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WTJ 78 (2016): 75-92


Matthew Seufert


he context of a piece of literature is almost as important as the litera-
ture itself. As with all literature, an understanding of the context(s) of
Ecclesiastes illuminates the book. Scholars consistently recognize the
importance of Egyptian and Mesopotamian wisdom texts, among others, for
the interpretation of the book.1 This article occupies itself with another of the
backgrounds in Ecclesiastes: the early chapters of the Book of Genesis (chs. 1–3).
This last background has not permeated scholarship on Ecclesiastes to
the extent of the others. Though all scholars, so far as I know, acknowledge
some relationship between the two books, a noticeable portion of them afford
Genesis a very small place within Ecclesiastes. Contrary to this tendency, it is
the contention of this article that the early chapters of Genesis pervade the Book of
Ecclesiastes. While the interpretational influence of this background both for
particular verses and the book as a whole deserves its own study, interpretational
concerns arise throughout the present article, and the closing offers some brief
analysis of the presented material towards an understanding of the influence
of the presence of Genesis on Ecclesiastes.

I. Scholarship in Review

As already mentioned, this article is not the first to suggest the use of Gen-
esis in Ecclesiastes. Nearly every commentator recognizes some relationship
between the two. The acknowledged presence, though, varies greatly in degree.
On the one side of the spectrum are Diethelm Michel and Elizabeth Huwiler.
In Michel’s interaction with Charles Forman and Hans Hertzberg, who both
argue for a widespread presence of Genesis in Ecclesiastes, he concedes to a
single occurrence where the vocabulary usage in Ecclesiastes is best explained

Matthew Seufert is a PhD candidate in Old Testament at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in
Louisville, KY.
1 Others include Babylonian, Persian, and Palestinian Hellenistic backgrounds. For a discus-

sion of various proposed influences, see C. L. Seow, Ecclesiastes, AB 17 (New York: Doubleday, 1997),
12–36, 60–69.


by a Genesis influence.2 As for the other apparent associations claimed by

Forman and Hertzberg, he attributes them to common ideas and vocabulary
which any individual of the same religious tradition would share. Thus, the
early chapters of Genesis have no essential function for Qoheleth’s content.3
Huwiler’s brief commentary makes only one Genesis reference (‫=הבל‬Abel).4
For Michel and Huwiler, the presence of Genesis is extremely limited.
Moving slightly towards more Genesis presence, C. L. Seow acknowledges
“sporadic allusions” to Gen 1–11.5 Roland Murphy’s commentary also evidences
this position. Murphy adduces four places of connection: Eccl 2:11, 3:19–20,
12:2, and 12:7. Both 3:19–20 and 12:7 “depend on Gen 3:19.”6 Ecclesiastes 12:7
uses “the images of Gen. 2:7,” and 2:11 is “perhaps a remembrance” of the
evaluation “good” in Gen 1.7 And he points out that light is a separate entity
in 12:2 and Gen 1. For Seow and Murphy, the presence of Genesis is limited.
On the other side of the spectrum are those who see a permeating pres-
ence of Genesis in Ecclesiastes. The first, so far as I know, to argue for any
extensive interaction between the two books was Duncan MacDonald. In his
1933 monograph The Hebrew Literary Genius, MacDonald asserts, “It is evident
that he [Qohelet] had read and pondered deeply the early chapters of Genesis
with their philosophy of life.”8 MacDonald finds agreeable correlations with
respect to their views of troublesome work (physical toil for Genesis; mental
for Ecclesiastes), nature’s orderliness, the transitory nature of life (Abel; hevel),
and man’s composition (body and spirit).9 He sees competing views of woman
(positive for Genesis; negative for Ecclesiastes) and God (revengeful and self-
protecting; capricious).10
Some of MacDonald’s ideas were picked up by Charles Forman’s 1960 article
“Koheleth’s Use of Genesis,” certainly the most influential and oft-quoted
work on the subject to date.11 In an earlier 1958 article, Forman wrote, “To

2 Concerning Eccl 3:20, he writes, “In der Tat scheinen die Entsprechungen zwischen Qoh

3,20 … und Gen 2,7; 3,19 … am besten durch die Annahme eines Einflusses erklärbar” (Diethelm
Michel, Qohelet [Darmstadt: Wissenschaftliche Buchgesellschaft, 1988], 70).
3 “Er mag dann zwar wie jeder Mensch von erlernten Begriffen und Vorstellungen seiner

religiösen Tradition abhängig sein und sie in seinem Sprachschatz verwenden—daß sie aber eine
wesentliche Funktion für den Inhalt seiner eigenen (philosophischen!) Konzeption hätten, ist
nirgends ersichtlich” (ibid., 72). The material presented here significantly enlarges upon Forman
and Hertzberg and is not susceptible to the same critique.
4 Ronald E. Murphy and Elizabeth Huwiler, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Song of Songs, NIBCOT 17–19

(Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 1999).

5 Seow, Ecclesiastes, 67.
6 Roland E. Murphy, Ecclesiastes, WBC 23a (Dallas: Word, 1992), xlvi. See also pp. 37 and 120.
7 Ibid., lxvii, 35.
8 Duncan Black MacDonald, The Hebrew Literary Genius: An Interpretation Being an Introduction

to the Reading of the Old Testament (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1933), 200–201.
9 Ibid., 111, 201–3, 207.
10 Ibid., 201, 204–5.
11 Charles C. Forman, “Koheleth’s Use of Genesis,” JSS 5 (1960): 256–63. At least this is true in

the case of American scholarship. Hertzberg has had more influence in German studies.

the S document of Genesis [i.e., chs. 1–11] Koheleth was attracted and heavily
In the more-noted 1960 article, he expounds upon and develops this claim
by comparing and contrasting various topics common to the two books, al-
leging, like MacDonald, that “Koheleth obviously knew Genesis and accepted
some of its presuppositions while occasionally taking issue with others.”13 He
compares the two authors’ positions on the natural order, man’s composition,
evil and human nature, women, human knowledge, vanity, toil, death, and the
nature of God. He concludes, “It is my contention that the early chapters of
Genesis represent the most important single influence on the ideas of Ecclesias-
tes regarding the nature and destiny of man, the character of human existence,
and the fact of God.”14
For both MacDonald and Forman then, the presence of Genesis is wide-
spread. The main influence of Genesis’s early chapters is on the “ideas of Eccle-
siastes.” Some compete with those of Ecclesiastes; others Qoheleth embraces
and expounds upon.
At about the same place on the spectrum are Hans Hertzberg and William
Anderson. Hertzberg thinks that Qoheleth wrote Ecclesiastes with Gen 1–4
before his eyes.15 He draws various connections between the two books mainly
through common phrases and vocabulary.16 Anderson’s 1998 study is more
focused. In it he explores “the possibility that Qoheleth was dependent on the
curse of Gn. 3:17–19 for the background to his leitmotif of work.”17
Hertzberg and Anderson, like MacDonald and Forman, hold to a widespread
presence of Genesis in Ecclesiastes. The presence is both in the realm of ideas
and vocabulary, the vocabulary much more so than put forth by MacDonald
and Forman.18
David Clemens and Bernard Maurer stand at the farthest point on the pres-
ence spectrum. Clemens’s 1994 article proposes “that [Ecclesiastes] is best

12 Charles C. Forman, “The Pessimism of Ecclesiastes,” JSS 3 (1958): 336–43.

13 Forman, “Koheleth’s Use of Genesis,” 256. Forman acknowledges MacDonald’s work on the

relationship between the two books but still comments, “The influence of the philosophy of the
first eleven chapters of Genesis … has been suggested more than once, but so far as the present
writer knows it has never been traced in detail” (ibid).
14 Ibid.
15 Hans Wilhelm Hertzberg and Hans Bardtke, Der Prediger/Das Buch Esther, KAT 17/4–5

(Stuttgart: Gütersloher Verlagshaus Gerd Mohn, 1963), 230: “Es ist kein Zweifel: das Buch Qoh ist
geschrieben mit Gn 1–4 vor den Augen seines Verfassers.”
16 See below. Some of his connections are used and enlarged upon throughout this article.
17 William H. U. Anderson, “The Curse of Work in Qoheleth: An Exposé of Genesis 3:17–19 in

Ecclesiastes,” EvQ 70 (1998): 99.

