02 September 2010

Sep 2

Reference links:
Old Testament

We start Ecclesiastes today. As a side note, Psalms and Proverbs fall between Job and Ecclesiastes in the Christian Old Testament.

According to Harris's Understanding the Bible:
The Bible's finest example of skeptical wisdom, the Book of Ecclesiastes is ascribed to King Solomon but is actually the work of an anonymous Israelite sage who calls himself Koheleth (Qoheleth), one who presides over a circle of learners. Delighting in paradox, Koheleth denies the possibility of knowing anything for sure, except the inescapable facts of death and the ultimate futility of all human effort.
... the author of Ecclesiastes adopts an emotionally neutral position of coolly ironic detachment. An aloof observer of human folly, he derives a certain wry amusement from his ivory tower perspective on the human predicament. He is puzzled by Yahweh's apparent unwillingness to enforce ethical principles, but he simply concludes that God chooses to operate with no coherent moral plan -- at least not one that human beings can perceive.
... True wisdom lies in observing everything, knowing how little has genuine value, and refusing to become committed to the hopeless pursuits to which most people blindly devote their lives.  
...The author's love of paradox is a characteristic of the book that troubles some readers; he seldom makes a statement that he does not somewhere else contradict. ... These paradoxic views are among the book's chief strengths, however, for the writer is not contradicting himself, but is asserting that life is too complex for absolute certainties. 
I love it already. =)

On authorship:
Although the superscription to the book attributes its authorship to Koheleth, "son of David, king in Jerusalem" -- presumably Solomon -- most scholars regard this as merely a literary device that offers the writer an elevated position from which imaginatively to experience everything enjoyed by Israel's wealthiest and wisest monarch. 
On date of composition:
Because the author seems familiar with various strands of Greek philosophy, including that of Heraclitus, Zeno the Stoic, and Epicurus, experts end to place the books composition sometime during the Hellenistic era, after the campaigns of Alexander of Macedonia had brought Greek culture to Palestine.  
On to today's content! The opening sets the theme of the book. The author starts by declaring everything to be meaningless. All that seems to be progress is just part of a cycle that repeats again and again.

It is interesting considering passages like this one from the point of view of someone living in the 21st century:
It has all been done before. Nothing under the sun is truly new. Sometimes people say, “Here is something new!” But actually it is old; nothing is ever truly new.
We have truly done new things since this book was composed. We have made so much progress in knowledge and technology. Humanity experienced more change in the 20th century alone than it did in most of history. And yet, the human problems that we encounter are still fundamentally the same.

The author then goes on to consider different ways that one might find meaning in life. He starts with worldly pleasures and finds them to not be worthwhile. Work is futile because all that is earned from it will be left behind when you die. Yet despite that, the author then says,
So I decided there is nothing better than to enjoy food and drink and to find satisfaction in work.
Despite the fact that the pleasures of food and drink and work are futile, the author can find nothing better than to enjoy them. These things can and should be enjoyed despite the fact that they do not give life any ultimate meaning (more thoughts on the idea of meaning later).

After this, we read a poem. Even if you have never read Ecclesiastes, the poem may sound familiar. The poem was made into a hit song by the Byrds in the 1960s.

This is followed by a nice little statement:
I have seen the burden God has placed on us all. Yet God has made everything beautiful for its own time. He has planted eternity in the human heart, but even so, people cannot see the whole scope of God’s work from beginning to end. So I concluded there is nothing better than to be happy and enjoy ourselves as long as we can. And people should eat and drink and enjoy the fruits of their labor, for these are gifts from God.
The author then talks about injustice and death. There is clearly so much to say in this book, and I am clearly not going to be able to say it all. How sad. Maybe I should have skipped most of the deuteronomistic history and just spent time studying this book.

New Testament

Paul continues to talk about himself.

Psalms and Proverbs

Proverbs talks about beating children:
A youngster’s heart is filled with foolishness,
but physical discipline will drive it far away.