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Altes Testament


Schwienhorst-Schönberger , Ludger:




Übersetzt u. ausgelegt v. L. Schwienhorst-Schönberger. Freiburg-Basel-Wien: Herder 2004. 572 S. m. Abb. gr.8° = Herders Theologischer Kommentar zum Alten Testament. Lw. Euro 85,00. ISBN 3-451-26829-9.


Pierre Van Hecke

This volume is a welcome addition to the new HThKAT-series, which, with each new volume, meets and even exceeds the high expectations it aroused when it was first announced. In this volume, L. Schwienhorst-Schönberger, one of the leading contemporary Qohelet scholars brings his views on this intriguing biblical book to a synthesis, for which the scholarly community can only be grateful.

After an extensive bibliography (15­40), the introductory chapter deals with the most important issues in contemporary Qohelet research (41­134). This relatively long introduction ­ one of the characteristics of the series ­ finds, on each topic, the right balance between concisely, but comprehensively summa rizing the existing literature, and clearly presenting the position adopted by S. himself. The full argumentation of S.¹s views is obviously often found in the commentary itself (137­553), but the multiple explicit cross-references and the clear typography and design of the book greatly facilitate the switching from the introduction to the detailed analyses and back.

After two paragraphs concerning the name(s) of the book and its position in the biblical canon(s), the third paragraph of the introduction is devoted to the question of the overall structure of the book (46­53). In line with recent exegesis, S. regards the book as more than a collection of sentences, viz., as a consciously unified literary composition, except for the two epilogues in 12,9­11.12­14. As in his earlier monograph (HBS, 21996), S. follows Backhaus¹ proposal (BBB, 1993) of a four-part structure of the book (1­3; 4,1­6,9; 6,10­8,17; 9­12), the different parts of which, moreover, are reminiscent of the different parts of a classical rhetorical oration, viz. propositio, explicatio, refutatio and applicatio. In S.¹s view, the book as a whole should be read as an exposition on the possibility of human happiness, with the different parts of the book marking the rhetorical steps in that exposition. In the following paragraph (54­64), S. specifies his views on the book¹s genre(s): the book is a wisdom teaching, having the characteristics of a diatribe, enveloped in the »transparent dress« of an autobiographical tale. Following Longman (NICOT, 1998) and Fox (1999), S. describes the function of that tale as increasing the trustworthiness of the teaching, while it also gives the teaching a more indirect nature, allowing for alternative voices and new perspectives to be introduced without directly exposing the author to critique.

S. continues his introductory chapter with a discussion of the much debated tensions and contradictions in the book of Qohelet (64­69). He agrees with Krüger (BK, 2000) that those con tradictions are intentional and are constitutive for the argumen tation strategy in the book. According to his »reception- oriented quotation model«, the contradictions in the book, which result from the insertion of quotations, reflect the text¹s intention to engage its readers in a critical dialogue, which only reaches its goal by the interplay of thesis and antithesis. Moreover, the model does justice to the narrative character of the book, present ing the developing ideas in the book as steps in the development of Qohelet¹s own thought. S. concedes, however, that in many cases it remains difficult to distinguish quotation and comment, or to understand what Qohelet¹s position vis-à-vis a quotation is.

In S.¹s view, the book of Qohelet displays a strong thematic unity, reflected in the macro-structure of the book discussed above. As S. already argued in earlier publications, notably in his 1994 monograph, the guiding theme of the book is that of human happiness (ðGlückÐ), its content and its preconditions (69­82). S. specifies that for Qohelet happiness is a gift of God (Qoh 2,24­25), not in some afterlife, but during one¹s lifetime (3,22). Moreover, S. adds, this happiness is not so much a mo mentary and transient feeling, but rather a fundamental disposition of joy (ðFreudeÐ) accompanying people in all that they do (8,15). In his interpretation of 5,19 (»Freude als Gabe und Antwort Gottes«), S., with some caution, follows Lohfink¹s earlier proposal to regard that joy as God¹s answer to humankind. S. is well aware of the fact that the question of Qohelet¹s principal theme is highly controversial in contemporary scholarship (69). S.¹s position on the issue of human happiness and joy in Qohelet will therefore, unavoidably, be met by scepticism from part of the scholarly world. Also the present reviewer is not fully convinced by S.¹s proposal. As was argued by Fox (1999), and was recently substantiated by Schoors (OLA, 2004), the term ´sim.h¯ah, and the related term .tôb, which are central to S.¹s argument, can hardly be understood as a disposition of joy or happiness in Qohelet, but rather as enjoyment or pleasure, lightening the burden of toil. A full semantic treatment of both central terms would therefore have been desirable. The idea that joy would be God¹s answer to man, rests on the much debated ­ as S. concedes ­ and in my view questionable attribution of macaneh in 5,19 to the verb Œnh I (ðto answerÐ).

In the light of the above, it will not surprise that for S. the main function of the hebel-conclusions is not to stress the absurdity of everything under the sun, but to put traditional values in their right, i. e. relative perspective (82­91). Two sections on God and on the fear of God complete the paragraph on Qohelet¹s themes.

The next two paragraphs discuss the time and place of origin of the book of Qohelet and its cultural context. As far as date and place are concerned, S. with good reason follows the major ity opinion: the book originated in the second half of the third century B. C. in Jerusalem. After a detailed survey of the differ ent cultural influences that have been proposed in the course of recent scholarship, S. explains his views on the cultural context of the book: although the book primarily relates to the inner Jewish tradition, it also engages in a discussion with contemporary Hellenistic philosophies by addressing one of the central issues of that thinking, viz., that of human happiness (eudaimonia). In the book, more than anywhere else in the Hebrew Bible, Israel¹s thought and Greek philosophy meet. That this insight is commonly accepted in contemporary scholarship is to a very important degree due to S.¹s earlier publications on the issue. Three paragraphs on Qohelet¹s language, on the reception of the text and on its interpretation history, both Jewish and Christian, conclude the long and very useful introduction.

The commentary part of the volume (137­553) is of an exemplary clarity: of each pericope a detailed analysis and an extensive interpretation is offered, preceded by the relevant bibliography and a translation with textual notes. Special mention should be made of the detailed attention S. pays to the (poetic) structure of larger and smaller units in the text, and to the relation between form and content in this literary work. Being a theological commentary, the interpretation does not only take the form of an explanation of the text (ðAuslegungÐ), but also of an interpretation of its meaning (ðBedeutungÐ).

Although I may be less optimistic than S. about the function of joy in Qohelet¹s thought, this volume is a joy to read and use, thanks to the very clear writing style of S. and the ­ it should be repeated ­ exemplary layout of the Herder series.