Ecclesiastes 7:1tn The comparative term טוֹב (tov, “better”) is repeated throughout 7:1-12. It introduces a series of “Better-than sayings,” particularly in 7:1-6 in which every poetic unit is introduced by טוֹב.
Ecclesiastes 7:1tnHeb “good.” The repetition of טוֹב (tov, “good”) forms an inclusion (a structural device that rounds off the unit), while the two internal terms מִשֶּׁמֶן…שֵׁם (shem mishemen, “name…ointment”) create a paronomastic wordplay (see the note on the word “perfume”). The combination of these two sets of literary devices creates an AB:B'A' chiasm: מִשֶּׁמֶן טוֹב // שֵׁםטוֹב (tov shem // mishemen tov, e.g., “good name”// “ointment good”).
Ecclesiastes 7:1tn Or “oil”; or “ointment.” The term שֶׁמֶן (shemen) refers to fragrant “perfume; cologne; ointment” (Amos 6:6; Eccl 10:1; Song 1:2 [1:3 HT]; 4:10); see HALOT 1568 s.v. שֶׁמֶן A.2.c. Bodily oils were expensive (1 Kgs 17:12; 2 Kgs 2:4). Possession of oils and perfumes was a sign of prosperity (Deut 32:8; 33:24; Job 29:6; Prov 21:17; Ezek 16:13, 20). Wearing colognes and oils was associated with joy (Ps 45:8; Eccl 9:8; Isa 61:3) because they were worn on festive occasions (Prov 27:9). The similar sounding terms “name” (שֵׁם, shem) and “perfume” (שֶׁמֶן) create a wordplay (paronomasia). See W. G. E. Watson, Classical Hebrew Poetry (JSOTSup), 242-43; J. J. Glück, “Paronomasia in Biblical Literature,” Semitics 1 (1970): 50-78; A. Guillaume, “Paronomasia in the Old Testament.” JSS 9 (1964): 282-90; J. M. Sasson, “Wordplay in the OT,” IDBSup 968-70.
Ecclesiastes 7:1tn The word “one’s” does not appear in the Hebrew text, but is supplied in the translation for clarity.
Ecclesiastes 7:1tn The article prefixed to הַמָּוֶת (hammavet, “death”) probably functions in an indefinite possessive sense or in a generic sense: “one’s death,” e.g., Gen 44:2 (see R. J. Williams, Hebrew Syntax, 19, §86, §92).
Ecclesiastes 7:1sn There are two ways to understand this proverb: (1) Happy times (characterized by celebration and “fragrant perfume”) teach us less than hard times (“the day of one’s death”) which can bring about moral improvement (“a good reputation”). (2) It is better to come to the end of one’s life (“day of one’s death”) with a good reputation (“a good name”) than to merely be starting life (“day of one’s birth”) in an auspicious manner in joy and wealth (“fine perfume”). Folly and wickedness could foil a good beginning so that a person ends life as a fool. For example, Solomon began as the wisest man who ever lived, only to end life as one of history’s greatest fools.
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