procrastination, heresy, and navel-gazing.

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Ecclesiastes 7.15-9.13

This section is again structured based on the occurrence of ראיתי (I saw). There are some difficult decisions to make about when to start and finish sections, complicated further by some English translations and the impact their decisions have on being able to make independent decisions on structure. However when we look at the regularity of occurrence of  ראה (to see) helps make those decisions easier, as they come at the beginning and end of each section.

Passage 7.15-28 7.29-8.9 8.10-16 8.17-9.10 9.11-13
First ראה 7.15 ראיתי 7.29 ראה (imperative) 8.10 ראיתי 8.17 ראיתי 9.11 ראה (infinitive)
Final ראה 7.27 ראה (imperative) 8.9 ראיתי 8.16 (2x) infinitive and participle 9.9 ראה (imperative) 9.13 ראיתי

What is very clear from this is there are 'seeing' (ראה) related bookends to each section. Within each section there is a clear theme, as follows:

7.15-28 I've seen it all
7.29-8.9 I saw that God made people upright; they pursued many schemes
8.10-16 I saw the wicked confused with the righteous
8.17-9.10 I saw how hard it is for people to understand God
9.11-13 I saw there is wisdom in understanding the limits of human perception

This section is the final observation section of the book, and is really his concluding remarks on the things he has seen and continues to see around him. Beginning with the totality of sight experiences, then the depravity inherent in people despite their good creator, leading next to the anti-wisdom practice of the fates of the righteous and wicked being confused, and fourthly the difficulty for people working out the full extent of everything that happens under the sun.

This leads to the terse concluding statement in 9.11-13, far shorter than the other sections, and, as flagged earlier, confused by the translations having a paragraph break after 9.12, where there is no reason to separate 9.13 from what precedes it. This short paragraph begins and ends with discussing what can and can't be discerned under the sun, and for the first time is able to say 'This too I saw [to be] wisdom under the sun, and this was very important [lit. 'great'] for me.' At the end of all this observation, Qohelet has finally understood something. What is that something? That there is great wisdom in understanding where the limits of human perception lie.

* I have some more work to do on this section; at first glance it appears each section will be chiastic. Which I have come to expect from Ecclesiastes, but also because of the way the themes are segmented and there are similarities between the beginning and end of each section, clustered around the verb ראה.

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