procrastination, heresy, and navel-gazing.

Saturday, May 14, 2016

Ecclesiastes 1.12-2.26

The second section we're working through is from Ecclesiastes 1.12, where the book in a sense restarts, up until chapter 3, where the famous 'for everything there is a season' poem starts a new section.

The first thing that stands out is all the 'I' language. You can see from the graph (made using Accordance Bible Software) that there is a real cluster of first person singular verbs in our section. 42 of the 81 first person verbs in the whole book occur in this section, with none before it, as well as none after 10.7.

This makes sense of course as this section is where Qohelet takes us through his observations. Webb in his NSBT examination (Five Festal Garments) explains there are alternating sections of observation and instruction, and Seow in his Anchor commentary sees the book similarly, although in far fewer sections than Webb:
IA, Reflection: everything is ephemeral and unreliable (1:2–4:16);
      IB, Ethics: coping with uncertainty (5:1–6:9 [Eng]);
IIA, Reflection: everything is elusive (6:10–8:17);
     IIB, Ethics: coping with risks (9:1–12:8).

Webb has twice as many alternating sections;
Observation  Instruction
1.3-4.16        5.1-9
5.10-6.9        6.10-7.22
7.23-29         8.1-8
8.9-9.12        9.13-12.7
As has been oft repeated, the problem with Ecclesiastes is that no-one can agree on a structure. Despite similar approaches (observation//reflection; instruction//ethics) Webb and Seow end up with very different results--apart from the section we're looking at!

So to return to Ecclesiastes 1.12-2.26, here is some kind of graph (I'm sure it's got a name) looking at the first person verbs* in our section - note again there are no first person verbs before and none after until after the poem beginning chapter 3.

I've grouped the verbs according to the theme; you note there are clusters around exploring, around boasting, around doing and also around failing. You will also note the verb ראה 'to see' is scattered fairly evenly through this section, and roughly divides the passage into the key parts of the argument. [Update - It also gives the structure a (much needed) chiastic shape]:

A 1.12-13  Introduction and presumptive conclusion (no ראה)
B      1.14-18 Why be wise (1)? (ראה at 1.14)
C             2.1-11 The pursuit of pleasure (ראה at 2.1,3)
B'     2.12-17 Why be wise (2)? (ראה at 2.13)
C'               2.18-23   The character that matters (no ראה)
              (NB. שנא (hate) at end of 17 and beginning of 18)
A' 2.24-26  Conclusion: two ways to work (ראה at 2.24)
There is also (and this is the last update, I promise!**) the 'task' which frames the whole section. It may or may not be intentional, but the miserable (literally 'evil' or 'bad' - רע) task given to the sons of men in 1.13 and the 'task' God gives to sinners (2.26) both times uses the word ענין, looks very similar to the word for sin or iniquity, עון. This may be me barking up the wrong tree, but whatever the case, this word is used very negatively for work. When work is received as task (Aufgabe in German) it is indeed a miserable thing. But when it is received as gift (Gabe in German) it is something altogether different - he gives wisdom, knowledge, and joy (2.26).

* the verb in 2.1 is an imperative, but it's said to himself, hence its inclusion.
** may not be the last update

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

How is verse 26 interpreted? Poetic justice, or that God is arbitrary or ive even read up on pious glossation. These all seem to fall short of what Qohelet os trying to say

4:37 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Referring to the this too is vanity and a chasing after the wind part

4:41 am  
Blogger psychodougie said...

Hi Anon.

My take is the verse divides in two halves, with the first half the path of the righteous person, the second being the vain task of the sinner. Without trust in God all work becomes Aufgabe rather than Gabe, which means seeking meaning within work rather than from the ultimate source.

Feel free to come back at me if you want me to say more.


9:58 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks for the reply,
I read it as the whole section is hevel, where verse 21 is the one who pleases God(Wisdom and knowledge) and verse 22 and 23 are the sinner who gathers and heaps. Thats why i believe qohelet concludes that section with hevel and a striving after wind.

I get the feeling he is negative and when Ecclesiastes is quoted in Luke 12:19 the preceding verse God demands the life of the rich fool.

8:13 am  
Blogger psychodougie said...

You also need to compare it with the similar statement in 2.21, where you have a situation more analogous to Luke 12.19.

The question is about gain - vanity (hebel)is essentially the lack of gain.
In 2.21 there is nothing to hold on to after death, so too in 2.26. Neither of them have any gain.
The only one who actually has gain is the one who enjoys this life as a gift from God.

In Luke then, the purpose of working was not to enjoy his fruits while he laboured (which is what Qohelet repeatedly recommends), but to labour now and enjoy later. You might also imagine someone saying they're working hard now for their kids to inherit, yet never spending time with or enjoying them. This is a vanity and chasing after wind.

10:26 am  

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