Article

Ecclesiastes/Qohelet

Timothy J. Sandoval

in Biblical Studies

ISBN: 9780195393361
Published online July 2011 | | DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1093/obo/9780195393361-0015
Ecclesiastes/Qohelet

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As Carol Newsom remarks in her review of scholarship on Ecclesiastes (Qohelet), in discussions of the history of research on this book it is almost impossible to resist quoting two of its most famous verses: “Of making many books there is no end” and “There is nothing new under the sun.” The huge number of publications that seek to interpret Qohelet verify the truth of the first statement. The second statement is also largely true, as scholars often rehearse and offer variations on lines of interpretation that have been well established for decades or even centuries. This is so whether the investigators are discussing anew Qohelet’s late dating in the Hellenistic period and the nature of the text’s language that supports such a dating, or the influence of Greek philosophy on the sage and the likewise clear influence of ancient Near Eastern texts, or the book’s generally unorthodox flavor but very orthodox-sounding conclusion. Yet from ancient times, the enigmatic, multivalent text of Qohelet has never failed to evoke a range of responses that escape neat and simple categorization, so that there has in fact always been something at least relatively new in Qohelet scholarship, whether it be yet another proposal about Qohelet’s literary structure, or the contention that Qohelet is best viewed as a “preacher of joy” rather than a gloomy pessimist or cynic. Although most studies of Qohelet are undertaken in the traditional historical-critical vein that has dominated modern biblical scholarship for most of the last two centuries, in the last decade or so there have been a number of studies that, although obviously informed by historical critical scholarship, have attempted to move beyond those categories with “new” forms of analysis. These (post)modern studies, published mostly in English, tend to emphasize hermeneutical issues, the role of readers, and the literary-rhetorical features of the text. They also tend to undertake what is sometimes called synchronic rather than diachronic analysis. Whatever label one chooses to apply to these works, they reflect a broader trend in biblical studies that welcomes newer and diverse approaches, methods, and questions. For scholars with sympathy to such approaches, it is perhaps only surprising that, with a few significant exceptions, serious study of Qohelet in this vein only began in the late 1990s. Indeed, Qohelet, which perhaps more than any other biblical book has defied scholarly attempts to wrest singular meaning from its pages, almost calls out for such analysis.

Article.  10416 words. 

Subjects: Biblical Studies

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