“A Thousand to None”: What Did Solomon Mean?

Ecclesiastes 7:27-28 in the ESV reads:

 27 Behold, this is what I found, says the Preacher, while adding one thing to another to find the scheme of things— 28 which my soul has sought repeatedly, but I have not found. One man among a thousand I found, but a woman among all these I have not found. 

This is a difficult passage. Is it talking about wisdom or righteousness?  Are these statistics an accurate reflection of the way it is, the way it was, or is it something else?  Did Solomon have a problem looking down on women?  Is this written from an "under the sun" depressed attitude, rather than taking into account divine revelation?

Whatever good quality Solomon was referring to here, it sounds like he attributes men with at least a ten-to-one advantage.

This is hard to understand given the fact that the OT paints a picture of many godly and wise women, even in the generation just before Solomon (think of wise and righteous Abigail, or David's great grandmother, Ruth.  Before that, we saw Deborah, and afterward Esther).  The Bible is filled with examples of women who were both righteous and wise.

So comments are appreciated.

It is a given that we understand that the numbers here are an impression, not a scientific study with firm numbers.

Solomon is telling us that men, as a rule, are significantly more likely to be wiser than women.
0% (0 votes)
Solomon is telling us that men are statistically more likely to be righteous.
0% (0 votes)
Solomon is conveying his experience in his day, which may not be true today.
0% (0 votes)
We are completely misunderstanding Solomon. My comments will clarify this.
40% (2 votes)
This is a mystery text, haven't figured it out yet.
40% (2 votes)
Solomon wrote this from the perspective of those "under the sun," and this was not his view from a theistic vantage point.
0% (0 votes)
Men have about a 10 to 1 advantage, but the text is so unclear we have to ask "at what?"
0% (0 votes)
Other
20% (1 vote)
Total votes: 5
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There are 5 Comments

Ed Vasicek's picture

Whille studying this out, I came across this article from Dr. Mariottini:

https://claudemariottini.com/2018/09/17/ecclesiastes-728-in-search-of-a-better-translation/

In light of the discussion above, the following translation of Ecclesiastes 7:27-28 better reflects the Hebrew text:

See, this I found, says Qoheleth, adding one thing to another to find a conclusion, which I sought continually but did not find: one person among a thousand I found but a woman among all these I did not find.

Reading what Qoheleth wrote, the question must be asked again: was Qoheleth a misogynist? The answer to this question depends of the meaning of “this” in verse 27. Qoheleth said: “this I found.” But what did he find?  He said that among one thousand people, he found a man who had “this.” He also said that among one thousand people he did not find a woman who had “this,” whatever “this” is.

"The Midrash Detective"

pvawter's picture

I like Bill Barrick's take on this passage, that basically Solomon's experience with women was dominated by pagan, foreign princesses who demonstrated a compete lack of wisdom. It isn't necessarily universal, but if you pursue the kind of crowd he was with, you are not going to find wisdom there either. 

I'm seriously oversimplifying it, so forgive the lack of details. 

Mark_Smith's picture

pvawter wrote:

I like Bill Barrick's take on this passage, that basically Solomon's experience with women was dominated by pagan, foreign princesses who demonstrated a compete lack of wisdom. It isn't necessarily universal, but if you pursue the kind of crowd he was with, you are not going to find wisdom there either. 

I'm seriously oversimplifying it, so forgive the lack of details. 

I tend to agree. I admit I have always struggled with Ecclesiastes because while Solomon had great wisdom, so much of it got clouded by his lust for power, women, gold, and prestige.

Aaron Blumer's picture

EditorAdmin

Keil & Delitzsch, referring the view of someone named Burger:

The meaning, besides, is not that among a thousand human beings he found one upright man, but not a good woman (Hitz.),—for then the thousand ought to have had its proper denominator, בני אדם,—but that among a thousand persons of the male sex he found only one man such as he ought to be, and among a thousand of the female sex not one woman such as she ought to be; “among all these” is thus = among an equal number. Since he thus actually found the ideal of man only seldom, and that of woman still seldomer (for more than this is not denoted by the round numbers), the more surely does he resign himself to the following resultat, which he introduces by the word לְבַד (only, alone), as the clear gain of his searching:

Keil, Carl Friedrich, and Franz Delitzsch. Commentary on the Old Testament. Vol. 6. Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 1996. Print.

Similarlities are interesting at the opposite end of the scholarly vs. popular spectrum-- Warren Wiersbe

Solomon concluded that the whole human race was bound by sin and one man in a thousand was wise—and not one woman! (The number 1,000 is significant in the light of 1 Kings 11:3.) We must not think that Solomon rated women as less intelligent than men, because this is not the case. He spoke highly of women in Proverbs (12:4; 14:1; 18:22; 19:14; and 31:10ff), Ecclesiastes (9:9), and certainly in the Song of Solomon. In the Book of Proverbs, Solomon even pictured God’s wisdom as a beautiful woman (1:20ff; 8:1ff; 9:1ff). But keep in mind that women in that day had neither the freedom nor the status that they have today, and it would be unusual for a woman to have learning equal to that of a man. It was considered a judgment of God for women to rule over the land (Isa. 3:12, but remember Miriam and Deborah, two women who had great leadership ability).

Wiersbe, Warren W. Be Satisfied. Wheaton, IL: Victor Books, 1996. Print. “Be” Commentary Series.

Views expressed are always my own and not my employer's, my church's, my family's, my neighbors', or my pets'. The house plants have authorized me to speak for them, however, and they always agree with me.

Bert Perry's picture

...who would point out that Solomon's experience was largely with fawning sycophant men in the throne room and fawning pagan sycophant women in the harem.  Now I would hope that I could give Solomon credit for looking a little further, but really, apart from his mother, aunts, sisters, and wives, his contact with women would be low.

Kinda mean what he just said about Bathsheba, really, now that I think about it.

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.