Friday, June 19, 2009

Ecclesiastes and Wisdom

Only 4 of us attempted the Ecclesiastes essay I believe. The surprise of what we found I'd like to share.

The question compared other Near-Eastern wisdom literature to the theological meaning of Ecclesiastes. Here is what I found and corroborated by the others.

We found,
1. Virtually no documents are similar to Ecclesiastes.
Not verbally, structurally, or theologically were there significant parallels. Having read the other documents this shocked me. I realised that many commentaries (including respected Evangelicals) come to unsubstantiated conclusions - long bows.

This lead to an increased confidence in the revelatory nature of the Old Testament. After researching all sorts of ANE-Ecclesiastes comparisons I drew this conclusion: Ecclesiastes is different.

2. Ecclesiastes is best seen as part of a Biblical genre 'wisdom'.
It turns out that much of the 'wisdom' literature of Egypt and Mesopotamia presents itself as cultic. Job-Ecclesiastes-Proverbs are more moral than cultic. As a friend commented 'Jews and Christians were the first atheists'. he he.

3. Ecclesiastes closest parallel is with Gen 1-4.
This explains the closest parallel with near-eastern wisdom: the Gilgamesh epic. One small passage echos closely to a couple verses in Ecclesiastes. This is not surprising given Genesis 1's satire on the Babylonian creation myth. Interestingly one article claimed (I didn't trace it fully) that all the positives in Ecclesiastes are pre-fall activities (work, food, sex).

Ecclesiastes seems best explains as how to live out this God-given life post-fall: 'under the sun'.


Anonymous said...

I have grappled with Ecclesiastes for some years now, particularly because it is unlike anything else from its era (as you point out in your post). I can't decide if it is the most nihilistic, pessimistic thing ever, or among the most pious ever; telling us not to overestimate ourselves or the transient things this world has to offer. Your insights as good as any I have ever generated.
Since I don't maintain a blog myself, I hope you don't mind if I plug a friend's blog:

Matthew Moffitt said...

Great stuff.

Matt, were there any commentaries you found helpful?

Mike Bull said...

Good points, although I believe Genesis predates Babylonian myth. It isn't written as polemic and it isn't addressed to Moses' generation.

Best commentary on Eccles. I have read is "A Table in the Mist" by Jeffrey Meyers. Also, James Jordan brings out the references to the Feast of Booths (succoth=clouds) in his lectures on it.

Anonymous said...

I have just read the 21-page sample of "A Table in the Mist" by Jeffrey Meyers that is freely available in pdf if you search for it. He does have some marvelous insights, but reaches the same conclusion as many others; the "preacher" relates how man's life is fleeting and it is difficult or impossible to find meaning in it because Christ has not yet come at the time of writing. I think this is an oversimplification and that the book still holds the same message and meaning for readers 2,000 years AFTER the coming of Christ. That is, of course, MY opinion as someone who is less learned in Biblical Hermeneutics and Theology in general than Mr. Meyers. I want to thank Mike B. for directing me to the Meyers commentary though!