This week I translated sections of wisdom literature. The professor gave us a paper with all the uses of the word normally translated "meaningless" or "vanity" in Ecclesiastes. Often the word could be translated "nothing" but it was also used to refer to idols. "Why do you worship those nothings?" Solomon says all things are "nothing" but that word doesn't give the full sense of his meaning to us. There is a repetition of the word in the first verse and it is in construct so it should be read, "nothing of nothings" or as some translate it "vanity of vanities". Of all the things that are vain or meaningless in this world what he is writing about is the most vain, the most meaningless, the most nothing. His main point is that nothing lasts forever so ultimately nothing is ever accomplished. "All rivers flow into the sea but it is never full." How much work does it take to move all that water into the sea and yet it is never finished but will go on forever. So it is with our lives that everything we pour our time and hearts into only feed bellies that get hungry again web. Even if we create something wonderful we will soon pass away and eventually all we have labored for will be overturned. It is inevitable, even more, it is built into the system. "The eye is never satisfied with seeing and the ear is never full of hearing." In the end, no matter what we do, we will gain as much as if we spent our whole lives chasing wind.
Proverbs was more inspiring. Several verses I translated had no verbs, which made it all the more inspiring because it was easier to read. "Wisdom weighty jewels" or "she tree of life to those firm in her". The reader must supply the linking verb "is". She is a tree of life, wisdom is more weighty than jewels, etc. Any time a verse is easy to translate it seems more meaningful.