18 Radisa Antic could also be included in this group. His study relies heavily upon the ideas of

French scholars, which ideas for the most part are far-fetched and thus excluded from considera-
tion. For further discussion, see below. Antic’s study tries to show “how the characteristics portrayed
respectively by Cain, Abel, and Seth reappear in the book of Ecclesiastes” (Radisa Antic, “Cain,
Abel, Seth, and the Meaning of Human Life as Portrayed in the Books of Genesis and Ecclesiastes,”
AUSS 44 [2006]: 204).

understood as an arresting but thoroughly orthodox exposition of Genesis 1–3:

in both texts, the painful consequences of the fall are central.”19 He supports
his proposal by drawing out the parallels between the two’s views on death, toil,
knowledge of good and evil, and sin, implementing as well an existing overlap
in vocabulary. Similarly Maurer, in his unpublished PhD dissertation, states
that “the book of Ecclesiastes is a derash of Genesis 1–4, which means that the
author of the book of Ecclesiastes makes significant, conscious, and identifiable
references to Genesis 1–4, so much so that the thought of the book is guided
and predicated on that particular text.”20 Maurer’s study is based on “common
vocabulary and themes.”21 For Clemens and Maurer, the presence of Genesis
is extremely widespread.22

II. Joining the Conversation

The above views on the relationship between the early chapters of Gen-
esis and Ecclesiastes can be classified into four groups: (1) extremely limited
(Michel and Huwiler), (2) limited (Seow and Murphy), (3) widespread (Mac-
Donald, Forman, Hertzberg, and Anderson), and (4) extremely widespread
(Clemens and Maurer).23
The view of the present article is closest to classification 3, a widespread
presence.24 It seeks to reinforce the suitability of this judgment especially over

19 David M. Clemens, “The Law of Sin and Death: Ecclesiastes and Genesis 1–3,” Them 19

(1994): 5.
20 Bernard Maurer, “The Book of Ecclesiastes as a Derash of Genesis 1–4: A Study in Old Testa-

ment Literary Dependency” (PhD diss., Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, 2007), ix.
21 Ibid., x.
22 For further brief discussion and evaluation of the relationship between the early chapters

of Genesis and Ecclesiastes, see Walther Zimmerli, “The Place and Limit of the Wisdom in the
Framework of the Old Testament Theology,” SJT 17 (1964): 155–56; Robert Gordis, Koheleth: The
Man and His World (New York: Schocken Books, 1968), 43; Robert K. Johnston, “Confessions of
a Workaholic: A Reappraisal of Qoheleth,” CBQ 38 (1976): 22–23; Michael V. Fox and Bezalel
Porten, “Unsought Discoveries: Qoheleth 7:23–8:1,” HS 19 (1978): 33; Hagia Witzenrath, Süß ist
das Licht: Eine literaturwissenschaftliche Untersuchung zu Koh 11,7–12,7 (St. Ottilien: EOS Verlag,
1979), 40–43; Michael A. Eaton, Ecclesiastes, TOTC (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1983),
46, 58; Ardel B. Caneday, “Qoheleth: Enigmatic Pessimist or Godly Sage?,” Grace Theological Journal
7 (1986): 30–31, 37–38, 41–44, 51–54; Michel, Qohelet, 68–72; Duane Garrett, Ecclesiastes, NAC
14 (Nashville: Broadman, 1993), 278–79; Philip Chia, “Wisdom, Yahwism, Creation: In Quest of
Qoheleth’s Theological Thought,” Jian Dao 3 (1995): 21–24. The comments in each of these works
on the Genesis-Ecclesiastes relationship (with the exception of Fox and Porten) mainly depend on
a study listed in the body of each work, especially Hertzberg and/or Forman, and for the most part
do not go beyond their observations.
23 Some prominent commentators on Ecclesiastes can be classified as follows: (1) Michel,

Huwiler; (2) Barton, Lauha, Fox, Seow, Murphy, Longman, Horne; (3) Hertzberg, Eaton, Garrett,
Zimmerli, Krüger, Schwienhorst-Schönberger; (4) none (though perhaps Krüger could be properly
placed between groups 3 and 4). Fox probably falls somewhere between 1 and 2.
24 Contra Clemens, I do not think Ecclesiastes is an “exposition of Genesis 1–3.” I would also hes-

itate to affirm without exception Maurer’s statement that “the thought of the book [Ecclesiastes]

against 1 and 2 by reiterating and enlarging upon the work of others. It is

particularly relevant because, as evidenced by a significant number of com-
mentaries, the early chapters of Genesis are not always fixed as an important
background for interpreting Ecclesiastes.25 Even where Genesis has found its
way into the study of Ecclesiastes, I do not think it has had as great an influence
as it should on interpretation. This article hopes to contribute to changing that
situation by compiling, organizing, reinforcing, and adding to previously made
Genesis connections.

III. A Note on Method

With any intertextual study, there is an element of subjectivity. What consti-

tutes a valid connection between texts for one person does not necessarily do so
for another. That being said, there are several principles that have undergirded
this article’s proposed correlations. First, I have relied upon words and syntac-
tical patterns to determine definite places of connection. But once definite
(or almost definite) connections were identified, additional places of possible
connection became more likely. This is the second principle. If a particular
correspondence was questionable and yet I was able to find several places of
certain dependence, I was compelled to see a connection unless there was
positive evidence to the contrary. This method became even more convincing
given the number of questionable correspondences, as the questionable places
became mutually supportive. Third, vocabulary/phraseology ties are stronger
and more demonstrable than thematic ties, but thematic ties are as likely once
the former ties are demonstrated. The thematic proposals towards the end
of the article were only convincing to me given the terminology material.
Third, if a terminological parallel fits the context and/or explains a passage it
is almost certainly valid. Fourth and last, if the overall presence of connections
has explanatory power for the book as a whole, then permeating parallels are
externally corroborated. This final point is fleshed out at the end of the article.

IV. The Pervasion of Genesis in Ecclesiastes

I make a case for pervasion in five sections, the combination of which is more
persuasive than any individual section or part of a section. Some proposed
connections may seem at first to be merely coincidental, but the abundance of
similar apparent coincidences argues strongly for purpose. These, combined
with the strongest correspondences, make a good case for a pervasive presence.

is guided and predicated on” Gen 1–4. Thus, their conclusions go beyond what this article argues.
25 As mentioned in n. 11 above, it appears that Hertzberg has influenced German scholarship

more than American. And though Forman has had some influence in America, it is not to a great
extent. Forman’s connections are not as vocabulary-based as Hertzberg’s (they are idea-based),
which could account for their lack of persuasion. See Michel’s critique of both in Qohelet, 68–72.

The five sections are: creational bookends, certain reliance, vocabulary overlap,
echoes/allusions, and topical overlap.

1. Creational Bookends

The opening and closing reflections of Qoheleth are involved with creation.
Ecclesiastes 1:4–7 describes the earth’s duration, the rising and setting of the sun,
the circuits of the wind, and the ever-flowing rivers running into a never-filling sea.
The book’s end is similarly occupied with creation. Chapter 12:1 commands the
reader to remember the Creator and is followed by the timeframe for obedience:
“before the sun and the light, the moon and the stars are darkened, and clouds
return after the rain” (12:2).26 Hertzberg observes a further correspondence,
noting, “In Qoh 12:2, exactly like in the creation-account, there is a distinction
between light and heavenly bodies (sun, moon, and stars).”27 Both 1:4–7 and 12:2
obviously have creation in mind. Though 12:1–2 are five verses removed from
the final refrain (12:8), the discourse which they initiate lasts until 12:7.28 Thus,
Qoheleth’s creational meditations frame the others.

