The following passage is Ecclesiastes 9:14

A small city, and few people in it, and a great king comes there, and encircled it and built upon it great fortifications. And he found in it, a poor wise man, who delivered the city in his wisdom, and nobody remembered this poor man.

Upon reading this, I immediately thought of Archimedes. I found people calling this an analogy.

But considering the late date of Ecc, could this be a direct reference to the siege of Syracuse? Is it consistent with the dating of the text to identify the "poor wise man" as Archimedes?

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    It is hard to be precise about the date of Ecclesiastes for a variety of reasons Commented Apr 11, 2012 at 7:11
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    I thought the latest dates are the only plausible ones, and then Archimedes refers to current events. Funny enough, everybody remembers the poor man today, nobody remembers the king.
    – Ron Maimon
    Commented Apr 11, 2012 at 17:51

3 Answers 3


According to The Interpreter's Bible, the language is written in a late form of Hebrew and so:

As judged by it's language, the book of Ecclesiastes is much later than the work of the Chronicler and later than the book of Esther (ca. 300 B.C.).

If you agree with the 3rd century B.C. dating of Ecclesiastes, then perhaps it could be seen as an analogy, however I would argue against it being direct reference because of two points:

  1. Archimedes is famous today and was famous then - orders were given for him not to be harmed (although despite this he was killed)
  2. In Ecclesiastes 9:15 the little city was delivered. This was not the case for Syracuse.
  • I agree it's mangled, but this is the type of thing one would expect from hearsay. It is not clear that Archimedes was famous in the Aramaic world, his great fame was only in the Greek world, and then only among the literati. I will accept this answer, regardless, since I can't imagine a better one.
    – Ron Maimon
    Commented May 27, 2012 at 5:49
  • It's also key to note that communication, trade, etc was substantially more widespread and advanced than typically credited in this era. Whereas they didn't have electronics, they certainly had routine news and trade routes that carried goods and information around the globe :)
    – warren
    Commented Oct 25, 2012 at 15:42

The identification of the "poor wise man" in Qohelet (= Ecclestiastes) 9.14-16 (who rescued his city from the siege) with Archimedes (who rescued Syracuse from several Roman sieges) goes back to Moritz Friedlander in his book Griechische Philosophie im Alten Testament, Berlin, Reimer 1904, pp. 153-6 (Reprinted Vero Verlag, 2014). There is much to say in favor of this identification, because it matches in many details Qohelet's text, but this needs a long discussion. Peter writes: "In Ecclesiastes 9:15 the little city was delivered. This was not the case for Syracuse." But Polybius tells that Archimedes rescued Syracuse continuously from many Roman attacks by his clever mechanical devices, and this is what Qohelet means (although the city fell at last and Archimedes was killed by a Roman soldier).

In a paper "Ecclesiastes" by Paul Haupt (The American Journal of Philology, Vol. 26, No. 2 (1905), pp. 125-171) the author argues convincingly (p. 126) that Qohelet (=Ecclestiastes) must have heard about Antiochus IV Epiphanes (175-164 BCE); for in 4.I3-I6 he says that he saw the general enthusiasm for the poor but wise youth (i. e., Demetrius I Soter or Alexander Balas (a pretender)) who succeeded (I50 B. C.) to the throne of the old and foolish king (i. e., Antiochus IV Epiphanes who was described as a madman). There is much to say in favor of this identification as well, but this needs a long historical and philological discussion. My guess is that Qohelet is one of the earlier Hasmonean priest-kings (perhaps John Hyrcanus I (134 BCE) or Alexander Jannaeus (100 BCE)), because his "water pools" described in Qohelet 2.6 match the water pools of the Winter Palaces of the Hasmonean kings near Jericho, excavated by the archaeologist Ehud Netzer in the mid 1970's.

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    Hi Yaakov, welcome to BH.SE - thanks for contributing! This is a fantastic first post, please don't forget to register your account and take the Site Tour to learn more about the site and retain ownership of your answer if you choose to edit or enhance it in future.
    – Steve can help
    Commented Sep 7, 2022 at 12:35

The book of Ecclesiastes is more abstract. It's talking more in general about several cases rather than one specific city, one specific king, and one specific poor man.

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