Tuesday, April 12, 2011

ecclesiastes reloaded

How ironic is this?!

It is in Ecclesiastes that we find the celebrated quotation - "of making many books there is no end, and much study wearies the body (Ecc 12.12)." And then it is yet another commentary on this very same 2500 year old Ecclesiastes which demonstrates the value of even more wearisome study and the publishing of even more books...

Maybe I am a behind the times and you already know this. But Craig Bartholomew's commentary on Ecclesiastes is breathtaking.

Yes, I know that is a strong word to use for a boring commentary, but it is true. I've been reading commentaries on Ecclesiastes - the first biblical book I took seriously as a Bible teacher - for more than twenty years. The exegesis from Bartholomew is so refreshing. For example, with the allegory in 12.1-7 he suggests that "Qoheleth clearly has something much larger in mind than old age and death (348 - not many evangelicals have gone there in recent times)..." OR take his way of translating hebel/meaningless as "enigmatic" because the word "does not indicate that there is no meaning but that it appears ungraspable or incomprehensible ... (and so) 'enigmatic' leaves open the possibility of meaning (93-94)" - and for this reason 'meaningless' carries the wrong nuance.

In the introductory pages, Bartholomew's discussion of the genre of Ecclesiastes (61-81) is a highlight which I am still absorbing. Then there is "Reading Ecclesiastes within the Context of Proverbs and Job and Its Connection to the Torah" (84-93); the four crucial pages on the "Message" of Ecclesiastes (93-96, arguably the best pages to read first); and "Ecclesiastes and the New Testament" (96-99).

Then what about his Postscript? It is titled "Postmodernism, Psychology, Spiritual Formation, and Preaching" (375-389). Say no more! No - I'll say one more thing ... He closes the commentary with a quotation from a Philip Jenkins' book (the very one I reviewed a few weeks ago). How cool is that?

However the undisputed heavyweight highlight of the commentary is the way he takes off the handbrake in the sections entitled "Theological Implications". In here he wanders and imagines his way all over the place. While some of it is pretty philosophical, given his desire to engage the 'autonomous epistemology' of Qoheleth, the scenery of the places where he roams is spectacular. Let me try to capture this for you by listing some of the names which appear in the footnotes of these sections:

Langdon Gilkey to David Bosch to Jacques Ellul to Anne Lamott to Dietrich Bonhoeffer to Oscar Romero to Paul Ricoeur to Henri Nouwen to Eugene Peterson to Karl Barth to Elie Wiesel to John Paul II to Karl Popper to Hans-Georg Gadamer ... and those are only some of the ones I recognised!

Like I say, it is breathtaking...

nice chatting



Heather said...

I still remember you speaking at TSCF conference in the late 90s on 'swoosh spirituality' from Ecclesiastes. It gave me much food for thought and still sometimes returns to me all these years later. Thankyou.

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