2. Certain Reliance

There are several verses in the Book of Ecclesiastes which are certainly reliant
upon Genesis.29 Ecclesiastes 3:20b reads, ‫ל־ה ָע ָפר‬ ֶ ‫ן־ה ָע ָפר וְ ַהּכֹל ָׁשב ֶא‬ ֶ ‫ ַהּכֹל ָהיָ ה ִמ‬,
paralleling Gen 3:19b, ‫ל־ע ָפר ָּתׁשּוב‬ ָ ‫י־ע ָפר ַא ָּתה וְ ֶא‬
ָ ‫ל־ה ֲא ָד ָמה ִּכי ִמ ֶּמּנָ ה ֻל ָּק ְח ָּת ִּכ‬
ָ ‫ ֶא‬.
The preposition ‫ ִמן‬, the noun ‫ ָע ָפר‬, and the verb ‫ ׁשּוב‬all occur in both verses.
Ecclesiastes 12:7 is similar: ‫ֹלהים‬ ִ ‫ל־ה ֱא‬
ָ ‫רּוח ָּתׁשּוב ֶא‬
ַ ‫ל־ה ָא ֶרץ ְּכ ֶׁש ָהיָ ה וְ ָה‬ ָ ‫וְ יָ ׁש ֹב ֶה ָע ָפר ַע‬
‫ ֲא ֶׁשר נְ ָתנָ ּה‬. Again, both ‫ ׁשּוב‬and ‫ ָע ָפר‬appear. And the occurrence of ‫ל־ה ָא ֶרץ‬ ָ ‫ַע‬
parallels ‫ל־ה ֲא ָד ָמה‬ ָ ‫ ֶא‬in Genesis.30 The latter part of the verse, “and the spirit

26 Though a reference to God as Creator here has been disputed, the objection is forced. As

Fox comments, “Various emendations have been suggested, but they are made unnecessary by the
observation of Gilbert (1981:100) that in this context to think on one’s creator is to think of death,
for, as 12:7 says, the life-spirit must go back to the one who gave it” (Michael V. Fox, Qohelet and His
Contradictions, JSOTSup 71 [Sheffield: Almond Press, 1989], 300).
27 Hertzberg, Der Prediger, 228: “[es] wird in Qoh 12,2, genau wie in dem Schöpfungsbericht,

zwischen Licht und Himmelskörpern (Sonne, Mond, und Sterne) unterschieden.” Murphy (as
noted above) and many others also make this observation.
28 The remainder of the book (12:9–14) consists of an epilogue. Eccl 1:1–3 consists of an au-

thorship ascription (1:1), the refrain (1:2), and an introductory question leading into the initial
discourse (1:3).
29 The objection could be raised that both books relied on a third source. Since there is no

textual evidence for this source, however, it seems less likely and can only be speculated upon.
There is no compelling reason not to assume that the parallels are reasonably accounted for by
the reliance of Ecclesiastes on Genesis.
30 So also Hertzberg. “das ‫ אל־האדמה‬der Genesis hat in dem ‫ על־הארץ‬Qoh’s sein genaues

Gegenstück” (Der Prediger, 229). For an additional analysis of 12:7 and its correlation with Genesis,
see Witzenrath, Süß ist das Licht, 40–42.

returns to God who gave it,” has no exact correspondence in Genesis, but the
idea that God gave man his spirit reminds us of the description in Gen 2:7
of God breathing into man the breath of life, which is further supported by
the correspondence of 2:7 with the first part of Eccl 12:7. Genesis 2:7 reads,
‫ן־ה ֲא ָד ָמה וַ ּיִ ַּפח ְּב ַא ָּפיו נִ ְׁש ַמת ַחּיִ ים‬
ָ ‫ת־ה ָא ָדם ָע ָפר ִמ‬
ָ ‫ֹלהים ֶא‬ִ ‫יצר יְ הוָ ה ֱא‬
ֶ ִ‫וַ ּי‬.
For the most part, the studies reviewed above note this connection.31 As
previously cited, even Michel says, “Indeed, the analogies between Qoh 3:20
… and Gen 2:7; 3:19 … seem to be best explained through the acceptance of
an influence.”32
The next correspondence is found in Eccl 7:29, ‫ת־ה ָא ָדם יָ ָׁשר‬ ָ ‫ֹלהים ֶא‬ ִ ‫ָע ָׂשה ָה ֱא‬
‫וְ ֵה ָּמה ִב ְקׁשּו ִח ְּׁשבֹנֹות ַר ִּבים‬. Forman comments, “Here our author is dealing with
one of the central themes of [Gen 1–11]; the entrance of evil into the world.”33
The correlation of the first half with Gen 1:27 is almost identical, ‫ֹלהים‬ ִ ‫וַ ְּיִב ָרא ֱא‬
‫ת־ה ָא ָדם‬
ָ ‫ ֶא‬. Further, the corporate term of mankind used in the second half
(i.e., ‫ ) ָה ָא ָדם‬followed by the repetitious plurals (i.e., ‫ )וְ ֵה ָּמה ִב ְקׁשּו‬is reminiscent
of Gen 1:27b: ‫ֹלהים ָּב ָרא אֹתֹו זָ ָכר ּונְ ֵק ָבה ָּב ָרא א ָֹתם‬ ִ ‫ ֱא‬. That mankind has sought
out ‫ ִח ְּׁשבֹנֹות ַר ִּבים‬may recall Gen 6:5: ‫ל־הּיֹום‬ ַ ‫וְ ָכל־יֵ ֶצר ַמ ְח ְׁשבֹת ִלּבֹו ַרק ַרע ָּכ‬.34 It
certainly looks back to ‫ ֶח ְׁשּבֹון‬in Eccl 7:25 and 27, which in these verses is the
object of Qoheleth’s search.
In 7:25 ‫ ֶח ְׁשּבֹון‬is paired with ‫ ָח ְכ ָמה‬as that which Qoheleth sets his heart to
know, to spy out, and to seek. In his search to find ‫ ֶח ְׁשּבֹון‬and ‫ ָח ְכ ָמה‬he puz-
zlingly introduces the woman who is more bitter than death (7:26; see more
on her below). He concludes this search in 7:29 with God’s original creation of
mankind as upright and the statement that they sought out ‫ ִח ְּׁשבֹנֹות‬. The close
link which Qoheleth himself makes between ‫ ֶח ְׁשּבֹון‬and ‫ ָח ְכ ָמה‬possibly recalls
Eve’s desire to become wise in Gen 3:6, the first act of mankind’s rebellion and
fall from the uprightness described in 7:29.35
Fox and Porten also see “evidence for a connection between [Eccl 7:23–8:1]
and the story of the Fall.”36 The most noteworthy points are: (1) Both use the
pair ‫ ָא ָדם‬and ‫ ִא ָּׁשה‬for man and woman, rather than the more common ‫ִאיׁש‬
(Eccl 7:28; Gen 2–3). Fox and Porten comment, “The use of [‫ ] ָא ָדם‬to mean
vir [Latin for “man”] occurs only in that story [Gen 2–3].”37 (2) The woman is

31 Anderson goes furthest, promoting the “linguistic dependence” of 3:20 and 12:7 on Gen 3:19

(“Curse of Work,” 101).

32 Michel, Qohelet, 70. Unlike most of the other studies, however, he does not mention Eccl 12:7.
33 Forman, “Koheleth’s Use of Genesis,” 259.
34 So Thomas Krüger, Qoheleth, BKAT (Neukirchen-Vluyn: Neukirchener Verlag, 2000), 149.

Also F. J. Backhaus, as cited by Ludger Schwienhorst-Schönberger, Kohelet, HThKAT (Freiburg im

Breisgau: Herder, 2004), 407. Fox and Porten comment, “The Midrash (Qoh Rab, 7, §50) and the
Targum regard 7:29 as a reference to Gen 3. God made the first man straight, but when Eve joined
him, then they sought [‫( ] ִח ְּׁשבֹנֹות‬which Rashi, who follows the Midrash here, interprets as ‘plots
and thoughts of sin’)” (Fox and Porten, “Unsought Discoveries,” 33).
35 Gen 3 does not use the word ‫ ָח ְכ ָמה‬. The closest association to wisdom there is the root ‫ׂשכל‬.
36 Fox and Porten, “Unsought Discoveries,” 33.
37 Ibid.

pictured as a trap for man, as recounted in Eccl 7:26, “And I discovered more
bitter than death the woman whose heart is snares and nets, whose hands are
chains.” This “is in accord with the picture we get in Gen 3, where Adam is
trapped into sin by the woman.”38 Clemens agrees, “The supposed misogyny
expressed in 7:26 … which seems at variance with the commendation of 9:9,
can be interpreted more harmoniously against the background of the fall.”39
As Duane Garrett comments, “Verses 26–28, which appear outrageously anti-
woman, are incomprehensible [apart from the recognition that] … these verses
look back to the early chapters of Genesis.”40 (3) The connection “helps also
to explain the associative link between Qohelet’s search for knowledge (v. 25)
and his sudden attack on predatory womankind (v. 26), as well as his statement
that God created man ‘straight’ (v. 29).”41
These links between the surrounding verses of 7:29 and the early chapters
of Genesis, along with the previous observations regarding the verse itself, put
the matter beyond doubt; 7:29 is certainly reliant upon Genesis. Thus far then,
Eccl 3:20b, 7:29, and 12:7 are all directly dependent upon Genesis. Ecclesiastes
7:26–28, too, while not as explicit, have Genesis as their background, and fur-
ther, rely upon it for their proper interpretation.

