Abstract: Several recent attempts have been made to recover the social matrix of the book of Qoheleth. These can be categorized as the evolutionary, historical crisis, and cultural influence approaches. While fascinating, these perspectives fail, being largely circular and overly ambitious in what they claim. This paper attempts to emphasize the inherent limitations in such a quest. As an alternative to focusing on socio-historical specifics, this paper proposes a broader, archetypal and analytic approach to this question, concluding that the author of Qoheleth was an upper class Jewish intellectual of the Ptolemaic period, who did what intellectuals usually do: reflect, critique, and write, using a vast array of literary genres, including skepticism/pessimism/dissent. Beyond this, there is nothing in the book itself or in data from the Ptolemaic period that can help delimit the search for social causation to specific events or circumstances. Besides, such a search is misguided and underestimates the social complexity and literary skill of individual authors.
Hebrew Studies – National Association of Professors of Hebrew
Published: Oct 5, 1998