Translation talk:Ecclesiastes


This Hebrew word is difficult, because "young man" doesn't convey the right connotation of "choice man", the closest is probably "virile man". There is no great English word for a strong virile guy, as opposed to just a man of any age and build. 11:19, 29 August 2010 (UTC)


This book is an original translation from the masoretic Hebrew text, with occasional glances to a parallel public domain English translation or, when this didn't work, to King James, for the sole purpose of figuring out the meaning of difficult vocabulary words. The archaic texts were never consciously used for translation. A handful of times, one had to use a concordance or an online dictionary when this was insufficient, but no other sources were consulted. No more than one word of text at a time is derived from a source, and any textual parallelisms with other translations are accidental. 12:36, 19 September 2010 (UTC)


Thanks for all the work! I had fun updating it to better reflect the Hebrew and maintain consistency. Here are the reasons for all my changes in chapter 1:

Verse 1 – originally “mirage, mirage” and “All is.” Since the same Hebrew construction (הבל הבלים) is translated in one place as “vapid mirage” and in the other as “mirage, mirage,” I have made them both the same for consistency. “All is” in Hebrew is כל. This is הכל, literally “the whole is” or “everything is.”

Verse 2 – originally “what benefits a man.” This is a noun (benefit), not a verb (to benefit). The lamed signals possession (has/owns).

Verse 4 – originally “with the earth.” When a new subject is fronted with waw (instead of having the verb come before the new subject), this is typical syntax for a circumstantial clause. Thus, the waw means “as/when/while,” not “with.”

Verse 5 – originally “the sun comes to its place, striving to rise there again.” A) The Masoretic Text has a strong disjunctive accent after “comes.” Thus, the Masoretic Text cannot be translated “comes to...” B) Literally, the verbs at the start of the verse go like this: “the sun shines and the sun comes/enters.” But those verbs are idioms meaning the sun “rises” and the sun “sets.” If the first word is literal (shines), then the second should be literal (comes/enters). If the first is idiomatic (rises), the second should be idiomatic (sets). I have chosen one (idiomatic) for consistency. C) Added “and” to “to its place” since there is a waw there. D) Added “it” since there is a pronoun there. E) Since there is no “again” anywhere in the Hebrew, I deleted it.

Verse 6 – originally “and going round and round is” and “and so around it” and “returns.” A) For consistency, since the verb סבב is translated “to turn” at the start of the verse, I changed the participles of the same root from “round” to “turning.” I also connected the “going” with the “is” since they represent the same verb. B) The preposition על does not mean “so.” It means “on/upon/over” etc. C) “Around it” is not a possible translation because “it” refers to the wind. Instead, this means “its circuits/courses.” Translated “its turns” for consistency with the same root everywhere else in the verse. D) Since “turn” is used so often, shifted “return” to “goes back” to make smoother English.

Verse 7 - “and the sea” and “the place” and “to go.” A) Since the waw is adversative, I changed it to “but.” B) Translation was lacking something for preposition אל (to/toward), so I added it. C) Since the verb “to go” is translated everywhere else in this verse as “to flow,” I changed the last verb to “flow” for consistency.

Verse 8 – originally “all things” and “are tiresome; no man can speak of them” and “will sate” and “seeing them” and “will fill” and “hearing them.” A) Since there is a definite article attached to “things,” I indicated the definiteness with “these.” B) Since the second clause is resultative, I changed it from “are tiresome; no” to “are so tiresome that.” Also, “man” is distributive and does not refer only to males, so I changed it to “one.” Since there is no “of them” in the Hebrew, I deleted it. Finally, the strong disjunctive accent is better represented by a period than a comma. C) “Will sate” is extremely awkward in English. Plus, parallelism with the Niphal “will be filled” indicates a passive sense to this verb (will be sated). D) There is no “them” after “seeing,” so I deleted it. E) The verb is Niphal (will be filled) not Qal (will fill). F) There is no “them” after “seeing,” so I deleted it.

Verse 9 – originally “there is” and “nothing new.” A) There is a waw before “there is” that is not represented. It is, I believe, an emphatic waw – quite common in Hebrew poetry – meaning “yes/indeed/certainly.” B) “nothing new” is missing a translation of כל (all). I have added it.

