Title page for ETD etd-04202005-095806

Document Type Doctoral Thesis
Author Gericke, Jacobus Wilhelm
URN etd-04202005-095806
Document Title Possible allusions to ancient Near Eastern solar mythology in Qohelet - a comprehensive enquiry
Degree DLitt (Semitic Languages)
Department Ancient Languages
Advisor Name Title
Prof G T M Prinsloo Committee Chair
  • Bible OT Ecclesiates criticism interpretation
Date 2003-04-06
Availability unrestricted
The book of Ecclesiastes is infamous as a piece of controversial literature. Commentators differ with regard to their views on matters such as the book’s historical context, translation, structure, Ancient Near Eastern background, message, etc. One of the many apparent oddities in the hook are the numerous references to the sun. There are approximately thirty-five of these references! Thirty of these can be found in the constantly recurring phrase “under the sun” – an expression which echoes mysteriously like a refrain through the book. Many questions, still unanswered, are prompted by the incessant repetition of this phrase.

Contemporary popular interpretations of the function of the phrase “under the sun” can broadly be classified as belonging to one of two categories. Firstly, there is the conservative interpretation. According to this view, the function of the phrase is restrictive. It is indicative of a supposed cosmic dualism implying the presence of an alternative realm as opposed to the earthly domain and its secular atheism. The second view is that adopted by more critical scholars. In their view, the phrase functions simply an inclusive spatial designator. However, a closer look at the instances in which the phrase occurs in the intratextual context show that, while both of these interpretations have some merit, they are ultimately unsatisfactory. They fail to explain the need for the sun imagery’s constant recurrence throughout the book.

What no one seems to have noticed is the possible significance of the repetition of the sun imagery in the book in the way in it was combined with certain themes, a peculiar theology and a strange self – presentation by the author. To be sure, when the sun imagery is assessed in the context of ANE solar discourse, its combination with certain themes in Qohelet becomes quite significant. Consider this data reformulated as four basic questions and answers:

• Who is speaking? …. …. A king.

• Where did he look? …. …. Under the sun.

• What does he observe there… Injustice, ignorance, death, etc.

• How is God depicted? …. …. Judge, Creator, etc.

When these aspects of Qohelet’s message are viewed from the intertextual context of Ancient Near Eastern solar mythology – a legitimate hermeneutical experiment given the repeated references to the sun – the answers that can be given in response to the questions of “who?”, “where?, “what?” and “God?” appears to be very significant. In solar mythology, the sun gods were the deities particularly concerned with the issues of justice, divination, times, kings, life, royalty, the cosmic and social orders, etc. – the same issues that Qohelet is concerned with in relation to what happens “under the sun”. Moreover, according to the Old Testament witness, Israel was thoroughly familiar with these ideas. Qohelet’s sun imagery seems to be filled with allusions to the beliefs of solar theology in ways that are simultaneously ambiguous, ironical, polemical, deconstructive and syncretistic. This is a new perspective on the book and seems able to account for the author’s need to refer repeatedly to the domain “under the sun”. It also explains why Qohelet combined these references with a certain peculiar theology and why he was interested in specific issues such as justice, knowledge, life, time, death, the kind, etc.

© University of Pretoria 2002

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