My musings on Biblical Studies, Biblical Hebrew, Dead Sea Scrolls, Septuagint, Popular Culture, Religion, Software, and pretty much anything else that interests me!

Software for Biblical Studies

  • Searches

Archive for the 'Ecclesiastes' Category

Ecclesiastes Goes Golfing

10th August 2009

golffrustrationI just returned from a nice long weekend away with the family. This was one of our annual trips that with a couple other families. We took the kids tubing at the lake, went ATV-ing, sat around the campfire and played various games. All in all it was a great weekend. Another regular part of this weekend is that the guys head out early one morning for a round of golf.  I enjoy golf, although I am not very good at it and I only seem to get out half a dozen times a year.  I had one of the best games in years earlier this summer when I shot a 47 (on 9 holes) on a father’s day outing.

This last weekend we teed off Sunday morning for our annual game. It was an absolutely beautiful morning and the course was in superb condition. I was looking forward to this round since I have been playing pretty good this summer so far.  The one downer was that I didn’t bring my own clubs (which are nothing special, but I am used to them), due to a miscommunication about whether or not we were playing. So I had rentals, which I usually don’t mind since they give me a chance to try out a newer set of clubs.

Then it started. Third off the tee box. I lined up with my rented driver and swung and heard a nice smack and watched the ball sail at least 250 yards… right into the trees, never to return. The cause: a magnificent slice. Something I hadn’t done for most of the summer. I decide to take a mulligan since I have to get used to the rentals. A second swing. An impressive smack. And I again watched my ball turn a right angle into the forest. I decide to place a ball where it went out and started walking down the fairway enjoying the  beautiful weather with my mind still in the game. I drop a ball at the appropriate spot, take out my 4 iron, and duff it. By the time I get to the green I am already sitting six and then proceed to three putt it.

I won’t describe any more of my game, except to say that I had pretty much my worst game in a long time. I was slicing. I was topping balls. I was hitting the sand traps. I was not having a good game.

Around the 6th hole my mind turned to Scripture. More specifically my mind turned to the book of Ecclesiastes (Qohelet in the Hebrew Bible). “All is vanity/meaningless”; or as I prefer to translate hebel, “All is absurd.” I thought of the absurdity of ruining a perfectly good walk through God’s beautiful creation by trying to hit a stupid white ball into a hole hundreds of yards away with only a club.  Throughout the rest of the game I thought of other lines from Ecclesiastes:

What do people gain from all the toil at which they toil under the sun [chasing a stupid white ball]? (Eccl 1:3)

All is absurd and a chasing after [stupid white balls] (Eccl 1:14)

A time to [hit balls] away [into the rough], and a time to look for [stupid white balls] in the rough (Eccl 3:5)

Cast your [balls] upon the water [hazard], for after many days you will get it back [yeah, right!]  (Eccl 11:1)

I still like golf, although any delusions I had that my game was getting better were dashed this last Sunday. In this respect, golf is very much like the book of Ecclesiastes. A peruse through Ecclesiastes also dashes any illusions that we are in control of our lives; that what we do in this fallen hebel world will always go according to our best laid plans. I like the way Eugene Peterson described the book of Ecclesiastes:

[It is] a John the Baptist kind of book. It functions not as a meal but as a bath. It is not nourishment; it is cleansing. It is repentance. It is purging. [We] read Ecclesiastes to get scrubbed clean from illusion and sentiment, from ideas that are idolatrous and feelings that are cloy. It is an exposé and rejection of every pretentious and presumptuous expectation aimed at God (Five Smooth Stones for Pastoral Work, pp. 155-156).

That, my dear reader, is also the function of the game of golf.

Posted in Ecclesiastes, Humour, Personal | 2 Comments »

Goldingay on Psalms and Other Commentary Updates

1st February 2007

goldingay_psalms.jpgI’ve added a few new commentaries in the Wisdom & Psalms section of my OT Commentary Survey.

One commentary that I want to single out among the updates is John Goldingay’s superb volume on Psalms 1-41:

I have always liked John Goldingay’s scholarship and this volume on the Psalter is no exception. Goldingay interacts with the best scholarship on the Psalms and presents it in a warm and engaging style that is both academically sound and theologically relevant. As such his commentary is ideal for pastors and Christian scholars and laypeople will also find it extremely accessible. I highly recommend it!

Another new commentary on the Psalms is in the popular Believers Church Bible Commentary:

There is also a new commentary on Proverbs by biblical studies doyen Tremper Longman:

Hot off the press is a new commentary on Ecclesiastes that looks at the reception history of the book:

For more listings and evaluations of commentaries on other biblical books, see my Old Testament Commentary Survey.

Posted in Bible, Codex Updates, Commentary Survey, Ecclesiastes, Old Testament, Proverbs, Psalms | 1 Comment »

Palindromes, Ecclesiastes, and Weird Al

27th August 2005

As it turned out, Loren Rosson III at the busybody had posted some of his thoughts on Palindromes (the movie, not the trope) here and most recently here. In his original post Loren linked to Ebert’s collection of excerpts from other reviews. I found these to be quite reassuring — evidently I was not alone in my reactions to the film! (See my original post here).

I did a bit more searching and found that Peter Chattaway had also blogged on the movie here and here. Peter thought that the film was a bit tilted towards the pro-choice side of things, though I’m not so sure. I found this series of dialogue quite damming to the pro-choice side:

  • Mom: But really, be reasonable, the baby has got to go. What happens if it turns out deformed, if it’s missing a leg, or an arm, or a nose, or an eye? Or if it is brain-damaged or mentally retarded. Children of very young mothers often turn out that way… and then what? And ten you’re stuck, your life is ruined forever, you end up on food stamps alone.
  • Aviva: But it’s my baby!
  • Mom: But it’s not a baby, not yet, really, it’s just… it’s like it’s just a tumour.
  • Aviva: I’m keeping it.
  • Mom: No you’re not!
  • Aviva: Yes I am.
  • Mom: You have the baby you find another home!
  • Aviva: You can’t take my baby away from me!
  • Mom: It’s too late, I’ve already made the appointment.