Verse 10 – originally “For anything” and “will be said” and “It has been there forever” and “in the past.” A) “If” makes better sense of the conditional statement than “for.” Also, the particle of existence (there is) is missing from the translation, so I added it. B) The verb is either impersonal or passive, thus I changed it to “it is said.” C) The translation was missing any rendering of the particle “already,” so I added it. The verb “to be” can be rendered her “has been,” but it also means “has existed” or “existed” or “was.” There is no “there,” so I deleted it. Although does לעלמים mean “forever,” it also means “in the past” or “in ancient times.” D) “in the past” is an extreme paraphrase. The Hebrew literally says “that was before us.”

Verse 11 – originally “the first ones” and “and to the last ones” and “they will leave no memory” and “if they will be the last.” A) As the context makes clear, this is not about the “first and last” but the “former and latter.” B) Since the previous lamed was rendered “of,” I changed it from “to” to “of” for consistency. Since the גם (also/even) was not translated, I fixed that. Since the verbal phrase שׁיהיו was not translated, I fixed that too. C) The verb is singular, not plural. It refers to the memory, not “they.” Parallelism with the start of the verse “there is no memory” also makes this evident. Literally, “it will not be for them a memory.” D) There is no “if” (אם). There is, however an “among” (עם). There is no verb meaning “to leave.” There is on meaning “to be/exist.” So I added it. Finally, the phrase לאחרנה is adverbial. It means “after/later,” not “last.”

Verse 13 - originally, “I endeavored in my heart” and “over everything” and “men.” A) The Hebrew is, litearlly, “I gave my heart.” It is an idiom meaning “I endeavored.” The original rendering was a double rendering of the same phrase. B) “over” is awkward in terms of the English meaning, which is “concerning/about.” C) The “business” was not given only to “men” but to all who belong to the category “human being.” The original translation misrepresents the text, thus I changed it.

Verse 14 - originally, “here it is all” and “mirage and herding the wind.” A) The Hebrew is not כל (all), but הכל (the whole). B) The word “wind” is in construct with “herding,” it is not the object of the verb. Literally: “herding of wind.”

Verse 15 – originally, “be made straight” and “the wants” and two “coulds.” A) לתקן is a Qal infinitive (to be/become straight), not a Hiphil infinitive (to make straight) or Hophal infinitive (to be made straight). Translation changed to reflect the appropriate stem. B) “the wants” is not English. And the Hebrew is not plural. I changed it to “the missing.” C) “could” is more appropriate for modal imperfects. “Can” or “able to” is more appropriate for יכל.

Verse 16 – originally, “I spoke” and “own heart” and “grown” and “to my knowledge” and “everything which has set.” A) The Hebrew is emphatic here (adds an extra pronoun to the verb) in a way that it often isn't outside of Qohelet. That style or characteristic of Qohelet's speech/writing was not represented in the original translation. I have thus made it so. B) My “own” heart is still “my heart” (not someone else's). There is nothing emphatic in the Hebrew as in the verb+pronoun construction noted above. Thus “own” is superfluous. C) “I have grown” is Qal. This is Hiphil. Literally, “I have made great.” Thus, I changed it to “magnified.” D) there is no “my knowledge,” only “knowledge.” And the word “knowledge” is not great - it really means “wisdom/skill/expertise/sagacity.” But I decided to leave it. E) The “all” refers to “all people,” not “all things.” Qohelet is contrasting himself with all other people, not all other things.

Verse 17 – originally, “gave my heart” and “to know” and “madness.” A) Switched “gave my heart” to “endeavored.” See note on verse 13. B) The Hebrew changes suddenly from “to X” (with a lamed) to “X” (no lamed). I changed the English to reflect the change in Hebrew. C) Only in the Hithpolel does this word mean “madness.” This is not the Hithpolel. It is a D-stem. In that stem, it is a synonymn of “foolishness.”