3. Vocabulary Overlap

There is a noticeable amount of overlap between the vocabulary of Ecclesi-

astes and Gen 1–3, not only with regard to bare statistics (on which see below)
but also concerning peculiar usage. We have already seen the peculiar use of
the term ‫ ָא ָדם‬to refer to “man,” juxtaposed to “woman,” in Eccl 7. This is its less
common use (typically it refers to “mankind”), and it is reminiscent of Genesis.
‫ ָא ָדם‬is a favorite of Ecclesiastes and shows up steadily throughout the book, in
every chapter except one.42
Qoheleth also utilizes the major verbs of Genesis, if not prevalently, at least
with a marked significance. For example, ‫ ָּב ָרא‬appears seven times in Gen 1–3.
While it only shows up once in Ecclesiastes, its use is significant.43 Ecclesiastes
12:1a reads, ‫ת־ּבֹור ֶאיָך‬
ְ ‫ּוזְ כֹר ֶא‬. Of the seven occurrences in Genesis, three are

38 Ibid.
39 Clemens, “Sin and Death,” 7.
40 Garrett, Ecclesiastes,
41 Fox and Porten, “Unsought Discoveries,” 33.
42 This is not to say that every time ‫ ָא ָדם‬occurs in Ecclesiastes a Genesis reference is present.

It certainly is not. But it is possible that echoes of Genesis are meant in some cases, as in the case
above, and perhaps a faint echo is meant throughout the whole of the book even if the particular
instances are not primarily concerned with Genesis.
43 Hertzberg comments on the aptness of the placement of ‫ ָּב ָרא‬, the “key creation-term,”

towards the end of the book as seemingly unmotivated but especially applicable: “Es wird schon
begreiflich, dass das scheinbar unmotivierte ‘Schöpfer’ in 12,1 durchaus berechtigt ist. ‫ ברא‬ist
ja der wichtigste Schöpfungsterminus und für Qoh, wie wir sahen, besonders zutreffend” (Der
Prediger, 230).

used in the description of God’s creation of man, ‫ת־ה ָא ָדם ְּב ַצ ְלמֹו‬ ָ ‫ֹלהים ֶא‬ ִ ‫וַ ְּיִב ָרא ֱא‬
‫ֹלהים ָּב ָרא אֹתֹו זָ ָכר ּונְ ֵק ָבה ָּב ָרא א ָֹתם‬ ִ ‫ ְּב ֶצ ֶלם ֱא‬. The command in Ecclesiastes to
“remember [‫ ”]זכר‬the creator may carry with it the memory of man’s [‫]זכר‬
creation in Gen 1:27.
The other creational term of Genesis, ‫( ָע ָׂשה‬17x; see esp. 1:7, 25, 26; 2:2, 4,
18), also has a marked occurrence in Ecclesiastes. We have already noted its use
in Eccl 7:29, ‫ת־ה ָא ָדם יָ ָׁשר‬ ָ ‫ֹלהים ֶא‬ ִ ‫ ָע ָׂשה ָה ֱא‬, as directly dependent upon Genesis.
In Genesis, God gives man the fruit of the trees to eat (‫ ; ָא ַכל‬Gen 2:16; cf. 9:3).
In Ecclesiastes, too, mankind’s eating is a gift from God (cf. 2:24–25; 3:13; 5:18,
19; 8:15). Genesis uses ‫ ָר ָאה‬ten times. Seven out of the ten uses in Genesis occur
in the common refrain ‫( ַוַּי ְרא ֱאֹלִהים ִּכי־טֹוב‬1:10, 12, 18, 21, 25) or a variation of
it (cf. 1:4, 31). Ecclesiastes 3:22 has ‫יתי ִּכי ֵאין טֹוב‬ ִ ‫( וְ ָר ִא‬cf. 5:17; 6:6). Additionally,
the first occurrence in Genesis of ‫ ָר ָאה‬is in the account of the creation of
light. Genesis 1:4 reads, ‫ּובין‬ ֵ ‫ֹלהים ֵּבין ָהאֹור‬ ִ ‫ת־האֹור ִּכי־טֹוב וַ ְּיַב ֵּדל ֱא‬ ָ ‫ֹלהים ֶא‬ ִ ‫וַ ּיַ ְרא ֱא‬
‫ ַהח ֶֹׁשְך‬. Ecclesiastes 2:13 says, ‫יתרֹון ָהאֹור‬ ְ ‫ן־ה ִּס ְכלּות ִּכ‬
ַ ‫יִתרֹון ַל ָח ְכ ָמה ִמ‬ְ ‫יתי ָאנִ י ֶׁשּיֵ ׁש‬ִ ‫וְ ָר ִא‬
ַ ‫ ִמ‬. Michel notes the sense of ‫ ָר ָאה‬for Qoheleth as evaluative.44 This is
‫ן־הח ֶֹׁשְך‬
also its sense in Genesis. The presence of ‫ אֹור‬and ‫ ח ֶֹׁשְך‬in both verses and the
certain sustained allusion to Genesis in Eccl 2:4–11 (see below) make this verbal
association all the more likely. It is further evidenced by Gen 1:31 and Eccl 1:14
(cf. Eccl 2:11 and 8:17). They respectively read, ‫ל־א ֶׁשר ָע ָׂשה‬ ֲ ‫ת־ּכ‬
ָ ‫ֹלהים ֶא‬ ִ ‫וַ ּיַ ְרא ֱא‬
‫ וְ ִהנֵ ה־טֹוב ְמאֹד‬and ‫ל־ה ַּמ ֲע ִׂשים ֶׁשּנַ ֲעׂשּו ַּת ַחת ַה ָּׁש ֶמׁש וְ ִהּנֵ ה ַהּכֹל ֶה ֶבל‬
ַ ‫ת־ּכ‬ָ ‫יתי ֶא‬ ִ ‫ ָר ִא‬. The
ordered words ‫ ָר ָאה‬, ‫ּכֹל‬, ‫ ָע ָׂשה‬, and ‫ ִהנֵ ה‬coupled with both subjects (God and
Qoheleth) evaluating “all which he had made/all the works” support the verbal
link. We can attribute the difference of appraisal (“very good” vs. “vanity”) to
sin and the curse (see below).
The verb ‫ ָק ָרא‬appears eleven times in Genesis. Its only use in Ecclesiastes
is a marked instance which certainly recalls Genesis. In Genesis the only two
subjects of ‫ ָק ָרא‬are God and Adam. And ten out of the eleven times the verb
appears, they are “calling” things their names. God calls light “day,” darkness
“night,” the expanse “heaven,” dry land “earth,” and gathered waters “seas”
(cf. Gen 1:5 [2x], 8, 10 [2x]). In Gen 2:19–20, God brings the beasts and the
birds to man “to see what he would call (‫ )ּיִ ְק ָרא‬them; and whatever Adam
would call (‫ )יִ ְק ָרא‬a living creature, that was its name (‫) ְׁשמֹו‬. And Adam called
names (‫ )וַ ּיִ ְק ָרא ָה ָא ָדם ֵׁשמֹות‬to all the cattle, and to the birds of the sky, and to
every beast of the field.”45 Adam also calls his helper “woman,” and his wife
“Eve” (‫ ;וַ ּיִ ְק ָרא ָה ָא ָדם ֵׁשם ִא ְׁשּתֹו ַחּוָ ה‬cf. 2:23; 3:20). Ecclesiastes 6:10a, the book’s
one verse with this verb, reads, ‫ה־ּׁש ָהיָ ה ְּכ ָבר נִ ְק ָרא ְׁשמֹו‬ ֶ ‫ ַמ‬. Everything that exists
has already been called its name; the implication is that God and Adam did
the calling. Without the Genesis background here this verse lies in obscurity.
But with it, it makes sense. The coupling of ‫ ָק ָרא‬with ‫ ֵׁשם‬, the Niphal’s silent

44 Diethelm Michel, Untersuchungen zur Eigenhart des Buches Qohelet, BZAW 183 (Berlin: de

Gruyter, 1989), 26.

