What I Am Reading on Ecclesiastes

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I am preparing to teach a ThM class this coming fall at DBTS, Hebrew Exegesis of Ecclesiastes. In preparation for this class, I recently acquired Craig Bartholomew‘s
Ecclesiastes (Baker Commentary on the Old Testament Wisdom and Psalms). Bartholomew’s work is a welcome addition to the increasing number of commentaries on this book.

Because I lead a PhD seminar on Ecclesiastes at Central Baptist Seminary in the spring of 2009, I have interacted with other material Bartholomew has written on Ecclesiastes and appreciate his insightful scholarly interaction with the voluminous sources on Ecclesiastes. Consequently, I have been looking forward to Baker’s release of his commentary. My first impressions reflect that my wait has been worthwhile.

Bartholomew is highly qualified to write this commentary. His 1998 publication Reading Ecclesiastes: Old Testament Exegesis and Hermeneutical Theory, a revision of his 1996 dissertation at the University of Bristol, shows a depth and breadth of scholarship in tracing the history of Old Testament hermeneutics and biblical exegesis, specifically in Ecclesiastes. While the complexities associated with the history of Ecclesiastes studies are described and critiqued, he also argues that the “implied author” of Ecclesiastes is divided between the puzzling nature of the divine gift of joy, like those found in the carpe diem passages, and the frustrating situations one finds in a sin-cursed world, such as those found in the hebel passages. Bartholomew’s solution to these tensions in Ecclesiastes is found in one’s “Christian worldview.” As such, his interpretative approach to Ecclesiastes offering joy and faith as solutions to life’s tensions is a helpful contrast to the many commentaries that take a pessimistic interpretation of Ecclesiastes.

Bartholomew provides a thorough introduction to Ecclesiastes (pp. 17–99). His introduction provides a helpful and detailed discussion of germane introductory issues:

title (pp. 17-18)

canonicity (pp. 18-20)

history of interpretation (pp. 21-43)—a must read

authorship and date (pp. 43-54)—is Ecclesiastes a “royal fiction” with a post-exilic date?

social setting (pp. 54-59)

text (59–61)

genre and literary style (pp. 61-82)—informative discussion

structure (pp. 82-84)

reading Ecclesiastes within the context of Proverbs and Job and its connection to Torah (pp. 84-93)

message (pp. 93-96)

Ecclesiastes and the New Testament (pp. 96-99)

The remainder of this volume is divided into the actual commentary (pp. 101-373), followed by a postscript (pp. 375-89), bibliography (pp. 391-420), and indices referencing subjects, authors, scripture and other ancient writings (pp. 421-48). The commentary itself is divided into three sections.

Frame Narrative: Prologue (1:1-11), pp. 101-117

Qohelet’s Exploration of the Meaning of Life (1:12-12:7), pp. 119-357

Frame Narrative: Epilogue (12:8-14), pp. 359-373

As you can tell, Qohelet’s Exploration of the Meaning of Life (pp. 119-357) consumes the bulk of his discussion. This is divided into 21 units. With each of the 21 units, as well as the prologue and epilogue, Bartholomew provides his own translation, followed by a section on interpretation and theological implications.

As Bartholomew takes us through the various mazes of life, he shows how joy and faith undergirds the believer’s journey through one’s frustratingly enigmatic life. Thus, his work has many highlights. I cannot resist mentioning one example. The theme of Ecclesiastes is introduced in Ecclesiastes 1:2 with its fivefold use of hebel: “Hebel of hebels, says the Preacher, hebel of hebels. All is hebel.” The fact that v. 2 is essentially repeated in 12:8 (“Hebel of hebels , says the Preacher; all is hebel”) confirms that 1:2 is the subject of Ecclesiastes. Besides the eight uses of hebel in 1:2 and 12:8, it is used thirty other times in the book at key junctures. Certainly, an important issue in Ecclesiastes is the interpretation of hebel. Many options have been suggested on the translation of this term ranging from a word with negative connotations, such as “vanity” (KJV) or “meaningless” (NIV), to a word allowing for more positive uses, such as Bartholomew’s option “enigmatic.” While this word is discussed in a number of different sources (see pp. 93-94, 104-6; and pp. 88-95 of my “Message of Ecclesiastes“), his translation of it as “enigmatic” opens the possibility that one may find God-centered satisfaction in the many twists of life. His rendering of hebel is just one of the many commendable features of this volume. Craig Bartholomew has provided us with an exegetically detailed interaction with the Hebrew text and a theologically informative commmentary. I can highly recommend this commentary to biblical scholars, pastors, and serious Bible students.

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An Apologia for the 24-Hour Day View in the Creation Account (Part 3)

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On Friday, March 20, I began a three-part series at Sharper Iron defending the 24-hour day interpretation of the creation account. As I noted in my first part, because the tradition of Christian orthodoxy has a legacy of interpreting Genesis as a historic narrative, the prevailing interpretation of Genesis 1:1–2:3 has been that it is a record of God’s creative activity in six, consecutive, literal days followed by a literal seventh day of rest. The point of my first post was to provide a fourfold biblical justification for the 24-hour day interpretation of the creation account.

With my second post, I summarized four of the most prominent alternative views that have arisen largely as a result of the advent of modern geology and its claims about the (old) age of the earth.

