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And better than both of them is the one who has never existed,

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who has not seen the miserable work that is done under the sun.


But better off than both

of them is the one who has never existed, the one who has not seen how hard we have to work here on earth and how easily it can all be stripped away.


1: “never existed”

If worldly goods are our chief goal, it would be better to never have been born. The ones who are alive and the ones who have lived and died have both discovered that a pursuit of material things will prove futile. Other ancient writers, including Job, Theognis, Sophocles, and Euripides, also compared the living, the dead and those who never have existed. Some see this comparison and say that Solomon was influenced by the Greeks and was straying from his Jewish roots. However, that would not be the case for Job who lived much earlier. I see it as a common thought process that many peoples of ancient times shared. In one way it did not violate Judaism because it is focused on the human, earthly perspective, purposefully leaving out the heavenly perspective for the time being. The author frequently employs the phrase “under the sun” to qualify his statements as coming from a strictly earthly perspective.

In another way it is a reduction of Judaism for it leaves out some important teachings of it. Ecclesiastes sounds different from the rest of the Bible. I believe that the only way to account for this without compromising my integrity is to say that he was a grieving man who could not see beyond his own grief. For that reason this book can be helpful for those who are also hurting; it is a lesson in what not to do.

It is also noteworthy that some have taken this statement about those who have never existed or not yet been born as an indication that the souls of future humans have already been created and are waiting to be paired with a body. However, that does not appear to be the purpose of this sentence. We cannot know for sure if the idea of waiting souls is correct or false and God did not give us enough clear information to make a final decision on the matter. We must conclude that knowing the answer to that question is not vital to our daily lives.