‘I saw all the deeds that were done under heaven’: History in the Opening Poems

Jennie Barbour

in The Story of Israel in the Book of Qohelet

Published in print September 2012 | ISBN: 9780199657827
Published online January 2013 | e-ISBN: 9780191744914 | DOI:

Series: Oxford Theological Monographs

‘I saw all the deeds that were done under heaven’: History in the Opening Poems

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This chapter first considers ancient understandings of history as human actions in the past in the public sphere. The observation of the king in Ecclesiastes is thus an investigation into history, since it takes as its object everything that has been done under the sun. It is argued that Qohelet’s interest is in human deeds, against the determinism in the accounts of Michael Fox and others, and that ‘under the sun’ has a public dimension while hebel makes a historical judgment. In the opening poem of the book, the king’s report of his quest makes the point that nothing new happens, and disputes with historically-engaged readings of Isaiah and other prophets. In the poem of Chapter Three, the echoes of Jeremiah and other scriptures detected by Qohelet Rabbah and Jerome draw Qohelet’s observation that everything happens into dialogue with Israel’s account to itself of its past, employing terms like building and planting with a significance shared with other biblical, Qumran and post-biblical texts. It is argued that ‘everything happens’ is a better reading of the poem than one which focuses on fixed times, as did von Rad, or on right times.

Keywords: history; investigation; determinism; fox; von Rad; jerome; qohelet rabbah; hebel; under the sun

Chapter.  23177 words. 

Subjects: Biblical Studies

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