Editing Ecclesiastes 1

This summer, in re-reading Ernest Hemingway’s novel, The Sun Also Rises, I was drawn to also re-read the beginning of the biblical book of Ecclesiastes, where Hemingway’s story found moral tethering. As I think everyone who revisits any part of the Holy Bible from time to time discovers, a familiar passage often supplies fresh meaning, new insights, and personal application. In my careful re-reading of Ecclesiastes 1, it seemed to me that for all the author’s knowledge and wisdom he still had much to learn. Despite his awareness of “vanity,” it seemed he was not fully aware of the extent to which his own vanity was clouding his vision. Then, I wondered how much my own vanity manages to cloud my vision considering that, like him, I have a pretty good opinion of myself in the wisdom-and-knowledge department.

To do a kind of across-the-centuries Martian mind-meld with King Solomon (the apparent author), I copied Ecclesiastes 1 as it appears in the King James Version and proceeded to: update and simplify the language; enhance the clarity of his overall message as presented; and imagine revisions he might want to make if I could ask him.

First, the KJV passage:

“The words of the Preacher, the son of David, king in Jerusalem: Vanity of vanities, saith the Preacher, vanity of vanities; all is vanity. What profit hath a man of all his labour which he taketh under the sun? One generation passeth away, and another generation cometh: but the earth abideth for ever. The sun also ariseth, and the sun goeth down, and hasteth to his place where he arose. The wind goeth toward the south, and turneth about unto the north; it whirleth about continually, and the wind returneth again according to his circuits. All the rivers run into the sea; yet the sea is not full; unto the place from whence the rivers come, thither they return again. All things are full of labour; man cannot utter it: the eye is not satisfied with seeing, nor the ear filled with hearing. The thing that hath been, it is that which shall be; and that which is done is that which shall be done: and there is no new thing under the sun. Is there any thing whereof it may be said, See, this is new? it hath been already of old time, which was before us. There is no remembrance of former things; neither shall there be any remembrance of things that are to come with those that shall come after. I the Preacher was king over Israel in Jerusalem. And I gave my heart to seek and search out by wisdom concerning all things that are done under heaven: this sore travail hath God given to the sons of man to be exercised therewith. I have seen all the works that are done under the sun; and, behold, all is vanity and vexation of spirit. That which is crooked cannot be made straight: and that which is wanting cannot be numbered. I communed with mine own heart, saying, Lo, I am come to great estate, and have gotten more wisdom than all they that have been before me in Jerusalem: yea, my heart had great experience of wisdom and knowledge. And I gave my heart to know wisdom, and to know madness and folly: I perceived that this also is vexation of spirit. For in much wisdom is much grief: and he that increaseth knowledge increaseth sorrow.”

The foregoing is generally taken to be a divinely-inspired philosophical expression of the meaninglessness of life, a canonized religious affirmation of the smallness of mere mortal personhood, and a prompting to see ignorance as bliss. The effect of this dim view has been to discourage people who accept it as “God’s word” from asking the big questions which are—in the minds of theologians and theologically copacetic social engineers—better left to the leaders of Church and Church-guided State. Now, here is the revised and more illuminating message that I envision an even older and wiser Solomon sharing today:

“What profit is gained by uninspired doing? One generation of mostly unenlightened individuals passes away and another succeeds it; this is the way life churns onward in Omniverse. As the sun also rises and goes down and hastens to return, the wind goes toward the south and turns toward the north, whirls about continually and returns again according to archetypal and mechanical patterns of Nature. All rivers flow into the sea, and yet the sea is never filled because the rivers keep ebbing back into their Source. Life-forms are in continuous pursuit of sensorial satisfaction defying description, yet that which has been is that which shall be, and that which is being done is that which shall be done; there is nothing truly new. Everything has always existed across the skeins of time that precede us although there are no memories of those seemingly former things, nor shall things to come be recalled by those who shall come after that—the Eternal sees the temporal entirely, including its purpose and meaning of each thing, but temporal humans have limited access to Eternal perspective. I have sought to be wise, to know, and to understand all things. Such is the daunting challenge presented to a few in every generation. In my personal quest, I have seen the workings of human nature and found it to be mostly vanity, which disturbs my self-centric spirit because that which is crooked, in my thinking, cannot make straight despite my best efforts. It upsets me to face that this is true for every vain desire; yet I persist, and such desires are beyond numbering. Although I gain wisdom and knowledge daily, and even though my use of that wisdom and knowledge produces achievements meaningful to me, and though I allow myself to experience the contrasts of madness and foolishness along the way, my increasing wisdom tends to increase my grieving, and my expansion of knowledge is too often accompanied by expansion of my sorrows. But despite this turbulence, I remind myself daily that I am the embodiment of Source Energy Awareness and, therefore, able to release all grieving and sorrows by seeing them as springboards to inevitably ever-greater experiences of peace and happiness.”

This proposed revised version would, I believe, have served Hemingway’s mortal sojourn far better than the original version which strengthens the erroneous idea of a God that—if real in any sense, and alive at all—is separate and apart from human being, and perpetuates the falsehood that life is futile and essentially pointless. Omniverse is a festive carnival, a celebration of life, for those who can see it as such.

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