Ecclesiastes: Annotated & Explained

Ecclesiastes: Annotated & Explained

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by Rami Shapiro

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This contemporary translation presents Ecclesiastes as neither revelation nor prophecy but as a rational and inspirational guide to living well in the midst of a world of uncertainty. Insightful commentary opens up this timeless text for today's world.See more details below


This contemporary translation presents Ecclesiastes as neither revelation nor prophecy but as a rational and inspirational guide to living well in the midst of a world of uncertainty. Insightful commentary opens up this timeless text for today's world.

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

"Rami Shapiro's spirited translation and commentary rescue this great spiritual realist from official neglect and distortion. With zest and good humor … shows us a courageous biblical personality who confronted the problem of life with wisdom from life."
Ray Waddle, editor, Reflections journal; author, Against the Grain: Unconventional Wisdom from Ecclesiastes

“Rami Shapiro’s contemporary and pungently poetic recreations of ancient biblical classics have inspired and instructed me for years. His Ecclesiastes is his most revelatory work yet.”
Andrew Harvey, author, The Hope: A Guide to Spiritual Activism and A Walk with Four Spiritual Guides

“Koheleth’s wisdom of 2,500 years ago is amazingly contemporary. Rabbi Rami savors the wisdom as he enlarges our appreciation of [these] teachings. You won’t be the same after reading this translation and commentary.”
Sister Rosemarie Greco, DW, Wisdom House Retreat Center, Litchfield, Connecticut

“Wisdom from beyond traditional theology…. Offers roadside assistance to the people on the ever-changing path.”
Rabbi Zalman Schachter-Shalomi, co-author, Jewish with Feeling and A Heart Afire; author,
First Steps to a New Jewish Spirit

Association of Jewish Libraries

Rabbi Rami Shapiro is a gifted translator and teacher and provides a text that is clear and easy to understand. In his extensive preface he clearly outlines his own presuppositions and his approach to the text of Ecclesiastes. Heavily influenced by Buddhism, he understands the references to "God" in the text as referring to nature or the way things are "under the sun." He tempers his views by noting his understanding that the author is writing for people of all faiths and backgrounds. The book also includes a foreword by Rev. Barbara Cawthorne Crafton.

Shapiro's notes compare the text of Ecclesiastes with Pirke Avot, as well as with the classic wisdom literature of other religions, and of classical philosophy. According to Rabbi Shapiro, Ecclesiastes is the one book of the Hebrew Bible that speaks to those who may be alienated from traditional religion. The text never uses the Tetragrammaton, and does not discuss devotional practices or life after death. It hews to a simple but thought provoking message that says that the key to a happy and well lived life is to eat and drink simply and moderately, to find good and satisfying work and to cultivate a few close relationships. Rabbi Shapiro emphasizes this point over and over again in his comments.

Not all will agree with all of his interpretations and conclusions. Nonetheless Rabbi Shapiro's book is a serious, well thought out, and well written contribution to a perplexing part of the Hebrew Bible. His work deserves to be included in all collections devoted to Biblical Studies and Jewish thought, and is appropriate for all adult students of the Bible whether in academia or in the general community.

The Bible Today

"Emptying upon emptying! Everything is emptying." So does Rabbi Shapiro translate Ecclesiastes 1:2. He comments, "Koheleth's message isn't that life is vain or futile, but rather that it is transient and empty of permanence. Ecclesiastes is a guidebook to living without permanence, surety and security while still finding joy in living" (p. 2). Shapiro’s translation is on one page while the facing page gives a brief commentary on select words and/or themes and annotations from a wide spectrum of the world’s wisdom and religious texts, including the Gospel of Thomas, the Bhagavad Gita, the Qur’an, and Pirke Avot. Everyone can use this book for meditation and reflection on reality and life.

Jewish Book World

In this contemporary translation, Rabbi Rami Shapiro presents the Book of Ecclesiastes as neither revelation nor prophecy but as a rational and inspirational guide to living well in the midst of uncertainty.

Jewish Media Review

Anything Rabbi Rami Shapiro puts his hands, mind and heart to do has to be inspiring and enlightening. His translation and explanation of Kohelet is a major contribution to our understanding of one of the most important books in the Bible. His interpretation of the commonly translated "Vanity of vanities, all is vanity" (1:1) is worth the price of the book alone. Shapiro translates it "Emptying upon emptying, everything is emptying." For more, pick up and study a copy of the book.

Twenty-three hundred years ago, an unnamed Hebrew sage known only as Kohelet, the Assembler of Wisdom, rocked the ancient Jewish world with a critique of society that shattered conventional notions of God, piety, politics and power. Kohelet lived in a world of change and challenge not unlike our own. His teachings, known as the Book of Ecclesiastes, sought to empower people not unlike ourselves, which is why this book of the Hebrew Bible still speaks to us—people of all faiths—today.

