יום שבת, 4 בינואר 2014

"I set my mind to study and to probe…" (Qoheleth 1, 12) Structure and Meaning in the First Sequence of Reflective Passages in Qoheleth ( 1, 12 – 2, 26 )

 Nava   Cohen
The Bialik Institute

The book of Qoheleth commences with a verse that asserts the author’s view of existence as temporary and transient (1,2) followed immediately thereafter by the rhetorical question: what real value is there for a man in all the gains he makes beneath the sun? -  a question that intrinsically challenges man’s ability to achieve profit or gain through physical and mental exertions. The argument embodied in this question is further heightened by the adjacent prologue (1,4-11) that includes a poetic segment (1,4-7) and a segment of measured prose (1,8-11).
As many have noted, this question is salient not only to Qoheleth but to wisdom literature in general and its situation at the book’s outset underscores its prominence. The book’s initial sequence of philosophical passages (1,12-2,26) that constitutes this article’s main focus, comprises five explicit iterations of the determination that man accrues no gains from his labors:
Then my thoughts turned to all the fortunes that my hands had built up to the wealth that I had acquired and won- and oh, it was all futile and pursuit of wind, there was no real value under the sun (2,11). I found that wisdom is superior to folly as light is superior to darkness (2,13). So too I loathed all the wealth that I was gaining under the sun (2,18). And so I came to view with despair all the gains I had made under the sun (2,20). So what does a man get from all the toil and all the worrying he does under the sun (2,22).
In this article I will propose an alternative structure for this passage and will respond to the research question that seeks to characterize the relationship between the reflections described in verses 1,12-2,26 and the determination that man’s debilitating labor cannot ensure him gain and profit. I will review, as my point of departure, the leading scholarly approaches regarding the nature of the sequence and the essential meaning of the philosophical passages’ theoretical continuum. I will then outline the parameters that delineate the passages within the sequence and the ensuing division that they indicate. Finally, I will discuss the significance evinced by the proposed structure and elucidate its important contribution to the assertion of the futility of man’s labor and also resolve the question of why the issue of the futility of labor is brought up specifically at these junctures (2,11;2,13;2.18;2.20;2.22)

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