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An Analysis of the Inter-Dependency of the Prominent Motifs Within the Book of Qohelet

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Richard Alan Jr. Fuhr

The key to a balanced and accurate understanding of the book of Ecclesiastes lies in the inter-dependent relationships between the prominent motifs within the book. An Analysis of the Inter-Dependency of the Prominent Motifs Within the Book of Qohelet explores this dynamic. The final outcome of such an approach is a wisdom-based paradigm for living «under the sun», a wise man’s approach to living in a fallen world. Qohelet’s conclusions are two-fold and balanced. First, in light of the fact that life is fleeting, death is inevitable, and one’s future lies outside of the realm of human control, the wise will enjoy life as a gift from God, recognizing that joy is ultimately a responsibility and a mandate placed upon them. Second, in light of the fact that life is fleeting, death is inevitable, and God’s enigmatic ways on earth are sure to be followed by an equitable future judgment, the wise will fear God and keep his commandments. Therefore, the wise man or woman will enjoy life but not enjoy sin, living each day to its fullest but in sobriety, knowing that for all our actions there is a coming judgment. This is the wisdom of Ecclesiastes.

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CHAPTER 8: What Will the Wise Man Do? The Fear of God Conclusions in the Book of Qohelet 161

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CHAPTER 8 What Will the Wise Man Do? The Fear of God Conclusions in the Book of Qohelet Derived from Qohelet’s observations of life in a lbh world, the two-fold response admonishing the enjoyment of life and the fear of God function together to provide a balanced paradigm for living in expectation of the inevitability of death. 1 However, at first glance, one may tend to see these two as incompatible. All too often, hedonistic excess is read into the first admonition and pietistic asceticism into the other—two ideas that are at the very least in tension with each other, and at the most in irreconcilable contradiction. As is so often the case with Qohelet, scholars are divided over how one should read these motifs, and few have developed any explanation regarding how the two should be read in relationship to one another. Often the situation is resolved by elevating one conclusion to a prominent role, while diminishing the other to obscurity. However, there is absolutely no indication within the text itself that either one of these motifs should be dismissed as a lesser consideration. Both of these motifs are presented as imperative conclusions in Qohelet’s rhetoric, and as such, it behooves us to understand their relationship to each other if we are to ultimately understand the message of the book itself. Prior to understanding this relationship, however, we must first establish the fear of God as motif, and in doing so, come to an understanding of its breadth...

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