In this contemporary and accurate translation, Rami Shapiro presents the Book of Ecclesiastes as neither revelation nor prophecy but as a rational and inspirational guide to living well in the midst of uncertainty. Beginning with its opening broadside, “Havel havalim!”—not “futility” or “vanity” as most translations would have it, but “breath,” “vapor” and “impermanence”—Shapiro opens up Kohelet's approach to living in a world where nothing lasts and justice is illusory; a world devoted to accumulating power, wealth, pleasure and even knowledge that leaves you drowning in anxiety and needless suffering. He shows how Kohelet's God demands neither sacrifice nor adherence to commandments, offering instead a practical lifestyle rooted in moderation, meaningful work and friendship.

Now you can experience the Book of Ecclesiastes and understand Kohelet’s teachings with no previous knowledge of the Hebrew Bible.

This SkyLight Illuminations edition presents insightful commentary that restores this ancient text to its timeless place as a guide to living sanely in an often insane world.

Rabbi Rami Shapiro, a renowned spiritual teacher, is an award-winning storyteller, poet, and essayist. He is the author of Ecclesiastes: Annotated & Explained; Recovery—the Sacred Art: The Twelve Steps as Spiritual Practice; The Sacred Art of Lovingkindness: Preparing to Practice; The Divine Feminine in Biblical Wisdom Literature: Selections Annotated & Explained; Ethics of the Sages: Pirke Avot—Annotated & Explained; Hasidic Tales: Annotated & Explained; The Hebrew Prophets: Selections Annotated & Explained (all SkyLight Paths) and other books.

The Huntsville Times - Kay Campbell

HUNTSVILLE, AL—Here's the truth, according to the ancient author of the biblical Ecclesiastes: Life is movement, impermanence, and fundamental injustice. But it can still be good, if taken on its own terms.

Rabbi Rami Shapiro's translation and annotation of Ecclesiastes, part of SkyLight Paths' series of Illuminations, gets back to the heart of the Hebrew. It was written, Shapiro says, during an age much like ours when people were consumed with getting rich, when the poor were pushed off their land and out of their homes by creditors, when the beginnings of factory farming meant that farmhands had precious little land to grow their own food. Everything was changing, and the wise learned to find their satisfaction in the simplicity of good work and in good food shared moderately with good friends, not in piles of gold.

Ecclesiastes, Shapiro writes, is tough, unsentimental and non-religious in the traditional sense. It's more akin to the writings of the Chinese Tao and the ancient Stoics than it is to the rest of the Hebrew Bible. Shapiro demonstrates that cross-faith and culture kinship with facing-page notes and quotations from works ranging from Marcus Aurelius and the Tao te Ching to the Bhagavad Gita and Qur'an.

Spirituality & Practice

"Ecclesiastes isn't a condemnation of life as worthless, and human effort as vain and futile, but rather a revelation into the impermanence of reality and a guide to how to live in the midst of impermanence and insecurity with a modicum of joy and tranquility," writes Rabbi Rami Shapiro, a prolific and highly respected multifaith writer and retreat leader, who is featured on our website as one of our Living Spiritual Teachers. In this illuminating book, he presents his translation and commentary on the controversial book of the Hebrew Bible—for centuries, considered little more than a rant on the evils of vanity.

Shapiro has found Ecclesiastes to be a deep, rich text—"an examination of life without escape." He believes that Koheleth delivers a recipe for living with constant change: "Eat simply, drink moderately, work constructively and cultivate love and friendship with two or three others." In fact, Shapiro is convinced that Ecclesiastes is "the most honest and hopeful book in the entire Hebrew canon," very relevant to our times with its depiction of change, insecurity, corruption, the oppression of the poor by the rich and the desperate search for meaning.

One of the most salutary things about Shapiro's commentaries on Ecclesiastes is his use of quotations and references to other religions. This practice adds both breadth and depth to his interpretations. In Ecclesiastes 3:1 Koheleth writes: "Everything in this world has its moment, / a season of ripening and falling away." It is sheer folly to try to grasp, cling to or hang on to the moment. Instead of lamenting its passing, there is another way: "Reality's flow is endless, / moment to moment nothing is added / and nothing is taken away, / and its sole purpose is to open you to wonder." Adapting ourselves to the flow of time, we are blessed with the gift of wonder. Koheleth considers the rewards and pleasures of wealth and power and possessions but finds them all fleeting. In his commentary, Shapiro sums up a more sane approach:

"Male or female, the truth is the same: If you want to find joy in life, live simply: eat simply, drink moderately, work constructively and cultivate a few close friends. That's it. But chances are you can't accept that. You want something more complicated. You want something you have to spend your life pursuing, something so rare that when you die without it you do not despair but imagine it was just too rare to find. Nonsense. Life is simple; joy is simple; but only if you have the courage to live simply enough to experience it."

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Product Details

Skylight Paths Publishing
Publication date:
SkyLight Illuminations Series
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Product dimensions:
5.40(w) x 8.40(h) x 0.50(d)

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