Tuesday, April 17, 2012


Ecclesiastes is a difficult book, and aptly called, “the black sheep of the canon of biblical books”1 by one author. Of the three wisdom books in the Old Testament, Proverbs teaches patterns of order in a universe governed by the righteous Yahweh, Job teaches the covenant people to embrace mystery in suffering and to live for God’s glory, and Ecclesiastes teaches that all of life is absurd,2 and that God’s people should despair. Or so it would seem upon a cursory reading. I am not the first to struggle with the meaning of this book. Longman reports that, “there were ancient doubts about its divine authority among the rabbis and others”.3 He continues:

In the first tractate of the Mishnah (Shabbat, ch. 3), Rabbi Tanhum of Nave is quoted as saying, ‘O Solomon, where is your wisdom, where is your intelligence? Not only do your words contradict the words of your father, David, they even contradict themselves’...I further observe that the Pesiqta of Rab Kahana (Leviticus Rabbah 28:1) states: ‘The sages sought to store away the Book of Ecclesiastes, because they found words in it which tended to heresy.’4

However, because of its beginning and end, along with its connection to Solomon, the Jewish community did recognize Ecclesiastes as canonical.5 Further, there is no evidence that Christians questioned whether this book was a part of Holy Scripture.6 But that does not mean Christian interpreters have been free from struggle: “In the summer and fall of 1526 (Martin) Luther took up the challenge to lecture on Ecclesiastes to the small band of students who stayed behind in Wittenberg during the plague. ‘Solomon the preacher,’ he wrote to a friend, ‘is giving me a hard time, as though he begrudged anyone lecturing on him. But he must yield.’”7 Thankfully, upon a close reading of Ecclesiastes, the book does yield an important message. This blog series is the product of my own wrestlings, my own effort to read Ecclesiastes closely, and force him to yield his meaning. The title of my series hints at the key to the book’s meaning - the teleological suppression of the eternal: rethinking absurdity in The Teacher’s perspective - and my thesis, which will unpack this title, is as follows: Ecclesiastes is a wisdom book in which the author observes the absurdity of life under the sun, with the end goal of helping the covenant people to accept the absurd and to live for the eternal. In the posts that follow, I will unpack each aspect of this thesis in turn. I will begin with matters that are foundational to my overall argument, including questions of author, structure, genre, and the issue of observing life under the sun. I will then move to discuss the key themes of absurdity, The Teacher’s view of God, and his teaching on joy. With these foundations in place, I will offer a quick overview of the book as a whole, before I conclude by discussing the epilogue as the end goal of the argument of the book, and therefore as the essential key to understanding absurdity in The Teacher’s perspective.



1 Bruce Waltke, with Charles Yu, An Old Testament Theology: An Exegetical, Canonical, and Thematic Approach. (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2007), 946

2 A defense of this translation of the Hebrew term 'hevel' will be set forth in a post to follow.

3 Tremper Longman III. The Book of Ecclesiastes. (NICOT. Ed. Robert L. Hubbard Jr. Grand Rapids, MI; Cambridge, U.K.: Eerdmans, 1998), 26.

4 Ibid., 27.

5 See Ibid., 28.

6 See Ibid., 29.

7 John Piper. “Martin Luther: Lessons From His Life and Labor,” n.p. [cited 24 February 2012]. Online: http://www.desiringgod.org/resource-library/biographies/martin-luther-lessons-from-his-life-and-labor.

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