Qoheleth: Enigmatic Pessimist Or Godly Sage? -- By: Ardel B. Caneday
GTJ 7:1 (Spr 86) p. 21
Enigmatic Pessimist Or Godly Sage?
The enigmatic character and polarized structure of the book of Qoheleth is not a defective quality but rather a deliberate literary device of Hebrew thought patterns designed to reflect the paradoxical and anomalous nature of this present world. The difficulty of interpreting this book is proportionally related to one’s own readiness to adopt Qoheleth’s presupposition—that everything about this world is marred by the tyranny of the curse which the Lord God placed upon all creation. If one fails to recognize that this is a foundational presupposition from which Ecclesiastes operates, then one will fail to comprehend the message of the book, and bewilderment will continue.
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The book of Qoheleth,1 commonly known as Ecclesiastes, is perhaps the most enigmatic of all the sacred writings. It is this quality which has been a source of sharp criticism. Virtually every aspect of the book has come under the censure of critics—its professed authorship,2 its scope and design, its unity and coherence, its theological orthodoxy, and its claim to a place among the inspired writings.
A superficial reading of Qoheleth may lead one to believe he is a man with a decidedly negative view of life in its many facets. This negative quality has been disproportionately magnified by liberal
GTJ 7:1 (Spr 86) p. 22
critics and conservatives alike. Understandably, then, Qoheleth has become the delight of critics and the embarrassment of conservatives. Embarrassment has led to greater perplexity about the book, and perplexity has brought negligent disuse of this valuable book.
Certainly the viewpoint of Qoheleth upon the world and life must be included in any discussion of OT ethical problems. If the book is indeed a unity, the composition of a single wise man, what is its theme? Is it pessimistic? Can a completely pessimistic view of life be admitted a place in the canon of Holy Scripture? Does not the recurring theme of “a man can do nothing better than to eat and drink and find satisfaction in his work” (cf. 2:24; 3:12, 13; etc.) suggest an Epicurean influence? Perhaps Stoicism, too, has influenced Qoheleth, for he claims, “All is vanity” (1:2; etc.). What exactly is Qoheleth’s view of the world and of life? What was the source of his ethics? Is Qoheleth the record of a man’s search for mean...
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