The Politics of Pessimism in Ecclesiastes

A Social-Science Perspective


Scholars attempt to resolve the problem of the book of Ecclesiastes’ heterodox character in one of two ways, either explaining away the book’s disturbing qualities or radicalizing and championing it as a precursor of modern existentialism. This volume offers an interpretation of Ecclesiastes that both acknowledges the unorthodox nature of Qoheleth’s words and accounts for its acceptance among the canonical books of the Hebrew Bible. It argues that, instead of being the most secular and modern of biblical books, Ecclesiastes is perhaps one of the most religious and primitive. Bringing a Weberian approach to Ecclesiastes, it represents a paradigm of the application of a social-science methodology.

Biographical Note
Mark R. Sneed is Professor of Bible at Lubbock Christian University.
Table of contents
Acknowledgments Abbreviations Introduction The Book’s Skepticism The Book’s Pessimism 1. Qohelet’s Heterodox Character: Non–Social-Science Approaches Ideational Approaches Non-Ideational Explanations for Qohelet’s Heterodoxy 2. Explaining Qohelet’s Heterodox Character: Social-Science Approaches Marxian Approaches Postcolonial Approaches Durkheimian Approaches Grand Theories Anthropological Approach Conclusion 3. Qohelet’s Sociohistorical Context Brief History of the Ptolemaic Kingdom (Third Century b.c.e.) Ptolemaic Administration Ptolemaic Taxation General Benefits of Ptolemaic Governance of Judah Social Stratification in Ptolemaic Jerusalem The Degree of Hellenization in Ptolemaic Judah Conclusion 4. Qohelet and His Audience’s Social Location Possible Allusions to the Milieu in Qohele Hellenistic Influence in Qohelet Qohelet: Aristocrat or Middle Class? Qohelet’s Scribal Audience Qohelet and the Scribal Status Group Qohelet as Intellectual Conclusion 5. Synchronic (Literary) Analysis of the Book of Qohelet The Meaning of הֶבֶל in the Hebrew Bible The Meaning of הֶבֶל in Qohelet God as Primary Orientation for Qohelet and His Audience God and Humanity: The Great Divide Qohelet—No Modern Existentialist! Qohelet’s Rhetoric Conclusion 6. Qohelet, the Problem of Evil, and Cognitive Dissonance Theodicy Strategies in the Hebrew Bible Qohelet’s Theodicy Strategies The Assets and Liabilities of Redefining God’s Standard of Judgment The Social Location of Theodicy Qohelet’s Non-Salvific Religious Perspective Qohelet’s Mitigation of Cognitive Dissonance Conclusion 7. Qohelet’s Irrational Response to the (Over-)Rationalization of Traditional Wisdom The Struggle between the Rational and the Irrational The Process of Rationalization The Rationalization of Religion Rationalization and Consistency Irrational (or Non-Rational) Reaction Weber and the Rationalization of Yahwism Rationalization in the Wisdom Tradition The Feasibility of the Doctrine of Retribution Qohelet’s Irrational Response to the Over-Rationalization of the Wisdom Tradition Conclusion 8. The Positive Power of Qohelet’s Pessimism Generic Pessimism Lowering Expectations in Qohelet Conclusion 9. The Sociology of the Book of Qohelet’s Canonicity The Degree of Qohelet’s Heterodoxy Qohelet’s Canonization as a Misperception Conclusion Conclusion Bibliography Index of Ancient Sources Index of Modern Authors Index of Subjects
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