Verse 18 – originally, “he who.” Qohelet is quoting a proverb, which means this should apply universally (as is the nature or intent of proverbs). Thus, it should apply equally to “she who.” But “he who” does not apply to “she who.” Therefore, I have changed it to “one who” to better reflect the meaning and intent of the text.

--Slaveofone (talk)

Thank you for the editing effort. This allows a review process regarding the translation choices. Several of the changes are corrections of slight misreadings, and in nearly all places I agree with your interpretation. Other changes are judgement calls, or style issues, and a few of your choices seem to improve the tone. But many of your choices are in conflict with certain principles of translation which I adopted. I would like to list these principles, and then which of your specific changes conflict with those principles (I hope you will come to accept the principles, they are important, and balance them with your own principles):
1. Preserve approximate syllable count, preserve the level of "naturalness" and "flow" along with the exact meaning of verses read as a whole.
When translating, other translations don't mind bulking up the Hebrew syllable count by adding extra syllables and obscure academic or modern sophisticated words to the text when they feel a word better matches the nuance of meaning that the individual translator discerns in the Hebrew text, usually looking at individual words using a concordance rather than reading the Hebrew text natively. This, when compounded over time, has an unfortunate effect of completely altering the style and tone of the text when read from beginning to end as a whole.
The Bible is often read in excerpts of single verses or phrases, and making each verse or phrase exactly match in word-choice and part-of-speech using bulky English constructions paradoxically ruins the readability and faithfulness of the text read fluently by the chapter. It makes the global text less faithful to the original Hebrew. This is difficult to discern if you aren't fluent in the original language, and if you don't read the _whole text of a chapter_ from beginning to end, both in the original and in translation, and make sure that the ease of flow of text is preserved, so that the English is as easy to read as the original. Quoting a passage of Habakkuk I incidentally translated here "Write it on the boards, and make the reader's eyes glide as they read it." Readability and reading-flow are a primary concern of Biblical authors, while it unfortunately is not usually a primary concern of most translators (with the notable exception of King James).
Also, doing this type of thing that ruins reading flow everywhere uniformly makes it difficult to see which parts of the Bible are not written well in the original. There are sections which are obscure and boring, and they don't stick out if the whole thing is translated to be obscure and boring.
I think it is likely that the reason Ben Gurion learned Spanish to read Don Quixote, and explained using the sentiment "good translation is impossible", is that as a fluent Hebrew speaker, he could see the butcher job translators did on the Bible. Really, it's pretty much the only book that gets ruined in this way in translation, because only in the Bible are translators so conscientious as to try to preserve the exact meaning of individual words, in lieu of preserving the exact meaning of the whole phrase and reading flow of the text as a whole. But it is extremely important to preserve individual words as closely as possible _as well_ as preserving the flow and tone, and when I translated, I tried to do _both at the same time_. This means that there are two effort at once--- the effort to match individual words to closest equivalents, while _simultaneously_ preserving the global flow and tone of the text.
The Bible's words are extremely simple Hebrew, at least compared to Shakespeare or Joyce, the vocabulary does not extend to 10,000 words, and nearly all of these are simple everyday vocabulary. The good parts of the Bible (like Ecclesiastes) are _extremely_ readable, you can't put them down! They are arresting, flowing, and poetic. The effect of using heavy words or unusual grammar unnecessarily is to jar the reading flow in English, to make it different than the Hebrew, and to produce a false sense of scholarly erudition, as opposed to precise poetry. Precise poetry, that the Bible has. Scholarly erudition? Nope. Not there. The writers only read a fraction of what we read today in their lifetime, they didn't read a daily paper, and their poetry was influenced by long oral tradition, and recitation of religious texts from earlier eras, not by reading erudite published academic discourse.
Using fancier words and more elaborate constructions than what is in the text not only changes the global meaning, it has the nature of producing a distancing effect of scholarly authority in the text, which is the opposite of the feeling for a native Hebrew speaker. In Hebrew, the Bible reads like extremely accessible folk-wisdom, written in everyday speech. This is to contrast with translations, which out of reverence, add language of authority unconsciously, because the text carries so much authority today. The text is not helped by this consideration, it suffers, because it makes it the text hard to read and follow.
For examples of where this principle is violated in the changes you made:
