Qoheleth: The Ironic Wink

Qoheleth: The Ironic Wink

Qoheleth: The Ironic Wink

Qoheleth: The Ironic Wink

Synopsis

Rarely does a biblical book evoke admiration from a Nobel laureate in literature, a newspaper columnist, a prize-winning poet, and a popular songwriter. Ecclesiastes has done that, and for good reason. Its author, who called himself Qoheleth, stared death in the face and judged all human endeavors to be futile. For Qoheleth observation is the only avenue to understanding; an arbitrarily wrathful and benevolent deity created and rules over the world; and death is unpredictable, absolute, and final. His message is simple: seize the moment, for death awaits.
James L. Crenshaw begins by examining the essential mysteries of the book of Ecclesiastes: the speaker's identity, his emphasis on hidden or contradictory truths, and his argument of the insubstantiality of most things and the ultimate futility of all efforts. Moving from the ancient to the contemporary, Crenshaw again analyzes Qoheleth's observations about the human condition, this time testing if they can stand up against rational inquiry today. In exploring Qoheleth's identity, the foundations of his outlook, and his recommendations, Crenshaw engages modern readers in a conversation about one of the most disagreed upon biblical books.
In Qoheleth, Crenshaw draws on related literature from the ancient Near East and traces the impact of Qoheleth in both Christian and Jewish traditions, summarizing a lifetime of scholarship on the book of Ecclesiastes. While exploring Ecclesiastes and its enigmatic author, Crenshaw engages scholars and modern interpreters in genuine debate over the lasting relevance of Qoheleth's teachings and the place of Ecclesiastes in the biblical canon.

Excerpt

Critical study of the Bible in its ancient Near Eastern setting has stimulated interest in the individuals who shaped the course of history and whom events singled out as tragic or heroic figures. Rolf Rendtorff’s Men of the Old Testament (1968) focuses on the lives of important biblical figures as a means of illuminating history, particularly the sacred dimension that permeates Israel’s convictions about its God. Fleming James’s Personalities of the Old Testament (1939) addresses another issue, that of individuals who function as inspiration for their religious successors in the twentieth century. Studies restricting themselves to a single individual—for example, Moses, Abraham, Samson, Elijah, David, Saul, Ruth, Jonah, Job, Jeremiah—enable scholars to deal with a host of questions: psychological, literary, theological, sociological, and historical. Some, like Gerhard von Rad’s Moses (1960), introduce a specific approach to interpreting the Bible, hence provide valuable pedagogic tools.

As a rule these treatments of isolated figures have not reached the general public. Some were written by outsiders who lacked a knowledge of biblical criticism (Freud on Moses, Jung on Job) and whose conclusions, however provocative, remain problematic. Others were targeted for the guild of professional biblical critics (David Gunn on David and Saul, Phyllis Trible on Ruth, Terence Fretheim and Jonathan Magonet on Jonah). None has succeeded in capturing the imagination of the reading public in the way fictional works like Archibald MacLeish’s J. B. and Joseph Heller’s God Knows have done.

It could be argued that the general public would derive little benefit from learning more about the personalities of the Bible. Their conduct, often less then exemplary, reveals a flawed character, and their everyday concerns have nothing to do with our preoccupations from dawn to dusk. To be sure, some individuals transcend their own age, entering the gallery of classical literary figures from time immemorial. But only these rare achievers can justify specific treatments of them. Then why publish additional studies on biblical personalities?

The answer cannot be that we read about biblical figures to learn ancient history, even of the sacred kind, or to discover models for ethical action. But what remains? Perhaps the primary significance of biblical personages is the light they throw on the imaging of deity in biblical times. At the very least, the Bible constitutes human . . .

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.