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(This is a question I am posting over at the Facebook Group, Nerdy Language Majors — if you’re a language geek, it is a great place to discuss Greek, Latin, Hebrew and other far more exotic ancient languages)

A translation history question: How did the Hebrew text end up as the standard English translation? This was a question I had with a friend the other evening. We may have missed something quite obvious. Moreover, it is quite possible that one of the members of this group was actually involved in the English language translation decisions. Here is the text and the history of translation from Greek to English:

Ecclesiastes 2:24 (BHS/WHM 4.2)

24   אֵֽין־ט֤וֹב בָּאָדָם֙ שֶׁיֹּאכַ֣ל

Which as Young’s Literal Translation reads:

 

Ecclesiastes 2:24 (YLT)

24There is nothing good in a man who eateth,

 

The Septuagint reads

Ecclesiastes 2:24 (LXX)

24 Οὐκ ἔστιν ἀγαθὸν ἐν ἀνθρώπῳ,

(Not there is good in (a) man/human being).

 

The change seems to come in the Vulage:

 24 Nonne melius est comedere

The word good (tob, agathos) is here “melius” the comparative form of “good”; hence, “better”. As is seen in the English translation of the Vulgate:

Ecclesiastes 2:24 (D-R)

24 Is it not better to eat

The German has

Kohelet 2,24(LUT1912)

  1. Ist’s nun nicht besser dem Menschen,

The AV

Ecclesiastes 2:24 (AV)

24 There isnothing better for a man,thanthat he should eat

And this patter is seen in all the major modern English translations, such as

Ecclesiastes 2:24 (ESV)

24 There is nothing better for a person than that ….

How is this explained?  The Hebrew pattern is not the standard comparative structure. In fact, we could not come up with a similar Hebrew pattern which was translated as a comparative. We surmised that Vulgate provided a gloss which was then followed by Luther & the AV. The combined weight of the Vulgate, Luther and the AV exerted sufficient gravity to draw along the following English translations. Is our theory correct? Did we miss something painfully obvious in the Hebrew?