With my third and final part that is posted today, I present three areas of weakness and a questionable presupposition that each view shares. To read this third post, go to “An Apologia for the 24-Hour Day View in the Creation Account (Part 3).”

Seminar at Central Baptist Seminary

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On January 14-16, I had the opportunity to lead a PhD module seminar on Ecclesiastes at Central Baptist Theological Seminary in Plymouth, MN. I enjoyed getting better acquainted with their faculty (for a list of the faculty, click here). Two of Central’s faculty members are Detroit Baptist Theological Seminary graduates: Dr. Dan Brown, who graduated with a Master of Divinity degree in 1982 (a year before I began teaching at Detroit), and Dr. Jeffrey Straub, who graduated with an MDiv in 1994 and then did classroom work in our ThM program. One of the classes that I taught Dr. Straub was a ThM Hebrew Exegesis of Micah in the Fall of 1996. Besides being a WYSIWYG person, one of the things I remember most about Dr. Straub was his intermittent mantra: “Don’t sweat the dagesh” (a dot that is inserted at key junctures in the middle of Hebrew letters). This proverb was good for a laugh or two in the 1990s; however, it was even funnier when one of the students on the first day of the seminar asked me if I sweat the dagesh. At that point, I knew that I had been set up. It was good to renew friendships with the faculty and staff at Central.

I had two students in the seminar: Gelu Pacurar, a pastor from Arad, Romania, and Tim Little, an adjunct faculty member at Faith Baptist Theological Seminary and assistant bookstore manager. In the following picture, Tim owns the Macintosh and Gelu has the other computer.

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Each day, the students had to be prepared to orally translate from their Hebrew Bibles four chapters in Ecclesiastes. In addition, they lead discussions on key introductory and interpretative issues in Ecclesiastes. When the class is concluded on April 13 & 14, each student will present a term paper, respond to the other student’s paper, and do a critical book review. I am pleased with the effort that both Gelu and Tim exerted in the seminar and I found the interaction refreshing. I may have been refreshed, however, because I have learned as a seminary professor that it is more blessed to give than receive. If you want to check out the course requirements, clickhere.

Elementary Hebrew Grammar Word List

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Earlier today, I uploaded a list of 469 Hebrew words that are designed to be used with Allen Ross’s Introducing Biblical Hebrew. This word list is the vocabulary found at the end of each of 39 lessons, two through forty, in his text. I have set up the vocabulary to follow the lesson arrangement and word order in each of Ross’s lessons. However, I have made a couple of additions to his vocabulary. First, I have provided a greater sampling of the semantic range for the majority of words from HALOT. Second, I have cross-referenced each lexeme with the corresponding page number(s) from the two-volume edition of this lexicon. To download a copy of this pdf file, click Elementary Hebrew Grammar Word List.

Israel Museum Presents Great Isaiah Scroll For the First Time in Over Forty Years

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The above is a nice photograph of the great Isaiah Scroll from Qumran Cave 1 (about 120 B.C., the photo is from the Israel Museum in Jerusalem). In addition to what I mentioned two days back, the net newspaper Art Daily has provided additional information. “On the occasion of the 60th anniversary of the State of Israel, the Israel Museum presents two major sections of the Great Isaiah Scroll – the most complete biblical Dead Sea Scroll document ever found and one of the world’s greatest archaelogical treasures – in a special installation in the Shrine of the Book. For the first time in over forty years, the public will have the rare opportunity to view the two longest sections of the Scroll.” To read more from this article, continue here.

For two websites that provide helpful introductory material on Dead Sea Scrolls, click here and here. A website, hosted by Dr. James R. Davila (prefers being called “Jim”), that I check daily is Paleo Judaica. This is an excellent site for staying current on ancient Jewish history and literature, such as the Dead Sea Scrolls.

The Associated Press: Israel Museum puts Dead Sea scroll on rare display

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In the above picture (AP Photo/Tara Todras-Whitehil), an employee of the Israel Museum “points at the ‘Book of Isaiah’ from the Dead Sea scrolls at the Shrine of the Book in Jerusalem, Tuesday May 13, 2008.” This is one of the most important Dead Sea Scrolls and it goes on display in Jerusalem this week, “more than four decades after it was last seen by the public. The 24-foot scroll with the text of the Bible’s Book of Isaiah had been in a dark, temperature-controlled room at the Israel Museum since 1967. It went on display two years earlier, but curators replaced it with a facsimile after noticing new cracks in the calfskin parchment.” The article continues here (HT: Jim Davila).

Biblical Name on 8th Century BC Seal Found in City of David

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Complete seal bearing the Hebrew name “Rephaihu (ben) Shalem” (Photo: Israel Antiquities Authority)

As you look at the above seal, the name “Rephaihu…Shalem” is written in Palaeo-Hebrew. This script goes back to the days of Moses. Yesterday, Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs posted a brief article about the finding of seals, which included the one above, in the City of David that dated to the 8th century. “Finds recovered from the excavations in the City of David reveal an interesting development in the ancient world: whereas during the 9th century BCE letters and goods were dispatched on behalf of their senders without names, by the 8th century BCE the clerks and merchants had already begun to add their names to the seals.” Check out 8th Century BCE seals found at City of David excavations 27-Feb-2008 (HT: Jim Davila).