Sunday, 7 October 2012

Ecclesiastes Essay part 1

The central message of Ecclesiastes: joy or pessimism?
The central message of Ecclesiastes is joy, not pessimism. Pessimism is Qohelet’s problem, not his solution: cynical observations of the apparently fleeting and futile nature of life ‘under the sun’[1] are grounds for commending prudent, pious joy[2] and satisfaction[3]. This will be demonstrated through a careful examination of the form and content of Ecclesiastes.
Ecclesiastes is not an easy book to understand. There is ‘little consensus’[4] about its interpretation. It at times appears confused[5]; it is certainly complex[6]. For example, Qohelet observes that his ‘heart took delight’ (2:10) in his labour, yet says it was ‘grevious to me’ (2:17). The reader struggles to interpret such vagaries of thought. Furthermore, we ‘cannot assume that any one statement of Koheleth’s expresses the book’s teaching.’[7] In order to construe the message of Ecclesiastes correctly, it is necessary to comprehend three things: the issue of author and voices; the key word hebel; and the link between structure and message.

[1] Ecclesiastes 1:3. All Bible quotations, unless otherwise specified, are from the NIV2011.
[2] Ecclesiastes 8:15; 9:7; 11:9.
[3] Ecclesiastes 2:24; 3:13; 5:18.
[4] Weeks p. 72
[5] Dillard & Longman p. 251
[6] Longman p. 147
[7] italics in original. Fox p. xiii

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