45 Translations are mine.

subject, Genesis’s specific use of ‫ ָק ָרא‬, and the arguments already rehearsed and
to follow concerning the Ecclesiastes-Genesis relationship in general, make a
Genesis reference sure.
I argued above that Eccl 7:25–29 directly relies upon Genesis. With this in
mind, it is possible that the verb ‫ ָמ ָצא‬, which occurs three times in 7:28 (8 of 17
uses of this verb are found in Eccl 7:24–29), echoes Gen 2:20 (its only occur-
rence in Gen 1–3). Ecclesiastes 7:28 concludes, ‫אתי וְ ִא ָּׁשה‬ ִ ‫ָא ָדם ֶא ָחד ֵמ ֶא ֶלף ָמ ָצ‬
‫אתי‬ִ ‫ל־א ֶּלה לֹא ָמ ָצ‬ ֵ ‫ ְב ָכ‬. Genesis 2:20, after Adam finishes naming the animals, says,
‫א־מ ָצא ֵעזֶ ר ְּכנֶ גְ ּדֹו‬
ָ ֹ ‫ּול ָא ָדם ל‬
ְ . The parallels are not exact (e.g., a helper in Genesis
vs. a woman in Ecclesiastes), and I am unsure of the link myself, but it is worth
Thus Qoheleth’s use of ‫ברא‬, ‫עשה‬, ‫אכל‬, ‫ראה‬, ‫קרא‬, and possibly ‫ מצא‬are
traceable to Genesis.46 Moreover, from a purely statistical vantage point, the
majority of the most frequent verbs in Genesis are present in Ecclesiastes, Gen
1–3’s verbs occurring 5+ (10/12); 4+ (12/15); 3+ (17/22).47 They are: 5+—‫היה‬,
‫אמר‬, ‫אכל‬, ‫עׂשה‬, ‫קרא‬, ‫ראה‬, ‫ברא‬, ‫נתן‬, ‫רבה‬, ‫ מות‬/ ‫בדל‬, ‫ ;לקח‬4+—‫ידע‬, ‫ זרע‬/ ‫;רמׂש‬
3+—‫ׁשמע‬, ‫הלך‬, ‫עבד‬, ‫צמח‬, ‫ יצא‬/ ‫יצר‬, ‫צוה‬. For the verbs ‫ מות‬and ‫צמח‬, see below.
In addition to these marked occurrences, Ecclesiastes contains all of the
memorable word pairs of the creation account. ‫ ָׁש ַמיִם‬and ‫( ֶא ֶרץ‬Gen 1:1, 15, 17,
20; 2:1, 4; Eccl 5:1); ‫ יֹום‬and ‫( ַליְ ָלה‬Gen 1:5, 14, 16, 18; Eccl 2:23; 8:16); ‫ ב ֶֹקר‬and
‫( ֶע ֶרב‬Gen 1:5, 8, 13, 19, 23, 31; Eccl 11:6); ‫ אֹור‬and ‫( ח ֶֹׁשְך‬Gen 1:4, 5, 18; Eccl
2:13; 11:7–8; 12:2); and ‫ טֹוב‬and ‫( ַרע‬Gen 2:9, 17; 3:5, 22; Eccl 7:3; 8:12; 12:14).48
Each of the word pairs is found in a single verse, and some are found in more
than one. That is, it is not as though “day” is found in ch. 1 and “night” is found
in ch. 2. Each member of the pair is in both Eccl 2:23 and 8:16, and so on. It is
true that these word pairs are somewhat common: ‫ ָׁשַמִים‬and ‫( ֶא ֶרץ‬179x in the
HB), ‫ יֹום‬and ‫( ַל ְיָלה‬56x), ‫ בֶֹקר‬and ‫( ֶע ֶרב‬44x), ‫ אוֹר‬and ‫חֶׁשְך‬ ֹ (34x), and ‫ טֹוב‬and
‫( ַרע‬52x). However, the only books outside of Genesis and Ecclesiastes which
contain all five pairs are Job (42 chapters), Psalms (150 psalms), and Isaiah (66
chapters). That all five appear in the twelve short chapters of Ecclesiastes, and
two more than once, further supports a Genesis connection.
There are also several word clusters/phrases which the two books share.
‫ ֶׁש ֶמׁש‬, ‫יָ ֵר ַח‬, and ‫ּכֹוכ ִבים‬
ָ are found in Eccl 12:2. Though Gen 1:16 refers to the sun
and moon without the same terminology (“greater light” and “lesser light”),
it does use ‫ּכֹוכ ִבים‬ ָ , thus mentioning all three items in a single verse. The ‫עֹוף‬
‫ ַה ָּׁש ַמיִ ם‬of Gen 1:26, 28, 30; 2:19, 20 occurs in Eccl 10:20. Hertzberg also sees
overlap here. Though he is aware that the phrase occurs in other places (e.g.,
Hos 2:20), he still rightly considers it an echo of the creation-history, it being

46 Not every use of all these terms, but some of all and all of some.
47 That is, there are twelve verbs that appear five or more times in Gen 1–3, and Ecclesiastes has

ten of them, etc. Obviously, some of these verbs are too common to be considered significant (e.g.,
‫ היה‬and ‫)אמר‬.
48 Eccl 12:2 has the verb ‫ ָח ַׁשְך‬with the noun ‫אֹור‬.

a “stereotypical expression” of the creation account.49 He also connects Eccl

2:5, which has another overlapping phrase, ‫ל־ּפ ִרי‬ ֶ ‫ ֵעץ ָּכ‬, with Gen 1:11, 12, and
29.50 Genesis 1:29b, ‫י־עץ‬ ֵ ‫ל־ה ֵעץ ֲא ֶׁשר־ּבֹו ְפ ִר‬
ָ ‫ת־ּכ‬
ָ ‫וְ ֶא‬, contains all three terms (cf.
Gen 2:9, 16). Lastly, the phrase ‫ל־יְמי ַחּיֶ יָך‬ ֵ ‫ ָּכ‬appears in Gen 3:14 and 17. There
are several variations of this in Ecclesiastes: ‫(ִמְסַּפר ְיֵמי ַחֵּייֶהם‬2:3), ‫(ִמְסַּפר ְיֵמי־ַחָּיו‬5:17),
‫(ֶאת־ ְיֵמי ַחָּייו‬5:19), ‫(ִמְסַּפר ְיֵמי־ ַחֵּיי ֶהְבלֹו‬6:12), ‫( ְיֵמי ַחָּייו‬8:15), ‫ָכל־ ְיֵמי ַחֵּיי ֶהְבֶלָך‬
(9:9a), and ‫ּכל ְיֵמי ֶהְבֶלָך‬ ֹ (9:9b); God is said to have given man these days
in 5:17, 8:15, and 9:9. Along these lines, Hertzberg evaluates Eccl 5:16, ‫ל־יָמיו‬ ָ ‫ָּכ‬
‫אכל‬ֵ ֹ ‫ ַּבח ֶֹׁשְך י‬, as a “near paraphrase” of Gen 3:17, ‫יְמי ַחּיֶ יָך‬ ֵ ‫אכ ֶלּנָ ה ּכֹל‬
ֲ ֹ ‫ ְּב ִע ָּצבֹון ּת‬.51
Finally, there is a noticeable overlap of a handful of additional terms. They
are: ‫( ֱאֹלִהים‬59x Gen; 40x Eccl), ‫( אָּׁשה‬17x Gen; 3x Eccl), ‫( ִאיׁש‬4x Gen; 10x
Eccl), ‫( ָנָחׁש‬5x Gen; 2x Eccl), ‫( ַחי‬13x Gen; 20x Eccl), ‫( ֶנֶפׁש‬6x Gen; 7x Eccl),
‫( ַמִים‬11x Gen; 2x Eccl), ‫( ַים‬4x Gen; 2x Eccl), ‫( ְּבֵהָמה‬5x Gen; 4x Eccl), ‫( עֹוף‬8x
Gen; 1x Eccl), ‫( ֵעץ‬20x Gen; 5x Eccl), ‫( ָׂש ֶדה‬7x Gen; 1x Eccl), ‫( ְּפ ִרי‬7x Gen; 1x
Eccl), ‫(זרע‬noun and verb; 12x Gen; 3x Eccl), ‫( ַּגן‬13x Gen; Eccl has ‫ ַּגָּנה‬once),
‫( ַּדַעת‬2x Gen; 7x Eccl), ‫( ֵׁשם‬6x Gen; 3x Eccl), ‫( ָצ ָוה‬3x Gen; Eccl has ‫ ִמְצ ָוה‬twice),
‫עצב‬/‫( ִעָּצבֹון‬3x Gen—verb and noun; 1x Eccl—noun), ‫ָערֹום‬/‫רם‬ ֹ ‫( ֵעי‬4x Gen; 1x
Eccl), ‫( ָּפ ֶנה‬6x Gen; 23x Eccl), ‫( ַעִין‬3x Gen; 8x Eccl), ‫( ָּבָׂשר‬4x Gen; 5x Eccl), and
‫( ָעָפר‬4x Gen; 3x Eccl). From a purely statistical standpoint Ecclesiastes’s use of
Genesis’s most frequent words (not counting verbs) is as follows: 5+ (24/30);
4+ (31/39); 3+ (36/48).52
The presence of these terms is hardly compelling by itself. The statistics are
merely meant to provide an objective measure for how much of the language
in Genesis is used in Ecclesiastes and to supplement the above considerations.
The resultant sum of adding these statistics to the marked actions, word pairs,
and word clusters argues strongly in favor of an extensive use in Ecclesiastes
of the vocabulary in Genesis.53 The compiled list of God; Adam/man; woman;
snake; create; do/make; say; see; eat; die; know; sprout up; call/name; give;
multiply; sow; heaven and earth; day and night; morning and evening; light
and darkness; good and evil; the sun, moon, and stars; the birds of the heavens;
every fruit tree; all the days of your life; life; soul; water; seas; beast; tree; field;
fruit; seed/sow; garden; knowledge; name; command; pain; naked; face; eyes;
flesh; and dust, in the short span of twelve chapters, is compelling.

