Ecclesiastes 7:23-29 – An Allegory of Wisdom and Folly


Ecclesiastes 7:23-29


Drawing on the wisdom tradition’s classic allegory of Wisdom and Folly as two women (see Proverbs 1-9), the Teacher describes his ongoing search for Wisdom, which always proves elusive. Folly, on the other hand, is a wicked temptation easily entrapping the sinner.


The Teacher’s reference to “the woman who is a trap” should not be understood as referring to any actual woman, or even women in general, but rather to the allegorical representation of Folly as the “strange woman.” The personification of Wisdom and Folly as women is at the heart of Proverbs 1-9, where a father instructs his son to avoid the “strange woman” and to seek instead after “woman wisdom.” Even when reading the Ecclesiastes passage allegorically, verse 28 remains startling, as it seems to imply that finding a wise man is difficult, but finding a wise woman is impossible. The verse’s interpretation is made more difficult by the fact that neither the word “wise,” nor any adjective at all, is found in the verse. The NRSV’s translation, which follows the Hebrew very closely, is apt in its ambiguity: “One man among a thousand I found, but a woman among all these I have not found.” It is possible that an editor added this verse as a conclusion, having misunderstood the rest of the passage as a commentary on gender. It is also possible that a word dropped out of v. 28 early in the manuscript tradition, or that the sentence contains an idiomatic usage now lost to us. Or it may be that the author/editor was indeed taking a petty swipe at the intellect of women, though it would be a peculiar strategy for a tradition that also imagines wisdom, its highest value, as a woman, and for a book that describes its male author with a feminine participle (“Qoheleth,” see 1:1).