjective I find a little ridiculous to be honest, so I like those parts.

    Talli: It does sound rather trippy! I'm looking forward to that one... if I ever get there.

    Katy: Hey, if Moses can part the Red Sea then he can write from behind the grave!

    I haven't gotten to Daniel yet, still a few books to go before I get there. Which will probably be a couple of years considering I started this in 2006.

    David: A lot of it is pretty tough to read but this was one of the more interesting ones.

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  11. Dan: Or imagine if Christians were as rabid about plot consistency as Trekkies. Their heads would explode.

    Peridot: It's been an interesting if a tough read. Really have to be committed to it. And your welcome!

    Tracy: Ha, well I actually started this whole thing when I was still an agnostic. It's been a long process, glad to clarify though.

    Kev: God definitely approves of carbs.

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  12. Hey Christopher,

    I've been pondering how to reply to this post for a while. You've probably picked up along the way that I am a believer. I've read the bible through more than once and tend to read a little something from it every day. I know the first books are difficult and especially for someone with no previous knowledge, so I applaud your efforts. Just for the record, I wasn't raised in a Christian home, per se, and my conversion experience as a teen was a little unusual, though it has stuck for thirty years and I don't anticipate a change of heart :)

    So when it comes to the bible, new readers have to keep in mind that it was written over several generations by many different people of every walk of life. Despite this, the main theme of the bible remains true. Not to mention the mathematical probability of any of the prophetic elements coming to pass in the way they did to be almost nil outside some kind of divine inspiration.

    If you're truly serious about reading the bible and understanding it (and it appears that you are) I'd recommend to you the bible I've been reading for near 20 years called The Quest Study Bible. Scholars handed out portions of the bible to a thousand people asking the participants to ask them questions. These questions are answered along side the text. Also, prior to each book of the bible, there is a page that tells when it was written and by whom and what to look for when you read it.

    For example the questions on the first page of Ecclesiastes: Does nothing satisfy? Why does the writer say nothing is new? Is life meaningless? Has God put a burden on us? Why does wisdom cause sorrow?

    These questions are particularly helpful when trying to understand the cultural reference or historical significance.

    I'd be happy to answer any questions you may have (though I'm not a scholar--I'd give it my best shot!)

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  13. Elle: Thank you so much for such a thoughtful response! I actually do have a bit of prior experience with the Bible. I was raised Lutheran, went to Sunday School every weekend and even participated in youth group activities. Lack of exposure definitely isn't the reason I'm an atheist. This is however the first time I've read through the Bible as an adult so I naturally have a bit of a different experience. As you can imagine I tuned a lot of it out when I read through back before I was confirmed.

    I've been fascinated by religion since a very young age. There are contradictions within the Bible just as with any other religion or philosophy. I was lucky enough when I was young to have a rather open minded pastor who didn't mind answering the questions I had. I was really impressed when he said that while the Bible is a great guide for life, it is still a book written by men so it is inherently flawed because men are inherently flawed. Because I've had influences that were willing to discuss religion with me from a young age I'm not one of those bitter atheists that don't believe because things that don't make any sense were forced down their throat. I've actually had a good relationship with the church. I still even help out from time to time if my mom says they need another hands, it makes her happy and I don't mind doing a good deed here or there.

    I'm an atheist because despite all of that I've never felt that personal connection to God that people are always talking about. I love the stories from a philosophical point of view the way I love any of the great tales told throughout history but unless something miraculous happens I don't see myself becoming a believer anytime soon.

    Thanks for the tip on the study Bible. I'm reading the one I got when I was confirmed but I might ask my Dad if he has a copy of that version. I think he owns just about every version ever written.

    I hope that gives you some insight into my thinking and dealings with religion. I really do appreciate all the care and thought you've put into your response. It means a lot to me.

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