Cosmology and הֶבֶל (hebel) in Qoheleth
The translation of הֶבֶל (hebel) with vanitas has had a profound influence in the history of exegesis of the book of Qoheleth often characterized as the most pessimistic, skeptical, and nihilistic book in the Hebrew Bible, having as author a despondent man. This dissertation provides a corrective to the “vanity”, “meaningless”, “absurd” or negative reading of הֶבֶל in Qoheleth, by arguing that הֶבֶל has a positive value, as it expresses not the absurdity or the meaningless of life, but its fleetingness/transitoriness/brevity, whose meaning is disclosed in the opening and closing poems (1:2-11 and 12:1-8). This dissertation thus argues that the הֲבֵל הֲבָלִים הַכֹּל הָבֶל which introduces and concludes the book of Qoheleth (1:2; 12:8) is an appeal to contemplate the order, the beauty of the cosmos, through the regularity, recurrence, and cyclicality of natural phenomena. It also calls attention to the fleetingness of human experience in the world, which Qoheleth highlights in the opening and closing poems but also by the use of transient markers: יְמֵי־חַיֵּי הֶבְלוֹ ,(7:15) בִּימֵי הֶבְלִי ,(9:9), כָּל־יְמֵי חַיֵּי הֶבְלֶךָ ,(11:8) יְמֵי הַחֹשֶׁךְ (11:8) יְמֵי בְּחוּרוֹת (11:10) הַיַּלְדוּת וְהַשַּׁחֲרוּת הָבֶל (6:12), as well as אַחֲרָיו ,צֵּל and מִסְפַּר. The shortness of life and the limited duration of human achievements do not empty human life of its true meaning and value. Rather, they tell of the very nature of humans and their actions. The hebelness is from God who made things as fleeting, temporary, transient compared to his own eternity. By using the term הֶבֶל, and by introducing and concluding his book with “nature” poems, Qoheleth reminds the readers of their transience in this world with its pressing and tragic problems, as well as comforting them with the fact that evil itself is temporary in its impacts on life. They will pass away. Hence, Qoheleth’s opening and closing statement: הֲבֵל הֲבָלִים הַכֹּל הָבֶל (1:2; 12:8).