Divrei ben Abuya

In the Babylonian Talmud, Elisha ben Abuya was a great sage who lost his faith in God. So great was he that his and subsequent generations continued learning from him - to the extent that the authors of the Talmud needed to create a story that would serve to legitimise his teachings despite his apostasy. His lesson is a lesson for us all: that great stature is not contingent upon blind faith, nor high learning upon the observation of Torah precepts.

May 14, 2006

Wow, this is an amazing book!

Entitled, "The End of Wisdom: A Reappraisal of the Historical and Canonical Function of Ecclesiastes", it is based on a PhD by Martin Shields (under Ian Young, of Sydney University). Traditional scholarship on Ecclesiastes (aka Qoheleth) has tended to view the epilogue (12:9-14) as being secondary to the rest of the text. It has also tended to view 1:1 and 7:27 (sometimes even 1:2 and 12:8, although I see this as unlikely) as being additions of the same stock as the epilogue. Their purpose: to subvert the words of Ecclesiastes and make the book sufficiently palatable as to be included in the canon.

Shields not only critiques this perspective convincingly, he also provides an entirely new rubric for reading the epilogue - one that perceives it as being primary to the text. Arguing that the final form of the text is the creation of the epilogist, Qoheleth's words are not being subverted at all but merely contextualised. His analysis is thorough and impressive. For a (brief) time, I considered abandoning my own thesis topic in order to do something more similar to what he does. But then, I have my whole life to do as I please: of primary importance at the moment is obtaining the necessary results.

Back to work!


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