a. the seemingly minor changes "herding the wind" to "herding of the wind", while more precise in reflecting the Hebrew grammar, presents to you a choice between two constructions in English with exactly the same meaning, where one is a natural fluently readable construction in English, "herding the wind", and the less natural constructions "wind-herding" or "herding of the wind". I considered both "herding of the wind" and "wind herding" and chose "herding the wind" because it doesn't slow down the eye or jar the ear, it is equally natural as the construction in Hebrew, which has flow like a motherfucker, it's the alliterative and imagery compelling phrase "re'ut ruach". I think "herding the wind", while not sufficiently alliterative "wrangling the wind" would be closer still, is exactly identical imagery. "wrangling the wind", while equally alliterative and with the correct syllable count, has the unfortunate connotation of a lasso thrown around the wind, rather than a shephard trying to steer the wind to go this way or that, while "shepharding the wind" is too specific and too long, and "shepharding" has an unfortunate metaphorical meaning which makes the idea seem less useless than it is intended to appear. So I really believe "herding the wind" is optimal, matching in meaning, syllable count, and only lacking in alliteration. Simlilarly for "It is all mirage", the change to "It is all _a_ mirage" adds an unnecessary syllable, making 6 syllables, which changes the flow from the Hebrew which is "hakol havel ve-re'ut ru-ach" (4 syllables, 4 syllables). The second change is more minor than the first, because "a mirage" is not that much bulkier, but it does slow the flow down. Taken together, you rendered "hakol havel ve-re'ut ruach" to 12 syllables (It is all mirage and a herding of the wind), while I tried to make it exactly 9 syllables (all is mirage and herding the wind). I tried to be very careful with the naturalness and syllable count here, because the Hebrew is very flowing and extremely natural.
b. "I have magnified" rather than "I have grown". While the verb is Hif'il, in Hebrew, who cares. The verb tense is natural, it's "gadalti" which is extremely normal everyday phrasing for the exact sentiment "I have gotten bigger", with exactly the right connotations. You could say "magnified", but the word has an extra syllable, and the connotation is of magnifying glasses, magnificence, magnanimity, not exactly the same as "gadol", which is just "really big" (meaning in this case, big is property, not big in girth). while "I have grown" matches the nuance of property growth exactly, and has the same syllable count, so preserves the approximate meter. I don't like this change, because it is wrong to the text.
c. For verse 11, I completely agree that "first" and "last" _means_ "former" and "latter" in context, that is the correct interpretation of the Hebrew text. But the job of the translator is not to help the reader get the correct interpretation, but to translate the text so that the correct interpretation is equally natural in the target language. In this case, the _Hebrew words_ used in the text is exactly as the original translation--- harishonim and ha-achronim. These words mean "the first" and "the last" exactly and precisely, and it is _the reader_ who in both languages is expected to supply the interpretation that he is talking about earlier generations and much later generations. There is no reason to expect that an English reader is less capable of taking the direct language of "the first" and "the last" and do the same automatic interpretive dance that you did in Hebrew and convert these to "the earlier" and "the later", it is just as natural an interpretation in English as it is in Hebrew, the reading process is identical in both languages in the original phrasing. There is no need for the interpreter of language to be an interpreter of meaning, even when the interpretation is uncontroversially correct. In this case, the direct translations "the first" and "the last" precisely preserve the flow and syllable count (they actually reduce the syllable count in this case, and make the English flow slightly quicker than the Hebrew in this case, which is a plus, as it is the opposite of the usual error in translation of tight constructed flowing text).
d. In "all things are tiresome; no ear will sate from...", the change you made was to introduce a "so that" to make the "resultative" clause explicit in the English. I _agree_ that it is a cause-effect thing in the Hebrew, but the phrasing is as I gave it. In the original translation, it is the exact same construction in Hebrew and English, and the cause-effect relationship is just as apparent in the English without the over-explaining and interpreting which happens with the interoduced "so". The English reader immediately sees that "no ear will sate..." is a consequence of the previous thing. I agree that "be sated" is more natural, but I wanted to shorten the syllable count even further. But in this case, you are probably right that I produced an English that was too unnatural.
e. "What benefits a man" vs. "What benefits to a man"--- it's not like I didn't know that "the benefits" in the original are a noun, the words are "mah yitaron la-adam" in Hebrew, and in the translation "what benefits a man" they become a verb. But I believed then, and still do, that the natural phrase in Hebrew using the noun "yitaron" is simple and direct sentiment, and most correctly and immediately translated to the flowing phrase 'what benefits a man' rather than the limping "what benefits to a man" (which requires you to fill in some verb, like "what benefits will accrue to a man..." and this expands the syllable count inordinately). This was not a misreading, but a conscious translation choice to alter the part of speech so as to use nearly identical words in nearly identical order, preserving the meaning, but altering the grammar slightly so as to make the English phrase equally idiomatic and natural.
2. Preserve the imagery latent in invisible Hebrew metaphors.
