QOHELET AND THE EXIGENCIES OF THE ABSURD

In: Biblical Interpretation

Abstract

This article considers the Book of Qohelet in terms of its concerns and stylistics and with an eye towards the book's modern analogues. In particular, I look at the themes of toil and progress, time and memory, justice, and wisdom and knowledge while endeavouring to maintain the contradictory and self-negating dynamics of the text. Qohelet, I conclude, finds no ultimate good and no foundational principle in the universe. The declaration that all is judgement about the human experience of existence. Ours is not a world that admits human reason or responds to our longing for meaning-it is an absurd existence. Various stylistic strategies are employed in the text to support and sustain this message and these techniques combine to form a poetics of absurdity. The book is cast in an autobiographical voice, plays with the dynamics of aphorism and tautology, and, most significantly, builds itself around the poetics of contradiction. The text is engaged in a continual process of erasure whereby statements are made, explored, and then negated. I conclude by considering two modern analogues to the book of Qohelet, Albert Camus and Lev Shestov. These two thinkers parallel the book of Qohelet in both concern and style. They too find that the universe is infused with contradictions and does not bend to our longing for order and reason. Ultimately, all three sources convey a similar understanding of the human existential condition.

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