49 “An die Schöpfungsgeschichte kann in Qoh die Wendung ‫ עוף הׁשמים‬erinnern: 10,20. Al-

lerdings kommt sie auch sonst im AT vor (Hos 2,20, Dt, Ez u. ö.); aber sie stellt einen stereotypen
Ausdruck der Schöpfungsgeschichte dar (Gn 1,26.28.30; 2,19.20; vgl. Gn 6,7; 7,23; 9,2; Ps 104,12)”
(Hertzberg, Der Prediger, 228).
50 Ibid.
51 Ibid., 229.
52 I have excluded the following items from these statistics: ‫ו‬, ‫כי‬, ‫ה‬, ‫כן‬, ‫את‬, ‫כל‬, ‫טרם‬, ‫לא‬, ‫אין‬,

‫ׁשם‬, ‫בד‬, ‫פן‬, ‫אי‬, ‫מי‬, ‫הן‬, ‫עתה‬, prepositions, pronouns, Eden, Pishon, Havilah, Gihon, Cush, Tigris,
Euphrates, and Assyria.
53 This section was formulated by observing which of the words in Genesis appear in Ecclesi-

astes. I am not suggesting that Qoheleth limited himself to the Genesis vocabulary, only that he
extensively used it.

4. Echoes/Allusions

The previous two sections on certain reliance and vocabulary overlap have
already provided a few examples of what could be considered echoes/allusions:
the description in 7:26 and 28 of woman as a snare/trap of ‫ ָא ָדם‬, each of the
word pairs, and each of the word clusters.54 In addition to these, there are a few
other places that echo Genesis.
A common refrain, ‫ ֲה ֵבל ֲה ָב ִלים ַהּכֹל ָה ֶבל‬, opens and closes Qoheleth’s reflec-
tions (1:2; 12:8). The word ‫ ֶה ֶבל‬occurs consistently throughout the book, an
additional thirty times. Not a few scholars have noted the possibility that the
author may have had Abel (‫ ) ֶה ֶבל‬in mind. I think he certainly did.
We have already seen Qoheleth’s affinity for Genesis terminology. Along with
this, though the term ‫ ֶה ֶבל‬permeates the book, outside of the common refrain
(1:2; 12:8) there are only two verses that contain the word twice (8:14; 9:9).
Only one verse opens and closes with the term. Ecclesiastes 8:14 begins with
‫ׁש־ה ֶבל‬
ֶ ֶ‫י‬. The description of this ‫ ֶה ֶבל‬is, “There are righteous men to whom it
happens according to the deeds of the wicked. On the other hand, there are
evil men to whom it happens according to the deeds of the righteous.” And he
ends the verse reiterating his opening sentiment, ‫ ֶׁשּגַ ם־זֶ ה ָה ֶבל‬.
It could be a coincidence that the one verse in the book that is bracketed
by this term happens to be a perfect summary of Abel and Cain, but it seems
most unlikely. Righteous Abel was murdered, but God spared wicked Cain,
even protected him, though each deserved the opposite (cf. Gen 4:1–15). The
thought had evidently greatly affected Qoheleth. As Eccl 7:15 similarly reads,
“I have seen everything during my lifetime of futility (‫ימי ֶה ְב ִלי‬ ֵ ‫ ;) ִּב‬there is a
righteous man who perishes in his righteousness and there is a wicked man
who prolongs his life in his wickedness.” There is good reason to think that
Abel epitomized ‫ ֶה ֶבל‬in Ecclesiastes, making him an appropriate fixed allusion
throughout the book.55
A sustained allusion is also present in Eccl 2. Commenting on vv. 4–11, Cle-
mens writes, “The language of this section evokes that of God’s creative activity,
especially with reference to Eden.”56 He adduces the following list: “‘make, etc.’:
12 times in Gn. 1–3 of God, 6 times in E 2:4–11 of Q[oheleth]; ‘plant’: Gn. 2:8,

54 I use the terms “echo” and “allusion” interchangeably from here on. I have in mind any

portion of Ecclesiastes, more than a single word but less than an extended quote, that recalls the
early chapters of Genesis.
55 Antic’s study defends this connection more than any other I have seen; see “Cain, Abel, Seth,”

207–9. The French authors he quotes (and Antic himself) certainly go too far in their proposed
effect of Cain, Abel, and Seth on Ecclesiastes, but I think he is right to defend the Abel connection.
Hertzberg calls the argument of André Neher (Notes sur Qohelet [Paris: Minuit, 1951], 71-79), which
Antic picks up, “nichts als geistreiche Spielerei” (Hertzberg, Der Prediger, 229n17). Cf. Jacques Ellul,
Reason for Being: A Meditation on Ecclesiastes, trans. Joyce Main Hanks (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans,
1990), 58–60. Ellul, like Antic, promotes Neher.
56 Clemens, “Sin and Death,” 6.

