Creation in Qohelet Ecclesiastes 1.1-11 as cosmology, national history, and autobiography
Ince, Taylor Haden
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This thesis is a close reading of Ecclesiastes 1.1-11 in the BHS edition of the MT of Qohelet. Its main contention is that Ecclesiastes 1.3-11 is an exposition of the collocation that ends 1.2, of hakkol hevel, and that consequently, the best way to begin to understand hevel in Ecclesiastes is to understand 1.3-11. Chapter 1 presents the scholarly conversation this project enters while presenting some of the unresolved problems the primary text creates. Answers to these problems are suggested, anticipated contributions enumerated. It has not been shown to satisfaction how the first eleven verses of this book cohere or how its various strands―involving Davidic Israel, Qohelet himself, and all creation―tie together. This thesis aims to help remedy that situation. It shows Ecclesiastes not to be the black sheep of the Hebrew Bible but in line with its whole corpus. Chapter 2 reads Ecclesiastes 1.1 as forming an allusive-inclusio with verse 11 which echoes the regnal history of Israel from David to exile, thereby initiating the process of folding the story of Qohelet and Israel into the creation account which follows. It is thus a primer for the two-word judgment hakkol hevel which is summarised in verse 2 and unpacked in verses 3-11 and which folds all things (hakkol) into one thing (hevel). Chapter 3 is a reading of Ecclesiastes 1.2 that discerns its final two words, hakkol hevel, as encapsulating the verse and determining the verses that directly follow, namely Ecclesiastes 1.3-11. These two words carry the verbal freight of hevel into the creation of 1.3-11 and suggest that if we want to understand hevel we must understand the words that immediately follow and first explain it, verses 3-11. Lastly, the way in which hevel appears in verse 2 suggests what verse 1 did, that Qohelet is drawing on the sordid history of Israel to explain the state of all things in what follows. Chapters 3-6 are a close reading of Ecclesiastes 1.3-11 that traces the dynamic of hakkol hevel as it unfolds within creation, speaking both to the corrupt condition of creation and of Israel, thus tying the two together. Chapter 4 reads Ecclesiastes 1.3-4 as showing man and nature as distinct, connected by man’s painful toil, and thus characterised in their relationship by a subtle animosity. Chapter 5 reads Ecclesiastes 1.5-7 as showcasing nature as something characterised by man’s profitless toil but in its own way, through its endurance as opposed to man’s transience. Chapter 6 reads Ecclesiastes 1.8 as the convergence- point of the prologue, as the place where all creation becomes one, wearying thing and thus succinctly reflects hakkol hevel, whose highly antithetical meaning is something like everything is nothing. Verse 8 also hints at the reason for this cosmic fusion and dissolution: it is man’s idolatry, something hevel often speaks to in the Hebrew Bible. Chapter 7 reads Ecclesiastes 1.9-11 as the consummation of this cosmic fusion and dissolution: in these verses all time and space converge into one, wearying, forgettable and forgotten thing. The process mimics the process of death and tells us about what hevel means, for creation, and through Qohelet, for his people, Israel. This homogenisation of time and space polemicises the Latter Prophets through allusion and counters the hope for Israel and creation they proclaim. This is what hakkol hevel means for Qohelet. It means the end of all things, including Israel, in death, and owing to idolatry. Even so, through echo of the Hebrew Bible and in line with it, this prologue may hold out a glimmer of hope for Israel and all things.