Ecclesiastes 9:5-10 (ESV):

5 For the living know that they will die, but the dead know nothing, and they have no more reward, for the memory of them is forgotten. 6 Their love and their hate and their envy have already perished, and forever they have no more share in all that is done under the sun.

7 Go, eat your bread with joy, and drink your wine with a merry heart, for God has already approved what you do.

8 Let your garments be always white. Let not oil be lacking on your head.

9 Enjoy life with the wife whom you love, all the days of your vain life that he has given you under the sun, because that is your portion in life and in your toil at which you toil under the sun. 10 Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with your might, for there is no work or thought or knowledge or wisdom in Sheol, to which you are going.

The highlighted verses are quoted by many to argue for viewing death as a state of unconsciousness, nothingness, non-existence. However, I understand that the Pharisees viewed the afterlife differently, they believed that the spirits of the dead were alive and conscious in Sheol (not in a state of non-existence).

Question: How would Pharisees of the 1st century AD have interpreted Ecclesiastes 9:5-10?

2 Answers 2


The Aramaic Targum (Composed: c.0 - c.600 CE), translates verse 5 as follow:

For the righteous know that if they sin, they will be considered as dead in the world to come. Therefore, they guard their ways and do not sin and if they sin, they return in repentance. But the sinners do not know anything good because they do not make their deeds good in their lifetime and they do not know anything good in the world to come and they do not have a good reward after their death for their memory is forgotten from the righteous.

The Yerushalmi Talmud (Berachos 2:3) (Palestinian Talmud, a bit later than you asked, c.375 - c.425 CE) interprets this verse as follow:

“The living know that they will die”, these are the Just who even in death are considered living; “but the dead do not know anything;” these are the wicked who even in life are called dead.

On verse 7, the Aramaic Targum says:

Solomon said by the spirit of prophecy from before the Lord, “The Master of the World will say to all the righteous ones individually, Go eat in joy your bread which was given to you for the bread which you gave to the poor and the needy who were hungry, and drink with a happy heart your wine which is hidden for you in the Garden of Eden in exchange for the wine which you mixed for the poor and needy who were thirsty. For G-d has already accepted your good deeds.

The Aramaic translation can be interpreted to mean that when you do acts of kindness in this world, you get rewarded by the "bread" in the world-to-come.

It seems that Kohelet (Ecclesiastes) chapter 9 is about charity, as the Targum Aramaic explains (v.10):

Whatever charity your hand finds to do, do for the needy with all your strength, for after death a man has neither work nor reckoning nor knowledge nor wisdom in the grave where you are going and nothing will help you but good deeds and charity alone.

These were the only ones I found on Sefaria that were composed in this era (a little bit after or before). You can easily check out which commentaries are from that era, by looking into the "Biblical Commentators Timeline" made by AlHaTorah.org, you can change the "beginning year". Also, the Torah She-be-'al Peh Timeline can be useful.

As you may notice, I use Sefaria for the sources in Torah/Tanakh. My personal opinion is that these translations (English) are better than ESV or other versions. Check out Sefaria.org here.


Follow from the beginning and see Rashi.

v. 5: For the living know that they will die. - and perhaps they will be mindful of the day of death, and they will repent of their ways, but once they die, they do not know anything - meaning they can no longer [have this mindfulness] and earn reward for the actions that they do from their death and onwards, for “whoever toils on the eve of Shabbos will [have what to] eat on Shabbos.”


  • Is Rashi a Pharisee from the 1st century?
    – magicker72
    Feb 2, 2022 at 14:19
  • @magicker72 Rashi enthologizes the traditional Oral Torah explanation (Perush - Pharisee). That this was not Shlomo's meaning or that these explanations only derive many centuries later, is not the presumption, and would also be hard to prove because the Oral was not written then. Feb 2, 2022 at 14:44

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