Dec 3, 2011

The Challenge of Interpreting Ecclesiastes

I haven't had the chance to dip to deeply into Peter Enns' new commentary on Ecclesaistes, but he does sum up nicely some of the interpretive challenges that I have sensed in studying this book. Enns writes,

"There is . . . a vicious circle in interpreting Ecclesiastes. How one understands the overarching message of Ecclesiastes as a whole will affect how one handles the details of the book itself, yet the book's overall message cannot be determined apart from the book's details. Of course, on one level, this circle is operative with any biblical book, but the problems are augmented in the case of Ecclesiastes: it is not only the introductory questions that prove elusive, but the very details of the book, the data by which a plausible model of the whole must be constructed, likewise suffer from difficulties and ambiguities, and thus challenge any attempt to harness its overall message. It is a common experience when reading Ecclesiastes that, just when it seems the book's train of thought has been apprehended and some firm conclusion is forthcoming, a verse or two later the author says something that turns it all on its head. One begins to suspect that this is precisely what he has in mind . . . ."

Peter Enns, Ecclesiastes, Two Horizons Old Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2011), 1. 

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