Monday, April 23, 2012

Wrestling With Ecclesiastes, Part 2 - Foundations: Author, Structure, Genre

This is the second of what will likely be a weekly series entitled 'Wrestling With Ecclesiastes.' Ecclesiastes is a difficult book; it's hard to get past some of the content. But I am convinced that if we do some wrestling, the book yields great blessing! The first post can be found here:

Today's post will cover a few essential foundational matters including the authorship, structure, and genre of the book.

The authorship and structure of Ecclesiastes are inseparably tied together. The prologue identifies the author with the Hebrew word Qohelet, which the ESV translates as 'The Teacher' (1:1). Michael V. Fox observes that, the noun Qohelet,8 has the root meaning of ‘assembly,’ and its contextual meaning is, “one who does something in the assembly,” namely, public teaching (cf. 12:9).9 The Teacher further identifies himself as the son of David (1:1), and the king over Israel in Jerusalem (1:1, 12). The intended tie to Solomon is clear, because he is the only son of David who reigned from Jerusalem and over Israel.10 The book is structured around a prologue (1:1), body (1:2-12:8), and epilogue (12:9-14), with the opening (1:2) and closing (12:8) of the body enveloped by the key statement, “absurdity of absurdities, says The Teacher, [absurdity of absurdities],11 all is absurdity.”12 In addition, there are three places where the phrase ‘says The Teacher’ is added into the narrative (1:2; 7:27; 12:8). This, coupled with the clear stylistic differences between the body of the book and its epilogue,13 has led most to attribute the latter to the hand of an editor, with some even positing that a third hand was responsible for 12:13-14. However, Fox offers another solution to the differences in person and style. Fox’s thesis is that, “the Book of (Ecclesiastes) is to be taken as a whole, as a single, well-integrated composition, the product not of editorship but of authorship, which uses interplay of voice as a deliberate literary device for rhetorical and artistic purposes.”14 He goes on to note that the phrase, ‘says The Teacher’ in 1:2, 7:27 and 12:8 can be equated with the voice of the narrator, but that the narrator is the author of the whole work, stepping out of the persona of The Teacher and adding comments along the way. In addition, Robert Holmstedt has argued convincingly that in the body of his work, The Teacher creates a second persona, a conversation partner. He argues that the ‘I and my heart’ formula that occurs throughout the book is a device wherein The Teacher creates this second voice, in reference to his inner dialogue with himself (i.e. ‘I and my heart’).15 So there may be a dual persona, the primary of which is The Teacher, and the secondary as his heart, with the third voice of the narrator adding words from outside the Teacher persona. Whether these persona theories are accurate makes little difference to reading the book as a unity, though, if it is remembered that the book of Ecclesiastes was accepted into the canon of Scripture as a unity, with the crucial epilogue attached. For these reasons, and crucial for my argument, as I interpret the book, I will view it as a unity.

With regard to genre, a brief analysis of Ecclesiastes reveals that it is clearly a wisdom book. This is inherent in the book, because its earthy, simple, yet profound observations fit nicely into the wisdom genre. Some of it even has the ‘feel’ of proverbial statements (see, for example, chapter 5). Further, the book contains many key repeated words from the wisdom genre, with words from the root for wisdom,16 knowledge,17 skill,18 folly,19 and madness,20 occurring throughout.

Stay tuned next week for a discussion of what I believe to be the key to understanding this difficult, but amazing book of the Bible.



8 Found in 1:1, 2, 12; 7:27; 12:8, 9, 10; in other words, the beginning, middle, and end of the book.

9 Michael V. Fox. A Time to Tear Down & A Time To Build Up: A Rereading of Ecclesiastes. (Grand Rapids, MI/Cambridge, U.K.: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1999), 161.

10 I recognize the well-documented linguistic problems with this dating. For our purposes it is enough to note the intended tie to Solomon, without going into detail on what this means. For excellent discussions on the dating of Ecclesiastes see, for example, Longman, Ecclesiastes, 9-11; Fox, A Rereading of Ecclesiastes, 159-160.

11 The square brackets indicate words found in 1:2 but not in 12:8.

12 My own translation (throughout).

13 Note for example the switch from the first person beginning at 1:12 to the third person in the epilogue.

14 Michael V. Fox. “Frame Narrative and Composition in the Book of Qohelet.” HUCA 48 (1977), 83.

15 See “'I and My Heart': The Syntactic Encoding of the Collaborative Nature of Qohelet’s Experiment.” JHS 9:19 (2009), 2-27. In that place he writes, “Rather than לֵב used with verbs of speaking to express the idiom for internal speech, i.e., someone thinking or speaking to himself, it is used as a full-fledged character in Qohelet...the לֵב here is personified as an experiment partner distinct from himself (so also Fox 1999:267): two investigators can pursue different, even opposing, lines of inquiry better than one, thereby strengthening the conclusions that are ultimately drawn” Ibid., 13-14.

16 1:12, 16 (2x), 17, 18; 2:3, 9, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16 (2x), 19 (2x), 21, 26; 4:13; 6:8; 7:4, 5, 7, 10, 11, 12 (2x), 16, 19 (2x), 23 (2x), 25; 8:1 (2x), 5; 9:1 (2x), 10, 11, 13, 15, 16 (2x), 17; 10:1, 2, 10, 12; 12:9, 11

17 1:16, 17 (3x), 18; 2:21, 26; 7:12, 25 (2x); 8:1, 5 (2x), 7, 12; 9:1 (2x); 9:5 (2x), 10, 11, 12; 11:2, 5 (2x), 6, 9; 12:9

18 2:21; 5:10

19 1:17; 2:3, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 19; 4:5, 13, 17; 5:2, 3; 6:8; 7:4, 5, 6, 9, 17, 25 (2x); 9:17: 10:1, 2, 3 (2x), 6, 12, 13, 14, 15

20 1:17; 2:2, 12; 7:25; 9:3; 10:13

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