Book Reviews


Craig G. Bartholomew Grand Rapids 2009-06-01

Bartholomew is the H. Evan Runner professor of philosophy and professor of religion and theology at Redeemer University College, Ancaster, Ontario. In this commentary he considers the literary and grammatical concerns of the text, and after each section of verses he explores the theological implications of those verses. Extensive footnotes discuss details of the Hebrew text.

He observes that “most [scholars] regard Ecclesiastes as written by an unknown Jew around the late third century BC” (p. 40). Then later he suggests that Ecclesiastes was written in the time of Ezra and Nehemiah (p. 45). Then he writes that this book “must be dated . . . later than 167–164 BC” (p. 49). Like so many today, Bartholomew agrees that it is “impossible to affirm Solomon as the author” (p. 47). For a discussion of arguments against and for Solomonic authorship see Donald R. Glenn, “Ecclesiastes,” in The Bible Knowledge Commentary, Old Testament, ed. John F. Walvoord and Roy B. Zuck (Wheaton, IL: Victor, 1985; reprint, Colorado Springs, Cook, 1996), 975–76.

Bartholomew points out the many genres in Ecclesiastes: proverbs, autobiography sections, reflections, poems, rhetorical questions, quotations, anecdotes, woe oracles, and blessings (pp. 61–62). As for the word lb,h, the NIV renders it “meaningless,” and the KJV and NASB translate it “vanity.” Bartholomew rightly suggests the rendering “enigmatic” (pp. 93, 104–5).

As is well known, Ecclesiastes presents conflicting concepts (e.g., despair in 2:1–23 but enjoyment of life in 2:24–26). Bartholomew responds to this and other conflicts by noting that “in a nutshell, Ecclesiastes is about the resolution of that tension” (p. 153). “Qohelet,” he writes, “confronts us with how we live the tension between what God intends for life and our often painful experience of it” (p. 157).

In discussing the strange statement in 7:28, “I have found one man among a thousand, but I have not found a woman among all these,” Bartholomew offers the unusual suggestion that this refers not to women in general but to an “image of Folly herself” (p. 267). Many commentators view 12:1–7 as depicting old age and death, but the author here says that “Qohelet clearly has something much larger in mind than old age or death” (p. 348). “Societal breakdown” is the theme, he suggests (p. 349). The problems cited in 12:3, for example, are the result of a catastrophe (ibid.). Verse 4, he says, continues the topic of “societal breakdown,” with the shut gates suggesting that the business of the city is being discontinued. And verse 5 depicts “a time of terrible fear and anxiety” in light of a coming catastrophe (p. 350).

Also, as the author observes, many commentators try to fill the gap between the book’s enjoy-life passages and the enigmatic passages “by making one of the poles dominant” and thus viewing the book as either “mainly skeptical or mainly positive” (p. 355). Bartholomew rightly responds, however, by affirming that Qohelet is both “skeptical and positive” (ibid., italics his). This significant observation merits serious consideration.

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