Dr. Choon-Leon Seow has written an admirable, neatly scholarly, and lucid treatise for an enjoyment of Ecclesiastes. Even though Hebrew block letters with their Syrian vowel punctuation is lacking [one does abhor seeing Hebrew, Classical & Late, transliterated as here], one's eye does grow accustom to the barbaric transcription into the Roman alphabet. The text makes generous use of the superb textual-critical scholarship of S. R. Driver (1905, 1913) in preparation of the various manuscript rencensions for Ecclesiastes.
His philological notes are fairly decent, even though they lack the depth and penetration of D. Lys, L'Ecclesiaste ou Que vaut la vie? (1977), Volume 1 [Ec 1.1 to 4:3] in his magisterial magnum opus. If he had paid attention to more grammatical features of this formidable text, he would have written a first-rate commentary. But this was not his purpose. He wanted to make the reading of Ecclesiastes enjoyable for the vulgar herd of humanity; in this purpose he has exceptionally succeeded.
He did not carefully delineate the various glossators, commentators and redactors who generously spoiled the original text of the great 'experimental' philosopher or "The Assembler" of young men and proverbial sayings!
His mastery of the astute poetical & philosophical scholarship of Hellenistic Egypt whose air our author breathed is equally weak and poorly documented in his commentary. After all the book represents the tension between Hellenism and Judaism as a legitimate claim for men's mind, heart & soul. Our ancient author betrays slyly his fascination with the youth clubs, gymnasia and public oratory of urban elite Hellenistic cities. It was this culture that he was accommodating to his superior, more ancient, Hebrew culture (from his perspective).
Now we have the problem of translation to deal with. You are, indeed, interpreting an ancient text when you attempt to bring it into modern dress or language. One cannot adequately go from a Semitic tongue to an Indo-European tongue without doing vile damage to the former. It is best to translate one Hebrew word with three to five modern English words. Examples: tob "good" (used 46 times), hebel "vanity" (used 38 times), (ha)elohim "(the) God" (used 37 times Hebrew text, 39 times LXX), and yitron "profit, advantage" (used 9 times).
Also, he did not deal astutely with the problem of the Introduction [Ec 1:1-11] and Conclusion [Ec 8a-13a, 14] to the text. Who wrote the Introduction? It certainly was not Qoheleth! It functions as a colophon wherein a brilliant summary of the text is given. Also, the reader should have been told that our famous phrase, "Vanity of vanities!" [Hebrew, habel habalim, Greek, atmos atmidon or atmon, Latin, vanitas vanitatum or, more correctly, 'O vanitatem vanitatum!] does not originate with this rosh hamaskilim ['chief of the scholars'] who gave us this literary philosophical masterpiece!
He did not capture lucidly the brilliant air of the age as captured by the High Priest, Simeon I (280-260 BCE) the Just, who's chief maxim was: "The world exists through three things: the Law, Worship, and Beneficience!" [Ab.i.2] Since the work was composed around 250 B.C.E. some attention should have been paid to Ptolemy II Philadelphus (282-246 BCE) and Ptolemy III Euergetes (246-222 BCE). The province of Judea was under Egyptian control from 323-198 BCE; after all, it is this splendid culture that made the work possible in the first place.
This Commentary is not of the stature of a K. Galling (1969), N. Lohfink (1980), W. Zimmerli (1980), and D. Lys (1977), but for the English speaking world, it will do nicely! I highly recommend that one buy this book. If you are a philological-text critical scholar, you will be amused and surprised; if you are a member of the non-literate tribe (those who do not know the three classical languages of Western Civilization--Classical Hebrew, Classical Greek & Classical Latin) there is much you will learn from Professor Doctor Choon-Leon Seow's great commentary on Ecclesiastes or Qoheleth!
John E.D.P. Malin
Chairman of the Board & CEO
Cecilia, LA 70521-0460