Journal Article

‘A Wisdom that is Woe’: Allusions to Ecclesiastes in <i>Moby-Dick</i>

Stephen J. Bennett

in Literature and Theology

Volume 27, issue 1, pages 48-64
Published in print March 2013 | ISSN: 0269-1205
Published online July 2012 | e-ISSN: 1477-4623 | DOI:
‘A Wisdom that is Woe’: Allusions to Ecclesiastes in Moby-Dick

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Herman Melville’s extensive biblical knowledge greatly influenced his writing, including his 1851 novel, Moby-Dick. This influence has been studied extensively, especially in regard to the influence of the biblical books of Job and Jonah on Moby-Dick. Ecclesiastes was also important and seems to have influenced the writing of this novel in a more fundamental way than other biblical books. Melville drew on the themes, style, and content of Ecclesiastes. He marked Ecclesiastes extensively in his 1846 King James Bible and quotes Ecclesiastes with approval in the novel, making numerous allusions to the biblical book. This article catalogues many of these quotations and allusions and proposes that Melville’s sceptical reading of Ecclesiastes influenced his use of the biblical book in his novel. He read Ecclesiastes as ‘a wisdom that is woe’. While the connections between Ecclesiastes and Moby-Dick have often been mentioned, the treatment of this subject has been much less significant than the investigation of other influences, especially Job and Jonah. Thus this article fills a gap in Melville studies by closely considering Melville’s extensive allusions to Ecclesiastes in Moby-Dick.

Journal Article.  7491 words. 

Subjects: Literature ; Religion and Art, Literature, and Music

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