E 2:4, 5; ‘garden’: 13 times in Gn. 1–3, E 2:5; ‘tree’: 20 times in Gn. 1–3, E 2:5, 6;
‘fruit’: 7 times in Gn. 1–3, E 2:5; ‘water’: 10 times in Gn. 1 (cf. 2:10–14), E 2:6; ‘to
water’: Gn. 2:6, 10, E 2:6; ‘sprout, grow’: Gn. 2:5, 9 (cf. 3:18), E 2:6; ‘gold’: Gn.
2:11, 12, E 2:8.”57 Arian Verheij, focusing his study on Eccl 2:4–6, also noticed
an overlap of terms: ‫נטע‬, ‫גן‬, ‫להׁשקות‬, ‫צמח‬, ‫עׂשה‬, and ‫עץ כל־פרי‬. He concludes,
“In its actual wording this passage is a paraphrase of the planting of the Garden
of Eden, with indeed Qohelet himself as subject, instead of God.”58
With these lists firmly fixing these verses of Ecclesiastes in Eden, it is more
than likely that the phrase “all that my eyes desired I did not refuse them” in
2:10 is meant to evoke Eve’s encounter with the fruit of the tree which “was a
delight to the eyes” (Gen 3:6). Further, Qoheleth’s godlike accomplishment of
work ends with an evaluation, like Gen 1:31 (see above). In v. 11 he writes, ‫יתי‬ ִ ִ‫ּופנ‬
ְ ‫רּוח וְ ֵאין‬
ַ ‫ּוב ָע ָמל ֶׁש ָע ַמ ְל ִּתי ַל ֲעׂשֹות וְ ִהּנֵ ה ַהּכֹל ֶה ֶבל ְּורעּות‬
ֶ ‫ל־מ ֲע ַׂשי ֶׁש ָעׂשּו יָ ַדי‬
ַ ‫ֲאנִ י ְּב ָכ‬
‫ ַּת ַחת ַה ֶָש ֶמׁש‬. He appraises all the works of his hands as ‫ ֶה ֶבל‬, having no ‫יִ ְתרֹון‬.
So he sets himself to evaluate wisdom (v. 12) and finds that there is ‫יִתרֹון‬ ְ that
belongs to wisdom over foolishness, as there is ‫יִתרֹון‬ ְ that belongs to light over
darkness (v. 13). The allusion to Genesis lasts from v. 4 to v. 13.
Another passage that echoes Genesis is Eccl 10:8–9, 11. Here, Qoheleth is
considering the absurdity of trouble which accompanies common labor. He
says, “He who digs a pit may fall into it, and a serpent [‫ ]נָ ָחׁש‬may bite him who
breaks through a wall. He who quarries stones may be hurt [‫ ]יֵ ָע ֵצב‬by them,
and he who splits logs may be endangered by them.… If the serpent [‫] ַה ְָּנ ָחׁש‬
bites when there is no charming, even so there is no profit for the serpent.”59
The term ‫ נָ ָחׁש‬appears five times in Gen 3 (vv. 1, 2, 4, 13, and 14). Although
it is not extremely uncommon outside of Genesis (41x), to find it used twice
in the span of four verses is unusual (though, admittedly, not unheard of; cf. 2
Sam 17:25, 27; Isa 27:1).
The root ‫ עצב‬is also present in Gen 3; in two noun forms, ‫ ֶע ֶצב‬and ‫ ִע ָּצבֹון‬. In
3:16, God’s punishment of Eve, the root appears twice, ‫ַה ְר ָּבה ַא ְר ֶּבה ִע ְּצבֹונֵ ְך וְ ֵהר ֹנֵ ְך‬
‫ ְּב ֶע ֶצב ֵּת ְל ִדי ָבנִ ים‬. Adam is punished in 3:17, where it occurs again, ‫רּורה ָה ֲא ָד ָמה‬ ָ ‫ֲא‬
‫יְמי ַחּיֶ יָך‬
ֵ ‫אכ ֶלּנָ ה ּכֹל‬ ֲ ֹ ‫בּורָך ְּב ִע ָּצבֹון ּת‬
ֶ ‫ ַּב ֲע‬. In addition to the lexical overlap, Adam’s
punishment is particularly relevant for the present context in Ecclesiastes. It is
in pain that he will sustain himself by work. The pain of work is precisely what
Qoheleth is contemplating: digging pits, breaking walls, quarrying stones, split-
ting logs, and their possible dangers. The above-noticed word cluster’s presence
at the end of Gen 3:17, ‫יְמי ַחּיֶ יָך‬ ֵ ‫ּכֹל‬, a favorite of Qoheleth’s, makes this echo of
Eccl 10:8–9, 11 more convincing.

57 Ibid., n. 12.
58 Arian Verheij, “Paradise Retried: On Qohelet 2:4–6,” JSOT 50 (1991): 114.
59 The translation of v. 11 is difficult. Taking the phrase ‫ ְל ַב ַעל ַה ָּלׁשֹון‬as a reference to the ‫נָ ָחׁש‬

at the beginning of the verse is not the standard interpretation. But it finds ample support in 10:20,
where ‫ּוב ַעל ַה ְּכנָ ַפיִם‬
ַ clearly refers to birds. In any case, the important point here is the repeated
use of ‫נָ ָחׁש‬.

In summary, the echo of Abel brackets and permeates the book. The al-
lusions to Eden, its fruit, its temptation, and creation checker ch. 2. And the
presence of the serpent and painful labor in Eccl 10 alludes to Gen 3. Adding
these to Eccl 7’s woman-snare and the word pairs and clusters comprises an
impressive lot of Genesis echoes/allusions.60

5. Topical Overlap

Ecclesiastes has a perceptible preoccupation with several topics. Taking into

consideration the information above, along with Genesis’s own concern with
the topics, it is highly conceivable that Qoheleth’s obsession can be attributed to
the early chapters of Genesis. They are: toilsome work, death, and knowledge.
Work is rampant in Ecclesiastes. Anderson writes, “The use of ‘ml (22 times)
and m‘sh (14 times) totals 36 direct references to work or toil in Qoheleth.”61 He
further observes,

Much of Qoheleth deals with the frustrations of work. These can be either in general
(1:3–11; 2:17–23, 26b; 3:1, 2b, 3b, 5a, 7a, 9–15, 22; 5:17–18; 8:15c–16; 9:9d–11), in
intellectual pursuits (1:13–18; 7:23–25; 12:9–12), in business and achievements
(2:4–26; 4:4–10; 5:9–16; 6:1–9; 11:1–6) or in politics (3:15c–17; 4:1–3, 13–16; 5:6–7;
7:6–9; 8:1–10:20).… The one concept they all have in common is the sheer toil-
someness of their activities ‘under the sun.’ Everything is at utter odds with each
other. Even when things work out, fate and death can and do overturn their yithron,
i.e., their ‘profit’ or ‘advantage.’62

Work’s painful nature originated in Gen 3 (as seen above). The previous
section argued for an allusion in Eccl 10 to the pain of work in Gen 3. This gives
us textual contact for a link between the two books regarding this topic which
goes beyond conceptual likeness. It also gives us reason to think Qoheleth had
Genesis in mind for his work ruminations. The meaning of the term Qoheleth
uses to refer to toil, ‫( עמל‬noun and verb), supports this conclusion.
The root ‫ עמל‬shows up forty-one times outside of Ecclesiastes. Its most
frequent parallel is ‫( ָאוֶ ן‬Num 23:21; Job 4:8; 5:6; 15:35; Ps 7:15; 10:7; 55:11;
90:10; Isa 10:1; 59:4; Hab 1:3); trouble, sorrow, wickedness.63 It also parallels or

60 There is possibly an echo of Gen 1 in Eccl 3:11. Both James Crenshaw and Hertzberg think

the beginning of Eccl 3:11, ‫יָפה ְב ִעּתֹו‬

ֶ ‫ת־הּכֹל ָע ָׂשה‬
ַ ‫ ֶא‬, recalls “die stereotype Bewertung der Schöp-
fung,” especially, according to Hertzberg, Gen 1:31, “and God saw everything which he had made,
and behold, it was exceedingly good” (Der Prediger, 229–30). Crenshaw thinks it is “undoubtedly
reminiscent of Genesis 1” (James L. Crenshaw, “The Eternal Gospel (Eccl. 3:11),” in Essays in Old
Testament Ethics, ed. James L. Crenshaw and John T. Willis [New York: Ktav, 1974], 28). The LXX
apparently agrees. It has καλός for ‫יָפה‬
ֶ . For an extended discussion, see Schwienhorst-Schönberger,
Kohelet, 263–65.
61 Anderson, “Curse of Work,” 102.
62 Ibid, 106; cf. Clemens, “Sin and Death,” 6.
63 BDB s.v. “‫און‬.”

