Many Jewish communities read the Book of Ecclesiastes in synagogue during the Sukkoth festival. According to Jewish tradition, King Solomon wrote Ecclesiastes, which begins with the words “The words of Koheleth son of David, king in Jerusalem”, as well as the Song of Songs and Proverbs. These three books are all very different and the traditional explanation is that King Solomon wrote each one at a different stage of his life. In his youth, Solomon wrote the optimistic Song of Songs, which is filled with descriptions of love, as an adult the wise king wrote Proverbs and toward the end of his days, the enlightened Solomon wrote Ecclesiastes, which focuses on a harsh message: “Utter futility! – said Koheleth – Utter futility! All is futile!” This is the theme of the three stamps in the series.
The first stamp presents the cosmic universe, which includes the celestial bodies. Koheleth states that the stars, which ostensibly represent the constantly moving dynamic of reality, do not actually bring anything new. “The sun rises, and the sun sets – and glides back to where it rises”.
The second stamp presents the natural world that surrounds humankind. Koheleth opines that there is nothing new in nature either, and that the constant happenings simply repeat themselves. “All streams flow into the sea, yet the sea is never full; to the place from which they flow the streams flow back again”.
The third stamp presents the world of humans, in which Koheleth sees no change or newness either. He emphasizes that “one generation goes, another comes” and nothing that people do makes any difference, for “the earth remains the same forever”. Humans, like the celestial bodies and like natural phenomena, do not make their mark on the world and their actions are destined to be forgotten in the future. “The earlier ones are not remembered; so too those that will occur later”.
These three examples relate to the circles of existence in the human world and they illustrate Koheleth’s despondent outlook. “Only that shall happen which has happened, only that occur which has occurred; there is nothing new beneath the sun!” Koheleth notes that even if people sometimes believe this is not the case and that, “sometimes there is a phenomenon of which they say ‘Look this one is new’” it is not in fact new, for “it occurred long since, in ages that went by before us”.
Throughout the Book of Ecclesiastes, the author examines the realms of human achievement and rejects them one by one. Koheleth sees no point in accumulating property, knowledge or heroic deeds, for they will all be lost upon one’s inevitable death. In the last verse of the book, Koheleth advises the reader to “revere God and observe His commands, for this applies to all mankind”. The Babylonian Talmud (Tractate Shabbat 30b) recounts that “the Sages wished to hide the book of Ecclesiastes” and not include it in the Bible “because its words are self-contradictory”. However ultimately the last verse, which advocated revering God, convinced the Sages not to forego the Book of Ecclesiastes and to include it among the books of the Bible.