This next conversation — really more of a monologue since Aviva doesn’t say anything but nonchalantly eats her sandwich– is even more chilling, IMHO:

  • Mom: When you were just a little girl, around three or four, I was pregnant. And at first I was all happy and excited. A new friend for you I thought, a little baby brother. I used to think I’d call him “Henry” after my grandfather Heinric who never cared about money. But then our father and I had a long talk and I begun to realize that there were other things to think about. Your father was out of work, my paintings weren’t selling (I was blocked), I started smoking again, there were bills, a mortgage, a lawsuit. If I’d had another child I wouldn’t have been able to give you all that I had. The time we spend together, just you and me, and the little things your father and I pick up for you. The N’Sync tickets, Gap account,… Ben and Jerry’s. We couldn’t have afforded it. It would have been too much of a strain and we all would have been miserable.

In the context of the movie you realize Aviva doesn’t have any choice (it’s her parent’s choice), and it’s the Christian family who does accept into their family the “deformed” and “brain damaged.” Of course, like I said, no one comes out unscathed. The Christian family is also played so over the top that it’s ridiculous (and the father is complicit in the killing of an abortionist).

Loren also suggests a connection with the book of Ecclesiastes. I think it would be quite interesting to flesh out this connection — especially considering that Norbert Lohfink argues that Qohelet borrowed heavily from Greek thought and structured his book as a palindrome! (See his Qoheleth: A Continental Commentary [Fortress, 2003; or]). The deterministic view expressed in the film fits well with Ecclesiastes, as does the frequent juxtaposition of opposing viewpoints with no easy resolution. Finally, Qohelet’s overarching assessment that everything is hebel — absurd, meaningless — conforms well with the film.

Take, for instance, this piece dialogue near the end of the film between Aviva and her cousin Mark Wiener, who has been accused (unjustly?) of child molestation:

  • Mark: People always end up the way they started out. No one ever changes. They think they do, but they don’t…. There’s no freewill. I mean I have no choice but to choose as I choose, to do as I do, to live as I live. Ultimately we’re all just robots programmed arbitrarily by nature’s genetic code.
  • Aviva: Isn’t there any hope?
  • Mark: For what? We hope or despair because of how we’ve been programmed. Genes and randomness — that’s all there is and none of it matters…
  • Aviva: What if you’re wrong? What if there’s a God?
  • Mark: Then that makes me feel better.

It sounds like Mark has been reading Ecclesiastes! Of course one of the keys to interpreting Ecclesiastes is to read right up until the end:

The end of the matter; all has been heard. Fear God, and keep his commandments for that is the whole duty of everyone. For God will bring every deed into judgment, including every secret thing, whether good or evil (Eccl 12:13-14).

For those interested in exploring the connection between Ecclesiastes and popular film, I encourage you to pick up Robert K. Johnston’s Useless Beauty: Ecclesiastes through the Lens of Contemporary Film (Baker, 2004; Buy from or

At any rate, as you can probably tell, this movie gives you much to think about, and for that reason alone it is worth watching — but be warned, even though this movie has no profanity or nudity, it is nonetheless not for the faint of heart or easily offended.

A little known palindrome fact: the comedy singer “Weird Al” Yankovic produced a song entirely of rhyming palindromes on his 2003 album Poodle Hat, called “Bob.”

Posted in Ecclesiastes, News | 1 Comment »

War and Qohelet

27th June 2005

Is there a time for war? I would argue that the list of 14 antitheses in chapter three of Qohelet are not presented as things that are all good or proper. In fact, the list alternates between what is desirable (birth, healing, peace, etc.) and undesirable (death, killing, war, etc.). But the point of the entire list is to show the hebel ‏הֲבֵל or absurdity of human existence “under heaven.” All of these things happen outside of human control and because everything is determined, there is no profit in human toil. Verse 11 is the key to the interpretation of this passage. The first phrase emphasizes the fact that God determines the time for everything, ‏ אֶת־הַכֹּל עָשָׂ֖ה יָפֶה בְעִתּוֹ “He brings everything to pass precisely at his time” (Note that I took referent of the possessive pronoun on “time” as God). The rest of the verse highlights the absurdity of human existence: while there is a time for everything, only God knows the timing: God has “put ‏הָעֹלָם in their hearts, yet they cannot find out what God has done from the beginning to the end.” The times are set and there is nothing that we can do about it. This unpleasant conclusion is that God has played a trick on all of us. He has implanted in us an awareness that of our inability to know. Our only compensation is that we can enjoy the good time — though note that even here it is a gift controlled by God. I don’t think that this list can be used to justify any human actions, whether the decision to enter into a war or to go dancing.

I object to ever describing war as “just, right, and/or good.” Sadly, war is a much too frequent reality in this radically fallen world, but that doesn’t mean it is ever good. War is a manifestation of evil and no matter what noble reasons one may have for waging war, the evil of war will pervade all who participate. A prime example of this would be World War II. If any war could be deemed a “justifiable” war, I would think it would be the one. That being said, the war in the Asia-Pacific theatre ended up with the U.S. dropping atomic bombs on civilian targets — which I would find difficult to ever consider “just, right, and good.” Thus, while war is a reality and perhaps even necessary for a nation to engage in once all other options have been exhausted, it is never a “good” option. If this is “quibbling” forgive me; I believe it is an important distinction.

Posted in Ecclesiastes | Comments Off