This is difficult to explain--- it's a question of the cloud of meanings which associate with a word, even when stuck inside an invisible metaphor. It is important when translating to preserve the indirect meaning of phrases, including judiciously unpacking invisible metaphors into their constituents and making the constituents visible at least once somewhere. A good Biblical writer will use the parts of the phrase to add a layer of connotation which should not be made completely invisible by hiding the metaphor completely. For example, "panah elav", the translation, "he faced him", preserves the "face" word in the invisible metaphor, replacing it with an English invisible metaphor. Even though the correct translation of the exact meaning is "he turned to him", the turning is not the main invisible connotation in Hebrew, rather it is the "face" in "facing", so although "panah" as a Hebrew word, meaning "turned to face" has both connotations and the direct translation is "turned (to a person)", you need to be conscious of the "face" in there, and use the best English phrase that preserves the cloud of meanings around the Hebrew words.
a. The words "havel havelim" have a connotation of vapor and wispiness, and "mirage" is imperfect as a translation, but I still think it is close to optimal, as the Hebrew word in this case is rather unique. The reason I translated the first instance of "havel havelim" as "vapid mirage" is to produce an image association of vapor with mirage in the first instance, so that the connotation will hopefully carry through to the rest of the text. I still think this is the best solution, to introduce this inconsistency once, at the beginning, to preserve the correct cloud of associations later on.
I was not completely happy with mirage, and the addition of "vapid" made it marginally acceptable to my ears, because the idea of a "vapid mirage" gives you a sense of futility and uselessness which is exactly the correct sentiment, while at the same time allowing you to use "mirage" alone to substitute for "vapid mirage" later, with the connotation of vapor and futility coming along for the ride from the first usage. This single break in consistency in first usage is important and deliberate, to set up the slightly expanded intended meaning of "mirage" in this text, from the pure "illusion" connotation of the standard English usage, to the expanded connotation of "vapid illusion", "unimportant illusion", "futile illusion" which the "vapid" adds in what I thought was the correct degree.
b. "I set my heart to know", while in Hebrew, this is largely an invisible metaphor, the metaphor is not completely invisible like the indecomposable English word "endeavored", because the words "in my heart" is right there in the phrase. I chose "endeavored in my heart" to produce both the correct English translated direct meaning (endeavor) and also the correct associated image (in my heart), with the additional benefit that like in the Hebrew, it is clear that the main endeavor is entirely internal to the soul, not externally visible. Once this is established, the other uses of "strove in my heart" can be translated "endeavor" and the meaning is pretty much ok, because the cloud of associations is largely set by the first usage. But I am attached to the Hebrew metaphors, so I like to keep the imagery of Hebrew metaphors alive in the English, even though they become a little bit too visible in English. This is a style choice, but I think it is the correct style choice, because it preserves the other-language flavor of the text, and the metaphors are beautiful anyway, in whatever language, and usually apparent if translated judiciously.
c. Here is one you didn't change: "le-'anot bam" means "to torture them", but this is the wrong connotation in this text. I translated it to "to agonize over" and you kept it. This is an example where the imagery of the direct translation is clearly wrong, because the Hebrew sentiment is altered completely. So I am not claiming that this rule is inviolable, it requires judgement, and I appreciate the independent judgement.
3. Ignore stupid non-native tone-deaf grammar.
I am not at all impressed with grammatical subtleties people claim to discern in the text through deep intellectual study of the grammar and vocabulary, because I'm a native Hebrew speaker, so I read it fluently, and I don't see anything unusual or jarring in the grammar 98% of the time. It is important to learn Hebrew properly, that means, at least learn modern Hebrew natively, so that the text becomes fluently readable with only a minor picking up of vocabulary and getting used to the style. The feeling one gets for the roots, connotations, and for the grammar is superior in every respect to learned Yeshiva-style studying of the grammar rules (although it implicitly includes nearly all this study, because the learned Yeshiva intellectual study of the language was what the Hebrew language was reconstructed from in the early 1900s, although with some grammar alteration added from European languages). A native Hebrew speaker doesn't make the same types of errors that people who learn it by rote do, and you feel the correct reading nearly all the time without conscious effort (there are occasional errors, but nothing compared to the errors of non-native speakers).
The corrections which are not misreadings are the pedantic corrections of a non-native speaker, and as I explained, this is the main bugaboo in Bible translation. I believe the corrections that were grammatical are non-corrections, and make the text less readable.
a. in verse 15, "letkon" in Qal. "The crooked could not become straight", I agree yours is better, sometimes being a pedant helps! My choice was the usual translation choice, but yours is superior.
b. in verse 16, the "hineh" which is that crazy Kohelet emphatic, I didn't know what to do with! The "own heart" was added as a superfluous word to somehow produce the extra emphatic "hineh". That was not the optimal solution, I don't know the correct answer. Again, the pedantic reading is helping you.
c. verse 9 "kol"--- this case is overly pedantic, it does make it "there is nothing at all new under the sun", but this conflicts with syllable count. I think your correction is suboptimal.
I will edit the text to partially reverse some of the corrections, but not all of them. I think they were well thought out, and I hope I am not offending you.

