The moving finger writes; and, having writ,
Moves on: nor all your Piety nor Wit
Shall lure it back to cancel half a Line,
Nor all your Tears wash out a Word of it.
Omar Khayyam was born in 1048 in present day Iran. In the Encyclopedia of Religion and Ethics, Ernst Troeltsch points out the rise of Rationalism in the Muslim world at that time, and with perhaps the exception of Voltaire, no poet or philosopher was more cynical than Omar Khayyam, the high priest of free-thought and of pessimism. His masterpiece The Rubáiyát has often been compared to Ecclesiastes and reading the two together offers rewards on many levels, including a good contrast of Islam and the God of Israel. One of the fundamental differences between Islam and Christianity is Pessimism vs. Optimism.
Here is a good example of the two. In Ecclesiastes we have this in Chapter three:
“What do workers gain from their toil? I have seen the burden God has laid on the human race. He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the human heart; yet no one can fathom what God has done from beginning to end. I know that there is nothing better for people than to be happy and to do good while they live. That each of them may eat and drink, and find satisfaction in all their toil—this is the gift of God. I know that everything God does will endure forever; nothing can be added to it and nothing taken from it. God does it so that people will fear him.
Whatever is has already been,
and what will be has been before;
and God will call the past to account.
And I saw something else under the sun:
In the place of judgment—wickedness was there,
in the place of justice—wickedness was there.
I said to myself,
“God will bring into judgment
both the righteous and the wicked,
for there will be a time for every activity,
a time to judge every deed.”
The Teacher’s acceptance of God’s beautiful plan differs from Omar Khayyam’s nonaccepting attitude:
Ah Love! could you and I with Fate conspire
To grasp this sorry Scheme of Things entire,
Would not we shatter it to bits—and then
Re-mould it nearer to the Heart’s Desire!
Beyond this is Jesus Christ. He is Emmanuel, God among us, the remedy for pessimism and the recognition of God’s transcendence and His eternal love for man. He is our Savior. The Rubáiyát says once the moving finger has written nothing can change your destiny or fate. Nothing but the blood of Jesus.
In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of His grace.
D I G D E E P E R
There are volumes on Ecclesiastes in all the great commentaries, and treatments of it in the volumes on Introduction. See A. J. Arberry, ed., The Legacy of Persia (Oxford: Clarendon, 1953); R. N. Frye, The Golden Age of Persia (New York: Barnes and Noble, 1975) and Edwin M. Yamauchi, Persia and the Bible (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 1996). A few of the many separate commentaries are those of Moses Stuart, Andover, 1864; H. Grätz, Leipzig, 1871; G. Wildeboer, Tübingen, 1898; E. H. Plumptre, Cambridge, 1881. Other works are those of J. F. Genung, Eccl, and Omar Khayyám, 1901, Words of Koheleth, 1904, and The Hebrew Lit. of Wisdom in the Light of Today, 1906; C. H. H. Wright, Book of Koheleth, 1883; S. Schiffer, Das Buch Coheleth nach Talmud und Midrasch, 1885; A. H. McNeile, Intro to Eccl, New York, 1904.
On the similarity to Omar Khayyam: J. F. Genung, Ecclesiastes and Omar Khayyam, Boston, 1901; A. Buchanan, Essence of Ecclesiastes in Metre of Omar Khayyam, London, 1904. On the history of interpretation: S. Schiffer, Das Buch Coheleth nach Talmud und Midrasch, Leipsic 1885; M. M. Kalisch, Path and Goal, London, 1880.
Finally, a good overview is found with Samuel Macauley Jackson, ed., The New Schaff-Herzog Encyclopedia of Religious Knowledge: Embracing Biblical, Historical, Doctrinal, and Practical Theology and Biblical, Theological, and Ecclesiastical Biography from the Earliest Times to the Present Day (New York; London: Funk & Wagnalls, 1908–1914)