This essay critiques the thesis that Michael V. Fox first published in 1986 and has since supplemented that the word הבל in Ecclesiastes (38x) should always be translated as “absurd.” Fox’s argument has convinced many other Qoheleth experts to adopt this translation. In this essay, I will demonstrate that Fox’s argument is untenable for the following reasons: it constitutes a new usage for הבל not found in the rest of the Hebrew Bible and, thus, is lexically and semantically fallacious; it is anachronistic both for Qoheleth and for the ancient Near East; it downplays the carpe-diem ethic and, thus, Qoheleth’s primarily ethical intent. Following the critique and relying on Klaus Seybold, I propose that a word in the sphere of values such as “worthless” is a better translation of הבל for the majority of usages in Qoheleth.

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