Shemesh Bah[edit]

There is a line in Ecc 1, "The sun rises (vezarach hashemesh), u-vah hashemesh", which in the parallel construction seems to mean "The sun rises, and the sun sets...". This was given as idiomatic construction for sunset in the corrections above. I am not sure about this. The literal meaning is "the sun comes". In modern Hebrew, the sunset is "the sun sinks" (hashemesh shoka'at), but I am not sure of the Hebrew metaphor in Biblican Hebrew. I left it as "the sun sinks", because it seems to be consensus among translators, but it really doesn't seem right.

וְזָרַח הַשֶּׁמֶשׁ, וּבָא הַשָּׁמֶשׁ; וְאֶל-מְקוֹמוֹ--שׁוֹאֵף זוֹרֵחַ הוּא, שָׁם.

The reason is that the text reads more like a parallel construction, which emphasizes the sun rising and going to where it is supposed to go. The sentiment, to me, doesn't read like "the sun rises, the sun sets, and the sun rises again", because it doesn't say "the sun rises again" in the last part. It says the sun strives to get to it's place.

I believe that the second clause, "the sun comes", is NOT a metaphor for the sunset, I never saw it, and "coming" is not a good metaphor for "going". I think this is a mistranslation.

The proper translation seems to be "The sun rises, and the sun comes" (meaning, the sun moves across the sky) "and to it's place, it strives to shine, there." (meaning, it precisely finds the proper place at the proper time of day). There is no sunset that I can see.

I will wait for a response regarding this sunset business, but it really sounds completely wrong. The proper metaphor would be "And the sun goes" or "u-holech Hashemesh". "Bah" means "comes" and it doesn't mean "go away", as is what happens when the sun sets. But it could be from the point of view of the underworld, where the sun goes at night, it "comes" to the underworld, but I really doubt it, as this is as weird as it sounds in English.

I was wrong here, "Ubah hashemesh" is used as a metaphor for sunset in Genesis in the Abraham section regarding the offering on the altar where he splits everything. I will fix it.RonMaimon (talk) 08:07, 4 August 2017 (UTC)