Religious Redaction in Qohelet in Light of Mesopotamian Vanity Literature

in Vetus Testamentum

A popular critical theory suggests that the epilogue of Qohelet, which recommends discipline and piety, is a later addition aimed at reconciling the unorthodox ideas of the book with conservative views. While this hypothesis is well-established on the basis of the text’s style and content, no external evidence to support it has ever been suggested. This paper seeks to present an empirical model for this redactional theory from a comparative point of view. It examines the development of the vanity theme in Mesopotamian literature, and shows that the subversive ideas of vanity literature gave rise, from the very beginning, to redactional activity focused on re-interpreting it in light of traditional values. Several examples of this process of conservative redaction are discussed, including Sumerian, Akkadian, and Akkadian-Biblical cases. The theory that the final verses of Qohelet are a later interpolation thus gains credibility in light of similar phenomena in Mesopotamian literature.

  • 9

    Ibid. pp. 371-374.

  • 11

    AlsterWisdom of Ancient Sumer pp. 265-340. See also Lambert “Some New Babylonian Wisdom Literature” who speaks about ‘the futility theme’.

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  • 16

    AlsterWisdom of Ancient Sumer pp. 267-269. Alster’s classification is not without problems and is being followed here for the sake of convenience. The question of the relation between the different versions of this work requires further study.

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  • 17

    AlsterWisdom of Ancient Sumer pp. 270-271.

  • 24

    AlsterWisdom of Ancient Sumer p. 272. The complement “[life is found]” relies on the identical couplet which appears in a better state of preservation in one of the versions of the Ballad of Early Rulers (see below).

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  • 29

    See e.g. LambertBabylonian Wisdom Literature p. 119.

  • 30

    See lately CohenWisdom from the Late Bronze Age pp. 145-148 with further bibliography.

  • 36

    GeorgeGilgamesh p. 279 iii 6-14.

  • 40

    See LambertBabylonian Wisdom Literature pp. 107-109; Von Soden Texte p. 169 with improved readings.

  • 42

    TigayEmpirical Models p. 239.

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