is closely grouped with ‫( ֶׁש ֶקר‬Ps 7:15), ‫( ָח ָמס‬Ps 7:17; Hab 1:3), ‫( ַּכ ַעס‬Ps 10:15),
‫( ַהּוָ ה‬Ps 94:20), ‫( ָרע‬Hab 1:13), ‫( יָ גֹון‬Jer 20:18), ‫( ָׁשוְ א‬Job 7:3; Isa 59:4), ‫( ׁשֹוד‬Prov
24:2; Hab 1:3), ‫( ֵריׁש‬Prov 31:7), ‫( ֲענִ י‬Deut 26:7; Ps 25:18), ‫( ַל ַחץ‬Deut 26:7), and
‫( ַמר‬Job 3:20), all of which have negative connotations (e.g., vexation, affliction,
oppression, etc.). It is used to sum up the trouble that Joseph’s life saw (Gen
41:51), the forced labor of Israel in Egypt (Deut 26:7), and the oppression of
Israel under the Ammonites and Philistines (Judg 10:16). In a few places it
occurs to describe common labor (Judg 5:26; Ps 105:44; 127:1; Jonah 4:10).
Though Qoheleth uses the term to refer to common labor “under the sun”
(e.g., 1:3; 2:10–11; 2:21; 3:9; 5:17; 8:15), it is a labor that he ultimately claims
to hate (2:18). And though God does give joy through this labor (2:10, 24;
3:13; 5:18–19; 8:15), in the final analysis it is a toil that yields no profit (cf. 1:3;
2:11, 22; 3:9; 5:15) and is vanity and a striving after wind (2:11). Its product
is left to someone else in death (2:18, 21). It gives reason for despair (2:20),
is less valuable than ease or quietness (4:6), and has the wind as its pursuit
(5:16). Qoheleth seems to have merged the two senses of ‫עמל‬, an afflicted,
vexed, sorrowful, troublesome, common labor. In short, Qoheleth’s use of ‫עמל‬
encapsulates the curse of common work recounted in Genesis.
Next, there is a remarkable recurrence of death throughout the book. It
shows itself as early as 1:4, “A generation goes and a generation comes.” From
here it continually and consistently shows up: 1:11; 2:3, 9, 12, 14–23; 3:1, 3,
18–22; 4:2, 16; 5:15–16, 18, 20; 6:3, 6, 12; 7:1–4, 14–15, 17, 26; 8:8, 10, 13; 9:2–6,
9–10, 12; 10:1, 14; 11:8, 10. At the end of Qoheleth’s reflections is the poem of
12:1–8, which ends with the refrain (12:8) and the most fitting conclusion to
his book of death (12:7), “then the dust will return to the earth as it was, and
the spirit will return to God who gave it.”64
As with the topic of painful toil, there is textual contact which links the
notion of death in Ecclesiastes with that of Genesis (3:20; 12:7; see above un-
der “Certain Reliance”). This non-coincidentally forged canal supports the
plausibility that the superabundant references to death in Ecclesiastes spring
from the waters of Genesis. Qoheleth apparently had been disturbed greatly
by God’s kept promise that mankind would surely die if they disobeyed him
(cf. Gen 2:17; 3:19; 5:1).
The final notable topical correspondence is knowledge. Unlike painful
work and death, there is no text, so far as I know, that directly links the two
books. Nevertheless, given everything that has been argued thus far, it seems
unlikely that the preoccupation with knowledge in Ecclesiastes (‫ ָי ַדע‬, 36x;
‫ַּדַעת‬, 7x) has nothing whatever to do with the significant role knowledge plays
in Genesis (i.e., the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, 2:9, 17, and the
snake’s statement that man will become like God, knowing good and evil, 3:5;
cf. 3:22). In support of this, Clemens notes, “The participial form used in Gn.

64 For an extended discussion of previous interpretations and the particulars of the poem, see

Fox, Qohelet and His Contradictions, 281–310.


3:5 (‘knowing’) occurs most frequently within the OT in [Ecclesiastes] (14

times).”65 If there is a relationship, what is it?
Ecclesiastes 8:16–17 embodies Qoheleth’s attitude towards certain knowl-
edge: “When I gave my heart to know wisdom and to see the task which has
been done on earth … I concluded that man cannot discover the work which
has been done under the sun. Even though man should seek laboriously, he will
not discover; and though the wise man should say, ‘I know,’ he cannot discover.”
Complete knowledge is elusive. I say “complete knowledge” because, though at
times Qoheleth throws his hands up in the air asking “who knows?” (e.g., 3:21;
6:12) and flatly claims that certain things no man knows (e.g., 10:14; 11:2, 5),
there are also things he does claim to know (e.g., 2:14; 3:12, 14; 8:12). Still, “the
ultimate issues of existence are shrouded in mystery.”66
In contrast to man’s limited knowledge of, for instance, what awaits him,
is God’s having everything in his hand (cf. 9:1, 12). Perhaps then, if there is
an existing overlap, it is in the contrast between God’s and man’s knowledge:
“Just as you do not know the path of the wind and how bones are formed in
the womb of the pregnant woman, so you do not know the activity of God who
makes all things” (Eccl 11:5). Though man may have become like God knowing
good and evil (cf. Gen 3:22), he did not ascend to omniscience.67 The chasm
between God’s and man’s knowledge, as intimated in Gen 3:5, is still present,
and Qoheleth is aware of it. If there is a link, though I want to stress this as a
tentative proposal, it seems to be along these lines.
So then, a strong case can be made that two of the major topics of Ecclesi-
astes, painful labor and death, stream straight from Genesis. Knowledge too,
though more open to criticism, is likely traceable to the same source. All in all,
adding these considerations to the existence of creational bookends; the places
of certain reliance; shared vocabulary including marked verbs, word clusters,
and word pairs; and echoes/allusions, completes the case for the pervasive
influence of the early chapters of Genesis on the Book of Ecclesiastes.

V. Some Concluding Analysis

A full analysis of the above material deserves its own article. Nonetheless, I
would like to offer some initial thoughts on the matter and express where the
data has brought me in my own reading of the Book of Ecclesiastes.
In addition to the particular verses that are unexplainable apart from
Genesis (e.g., 7:24–29; see above), there are a handful of connections which

65 Clemens,“Sin and Death,” 7n16.

66 Forman,“Koheleth’s Use of Genesis,” 261.
67 The meaning of what it is for man “to know good and evil” (in Gen 3:5, 22) is debated. For

detailed treatments, see Robert Gordis, “The Knowledge of Good and Evil in the Old Testament
and the Qumran Scrolls,” JBL 76 (1957): 123–38; Herold S. Stern, “Knowledge of Good and Evil,”
VT 8 (1958), 405–18.

have something in common and lead to the conclusion that first and foremost,
when it comes to Genesis’s interpretational influence on Ecclesiastes, readers of
Ecclesiastes should understand the book as a whole against the background of a cursed
world, that is, in light of Adam’s fall into sin and God’s subsequent judgment of death
and toil. Basically, Ecclesiastes is doing and evaluating wisdom in the context
of a fallen, cursed world. While I am not alone in drawing this conclusion, it
is my hope that the evidence presented above serves to further undergird the
appropriateness of it.68
The quotes of Eccl 3:20 and 12:7 (dust to dust) come from Gen 3:17, Adam’s
death penalty. Ecclesiastes 7:29 (“God made man upright, but they have sought
out many devices”) recalls man’s first sin (Gen 3). And its surrounding verses
(Eccl 7:26 and 28) bring to mind Eve’s entrapment of Adam to sin (cf. Gen
3:17), described as “more bitter than death” (Eccl 7:26). Each of these focuses
on death and disobedience resulting in death.
The prominent/recurring allusions/word clusters can be fixed in the same
setting. In Ecclesiastes variations on the phrase “all the days of your life” (8x)
picks up the curse of man in Gen 3:17. He will eat in toil all the days of his life.
Two of the most noticeable parts of the Eden scene in Eccl 2, “tree of every
fruit” and “I did not keep back from my eyes all they desired,” bring to mind
Eve’s encounter with the fruit of the tree and her transgression. The pain of
work and serpent duo of Eccl 10 reminds us of the serpent’s role in Eden and
one of the curses of judgment, toilsome labor. The focal points of these echoes
are the curse of man’s work (i.e., painful labor), transgression, and death, add-
ing only one new member (painful labor) to the mix.
Two of the obsessions in Ecclesiastes, death and toil, link directly with the
fall and its consequences. Their constant recurrence makes an impression on
the whole of the book, rather than bits and pieces. That is, the isolated explicit
correspondences that take us back to the first sin and the curse (e.g., 3:20,
7:29, and 12:7) have their interpretational influence dispersed by the recurring
themes. Death and toil are what occupy Qoheleth’s mind throughout. The
particular verses point us back to Genesis and inform us why: because Adam
sinned, God cursed man, and that has pervaded everything.
Some additional texts seem to bear out the fall-curse setting. The ending
to the epilogue takes on an additional weight when read against this context.
“Fear God and keep his commandments.… For God will bring every act to judg-
ment, everything which is hidden, whether it is good or evil” (Eccl 12:13–14).
If the absurd death-plagued world of Ecclesiastes is the result of the first man’s
disobedience to a commandment of God, then there are very good and tan-
gible reasons to fear him and his pending judgment.

68 Some commentators (e.g., Eaton) draw the same conclusion seemingly based on Forman’s

work alone. But Forman’s work has been rightly criticized by Michel, and many of his connections
are tenuous at best. Maurer’s work comes to a similar conclusion, and it is founded upon much
better grounds. See his dissertation, “Book of Ecclesiastes as a Derash of Genesis 1–4.”

The fact that God has given man ‫ ִענְ יַ ן ָרע‬makes good sense in the fall context.
As does 7:13, “See the work of God. Who can make straight what he has made
crooked?” (cf. 1:15). In short, I think if someone asked Qoheleth the ques-
tions—Why is everything ‫ ? ֶה ֶבל‬Why is there a lack of profit to certain things?
Why are wisdom’s benefits tempered? Why do good things happen to bad
people and bad things happen to good people? Why death? Why toil? Why
trouble?—he would respond: Because God gave Adam a commandment and
he disobeyed. And God cursed him and his posterity, and subjected the world
to futility.
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