As witnesses we were truly convinced that we knew the truth about the dead. They were truly dead, and we often quoted Ecclesiastes 9:4-6, our favourite proof text on that topic, to prove the point. That text reads (just in case you've already forgotten it - smile), (from the NIV):
"Anyone who is among the living has hope[b]—even a live dog is better off than a dead lion!
For the living know that they will die, but the dead know nothing; they have no further reward, and even their name is forgotten."
We probably never thought much about the next bit, which in many versions can be used to argue against the concept of a resurrection, because the NWT uses Freddie's escape clause, as he translates the NIV's rendering of vs 6, which reads:
"Their love, their hate and their jealousy have long since vanished; never again will they have a part in anything that happens under the sun."
with an expression that uses an alternative meaning for the pertinent Hebrew word, so that it reads (at least in older versions of the NWT) -
"Also the love and their hate and their jealousy have already perished, and they have no portion anymore to time indefinite in anything that has to be done under the sun."
The Hebrew expression is 'owlam.' which can have these meanings (according to Strong's Concordance):
long duration, antiquity, futurity, for ever, ever, everlasting, evermore, perpetual, old, ancient, world
ancient time, long time (of past)
for ever, always
continuous existence, perpetual
everlasting, indefinite or unending future, eternity
So it become rather clear that its difficult to use the bible to solve ideological views of what the author of that document was implying when he wrote the words.
In an attempt to solve that dilemma, we could try to interrogate the author in some way. Who was he, when did he live, etc? That may give us some idea of what he meant.
We immediately run into a road block. The author is not named, the first verse simply stating, according to the NIV:
"The words of the Teacher,[a] son of David, king in Jerusalem":
the NWT chooses to use the word congregator,
The hebrew word is qoheleth, to which Strong's provides these meanings:
collector (of sentences), preacher, public speaker, speaker in an assembly, Qoheleth
The JWs ideological way of solving these problems, becomes clear when we go to the Aid book for information. In the entry for Eccleiastes, the first two paragraphs provides a barrage of information attempting to say the author must be Solomon, and therefore we are reading a traditional Hebrew view of death, so that it all fits neatly into the witness ideological box.
However, a consensus of modern scholarship has a different view, I suggest that the Wikipedia entry probably portrays that contemporary consensus when it describes it this way:
"The book takes its name from the Greek ekklesiastes, a translation of the title by which the central figure refers to himself: Koheleth, meaning something like "one who convenes or addresses an assembly". According to rabbinic tradition, Ecclesiastes was written by Solomon in his old age. (An alternative tradition that "Hezekiah and his colleagues wrote Isaiah, Proverbs, the Song of Songs and Ecclesiastes" probably means simply that the book was edited under Hezekiah.)
Nevertheless, critical scholars have long rejected the idea of a pre-exilic origin. The presence of Persian loan-words and Aramaisms points to a date no earlier than about 450 BCE, while the latest possible date for its composition is 180 BCE, when another Jewish writer, Ben Sira, quotes from it. The dispute as to whether Ecclesiastes belongs to the Persian or the Hellenistic periods (i.e., the earlier or later part of this period) revolves around the degree of Hellenization (influence of Greek culture and thought) present in the book. Scholars arguing for a Persian date (c. 450–330 BCE) hold that there is a complete lack of Greek influence; those who argue for a Hellenistic date (c. 330–180 BCE) argue that it shows internal evidence of Greek thought and social setting."
We can appreciate that we need some other way to identify what early Christians expected when they died? So that's for the next post: