Monday, 8 October 2012

Ecclesiastes Essay part 2

Author and voices
Ecclesiastes 1:1 describes the content of the book as ‘the words of the Teacher [Qohelet], son of David, king in Jerusalem’. Qohelet is a noun built from the Hebrew verb qhl, which means ‘to assemble, summon, gather’[1]. Qohelet is understood as a title indicating a person who assembles the people in order to speak to them[2], or perhaps a person who gathers wisdom. Hence, Qohelet is a veiled reference to Solomon.[3]
More recently, an external frame written in the third person has been identified, within which Qohelet’s speech is related in first person. Current consensus accepts that the author, speaking in his own voice as the ‘frame narrator’, uses Qohelet’s voice pseudonymously to build his argument.[4] The extent to which he is the author of Qohelet’s words is unknown,[5] with disagreement about the date of Ecclesiastes’ composition[6]. If a later author adopted the persona of Solomon, then Qohelet’s speech may be criticised for a supposed dependence upon pagan thought;[7] with Qohelet’s pessimism highlighted, and optimistic passages downplayed as orthodox redactions[8]. However, the language of Ecclesiastes is consistent throughout[9], displaying a ‘deep cohesiveness’[10], indicating the text should be studied as a unity, regardless of its date or method of composition.

[1] Eaton p. 23
[2] Dillard & Longman p. 248
[3] Solomon summoned the Israelite leaders to the dedication of the first temple (1 Ki. 8:1; Enns p. 123) and gathered proverbs (Prov. 1:11; 1 Ki. 4:32). Hence, King Solomon was traditionally considered the author, with some exceptions (eg Henry p. 980; Luther, per Longman p. 145). This identification ‘made possible’ the inclusion of Ecclesiastes in the Jewish canon (Fox p. xv, cf Lasor, Hubbard & Bush p. 498).
[4] Enns p. 122; Fox p. x
[5] The words may have originally been Solomon’s, passed down orally or in written form (Henry p. 980; Wright p. 1140-1141); they may be the invention of an author using Qohelet as his pseudonymous protagonist (Enns p. 122; Fredericks p. 31; Weeks p. 72); or there may be some combination of textual authorship such as redaction or incorporation of editorial glosses (contra: Eaton p. 41-43).
[6] Dating its composition variously as early as the reign of Solomon, a time of international dialogue and the rise of Chokma (Fredericks & Estes p. 31-36); or as late as the postexilic Persian or Greek eras, views espoused by Delitzsch (p. 637-641; cf Enns p. 124) and Fox (p. xiv) based upon the presence of Persian loanwords and economic terms (Enns p. 124), or perceived Hellenistic references and philosophical reasoning (Fox p. xiv), in the text. Dillard and Longman find the latter arguments ‘unpersuasive’ and ‘dubious’ (Dillard & Longman p. 249).
[7] such as the pessimism literature of Egypt and Babylonia (Eaton p. 34-36). However these end with a recommendation of suicide, a far cry from Ecclesiastes’ commendation of joy and instruction to fear God.
[8] Dillard and Longman p. 249
[9] Eaton p. 42-43
[10] Fox p. xvi

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