“Making Sense of Qoheleth”

That is the title of the paper I wrote for our Septuagint seminar last fall. If you are interested, have a look: “Making Sense of Qoheleth”
Here is the introduction:

This paper offers a qualification to the stereotypical description of the Septuagint translator of Qoheleth. The translator is typically described as one of the most literal of all LXX translators. Nevertheless, in certain places the translator clarifies the syntax of his Hebrew Vorlage. This paper is a preliminary attempt to catalogue those places.

The first section illustrates that though “literal” is often thought to be synonymous with “mechanical,” this is certainly not the case with the translator of Qoheleth. Realizing this distinction is a step toward properly describing the character of LXX Ecclesiastes. If there is evidence that his literal technique does not mean that he always follows a lexeme for lexeme approach, then perhaps syntactic clarifications are a possibility as well. The second section presents the foundation of the thesis. There, I have tried to gather all the places where, in comparison with the MT, the LXX translator has clarified the Hebrew syntax in his translation. The third section discusses questionable examples of syntactic clarification. Throughout the paper, differences between the MT and LXX due to a textual problem have been excluded. The final section states conclusions and points to further study.

After looking back over a couple papers by Jan Joosten on Academia.edu, I was reminded of a paper written by James K. Aitken: “Rhetoric and Poetry in Greek Ecclesiastes,” Bulletin of the International Organization of Septuagint and Cognate Studies 38 (2005): 55-78. Aitken’s thesis is similar to mine, and he argues that several of the differences between the Qoheleth and Ecclesiastes can be explained by an increased interest in rhetoric in the Roman period. This paper was first brought to my attention by John Meade in a conversation a couple months after I had completed the paper linked to here. I had limited time to look at secondary sources during the seminar (shame! shame! I hear you), and I have yet to have the opportunity to come back to this project since John mentioned the article to me. I am out of town for a couple weeks, so if you have a pdf of “Rhetoric and Poetry in Greek Ecclesiastes” please feel free to send it my way.

On Pursuing Wisdom East of Eden

Everyone wants to be wise. The problem is that pursuing wisdom apart from God can lead to disaster. That is part of what went wrong in the garden. Genesis 3:6 says,
ותרא האשׁה כי … נחמד העץ להשׂכל … ויאכל

When the woman saw that eating from the tree was (among other things) able to make her wise, she stepped out from under the word of God and ate.

Reflecting on the pursuit of wisdom east of Eden, Ecclesiastes 7:16 says,

אל תתחכם יותר למה תשׁומם

Paraphrasing, “Don’t be overly anxious to be wise. Why should you be disappointed?”* The LXX renders it even more sharply:

μη σοφιζου περισσα, μηποτε εκπλαγης

Again, paraphrasing, “Don’t be overly anxious to be wise, lest you drive yourself mad.” Ecclesiastes recognizes that “there is no one on earth who is righteous, who does good and does not sin” (7:20) and that this condition affects even our pursuit of good things.

We long for perfection, but it is out of our reach. Perfect wisdom is the prerogative of one (Romans 16:27). Nevertheless, we are not without hope. Foundational to Christian hope is the confidence that Jesus will come back and set things straight. Yes, preacher, at the moment “that which has been made crooked cannot be made straight” (Ecclesiastes 1:15), but there is coming a day when “I am making all things new” (Revelation 21:5) will be rendered in the past tense. In the meantime, we have the good book, the church, and the promise of Immanuel (Matthew 1:23; 28:20; Luke 11:13; James 1:5).



* On the translation of תשׁומם as “be disappointed” see the NET notes. They argue convincingly for this translation, rather than “ruin yourself” or “destroy yourself.” They say, “In the Hitpolel stem the root שׁמם never means this . . .”

Shouting(!) in the Apparatus

Many people don’t realize that an exclamation point in print is equivalent to shouting. I’m sure Y. A. P. Goldman, editor of the Qoheleth portion of BHQ’s Megilloth fascile, is not one of those people. So, when I read the exclamatory statement below, I smiled. Concerning ומי־אהב בהמון in Ecclesiastes 5:9, he says,

The preposition ב before המון is not a dittography, as suggested in BHS; it is supported by the textual agreement of M and G (two different texts here!) . . .

I’m sorry, but I’m frequently amused by the use of exclamation points!!!

If you want, you can take a peek at Ecclesiastes 5 here.