Tuesday, 16 November 2010

Milton P. Horne on Proverbs and Ecclesiastes

Milton P. Horne, Proverbs–Ecclesiastes, Smyth & Helwys Biblical Commentary Volume 12 (Macon: Smyth & Helwys, 2003), 579pp. ISBN 1-57312-069-3.

The publishers makes available the introduction to this commentary as an excerpt here.

It takes in the following areas:

Literary dimensions of Proverbs and Ecclesiastes – including literary forms, literary art, and literary transmission

Historical dimensions of Proverbs and Ecclesiastes – including authorship, date, social context, and ancient Near Eastern context

Theological dimensions of Proverbs and Ecclesiastes – including the absence of the story of Yahweh’s revelation, wisdom’s anthropocentrism, and revelation through Creation

There is also a separate section introducing Ecclesiastes on its own, covering Ecclesiastes in the canon, authorship, ancient near Eastern context, date of origin, theology, message of the book, and literary genre and structure.

On the book’s message, Horne writes:

‘[T]he sage seems to be offering a confession that moves beyond the mere recognition of ambiguity and inconsistency in the universe. The thrust of the message concerns how the search for meaning continues rather than what that meaning is to be. The book portrays a teacher whose aim is to model for his students the importance of making relative judgments. He calls attention to the dangers of absolutes and the vulnerability of unquestioned assumptions... Nevertheless, enjoyment is still commended... Death is inevitable (3:19-22), life is full of pain and suffering (2:23), God is unknowable, and yet it is entirely possible to enjoy one’s lot in life (5:18-20).

‘So, without any delusion of getting ahead, of pleasing God, or of actually changing the inexorable facts of existence, it is still better to be wise than a fool (7:11-12), better to draw near to worship in an attitude of respect than in one of disrespect (5:1-5), better to live in the moment than in the past (7:10). One should make the most of one’s time – whatever it is (9:10) – should seek God while youth allows (12:1-2), and should take advantage of every opportunity to enjoy what has been made available for one’s enjoyment (9:7; 11:7-8). In other words, the meaning of life is not found in the macro-assumptions one holds, but in the way one manages life’s micro-significances. The little things count the most to make life full and meaningful’ (377).

And on literary genre and structure, he notes (more helpfully, in my opinion):

‘The strategy for readers is... not so much one of finding a logical argument as much as listening to a sage debate with himself. The point-counterpoint movement reinforces the sage’s attention to subtleties. For everything that moves forward, there is a force tugging in the opposite direction. He raises questions based upon his experiences and readers must listen to the different perspectives; some traditional, others quite untraditional. As we understand Qoheleth’s point of view, we also enter into his arguments, rejecting some and retaining others. But even more than detecting some resolution in Qoheleth’s thinking, readers themselves learn by experience a process of deliberating on life’s and faith’s riddles (378).

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