There is No Remembrance (Qoheleth 1:11)

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Irish1975
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There is No Remembrance (Qoheleth 1:11)

Post by Irish1975 »

Qoheleth (Ecclesiastes) 1:11

The people of long ago are not remembered, nor will there be any remembrance of people yet to come by those who come after them.
NRSV

Is there anything more terribly beautiful, or beautifully terrible, in any scripture?

I have usually read Ecclesiastes in the KJV. As with apparently most modern Christian translations, it blunts the force of this line considerably:

There is no remembrance of former things; neither shall there be any remembrance of things that are to come with those that shall come after.
KJV

The RSV is much the same. So I was surprised that it would be the NRSV that would produce such a beautiful and striking translation. There was, apparently, a decision to be more precise about what “things” exactly are not remembered, i.e., people, ancestors, generations. (Of course it is people that one wants to remember, not “things” in general.) The older JPS translation agrees with the NRSV:

There is no remembrance of them of former times; neither shall there be any remembrance of them of latter times that are to come, among those that shall come after.
JPS Tanakh 1917

I don’t have the more recent JPS translation, but I’m curious what it says.


If the original was close to the MT, then the LXX seems to have been the first translation to water it down:

οὐκ ἔστιν μνήμη τοῖς πρώτοις, καί γε τοῖς ἐσχάτοις γενομένοις· οὐκ ἔσται αὐτῶν μνήμη μετὰ τῶν γενησομένων εἰς τὴν ἐσχάτην.

Of which one online translation produces this incoherent mess:

There is no memorial to the first things; neither to the things that have been last shall their memorial be with them that shall at the last

Strangely, Robert Alter’s recent and much acclaimed translation of the Tanakh appears closer to the LXX than to the Masoretic text, as far as the latter is parsed online (I don’t know Hebrew):

There is no remembrance of the first things nor of the last things that will be. They will have no remembrance with those who will be in the latter time.

“There is no remembrance of the last things that will be.” This makes no sense.

So, does the LXX’s τοῖς ἐσχάτοις γενομένοις and εἰς τὴν ἐσχάτην reflect anything in the MT Hebrew?
StephenGoranson
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Re: There is No Remembrance (Qoheleth 1:11)

Post by StephenGoranson »

"The 1985 Jewish Publication Society (JPS) Tanakh translation, a celebrated American-Jewish resource, is now available online thanks to Sefaria, a non-profit organization dedicated to furthering open, participatory Jewish learning for the digital era."
sefaria.org

אֵ֥ין זִכְר֖וֹן לָרִאשֹׁנִ֑ים וְגַ֨ם לָאַחֲרֹנִ֜ים שֶׁיִּהְי֗וּ לֹֽא־יִהְיֶ֤ה לָהֶם֙ זִכָּר֔וֹן עִ֥ם שֶׁיִּהְי֖וּ לָאַחֲרֹנָֽה׃ {פ}

The earlier ones are not remembered; so too those that will occur later will no more be remembered than those that will occur at the very end.
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Irish1975
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Re: There is No Remembrance (Qoheleth 1:11)

Post by Irish1975 »

Thanks for this.

This translation too is strange and awkward, IMO. "The earlier ones" sounds like a clear reference to people, whereas "those that will occur later" is not a felicitous way to speak about human beings.

In his stimulating book The Secular Bible, Jacques Berlinerblau, a professor of Jewish Studies, writes that many passages in the Masoretic text lack grammatical and/or logical sense, and are simply gibberish. I knew this was the case for certain lines in Job. I did not know it might be true for our source text for Qoheleth as well. On the other hand, there are several verses of the KJV that have never made sense to me, and perhaps I now have the explanation. It is, all the same, difficult to understand how a text that was revered and cherished for so many centuries could end up as gibberish.

The NRSV translators seem to have reasoned as follows: the original author must have expressed a clear meaning, which was later corrupted by many generations of scribes who, probably for religious reasons, wanted to suppress or at least muffle that meaning. So here is the thought that Qoheleth, the teacher, whoever he was, must have originally intended to communicate. At any rate, theirs is a beautiful rendering.
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