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Ecclesiastes 9:5 has been used to suggest that the dead have no memory or the suggest that the dead are forgotten by others, and a variety of interpretations in between. A sampling of translations shows some of the nuance that it applied to the last clause (in English) of the verse:

For the living know that they will die; but the dead do not know anything, nor do they have a reward any longer, for their memory is forgotten. (NASB)

For the living know that they shall die: but the dead know not any thing, neither have they any more a reward; for the memory of them is forgotten. (KJV)

The living at least know they will die, but the dead know nothing. They have no further reward, nor are they remembered.(NLT)

For the living know that they will die, but the dead do not know anything; they have no further reward—and even the memory of them disappears (NET)

Whose memory? The critical word is זִכְרָֽם׃; by comparison to Deuteronomy 32:36 (same word is used) it appears that the focus here is that those who are living will forget those who have died.

But I have seen this verse used to suggest that the dead do not remember.

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In colloquial terms, is the verse saying:

A. After you die your memory of life will be lost

B. Your fame in life is unimportant because it will be forgotten by others after you are gone

C. Something else

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Question: Do the dead forget or will the dead be forgotten?


*I found several posts addressing the meaning of Ecclesiastes 9:5, but none (that remain open) addressing the question about memory cited here.

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  • Even the New World Translation says "neither do they [the dead] anymore have wages, because the remembrance of them has been forgotten". – Lesley Apr 3 at 9:06
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Answer: You are right: the dead will be forgotten. The people who still live no longer remember them; it's the people's memory. All translations you quoted have this sense, plus NIV ("even their name is forgotten") and ESV (same as KJV).

Two commentaries I consulted (by Tremper Longman and by Douglas Miller) confirm this. Both highlights two issues of vv 4-5 that are more difficult than the straightforward (i.e. not controversial) meaning of the memory clause:

  • Whether Qohelet is being serious or sarcastic in giving the advice
  • There seems to be no eternal reward for the righteous

Here's an excerpt from Douglas Miller's Explanatory Notes on Ecc 9:1-6 on the memory clause of v5 where he opted for irony (emphasis mine):

... The dead have lost their consciousness. They also have no reward, a term used of something accomplished through effort; there is no more effort (cf. 4:9). Qohelet also insists that the dead are no longer remembered (cf. 1:11; 2:16; 8:10; 9:15); he challenges an important aspect of the sage’s creed, that the wise and righteous remain through their memory (Prov 10:7; Ps 112:6), though the wicked are forgotten (Job 18:17; Ps 34:16).

In the midst of his lament on the limitations of human knowledge, the Teacher has consistently affirmed certain things that humans do know, such as the value of enjoyment (3:12), certain factors related to God (3:14), the reality of human weakness (6:10), self-awareness (7:22), that there is a judgment (3:17; 11:9), and that there is a reward for those who fear God (8:12). In addition, the book’s epilogue affirms that Qohelet has taught people knowledge (12:9). Here in verse 5 there appears to be deliberate irony: the living know that they will die (NRSV, T/NIV). Yet this is important knowledge: it enables humans to make the most of their time among the living, as the advice that follows indicates (9:7–10; cf. 7:2; 11:8).

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The sense of Eccl 9:5 is two-fold as explicitly stated in the verse:

For the living know that they will die; but the dead do not know anything, nor do they have a reward any longer, for their memory is forgotten.

Note the two halves of this verse:

  1. The dead know nothing (are unconscious)
  2. Their memory/memorial is forgotten (by those still living)

The rest of the verse and the subsequent verse expands on this point:

V6: Their love, their hate, and their envy have already vanished, and they will never again have a share in all that is done under the sun.

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The dead forget OR the dead will be forgotten? Ecclesiastes 9:5

Correct: For their memory is forgotten.

This is true, how many people, musicians, actors, artists, politicians, prominent people of the years 1800 do you remember? possibly none, a generation goes and another comes on the scene but all are forgotten.

Solomon correctly assessed saying:

Ecclesiastes 9:4-5 (NASB)

4 For whoever is joined to all the living, there is hope; for better a live dog, than a dead lion. 5 For the living know that they will die; but the dead do not know anything, nor do they have a reward any longer, for their memory is forgotten.

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