The Values and Limits of Qohelet’s Sub-Celestial Economy

in Vetus Testamentum
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Qohelet draws upon the metaphors of a mercantile economy in order to assign values to human life. The primary context in which he calculates these values is time-under-the-sun. In the economy of time-under-the-sun, there are both absolute and relative credits. On the one hand, the inevitable onset of death reduces all credits or debits to zero. Yet on the other hand, Qohelet claims that the enjoyment of one’s profits during one’s lifetime is a relative credit. The sage, however, also perceives another sort of reckoning which reaches beyond his empirical observation. He speaks of a matrix outside of the rule of the sun, which he calls עולם. In this space beyond time God has ordained a judgment in which the pious will profit and the impious will suffer loss. The onset of a new order beyond the sun raises the possibility that zero might not be the final answer after all.

The Values and Limits of Qohelet’s Sub-Celestial Economy

in Vetus Testamentum




The seminal essay is M. J. Dahood“Canaanite-Phoenician Influence in Qoheleth”Bib 33 (1952) pp. 30-52 191-221 and an economic reading of the book has been developed by numerous scholars in the six decades since its publication.


WeeksEcclesiastes and Scepticism p. 35. He also points to יתרן in two Aramaic papyri from Saqqara (cf. DNWSI I p. 482 s.v. ytrn). The Hebrew cognate מותר is used similarly in 4QInstructionc (4Q417) where it denotes “surplus” (frag. 2 col. i line 17). As in Ecclesiastes its opposite is formed on the root חסר (מחסור “lack”; frag. 2 col. i lines 17-19; cf. חסרון in Eccl 1:15 and חסר at 6:2).


See also J. G. Janzen“Qohelet on ‘Life under the Sun’ ”CBQ 70 (2008) p. 468.


See K. J. Dell“The Cycle of Life in Ecclesiastes”VT 59 (2009) pp. 181-189.


GinsbergStudies in Koheleth pp. 1-11 here p. 3.


See S. C. Jones“Qohelet’s Courtly Wisdom: Ecclesiastes 8:1-9”CBQ 68 (2006) pp. 211-228. It is possible that his suspicion of certain apocalyptic scenarios arises from his experience as a former apocalypticist (Janzen “Life under the Sun” pp. 478-80).


SneedPolitics of Pessimism p. 189.


Schwienhorst-SchönbergerKohelet p. 268.


C. L. Seow“Qohelet’s Eschatological Poem”JBL 118 (1999) p. 234.

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