QUESTION: Hello Inbar,
In Ecclesiastes (btw: what do Jews call the Book of Ecclesiastes? The Book of Kohelet, perhaps?) what is the original Hebrew word that Christianity has always interpreted as "vanity"—and has the original Hebrew word other meanings?
ANSWER: Hi Bud,
Yes, the Book of Ecclesiastes is called קהלת - "Kohelet" (without "the book of") in Hebrew. It is the nickname King Solomon gave himself in the beginning of the book (his pseudonym).
The word interpreted as "vanity" is הבל - hevel. The literal meaning of "hevel" is vapor, but it is used figuratively to describe things that are not important. A modern translation should be "Total nonsense, everything is total nonsense".
I think the interpretation of hevel as "vanity" was influenced by the book of Proverbs (31:30), where it says הבל היופי - hevel hayofi - meaning "beauty is nonsense", in the context of vanity.
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QUESTION: Hello again, Inbar,
Purely out of curiosity, "Kohelet" being "the nickname of King Solomon gave himself," is this a traditional understanding or is there more to it than that?
Also, if you will, is "Solomon" (in, of course the Hebrew alphabet) the authentic spelling or is it different?
"Kohelet" is traditionally assumed to be Solomon because the book begins with:
"דִּבְרֵי קֹהֶלֶת בֶּן-דָּוִד, מֶלֶךְ בִּירוּשָׁלִָם"
meaning "the words/writings of Kohelet son of David, king in Jerusalem".
It is a question whether he's saying that Kohelet is the king, which would make him Solomon, or he's just saying that he's son of King David, which could be another son.
The original Hebrew name of King Solomon is שלמה, pronounced Shlomo.